In the Beginning

ImageThe gospel of John opens up with this:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. (+ John 1:1-4)

No manger, no shepherds watching their flock by night, no little town of Bethlehem.

Instead, the Gospel of John opens with this: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

This gospel echoes the scriptures from the very beginning in Genesis that says: In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. 

The author of the Gospel of John wants us to see this parallel. The author wants us to remember that the words “In the Beginning” indicate a creation story taking shape. God’s work of animating and shaping the world starts in the beginning.

In Genesis, God created the world. Through Christ, God recreated the world and defined all of us as children of God and Children of light.

And in the last two weeks, I began my new ministry as Senior Minister at Community Christian Church in North Canton, Ohio. At my new church, we are all at a beginning. A creation story for the future of our church is taking shape.

I have so much excitement for our future together. I want us to grow in spiritual depth and in mission. I want us to meet Christ in new ways and mimic Christ to our neighbors with new energy. I want us to get to know one another and share our stories over the next few months.

But on my first week at the church, I showed up on a Saturday afternoon to practice my sermon. I wandered out into the hallway to find a drink of water and turn the lights on… and the office door slammed behind me.

I was locked out.

In that moment, I realized a few things as the sun began to set and the building became dark:

1) In the beginning, you don’t know where the light switches are

2) in the beginning, you don’t know anyone’s phone number yet

3) in the beginning, you don’t even know where the phones are in the building.

I finally stumbled down to the nursery area and I found a phone on the wall. I managed to get a-hold of the church janitor. 45 minutes later, after waiting in the dark hallway, Rick came and let me back into the office.

Through that experience, I was reminded- that in the beginning- it’s always a little bit messy.

In the beginning, God hovered in a void of absolute darkness to create light.

In the beginning, God reached into dust and dirt and mud to create human beings.

In the beginning, God showed up in a filthy, stinky manger as a tiny, helpless, screaming infant.

In the beginning, sometimes you lock yourself out of your office without a phone or a coat… And I’m remembering that there will be messiness yet in the beginning of our journey together.

But the good news for all of us in this beginning is that God is with us, as a light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness will never overcome the light.

The good news for us in this beginning- as we take time to get to know one another, as we navigate the future together- is that God is participating and guiding the creation of our future.

Where there is a beginning, there is God. Where there is a gospel mission, there is God. Where there is Community Christian Church and all our faithful members, there is God.

In this beginning, in this re-creation story at Community Christian Church, I know our future is bright, our foundation is strong, and God is with us.

Goodbye Y’all (a final sermon for Lindenwood)


This is it- my last Sunday at Lindenwood- and how could I possibly begin to say goodbye?

 How do you say goodbye well?

  It’s only been 3.5 years, but for me, it’s been my entire life in ministry. My first call, the place where I was ordained, the place where I took risks, where I grew, where I made mistakes, where I learned, where you all gave me the space to explore ministry.

 This is our 170th Sunday together. For 170 Sundays, I have been your pastor, and you have been my congregation.

 I saw this time as a gift, a privilege, a true calling from the holy spirit. I owe you so much of my heart, so much gratitude, so much appreciation.

 And Y’all have taught me so much, and I realize that now as I’m fixing to leave. I came as a Yankee, but you taught me that I might could become a southern belle with a little effort.

 Y’all taught me that even a few drops of cold rain is plenty a reason to close church, the pharmacy, sell out of bread and milk- and spend the whole day at home catching up on Netflix. Thank you.

 Y’all taught me important phrases like y’all, fixing to, might could, bless your heart, getting my picture made, kiss my grits, madder than a wet hen…

 But more than those “Southernisms”, you have taught me to baptize, to keep vigil at the bedside of someone on hospice or at the hospital, you have taught me to pray out loud, you have taught me how to design worship, how to preach, how to climb up onto the roof of a Habitat for Humanity house, how to bless a baby, how to marry a loving couple, how to say farewell to someone in a funeral, how to grieve with a family, and how to love a room full of 400 people more than I thought I ever could…

 This has been a journey of teaching, of loving, of learning, of growing, and most of all- bringing glory to Christ in all that we do. So how do you say goodbye well?

 I’m sorry. I forgive you. I love you.

 That’s how we did it, anyway.

 I’m sorry. I forgive you. I love you.

