Monthly Archives: September 2014

Hope-fuw-wee

My toddler son Bennett’s vocabulary expands daily.  A few weeks ago he learned the word hopefully, although when it comes out of his adorable toddler mouth it sounds like this: hope-fuw-wee.  He must have noticed that we would use this word in conjunction with things he wanted to do.  “Can we go outside later?”  “Will there be treats there?”  “Can I see my friends?” “Will Daddy be home soon?”

“Hopefully,” we parents say hoping to placate the questioning mind of a two-year old.

Now when we suggest something like, “Maybe we’ll go outside later,” Bennett will respond, “yeah, hope-fuw-wee.”

Hope is attached to the good things in our lives- even children can sense this. And despite any of the difficulties we face in this life- there is always hope.  There is always the possibility that something good will come.  And when we come to church we are reminded of this.  God’s ‘good things’ are found in tangible things that remind us of God’s love.  And one of those tangible things is the bread and wine of our communion.  This bread and wine may be ordinary, but it comes with an extraordinary word of hope.  This word of hope is that God’s forgives you and loves you and is present with you.

May you be reminded of God’s deep love for you this week!

A Hopeful Word

Dear Hope-fuls,

Yesterday I preached my first sermon as your pastor.  I felt so grateful to be able to share the good news of God’s generosity and heart for the last with all of you.  I published it here on my blog.  And its a funny thing about sermons…  it is really better to experience it in person.  I think above all God speaks to us person to person, embodied and alive.  Yet, it is nice to read a hopeful word Monday morning.  It is nice to be able to stay connected with the church even when we can’t attend.  The sermon is an important part of the worship experience, but it is really all of God’s people gathering around word and sacrament that builds our worship.

And that’s another reason why we go church….

Word

The word in our worship is both the scriptures and the preached word.  The preached word brings God’s word to us directly.  It becomes ‘for you’ when it is shared by the preacher.  Whether she is an ordained minister or an everyday Christian- we hear God’s word through the preacher.

We come to church to hear a word of hope.

May your week be blessed with hopeful words,

Your Pastor of Hope

Sermon for Sunday, September 21: Generosity- The last will be first

Matthew 20:1-16 New Living Translation (NLT)

Parable of the Vineyard Workers

20 “For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay the normal daily wage[a] and sent them out to work.

“At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day.So they went to work in the vineyard. At noon and again at three o’clock he did the same thing.

“At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’

“They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’

“The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’

“That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first.When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. 10 When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. 11 When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, 12 ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’

13 “He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? 14 Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. 15 Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’

16 “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.”

The last will be first and the first will be last. 

Jesus’ parable of the vineyard owner ends with this bold phrase.

The last will be first and the first will be last.

If you are like me, you may wonder where you fit in as you hear these words….  Who are the last in our community- who are the first?  As I pondered this I found an online quiz that measured privilege.  I will give you all an abbreviated version, so you can know where you stand.  Count on your fingers the number of statements that are true about you…

You have never gone to bed hungry

You can afford a needed medication

You are a man

You work in a salaried job

You are white

You are heterosexual

You graduated high school

You graduated college

You are able bodied

You do not have a mental illness

You have never been threatened/shamed because of your religious beliefs

You speak fluent English

If you have run out of fingers, you can assume that you are pretty privileged….  You are first.

Those who were first in this parable were the privileged among day workers.  They were the physically fit and skilled workers.  When the vineyard owner came to offer work to the day laborers, they were the first to be chosen, given the dignity of work and the promise of a day’s wage.  Those overlooked included the elderly, sick, disabled, and women.  A smart manager would know that these people would not be worth as much as the first laborers.  They would be left behind without the means to support themselves and their families.  Still, these laborers hung around at the end of the day- hoping for pennies worth of work at.

Yet there is something different about this vineyard owner in our story.  He doesn’t send a manager, but goes to the people himself.  He keeps coming back to hire more workers, even those left behind that no one else wanted to hire.  And finally he pays them the same wage as those who have been working all day long.  You could say he is not a very shrewd businessman.  He doesn’t seem to get the economics of cutting expenses and making a profit.  His strategy is backwards.

The last will be first.

