International Day of the Girl…and Women?

I know today is Indigenous Peoples Day. But I started to write this last week on International Day of the Girl. Is it ok to celebrate women today too? I think so. It seems like a good time to share a post I wrote this summer for my church blog.

As I often proclaim, I am bad at math. But sometimes the numbers are so easy to figure, even I can see it: 25-4=21. 

For 21 out of the last 25 years — in other words, from July 1994 until now — Woodridge United Methodist Church has had a female Lead Pastor. In the beginning of July we celebrated Pastor Danita’s official reappointment, meaning that number will continue to grow. The United Methodist Church has ordained women for more than 50 years– although the earliest known woman ordained to preach came in 1866. So our little 21 out of 25 statistic really shouldn’t be that big of a deal. But I’m convinced that it is. 

Here at WUMC, with that 21 out of 25 number, we’re so used to having women as Lead Pastor we may be fooled into thinking women are doing fine in churches everywhere — or at least all over the UMC.

Yet, even in the UMC, women make up only about 25% of our clergy. Further, women of color make up only about 4% of our clergy. Male pastors are more likely than female pastors to be appointed to biggest congregation and the wage gap is especially egregious with female clergy paid 76 cents for every dollar a male colleague makes. As followers of Jesus, seeking justice is our calling. Having an unjust and unequal pay system for our clergy makes for a horrendous witness. That is wrong and needs to change.

Simultaneously, we have to continue to change hearts regarding female clergy. This is obviously true in the larger Christian landscape where the two biggest denominations (Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics) refuse to ordain women at all; and very, very few nondenominational evangelical churches do. But hearts and attitudes need to change in the UMC as well.

The North Carolina Conference of the UMC emailed its female clergy asking for comments they have received about being a woman in ministry. The Conference released a video of those comments — wherein male clergy colleagues were asked to read the responses*.

We as a church and as a society need to do better and be better. As we strive toward that goal, I give thanks to God for those 21  years and counting — and give thanks for the ministry of The Reverend Linda Foster-Momsen, The Reverend Linda Misewicz-Perconte, and The Reverend Danita Anderson. Thank you for being my colleague, mentor, and friend.

*North Carolina’s video reminds me so much of the award-winning video Chicago-based sports journalists, Julie DiCaro and Sarah Spain, released a couple years ago. It’s much more graphic than the clergy video, but very much worth your time and revulsion to watch. Again, for girls and for the women they become all over the globe, we must do better and be better.

‘She Who Laughs Last…’ a sermon on Genesis 18

From 8th grade through the end of high school, I was always in a school where one of my parents was a teacher. That’s probably the main reason I never skipped a class in those years. Fast forward to college and, well, that record didn’t last. But I didn’t skip many or often because I discovered that once I skipped, it was easier to keep on skipping. While I had many flaws then (and now), I truly did not want to get into the habit of skipping class. So I kept it to a minimum.

As a fully formed adult, I’ve found that same principle to hold for going — or rather not going — to both the gym and church. Both seem to be at least somewhat beholden to habit: go regularly and it is easier to keep going. Skip once and it is easier to skip a second time; easier still to skip a third time. I suspect the relationship may even be exponential. So I keep going. Even — especially? — when I don’t feel like it. (Plus, going to church is, you know, my job.)

It seems that same idea applies to my blogging. Stop posting and it is easy to keep not posting. Even when I have something to say. Even when I cut out a newspaper article because I want to react to it. (Yes, I am old.) Even when I have easily-usable “content” like a sermon recording. Hell, right now I have [checks docs] ten — ten! — sermon documents open on my word processor because I intended to post the audio for them.

And yet.

Nada, zip, zilch from me on here since [checks website] January! I actually thought it might have been since Christmas, so…yay me?

Anyhoo, how about audio from my sermon last week on Sarah and the important subversive nature of laughter?

Here are my thoughts on Genesis 17 & Genesis 18.

The Mayo Clinic on the healing power of laughter.

The Abraham Joshua Heschel quote:

Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement, to get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.

Here’s the audio. And here’s hoping it is at least slightly better than word salad non-sequiturs.

