Saturday, July 28, 2012

Prayer of a pastor

Almighty God,
I am learning so very much.  You reveal your presence daily.  And yet, fear can grip me.  There is so much newness and just when I think I know what I am doing, or where you are calling,  I am hit again.  I pray Lord, that you will guide me and I will listen.  I pray the Holy Spirit will embrace us all.  Give all people the words to speak and communicate their feelings, needs, worries, and expectations.  Give us all empathy and understanding as we hear, grace to receive, and strength to move forward.  Sustain me Lord, for this journey.  In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.          

Monday, July 16, 2012

Risky Ministry

Rev. Beth Anderson
Bermuda Hundred UMC
July 15, 2012

Friday, our family attended the James River District Welcome Picnic in Yale, Virginia at Sharon UMC with the other pastors and their families.  It was a great opportunity to begin meeting others on the district.  A few of us were talking about the texts for this Sunday and no one except for myself and one other pastor were willing to preach on this text—John the Baptist --- losing his head.  J   
We usually only hear about John the Baptist at the beginning of the year – around January when we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord.
We think of John the Baptist at Advent as we remember Mary and Elizabeth pregnant at the same time. 
We read passages in December proclaiming the prophesies of John –remembering that  he is the one who will prepare the way for our Lord. [i]
We remember Zechariah unable to speak until John is named after his birth.
John’s birth, life, and death—prepare the way for Jesus Christ our Savior.
We hear a lot about the John and Jesus before and at the time of their births and then we do not hear much about them until they are adults. 
When we catch up to John– he now lives in the desert, he wears clothing made of camel hair, and he eats locust and wild honey.
John is not typical.

John doesn’t have a couple kids and spend his evenings at the kitchen table worried about a mortgage. 
He’s living in a cave down by the Jordan River and dining on insects…
John doesn’t negotiate business deals, answer to supervisors, or work with a team to build something or agree on a decision. 
John calls it like it is.

When all kinds of people came from Jerusalem to be baptized and were repenting and confessing their sins
The Pharisees and Sadducees also came (a reflection of the wide of appeal of John’s renewal movement…)
Yet when John saw them he  said,   “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruit worthy of repentance .  Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”[ii] 
Yeah- John is a prophet.  Not a diplomat.
He doesn’t mince words—John wasn’t going to let them be okay with simply saying, “Hey--we’re children of Abraham—so… we’re good.” 
He was going to speak up- when he had toand even when he didn’t have to. 
He was going to talk about hard things—sin, repentance, justice, compassion, holiness.  
John would use his voice—he would cry out in the wilderness.
He would use his voice- even if it shook.
And he was spirited.
He leapt in Elizabeth’s belly when Mary came to visit and he has been lively ever since. 
Lively that is…. Until we slam into today’s text.
Mark’s Gospel is full of immediacy –and things kind of hit us with a shock—
That’s how we hear the news that the man who baptized most of Jerusalem and Jesus himself is now--- dead.
We hear the news – at the beginning of the text----almost nonchalantly:
“King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead.” 
The first time you read through it – you’ve got to take a double take.
—Did Mark’s Gospel just say John the Baptist was dead?
When did that happen?  Did I miss something?
Then, you get the fullness of the story as a flashback—you hear about Herod, Herodias, and her daughter (Herod’s step-daughter) also named Herodias… who danced. 
If you’re not careful it’s easy to get lost in what’s happening in this dangerous soap opera of a story…
We get more backstory-- Herod wanted to marry his brother Philip’s wife—AND John spoke out against it. 
“John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brothers’ wife.” 
Herodias (the wife) didn’t like hearing this—and she had a grudge against John- in fact this wasn’t just a grudge- she wanted to kill him. 
But Herod— feared John—Herod knew John was “righteous and holy” and Herod protected him.  – (perhaps from Herodias…. )
Whenever Herod heard John—the Gospel tells us that “he was greatly perplexed”…. “and yet he liked to listen to him.”
John was speaking the truth to him—it was probably hard to hear—yet he was drawn to hear it—it perplexed him. 
There is something alluring about the truth
When we hear it – it may sting, it may trouble us, it may challenge us—but no matter what—we can’t shake it.
John the Baptist was serious about pointing people to Jesus and to His Word—
As we keep reading through the Gospels we come Jesus saying,
“ If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” [iii]

