Tag Archives: The Peoples Church of East Lansing

Where is the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Beloved Community in 2017?

Forgive my arrogant assumption but I am prouder of the sermon I delivered yesterday, in celebration of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., than I am of the hundreds of sermons I delivered prior to yesterday. The Luke 4:14-30 text was so appropriate for today. Please give it a listen and feel free to share it with others.

Do we say what people want to hear? Does our faith guide our politics or are our politics guided by our faith? Do we substitute contentment and satisfaction for the challenge of the gospel?

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Uganda isn’t that far away, is it?

“It really isn’t that difficult of a journey. Just a few flights to get there and a couple of van rides. You’ll be fine!” I lied to my wife and our traveling companions. “You won’t even notice how long you’re sitting in an uncomfortable seat across three continents. It’ll just fly by.

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Still smiling after hours and hours of travel

I know it’s a sin to lie but what if the lie is intentionally offered in love? That’s good right? I’m still on the side of good?

Days 1, 2 and 3 were full of travel. We left Detroit just before 2 pm on Wednesday and arrived in our hotel in Kampala at 1:00 am on Friday. So, yeah,  it was a substantial trip. I’m not complaining…much.

Actually, I’m probably the least adaptable in our outstanding group this year. The other four are adept travelers who seem to roll with the punches and for that I am eternally grateful. Like any group, one naysayer or Debbie-downer has the potential to bring everyone into a state of frustration. I can proudly say our group is laughing at potential adversity and seems so well suited for an experience like this one.

We departed from Detroit, though one of our group members, Jamie Morris, flew in the day before from Phoenix so he gets the medal for longest trip. Good on you, Mr. Morris.

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Jamie and Andrew looking impressed.

The rest of our group includes Kurt and Pete Guter from Williamston, MI, and my wife, Rachell. Our common bond is the connection to the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project (https://www.nyakaschool.org). Last year I led a much larger group of individuals from The Peoples Church of East Lansing, the congregation I pastor, (http://thepeopleschurch.com) to visit Nyaka. Having a smaller team was already providing for a different experience. It is just easier to manage a small group of five versus more than a dozen individuals. More bags, more personalities, more potential pitfalls, and just more…everything can be more of a challenge. Additionally, the trip last year did not include any couples or family members. It is a very different thing to travel with and share accommodations with one’s spouse than it is a friend or stranger. That said, last year’s group went from strangers to friends quite quickly in the course of two weeks in Uganda.

We flew from Detroit to Newark, enjoyed a short layover in New Jersey, and then proceeded from NJ to Amsterdam on a Delta International flight. All in all it was an uneventful, quiet, and tiring trip. Does anyone REALLY get any rest on an airplane? I think Pete nailed it when she said, “I never really slept, I just passed out from time to time.” Yep, that about sums it up.

That would have been enough of a trip to tire anyone out but we still had two flights to go. So, after a couple hours in the Schipohl Airport in Amsterdam (one of my favorite airports in the world, by the way. Who doesn’t love stroopwafel?),img_5152 we flew nine hours to Kiwali, Rwanda. Our stop in Rwanda was short enough to forbid us from leaving the plane, but long enough to make you want to leave the plane.

 

After that, our final flight took us to Entebbe, Uganda, sight of the infamous international highjacking incident and subsequent raid that was highlighted in the movie “The Last King of Scotland.” Honestly, that is what I have learned most about people’s perceptions of Uganda. Whenever I have talked about Uganda, the majority of people know it related to Edi Amin’s brutal dictatorship, the Entebbe Airport Raid, or “The Book of Mormon.” None of those are great associations for this incredible country and it is such a shame.uganda-04 This developing nation is beautiful in land, people, and spirit. It faces many of the problems experienced by other developing countries (unemployment, poverty, pollution, corruption, and instability), yet it has thrived in the past decade due in large part to a coordinated effort by the government and people to improve the education, infrastructure, and investment into the nation. Granted, my interpretation is biased though I stand by the reality of and improving forecast for Uganda.img_5238

Upon arrival, we passed through customs and met our congenial hosts from Bic Tours, the preferred tourist company for Nyaka and the same organization that guided my previous trip (http://www.bic-tours.com). Our host/driver/guide, Kasozi Robert, was with us the entire trip. He was knowledgeable, approachable, and exceedingly helpful. We were spoiled by his leadership, enthusiasm and willingness to introduce us to his blessed country.

The night we arrived, we were shuttled off an hour away from the airport to the Hotel Africana in Kampala, the capital city of 4 million people. We were all so exhausted at this point, that we simply escaped to our rooms and immediately fell fast asleep. As you can see, this was our first mosquito net of the trip…though definitely not the last. img_5153There is something oddly charming about sleeping in a canopied bed, even if it is a netting designed to prevent you from getting malaria. Still, magical…in that non-malaria kind of a way.

