November Newsletter Article

This is my article for Peace Presbyterian Church’s November Newsletter.

Dear Peace Family,

My husband, Jason, loves jigsaw puzzles. He sets up a card table in our living room, opens a puzzle box, and gets to work. While I am someone who struggles to find two pieces that fit together, he can complete a pretty complicated puzzle in two or three days. And sometimes, after having all the puzzle pieces spread out on the table, and the flurry of activity of placing pieces together so quickly, and the hustle and bustle of our living in general during non-puzzle times, he gets to the almost end of the puzzle and realizes he’s missing a piece.

We’ve found his stray puzzle pieces stuck in his chair; under the entertainment center or couch, and on the bathroom floor. He will not put the puzzle away until it is complete, so like the woman sweeping for her coin (but never vacuuming!) in Luke 15, he searches the house so he can complete his puzzle. An unfinished puzzle has sat on the table for weeks before the piece turns up.

The Bible gives readers many metaphors and pictures for the church. The church is a human body or a sheepfold, for example. But I think if Buffalo Games or Springbok had been around in the day of the early disciples, a jigsaw puzzle as metaphor for the church would have made the pages of our sacred text. 

A puzzle is a good metaphor for the church: 

  • Each puzzle piece is different–different shape, different colors. 
  • Each piece was made to fit perfectly right where it belongs in the puzzle.
  • Once assembled, the whole is more beautiful than each individual piece could achieve on its own.
  • Each piece is necessary to make the puzzle complete.

This month, we kick off our 2022 Stewardship Campaign. We are calling it “My Piece…Our Peace.” Each year, we give families and individuals in our church a pledge packet that contains an Estimate of Giving card to estimate your financial giving to Peace in 2022, and a Time and Talent Survey that invites you to think about how you would like to apply your time and talents to the church in 2022. The information you share on either of these documents is not legally binding–you don’t end up owing the church that money or service. These are a tool for church planning, and we hope you are praying about these opportunities and that you are dedicating your planned giving–Tithe, Time, or Talent–to the glory of God and the mission and ministry of his church!

In your stewardship packet, you will also find a blank, white Puzzle Piece. You should have one for each member of your household–and we will have extras that can be mailed or picked up at the church. You are invited to color, decorate, or design your blank puzzle piece however you like. Maybe you will make it represent your personality, your gifts, or simply your favorite color. You can use markers, crayons, colored pencil, pen, or collage materials. Everyone who participates in the life of our church in any capacity–whether member, frequent participant, or new visitor–is welcome to join in helping us complete our puzzle. Bring or send your completed puzzle piece to the church, and during this month, we will assemble the puzzle in the sanctuary. Even as we turn in our Pledge Cards and Time and Talent Surveys on November 21, we will also remember that we do so as a church with many members, and each one is an important piece of our whole. Your puzzle piece represents you and the paper documents you are placing in the offering plate, and is a visual reminder of your important place in our church family. My Piece…Our Peace.

The most similar metaphor to puzzle that we have in scripture is that of a building, with each member making up a crucial piece of the building materials.

19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God. –Ephesians 2:19-22

As a church, we are being assembled for the glory of God, each piece is important, and we will not be a complete structure or church until each piece is added. So whether you have already found your place to join in service or fellowship, or if you’ve gotten lost under the couch for a little bit, come and join us and add your piece to our Peace puzzle.

Grace and Peace (Piece?),

Pastor Becky

One of Jason’s favorite completed puzzles.
Photo contains a lovely winter scene with lots of snow, a horse drawn wagon on the road,
and bright sunshine illuminating the trees and houses along the road.

Pastors–That’s a Little Bit Like Me!

Nancy is a new member at Peace Presbyterian Church. One of my favorite things about being a pastor is hearing and sharing the stories of the people I pastor, and Nancy has been someone who has shared so much of her story with me, and with our church, over the course of the past almost two years. She is also generous with encouraging words and I have appreciated the time she’s taken to share words that not only are supportive and kind toward me, but demonstrate an understanding of who I am and what it is to be a pastor.

So last week, when I shared my last post (Pastors–They’re Just Like Us!), within a few days, Nancy had added these words as a comment to my Facebook post sharing the blog post. “Maybe I missed some of the point of your piece,” she began, but she had not. She had just captured another understanding of what it is to be a pastor. We talked about how both realities are true–pastors are both ordinary people (and in the Presbyterian Church, our polity highlights that) and also pastors are called and set apart for extraordinary ministry, as she notes in her post. I thought her words were kind and beautiful and asked if I could share them here

That’s a Little Bit Like Me by Nancy Miller:

Pastors are just like us, and yet —-They have stepped up and out in definitive public commitment to God. Often this commitment includes great personal sacrifice.That’s a little bit like me …

Pastors are just like us, and yet —-Their lives encompass so many more of the things I see Jesus saying to do ….And more often than not choosing another’s needs over their own. That’s a little bit like me.