 I remember my first adult goodbye so well. It was a cold spring. My family gathered around the hospital bed keeping vigil, telling stories, sharing memories, listening to music. The food tasted like rubber, the neon lights offered little warmth, but none of that mattered. My family spent the afternoon in the Cheyanne Wyoming Memorial hospital with my grandfather. We were creating a safe, sacred space for him to let go.

 I’m sorry. I forgive you. I love you.

 We all made sure to whisper these words to him that afternoon.

 For some of us, we had no idea what we had to apologize for…

 Well, I had one little thing… I remembered a moment from 10 years before this, when I was an angst-y 8th grader- writing angst-y things in my little journal. I would criticize classmates and critique teachers. And one Thanksgiving, my grandfather accidently picked up this journal and peeked in by mistake.

 I was mortified. I didn’t want him to see me like that. I didn’t want him to see my harsh words written down.

 10 years later, gathered around his hospital bed- we had shared so many more memories and inspiring conversations and family Thanksgivings- I doubt he ever remembered my 13-year-old girl journal- but it didn’t matter- I whispered: I’m sorry.

 Many of us in the family didn’t know what we meant exactly with those words “I forgive you.” But just like ‘I’m sorry,’ they needed to be said. Maybe my grandfather experienced his own private angst for not showing up for some odd ballet performance, or not writing the perfect Christmas card, or….

 Whatever could have been troubling him, we wanted to release it- so we all whispered “I forgive you.”

 And finally, we all said “I love you.” Over and over again, we said “I love you.”

 We did this because it was time to say goodbye, it was time to make sure that our adoration and respect was understood, and believed, and communicated.

 In those final hours, we listened to sacred music. Alleluias and Praise to the Lord’s rang out. I remember when one of my favorite songs began to play in that hospital room as we all gathered. It was an arrangement of a beautiful sacred spiritual by Moses Hogan:

Lord I want to be more Holy, in my heart, in my heart,

Lord I want to be more Holy in my heart.

In my heart, in my heart,

Lord I want to be more Holy in my heart.

I sang along as the song played. It was like the anthem for all of us. I remember singing that song so clearly because that afternoon, as we said goodbye to my grandfather, it was a holy moment, a sacred, peaceful, holy goodbye.

And then I look out at all of you here today, and it almost feels the same.

When I think back to that song: Lord I want to be more holy, in my heart, in my heart, Lord I want to be more holy in my heart…

It reminds me that this was our biggest task together at Lindenwood. We all had the privilege and the honor of seeking holiness together, of trying to be more faithful, more loving, more compassionate and gospel-oriented together.

In the same way that we gathered that afternoon in the hospital room, we are all here today to say a goodbye.

I chose Paul’s letter to the Philippians for this morning, partly because it is a scripture for the 2nd week of Advent (well, last year anyway), but mostly because I couldn’t have composed a better letter myself. Our brother Paul wrote this letter generations ago, but I wanted to borrow his words and recite them to all of you today:

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

 Theologians agree Paul’s letter to the Philippians was a friendship letter- it expresses the deep love and connection between Paul and this community. This letter is sustained and rooted in their shared memories- Paul recalls with joy all that they have shared together and endured together.

Paul has 4 main points throughout the letter to the Philippians:

1)      he expresses gratitude that they have shared the gospel together;

2)      he expresses his love for this community;

3)      he tells them he hopes their love will overflow;

4)      and finally, he tells them he hopes they will discern what is truly valuable and good. 

This letter holds the longest expression of thanksgiving and love to any community that Paul writes to. There is a special intimacy and love reflected in this letter that goes beyond any of his other writings. The church in Philippi was one of the first churches in Europe, and Paul has a particular connection and respect for this church, because it’s where he felt he did some of his best work.

He writes to them knowing that he will not be with the church in Philippi for the duration of their good ministry, instead, he says, he will pray for the church until the day of Christ arrives.

Today, I can relate Paul’s situation and sentiment in this letter. I want to share a message of friendship with each of you because of our deep love and connection that is sustained and rooted in shared memories and joy. I want to express the same message Paul writes:

1)      my gratitude that we have shared the gospel together;

2)      my love for this community;

3)      my hope that your love will overflow;

4)      and finally, my hope that you will discern what is truly valuable and good. 

And, just like the church in Philippi was one of the first churches in Europe for Paul, you, Lindenwood, are my first church. Because of this, there is a special intimacy and love from me, for you.

Finally, Paul writes knowing that he will not be with the church in Philippi for the duration of their ministry- and I will not be with you all as you do your best ministry ahead.