 

Featured image photo by Guille Álvarez on Unsplash

‘Temptation Wilderness’: a sermon on Matthew chapter 4

This is probably a bit odd, but despite the sermon title, I never did make a connection between the temptations Jesus faced in chapter 4 of Matthew’s* gospel and any of the recent TV shows that play on that theme. Boy howdy, did I make a slew of other references and winks, though. ‘Cause, you know, gotta be me.

My thesis was Jesus used his power to care for others and lift them up. We’re called to do the same. As always, I’m interested in knowing how what I intended to say compares to what you hear. All the visuals I used (plus a bonus one or two) are below, after the audio.

The many faces of the Devil/devil/tempter/tester…or could it be…Satan??

 

devil angel wings
devil with angel wings

 

devil bat wing
bat wing devil

 

devil shazam
Shazam! devil

 

devil ghost
ghost devil

 

devil sith lord
Sith Lord devil? Or is it tall Jawa devil?

 

devil dante lovitz
Dante-Lovitz devil

 

devil black lagoon
WTH??

 

Maps! We’ve got maps. I know I struggle to remember where to find all the places mentioned in the story, so these help me.

zebulun & naphtali map

 

galilee capernaum

 

 

Bonus image! I didn’t think of this in time, but I should have shown the congregation what Spider-Gwen looks like. (I couldn’t re-find the devil image that reminded me of her.)

spider gwen

 

Obviously didn’t show this during worship. But still. Seriously, see. this. movie. “It’s amazing. You could even say it is spectacular.”

 

*Fun aside…thanks to the absolutely fantastic Marvel/Neflix series, Daredevil and its tantalizing and fun companion, The Defenders, every time I say or write “Matthew,” I hear Elodie Yung’s Elektra Natchios distinctively intoning that name. Every. time. You can get a sense of it in this video. But, seriously, watch those shows. Luke Cage too. I’m really ticked they are all cancelled.

Featured Image photo by Andrew DesLauriers on Unsplash

‘We’re Related to…Them??’: a sermon on Matthew 1

Brevity. Not a quality for which many pastors are known. At least not when we’re in preaching mode. We tend to like to talk. A lot. The truth is (at least in my experience both listening to sermons and giving them), a short sermon that is also a good sermon is much more difficult to achieve than a longer sermon. The easiest, most natural path for a preacher to take is to just keep talking.

I don’t know if this sermon here on Matthew 1:1-17 from December 30th is good. But clocking in at about eight minutes, I say it qualifies as short. It is half as long as many of my sermons. (Even approaching one-third as long as when I am most verbose.)

At the very least, it should make the students in our Confirmation class happy. Earlier this year, analyzing and critiquing their worship experience, they determined what we really need is shorter sermons. Or, as they put it, “shorter long-talk talk time.” If that’s not the perfect description of how 13 year olds (or, honestly, most people regardless of age) consider sermons, I don’t know what is. Love it.

I attempted to communicate: Whatever skeletons are in your family’s closet, you’ve got nothing on Jesus. One parishioner told me that idea really helped them better accept the way their family sometimes fails them. That’s better feedback than I often get. Maybe I should aim for shorter more often? I’m always interested to know what you hear and how that compares to what I thought I said. What message (if any) comes through to you?

With help from the commentary embedded in the version of this scripture in The Voice translation and from Professor Gerald C. Liu at Working Preacher, here then is my shorter long-talk talk time*:

 

*Please forgive the nasally quality of my voice in this recording. I was fighting a bad cold that day.

‘Now for Something Completely Extra’: a Christmas Eve sermon

I know it’s New Year’s Eve, but let’s get in the WABAC Machine and set it for…one week ago. Way back when it was Christmas Eve. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Christmas Eve is kind of a big deal in (most) Christian churches. It certainly is in our congregation.

Christmas Eve at Woodridge United Methodist Church is full of candlelight and carols — even at our early worship gathering (this year at 5pm, so after dark). That service usually has plenty of children too. It feels like a momentous night: expectations of a good-sized crowd; a desire for everything to go just right — but trying to convince myself that no matter what happens, no matter what goes wrong, we will worship as faithfully as we are able. Plenty of potential too: for seeing people and families who have drifted away; for welcoming first-time guests; for surprises along the way. (All of which moved out of the realm of potential and into the actual!)