Pastors are just like us, and yet —-They run into the fire, of the contentious meeting of elders or staff, to the heartbroken and downtrodden — often when they’d rather sit quietly with Jesus. That’s a little bit like me.

Pastors are just like us, and yet —-They hold vigil over the grief stricken and dying; the chronically ill and the newly divorced. They don’t give up, they don’t forget; often bringing it all home and spending nights in anguished prayer. That’s a little bit like me.

Pastors are just like us, and yet —They live with both feet in the kingdom of God. Often on their knees, or face, serving and loving and holding up the arms of those in their fellowship, and beyond. That’s a little bit like me.

That’s a little bit like me, the me I hope to be, as I see the reflection and image of Christ in the words they speak and the lives they live. Pastors are a light – shining with the love of Christ, in which we can better see the me we were created to be –And through it all, the joyful times and the trying times, they are an example of walking the path, that reveals to all the great message of every time: Christ in you the hope of glory. Thanks be to God!

Another photo from Coronatide: Wearing my white preaching robe, squeezed between the dirty door frame and the freshly painted pulpit Bob and Jason made for me to use in my new radio booth for parking lot worship in the winter of 2020-2021. It’s been a whole long season of pastors adapting and living into their vocation whole-heartedly, with all their minds and strength.

Pastors–They’re Just Like Us!

I’m doing some writing this month around the topic of appreciating your pastor. You can find previous offerings here and here. Thanks, as always, for reading what I write!

Us Magazine has a weekly feature called “Stars–They’re Just Like Us!” Basically, it is a photo spread of celebrities doing ordinary things. For example:

A Photo from Us Magazine’s “Stars–…!” spread featuring Nicky and Paris Hilton conversing over giant soft pretzels and the caption “They eat soft pretzels!”

I know this because I have read Us Magazine in the past…and sometimes still in the present…and probably will in the future. In my opinion, it’s the perfect beach read. Mindless enough to lay around reading while simultaneous people-watching, but not as trashy as some other possibilities in that category.

Is that surprising, a pastor reading Us Magazine? Aren’t pastors supposed to only read the Bible, Christian books, and giant theological tomes? Isn’t it weird for a pastor to read tabloid magazines at the beach? Guess what? Pastors–they’re just like us!

Something I hear from time to time is a version of “You’re such a normal person!” And that always gives me a chuckle. I wish these friends could live inside my head sometimes. They would likely not say “you’re such a normal person!” anymore. (Any anyway, what’s that saying anyway about “normal” being just a setting on the clothes dryer?)

I suppose the expectation is that pastors are above all the ordinary and too holy for the common experiences of life. Or that pastors require a more pious or holy sort of treatment. But the reality is that yes, pastors have a particular calling and we are accountable to our congregations, judicatories, and God with regards to our decisions and behavior, but we live into that in some very “normal” ways.

Here’s what this means for me as a pastor:

You do not have to clean up your behavior and pretend to be someone you are not

Pastors have all heard the “I didn’t know you were pastor” apology. Someone is cussing up a blue streak as they tell me about their day and then asks me what I do for a living. Awkward City, population 2. Because I know what is coming–“Sorry about my language,” they may sheepishly confess.

Or someone will inform everyone in a group to, “watch your language! The pastor is here.” Or preemptively apologize for someone who may not be well-behaved.

“Oh,” I usually reply, in an attempt at humor and reassurance. “I already know all the words!” (Although one time I said that and within in a minute, someone said a word that I most certainly did not know. So, joke was on me in that case!)

People sometimes are guarded around me, or worry that what they have to tell me will be shocking or scandalous. And you know what? Sometimes it is, but life can be shocking and scandalous, and life is always the backdrop for ministry. I figure God doesn’t avoid the shocking and scandalous, painful and broken things, and I am called to be present in those situations as well. I am ok with your rough edges, your hard questions, your doubt-filled musings, and your real life experiences. It’s all right to tell me you haven’t read your Bible in weeks–I’ve been there and I get it; or that you are angry with God–I’ve been there and I get it; or that you made a big mistake and are living with the bigger consequences–been there, too. I don’t understand the job of pastor as someone who polices your morality or belief, but as someone who walks through the hardness of life with you, encouraging you, helping you engage scripture, praying for you, and traveling alongside you as you discern your calling.