So how can we say goodbye?

Let me say to you the goodbye I learned at the bedside of someone I loved: I’m sorry, I forgive you, I love you.

I am sure there are those here who I offended, or hurt, or disappointed, or worse. But today, as we go our separate ways, it feels vitally important and appropriate for me to say: whatever has been said or left unsaid that caused upset: I am sorry.

And, I forgive you. Just like ‘I’m sorry,’ these words need to be said.  I leave with no grudges or unresolved relationships. I am sure there are those here who think we might have had a past concern, or issue, or conflict. Whatever could be troubling you, I want to release it- so believe me when I say “I forgive you.”

 And finally, the most important message of all: I love you. I do. I love this entire church for all my relationships, my memories, my joy, my laughter, all that we have shared, all that we created, all that we witnessed together.

Lindenwood, on this final Sunday, may this be my lasting word of good news: we can say goodbye well. Even the apostles and prophets before all of us knew how to depart well. And this is an opportunity for us to do the same. I’m sorry. I forgive you. I love you.

  And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. Amen.

3 on 3: A Pet Blessing

Oliver 2

+ I now establish my covenant with you… and with every living creature that was with you: the birds, the livestock and all the animals… every living creature on earth. Genesis 9:9-10

This month marks 3 years on 3 legs for sweet little Oliver. He still purrs and over-eats and follows me around. He runs faster than ever. He plays with toy mice and shoelaces. He still sneaks outside if I leave the door open too long when I come home. Oliver is happy.

He beat the odds for cats with injection-site sarcoma.

On one of my recent hobbles around the neighborhood, I passed the Immaculate Conception ‘Blessing of the Animals’ service. The memories flooded back for me.

Three years ago, I took Oliver to that service. I remember gently lifting him out of his carrier. I felt protective of his half shaved body and the 8-inch wound held together with giant silver staples and black stitches. He lost his leg days before the blessing ceremony.

Father Val gently stroked him and whispered words of love to Oliver. He rubbed anointing oil on Oliver’s head. He gave us a small St. Francis charm to remind us of these holy moments of prayer.

I believe that blessing nudged Oliver down the road of healing- and I know that it helped heal my own aching heart as Oliver recovered.

Oliver has been my witness over the past decade. He’s been my prayer partner (he always seems to snuggle close during my morning devotion). He’s been my most patient listener and the first hearer of my sermons through the years. He’s been a comforter and an encourager to me.

Some might think animal blessings are silly, or excessive, or even inappropriate. But on the anniversary of Oliver’s amputation, I remember the tender blessing that Father Val offered Oliver and I’m grateful.

In my ministry I intend to maintain this [potentially silly and excessive] practice of blessing pets around this time of year–because this ceremony meant so much to me.

On Sunday, October 20th, at 4pm we’re having a pet blessing at Lindenwood Christian Church. We’ll gather in the garden, and all pets are welcome. All witnesses, prayer partners, patient listeners, comforters and encouragers are welcome. I think even sweet little Oliver will show up- I mean, you can never receive too many blessings.


What if The Church Shut Down?


Everybody’s talking about it. The U.S. government shut down this week. My conservative friends are outraged. My liberal friends are outraged. My moderate friends are outraged. Safe to say- we are all outraged by this.

I am decidedly not a political person. I don’t follow politics closely. I probably should. But on days like today, and weeks like this week- I am so glad I invest very little in all of it.

But here’s what I do know: when you work for an organization that is responsible for taking care of the least of these, guiding the masses to a more just and ordered existence, and living in to your call as a leader and a steward of other people’s resources—you cannot shut down.

This could be the government. This could be The Church.

In The Church, there are times when I feel so convicted about actions being taken ‘in the name of The Church’ that I believe we should shut down. When Westboro Baptist pickets funerals, or preachers spew hate from the pulpit, or “Christians” tear down their neighbors because of our differences in: gender, race, sexuality, or abilities- I desperately want to suggest that we close up shop and SHUT DOWN simply based on my principals and beliefs.

And in The Church- there are times when I am so outraged when I see fellow church leaders sabotaging our work for wholeness, holiness, grace, and mercy- that I want to point fingers, I want to blame. I want to protest.

But at the end of the day- before I let myself get lost in the shallow, bitter conflicts of being the Church in a broken world- I try to remember our purpose.

