On Watching Closely

Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 5.53.00 PM

Luke 14:1, 7-14

One line stuck with me in this Gospel lesson about pride:

“They were watching him closely.”

We might think that it was just the Pharisees in the first century, trying to find a way to trip Jesus up. And we’d be right, but not entirely. Because we do it too. We watch each other.

We do watch each other closely. We’re all so concerned with one another, and we think that people are super concerned with us, and my theory is that we’re trying to figure out by watching each other how we should think about ourselves. We compare ourselves nonstop — to peers, coworkers, people at the mall…

Man, they seem really organized. I wish I had the energy to volunteer as much as he does. She really has her life together. Boy, they seem like really awesome parents. 

“They were watching him closely.”

It’s a way to start a passage about pride, that’s for sure. With close watching.

And as for us here in modern times, well, it’s been quite a week. Because technology has enabled us to watch more people even more closely, giving us more people to compare ourselves to, positively and… negatively.

The CEO of the company necessary for producing EpiPen, a medication necessary for thousands upon thousands of people, was revealed to have given herself a raise after the cost of this important medication was jacked up over tenfold. On top of that, we’ve got a US swimmer who thought he could get away with lying about a crime to his mom (of all people!) and then everyone else, and of course, we’re in the middle of a United States presidential campaign and all of the self-promotion and close scrutiny that that entails from each candidate who throws their name in.

We’re all watching — each other and people we haven’t even met. And we’re quick to judge.

“They were watching him closely.”

And here, Jesus says, “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

I mean, I don’t know about you, but when I hear that, I get kind of excited.

As in, yes, can we skip to that part now? Just turn on the news, and you can find plenty of people in severe need of humbling. And I’m sure we can think of a few people in our own lives that we could stand to see humbled. Because after all, we keep watching. We’ve noticed.

And then, just as I was feeling pretty self-righteous about it — ironic, I know, to feel self-righteous about humility — my friend from my home church, Imran, a Southeastern Synod council member and ring leader of the St. John’s young adults, pops up on Facebook chat with a link to a Pew Research article stating that when deciding on a new church home, the vast majority of people focus on two things: good sermons and warm welcome from the pastor.

I could practically feel Imran’s chuckle across the miles and through the Internet as he added, “No pressure, right?”

Talk about being watched closely. We’re all watched, sometimes when we’d rather not be. (You know, like when it seems like things depend on you.)

Clergy culture has always been a weird thing. In this age of the Internet, in an age where people rely on good sermons and good clergy personalities to make their churchgoing decisions, clergy culture has gotten even weirder. And so those who don’t feel good about shameless self-promotion and creating a cult of personality are stuck between the rock of public opinion — that good preaching and good personality in clergy is important, like medical skills and bedside manner in a doctor — and the hard place of the simple fact that narcissism in a clergy collar is perhaps the least cute thing ever.

“They were watching him closely.”

And it’s not just clergy. We all feel the weight of public opinion. We all struggle with how to think of ourselves. We all watch each other and feel others watching us. We judge ourselves, we judge each other.

So what are we supposed to do, then, with this Gospel lesson?

Jesus has been invited to a Sabbath dinner at the house of a Pharisee. How nice of them to offer hospitality — until Luke tells us that they’re all watching him closely. Waiting for him to mess up, to get something wrong, to prove that he’s not the teacher everyone thinks he is.

But what they don’t realize is that he’s watching them, too. It is a dinner party after all.

They’re all taking the places of high honor, and no doubt, some are being knocked down to lower places because there’s just not that much room at the head of the table.

And then, Luke tells us, he tells them a parable. Except that it’s not actually a parable. There is no story that tells a lesson. There’s only Jesus giving instruction. C’mon Luke, you’re a doctor. Get your genres right.

One of my colleagues at our clergy study group this week remarked that this passage is not only not a parable, but it reads something like a Dear Abby column: “Practical advice with Uncle Jesus.”

The gist of it is simple: don’t think of yourself more highly than you should. Don’t get cocky, or you’ll get knocked down, probably sooner rather than later. It’s pretty common advice, actually, not all that unique to Jesus.