I struggle with all of this, too

I can assure you that being a pastor does not mean I have it all figured out. There are mysteries I do not understand but I know you wish I would. There are even well-explained theological ideas that I do not understand (and you also probably wish I would). And there are times when I struggle.

These past (>) two years have been difficult. I wrote some about how I have struggled through the pandemic here. But the reality is that these past months have brought uncertainty, fear, and worry into my life–perhaps as they have for you as well. I’ve hit breaking points along the way. I’ve had to reach out for encouragement and mental health support (I restarted talk therapy about a year ago, for example). I’ve lost people I love and have disappointing interactions with loved ones over politics and science and humanity.

Being a pastor doesn’t place me above all of that, or give me a pass when it comes to struggle or grief. We deal with all of this in many of the same ways our friends in medical, teaching, public service, and other professions and places do.

But also, in general, I struggle with not being too sarcastic or smart-mouthed in some situations. I spend way too much time looking at the screen on my phone. I find it easier to just assume other people aren’t as intelligent as I am when they disagree with me. I secretly hope people will have to cancel the plans they made with me and I will have to stay home in my pajamas and read or watch TV (or look at the screen on my phone). And sometimes I just keep sinning. I’m a mess! But I also know that I am forgiven, loved, and called by a God who forgives, love, and calls you too.

We want to be known

Pastors want people to know them for who they are as individuals, not assume some sort of caricature about them as a whole.

A week or so ago, one of our members arrived at the church, carrying in a bouquet of beautiful flowers, a coffee cup, and a bag from Biscuitville. She handed all of these to me and headed to Sunday School. I took the lid off the coffee and saw it was black–no cream or sugar included, not even in the bag. In the bag was a plain biscuit with strawberry jelly. Do you know who drinks her coffee black and only puts strawberry jelly on biscuits? I do! This is going to sound dramatic, but when I saw these things were true, tears came to my eyes. Why? Because I was known. She hadn’t texted or called when she was in the drive thru line–she remembered how I took these things because she had paid attention to me. What a gift in so many ways! (And that biscuit was delicious.)

That same morning, after Sunday School, I found this on my desk:

A print of my favorite Bible verse, Hebrews 10:23, which says “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering for he who promised is faithful.”

This print is beautiful and it’s Hebrews 10:23–my favorite Bible verse. I also teared up a little when I saw that because it meant someone knew this about me. Three years ago, I can remember feeling homesick and sad about how unknown I was to my new congregation. After eighteen years in the same church and community, I felt so known and loved there. Would this ever happen at Peace? A week ago, I realized it had.

Just like not all teachers, or doctors, or electricians are the same, neither are all pastors. We have hobbies , preferences, phobias, and quirks just like everyone else. Just like your teacher or your doctor or your electrician, you may not be privy to all the personal details and information about your pastor–that’s normal, and healthy, too. But get to know who they are as your pastor. Honor the ways they use their gifts and abilities uniquely. Don’t expect them to be someone or something they are not. And for goodness’ sake, find out how they take their coffee!

I realize that I am not speaking for all pastors with any of these pastor appreciation posts. We are not pastors because we all think and do the same things. There are pastors who will scold you if you swear or ask gut-wrenching questions in their presence. Some pastors do want you to believe they are mostly perfect and struggle-free. And every pastor has a different level of comfort with being known by their congregations.

I suppose the thing that I most want to be as a pastor is someone who comes alongside each person and reminds them that they are not alone. I want to be someone that other people know they can be themselves around, say what they need to say, ask the questions they want to ask, and look for God together. I hope that people feel loved and accepted when they are with me. I don’t know if that’s “normal,” but I do suspect it’s similar to who you want to be, no matter what your vocation or profession, as well.

This week, if you see a pastor reading a weekly tabloid at the beach…or geeking out over something she heard on NPR…or softly swearing when the internet goes out in the middle of an important online meeting:

Take a mental snapshot and remember, Pastors–they’re just like us!

Talking to Your Pastor about the Sermon

It’s Pastor Appreciation Month! To celebrate, I’m offering a few posts with suggestions about having a healthy and encouraging relationship with your pastor (or any church leader, really). You can read my first post about disagreeing with your pastor here.

