I don’t always get to preach two weeks in a row, so when I do I try to connect them, to make them into a mini-series at least. This time however, we are doing a series on the book of The Acts of the Apostles. So the sermon I’m posting here from May 13th (Mother’s Day) on Acts chapter 11 follows naturally from this sermon on Acts 10. Or at least I intended for them to flow together naturally. Ultimately, whether or not I succeeded in that is up to, dear reader, to decide.
No added visuals this time. But this sermon is longer because it includes my conversion story (as promised in the previous sermon).
Here’s what I attempted to say: “Listening to God’s Spirit changed the church. Excluding LGBT is ruining UMC’s reputation. Listening to LGBT Christians changed me, and could our church too.” Let me know what you heard though.
The sermon series on Acts of the Apostles (which I first wrote about here) continues. I preached on May 6th and May 13th on chapters 10 and 11, respectively. Many others have said this many times, but the story told in Acts 10 & 11 is the most significant story the church has. As I argued a few years ago, Acts 10:35 should be our “leadoff hitter, our first responder, our top go-to text”:
God has just shown me that I should no longer consider any human being unclean or profane… God accepts every person regardless of background or culture. God welcomes all who revere Him and do right.
How much better would Christianity be if that was our main mantra?
As I keep reiterating, sermons need to be heard not just read. So here’s “The Best Worst Buffet” on Acts 10 from May 6, 2018. Visuals I used are below the audio.
My intended thesis was, “God seeks to subvert our penchant for exclusivity.” Let me know what you hear though.
This seems long enough; I’ll give the May 13th sermon it’s own post.
While my job title is not Associate Pastor, that’s what it would be in most church settings. Someone else is the Lead Pastor (she’s awesome, by the way!). My responsibilities include youth ministry as well as our justice and outreach ministries. As you might expect, I help lead our two Sunday worship services. But what is apparently a little odd about my situation (ok, one of the odd things) is that I get to preach regularly. Usually once per month, though occasionally more than that. I enjoy preaching. It is challenging and daunting and fun.
Yet, you won’t find many sermons here on my blog. I’ve written about this a few times before. I generally don’t preach from a manuscript, so I don’t have full text to post so that you could read my sermon. More importantly than that, however, is that I find sermons to be nearly exclusively auditory events. They need to be heard to be fully experienced. But most weeks, it is a CD that I have and the technical wherewithal to make a post with audio recording of the sermon that I lack. I can be kind of a dope.
However, recently, an incredible member of our congregation offered to take on the technological part of the task! (H/T to Reid and Kevin!) Thus, I intend to be much better at sharing that content here. Forewarned is fair-warned?
This past Sunday — April 15th — was week 2 of a series on the book of Acts. Our text was Acts 9:1-31. My thesis: The story of the early church has much to teach us. Acts continues the story of God calling and using unlikely people. People such as you and me and us.
At least that was the thesis in my head. I’d love to know what you heard.
I used some visual aids during the sermon. Seeing those will (should?) make the audio make more sense. Those are below.
Special thanks to pastor and illustrator Steve Thomason for sharing his amazing art with the Narrative Lectionary group and, you know, the world.
On to the sermon…
First, the book of Acts of the Apostles offered in the visual metaphor of a tree.
Next, two maps of the areas mentioned in the text for the week. An overview of the Roman Empire, allowing us to see Saul’s hometown of Tarsus. Then a closer look at the sections of Israel: Judea, Samaria, Galilee, and the road to Damascus.
Finally, my favorite: Thomason’s visual of the story of Acts chapters 8-9, that is also set up (loosely) as a map. So many intriguing stories here!
UPDATE: Here’s the audio of the sermon that elicited this response that moved me so.
I was trying to say: Resurrection confirms God’s dream for this world. Resurrection invites us to bring God’s dream to life. What did you hear though?