Herod- a wealthy man- with a huge banquet- food, drink, power
was not free. 
He stayed chained doing what all others wanted of him—he feared losing what seemed like real power—so for as long as he could,  he protected John the Baptist- when that seemed like the politically safe maneuver.
But when sitting in a crowded banquet room—all eyes watching--- he feared Herodias and the pressure of the guests all around—and stayed locked to the security of earthly power.
 Herod was consistently inconsistent—going with whatever won him the most popularity at the time
Yet, John the Baptist never wavered. 
He risked everything and it lost him everything.
He pointed to Jesus- the truth, the kingdom, our Savior
He prepared the way for Jesus—
Both would lay down their lives for the Truth.
And Jesus, who came baptizing with the power and fire of the Holy Spirit would die and rise. 
Jesus Christ came and prepared the way for all us
to have everlasting resurrection lives. 
They risked it all for us to have it all. 
Risk is scary.  It’s putting yourself on the line. 
It’s standing up and using your voice
—when you don’t have to, but you choose to.
My mother taught me a lot about this.
She was a teacher in Prince Edward County Schools in the mid 70’s through 80’s. 
Prince Edward County when ordered on May 1, 1959 to integrate its schools, chose instead to close the entire public school system. 

Private schools were created for white students as a protest to integration and no provision was made for educating the county’s black children.  This system remained until 1964, when the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed Virginia's tuition grants to private education.[iv]
 Yet, during the time my mother worked there- she was the only white female teacher in her school. 
She encountered death threats and slashed tires
My sisters and I were called names. 
Our family was known.
We lived on a farm in Pamplin and attended Charlotte County Schools. 
We were the first to be picked up and the last to be dropped up because the bus driver, my friend Kia’s father lived up the hill from us. 

Kia was my best friend.
I’ll never forget the day a bully on our bus---- I don’t remember his name—
He was a really tall big guy with flaming red hair. 
He had slew of brothers all with the same bright red hair.
 Our bus had Elementary, Middle, and High School kids all on the same bus. 
I was in 1st grade and my sister Caroline was in 6th
He pushed my sister and knocked off her glasses.  He was about to step on them laughing as he pushed her back. 
He stood over her calling our family names.
  I slid out of my seat and came between them.
 My scrawny but tall for my age 6 year old self said,
“HEY – you can’t talk to my sister that way!
You sit down and be quiet and you learn to be nice!”

 I didn’t even realize what I was doing!  I just did it because he was wrong! 
Everyone became still. 
He sat down.
 Everyone quieted.
 I picked up Care’s glasses and slid next to Kia
                                                                ----and then I started to shake. 
She put her arm around me and we rode home in silence. 
I knew to do that because of my Mom.
My Mom and I had lots of conversations about why things were the way they were and why people acted the way they did. 
Usually all she could say was – “there is not a reason why –they’re just wrong and that’s not how we’re supposed to be. You be different.  Stand up and use your voice.”
Sometimes we’re taking risk and we don’t even know we’re taking risk, until its over—and we’re shaking….
Sometimes we’re taking a risk and our voice shakes, but we still must speak.

Risk is defined by the one taking the risk.
When you’re wearing camel hair in the desert eating bugs—risk is telling a powerful king how wrong he is.

When you’re the Son of God- risk is knowing that the world will hate you—and crucify you.

When you’re me and you…. risk very well may look differently than it did for John the Baptist.
 We’re not called to be John the Baptist. 
Isaiah didn’t say we would be the one to prepare the way for the Lord. 
But the Lord, our Savior Jesus
has prepared the way for each of us.

Risk looks different depending on your circumstances.
It was one thing to live in Detroit
-when we were young, just married, out of college
-and gangs burnt down our garage
-and drug deals happened a block away     
-and we didn’t have any children.

Would we do that now?
I don’t really know – to be sure.  I really don’t.
I only know that- that’s not where God has called us right now.

What I do know is
that I’m right where God wants me.

I know that – for any of us… the risk taking for our ministry is
to look at  who we are and where we are and discern:
what does God call NOW?

How do you know what risks God is calling you to take?
You pray.  And pray.  And pray.
You listen to God.
You read God’s word for the Truth—
--it will hold you accountable and  it will set you free.

And you remember the wisdom theologian Frederick Buechner shares,
“There are many different voices calling you
to many different places. 
The place where God calls you is where your
deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

So---Where----- How is the world hungry for your gifts?
Go there- Do that--take Risks!

[i] Isaiah 40: 1-11
[ii] Matthew 3: 1-17
[iii] John 8:32

Saturday, July 7, 2012

What I learned about God today...and the past couple weeks...

Hello!  I haven't blogged in weeks!  Maybe even a month... I cannot even remember!  
There has been so much going on! 

We have moved!  We have experienced itineracy.
Its one thing to speak about and another thing to experience.  I praise God through it all.

We've had so many adventures!  Our children were sick before, after, and somewhat during the move.... They had a tummy bug, but I think nerves also affected them- especially our younger daughter Sophia- who turned 4 the day before we moved.
Our double PK's (preacher's kids) are amazing and I am in awe of their resiliency.

Everyone said that life would be slower when we moved out of Northern Virginia.  So far I have not experienced that,  but perhaps life will have a different rhythm, once we have a routine...

My husband has two country churches where he is serving and I serve one church closer to city/suburban life...