We were able to enjoy the hotel’s patchy wi-fi to Facetime our children who were staying with Rachell’s parents in Bay City, MI. They had just finished the Thanksgiving feast when we again realized, “We just missed Thanksgiving!” We spent the entire Thanksgiving holiday in the skies above Europe and Africa. Not exactly turkey and stuffing but it’ll certainly be a memorable Thanksgiving for our family. The children were happy and enjoying life with the grandparents, which was a win for all of us.

We woke up Friday morning around 7:30 feeling surprisingly refreshed, considering we had lost most of a day and our internal clocks were so out of whack. God bless, Jamie Morris…he actually got up early and went for a run in the hotel gym. I’m shamed and inspired…but mostly just shamed. Well done, sir.

We all met up for a splendid breakfast of local fuits, hot drinks, and eggs. From there, we were reintroduced to Nyaka staff we who set our schedule, encouraged our visit, and gave us an overview of the next 8 days. img_5157Today (Friday) and tomorrow we will visit Queen Elizabeth National Park and then arrive in Nyaka on Sunday night, ready to work with the schools when they open again on Monday morning. The end of the week we will head back to Kampala for the world premier of “Cornerstone,” a documentary about Nyaka. The premier will be attended by donors, politicians, and local dignitaries who are supporting the efforts of this amazing organization. It is humbling to be a part of the event.

The drive today was around 9 hours in an eight passenger safari van. We made a stop at the equator and did the requisite “equator experiments,” watching water drain one way in the northern hemisphere, the opposite way in the south, and straight dow on the actual equator. It never gets old. The science behind it? No idea, I’m just a minister. Magic, probably?

We then hopped back in the van and journeyed on another 6ish hours to our destination. Sooooo much driving…

It should be noted that the infrastructure in Uganda, the road system in particular, is not ideal. Some roads are smooth and easy but the majority are dirt and full of bumps, washed out caverns, obstacles, and any number of other challenges. Because of this reality, you are constantly being bounced around the van and the driver is doing his absolute best to make sure we arrive safely. It’s an adventure, to be sure, but not impossible. Just very, very uncomfortable.

Our first full day ended at the Enganzi Game Lodge (http://kabiza.com/kabiza-wilderness-safaris/enganzi-game-lodge-queen-elizabeth-park/), on the border of Queen Elizabeth National Park. We were each given a gorgeous yurt overlooking a majestic valley. Before we hiked down to our home for the night, we were provided with a lovely welcome from the lodge and a curious warning.

img_5237“At the base of this hill are small farms on the border of the national park. Because this is harvest time, the elephants try to get into the farms and cause great damage to the crops. As a deterrent to the elephants, the farmers will stay out all night banging drums, yelling, and firing guns into the air to scare the elephants when they get too close. Do not be alarmed when you hear these things tonight.”

Fantastic.

End of Day 3 (insert gunshots, shouts of warning, and a continuous drum beat throughout the African night).

On our way to Uganda…

And so the journey begins…ug-lgflag

We leave for the Pearl of Africa this morning and will return on December 3. I’ll be doing my best to blog while away with pics and updates of the trip. Until then, please pray for our safe journey to the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project.

This is my second trip to work with, visit, support, and advocate on behalf of this outstanding organization. There are few international non-profits that do as much good with the limited resources they have at their disposal. I would encourage you to give generously to this project. To my Peoples Church people, THANK YOU for all you have done for the children, teachers, grandmothers, and communities who benefit from your good work. It is an honor to have our congregation be such an active participant with Nyaka and I am so happy to see this relationship continue, grow, and flourish.

Peace be with my fellow travelers and please remember us in your prayers as we journey to the center of the African continent! uganda-04

 

We’re leaving the country

My wife, Rachell and I are leaving.

Some people just make threats. We follow through. Later, U.S.A.

 

Yep, on Wednesday morning, we are embarking on a 30+ hour journey to Kampala, Uganda…and we’re staying until December 3.

 

No, we’re not permanently abandoning our county of origin. This is a work/mission/tourist/vacation excursion as part of our ongoing partnership with the Nyaka Aids Orphans Project (more on that tomorrow!). We have been planning this for the past few months and we are extremely excited for this amazing opportunity. It promises to be an exceptional time spent working, learning, growing, and experiencing my favorite African nation.

 

But what about those who have, are in the process of, and plan to leave from one country to another in the past, present and future?