Today’s topic: how to give sermon feedback or have a conversation about the sermon (or homily, meditation, message, etc).

I appreciate every kind comment that comes about my sermon that are of the “nice sermon” variety. And if that’s what you want to stay to your pastor at the door on Sunday morning, please do. It is encouraging to us to hear those kind words. But if you want to engage at a deeper level, or if you want to help your pastor understand how the sermon found you and how God is working in your life, I offer some suggestions:

Understand that preparing to preach is a whole process

I spend about fifteen hours each week working on my sermon. Here are some things I do during those fifteen hours:

  • I choose the text. We typically stick to the RCL, but sometimes I preach sermons or series not based on the RCL.
  • I read the text, pray about it, study it, read it in the original language, and diagram it.
  • I have a conversation with another pastor, almost every Monday, to discuss and study the text together.
  • I read commentaries and articles that have to do with the text. I listen to podcasts that have to do with the text (Sermon Brainwave, for example).
  • I listen to other sermons about the text (usually a mainline preacher; an evangelical expository preacher; and a preacher of color). I like to understand how the text is handled and understood in different contexts.
  • I pray about what God wants my congregation to hear on this particular Sunday.
  • I outline my sermon, making sure I have a main point or a guiding question, as well as points from within the scripture that support the main point or help us consider the guiding question.
  • I write and write and write some more, finally creating a draft of my sermon.
  • I preach from the draft in the pulpit in an empty sanctuary. I edit best when I hear the words spoken out loud.
  • I doubt everything about my ability to do this and hate my stupid sermon for about 30 minutes every Saturday.
  • On Sunday morning, I edit the draft and produce a final manuscript. I will mostly preach from this manuscript with a few deviations as we go along and the Spirit speaks to me.

I mention that because although every pastor has his or her own process, it’s probably more involved than a lot of people assume. Pastors do not just step into the pulpit and start talking. Before we bring this word, we have spent hours preparing to do so. We hope you will hear what the Spirit speaks to you through our messages. We hope you take the time to consider the scripture more deeply and fully.

Prepare to hear the sermon

Especially now, most churches make their Sunday bulletins available in a digital format that can be accessed before Sunday. Some pastors send out information about texts to be preached ahead of time. Maybe it’s printed in the bulletin the week before. Maybe there’s a list of information for upcoming Sundays in the newsletter each month. Maybe it goes out mid-week in an email. Maybe your pastor does a teaser video about what’s coming up.

We do these things because we hope you won’t come into the sanctuary on Sunday morning “cold.” We hope you will warm up to hear the sermon by reading or considering the sermon scripture the week before. As you read, consider: what do you notice about the scripture? What questions does it cause you to have? What do you hope the preacher will explain? Interacting with the text ahead of time will prepare you to be a good participant in the sermon on Sunday.

Ask questions about what didn’t make sense

I have a member of my congregation who is not afraid to tell me when my sermon didn’t make sense to her. Every so often, she will ask me to summarize what I was hoping she would hear in my last sermon. She is willing to admit if she was distracted or got hung up on one particular point so much that she failed to hear anything else. She’s willing to speak specifically, “When you said ____________ what did you mean?”

I appreciate this so much because it helps me know if I have maybe said something that in general was confusing, like what happened here. It helps me consider how to preach more clearly. It also lets me know that here is someone who wants to understand what I have said so much that she took note of where specifically I lost her. She never just says, “Your sermons make no sense!” but she instead does the work to understand what I was trying to say, even if in that case I said it poorly.

Share how the sermon spoke to you

You don’t have to go on and on or offer back a theological dissertation, but a word about how something spoken was meaningful, taught you something, caught your attention, or even something that challenged you or with which you disagreed is a sign of the Holy Spirit at work. I have a member who often hears the sermon and sends an email with her reflection on Sunday afternoon. Sometimes this even allows me to respond with some of the things I didn’t fit in the sermon, but that I have been thinking about, or my own reflections on the sermon after it’s preached.

Know that we have learned that we are not in control

I can’t even number the times I’ve prepared a sermon and thought, “Boom! This will be the best sermon I’ve ever preached!” only to realize, while I am preaching, that it is most certainly not the best sermon I’ve ever preached and nobody knows what I’m talking about. Or the number of times I’ve thrown up my hands and pushed print on and preached a sermon that I wasn’t even sure I understood–only to have a flurry of emails and comments about how the sermon spoke to people and was maybe the best sermon I’ve ever preached.

I do not know what I am doing, is what I’m saying.