Even though I know better, some part of me thinks that if the evening can just be perfect enough, people will be impressed, will see that ours is a down-to-earth congregation doing our best to be faithful disciples of Jesus in the real world as it as even as we work to bring about the world as it should be where all people experience love and justice. If they can see and feel that, perhaps they will join us on this journey.

All of that combines to make for an exciting and nerve-wracking night. Not unlike when company comes over or taking a final exam. I’m nervous and excited because I know it is important and a lot can be riding on the result. I feel it as the college student bores holes into me with his stare. I feel it when the 11 year old pays no attention whatsoever. I feel it when the grandmother laughs. I feel it when the long-time member gives me the slightest nod or smirk. I feel it when a different long-time member drops his gaze into his lap. What does that all mean? Am I simply projecting import and reaction? I can’t say for certain.

How does one approach preparing a sermon for such a night? It’s a bit of a conceit for me to post that question in that way. As if there is a universal answer. All I can tell you is how it went for me.

Our texts for the evening were the usual ones for Christmas Eve: portions of Isaiah 9 and Luke 2.

During my preparations, my wife requested, “Teach us something.” Our kids implored me, “Don’t be boring!” Me, being me, desired to be funny, to get a reaction or five. As with all sermons, I want the hearer to learn something, to feel something, and to have a way to respond, to carry the message on into their life. The hard truth is that not all sermons live up to that. But I think this one was pretty good. Of course, it is ultimately not up to me to say to what degree I was successful.

I can tell you without doubt or reservation that I had fun writing and giving this sermon. I hope that comes through. Let me know what you hear* and what you think.

 

Singing and praying and working until all people are treated like the image-bearers of God that they are? That’s good news. God calls us to start with those our society shoves to the bottom. That’s the extra good news. That’s the extra love God births into the world through you and through me and through us. That’s what Christmas is all about, friends. 

*If you want to play Dave’s Sermon Bingo, here are a few things for which you can listen:

References/homages to (or at least slight nods toward):

  1. Monty Python (as one parishioner suggested, what I really needed was a giant animated foot to drop)
  2. Peanuts
  3. Doctor Who
  4. Dodgeball
  5. Old School
  6. Home Alone (actually this is a sight gag, so you might not be able to catch it in the audio)

Plus one swipe each at:

  1. Trump
  2. Michael Madigan
  3. Climate change deniers

How many did you notice?

 

 

 

‘Everybody Move’: a sermon on Luke 2 & ‘Go Tell it on the Mountain’

The fourth and final Sunday of Advent happened the day before Christmas Eve.* So it was already a challenge to separate Sunday’s message from one to give the next day. Add on the bonus level challenge of the same scripture reading as Christmas Eve (Luke 2:8-20)…and the result is one confused preacher. Fortunately, I had the African-American spiritual, “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” to pull me out of my own mucked up mind.

As previously noted, our church used Mary Had a Baby by Cheryl Kirk-Duggan and Marilyn E. Thornton for both our Advent study and the focus of our Advent worship.

Mary Had a Baby

Eventually I figured my best course of action was to simply admit it and lean into my confusion about both what day it was and how to differentiate that day from Christmas Eve. Baptizing a baby named Brandon during worship that day helped. You’ll hear him referenced. There’s also a slight nod toward Lord of the Rings.

I think I was trying to say that as tempting as it is to want to keep things the same, we don’t grow that way. God calls us into the present and future to increase justice in the world. Top moments, as I see them:

Today is full to the brim with potential energy. Just waiting to burst forth. But that’s also the problem. Too often we’re content with the potential. Too often we convince ourselves that staying put is for the best.

And, quoting Mary Had a Baby:

“Go Tell it on the Mountain” reminds us to tell the story about a child who faced homelessness, poverty, lack of documentation, injustice, possible imprisonment, and death.

What do you hear? How should we go and tell this gospel story?

 

*The day my kids would call “Christmas Eve Eve.” Because they, like so many others I’ve encountered, think “Eve” means “the day before.” I disabuse them of this notion in my Christmas Eve sermon. Ok, I had to disabuse myself of that notion too.

