Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Reluctant Seminarian Returns…

It’s been nearly half a year since I’ve updated my blog. Some of it was the madness which surrounds graduating from seminary. Some of it was the emotional exhaustion of a summer unit of CPE (at a hospice no less!). Some of it was feeling like I was not having adventures in far off places, so why bother updating about my ho-hum boring life. Some of it was just plain laziness.

But, as a friend of mine says regularly, it’s time to fish or cut bait. It’s time to reinvigorate this blog, or close it down for good.

I think reinvigorating it (to some degree) would do my heart and mind a bit of good. I’m in the middle of my first pastorate (without actually being a pastor – it’s complicated), and need a space to just be. Just being doesn’t happen a whole lot when you’re running from a meeting in a city an hour drive away, to a church council meeting, then to the local nursing home. Just being takes a back seat to the endless e-mails, mountain of administrative paperwork, and inevitable arrival of Sunday morning (sermon finished or no). 

I occasionally channel my inner Anglican
In this slice of the interwebs, I did a lot of adventure-telling, but also a lot of pondering, musing and being. Who am I, if I’m not “Student” or “Candidate”? 

I’m the Reluctant Seminarian. Or, I was. Now, I’m the Reluctant Pastor. This is a whole new identity with several new restrictions and responsibilities that I couldn’t have imagined or prepared myself for.

You see, as the Reluctant Seminarian, I was firm in the conviction that I was most certainly, under no circumstances, never, not ever going to serve as a Sunday morning preacher. Maybe an Associate Pastor of Groovy Young Adults or Social Justice Outreach who preaches when the Important Head Pastor is away, but certainly not as the head, let alone only, pastor of a church. No, no, no, I was training specifically for University chaplaincy and Higher Ed ministry. It’s where I became a Christian after all, and it’s where I feel most called (more on that later).

But, God has a funny way of doing things. Never mind that by the time I graduated seminary I had served at three colleges (one of them in England!). Never mind that I wanted to stay in a big city so I could continue my involvement in interfaith relationship building and maybe meet a spouse that shares similar religious/political leanings. Never mind that I’m still 3 Ordination exams and 1 exegesis class away from being eligible for Ordination. Never mind that I didn’t grow up in church and still occasionally feel like a foreigner trying desperately to learn the language and customs.

Never mind it one bit.

God picked me up and plunked me down in Livingston, Alabama (never heard of it? Me either) to be the “Interim Student Pastor” or “Temporary Supply Pastor” or “Interim Temporary Supply” (this has been of some serious debate) of the First Presbyterian Church (see them here). 

How I got here is a wonderfully delightful story of Methodist connectionism working to benefit a poor Presbyterian seminary graduate. Suffice it to say: God moved people – some of whom had to be pushed rather firmly – to a place where me and all my rule-bending exceptionalism could pastor this small church. I still marvel that this church could see anything in a mile-a-minute talker with practically no parish experience, but they asked me, they fought to get approval from Presbytery (which itself was in a bit of tumult with it’s now ex-Exec Presbyter), and they have supported me whole-heartedly since my arrival in September. I still am amazed by the people who put their faith in my – a not-yet- 27-year-old ministry novice who is still shaky behind a pulpit – abilities to guide and shepherd them as they begin the search process for a long-term call. And I still wonder at a God who has taken me to these reluctant places again and again. I never know quite what is in store!

There are many stories to tell. Like the time a Baptist lady, upon discovering that I am unmarried, asked me if I fool around (I kid you not). There’s much catching up to be done, like  about moving to a village-hamlet that has only about 1% (you read that correctly) the population of my former metropolitan home. But for now I will just be: the return of the Reluctant Seminarian. Or perhaps the baptism by fire of the Reluctant Pastor.
Either way, here I am Lord.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Mary Did You Know? A sermon in the shadow of Sandy Hook

Mary Did You Know?
God is a God of being in the messiness. Into the upside down world of an unwed teenage mother came the Christ-child. Into a people oppressed came the King of kings. And into our very midst – the messiness of national tragedy and broken and breaking lives, comes the living God. This is the Prince of Peace, who loves us despite our reliance upon guns and swords and bombs. This is the Wonderful Counselor, who hears the cries of our cracking hearts. This is the Might God and Everlasting Father, who gathers his children and holds them in their grief. 

I wonder if Mary could have imagined all of that when she was visited by the angel Gabriel. I wonder if she could have dreamed of what it would mean for God to be born into this messy, hurting world. I wonder if she could have fathomed the kind of pain he would suffer – for us, for her, for everyone – but also the kind of joy he would kindle in the hearts of those who followed him.
There is a popular song on the radio about Mary. “Mary did you know” which was written for a children’s pageant in the 1980s. Listen to the lyrics:

Mary did you know that your baby boy would some day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered, will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know that your baby boy would give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when your kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.

Oh Mary did you know

The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will walk again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak the praises of the lamb

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding is the great I am
Christmas is about remembering that the Lord of all Creation came to us, in the middle of our seizing, stinking, awful brokenness. God came near. God came here. And God is here still.

Mary did you know that in your womb grows a baby who brings light to the World in the most amazing way?


She couldn’t have, of course. She could never have guessed the beautiful things that Christ did – healed the sick, fed the hungry, freed the captive. She could never have known of the ministry or the miracles when he wiggled in her belly. Nor could she have dreamed in her worst nightmare the pain of sacrifice and loss she would witness as her precious first-born son hung upon the Cross. And, she could not have imagined the hope that he brings, for Christ is the Resurrection and the life, and light of the world – a light that not even death upon a Cross can put out.

This Sunday of Advent we mark with a pink candle because it is “Joy” Sunday. We are to remember that the angels brought Glad tidings of Great Joy. They whispered do not be afraid. Fear not, for we bring news of Joy. Fear not, a Savior has come to the nations. Fear not, God is here.
The angel Gabriel said to Mary, “Fear Not, the Lord is with you.” Do not be afraid, Mary, God is near.

God is near. Even this week, when this country was faced with two shootings, the first at a shopping mall in Oregon and the second a massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut, we must hold fast to the promise, “Do not fear, the Lord is with you.”

God is with us, in the tragedy and the triumph. God is with us, as we rejoice in families brought together for the holidays after months apart, and God is here as we mourn with families who will never see their precious children open the presents already wrapped under the tree. God is with us, as we face an uncertain economy. God is with us and with the people protesting in Egypt, and with the victims of violence in Syria, and with the hungry children in Africa, and with the grieving families in Connecticut and Oregon.

Do not be afraid, God is near.

Advent is a season pregnant with hope and anticipation. It is a season which looks beyond itself, beyond the here and now, toward the future  - toward the coming of Christ-child in a manger lowly, and toward the second coming of Christ the King in glory. We are not striving to generate joy for the Christmas holiday, we are striving to testify to a Joy that will be a balm to every tear[1]. To a Joy which is the light of the World. To a Joy that is embodied, unending, and enduring from generation to generation.

Mary, did you know that you need not be afraid any longer? God is with us. God is near.  Now and always. Amen.

[1] Thanks to Rachel Hackenburg, from whom this line was borrowed, (http://revgalblogpals.blogspot.com/2012/12/11th-hour-preacher-party-where-is-joy.html?showComment=1355523678525#c4357837497824239842)