But that’s not all. Because we all know people we’re waiting to get knocked on down to the lowest place who haven’t been. People who constantly get away with taking, metaphorically speaking, the best places at the table, while the best and most talented sit at the lowest places, and no one asks them to move up, and the poor and the disadvantaged get trampled on. “Oh, sit at the low places.” Sure, Uncle Jesus, Son of God, Mr. Right Hand of the Father — easy for you to say.

But that’s not the end of Jesus’s advice column.

Because see, this is where “practical advice with Uncle Jesus” becomes highly impractical advice from Crazy Uncle Jesus.

He continues, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.”

Whoa whoa whoa whoa, Jesus.

When I have a party, you don’t want me to invite anyone I know, unless I know a ton of poor and otherwise disadvantaged people? The people that we, yes, watch closely, just to compare ourselves and help ourselves feel better, like, “See, it could be worse?”

If a culture of humility tramples on the vulnerable, this is Crazy Uncle Jesus’ antidote. Invite the vulnerable in first. Look for the littlest, most vulnerable person, because when you find them, you’ll have found your guest of honor. And in order to find them, you have to pay attention.

To watch closely — out of love and invitation.

Jesus isn’t giving us all personal advice. He’s suggesting an entire shift in how we think of things. He’s out, as usual, to turn the whole world upside down. Well, and he’s being snarky and punchy to some really religious people. Also as usual.

No matter how important or how ordinary or how generally bad at life you think you are, you are one of God’s children. That bumps some people down, and raises up others to the highest seat.

Welcome to the kingdom.

We do watch each other closely, we all compare ourselves to others, and we all struggle with how to think of ourselves. I struggle with being put on a pedestal as clergy, with a clergy culture that tells me that success is in self-promotion, that if you’re good at your job you should tell everyone so that people will want to come to your church. But the truth is that I don’t deserve that pedestal because I am a goober, just an ordinary person who likes NPR and drag queens and Mexican food (not usually all together, but who knows) who is, like everyone, just trying to be good at what I’ve chosen to do with my life and to let that be enough.

I am a child of God. And so are you. And so are the most vulnerable among us.

So let’s think, as a people, as a congregation, of how to follow Crazy Uncle Jesus’s advice. Most evangelism campaigns focus on bringing in new people who are very much like the people already in the pews, but what if the people God brings in are nothing like us? How will they feel among us? Will they feel like we’re watching them closely, judging them? Or will they feel like we’re watching closely so that we can really see them, attend to their needs, and make them feel welcome?

How do you feel in this space?

It is my prayer that we are and continue to become a church where everyone is welcome — really — and where everyone can be exactly who God created them to be in our space. I pray that we continue to invite whomever God brings into our space and into our individual lives, that we welcome them with open arms, that at this table, we do watch each other closely — but with love and concern, not judgement. So that we know who is celebrating. Who is happy. Who is hurting. Who is lonely. You know, like a pastor would.

Priesthood of all believers, y’all.

Because each of us is a child of God, and you are free from your need to compare yourself to others. You can now watch only out of love. So watch, now, to see whom Jesus will bring in — or whom Jesus is calling you to invite.

Because in the Kingdom, we stand at the table on level ground: the tax collector and the swindler and the gay kid, the teacher and prostitute and the doctor and the crook, the pastor and the pilot and the judge and the drag queen, the brave soldier and the greedy CEO and the cowardly politician. We like to watch each other, we like to judge who is worthy, and Jesus just keeps reminding us that that’s none of our business. We like to get our value and our identity through watching judging others, but Jesus suggests maybe drawing it through loving others instead. And if you’re going to love others, you better realize that you’re loved first.

Lutheran pastoral celebrity Nadia Bolz Weber issues her call to the table in a sermon like this: “So come and join me at his table, at this holy of holies, not because you have made it past the velvet ropes, but because the ground at the foot of the cross is level and there is room for all of us. Thanks be to God. Amen.”

The Kingdom’s in the Details

Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 1.30.41 PM
Twin sisters Anna and Lisa Hahner finish the 2016 Olympic marathon.

Luke 13:10-17

I don’t know about you all, but every night this week (except Thursday night when the Patriots were playing, of course), I’ve ended my day by watching the Olympics on prime time. I’ve been following the Olympics more closely than I have in previous years, including the news stories surrounding the various events.