The church is simply a human-made, flawed structure. And even with its flaws and weaknesses, at the heart of the church, we are called to create spaces of grace. The church aims to provide services to all people, food for the hungry, shelter for the needy, justice for the meek, and safety for the least of these.

I believe in the mission of the Church too much to allow my own convictions and personal grievances to shut it down. I am not willing to compromise all the services and lifelines the church offers even when the actions and inactions of the church embarrass me, devastate me and make me want to rise up in protest.

I read a letter written by a little girl who lost the opportunity to go to a National Park on a school field trip this week because of the government shut down. Her letter suggested that congress and the president try to sit down and negotiate a resolution to their conflict the way she and her classmates do in the 3rd grade. 

My prayer is the same.

If I could say one thing to all those in this conflict:

From one leader in a human-made, flawed structure to others:  Please, get back to work.

A Few Prayer Beads


Recently, I’ve been “running.” No, let me be precise: I have been hobbling down the green-line praying for mercy a few times a week.

I make it about a mile and a half, and I start to walk. Everything hurts. I’m cranky. My feet feel like they are ready to fall off.

But on Saturday morning, I was asked to do the invocation prayer at the Ovarian Cancer awareness 5k. Teams of 100 people or more formed to support women fighting this disease. 50 survivors participated in the race. Crowds were wearing Teal– the Ovarian Cancer awareness color– everywhere you looked. When I arrived, someone handed me a strand of Teal Mardi Gras beads to wear in support.

The organizers of the event told me: Because you’re offering the prayer, we will give you a free registration to run the race!

Great, I thought. Thaaaannnkkks.

After my prayer I reluctantly wandered to the starting line. When the race began, I hobbled. Only this time- I saw women with bald heads cheering and literally running for their lives.

I saw family members running each step: to draw closer to a cure, to raising awareness, to fund research, to increasing compassion for ovarian cancer survivors and fighters.

Suddenly, I realized, as I ran, I was a part of a movement and a mission.

I clung to my Teal Mardi Gras necklace tightly- and it became a strand of prayer beads.

At each water station I took a bite of a power bar and sipped the cool cup of water like it was communion.

After 36 minutes, I finished the race- running and hobbling the whole way.

This is what happens when we commit to a mission: with enough prayer, enough communion, enough strength, enough endurance- we can do things we never imagined. Isn’t the same true in our faith lives and our churches?

We are all participating in a movement. We are hobbling towards our shared goal of being God’s light and compassion in the world. And we have all been given a free registration.

I learned more about the power of conviction and commitment on Saturday as I ran in the sea of Teal. Today, I realize there is just as much ’cause’ to run for every day of my faith life. Civil war in Syria, attacks in Kenya, bullying in school yards…and the list goes on. All signs that I need to continue to put my prayer in motion: breathe in peace and breathe out love. I need to savor bites of communion- whether it’s powerbars, or a meal with friends, or bread and wine at the table- because this is what fuels me for the journey.

I will be on a silent retreat part of this week ahead- and I’m going to be listening closely for the whisper of the Holy Spirit telling me where to hobble next.

Back to Church

Back to Church

+Psalm 91:14-16 As for all people: I will protect them. When they call to me, I will answer them. I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them, with long life I will satisfy them, and show them glory…

Today we open the doors wide at church to welcome everyone. Anyone. We re-commit to God’s call on our hearts: seek the broken, the weary, the lost, the hurting, the struggling… in other words: reach out to your neighbors. We call this “Back to Church” Sunday, but it’s more than this.

Today, we all begin the journey of finding our way back home. We turn back to grace. We commit once again to lives of mercy and compassion. We remember to honor the light and the goodness in everyone we meet.

We will come back to worship today, but more than an hour of singing and studying, today we all need to come back to the basics of following Christ: living for justice, embracing the destitute, loving one another well.

Creator and Sustainer of all, you know this:

Like the prodigal son, we wander.

When the world opens up before us, we chase dreams and ambitions.

In our darkest hours, we draw back and close in.

Like the prodigal son, we wander.

Loving God, you beckon us from far away. You call us. You welcome us home.

On this “Back to Church” Sunday, we come because the doors were opened to us- may we go and do likewise.

We worship today because the Holy Spirit draws us in- may we also let the Holy Spirit send out to serve.

We praise You and honor You, God, because deep within each of us, you planted a spark of divine curiosity and faithfulness. Today, let us remember to honor this spark in our neighbors, our enemies, strangers, those we call ‘others,’ and those we tend to ignore.

