How about reading through the book of Hebrews? One reading every weekday, a blog post with commentary each day, and a video to start and end the week to recap and motivate. Sounds good?
How about reading through the book of Hebrews? One reading every weekday, a blog post with commentary each day, and a video to start and end the week to recap and motivate. Sounds good?
Per requests from folks yesterday, here are video and audio versions of my sermon on Luke 6:1-26. We cannot stand by and say the actions barring refugees from our country are purely political. They are profoundly spiritual and theological. Stand with me.
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?
“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
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.
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.
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.
Tomorrow looks to be an opportunity for many of us who are honored with the privilege of a pulpit. Yes, I pray my fellow clergy people will deliver a message of hope…but I also pray they will not be so timid as to ignore the events of this past week in American history and find themselves years from now on the wrong side of said history.
What am I going to say tomorrow? I’m still not entirely sure. I’ve listened to pastors, rabbis, and priests pontificate over the past four days about their own desire to transcend the political rhetoric and not stoop down to the place of protestors and sore losers. Any other year, I might applaud such a high and lofty goal.
Not this year.
No, I believe the few who have been granted the right to speak and lead should do just that – speak and lead.
I ask for your prayers today and tomorrow as I continue to wrestle with the words form Isaiah 6 and seek to proclaim a gospel of love, hope, and prophecy, even when it would be so much easier to settle into a rhythm that rolls along with the tide, instead of paddling against the current in an effort to get where we need to be.
No matter what happens, we are all in the same boat together. Blessings to my sisters and brothers who speak out for those who have no voice, who identify injustice and work to right it, and for those who will not allow fear and hate to overcome the grace and hospitality of Jesus Christ.
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.
The Kirk of Scotland practices the “Parish” model of ministry for this lovely county. While I’m sure I am over simplifying this complex system, I’ll take a stab at explaining what I have observed before offering my questions on how this concept may or may not work in my home context of East Lansing, MI, USA.
Scotland, the whole country, is divided into parishes, or regional/neighborhood parts, that are served by the whole Kirk. Each person in Scotland belongs to a particular parish and is served by the minister assigned/called to parish. As a result, the whole country is part of the Kirk and the spiritual and chaplaincy needs are, ideally, met by the pastor in each parish.
So whether you ever attend worship or church activities, you are still considered a part of the local kirk and have a minister who is there to marry, bury, baptize, and support you and your loved ones. Yes, there are a few other denominations represented in each parish. And, of course, just because you are considered part of the parish does not mean you will ever call on our contact the kirk or minister. In fact, you may not only be a non-Christian, but you may be vehemently opposed to the church…yet you are still a part of the parish and are prayed for and served by the local minister.
I’ve asked this question of myself and fellow Peoples Church clergy without obvious answers – To whom are WE called to serve?
Case in point – When I go to Sparrow Hospital, am I there to visit our church members or all people? Is there a priority ranking between Peoples Church people and non-Peoples people? Are we ministers to our community or the neighborhood/parish? Is our parish only those who self-identify as “members” of The Peoples Church?
I realize the parish model is not unique and has been practiced by a number of churches/denominations in the States and internationally. However, in my tiny Reformed/Presbyterian worldview, this is a relatively new concept.
To use the shepherd image, I have been trained to watch over one particular flock to which I have been assigned. When I see one of “my” sheep in trouble, it is my call to step in and assist. I am not called to “all” sheep and would not be readily expected to help any and all sheep in whatever field that might be in need of a shepherding hand.
I am AMAZED by the amount of weddings and funerals officiated by my Church of Scotland colleagues for what I observe as smaller congregations on Sunday morning. What I failed to recognize was the size of the whole parish. They are ministering to EVERYONE. In addition to their ecclesial responsibilities in the kirk, they are called to be chaplains in the community, teach religious education in the gov’t schools, and work with and through middle governing bodies as representatives of the church and state. In short, they are stretched awfully thin out here and I am truly impressed by their ability to help, serve, love, and support ALL their neighbors, not just those who attend the parish kirk on Sunday mornings.
Is this model better than the one we live within in the US?
I don’t have a clear answer to this one. I am quite attracted to the missional/evangelical notion that all people are a part of God’s family and are equally deserving and in need of pastoral care, regardless of whether or not they tithe, worship regularly, or participate in the active fellowship of a congregation.
But what does that say about the responsiblities of a pastor in a particular place and time, called to be the minister of a church/parish/congregation?
My call as the senior pastor at The Peoples Church is relatively clear cut. My job description includes preaching, head of staff responsibilties, and the administration of the sacraments. Of course, there is that wonderful line about “other duties” that would take a novel to fill with all of the “jobs” of a minister. Still, my call is very distinctly articulated in my job description as the senior minister of The Peoples Church, not East Lansing or the Lansing area.
This pulpit swap has left me a bit anxious about the following questions:
1.) Do I treat members of The Peoples Church differently from non-members? Should I?
2.) Does The Peoples Church exist for our community, the community outside our walls, and/or God?
3.) To whom am I most accountable and why?
Only a couple more weeks overseas before returning home to address these questions within the faith community that I know and love. Until then, I hope to continue learning with and through the faithful people here in the West Angus Area Ministries of The Kirk of Scotland. It is such a privilege and joy to be here.