One story that caught my attention this week is — no, not the fake robbery story — but a different story. This one is about what happened this week on the women’s Olympic marathon course. Twins, Anna and Lisa Hahner, both competing for Germany in the games, did much worse than either of them expected to. As sometimes happens in a marathon, they just didn’t perform like they wanted. Deep in the pack of runners, far from the medal winners, they urged each other to the finish and, in what they insist was a spontaneous mutual decision, they finished hand in hand, making what might normally be a disappointing moment into one that they and their family could cherish.

What should have been simply another heartwarming moment in a week full of such moments turned into controversy when the two were chastised by German officials and accused of treating the Olympic marathon like a “fun run.” (1)

Now, I’m a runner too. I’ve done two marathons and a ton of 5K fun runs.

Marathons are decidedly not fun runs.

Again, the two runners were deep in the pack, far from the medals, far from results that would ever be remembered. Their places were just an insigificant detail. The twins did not intend to make any type of statement. Still, to some, their hand in hand finish was controversial.

The director of the German Athletics Federation said “Victory and medals are not the only goal. Still, every athlete in the Olympic competitions should be motivated to demonstrate [their] best performance and aim for the best possible result.” (2)

Now, I don’t think these officials are bad people. I think they simply value the rules and the Olympic spirit of competition. They want to protect it. That’s a good thing.

But I do think they’re missing the forest for the trees. The rules are meant to bring beauty to the competition, not stifle it, but when we get hung up on the details of the rules, these things happen.

Some say the devil is in the details, after all.

This is a sermon about the details. A lot of folks say the devil’s in the details.

And I think the leader of the synagogue in today’s Gospel reading would totally get what these officials are saying.

The leader of the synagogue, in those days, wasn’t a paid clergy person. He was a leader, a lay volunteer, a member of the congregation in charge of leading it, but he also had a profession outside of the synagogue.

Think of him as the president of the congregation.

So when Jesus shows up on the Sabbath, the leader of the synagogue is no doubt is a bit nervous — this is a new controversial teacher with a huge following. Can you imagine? This is the equivalent of an unannounced new preacher showing up on Sunday morning.

As anyone here who as had any leadership role in a congregation knows, new teachers and preachers and even materials are all always a bit suspect until you’ve put them through your filter and determined for ourselves that they’re alright and in line with who your congregation is and what it believes. And because we love the congregation, sometimes, not much gets through that filter.

We want to protect the congregation, and remember: the devil’s in the details, so you have to pay attention to what new preachers are saying and teaching.

The synagogue leader’s intentions are good. He’s being a responsible leader.

Now, Jesus, for his part, doesn’t seem to notice the leader of the congregation, this prominent figure, at first. Instead, Jesus sees a woman across the crowd who probably feels pretty small and insignificant compared to the others gathered. She’s bent over, unable to stand up completely, and made so, Luke tells us, by a spirit — we don’t know if she’s got some sort of disease or if life has her weighed down in such a way that she can’t even stand up straight. If you’ve ever been so stressed that your back is in knots and you’re in dire need of a massage, multiply that a few times, and you understand.

Entirely without being asked, Jesus calls her over and heals her. Literally, in the text, he tells her that she’s set free from her ailment. Though she felt invisible, like a small detail in the middle of the crowd, freedom came to her without her even asking for it, just because Jesus was there.

But it happened on the Sabbath. The day when Jews were supposed to do no work.

The leader of the synagogue sees this, but he doesn’t confront Jesus about it — he probably assumes that this teacher is just passing through. So instead, he goes to his congregation members and starts to tell them a simple message: if you want to get healed, you’re going to have to come tomorrow — any day but the Sabbath.

Now, I imagine that there isn’t much precedent for whether or not a healing is considered work, but the synagogue leader says that it must be. And work cannot, by the rules, be done on the Sabbath.

Like those German Olympic officials, he misses the forest — the coming of the kingdom of God, a woman being miraculously healed and set free, a memorable moment — for the details. The small stuff. Like the open question of whether it is legal to perform a healing on the Sabbath. What he missed was a big detail: a miraculous healing.