This morning, may the spark of the holy in each of us rise up, awaken and shine. And may we all have eyes to see other wanderers who need a place of refuge- help us be that refuge.

Compassionate God, transform us into Your light, Your hope, and Your Good News. Amen.

Millennials and the Church Touch

The Church Touch

I felt so popular in the last few weeks. I am a Millennial. I go to church. I care about the church. I serve the church.

Recently, the internet has exploded with reflections and thoughts about my generation and the church. It all started with an article that Evangelical Writer Rachel Held Evans wrote on the CNN Belief Blog called “Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church”, which you can read here.

202,000 facebook users shared her post. She wrote about what the church should become to attract people in our generation (loosely categorized as the generation after Gen X, folks born in the 80s and 90s). Rachel suggests that the church should focus on being authentic and open, intellectual and holy, but most of all: attentive to the desires and trends of the Millennials.

Brett McCracken wrote a response to Rachel’s essay in the Washington Post On Faith blog, which you can read here.

Thousands of facebook users reposed his article too. He suggests that Millennials do not have it all figured out, and the church should actually stand up to us and our demanding, self-centered ways.

Both articles are well written, thoughtful, and equally worthy of consideration.

And on my little blog, in my own little way, this is what I would add to the conversation of Millennials and The Church: we need each other.

The Church needs young, fast-paced, energetic leaders who can start the church twitter page and preach the good news of acceptance, grace, and open doors. We can bring new eyes to the sanctuaries and grand foyers and parables that just might enliven our faith exploration in The Church.

But as a Millennial, the biggest gift the church has given me came in the form of touch. Real touch. The week my grandmother died, facebook messages and texts came in by the dozens, but I needed that warm, grandmotherly hug from Dot Williams when I showed up at Lindenwood. I needed to hold the hand-written note from Lucy and Ralph Black that shared honest words of encouragement. The Church touched me.

When a man shot crowds of people in Aurora, Colorado last summer, I needed to turn off the constant commentary and catastrophizing on the news and experience the touch of the quiet, holy space of our prayer room in the church. I longed for the timeless sacred walls to wrap around me and give me a place to weep, to pray and to just be. Through the prayer room, the church touched me.

When me and my fellow Millennials engage in friendly, yet fierce digital competitions of showcasing our prestigious jobs, or seemingly superhuman fertility, or picture perfect weddings, or beautiful McMansion homes—one upping each other and comparing ourselves to one another in our Instagram posts and personal blogs… I have needed the church to show me images of the kingdom: people old and young, vulnerable, struggling, humble and collaborative. Inside our doors- the artificial ‘competitions’ fade away and I get to sing “It Is Well” with my fellow seeking, broken, evolving, willing, and raw brothers and sisters in Christ. This is how the church touches me.

Millennials might help the church stay relevant and prophetic and global… but for me- one Millennial seeking wholeness in this fragmented world- I love the Church Touch.

The church helps me step outside of the instant, distant, technologically clogged world of the Millennials. But more than this- at its best- the church reaches in, past my cheerful facebook posts and guarded tweets, past my fast paced façade and ambitious tendencies- and the Church touches my spirit.

Yes, the church needs us Millennials. But I know, deep down, I sure need The Church touch.



+ Psalm 25:1-3
In you, LORD my God,
I put my trust.
I trust in you;
do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one who hopes in you
will ever be put to shame…

“You need thicker skin.” One of my mentors said this to me during a recent coaching session. And it’s true. This has always been true.

One summer, my family traveled to Florida on vacation. We stayed at a hotel with a piano in the lobby. In the evenings, a man played old show tunes and pretty folk songs for the guests. I recently completed my second year of basic piano lessons. So one night, I tapped on the shoulder of this lobby pianist and bragged: “I know how to play piano, too.” He smiled at me, slid off the piano bench and invited me to play what I learned.
As I sat down, I realized that my two years of piano really meant that I knew how to play through scales and major chords… but I didn’t know a single song. I played one Major C chord, and then I quickly left the piano bench, head held high.

But, my ‘thin skin’ tattled on me immediately. My cheeks turned deep shades of pink and crimson- showing the world that I was affected and embarrassed by my Major C chord.

I needed thicker skin then, and still– I could use a few more layers.