 

‘Time to Go!’: a sermon on Mary’s song, Joseph’s census, & ‘Children, Go’

If that title suggests to you that this sermon might be trying to do too much…well, I probably can’t argue with you. It’s probably not my best. Still, though, I thought the conclusion was actually pretty good. Poignant, even. I’m not sure my congregation agreed. Maybe it was too on the nose? (If so, just wait until you hear my Christmas Eve sermon!)

For Advent this year, our study groups read Mary Had a Baby by Cheryl Kirk-Duggan & Marilyn E. Thornton (photo above). So we based our Advent worship gatherings on the book too. That’s why our readings didn’t follow a lectionary (neither Narrative nor Revised Common) — we used the scripture and the spiritual referenced in each chapter. This week those were Luke 2:1-7 and “Children, Go Where I Send Thee.” But I also wanted to talk about the original Advent song: Luke 1:46-55.*

My intended thesis (quoting author Arundhati Roy),

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.

came as a result of reading Fred Clark’s Advent series.

Info on the route Mary and Joseph might have taken came largely from Adam Hamilton’s book, The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem.

Here’s the audio:

What did you think, was the conclusion over the top?

We can hear this new world breathing every time we become aware of those movements into freedom and justice too.

This new world, she takes a breath every time a parolee puts on a new suit.** 

This new world, she takes a breath every time a person experiencing a mental illness receives support and treatment. 

She takes a breath every time a lonely child is welcomed at a lunch table.

She takes a breath every time a grieving person is comforted. 

She takes a breath every time a woman is believed when she reports abuse. 

This new world, she takes a breath every time a hungry child gets a free meal at school.

This new world, she takes a breath every time a person experiencing homelessness receives not just a meal and shelter but a kind word.

She takes a breath every time a refugee or asylum seeker finds a safe place to stay like Mary & Joseph & Jesus did.

She takes a breath every time a law or an accepted practice meant to keep an African American “in their place” is repealed or dismantled.

She takes a breath every time one of us sees the humanity in someone who is different from them.

She takes a breath every time one of us recognizes that those we oppose are struggling too.

She takes a breath every time we break down a barrier or reach across an aisle of divide.

 

*Yes, we read that one from The Message. I really liked the way it rendered verse 52: “knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud.” Seemed the best way to reckon with Trump’s America.

**That’s a thing, I’m proud to say, Woodridge UMC is helping to make happen.

Happy Christmas 2018

Merry Christmas!

The closest thing I have to a tradition on this blog is this Christmas day offering.

Each Christmas I post the Isaiah passage below (which is a reading for Christmas Eve worship every year); John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas (War is Over)”, which I find the world’s best and most challenging Christmas song; and a second song that moves me or makes me laugh.

Isaiah 9:2-7:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined…For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.

For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.

No, not “all the boots of the tramping warriors” or “all the garments rolled in blood” have been burned as fuel just yet. But I do believe there will be a day when both the weapons and the uniforms of war will be obsolete. I think that’s why I like “Happy Christmas” so much: it simultaneously acknowledges the reality of evil in the world and reminds us, with Isaiah, to hope for – and actively strive for – a better future. A war-free future.

Our sisters and brothers in Israel/Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan, and so many other places, know all too well that war isn’t over. I’m convinced the Prince of Peace wants all wars to end. To worship the babe born in Bethlehem means facing reality, means seeking to end war. But following God in the way of Jesus also means we don’t believe in hopelessness. It means we’ve got some work to do.

I’ve used the same “Happy Christmas” video each time, but watching it today…I just can’t use it again. With all the images of war, especially of maimed or dead children, I just can’t. It struck me today as emotionally manipulative rather than as a beacon of light shining on tremendous evil. Maybe that’s a copout on my part. Maybe I simply don’t want to be confronted by those images. Or maybe it has always been manipulative and I only just figured it out. I don’t know. I would love to hear what you think about that.

In place of the graphic violence version, I offer this one with lyrics. I find the visual of those lyrics quite provocative, challenging, and demanding more of me as a peacemaker.

 

I know there are still horrible, and horribly racist people doing and saying horrible, and horribly racist things (including from the White House). But this year feels like a tipping point for women being heard and even centered. A diversity of people are speaking out against all kinds of violence and hatred. The people of my congregation continue to feed hungry people, clothe people released from jail, and provide shelter and comfort for those experiencing homelessness. I still believe that the “moral arc of the universe is long and bends toward justice.”