I talk. A lot. It’s kinda my gig as a pastor. There are plenty of days when I wonder if all the words I say — all the prayers, all the songs, all the sermons — matter to anyone at all. Am I, are we as a church, making a difference in anyone’s life with all our unending words?
It seems that, for this week at least, the answer is yes. I hope you’ll forgive me as this is insanely self-serving, but this week we received this note regarding worship Easter morning:
As a first time visitor, I was struck by the all-inclusive atmosphere – on so many levels, including having children actively participating. This was in clear reflection of Pastor Dave’s sermon about not only being all-inclusive and welcoming, but to listening to people. his mention of what was and was not factual or reported in the Gospels struck a chord as well. This sermon and visit has given me rebirth in the belief that there are still many Christians who really reflect on what it means to be a Christian and to act thusly. Thank you.
Affirmation is so powerful. And humbling. And inspiring.
I hope we can continue to live up to what this person saw in us. I know it is that for which we are striving.
Three teenagers and one pre-teen helped make our Ash Wednesday worship gathering happen. One served as sound board apprentice, the other three led prayers or scripture readings. Having young people eager to participate in worship always makes my heart glad.
Glad hearts were in short supply this Wednesday. Too much death. Always and forever, too much death. Yet, acknowledging our mortality is a key component of Ash Wednesday. As is, at least at Woodridge United Methodist, a time of extended silent prayer. That fills my soul more than just about anything.
Our sequence this week:
-Singing “Come and Fill Our Hearts”
-8 minutes of silence
-This beautiful song by Over the Rhine
-My brief reflection:
Part of our job tonight is to remind ourselves of our inescapable mortality. Tragically, we have been reminded of that all too well today. A recent diagnosis of cancer, community members entering hospice care, and the mass shooting in a Florida high school.
So, yes, we have much for which we need to repent: the way we allow rampant gun violence; poverty; scapegoating of immigrants, and so much more.
Yet…I am convinced God’s favorite people are broken.
Thanks to Becky, our amazing Office Manager, that lovely greeting was waiting for me when I walked into my office today. My spiritual renewal is over so, for the first time in four months, I was back at work.*
As recently as, oh I don’t know, yesterday, I wasn’t so sure I was ready to be back. Being off — especially on Sundays — was really enjoyable. Then I stepped up to the church building, keys at the ready to unlock the door…but I didn’t even need them. Becky could see me; she buzzed me in. We chatted briefly; I went down the hall to my office. And I discovered I was glad to be back. I wanted to be there. I might have even smiled to myself.
Don’t get me wrong: there was no basking in a holy glow, nor a sounding of the heavenly chorus. I didn’t feel my heart strangely warmed. But being in that physical space again felt right. Maybe there is a deeper meaning to be found in that welcome, in having a door opened for me?
Whatever the reasons, I discovered, somewhat to my surprise, I am ready to work.
Certainly, there is much to be done in our country and our world as the compassionate, loving, justice-seeking hands, feet, and voice of Jesus. Let’s get to it.
*There are, I know, layers of privilege in that sentence (and this whole post). I intend to examine those layers soon.
In a recent note to the families involved in the youth ministries at the church I serve, I wrote this about Church Conference:
Church Conference is the United Methodist term for what other denominations might call its Annual Business Meeting, or what a corporation might call its Annual Shareholders meeting, or what a leading tech company might call its Keynote Event.
That is, Church Conference is where we do business such as electing church officers, consider the successes and challenges of the past year, and cast the vision for who we want to be in the new year.
Prognosticator that I am, all three of those things happened Wednesday night. Plenty of good ideas were shared, but two moments far outshine all the rest:
The District Superintendent’s dinner with the youth and our newly adopted Hospitality Statement.
I don’t know how often this happens at other churches, but I know that in the last 20 years at WUMC, the District Superintendent has never shared a meal with our youth. That changed Wednesday night. The interaction between the youth and Rev. Dick Wisdom, Superintendent of the Aurora District, was so fun to watch and participate in. Our young people prepared ten questions for Rev. Wisdom, and he responded to all of them with grace, humility, and, well, wisdom.