But the reality is, I’m not doing it anyway. I’m aiming to be faithful to my process, the scripture, and the call of God, but it’s the Holy Spirit that’s doing the work.

“The power that is in the gospel does not lie in the eloquence of the preacher otherwise [men and women] would be converters of souls. Nor does it lie in the preacher’s learning; otherwise it could consist of the wisdom of [men and women]. We might preach till our tongues rotted, till we should exhaust our lungs and die, but never a soul would be converted unless there were mysterious power going with it – the Holy Ghost changing the will of [men and women].” Charles Spurgeon

If you have a pastor, and if you prayerfully and attentively listen to their sermons, know that in itself is a blessing and encouragement. And not every pastor can engage with as much time and energy after a sermon is preached–some of us have larger congregations or have to be more disciplined with our schedules and have less time to reply to emails, etc. Even still, it can be rather uncommon to have our parishioners share with us about what they have learned or what God has done as they have listened to our sermons and I know your feedback or personal notes would be encouraging.

Shameless plug: if you are looking for sermons I’ve preached, you can always find them here.

Preaching from one of the more unique pulpits during Coronatide–our outdoor Easter pulpit.
I’m wearing safety glasses to block the pollen from getting in my eyes and coating my contact lenses!

How to Disagree with Your Pastor

*Note: I’m not writing this because someone disagreed with me and I’m passive aggressively blogging about it instead of dealing with it directly. Just in case you were wondering.

It’s Pastor Appreciation Month and I thought I’d offer a few posts about how to have healthy, encouraging interactions with your pastor, which is a way that you can appreciate them well.

This one is about how to disagree with your pastor. Because did you know that it’s absolutely normal to disagree with your pastor, or with brothers and sisters in the faith? We kind of live in an all or nothing time–we either agree about everything or I’m refusing to associate with you. That’s so unhealthy! And in Jesus’ church, our unity is so important to our identity, and it does not require that we agree about every hot topic, share every theological position, or land on the same page about mission and ministry.

I always remember a quote I read a long time ago from Ruth Graham. Speaking about herself and her husband, the Rev. Billy Graham, she said, “I and my husband are one, but that doesn’t mean we agree on everything. When two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary.” When I think of those words, I hear them with a bit of a tongue-in-cheek quality that pastors’ spouses are so good at embodying! My hunch is that we all realize that this is the reality in our relationships–we can love and affirm and support each other very much, and still have things on which we disagree.

So, say your pastor has said something in a sermon and you think, “I don’t agree with that!” Or maybe it happened in a meeting. Or maybe you disagree about something they have decided to do or something you read from them in a post on social media or their website, and it seems important enough that you have to do something. How should you handle it?

Stick around.

Listen, sometimes we reach a point where we know we can’t stay–the conflicting views and understandings are too profound, there’s a whole lot more to this, and something has happened that is now the last straw. If you’re going to leave in the midst of disagreement, try to do so in a way that is open and gracious. This is a case where you can appreciate your pastor by being honest about it, acknowledging that there are too many reasons or a couple of profound ones–whatever they are. Leave with health for you, your pastor, and the church as your goal, not because you want to hurt the pastor or other church leaders by storming out.

But otherwise, stick around and be there for the next sermon or the next meeting. Pray about the disagreement and pray for your pastor. Commit to unity even if this has created some discomfort. In Ephesians 4:1-3, we are encouraged to lead a life worthy of our calling in Christ, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. As much as it is wise and in your power, stick around for the sake of unity.

Talk to your pastor, not about your pastor

Especially if we are conflict averse (where are my fellow Enneagram 9s?), it doesn’t feel good to have to go to the person with whom you disagree and tell them. But if it’s important enough to talk about, make sure you are speaking to the person you disagree with and not about them to other people. It seems like venting to share with someone else about what tweaked you off in the sermon or at the meeting, but a lot of time you are triangulating or seeking assurance that someone else is on your side, and that can often devolve into gossip or creating conflict for someone else as well.

Can it be awkward or difficult to have this conversation directly with your pastor? Of course it can. But remember that we do not actually expect that everyone will always agree with us and sometimes we know we have stirred the pot. Offer your honest reflection to your pastor and have the honest conversation.

