Monday, December 19, 2016

"In Living Color" Liturgy Pieces

I wrote a few pieces of liturgy that we've been using, in different forms and more or less, over the last four weeks of Advent. It took me a while to feel like I got the wording right, so I thought I'd share it here for posterity and in case it helps anyone else.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Silent Night...?

I've been thinking a lot about chaos lately.

As anyone who's ever been even marginally involved in a church around December knows, chaos is kind of par for the course. Every single committee and fellowship group has a Christmas gathering (usually involving some sort of gift exchange), there's usually some sort of cantata or Christmas pageant that has its traditional place in Advent, and attendance usually increases by at least 50%. Not to mention there's often a high anxiety on clergy and "laypeople"* alike to properly convey the mood of the season--plenty of joy, but not too early (we are in Advent, after all); festivities and greenery, but without turning the sanctuary into an ode to Santa Claus; the most theologically rich yet accessible sermons of the entire year...and so on, and so on.

But I find myself much as we accept chaos as a given in December, do we embrace it as a part of God's plan? Or do we merely tolerate it as a necessary evil?

Monday, November 28, 2016

Sermon: "In Living Color: Landscapes", Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Mark 8:27-33; Revelation 21:1-7 (November 27, 2016)


Sermon video here.

(First in an Advent series, "In Living Color")


When I was a kid, I was part of a prestigious children’s choir in my hometown. It was so prestigious, in fact, that we were always asked to sing in the city-sponsored performance of Handel’s “Messiah” each year—you know, every kid’s dream. I got to sit through two or three hours of classical music in the itchy skirt, starched button-down shirt and red bow-tie that was my choir uniform, all while listening to God’s Word in the form of classical music. No wonder I became a pastor, huh?

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Pushing Away the Dark

As many of you know (and to the consternation of many) I am one of those awful, terrible breed of people who (Gasp! Horror of horrors!) begins to listen to Christmas music early.

Whenever anyone has chosen to engage me in discussion about this topic rather than simply expressing their disgust (similar to the surprisingly intense disdain of many for Pumpkin Spice Lattes--another aversion that I simply don't understand) I've told them that a lot of it has to do with my struggle with depression.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Sermon: "...With Thanksgiving", Isaiah 43:18-21; 1 Thessalonians 5:14-24 (October 30, 2016)


Sermon video here.

(Third in a Stewardship Sermon Series on Psalm 100, "Make a Joyful Noise")


Well, it’s not quite November yet, but it’s time for us to talk about thanksgiving anyway. It’s funny, isn’t it, that this term, “Thanksgiving,” brings to mind turkey and mashed potatoes and stuffing—that one specific day of celebration—more readily than an ongoing attitude of giving thanks. Scripture doesn’t seem to have the fourth Thursday of November in mind when it talks about Thanksgiving. Verse 4 of Psalm 100 says, “Enter [God’s] gates with thanksgiving and [God’s] courts with praise.” Definitely referring to an attitude and not a holiday.

So, on this Sunday in October, we’ll talk about “thanksgiving” with a lowercase “t”. If Psalm 100 is about “Making a joyful noise to the Lord,” then gratitude is the underlying reason that we should be making that noise. Almost every single English translation chooses to title this psalm, “a song of thanksgiving” instead of “a song of noise” (I can’t imagine why—such a catchy title). Giving thanks is pretty clearly the main theme of this psalm.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Sermon: "Us versus Them", Acts 15:1, 6-11 (September 26, 2016)


(This sermon was written for worship with a group of PCUSA clergy that Andrew meets with annually at different churches around the country. This year, they met in Boise.)


Us versus them. It’s a mental dichotomy that we set up almost reflexively. If you say that you’ve never taken part in this sort of basic human categorizing, I’m not gonna believe you. It’s a natural way that our minds try to protect us: if someone is one of “us”, they’re unlikely to be a threat, but if one of “them”, they might threaten our resources, safety, or ideals. It’s not a foolproof system, by any means, but it’s a quick way to assess our situation and respond accordingly.

There are all sorts of “us-es” and “thems” that exist in today’s society: urbanites and country-dwellers, bosses and employees, introverts and extroverts, thinkers and feelers; you name it. In many places, people in “opposing” categories live side by side in natural tension. This is especially true here in Boise: in a decidedly red state, we’re the one place that Democrats seem to have a noticeable presence. We’re in a part of the country where Native American populations live in close proximity to those of European descent. Our LDS population makes up a larger portion of our community than every other major Christian denomination—including Pentecostals—combined. We’ve become a (perhaps surprisingly) major site for refugee resettlement. In many ways, we are a city divided into factions. How on earth do we live like this?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Sermon: "Burrowing Deeper: Feeding our Spiritual Selves", Deuteronomy 6:4-9/John 3:5-13, 8:23-26, 31-32 (September 18, 2016)


Sermon video here.