But what really made the night was a little later when Rev. Wisdom declared that the questions from our youth were the highlight of his year. I couldn’t be prouder of our amazing teens! What were those questions that so moved our DS? Glad you asked…
Do you have children? If so, how old are they?
Were you in youth group in High School? What was it like? Did it influence your vocation? Did you go on mission trips?
What does a District Superintendent do?
What did you do before becoming DS? Before you were a pastor?
What made you want to be DS?
Why did you assign Pastor Danita to WUMC (not complaining)? How did you come to decide this was a good fit?
Is swearing considered a sin?
One of my best friends is Muslim. What can I do, as a Christian/Methodist, to make sure that she doesn’t feel scared or bullied? What if I am too scared to stand up for her?
What do you think of UMC’s “democratic” nature? Is democracy the best way to run a church of Christ? In democracy, majority rules, but is the majority always right? What do we do when the majority is wrong?
Is the UMC too influenced by the political process in our country? Does it interfere with us responding to God’s will?
The other highlight was the historic moment when our congregation unanimously adopted the Hospitality Statement. Our Administrative Council worked on the statement for months, approving it at our November meeting and thus bringing it to Church Conference for a vote. While almost everyone who visits WUMC says they received a warm welcome, and we’ve long tried to be welcoming of people no matter what, this statement marks the first time our congregation has officially declared that all people are welcome.
It is written in three parts:
We are an open and loving United Methodist Community who are:
Welcoming to all;
Uniting in service toward greater social justice for all;
Moving forward with understanding and acceptance of all peoples;
Creating disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
We invite others to join as we live our Christian faith together.
Our purpose is to offer a safe place and community to all races, cultures, religions, genders, sexual identities, ethnicities, age groups and other beliefs.
We expect everybody:
To accept imperfection in one another;
To respect that we are all on unique and valuable spiritual journeys;
To recognize that we are all worthy of God’s love;
Divorce. Disease. Death. The uncomfortable truth is that our congregation, our communities, and our country is hurting. From more than just those three ‘d’ words, of course. But those are the ones I’ve encountered most in recent weeks and months. Too often, we feel the need to present ourselves as doing fine — even in church. Maybe especially in church. I know because I do it too. In my head, I know that our sanctuary should be just that: a place of refuge from the parts of our lives that expect us to be — need us to be, demand us to be — ‘ok’ all the time. I know I want our place in the world at 2700 75th Street to be a place where it is ok not to be ok. However, I also know just how hard it is to admit to ourselves and others that we’re not ok. For myriad reasons, internal and external, we want and need to appear tough, solid, stoic, strong, above it all.
Yet we follow God in the Way of Jesus. That means we follow a God who willingly became vulnerable and intimately entered the world. Baby Jesus? Vulnerable. Born to an unwed, teenage mother? Vulnerable. Part of a family that became refugees in a foreign country in order to flee violent authorities? Vulnerable. Lived in a country occupied and controlled by a foreign military power? Vulnerable. Openly protested his own people’s cultural practices that further oppressed the poor? Vulnerable. Arrested, beaten, and executed on trumped up charges? Vulnerable.
But following God in the Way of Jesus means we follow a God who lived in an open, vulnerable manner that allowed others around him to be vulnerable as well — which often led to their healing. Isn’t that what we’re after too? Healing the hurt in our selves and in our sisters and brothers?
Our scriptures are full of people crying out to God for help, for healing, for wholeness. Let those authors provide your voice, if need be. Especially good for this are the psalms of personal lament such as Psalm 13, Psalm 35, and Psalm 86. Or try the psalms of communal lament such as Psalm 44, Psalm 74, or Psalm 80.
This Sunday, our prayer time will not feature a responsive litany. Instead we will engage in directed silence, lament, and celebration. To paraphrase biblical scholar, Walter Brueggemann, we will seek to be honest about the ways the world disorients us and how we might find a new orientation in the grace and love of God.
So whatever it is that makes you not ok today: your own struggles, or issues with which those close to you are dealing, or broader societal problems like systemic racism or violence such as (this week’s examples) Terence Crutcher and Keith Scott, or desecration of sacred land in Standing Rock Reservation, or global challenges like getting education for all girls…bring it all so that in our honesty we may lay it at the altar.
Today is Thorsday (aka Thursday) and, I’m told, it’s also #NationalSuperheroDay. I don’t know why that’s a thing, but I like it. Since I was just talking with a friend about a sermon I once did about Thor…seems like a good day for an archive post. Plus, I really do enjoy Marvel’s Thor books. The current run with [SPOILER ALERT – look away if you haven’t yet read the story arc revealing the identity of the new Thor]…Dr. Jane Foster as Thor has been particularly fun to read and is beautifully drawn. Here’s a small sample:
Pretty awesome, right? Anyway, here’s The Gospel According to Thor
Originally posted January 30, 2014
You might think that putting up a sermon is the easiest kind of post. I mean, really, the content is already created, how hard could it be? Yet, somehow, it never ends up being that easy for me. Once again, here it is Thursday and I’m just now posting my sermon from this past Sunday (January 26). Which still beats the many times I didn’t post my sermon at all.
I’m sure this pathetic pattern is largely due to me being an inept blogger. But my particular process of sermon preparation plays a role as well.* I think a sermon is, first and foremost, an oral/auditory event. So I hope to add the audio soon. In the meantime, here are the notes I used as I spoke. Below I mention some of Julie Clawson’s writing; additionally, her 7-21 talk at Christianity 21 also informed my thoughts here.
Let me know what you think.
“The Gospel According to Thor”
Isaiah 9:1-4 & Matt. 4:12-23
Realms collide as the only son of God comes to earth, offering displays of power, bringing his light into places of darkness, saving the world. I am, of course, talking about…Thor!
Why Thor? A quick search on Amazon of “Gospel according to,” yields 39,647 results. I am not making that up. Results include:
Pop culture icons: Dr. Seuss, Sopranos, Simpsons, JRR Tolkein, Peanuts, Shakespeare, Harry Potter, Disney, Star Wars, Hunger Games
Other bible stories: Job, Daniel, Jonah, Isaiah, and, my favorite, The Other Mary.
Even some, er, really creative ones: Coco Chanel, The Beatles, Jazz, Waffle House, Hoyle, Elvis, Patti Labelle, and Starbucks – which I’m pretty sure is, treat others the way you want to be treated…unless they say ‘ex-presso’ instead of ‘espresso.’ Then you are to mock them mercilessly.
So really, why not Thor??
Still, I’ll forgive you if you’re a little skeptical.
Heck, my own son – who has become a bit of a comic book geek himself (not sure how that happened) – even thinks it’s crazy.
“Hey Josh, look at this cool picture we’re using in church this week!”
“Whaddya mean ‘why’?? Isn’t that awesome?!?”
“You should’ve used Captain America; he’s cooler.”
“What! How do you figure?”
“His shield can stop Thor’s hammer.”
While Joshua hasn’t seen it yet, in The Avengers movie we have the video evidence that he is correct.
So why Thor? He’s become a fascinating and complex character. His stories are almost all about hope overcoming fear. And aren’t those the kinds of stories we need right now?
A recent story arc had him pondering the very nature of gods, had him questioning his own existence, had him flying all over the multiverse teaching people to pray.
When his not flying around the multiverse or smiting frost giants, what does Thor do? The answer might surprise you.