Even though the leader of the synagogue never says anything to Jesus himself, Jesus responds to him by, first, calling him a hypocrite, and second, asking a very simple question: “Don’t y’all give your animals water on the Sabbath?”

It seems like Jesus is being harsh to the leader of the synagogue, but he answers his concern — he essentially says, “You provide relief for your animals on the Sabbath, so, since I’m able, why can’t I provide relief for people?”

In a different passage, Jesus puts this same issue another way: for the Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath. The Sabbath was created to give relief, rest, and respite, not to withhold it, Mr. Synagogue President.

In other words, the rules were created to serve the people; people were not created to be slaves to a set of rules. 

The people are, like the woman in this story, set free.

This is what the Kingdom of God looks like.

But isn’t the devil in the details? After all, in other parts of the Bible, one little rule infraction, one little defilement, gets people killed. 

But in the passage after this one, Jesus goes on to talk about the kingdom of God in terms of little details: the kingdom of God is like a tiny mustard seed that got planted and grew into a great tree that gave shade for people and a home for birds.

And furthermore, he tells them that the Kingdom of God is like yeast that a woman mixed into flour until it was all leavened.

These two examples are little things, what some would see as only tiny details — a tiny seed, a little bit of yeast — that produce huge results.

Turns out that according to Jesus, it’s not the devil that’s in the details, it’s the Kingdom of God.

There is indeed a new preacher in town.

What’s more, he brings up yeast because yeast was seen by Jewish folks of the time as unclean — yeast defiles. Yeast, in the Bible, is sometimes seen as a metaphor for sin. It gets into everything. Yeast has to be stored in a certain way. It has to be contained, so that it doesn’t contaminate things. One little bit of yeast can ruin everything.

In other words, “the kingdom of God is like yeast” must have come as quite a shock to these folks at the local synagogue. 

But a bit of yeast also makes delicious bread. Everyone knows that, and everyone knew that then.

So what Jesus is saying is that sometimes, the little things you get stuck on may in fact be the in-breaking of the kingdom of God. But you’re going to miss that if you’re obsessed with the rules.

Of course, rules have a place in keeping order. The leader of the synagogue probably wasn’t a bad guy, and neither were the officials that got angry about the Hahner twins’ hand in hand finish. Rules help us maintain our identity, our boundaries. They help keep us safe and they help us settle disputes. But sometimes, we cling to the rules because they help us to feel safe and certain, and we cling to them so hard that we begin to nitpick and call out every tiny infraction, every little detail.

Even when the kingdom of God is in those tiny infractions.

People aren’t meant to serve the rules.

People are meant to be free.

Rules do not define our identity as Christians. Grace does. Freedom does. Love does.

That’s why Jesus said that people will know that we are his disciples, not if we follow a bunch of rules perfectly, but if we love one another.

Now, the truth is that Jesus did preserve the integrity of the Sabbath, and the Hahner twins did preserve the spirit of competition. They raced as hard as they possibly could, but both of them had terrible running days. And so they finished hand in hand. They made a memory and a statement about what’s important to do on a bad day — to finish, to remember your family and your team. The offered relief to one another by their company and camaraderie. The fact that they finished intentionally side by side deep in the pack of runners will go down in history as just a small detail.

And Jesus, as Jesus does, simply offered relief to a woman who must have thought of  herself an insignificant detail. But to Jesus, she was a beloved child of God who needed healing.

The Kingdom was in the details.

We often think of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God as a huge moment with a trumpet sound and Jesus riding on the clouds. But Jesus is pointing us towards something different, something much humbler, much more unassuming, things that some might even call rule infractions.

So look for glimpses of grace and relief this week. Look for God. Look for ways to give relief. Pay attention to the small ways that God and other people offer you relief, love, company.

And remember, sometimes, it’s not the devil that’s in the details — it’s the Kingdom of God. Amen.

(1) Thomas Kurschilgen, sports director for the German Athletics Federation, as reported in the Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/olympics/2016/08/17/german-twins-criticised-for-finishing-olympic-marathon-fun-run-h/.
(2) ibid.