(This sermon is the fourth and final in a pre-stewardship series on the topic of "Going Deeper" in our faith.)


Today, we conclude our series on “Going Deeper” with a sermon about our spiritual selves. While most of us can grasp how we might take our faith deeper physically or mentally, we in western society tend to struggle with the idea of spirituality—especially personal spirituality. We admire it in theory, but rarely attempt to try it for ourselves. It feels weird to us. Part of this, I think, has to do with the fact that it’s not something we’re ever taught how to recognize or engage in. We’re taught to think critically and logically, but never spiritually. Reformed theology is particularly guilty here. We’ve become so focused on the centrality of God’s word, with a lowercase “w” (reading it, studying it, discussing it) that we’ve fooled ourselves into thinking that the intellectual approach is, at best, a superior one, and at worst, the ONLY one. But we forget that the Word doesn’t exist just for the benefit of our intellect. 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Why I Will Never Endorse a Dress Code at Church

Church is a very special place.

I get it, I feel it, I believe it.

It's a place for reverence and focus. A place where we put something else (God) before ourselves. A place that lends itself to a respectful attitude and appearance.

I'm on board with all that.

What I'm not on board with is when we use these assumptions about Church (worship, really) to impose our own desires, aesthetics, and priorities on others.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Sermon: "The Great Scoutmaster", Jeremiah 23:23-29/Luke 12:49-56 (August 14, 2016)


Sermon video here.

“Good News”. For a phrase that we use so often around here, you’d think we’d talk a little bit more about what it actually means. We know what each of those words means individually, of course, but when we talk about Good News in a faith context, it means something more specific, doesn’t it? From a Christian theological standpoint, “The Good News” is shorthand for the coming of God’s kingdom through Jesus Christ. That’s it in a nutshell.

In preaching classes, students are often told that the goal is to find the “Good News” in scripture and proclaim it. It doesn’t matter if the day’s lesson is from the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament, the Psalms or the Epistles: the thing that makes Scripture holy is that the Good News spills from every page.

And yet, preaching is rarely an easy job. Not because the Good News isn’t there, but because it often doesn’t appear the way we expect it to. Where, for example, is the Good News in genocide? In war? Famine? Where’s the Good News in being told that we’re wrong? Or that we need to change?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Reflections on a Flame

Small and focused,
Still and tall;
Dispels the darkness
Without a sound.

How to Experience Grace through Blisters...

"When the Lord saw that he was coming to look, God called to him out of the bush, 'Moses, Moses!' Moses said, 'I’m here.' Then the Lord said, 'Don’t come any closer! Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground.'”

--Exodus 3:4-5 (CEB)

This past week, nearly 5,000 adults and youth (but mostly youth) came together at Purdue University in Indiana for the 13th Presbyterian Youth Triennium. This was my fourth time attending--I went in 2001 and 2004 as a youth participant, 2013 as an adult delegation leader, and 2016 (this year) as a small group leader. Youth from all over the country (and indeed, many parts of the world) came together to hear God's Word, to play, and to worship as beloved children of God. After this past week, I'm more convinced than ever that this is an event of monumental importance to the Presbyterian Church (not just its youth), and that it changes lives.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Thoughts at the Closing of GA 222

I have something I want to say.

I learned it from the Episcopalians, but I never really internalized it until now.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Sermon: "Help Yourself", Psalm 69:1-3/1 Kings 21:1-10, 15-21 (June 12, 2016)


Sermon video here.

The “how-tos” of being a Christian are a tricky thing. As much as we want to believe that we understand the basics, they can be surprisingly tough to pin down. Even the Ten Commandments are a bit murky if you stop to think about it: what does it mean, exactly, to take the Lord’s name in vain? What does keeping the Sabbath holy really entail? Are we instructed not to murder, or not to kill at all? And what’s the difference? We may think that we’ve got it all figured out, but what we generally assume as givens are really closer to educated guesses based on context, scholarship, and a healthy dose of personal theology.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Sermon: "God Sings the Body Electric", Song of Solomon 4:1-7/Acts 1:6-11 (May 8, 2016)

Every good sermon starts with a flashback to English class, right? Well, this one does, anyway: in 1855, poet Walt Whitman published “I Sing the Body Electric”, his ode to the human form. This poem celebrates the body’s magnificence in both its function and beauty. It’s an incredibly detailed work, including entire sections that are nothing more than lists of body parts—albeit, lists that manage to convey the poet’s sense of awe: “Mouth, tongue, lips, teeth, roof of the mouth, jaws, and the jaw-hinges…/Wrist and wrist-joints, hand, palm, knuckles, thumb, forefinger, finger-joints, finger-nails …” Over the course of its nine sections, Whitman describes the human form in exquisite detail and proclaims ALL bodies—male, female, black, white, young, old—as awe-inspiring and worthy of honor.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Claiming our New Name

This past week, I was back on the East Coast (yippee!) for some continuing education. There was a lot of good stuff that happened at Stony Point Center (reconnecting with old friends, walking with one another through the challenges of ministry, HILARIOUS card games) one of the worship services that we did really stood out to me. I remember thinking, "I'll definitely need to write some reflections on my blog about this!"