Jesus told this parable and other parables to illustrate what the kingdom of heaven is like.  Here we see that the kingdom of heaven is not about making a profit.  It is not a business transaction.  It is not what people expect.  It values all lives the same. The kingdom of heaven is about sheer generosity- a gift that cannot be earned or measured.

When we hear stories of generosity and witness generous acts, we are seeing the kingdom of God lived out right here.  In my call I am able to see this kingdom generosity on a regular basis:

  • I see it in people who give large and generous gifts to the Church because they are passionate about our mission.
  • I see it in people who give generously of their limited spare time including their nights and weekends to serve others in need at the Beacon House and other causes.
  • I see it in the teachers of Rachel’s Place extravagantly loving all of our little children as their own, even as they make very little money doing it.

One of the greatest examples of generosity in my life happened when my nephew Drew became sick with brain cancer when he was just a baby.  My family decided to put on a benefit walk in support of Drew’s battle in our hometown community.  We were trying to raise money to support my brother Ben and his wife Annie with their extra medical costs and time away from work.  And the response was overwhelming.  In our tiny town of Elroy, population 1500- we were able to raise well over fifteen thousand dollars in one day.  I saw people donating whom I knew had very little money themselves, and yet they were giving generously to help my family in our time of need.  Annie who worked at the VA hospital had people donate all of their sick days to her, so she could get paid while she was away from work taking care of Drew.  The generosity was shocking and beautiful.

And thankfully it is really not a rare thing.  I think most of us can share an experience where we have been touched by radical generosity of some sort.  But I think we all agree we could use a little more of it in our churches and in our world.

This story of the vineyard owner is about generosity and extravagant grace.  It is also about going to extravagant lengths to include those who are excluded.  It is about coming back, time after time to make sure that all have a chance to do the work of the kingdom.  It is about the last becoming first.

Earlier we imagined who among us might be first.  Now let’s imagine who might be last.  Who are those people that we consider less deserving of ourselves, even if only subconsciously?  Maybe its people on welfare, people who “look like terrorists,” people who suffer from terrifying diseases like Ebola, people who wear hoodies, children who cross our borders…  Now imagine what it would look like for God to make them first- to put them ahead of us.

This is good news for the last.  It is good gospel news for the people of God who are sick, poor, marginalized, or just plain left out.  It is good news to know that God sees your plight and cares for you every step of the way.  You are welcomed into the kingdom.  God’s extravagant love and forgiveness is for you.

But take heart those of you who are first already.  As we see in the parable those laborers who were chosen first were still given the day’s wage.  It would seem that we are still offered God’s gifts of grace in the kingdom -if only own our selfishness and entitlement would not get in the way of us accepting those gifts.

God’s kingdom is about tearing down the boundaries between the first and the last and all divisions between people.  As Paul said, In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 3:28 The Message). This is good news for all people.

Jesus tells stories to teach us about the kingdom of God.  And in this story we see that God’s generosity and grace go beyond the bounds of what we might expect.  It reaches everyone- even the lost and last.  This sort of grace does not make sense.  It is abundant and extravagant.  And when we pray for God’s kingdom to come, we pray for this radical grace to overtake our world and our own lives.  We pray that God’s overflowing generosity will overflow into our lives so that we may share it with the world.

 And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ.

Philemon 1:6

Hope-ful people

Dear Hope-fuls, (my Hope congregation and everyone in need of a little dose of Hope)

I’m starting this blog to keep in touch and share my sermons.  I have officially been your pastor for a full two weeks now- what a blessing!  It has been a whirlwind of a start as the church is abuzz with excitement.  We are starting fall education programs: Sunday GIFT, Wednesday Oasis, and H2H Confirmation.  We are also back to two services at 8:30 and 10:15, with the 10:15 being an ‘experimental’ new service.  As I have jumped back into ministry it made me ponder the question…

“Why do we go to church?”

And as I pondered this I kept coming back to our name: Hope.  One reason we come to church is that we are hopeful that we will experience God’s presence.  We are hopeful that we will find a community of love and joy.  We are hopeful that we will see our own identity and purpose in life a little clearer.  Each of us carries our own burdens.  And when we come to church we are hopeful that we will find someone to help us ease the load, or at least keep us company in our struggles.

And it is my hope that you can find some of that at our church, and my goal to help make that happen with God’s help. So this week, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13).

Your Pastor of Hope