Assume your pastor’s understanding or viewpoint is valid

Here’s the thing–I am not dumb. I am intelligent, with education and experience. That does not mean I am always right, and I still have a lot to learn, but it sure is hurtful when someone disagrees with me and they appear to assume it’s because I am an idiot. For example, I’ve heard “you need to read your Bible!” or some version of that shouted at me more times than seems necessary. Y’all, I have an undergraduate degree in Bible, I was a Christian educator, teaching the Bible across all age groups for eighteen years, I have gone to seminary, and I have passed at least two ordination exams about the Bible. When I prepare a sermon, I look at the scripture in the original language. I may have something wrong, but we don’t disagree because I haven’t resorted to reading the Bible yet, you know?

But also, in general it helps to have the posture that a person with whom you have a differing viewpoint has a good reason for thinking that way. Because they usually do. And if you approach the situation with that understanding (and they do too), you may be able to teach each other something about the topic at hand. As James writes, let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger (James 1:19). And in Proverbs we read this: a fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing a personal opinion (Proverbs 18:2).

Finally, remember your pastor was called and is called to be your pastor!

And remember that you are called too!

Even in the midst of disagreements or difference of opinion or conflicting understandings about things like mission or vision, your pastor has a calling (and you do too)! Remember–“when two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary!” Okay, I don’t believe anyone is unnecessary, but differences and disagreements will happen. It does not negate either of our callings and it does not supersede our unity or mission together.

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you (2 Corinthians 13:11, NIV).

A photo around the Baptismal font, symbol of our unity in Christ, in the before-Covid times.

Under the Broom Tree

(A link to this post will be included in the Saturday email to my congregation.)

At Peace, I’ve been preaching through a series about Prophets and Kings this summer. I love a summer sermon series that allows me to share chunks of scripture that don’t always get featured as I preach through the lectionary and am more likely to focus on the gospel readings each week.

We’ve had sermons on Moses and Pharaoh; Samuel and Saul; Nathan and David; Huldah and Josiah; and Elijah and Ahab. Coming up this Sunday we will share the story of the prophet Jonah and the King of Nineveh and reflecting and interacting about what it means to hear and share God’s truth on the last Sunday of August. Interested in joining us in person or online? Join our mailing list to get the information in your inbox or reach out to me directly.

When we got to Elijah and Ahab, we shared 1 Kings 18–Elijah and the prophets of Baal. And then the next week, I took a short detour from the series, but followed and important thread in the story of Elijah’s leadership as a prophet and preached 1 Kings 19–Elijah under the broom tree. You can watch or listen to the sermon here or you can read the manuscript here.

I may have taken it for granted that this is a well-known story from scripture, and I may have also taken it for granted that people generally understand this story the way I do–an absurd, but also very true-to-life, story about this victorious prophet of the Lord collapsing under a tree in the desert, wishing the Lord would just take his life from him.

Sure, Jezebel is no doubt terrifying and receiving her death threat may have sent almost anyone running for his life. But Elijah’s reaction seems extreme and unexpected–didn’t he just experience the victory of the Lord against 450 prophets of Baal? I think Elijah is definitely exhausted. He may also be depressed. Or perhaps Elijah has gotten a bit lost from the mission of the Lord and needs to take a moment to remember his calling. Does he really want to die? I’m not sure if he does or not, but sometimes we think death would be better when we are in those exhausted, depressed, and lost moments.

This is not an uncommon scene in the life of prophets in scripture. The congregation at Peace will see Jonah do a version of this on Sunday; but also check out Moses having a similar conversation with God in Numbers 11. This “under the broom tree” moment in the life of a prophet always seems familiar to me. Which I mentioned at the beginning of my sermon last week, and that seems to be what stuck with some people who heard it. And I realized as they reached out to me about it that perhaps my self-deprecating, dry humor summary of the scripture was not helpful (to be honest, that brand of humor usually is not helpful in sermons and I usually try to edit those parts out of the final draft).

When I said that “I’ve lived this story (in the last week, I’ve lived this story),” here’s what I meant:

On Friday a week ago, I was sitting on the couch in our apartment, working on my sermon. I was feeling kind of tired as I had not slept very well the night before. It was around 12:30 and I was full of caffeine, but had not stopped to eat anything yet. I was determined to get my sermon ready to preach so I could take the rest of the afternoon off to exercise, shower, and shop for groceries. Everything was under control and I felt like I was on top of this pastor thing.

My phone buzzed with a text message. “Are you going to do this thing you said you would do this afternoon?” I had forgotten about that thing I said I would do that afternoon!

So, sitting on my couch, having received this reminder that was going to upend all of my plans for the rest of the day and leave my sermon unfinished, I burst into tears. What am I going to do? I thought. I’m so bad at this job, I can’t even keep my schedule in order! I’m the worst pastor and people are going to be upset if I don’t do this thing I said I would do and then forgot about!