So let’s enjoy a silly song: “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” by Joseph Spence. It may not make you literally laugh out loud, but I find it incredibly joyful. Plus, the artist is named Joseph. Can’t go wrong with that at Christmas. There are other versions with better sound, but I like this one because we get multiple close-ups of Joseph.

 

 

From the Buerstetta Family to yours: Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it! Happy Holidays to all others!

‘Infinite War or Excelsior!?’ a sermon on Isaiah 36

To paraphrase one of our great musician-philosophers, “Infinite war, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing!”

But in the whole of human history, what has been more constant than war? Further, many of us were taught history, both of our country and of the world, through a series of wars. War seems to define us.

On the other hand, to paraphrase one of our great warrior-philosophers, “My faith’s in people, I guess…And I’m happy to say that, for the most part, they haven’t let me down. Which is why I can’t let them down either.” Maybe war doesn’t have to define us.

Can Stan Lee and a bunch of his Marvel creations help us understand the battle of words happening in Isaiah 36 & 37? Yes! Of course I’m biased toward the power of comics, so your milage may vary. 

The Narrative Lectionary was weird this week: parts of Isaiah chapters 36 & 37 (36:1-3, 13-20; 37:1-7, which is what we read) and then Isaiah 2:1-4

Here’s the photo of my comic book collection that I showed:

Highlighting the Siege story line seemed appropriate, given the Isaiah text

Here’s the sermon audio: 

If you need some help with those Marvel characters I reference:

Black Panther

Thanos

Ebony Maw

Some of the quotes I used:

[Marvel’s] stories have room for everyone, regardless of their race, gender or color of their skin,” he said. “The only things we don’t have room for are hatred, intolerance and bigotry. — Stan Lee

I’m going to make an effort to chose the battles that matter. Battles against injustice, against cynicism, against intolerance. — Captain America

Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today. But, unlike a team of costumed super-villains, they can’t be halted with a punch in the snoot, or a zap from a ray gun. The only way to destroy them is to expose them—to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are…Although anyone has the right to dislike another individual, it’s totally irrational, patently insane to condemn an entire race—to despise an entire nation—to vilify an entire religion…We must fill out hearts with tolerance. For then, and only then, will we be truly worthy of the concept that [humanity] was created in the image of God–a God who calls us ALL—His [sic] children. — Stan Lee

Let’s live the way of Excelsior! 

Photo by Matteo Kutufa on Unsplash

Wise Words?: a sermon on 1Kings 3

Yesterday, a white supremacist, neo-Nazi walked into Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and murdered 11 people as they worshipped. This terrible, tragic, heart-breaking, hateful, and hate-filled act must be renounced — especially by Christians. Our faith has for too long and too often been used to justify violent anti-Semitism. I hope resistance to such horrible ideas comes through in this sermon.

A few resources to help bring the message to life:

The Narrative Lectionary text for today is 1 Kings chapter 3. I used The Message version today in honor of the late Eugene Peterson.

The video by The Bible Project on the book of Kings (we showed the first 4 minutes)

Quotes from Professor Cameron B. R. Howard’s commentary.

My intended thesis: True wisdom is always rooted in love. What theme did you hear?

Likely the best part of the sermon (though such a designation is ultimately up to you, dear reader/listener) :

Prof. Howard again: “This story  is a startling reminder of the depths of human despair and our continual yearning for God’s presence among us.”

We don’t lack for stories of human despair, nor do we feel so satiated by God’s presence that we no longer yearn for more.

We need wise words rooted in love because hateful, violent words foment hateful, violent actions. 11 people are dead in Pittsburgh because the shooter lived into the “wisdom” of white supremacy, white nationalism, neo-Nazis. We must ask ourselves: What role does a distorted, hateful version of Christianity play in this? Let’s be like the author of Kings and be honest about our violent past. For centuries, from the beginning really, some Christians have read the gospels as if God hates Jews. That hateful, violent language fomented many tragic hateful violent actions against Jews.

Together, let’s tell better, wiser stories. Stories rooted in love for all people.

Sermon audio:  

Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash