Tag Archives: East Lansing

What I said yesterday…

“Misguided Hubris, Misunderstood Guilt”

Sermon Delivered by The Rev. Andrew Pomerville at The Peoples Church of East Lansing – Isaiah 6:1-8; Luke 5:27-32 – November 13, 2016

http://thepeopleschurch.com/sermon/message/misguided-hubris-misunderstood-guilt

And who are we this morning? Are we the righteous? Or are we sinners in need of forgiveness?

For some this week has been filled with anger, fear, hurt and paranoia.

For others, this week has been filled with celebration, jubilance, hope, and confusion at the actions of one’s neighbors.

For all, it has been a week of intensity and division.

Quite literally, our country is divided down the middle. We are Split.

Granted, I have experienced fewer presidential elections than some of you, and I can finally say that I have experienced more presidential elections than some of you in this room.

And in my limited experience, I can say that I have not felt this type of concern, anxiety, and worry in the face of a presidential election.

To be fair, we have had a heightened sense of engagement and apathy towards our two major political party candidates for president this year.  And if you can make sense of that paradoxical dichotomy, I applaud you.

So on one hand, it should be no surprise to us that our streets erupted in protest.

Social media is crumbling with sore winners, and sore losers, and a general worry has come about what we will experience next for the seat of government and the many citizens who are to be affected by what is to come in the next days, weeks, and years ahead.

Yet this week has created something new for me as a pastor.

Yes, I have experienced victory and defeat in politics before this week, and yes I have seen candidates that I abhor be elected to high office, and other candidates that I’ve admired and promoted finding themselves finishing second or first.

Yet this time, this week, this period, feels markedly different, and each time I have tried to say that out loud, I have found myself chided and chastised by family, by friends, and especially by my sisters and brothers in the clergy – that I’m creating a mountain out of a molehill, that I’m fueling the fire of protest, or that I am far too lukewarm and not passionate enough to speak to people that need a word.

I spoke to friends online, my first mistake I’m sure, saying that “you as pastors…” and I’m speaking to brothers and sisters across this country, “…You have an opportunity to speak up this week and say something that matters.  To inspire, to guide, to help provide hope and inspiration.  This week means something!”

What I got back from some of my clergy colleagues was a bit of condescension.  I was patted on the head and told “Oh Andrew, every week is a week to bring the Gospel.  Every week has context.  This week is the same, for Jesus Christ is the same.  Don’t blow it out of proportion.”

(An aside) – And I de-friended that person.  (Laughter from the Congregation)

And yet, there are those on the other side who have condemned me this week.  I have been challenged by members of our own community saying “If you do not say ‘x’, ‘y’, or ‘z’, you will not see me darken the doors of this church again.  Do not squander your opportunity, stand and speak.”

Each side seems to have expectations about today’s sermon and today’s church.

I hear them saying “Speak and lead!”

I can’t help but echo the words of Isaiah that Pastor Drew offered from chapter 6 here today, to feel a bit of empathy for that would-be prophet.

He cries out upon hearing the voice of God to say something. He says “Woe is me!  For I am full of unclean lips!  And I’m surrounded by a people of unclean lips.  What am I supposed to say?”

This call should not be limited to nor relegated to clergy people alone.

We are all being called upon to speak, to cry out words of our Lord. But I admit to you, I am afraid.

I am afraid of saying the wrong thing.

I am afraid of not speaking loudly enough for those who cannot speak for themselves.

I am afraid that I might say something that will further ostracize and condemn or scare my brothers and sisters away from this congregation – away from the church of Jesus Christ – away from the gospel of our Lord.

I am afraid that I won’t say enough and I’m afraid that I’ll say too much.

And I’m especially afraid of that lukewarm apathy in between.

And I am afraid of what comes next.

My friends, we stand at one of the most important moments in the history of The Peoples Church.

For we are not just another church, another city, after just another election.

We are a church that can, and should, lead.

We are a church that, like Isaiah, has been called, but like the prophet, we have to admit that we are also full of sin and unclean lips.

In the past I have overestimated and overstated the role of this church in the history of our community. And in particular I point to the terribly discriminatory practices in East Lansing towards renting and letting people own houses – people of color and the laws that were created in this town make it impossible for them to live side by side with their neighbors.

Because I’ve been told that this church was on the forefront, cutting edge, right there-fighting that battle, speaking out for people who might otherwise not have a voice.

And I’ve been challenged on that and told to look at history a little bit closer.

No, we weren’t fighting to keep those laws in place.

And, yes there were members of this church who stood up and passionately spoke for things that mattered.

But as a congregation, we largely during that time period, let others lead us.

We waited.

And when we knew that history was on our side we went the right direction.

For that we have unclean lips.

There have been moments in my own ministry where I have waited because I am afraid of offending one side or the other.

Because I’m worried that I am going to do too much.

But just like Isaiah, the fire of the Holy Spirit has touched my lips and your lips and we are made pure so that we are able to speak with the confidence of a people who know that we may have made mistakes in the past but praise be to God that we have been forgiven.  Therefore, go speak into a world with forgiveness, with love, and with hope!

Bring people together, speak with the unity of the Holy Spirit, and we can help create that kingdom of God now and always.

So, my friends, be the church that speaks.

Be the church that acts.

Be the church that leads with confidence, grace, and compassion.

Stand up brothers and sisters and acknowledge the pain of those who wonder what tomorrow will resemble for their families and for their friends!

Stand up for those who worry they will be persecuted because of their faith, because of their gender, because of their sexuality, because of their race, because of their country of origin that they came from them and prove to them that no, our God calls us to love all people, now and forever more.

The only borders that we should be promoting are the welcoming borders of the kingdom of God which is open to all.

The only language that we should be promoting above another language is the language of Jesus Christ, rooted in love and passion and mercy for all people in all places and in all times.

And the only culture that we should be promoting is the culture of the body of Jesus Christ that has a variety of parts and a variety of people and pieces, and yet, still functions under the Lordship of Jesus; our true ruler, our true king, our true guide.

Look at our New Testament passage today. We must be reminded of Jesus’ decision to sit, to dwell, with the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the most marginalized members of his society.

And he was condemned for doing it by people who were able to look at those poor, those who were disadvantaged, those who were different, those who were deemed to be the dredges of society and the problem for all of the woes for Israel.

Jesus was condemned for being with them.

He was on the side that was right.

We put our faith, and our hope, and our trust in things all the time that let us down.

We have overstated the role of our government, of our president, of our governor, even of our city council and school board.

Friends, the true and ultimate authority that we should place before us now and always is that of Jesus Christ, a Jesus who calls us to unity.

Therefore, go out, and against all odds, seek to unify.

For those of you who are so upset over the result of the elections, I challenge you; go to your brothers and sisters, who voted for Mr. Trump, embrace them, love them, listen to their stories.

Do not damn them now before they have a chance to respond.

And to those who voted for Mr. Trump who can’t seem to understand why there is such paranoia, why there are protests in the street, and why –and as I heard even this morning  – “children are behaving so childishly and if only they’d grow up and realize that democracy has winners and losers.” I challenge you to listen to those people who are protesting, hear why they are afraid.

Do not correct them.

Do not ask them to change.

Break bread with them, share a cup with them, and love them as your neighbors.

For if we can not do this as a church, then what hope do we have for the rest of the world?

I fear that we have talked too many times together about unity. Well now is a time we can actually do something about it.

Go out into this world.

Speak passionately.

Love with reckless abandon.

Shy away from the condemnation that seems to be coming from both sides.

Yes, we are upset.

Yes, we are excited.

Yes, people are happy and yes, people are mourning.

Jesus Christ was the same yesterday, and is the same today, and will be the same tomorrow.

Make sure you put a “C” for Christian before you put a “D” for democrat or “R” for republican.  

And make sure that we are confident that Jesus Christ has not abandoned us, our church, our city, our nation, or our world.

Let us Pray.

http://thepeopleschurch.com/sermon/message/misguided-hubris-misunderstood-guilt

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Absence Makes the Heart Grow More Contemplative

  I wish we encouraged our workers in the States to take extended vacations, rather than just take a long weekend here and there with the occasional week long time away. My pulpit exchange/time away is five weeks long. Yes, there has been bit of work involved while I’ve been here but it has still benn a long holiday with my family in France, England, Scotland, and Iceland. 

We assumed we were so unique in taking this trip – that hardly anyone else would take this much time away in a row. Yet we encounter many British folks over here who regularly “holiday” like this. Most people seem to enjoy two weeks in a row at a minimum, with others using every available day in a month or month and a half stretch to truly tour. This holiday season is full of people traveling near and far, but doing it for a long time.

The advantage to leaving work, home, and our normal routine for that kind of an extended break is just that – and extended break. You actually disconnect. Think about it. If you leave for a weekend or week, you are still probably checking email from work, thinking about the house, and making plans for what will happen after you return. Family, friends, and work will, more than likely, still touch base with you and expect some type of response from your to their questions, comments, and requests. When you leave for two weeks or more, you can realistically make the claim that you are unavailable. Things in the office can usually wait a few days until you return but they typically cannot be delayed for two weeks or more, in which case, someone else will generally have to deal with the issue at hand. You are unavailable.
And it is glorious.

    
Before I continue my pretentious diatribe on the joys of a white collar job that allows me the opportunity to actually take a number of days away, let me recognize the absurdity of our vacation system in the states and acknowledge that many, MANY people back home do not and cannot take days off for a number of reasons, including but not limited to: 
1.) Lack of allocated vacation time (some jobs that won’t even provide the laughable 1 week off until you have proved yourself over a series of months)

2.) Fear of job loss and retribution for taking time away

3.) Lack of full-time employment that provides paid time away. The growing trend in the U.S. is to cobble together multiple part time jobs or contracted work into a livable wage, thus missing out on the benefits of full-time work, including health benefits, ETO, retirement options, and salaried pay.

4.) Our culture has deemed working to be synonymous with proper, good, and right behavior. There is an underlying sentiment in our society that says those who do not make work their number one priority are somehow less ambitious, less productive, less meaningful, and less motivated than those who do devote all their time and energy toward their place of employment.

We seem to brag to one another about how many hours we worked the past week or month, wearing a 60 hour work week as a badge of honor.  

 We have created an environment were most people take their job with them everywhere through tablets, smart phones and a constant tethering to the office through email, text, and social media. And we not only expect it but we declare that these hard workers are to be applauded for their devotion to their craft.
Someone here in Scotland was taken aback when I referred to my ministry position as a job.

“But it’s a calling, Pastor. It’s not just a job, is it?”

I’m tired of clergy saying things like this and I had hoped our congregants would think differently by now.  Unfortunately, we humble clergy have allowed and even encouraged people to see ordained ministry as somehow more noble, more difficult, and moredemanding than other vocations. This is not the case anymore than being a teacher is more noble than being a doctor.
Yes, it is a calling…in the same way parenthood, administration, marriage, IT work, accounting, cleaning, and any number of other activities and states of being in our lives are callings. The idea of vocation is not limited to ministry, nor should it be left in the realm of things we do for money. Vocation extends so far beyond that and I wish we would teach that to our children.

Whenever we ask kids, “What do you hope to be when you grow up?” we seem to expect them to answer with a career or profession. Doctor, lawyer, business executive… How do we get children (and adults) to answer, “When I grow up, I hope to be happy and make other people feel necessary and loved. When I grow up, I hope I am called to be a good sister and friend. When I grow up, I want to make my community more graceful.”

  My calling, my vocation, changes daily. Today, I am called to be a present father who listens better. Yesterday, I was called to be a patient and loving example of trust. Tomorrow, I may be called to be something else. In the midst of all of this, I am called to serve God with my gifts of preaching and teaching by ministering in Scotland through The Peoples Church. I’m not sure what my vocation will demand of me next year, ten years from now, or thirty years down the line. I do know that my faithful service of Jesus Christ did not begin with, nor will it end, with my position as a minister of word and sacrament who currently works as the senior pastor at a multi-denominational institution that is The Peoples Church.

Being away…I mean REALLY away…has helped me remember that. Being reconnected to my wife and children has helped me redefine my priorities. Being in foreign countries has helped me appreciate the world as much as I appreciate my home. Being in churches abroad has helped expand my parochial vision of the Kingdom of God. Being away has changed me, refreshed me, and renewed me to follow my calling in all places and all times and I am forever grateful to The Peoples Church, the West Angus Area Ministries, the Glens and Kirriemuir Old Parish, the Kirk of Scotland, Rev. Malcolm Rooney, Rev. Linda Stevens, Rev. Drew Filkins and so many others who made this exchange possible.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

We return home in a little more than a week. Until then, I hope to continue appreciating this opportunity with my family before reinvesting myself fully into The Peoples Church. Thanks for being a part of our journey.

Living Everyday Like I’m Running a Yellow Light

yellow lightLast week I listened to a Michigan State Police officer talk about our resting, unaware, unprepared state of mind versus the hyper sensitive, ever vigilant status of people who are constantly cognizant of their surroundings, and thus, are better suited to notice subtle changes, the out of place person or object, or the imminent threat of stress and danger that might be around every corner. The officer likened it to driving.

He asked everyone, “Have you ever run a yellow light?”

Of course, we all answered, some chuckling and stating the obvious that they had run one this morning.

“Well what do you do when you run a yellow light?”

We look for cops!

(There’s always one guy in the room who has to make all the jokes…it’s as though he imagines that if he doesn’t make the joke, the world might stop spinning so it is his job, nay, his duty, to offer an offcolor, uncomfortable, inappropriately times or contextually unnecessary, comment.  That guy. It’s always that guy.)

“Yes!” the officer continued. “You also get your excuses ready for the cop that might catch you! You look to see if there is a car about to pass through the lane, or a child crossing the street, or whoever might be in front of or behind you. You are more aware. You know there is some potential risk involved and you are looking for the danger areas.”

While the officer was using this driving example to talk about being a good, observant witness, I started to hear it in terms of the church. When there is the potential for danger, for stress, for an uncomfortable or unwanted outcome, we are hyper vigilant. We are more aware. We ask better questions. We look ahead and behind. We consider what might happen if we get caught and if we might fail. We are ready and we’re a little bit frightened of what might happen.

And that’s when I’ve seen churches thrive.

When we are trying something a little bit dangerous – a little bit uncomfortable – a little bit risky – we seem more conscious of our surroundings, our context, and our experience.

When we get comfortable we tend to relax and our reflexes are just a bit off. We aren’t as anxious but because of that, we don’t see the semi-truck hurtling down the road toward us. Nope, we’re talking on our phone, playing with the radio, and not paying close attention. We feel safe…and there are few things worse than feeling content and safe.

Contentment is one of the great sins of the church.

We sit back and say, “Yes. This is good enough.”

The gospel is more than “good enough.” It is dangerous and life changing. It is aggravating and difficult to make sense of. It is powerful and unhinged. It is what we so desperately need yet are so resistant to embrace.

When we treat the gospel like our yellow light, I believe we will see the potential and act accordingly.