So here we are.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Creating and the Imago Dei

In talking to some clergy friends last night from other denominations, the question arose as to how learning Hebrew and Greek in an academic setting contributes to the sermon writing process. One woman said, "I never took Greek, but whenever I want to know what a word is in the original scripture, I can just look it up, so I'm not sure if taking the languages would help me at all."

Monday, March 28, 2016


Friends, the impossible has happened. Christ is risen! Thanks be to God!

If you read my last post, you remember the ritual that we did involving washing dirty pottery shards. We invited people to take their pieces home as a reminder of our call to serve others, but several people chose the alternative of leaving the pottery that they washed with us. Well, it may not surprise you, but God is able to take the broken and make them new.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

For the Love of Symbols

So, in case you didn't know, today is (was) Maundy Thursday.

Traditionally, Maundy Thursday is the day during Holy Week that we commemorate Jesus washing his disciples' feet and commanding them to do the same to others ("Maundy" comes from the Latin word for "command"). Many churches do this by washing one another's feet.

My church does not.


(Posted on Facebook on Palm Sunday)

I realized today how few people, other than clergy, post pictures of themselves at church unless it's a special event like a concert or a baptism.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sermon: "Every Step", Exodus 15:1-7/Numbers 14:1-4/Luke 19:28-40 (March 20, 2016)


(Video of this sermon)

Andrew and I obviously had nothing to do with scheduling Palm Sunday where it sits in the liturgical calendar, but it fits so nicely with the themes we’ve had this year that I’m tempted to try and take credit. First we had the stewardship campaign, where we talked about being “all-in” as our community travels together into the future. Then the “Journey to Bethlehem” that we undertook in December, tracking the miles that we walked, biked, and swam so we could experience the distance trekked in order for our Messiah to be born. And now, during Lent, we’ve walked the path of our worship together, reminding ourselves why we do what we do every week, and where we go from there. Journeys, all of them. And now, today, we talk about yet another journey—a shorter one, perhaps, but one just as significant. All four gospels recount this story of Jesus’ triumphant journey into Jerusalem, during which he’s met with the cheers and jubilation of the people—and yes, of course, palms. There are some grumbles from the religious authorities—some of them even have the audacity to try and stifle the celebration—but nothing on earth can stop the holy procession.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Sermon: "Ready for Use", Isaiah 40:3-8/Luke 8:5-8, 11-15 (February 14, 2016)


(Video of this sermon)

(This sermon is the first in a Lenten series on the elements of worship: Preparing, Confessing, Sacramental Community, Proclaiming, and Responding)

The other day, I was in my office with Elizabeth and Meredith Kukla, who were admiring my collection of stoles, when I decided to use it as a teaching moment. Every week, the Church school teachers remind the class of the liturgical season, so I wanted to see how much the girls remembered about the liturgical colors. They hollered that green was for ordinary time, almost before I got the question out, and they remembered that purple was for Advent—I was impressed they’d clearly been paying attention so far this year—but they struggled a little bit when I challenged them to tell me the other season that uses purple (I’m sure that they would have had a much quicker answer if I had asked them after class today). To help them remember in the future, I told them that Purple is the color of Preparation for our biggest holidays (and yes, you’re allowed to use that pneumonic device to remind yourself, too). Preparation…such an important aspect of Lent to remember, and yet, this is far from the only time that we’re called to the important work of preparing.

Monday, February 8, 2016

In which I Daydream About the Perfect Communion Experience


We all do it (well, if you consider yourself a Christian and attend worship on any sort of regular basis). But we don't all do it the same way.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Sermon: "Ready or Not...", 1 Corinthians 12:4-11/John 2:1-11 (January 17, 2016)


I know that there’s only one God, but if I WERE polytheistic, I’d say that the lectionary gods were smiling on me this week. Today in worship, we’re celebrating the ordination and installation of new church officers, our new Deacons and Ruling Elders, and what lands in my lap but this passage from 1 Corinthians. I couldn’t ask for a better topic than the variety of gifts given by the same Spirit. We may not necessarily experience all of the gifts that Paul outlines in his letter to the Corinthians these days—when’s the last time you heard a reliable prophecy?—but certainly we’ve all observed how the diversity of God’s gifts to us works to make God’s presence felt in the world around us. In fact, I’ve personally seen a variety of these gifts shared right here at FPC.