There’s this book, a filler of sorts, an issue between story arcs. But this stand alone issue continues a theme from the beginning of Thor: Thor always returns to Midgard. (That’s earth to the uninitiated.) If the tech will work, I’ll show you what Thor does on earth:
-Thor drinks with friends. Ok, maybe not too surprising; he is a Viking god after all. Though I seem to recall another story about a son of God who made sure a party he was at didn’t run out of good drink…
-Thor visits a friend on death row and brings him his last meal.
-Thor brings food to seemingly orphaned children.
-Thor entrusts nuns with the seeds of an extinct orchid.
-Thor sits and talks with the proverbial wise man at the top of a mountain.
-Thor drinks with wounded soldiers; brings rain to dry land; scatters a crowd that claims “God hates you”; and hangs out with some fishermen.
-like a good celebrity, Thor responds to video invitation to attend a ball
-Thor grieves with a former girlfriend who is dying of cancer.
-Finally, far ahead in the future, Thor returns to Midgard…no matter how much it pains him.
Thor learns from and is inspired by his interactions with people on earth. The son of the highest god belongs on earth.
So what is the gospel according to Thor? Seems like it is “bring light and life into dark and dying places.”
“I could use a good saving the world story,” said Jane Foster as she was dying of breast cancer.
We need stories that inspire us; stories that remind us that hope doesn’t die; stories that remind us that fear, intimidation, injustice, oppression, and even death – as ubiquitous and implacable as they may seem – do. Not. Have. The. Last. Word.
Julie also points us to this quote from author Gerard Jones:
For young people to develop selves that serve them well in life, they need modeling, mentoring, guidance, communication, and limitations. But they also need to fantasize, and play, and lose themselves in stories. That’s how they reorganize the world into forms they can manipulate. That’s how they explore and take some control over their own thoughts and emotions. That’s how they kill their monsters.
Or consider this from CS Lewis:
“Since it is likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.”
Stories within stories within stories.
In Matthew, Jesus has gone through the water via his baptism, has been sent by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted, and is about to, in chapter 5, go up on a mountain (of sorts) to offer his fresh take on God’s law.
Through the water –> into the wilderness —> up the mountain… remind you of anything??
Matthew references Isaiah. Isaiah references Judges and the story of Gideon. And really, what is the book of Judges if not tales of superheroes? Men and women who display immense courage, who overcome their fear and their people’s fear, to defeat an enemy.
Gideon’s story is one of Israel’s deliverance from oppression – and all such stories of deliverance are references to the Exodus, when God delivered the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt.
So we’ve come full circle once again, from Jesus back to the Exodus, God’s great deliverance of God’s people.
Stories within stories within stories.
There is a shadow side to superhero stories: apathy. If we are so wrapped up and addicted to the need for a super power to save us – whether religion, technology, or political platform – we might never live the courageous path the stories inspire us to take.
(paraphrased from Kester Brown: “We need also to let go of our hope that some other superpower—whether religion, technology or a political formulation—will bring eternal peace and equilibrium.” and Julie Clawson)
God continues to delivery us from oppression and misery. God does that by continually calling us to live lives of grace and peace and hope. God loves us and call us to live lives of love.
Do you know that? I mean really know that in the very center of your self? That at the core of your identity you are God’s beloved child? No matter who you are or who you aren’t; no matter who your parents are or who they aren’t; no matter what you’ve done or what you’ve left undone…you are God’s beloved child. Do you know that?
Well the story isn’t over. Because you are also called by God. You are called by God to be God’s agents in the world – this world, our world, God’s world.
One biblical commentator wrote, “God designates human agents whom God empowers and authorizes in the public process of history. Such human agents turn the public reality of politics and economics toward the will of God.”
You are called by God to be agents in the world fighting, what are our vows?, “fighting evil and oppression in whatever form they present themselves.”
Frankly, there’s plenty of evil to go around. Not to go all “We didn’t start the fire on you”, but we know the big evils:
-1 Billion w/o clean safe water
-800 million hungry
-27 million trapped in slavery
-1 in 5 women sexually assaulted
-climate already 50 parts per million above sustainability
There’s plenty of actual, real evil to go around. We can’t afford to waste time making up pretend evils, like fighting about which particular consenting adults are allowed to get married.