On Division, Bravery, and Kindness

Preached at Our Savior’s Lutheran, South Hadley, Mass
On the occasion of a baptism

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 11.31.18 AM

Luke 12:49-56

Today we get to baptize a new tiny one!

I was all ready to have a baptism party and, like I do every week, I flipped to the Gospel text for this week and choked on my coffee.

We follow the lectionary, an assigned group of texts for each week, so it’s kind of the luck of the draw sometimes.

And this week, in the midst of an election year and on the day of a baptism here at our church, we get this text: “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”

The nerve of that guy.

Just in case I wanted to preach gentle Jesus, meek and mild, here we have Jesus calling for things to be set on fire. I admit that at first I thought, “Good thing this sermon needs to be short.”

But then I started thinking about how often the church has failed people, and how often religion has failed people. Of how often we see things in the world that are wrong, people being hurt, people hurting each other, and we say nothing. How the Martin Luther King, Jr. described in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:

“So here we are moving toward the exit of the twentieth century with a religious community largely adjusted to the status quo, standing as a tail-light behind other community agencies rather than a headlight leading men to higher levels of justice.” (1)

We too often lag behind and hurt people in the meantime with our lazy acceptance of half truths or our refusal to look deeper into insidious issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, and even outright, blatant abuse.

And I think of how this must have frustrated Jesus. How it must still break God’s heart.

And I thought of Claire, and Ari, whom we baptized a few months ago. And I thought about how we have promised to love them and pray for them and support them and teach them the ways of Jesus. How it will be difficult.

And I don’t just mean that in the ways that the people who raised me meant it. They meant that if you constantly only try to convert people, you will annoy them.

I mean something different. I mean that if we stand up for others and for people who are hurting the way that Jesus wants us to, people aren’t going to like it. They’ll tell us we’re dividing the church and they’ll call for “unity” but what they really mean is that they want us to stop rocking the boat, even if the unrocked boat allows people to be abused and hurt for no good reason. Or we ignore pain and tragedy around us when it’s unpleasant.

And you know what? I often go right along with it. We all do. The church has a history of it: of backing away from pain, of letting people be Bible beaten and bullied, of even knowingly permitting abuse.

Jesus isn’t interested, as I once thought, in picking apart our lives looking for sin. He is in this for the redemption and transformation of the world, the world turned upside down, where no one has to suffer, where no one is oppressed, where all are truly free.

And you know and I know that that’s going to cause division before it brings peace.

When America finally freed the people it had been holding as slaves, there was division and anger. When the schools were racially integrated in the South, bricks were thrown and fires were set and people were angry. When women won the right to vote, some people said it was the end of our great nation.

Every single time we have brought justice to this land for people that we have previously hurt or forgotten, there has been division and anger over it. Because, in the words of a blogger named Glennon Doyle Melton, being brave is a choice. Standing up for other people is a choice. And it’s not always a popular one.

In an article on her blog, Momastery, she writes a letter to her young son who is starting the third grade. She tells him about a kid in her class named Adam who was constantly picked on. And she tells him that she didn’t do anything to help Adam, and she still regrets it. She tells her son in words that I am sure echo God’s words to Claire and to us:

“We do not care if you are the smartest or fastest or coolest or funniest. There will be lots of contests at school, and we don’t care if you win a single one of them. We don’t care if you get straight As….

We don’t send you to school to become the best at anything at all. We already love you as much as we possibly could. You do not have to earn our love or pride and you can’t lose it. That’s done.

We send you to school to practice being brave and kind.

Kind people are brave people. Because brave is not a feeling that you should wait for. It is a decision. It is a decision that compassion is more important than fear, than fitting in, than following the crowd. Tweet: Brave isn’t a feeling. Brave is a decision that compassion is more important than fear or fitting in.

Just be grateful and kind and brave. That’s all you ever need to be.” (2)

I wonder if God doesn’t send us into the world to practice being brave and kind. Even when the crowd hates it. Even when they tell us that our standing up for other people causes division.

The truth, Jenn and Chris and TJ and Raymond, is that having Claire baptized doesn’t mean that you need to be holier than any of the rest of us. And as a congregation, promising to be here for Claire and pray for her doesn’t mean that we have to be extra holy examples for Claire. When we renounce the devil and the forces of evil in a few minutes, it doesn’t mean that we will be any holier or that God will or even could love us any more than God already does. That much is done. Sealed. 