I like to present a strong, confident front. I enjoy polishing my words and calculating my actions. I do this, because I love to receive positive feedback and I sometimes feel a pinch with constructive criticism.

In a world where we are all encouraged to protect our image and shape our appearance to ‘fit-in”- skin often betrays us. Whether it’s blushing cheeks, or we break out in hives that reveal our stress, or we find a pimple the morning of our wedding, or we develop wrinkles that show our wear-and-tear through this life… skin can expose us.

Tonight, I’m reflecting on SKIN as a spiritual roadblock and also a spiritual vessel. Jesus spent energy and ministry on those whose skin betrayed them.

Christ’s entire ministry touched those who were broken. The recipients of Christ’s healing faced a variety of challenges. But I always remember his interactions with the Lepers- those who were cast to the margins specifically because their skin ‘tattled on them’.

Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease that results in painful lesions on the arms and legs and face… this particular form of brokenness could be seen, observed, and scorned- because it was a disease present in the skin.

On more than one occasion- Jesus heals Lepers. In healing their skin, Jesus offers them a new purpose, a renewed opportunity to be confident, whole, and accepted.

Through faith in Christ, even lepers found strength to overcome the tender vulnerability of skin that reveals hurt and insecurity.

As I continue to pray through the psalms this summer, I’m lingering in Psalm 25- words that promise God’s strength and protection to our spirits. Casting aside blushing cheeks and bruised pride- God empowers us. We will never be put to shame, or insecurity, or vulnerability that cannot be overcome- because God gives us strength.

Christ carried out this promise among those with the thinnest, most damaged skin of all.

And so- for all of us who could use healing and power through thicker skin and deeper faith, we turn the gospel, and to the empowering words of Psalm 25… let us repeat these prophetic words: In You, Lord, my God, I put my trust…

Royal Thirst: A Few Thoughts on Ministry


I admit it. I watched the countdown to the Royal Birth. I wondered when Kate and William would welcome their child. I guessed it would be a girl- and I took interest when it wasn’t.

I clicked through pictures of the Duchess and Duke holding the little prince.

I did this because other people were doing it. And others were doing it because we were all fed this one, singular image through the news. Around the world: work-days were interrupted, vacations paused, TV and radio programming stopped to focus our attention on the royal family. AND- we took the bait.

But here’s the truth: I don’t care about this royal baby. I don’t think many of us really do. But, I think we watched it because we thirst for something to bring us together.

We long for something to give us collective hope.

We cling to the coverage of the royal baby because we can’t quite access the source of our thirst for community and solidarity.

In this context- what is the role of the church? What is possible? How can we be first responders to this thirst?

Today, people turn to the news or join a cause to quench this thirst. Popular and controversial issues sweep through our Facebook newsfeeds and media sound bites every day. Little, temporary communities pop up in agreement on human rights issues, gun control, marriage debates and public trials in the justice system.

We thirst for connection- and the ‘Royal Baby Watch’ offered another (shallow) way to connect.

I understand why many of us chose to invest our energy in the ‘Royal Baby Watch’ this week. Consider the alternatives: live coverage of a gruesome Whitey Bulger trial in Boston… a haunting image of a teenage bomber on the cover of Rolling Stone… a new song about drugs sung by the former Hannah Montana… the constant stream of bad news from Egypt…

We are thirsty for something to draw us together in hope.

And if this is true- what is the role of the church in this draught?

My friend and mentor, Reverend Johnny Wray, shared this on Monday as I hit ‘refresh’ on the Royal Baby watch site every few minutes:

Sitting at my desk on a rainy Monday afternoon catching up on some Week of Compassion post General Assembly – news is on the background – and am thinking I wished we lived in a world where the news media gave as much coverage and attention to the forgotten children of this world who are born to poverty, hunger, violence, neglect . . . as it gives to a child born to royalty, wealth and celebrity.

I agree. Too often we ignore the hungry, naked, and sick ‘least of these’ in favor of the glitzy, sparkling rich celebrities we consume through our American way of instantaneous voyeurism, greed, and envy. The church must address this temptation.

But to me, the ‘Royal Baby Watch’ had less to do with choosing a royal baby over a starving orphan, and more to do with our aimless thirst for a taste of solidarity rooted in hope. This is the source of our Royal Thirst.

I believe it is this longing that calls us to the church. At our best, the church can be a place where we receive assurance that we are a part of the important, eternal story of the human spirit. The church can be a place where we find unity. The church can offer collective hope. And then-as one Body- we can go out and serve the forgotten children, those facing poverty, violence or neglect.

