Video for Palm Sunday

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Sermon 12.9.18

Trinity Presbyterian Church, Woodbury, MN

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It was a funny thing to say

You know that feeling when the words stick with you?  They may be kind words or hurtful words or mean words or just plain off the wall, but for whatever reason they are there in your conscious.  

Recently I was at the dentist for my six month cleaning and the new-to-the-practice receptionist was quizzing me about the usual data; address, phone, insurance, blah, blah, blah.  After verifying all my information, with a smile on her face she replied, “your lack of change is admirable.”  I have absolutely no idea why this surprised me but it felt like a punch in the gut.  Just because I haven’t had a change in my physical dwelling, does that mean I haven’t changed?  Does it depend on the type of change? We can change our jobs, our vocation, our city of residence, is that the only incremental change we can really accomplish? 

 Consider the adage that a zebra can’t change its stripes or the oft-quoted, “the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior” hence the assumption that a person at their core never really changes.  Is it possible that we can and do change, but when we are pushed up against a wall or into a corner, we revert to our pre-change life/behavior/attitude?  Of course we can’t change other people, but if the desire/drive/motivation is there, if the draw is powerful enough, are we personally capable of change?  Can we be calmer, kinder, more compassionate, sillier, nicer, and/or more thoughtful?

I think about these things as I wonder and wander through Advent.  I wonder what ways you and I will let our hearts be lightened and illuminated, be changed this Advent.  Is there forgiveness to be offered and received that will change you heart and create more space on the way to Bethlehem?  Are you the you that needs to be forgiven?  Wishing you Advent Blessings and the space to let the Christ child change you this Christmas.  

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I kept it all these years

There is a beautiful song in the award-winning Broadway musical Hamilton called One Last Time.  In the song, George Washington tells Alexander Hamilton that he is stepping down and not running for president.  Washington wants Hamilton to draft a good-bye address to “teach them how to say goodbye” and Washington wants “to talk about what I have learned, the hard-won wisdom I have earned.”  It’s a great song, a thoughtful opportunity to consider how you would say good-bye, if you had the chance to close a chapter and then move on to what’s next knowing that you are the better for doing so, saying goodbye allows you to tell people what they have meant to you.  If only we would do that proactively. 

I kept this bowl all these years because it was a gift, it was made with skill and joy and love.  I admire this bowl because for the life of me I have no idea how one knits a glorious bowl like this.  When it arrived, the package also included two knitted scarlet and white caps, one for an infant and one a two-year-old toddler; the two boys are now 10 and 12 years old.  The bowl and hats were made by someone who lives in Nebraska, once a Husker, always a Husker, and then sent to my house Minnesota.  For six years the bowl sat on my office shelf at First Presbyterian Church in Hastings, Minnesota and then it made its way to my office shelf at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Woodbury, Minnesota.  It is a reminder that even though distance and years may take us away from each other, the love remains.  

The bowl was made by my friend Kim Collins.  Kim was a co-worker of mine when I worked at the State of Nebraska.  When I quit my job to attend Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey, we kept in contact.  When I returned to Nebraska to visit family, there were many times I saw Kim or Mary (my former supervisor) and my other co-workers.  You spend time with people in the work setting and then they become part of your life, part of your family. 

It is with profound sadness that Kim recently passed away unexpectedly.  Her death leaves a hole in my heart which has been filled with love and memories and a knitted bowl.  I’m glad I kept it all these years, it is a treasure that embodies generosity and kindness and compassion and thoughtfulness, it is a treasure that embodies the essence of who Kim was, a gift from God, and I am the better for knowing and loving her. 

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Practicing what I preach

I haven’t written a blog post for so long I had to do a search for the username and password.  But alas, I feel drawn back to my writing, pulled back to the need to try to make sense of things, and compelled share my musings from Minnesota.

First, any pastor who serves a local congregation and preaches regularly knows that it is important to try to follow, not only the message of Sunday into Monday, etc, but also to try to share the message from Sunday and still acknowledge that it is tough to be human these days, well I guess it has always been tough.  Now I know those things sounds similar but they are not.  Following the message day-to-day is like being a role model in your own life; to your colleagues, to your family, to your children’s teachers, to the cashier at the grocery store, to the person in the car in the lane next to you.  Any number of those individuals probably have no idea what your vocation is, it is about being the best version of yourself.  Of course,  the being human part of us clergy-types, still have  rough edges and are wounded and broken like everyone else.  Not to mention that fact that I believe, as members of the human race, we are all called to try to make the world a better place (sharing the message of Jesus’ life and ministry), even if we are grumpy or wake up with a sinus headache, we don’t get a reprieve from trying to brighten someone else’s day, or at the very least, don’t make the day worse for others.  Misery may like company, but it would much prefer a non-judgmental ear to listen, shoulder to lean on, or hug for comfort.

My living the message from Sunday to Monday to Tuesday…. is based on yesterday’s gospel lesson from John’s gospel wherein Jesus and Pilate are having a friendly (ahem) conversation about truth and power and privilege.  Quite honestly it is like they are speaking different languages because Pilate thinks truth is a what, but Jesus knows truth is a who.  Jesus is the who.  The text invites consideration about what is your personal truth, your public truth  and your corporate truth.  Feel free to take a moment to wonder about how each of those are relevant to your life.  My favorite anecdote for clarity about personal truth is to consider the story of the Velveteen Rabbit and the conversation between the rabbit and the skin horse about that it means to be real and how does one get to be real.  The process of becoming real is analogous to the process of embracing and living your own truth.