Now, my husband Jason, believe it or not, is used to these meltdowns. He was sitting in the same room, quietly reading and listening to music when I suddenly burst into tears. He listened to me explain what was wrong in between the sobbing. “You know what? I’ll go get the groceries,” he assured me. “Maybe you should eat something. Or take a shower or a nap before you go do that thing you forgot you had to do today.”

And he was right. The issue was not actually that I am a bad pastor or even that I was forgetful. The issue was that I was tired and hungry and a little bit overwhelmed already and the texted reminder just put me under the broom tree. I put away my sermon and took a shower and ate an apple and suddenly became rational and ready to serve once again.

The thing I had forgotten about went well. And I finished my sermon on Saturday–but perhaps without enough time to think through and edit the beginning.

It turns out that the events at the beginning of 1 Kings 19 are rather relatable and we find ourselves in good company under the broom tree. As we serve the Lord, we have to make time to rest and eat and shower–or we will end up sobbing on the couch. Or sometimes we get a little lost or forgetful about what we are called to do and need to spend time with God so we can remember. Or sometimes it can just be lonely or difficult or depressing to be a prophet or a disciple of the Lord and the smallest little thing will knock us down and we need to remember that we are not doing this by our own strength and ability, but by God’s. And sometimes it is too much and we really do wish we could die and we need to reach out for help and support (and that’s ok–you can have a good relationship with God and the support of a therapist and doctor, too).

So regarding my sermon, please accept my apology for raising concern or being too vague…and always know that your questions and feedback matter and they help me be a better disciple and pastor!

August Newsletter Article

PCUSA's New Curriculum Graphic
"Follow Me: Biblical Practices for Faithful Living" Colorful image on a black background.

Of all the tasks I do as pastor, the one I probably struggle through the most is my monthly newsletter article/letter to the congregation. I am often just not sure what to write about and how to write about it concisely. I also usually wonder whether most of the congregation reads it, and I suspect that’s a rather demotivating factor.

Perhaps as I try to get back into writing regularly on this website, I should start to think of my newsletter article the same way I have always considered my blog: It’s an opportunity to share my ideas, open my heart, record personal history, and extend an invitation to discipleship. I do hope my congregation reads it, but the exercise of writing it is one of faithfulness and if even just one person who needs the words reads it carefully and finds something inspiring or something that affirms their calling, that’s a good reason to write it.

Here is an excerpt from our August Newsletter article. I will spend the rest of the months in 2021 using my newsletter space to reflect on the practices we will be sharing and learning about in my new Sunday School class (starting August 1). This month’s practice is “Follow Jesus.”

As Jesus was calling disciples at the beginning of his ministry in Galilee and Judea (and parts in between), he said to his would-be disciples, “Follow me!” (Mark 1:16-20) He called fishermen and tax collectors and faithful women to journey with him as he shared his message: “The Kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15) These disciples would literally follow Jesus, hearing his teaching, witnessing his miracles, and being sent out to do the same. 

For them, there were no altar calls–they answered Christ’s call every day with their bodies and resources. It wasn’t about a personal relationship with Jesus–it was about their relationship in community with Jesus, with one another, and with the strangers they were meeting each day. It wasn’t about Jesus living in their hearts–it was about Christ living in flesh in their world. It wasn’t about getting into heaven–it was about abundant life that starts right now and a Kingdom that God is building on earth.

For modern day disciples, what does it mean to follow Jesus? We cannot put on our sandals and pack a lunch and walk alongside Jesus as his first followers did. But we very much are called to follow him, continuing his mission in our church, community, and world. To guide us, we have scripture and the Holy Spirit. Scripture will invite us to read about what Christ did in body and what the Body of Christ did in the years following his resurrection. The Holy Spirit will be active inside and around us, giving us gifts that make us able to follow and minister and providing God’s light and guidance as we seek to be faithful.

Seventeen Months

Seventeen months ago, everything was different.

Seventeen months later, we are all different.

I have struggled during these months. As a pastor in a relatively new call, I have struggled to lead my church. As a family member of people who have varying levels of trust in science and medicine, as well as diverse political views, I have struggled to care for my loved ones. As a confident decision maker, I have struggled with decision fatigue so much, I don’t think I can say I’m a “confident decision maker” any more.

And I know I am not the only one.

This week I have been reminded of this because of conversations (confrontations?) with two of my loved ones.