 

Forgive my overly simplistic approach to the nuanced and complicated notion of immigration from one636035188213974932-627964414_giphy-2 place to another but I am struck by the magnitude of any person who “went.”

 

Very, rarely does one simply choose to go to another country…and the reasons, process, and risks are far from universal for each immigrant, refugee, asylum seeker, or traveler.

 

Some are forced to leave by war, poverty, political instability, and fear.

 

Some are encouraged to leave by work, family, religious liberty, or broken relationships.

 

Some are escaping and some are hiding.

 

Some are longing to return home and some are leaving behind a long to be forgotten past.

 

Some want adventure.

 

Some want love.

 

Many, many want hope.

 

By virtue of my place in this great American experiment, I am the product of generations before me who “left.” While I’d like to assume I understand their reasons and experiences, the reality of my narrative is one shrouded in mystery and wonder. Why would my foremothers and fathers leave Scotland, Australia, Germany and France? Did they want to be here? Did they long to be here? If the choice was available, would they have returned home?

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Rachell and I have experienced an incredible amount of privilege in our lives that has translated to opportunity. We have had choices at nearly every turn of our lives apart and together. We were then and are now able to “decide” to stay or go. And that is a rare position to be in…the realm of opportunity…especially when the vast majority in our world do not live with such extravagant prospects.

 

So why is immigration discussed, debated, and imagined in such myopic, narrow terms? I don’t believe I’m speaking anecdotally on this one, though my own experiences do shape these thoughts.

 

No two immigrant stories are the same…especially not the many faceted travel logs in the Old and New Testaments. Each person, each family, experienced good, bad, and indifferent events that led, called, encouraged, and forced them to go.

 

So, let’s stop viewing immigration through such a narrow lens.

 

I’m utterly intrigued to hear Ugandan perspectives on American election politics, especially as they relate to immigration. Though I would pose the same question to my American, Scottish, German, Indian, Aram and Latino friends as well – what comes next in this discussion?

 

I hope you’ll follow our journey over the next couple of weeks as we travel across Uganda. Pray for our family who will remain behind and pray for a safe, eventful, and glorious adventure for Rachell and me!

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

A Highland Welcome

A Highland Welcome

By Robert Burns, 1787

 

When Death’s dark stream I ferry o’er 

(A time that surely shall come), 

In Heaven itself I’ll ask no more, 

Than just a Highland welcome.

I’m on my way to Mason to officiate a memorial service for Lorna Ball Dunn, the mother of one of outstanding members at The Peoples Church. Lorna was fiercely proud of her Scottish heritage and, as providence would have it, shares a common ancestry with my MacDonald side. I’m honored to help celebrate her life and faith this morning and I can’t think of a better opening.

Well Meaning Jerks

“No, no, no…let me get that for you!”Five-Stumbling-Blocks-towards-Law-Firm

I like to think of myself as a helpful neighbor, friend, father and husband. I do things for others…sometimes without them even asking. I cut them off and tell them what I think they want to hear without them even getting a chance to ask for what they really want or need.

I mean, I’m pretty awesome, eh?

As a pastor, I believe I am in a “helping profession.” It’s a good day when I feel like someone benefitted from the support of the church – and I love being that guy to represent said religious institution.

The problem I’m seeing lately?

The church tries to answer questions that aren’t asked.

The church tries to solve the wrong problems.

The church interrupts and gets in the way of the real conversations people want/need/hope to have.

And when I say the church, I’m mostly pointing at the pastor who is writing this little missive.

The sermon yesterday was based on the second half of Mark 5, which recounts two miraculous events – Jesus healing a woman who touches his cloak and then raising Jabirus’s twelve year old daughter from the dead. There’s a ton of stuff in these two stories but what jumped out at me this time around were the followers of Jesus who, in both circumstances, seem determined to bring different endings to the incidents. They doubt, they interrupt, the laugh, and they mock those who believe in Jesus’ power to heal, Jesus’ words, and Jesus himself. And they do it from a place of assumed faith and reason.

Do we doubt the belief of others?

Do we assume an outcome before it ever has a chance to go another direction? I do and I wish I didn’t.doubting

Like many other Christians, there a times when I reject the testimonies and utterances of another denomination, congregation, or community based on my assumptions about correct church behavior, theology, and thought. Why do we do that?

Jesus counters the doubts of his closest followers but showing them (again) there is a better way. Similarly, I want to believe Jesus takes my mistaken ramblings, doubts, and cynicism and turns it into something way more valuable and important.

My doubt shouldn’t get in the way of another’s belief. So why do I let it do that?

Mark 5:36 – But overhearing what they were saying, Jesus said to the synagogue leader, “Do not be afraid; only believe.”