Vacation Bible School started at my church before I arrived, and Wednesday when the truck left, my girls and I went over and we jumped right in!

My first Sunday came and went well!  The girls clung to me as I said the benediction and twirled in my stole...but somehow that all felt right.
  I had one funny and good-natured fellow say to me, "Good message today... but you need to remember...we're Methodist, not Baptists!  You need to shorten your sermons a bit."  LOL! I loved it!  Isn't this the preacher's dilemma?  I probably preached about 20 minutes....

Our girls are doing better... Sophia said on Wednesday - we were at an event at one of my husband's churches- we were late. :(  Some family who live close by had stopped in and we were glad to see them and visited a bit, and then made it out there.  Hopefully folks won't hold our tardiness against him...

While there Sophia said to me, "Mommy, I want to go home.  Not to our new home.... I want to go to my old home." I pulled her in my lap and said, "Our new home is our home.  And everything we love and all the people who love us are always with us.  And most of all Jesus is always with us.  Love is our home."  
                                 ..... Do you think it worked?
Well, kind of.  I guess she hears this kind of thing a lot from us.  She said- "Yes, I know Mommy..."

I feel like once we get a chance to paint her room and hang her pictures, put up our "art gallery", etc.  it will feel more like home.  Now there are still boxes everywhere!

My office at the church is like a land mine of books-- I thought it would be easier to just get them out of the boxes... not so much! :) But I know - it will come together.

Today was really the first slow day.  Even though we had the 4th off- we mostly cleaned and tried to unpack and organize... of course with a 4 and 5 year old around-- the minute I get one corner organized, another whole room is destroyed!  But, it will eventually come together.

Today was Friday- and it was our day off.
 Kevin and I, for the first time, have the same day off!
The girls played so well for most of the day.  We all slept in and then Kevin even let me sleep in later!
I really needed it.  I was so very tired.  I had been at a hospital visit on Thursday by 6:30am and then went all day till past midnight.... it was so nice to rest!

When I woke up Kevin got my new laptop set up for me.  And I sat in the play room while the girls played and I commenced sermonizing. My plan for today had been that I would run errands related to camp and back to school with the girls, physicals, hair cuts, school supplies... and then take them to a cool play place where I could work and they could play.  But they just played and played and played so well!  And I just kept working and working on my sermon....that it was about 6pm by the time we got going!
Thankfully the sermon came!

We got haircuts, ate at Chick-fil-a, and proceeded to Wal-Mart where we greatly helped the economy tonight getting new purchases for the parsonage..... (most importantly a microwave!)

I live knowing that at all times and in all places-- I am a mom, a wife, a pastor....
I live knowing that God will call me to live in all these roles, at all times, and that God is always putting opportunities right in front of me.

Earlier today I had an email from my wonderful secretary who checked the voicemail at church and someone had called for assistance.
I hadn't had a chance to call her back.  So after dinner at Chick-fil-a, while the girls played in the playground area and Kevin watched them, I stepped out to call her.
Before I could call her I had another pastoral call come in.  I talked with this person, made plans, and prayed and then called the person back regarding assistance and left a message. 

We got kids in the car and headed to find the local Walmart.

On our way we stopped to get gas in Chester and passed a fellow standing on a corner with a sign that said, "Choose Jesus."
 It was about 99 degrees and he didn't look like he was glad.  
I wanted to know more about his story.  His hopes for standing there with his sign.  
No doubt this is an important ministry to him, otherwise,  he would not stand on the corner in such hot weather.  No doubt he feels called to this ministry.  I know he must have a story, even though I do not know it.  Maybe some day I will.   

 I do not often have good reactions to street corner preachers because I've experienced some who were cruel, who had a limited understanding of God's grace and poor theology....all except for the guy at the exit for Arkadelphia Rd. in Birmingham near Birmingham-Southern College who held a sign that said "Jesus Loves you"  and he used to jump up and down with joy and a smile so big just so glad to share the news, "JESUS LOVES YOU!"  He'd sing-shout it to everyone no matter what and we'd all beep and give him high fives!  

We drove to Walmart and a young woman was standing at the entrance of the shopping plaza with a sign, "Single Mom, Out of work, Anything helps."
Kevin and I talked about how we could help her and decided that we'd get her some groceries.  We got two carts and Sophia and I took care of getting things for the woman while Kevin started on our list.  Sophia and I took our cart and bought cereal, milk, bread, peanut butter, and jelly.  I was worried the milk would spoil b/c it was so hot.... We checked out and walked towards the plaza entrance.  As we were walking over, I explained to Sophia what we were doing and why. She looked up worried and said-- but Momma- I want to eat these Cheerios.  I reminded her that we had also gotten a box for us and already put it in Daddy's cart and that these were for this lady and her family.  We parked our cart by the piles of mulch and walked over.  Sophia eagerly asked to carry a bag-- so I gave her the bag with the bread and cereal.  We walked over and introduced ourselves, but before I could get any words out Sophia was saying, "We have some food for you! This is for you to eat!"  The woman was about my age and I could see the joy, weariness, and compassion in her eyes. She was a mother.  She was so kind to us.  I shared that I was sorry it wasn't more and invited her to my church where I hoped we could do more to help.  She did not live close to our church.  Sophia said, "Do you have three girls or three boys?"  (Where she got the idea of 3 I am not sure :)  They mother said, "I have two boys."  Sophia said, "I want to come play with them."  The mother said, "Maybe we'll come and play someday at your church."  We prayed blessings upon her and continue too.