In one situation, after 6 months of no conversations, we were able to have a conversation and find our way to reconciliation. Guess what? It was not about our relationship or anything either of us did to the other. It was all about the stress and struggle of seventeen months and both of us working uniquely hard jobs and managing family difficulties and making so many decisions. One one side, it had led to paralysis and self-preservation in the form of not engaging in any extra stress. On the other side, it had led to paranoia and hurt feelings.

In another situation, I have become kind of snarky and unforgiving as I assume the other person has become resentful and uncaring and I don’t think they are being fair or kind and I’ve started to let those thoughts creep out of my mouth. This morning as I was allowing myself to get a little worked up about it, I felt the tug on my heart.

Everyone has had an incredibly difficult seventeen months. Maybe you should pray for this person instead. Maybe you should assume they are doing their best and are having an even harder time than you have had. Maybe instead of assuming the worst about someone else while you give yourself grace upon grace, you should extend a little of that grace to this person.

So I’m trying to do better, because it’s not fair. And we all need a bit more grace all around. It’s easy to cast blame and snark and assume the worst about someone’s intentions. It’s harder to think of people and situations as complicated, multi-layered, and not all about “me.”

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3)

p.s. I don’t really know how to get back into blogging, but I know I need to start writing and reflecting again. So receive this as a first offering after a long drought.

Luke 2:6-7

Read the whole passage for today here.

6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Luke 2:6-7

In her book Light of the World, Amy-Jill Levine makes this point:

The term manger is not just a bed of straw; it is a feeding trough. Those who remember their high school French should recall the verb manger, “to eat.” Mary places her baby where food is found; how appropriate, for this baby will later take “the bread…saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me'” (Luke 22:19). By locating Jesus in the manger, Luke is anticipating the Communion story. More, the name Bethlehem literally means “house of bread.” If you go to a traditional Jewish household or a service where there’s meal, you would begin with the grace before the meals: “Blessed are you, Lord our God, ruler of the universe, ha motzi lechem min ha’aretz, who brings forth bread (lechem) from the earth. We should remember the manger in Bethlehem not only at the Last Supper but also in connection to all the passages where Jesus shares a meal with others.”

Tomorrow night, I’ll say the words of institution at our Zoom Communion Table during our Christmas Eve service. I’ll quote another favorite author, Ann Weems, who wrote “If there is no cross in the manger, there is no Christmas.” I suppose it’s also true that if there is no bread of life in the manger, there is no Christmas.

O Immanuel, our Sovereign and Lawgiver, desire of the nations and Savior of all: Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Luke 1:39-44

You can read the whole text for today here.

39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. Luke 1:39-44

I’m re-sharing something I wrote 9 years ago. It’s about another woman who greeted with blessing on her lips and in her very soul. My beloved friend, Willie Ann, died this year at the tender age of 96. She was a kind, generous, loving soul who always took the time to remind me who I was and whose I was. Here are my words from 2011:

On Sunday in his early service sermon, John asked the question: “Does anyone ever offer a blessing over you?” He asked in it such a way that the conclusion was that it’s not very common for people to bless us in real life. I had to think that yes, people do offer blessings over me on a fairly regular basis. Friends who share their caring words and hopes for me, family members who do the same, church members who stop and take the time to speak words over my life.

 Willie Ann is a saint of our church who has lived a life that inspires me. I want to live a life like her. I want to treat people with the love and respect that she does. I want to be filled with joy like she is. If you know Willie Ann, you know exactly what I mean.

I walked into the sanctuary on Sunday morning for the 10:30 service and was met a few steps inside the door by Willie Ann. This is common. Even when Willie Ann is not the greeter, she stands at the back of the church and kisses and hugs and speaks to everyone she can get her hands on.

Willie Ann has quite a grip, by the way. As I entered the worship space, she gripped my left wrist firmly with her thin, aged hand. “Hello, you little angel!” she exclaimed. “Good morning!” I said and hugged her best I could without the use of my left arm. “You are God’s gift to us!” she exclaimed.

“Thank you, Willie Ann,” I replied, brushing off her words. “You’re so sweet to me.”

She gripped harder and demanded my eye contact. “You are God’s gift to us. The day you came here was one of our church’s very best days. You work hard and you are such a servant of the Lord. You are God’s gift to us.”

As tears filled my eyes, she kissed my cheek and released me and was off to offer her blessing to the person behind me. I hope that wherever you work, wherever you worship, and whatever you do, you have a Willie Ann who stands in your corner and reminds you that you’re a gift.