And we’re acting on those evils. Sometimes indirectly through our UM connectional system: clean water projects, rebuilding after the Haiti earthquake, UMW demonstrating in Chicago to fight the sex trafficking that accompanies every Super Bowl.
Sometimes very directly: your generosity in Nov & Dec resulted in over $1000 donated to West Suburban Community Pantry. That will allow the Pantry to buy 3 tons of food!
But if those evils I mentioned strike you as too universal, here are some closer to home:
-We have heroin deaths on the rise in DuPage & Will counties.
-we have drug addiction ravaging young people – though not just young people
-I learned this week that 52% of children in Woodridge schools receive free or reduced lunch.
-There are children in our schools in Woodridge who are homeless. Children whose only meals each day are the free breakfast and lunch provided by the school.
How will we address those? Maybe we start with just one. Maybe we need to partner with the Woodridge Resource Center, see how we can go to them with offers of help. Maybe we can help provide meals for children in the summer months when school meals aren’t available. I don’t know but I’m convinced you do know. God is at work in and with and through and even in spite of, you and me and us.
What story will your life write? What story will we write together, as the people of God called Woodridge UMC?
I say let’s make it a story of ordinary people who dared to respond to God’s call and do extraordinary things! I say we overcome fear and evil with stories and faithful actions of hope! Amen?
*I almost never write a manuscript (that’s preacher-ese for writing out each word of the sermon); instead I use a hybrid style. By which I mean I use a combination of outline, fully-written sections, and, er, inspiration. I always have a thesis so that I know where I’m going with the message. I usually write out the opening and the conclusion and just outline the middle. I find I think about the message all week long, almost constantly playing it in my head, revising it and playing it again. For whatever reasons, I ended up writing almost all of this one. Go figure.
Well, the photo in question isn’t really famous. And it’s about the only photo of me that’s published somewhere other than on my own sites, so that “most” modifier isn’t really necessary. Oh, and it’s a picture of me but not by me. Other than those minor quibbles, the title of this post is totally accurate. 😉
The picture in question?
That picture, or a version of it, appeared in a guest post I wrote for Bread for the World‘s Bread Blog. It appeared in the print version of that story in Bread’s Newsletter. I’ve used it for a post or two here and it serves as my representative on my About Me page.
Then last month I was interviewed about congregations conducting Offerings of Letters for an articleto appear in Bread for the World’s April 2016 newsletter. As part of that interview, I was asked for a photo or two of our OL. I sent six or seven options, but in the end they chose this one. Again. I’m no photographer, but I guess it offers a decent amount of color, a vision of collection plates overflowing with letters, a peak at people praying, the context of the shot with “Dedication of Letters” visible on the screen, and it catches Tim looking at the camera.
Anyway, I love working with Bread for the World. They do a tremendous job combining Christian witness and advocacy through education, political engagement, and coalition-building. I’m proud of the way Woodridge UMC has embraced advocacy as worship. My congregation — and it’s Lead Pastors past and present — are amazing! I’m humbled and grateful to have Bread highlight our efforts. Here’s a taste of the article, Congregations Engage in Offering of Letters:
Bread for the World’s annual Offering of Letters campaign engages congregations and other faith communities in writing letters to Congress. There are as many ways to hold an Offering of Letters as there are groups that undertake the activity…
Rev. Dave Buerstetta serves as Koinonia pastor for Woodridge United Methodist Church in Woodridge, Ill. He has integrated the Offering of Letters into the life of Woodridge. He uses the power of social media to raise awareness. Buerstetta also writes a personal blog…
The letters from Cincinnati and from Woodbridge [sic] Church were among the more than 200,000 letters sent to Congress in 2015. In January of this year, the Senate Agriculture Committee passed the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016…