Come, Let us Walk in the Light of the Lord

A new church year, a new lectionary cycle, Advent 1 of Year A, and I start my call in my new church, Ankeny UCC. Here we listen to the words of Isaiah 2:1-5 that reminds us we have the opportunity to walk in the Light. But what does that mean in the church life? It means keeping the shadows at bay and bringing light to dark places. Come, let us walk in the light of the lord.

The Return of the Lost Sheep

A bit of a different sermon from my for September 15; I delivered this as my candidate sermon at Ankeny United Church of Christ. And so it is much more about me, and about what kind of a church we can be together, than it is about anything in particular in the scripture.

Sermon Text is Luke 15:1-10

Preached at Ankeny UCC in Ankeny, Iowa

A Meal Fit for a King

How do we react to our own fears of inadequacy? Do we sit in the corner, hoping other people will make fools of themselves? Or can we do something that diminishes our own fears while lifting others up?

Preached September 1, 2013 at the Congregational Church UCC in Iowa City. Sermon Text Luke 14:1, 7-14.

Dreaming on the Sabbath

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place 50 years ago this week. A sermon offering scripture-based reflections on what history looks like while it’s being made.

Missions

[written while on mission, edited afterward. This was originally the second of two postings]

Thursday night, on the eve of our departure from our mission site. I am feeling even more ersatz Baptist than usual, as our Cooperative Baptist Fellowship mission group now consists of two ELCA Lutherans and a UCC minister playing a Baptist on TV.

Yesterday was still somewhat morally and ethically difficult for us. We discovered that the sponsoring church for Monday’s food pantry chose not to accept USDA food specifically so they could proselytize there. At the food pantry they run in their church basement, they DO take USDA food, but of course recipients can see all the devotional messages on the wall. At the same time, the church provides free health services, too (and a very nice meal for volunteers), so it’s clear that they are committed to serving the needy. Where are the lines? a five-minute devotional at the food bank and signs up reminding folks that they need to turn away from sin? The issue is and has been, what happens to the people for whom this _is_ too much; too much pressure, too much of a reminder of hurt the church may have inflicted? At the same time, this is the mission work these churches and food banks feel called to. If nothing else, it expresses the tension that arises from religious organizations administering governmental programs.

Slightly more problematic for us was our time at a community center here. The services are wonderful-an after-school program for kids and a morning day-care for 3-4 year-olds to help them prepare for school (where I found myself working twice this week when other helpers were unavailable). But for some of the day care and food pantry services, mothers needed to come to their Bible Studies and do some quilting for the center (I’m a little confused here. It’s clear that some of the parents do not do anything with the center. So I don’t know if the requirement is just talk–this is the sort of place where kids won’t be turned away, for sure). On the one hand, we were a little uncomfortable with the mandatory Bible Study. But on the other hand, one of our big jobs was putting up fences around gardens the center had helped to install at the homes of parents. That’s just a really cool thing to do for the folks who have room (and, given the properties in that area, this means just about everyone). It’s such a great idea–modern day victory gardens–and adds a giant multiplier for donations (cheap seeds turn into expensive produce). I can’t really criticize the center; it is doing a ton of necessary and great work within its context. But, again, where do folks uncomfortable with its religious mission go?

I had a great time working with the kids, both in the preschool and in the afternoon. One lesson that was clear from our time: elementary school kids LOVE TuxMath and TuxSpell. Especially competitive network TuxMath.

Our nights have been spent talking and thinking about our past as it relates to our present mission work, except for Tuesday, when we turned on The Great Muppet Caper and had two of our four immediately fall asleep (only a fear my snoring would be too loud and a desire to brush my teeth prevented me from doing so as well. Particularly difficult for me, as I was lying on my own bed to watch said movie). I don’t think any of us expected to be quite as tired as we are proving to be at night.

I must say that I did not expect as much excitement as I got when I demanded we stop at a bookstore to get postcards to send home to Cullowhee. We showed up at the only obvious used bookstore in town and discovered that, while its antiquarian section was meh, its used section was outstanding and bountiful, with a particularly good YA section (unusual, in my experience). We wound up spending well over an hour and closer to two there. I think the proprietress was happy to see the back of us, but we all spent between $10-30 on books, and lots of time sitting on the floor examining lost treasures.