I was so proud of Sophia and her compassion.  I was so thankful that we could help.
I keep thinking about where we were when we had our last move-- we put everything in the move up front and were to be reimbursed.... we had no money- less than $2.00 in our checking account.... and we found out our daughter Grace was on the way the day after moving in the parsonage. God blessed us then with so much food in the parsonage when we moved in!
Today we were given more produce from new friends in our church, we've been given so many blessings and so much bounty in these past weeks!  God has been so faithful and provided such generosity through people from our last church and our current churches!
I will indeed be writing Thank You notes every day for the rest of my life!
God has provided for us- and given us so many blessings -- that we overflow -- and can give out to others.

As I walked back to the Walmart to finish our shopping and meet up with Kevin and Grace I told Sophia how proud I was of her.
I looked down at my phone to call Kevin and find him in the huge store and noticed I had missed a call from the woman needing assistance.
I called her back and listened to her need while Sophia acted like a monster trying to devour my other hand! (I am so not kidding!)
Standing in an aisle parked at the Walmart I listened and sought to comfort a woman hoping to keep from eviction while Sophia was saying, "Arraghhh!  I'm going to EAT you!"
She understood.  We made plans to discuss things further and I was able to pledge an amount similar to what two other churches had done in order to assist her.
It was almost 9pm.

We found Kevin, found the rest of the things we needed- shower caddy, kitchen trash can, new tooth brush holder, assorted groceries... the random things that make life easier...

I reflect on this day and I can see God in so many places.

The friend who brought us such beautiful produce.
The women who cut Grace and Sophia's hair.
            Their haircuts looks so cute, but this is the shortest Sophia has had her hair-- she started to cry that she wanted it longer.  I said, "Just keep eating good fruits and vegetables and you'll grow."  So later at Walmart she said, "Mommy I'm going to eat good healthy food so I can grow big and strong and so my hair will grow long.  Just like you said."  Of course we pull up in the driveway at home and she says, "Mommy- I'm ready to each vegetables!  Give me vegetables!"   What kid says this?  I washed some fresh green beans for her and she ate them right up and wanted more!

I see God in the parents we laughed with at Chick-fil-a as our children did silly and cute things.
God was present as I sat outside the Chick-fil-a and prayed with someone on the phone.
God is present even in the street preacher, looking somber, holding his "Choose Jesus" sign.  I pray that he knows that Christ has already chosen all of us-- God loved us so much that he sent his son-- even while we were yet sinner, Christ died for us, I pray that he may come to understand God's grace for all is freely given. Even if our methods of evangelism differ, God is still here working it all out.

God was present when Kevin and I saw the young mother in need at the corner of the Walmart.
God gave us the ability to give to her.
God was with me as I spoke to a woman in need of assistance on the phone.
God was filling me with patience and joy to play with Sophia and to hear and listen to the woman on the phone.
God has blessed my church so that we can help those in need.
I am thankful that we'll be able to help keep someone from eviction.
I'm thankful that we do not do it alone, but we join with other churches and agencies who are helping our sisters and brothers in need.
I'm thankful for the bounty of produce I've made room for in my fridge!
I'm thankful for the pieces of green beans I found in the hallway tonight as Sophia must have tossed them while seeking to eat the peas inside...

God is so faithful and so present....always.
God was with me and Kevin in the joy of new adventures as we laughed over him putting the new shower caddy together!
God is in so many places- all places and all the time!
God is good ! All the time!
I'm thankful for eyes to see, ears to hear, and a family that responds to God's call no matter where we are and what we are doing.

It makes for a really adventurous life... but I don't think I'd want it any other way.

Boxes and moving chaos still abounds.. and it will eventually go.

Experiencing life by loving and serving God's people-- I pray that never leaves me....

Lord, give me courage to see and accept the opportunities to serve and share your love in all places and at all times.  Give me wisdom to know how to respond in ways that are safe and helpful, in ways that are uplifting, in ways that empower, and in ways that honor others.  I pray that everyone may know your love, may be washed in your wholeness,and lifted out of pain and into your peace.  In the name of Jesus who can do all things, Amen.