The next time I find myself clicking ‘refresh’ on a shallow story trending in my facebook feed, I hope I will take time to pause and to consider this: how could the churches we serve begin to quench this sweeping thirst in our communities? How could the church speak a good word to those chasing after a little image of hope and new life?

I pray that the Holy Spirit whispers some answers through these questions as we cast a vision for the Church.

Memorial for Sarah Catherine Wender


Homily for Sarah Catherine Wender, preached July 9th, 2013

+ Matthew 5:1-12
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Sarah dreamed big dreams.

On Sunday afternoon, I spent time with her family to plan this service. We thumbed through one of Sarah’s sacred journals. This treasure was a sketchbook of Sarah’s hopes and future plans.

She clipped images of bright rooms and blooming gardens. She collected pictures of abundant dinner tables and cozy living rooms.

Sarah dreamed big dreams.

In the front cover of her sketchbook, she wrote:

I want to write, to sew, to crochet, learn to create handmade dolls, learn how to make jelly and jams, canned fruit and veggies. I want a little garden with butterflies and birds. I want comfortable couches, rocking chairs, rugs, lots of hanging plants. I want to cook a lot for my family, my husband. I want to read everything- keep learning- growing, putting God and others before me.

Sarah dreamed bid dreams. She could picture a place where life would be simple, where her basic needs would be met and filled through the humble joys of snuggly places to read, homemade food straight from the earth, and familiar, loving people surrounding her.

Sarah cast a vision for her future and for her life. She longed for this peaceful, beautiful life where she could finally rest.

Sarah wrote a list of dreams in the cover of this sketchbook too. This was her list:

-I live clean and free
-I am good to the ones I love
-I forgive and I am forgiven
-I am a great social worker
-I have financial stability
-I own a car
-I have a career
– I have an adorable home to share with a man I love
-I make mamma proud

Sarah dreamed big dreams. Because of her imaginative spirit and her creative soul, it makes sense that Sarah would love the scripture reading from the Beatitudes, because this text is a text of dreams.

Jesus preached from the mountaintop to a group of people just like us, who were brokenhearted, thirsty, hungry, weeping, mourning, questioning and crying out.

Jesus preached images that resembled a beautiful dream. He said: picture this, all of you- the poor in spirit are blessed, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus said: Dream this, all of you, those who mourn are blessed, they will be comforted.

Jesus said: Vision this, everyone: blessed are the meek, they will inherit the earth.

These days, when we look around and see this aching world and all of the problems around us, when we turn on the news and hear about more dead ends, more failed plans, more hurting souls- we all realize that we would have to be DREAMING to believe in Christ’s message in the Beatitudes.

In fact, it would take the strength, and the imagination, and the bold faith of a true dreamer to read these words from the Sermon on the Mount and know they were true.

And yet, Sarah cherished the promises and hopes and dreams that Jesus proclaims in the Beatitudes. She carried around Emmet Fox’s book “The Sermon on the Mount” and she read and re-read its pages.

She rubbed the corners of each page and dog-eared each chapter and highlighted long sections of this book because Sarah had eyes to see God’s promise, God’s faithfulness, and Christ’s truth in the Beatitudes.

Today, we gather to celebrate Sarah Wender, one of the greatest dreamers we will ever know.

Every day that she lived, Sarah clung to these sweet words of Christ that promise us all: Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.

We are here to honor Sarah by learning from her example. Let us all leave this place today and carry on what Sarah taught us. Let us dog-ear the pages and highlight these holy words from scripture.

May we all study these words… pray these words… internalize these words of hope until the pages of our bibles are worn thin- just as Sarah taught us.

But most of all, may these words whisper comfort to our aching hearts. May we all receive the good news from the all loving, all knowing God:

‘Blessed is Sarah, even in the moments she was poor in spirit, for hers is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed is Sarah, even in the days she felt meek, for she will inherit glory.
‘Blessed is Sarah who hungered for knowledge, who thirsted for peace, she will be filled.
‘Blessed is Merciful Sarah, for today, she will receive mercy.
‘Blessed is Sarah, pure in heart, for today, she will see God.
‘Blessed is Sarah, peacemaker and friend, she has been called child of God.
‘Blessed are all of us who mourn today and in the days ahead, for we will be comforted. Amen.

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