It just means that we need to practice being brave and kind, so that Claire grows up knowing that this is the way of Jesus: to be brave and kind, loved, and called by name. It means seeing ourselves as created in the image of God, so that we treat other people like they are created in the image of God too.

Having Claire baptized doesn’t mean we have to be the best Christians. Jesus couldn’t love us any more even if we were.

The cross is here to remind us that we are loved beyond measure and that God is present with us even when we suffer, even when our choice to be brave is unpopular, and even when we fail to be brave in the first place.

Claire and Jenn and Chris, TJ and Raymond, and people gathered here at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church: you are loved beyond measure, and I am so glad that you are here.

Let’s have ourselves a baptism party. Amen.

1. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” [ext.], http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45a/060.html.
2. Glennon Doyle Melton, “One Letter to Read Before Sending Your Child to School,” Momastery, http://momastery.com/blog/2014/08/21/the-one-letter-to-read/.

On Staying Ready, or “Bathroom Sinks and Other Holy Things”

Genesis 15:1-6
Luke 12:32-40

“You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

When I was a kid growing up in a conservative evangelical church, we were constantly told to “get ready,” because Jesus was coming back. It always scared me a little. I mean, “getting ready” feels like a lot of pressure, especially when what you’re getting ready for is the Son of God’s return at the end of time. It’s a lot for a kid to think about.

After I grew up, for quite a long time, I forgot about this idea that we should constantly keep watch and get ready for Jesus to come back — I assumed, because I was no longer waiting for an imminent rapture, that it didn’t have much value to me anymore.

But of course, Jesus always comes knocking back and reminding you of what he said, and I do think Jesus’ words of readiness have value for us today, still. You see, for me, it’s no longer about getting ready. Let me explain — through reality television, if I may.

Now, most of us have guilty pleasures that we love to watch. And one of mine just happens to be RuPaul’s Drag Race. If it sounds like that must be a reality competition between drag queens (and incredibly talented ones, I might add), it’s because it is.

This season, one of my favorite characters was Chi Chi Devayne, a self-described country, Southern queen. And she, I think, echoed Jesus when she would say one of her most famous lines that continues to stick with me:

“If you stay ready, you ain’t got to get ready.”

It’s become something of a personal motto for me, and I think it’s sound advice, ‘cause indeed, if you stay ready, you ain’t never ever ever got to get ready.

This plays out in my life in a variety of ways. I’m constantly prepping for future things, laying things out so that I can leave at a moment’s notice, so that I have to do very little getting ready in the mornings besides brewing the coffee and getting my actual self ready. I’m always trying to streamline things in my personal and professional life.

This week, in the Gospel, Jesus calls us to always stay ready for his return, and I tried to think of the practical implications of that. Sure, given the violence of our world, we look for the redemption of all things at the end of time. I have to believe in that. But I can’t say that I’m constantly looking East for the sudden return of Christ. So, given that, I found myself asking this week — what can I lay out and have ready so that I am always ready for the world-turned-upside-down-ness of the kingdom?

How can I make sure that the Gospel is always at the forefront of my mind? How can I make sure that I am constantly ready to show love and respect to everyone I meet? How am I always ready to meet Jesus in the Least of These?

Perhaps most challenging of all: how can I be sure that I am always showing love and respect to myself as a child of God? These are questions not just for me, but for all of us.
How can we stay ready?

Well, most pastors and lay preachers know that sometimes you preach exactly the sermon that you yourself needed to hear, and sometimes you don’t realize it until afterwards. My favorite occurrences of this have been in my sermons that were really designed for children.

This week, as most of you know, I served at our synod camp, Camp Calumet, as the family camp chaplain for the week. By the way, Camp Calumet sends you its thanks for “lending” me to them, and I echo those thanks!

As part of my work this week at Calumet, I was charged with designing daily devotions that were geared towards kids but were applicable for adults as well. Now, I’ve done plenty of children’s moments, some Vacation Bible School, and various other things for kids, but I’ve never designed any sort of series for kids. So I did what I usually do when I’m trying out something new: I talk to someone who’s done that kind of thing a lot.