Mark Twain once said, “Never tell the truth to people who are not worthy of it.”  Jesus told the truth to the disciples and to us, so we must be worthy of it.  Or said another way, we know our worth to God and to Jesus, because Jesus has shared the truth with us.  The truth about love and compassion and never-ending grace.

It is of great comfort to be reminded of the truth of my worth to God and Jesus Christ, and because of that generosity, I feel inclined to share a few of my truths with you.

First, it is better to be kind than right.  I would rather err on the side of humility than on the side of pridefulness.

Second, worry about the stick in your own eye before you thoroughly assess the stick in someone else’s.  See number one, maybe we are all just trying to do the best we can.  Since I have two boys, one in 4th grade and one in 7th grade, I regularly have the chance the remind them to not tattle on each other, but worry about their own behavior instead of their brother’s.

Three, be mindful of how your actions and words affect others.  No you aren’t responsible of how other’s feel, however, don’t intentionally post/tweet/text/email (you get the picture) in a way that is deliberately hurtful and destructive, some things are better left in your own head and not online or in print where they exist forever.

I’m just trying to embrace the truth of who God has called me to be through Jesus Christ and to be the best person I can be, trying to make the world a better place, through small ordinary moments.

What is your truth and how do you live it out daily?


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Do mean people exist?

I’m the first to admit that I like to see the best in people.  Call me naive and idealistic, call me a pollyanna, of course my name isn’t really Pollyanna, but I digress.  I tend to be too trusting, which as a pastor might not seem like a bad thing, however, there is always a need jump feet first the first time, ergo use a modicum of common sense, be prudent but not to the extent of being restrained.  By way of tangent, I had a high school classmate who dove in and regretably ended up paralyzed with a spinal injury, hence, the feet first reference, and the subsequent desire at my high school for widespread education about the dangers of diving in, rather than initially jumping in feet first.  At any rate, I will always believe what you tell me until it’s proven otherwise, yet now even with age and wisdom, I tend to embrace my foolishness.  It’s the old adage, fool me once shame on me, fool me twice shame on you.  The adage works ONLY if both participants are people of conscience.  Someone who only cares about self-preservation and self-interest would likely not be bound by the auspicies of conscience, such that shame is irrelevent.

Which brings me to my question about mean people.  Perhaps the better question isn’t do mean people exist, but instead why do mean people exist?  I submit the following as evidence.

EAC phone 050918

No this is not my phone, this is the phone of my 6th grade son.  I will lay out the facts as I know them to be and then try to preemptively answer your questions.  Emmett and his friend were at church playing basketball in the church parking lot.  I was inside the building in the fellowship hall helping to sort for the church rummage sale and through a window, I took notice of a big black unfamiliar truck driving through the parking lot.  Thinking to myself, “self, what is that truck doing and are Emmett and his friend safe?”  I proceeded through the building to find Emmett and he showed me his phone.  I was so over the moon proud that he wasn’t crying.  Anticipating my question, he said that it was on the ground and the truck drove over it on purpose.  Why was the phone on the ground rather than at home, in the church, in the car, in his pocket, or in my office inside the church?  All very good and appropriate questions.  Now, I did not catch the license plate, nor was I in the mind of the driver of the truck and I wasn’t actually in the parking lot (obviously, I wouldn’t have let him leave the phone on the ground, but that is a tale for another day).  And Emmett only has his perspective as well.  On many levels it was a good teachable moment, because I err on the side of grace and forgiveness (also good since I’m a pastor) both for the driver of the truck and for my son.

None of this mitigates the fact that mean people exist and mean people sometimes do mean things.  However, in my la la land (no I haven’t seen the movie yet), all people have the capacity to be kind and generous, maybe they haven’t seen or experienced grace and forgiveness.   Maybe they don’t know that the big world can be full of kind, loving, people who want to make the world a better place.  Is it possible that mean people need to be offered a new way to live, a turn the other cheek world, an offer your coat world, a forgive them for they know not what they do world?  I wonder.  I know God wants us to love and be agents of peace, generosity and forgiveness because God did and does the same for us.

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Transformation…let’s all be transformers

In this Holy Season of Lent, I have a certain idea about transformation aka change.  I think of Easter Lilies and spring and the resurrection and how every one of those transformations are significant.  I also think reflect on my life and the greater world around me and then I worry.  I worry that we are killing this gift of a planet.  I worry that my kids are growing up in a world that doesn’t want to protect them.  I worry for all the children of the world who don’t have access to healthcare or education or food or clean water.  I worry about the way the children and  youth are often considered second-class citizens and their opinions are minimized or totally disregarded.  When I’m feeling less than hope-full, I thankfully see something or hear someone that reminds me that all is not lost, and indeed with the grace of God we can made a difference, and dare I say it, we can make the world a better place.

I know it is just a parking meter wherein donations (coins and via credit cards) can be made, but it was a reminder that I needed.  First a reminder to pay attention for ways, both small and large, that I can participate in making the world a better place.  Second, I was encouraged to act and model ways which are consistent with what I believe.  Preaching the gospel without words, showing love, grace, kindness, and compassion, in the everyday moments of my being.  Change does not happen when people sit idly by, transformation happens through interactions with others.  As we reflect on our lives during Lent, prayerfully seeking to be the people God has called us to be, I am comforted to know that every little bit matters because the suffering Jesus is also the forgiving Jesus.  Jesus invites us to reorient our lives so that we can lean into our fears, speak truth to power, and change the world for the better.  Lenten blessings to you.


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