So with a little conversational help from my brilliant Arlington-based friend Kathleen, I designed a series called “Holy Things.”

It came out of this notion: since I arrived here in New England, I have heard how much people love Camp Calumet. I’ve heard people describe Calumet over and over as a Holy Place, and how people wish they could bring Calumet back home to their churches.

And so I decided to think about how, in some ways, we already do have the Holy Things of Calumet in our churches: in the waters of beautiful Lake Ossipee that echo baptismal fonts all over the synod and help us remember our baptism, in the campfires and lit candles that recall the light of Christ, in the crosses posted at Calumet and in our churches that remind us that Christ is always with us, in the words with which we tell the story of Jesus, and finally, in table fellowship in the dining halls of Calumet and at the table of Christ every Sunday.

And so, Holy Things was born, and it became just the sermon that I needed to hear.

Because as I was washing my hands in my bathroom sink on Friday night after my return from Calumet, I thought about the waters of Lake Ossipee. And I noticed that my bathroom sink is shaped like a shell, and how the whole thing sort of recalls a baptismal font. And I remembered that I was claimed and loved by God, and even in my post-camp tiredness, I found myself refreshed and ready to keep working for the kingdom.

And I remembered the Gospel of Chi Chi Devayne and the Gospel of Jesus today:
If you stay ready, you ain’t got to get ready.

(By the way, if anyone asks you what your pastor preached about this Sunday, you can tell them that she preached about her bathroom sink.)

It turns out that the sermon that I needed to hear was that God’s wonders — God’s holy things — are all around us, constantly reminding us of our worth as children of God, and constantly telling us to keep watch for whom we might show love, whom we might help, and how we might preach the Gospel with our actions.

‘Cause see, if you stay ready, you ain’t got to get ready.

In our Old Testament reading, too, Abraham is called by God to look up at the stars and count them and he is told – “this how many descendants you’ll have.” Throughout Abraham’s life, whenever he saw the stars, he thought of God’s promise of how many people would call him Father Abraham. And now, we can look up at the stars and imagine that too — the communion of saints, and how many people of faith there have been, are, and will be, all calling Abraham their ancestor in faith.

And, though it seems to only be about the end of time, the Gospel lesson this week (like most of the New Testament) actually talks quite a bit about how we are to live and treat one another in this world, not the next. “Sell your possessions and give alms… make purses for yourselves that don’t wear out… be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.” We must constantly be reminded of God’s love and mission by the Holy Things all around us.

There’s a lot of need out there — and in here. There are a lot of people who need love out there, and in here, even if it’s just in the form of a quick hug or word of encouragement or offer of support. And while it’s usually pastors who are well aware that anything can happen at any time, Jesus reminds us today that it’s the work of the Church, and the work of every Christian, to always be ready to respond and act for the Kingdom of God, God’s reign of love on earth.

So this week, I challenge you to look for the Holy Things all around you.

 May the water in your sink, in your shower, and in the Connecticut River remind you of your baptism and remind you that you are called by name, loved and claimed by God.

May the fire in these candles and the lights you switch on every night remind you of the light of Christ, and remind you to spread that light wherever you go.

May the crosses in this place and the crosses in your home and the crosses that you wear on your body remind you that Christ is always with you, especially when you suffer, and when things are at their darkest. And may those crosses remind you to reach out to someone who is currently walking in darkness, who might need your company this week.

And may the table fellowship that we share here at communion, and at coffee hour, and the table fellowship that you share with your family and friends and coworkers and clients this week remind you of Christ’s constant presence at our tables. May it remind you of those who need to be fed, so that you may always be ready to show love and hospitality.

Because at this table, all are loved and welcomed. Even you. Even me. And this table is an extension of Calumet’s table, and Christ’s table, and your table at home — and Jesus is a laughing, loving presence at each one of these tables. May we remember that this week. May we remember that we are loved fiercely, and may we remember to spread that love around.

Because you know, if you stay ready, you ain’t got to get ready.


Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 1.33.34 PM
Zavion Davenport, aka Chi Chi Devayne of Shreveport, Louisiana
…Who ain’t never got to get ready.