November 2015 newsletter piece

Thanksgiving tablecloth

A few years ago, I came across what I thought was a really great, new Thanksgiving tradition. All you need are a white tablecloth and some fabric markers. As you’re setting your Thanksgiving table, scatter the markers along so that everyone can reach one or two markers. Then, once everyone is seated but before the meal begins, ask everyone to pause and think about one thing that they’re thankful for this year. Using the fabric markers, they write what they’re thankful for on the tablecloth along with their name and the year.

Maybe this idea struck me because words are such a powerful part of who I am and what I do. When you think about it, a giant part of a pastor’s job revolves around weaving together the “right” words – for worship, for prayers, for sermons, for visits … even for newsletter articles. Words have always appealed to me in a special way. They have been my friends and my foes, my expression and my constraint. For me, words truly are a living, breathing thing.

And I know that I am far from alone in this. There are many people who find some sort of journaling to be a very important, very powerful spiritual discipline. In her book on the art of spiritual journaling, Ann Broyles says, “There is something in the physical act of writing that releases creativity and self-understanding. … Many people who journal discover that the more they write, the more their words become connections to God, unselfconscious prayers, reminders of God’s power.”[1]

Words connect us both to one another and to God in a truly unique way. Words can be so intimate, so nuanced, so particular. The words we choose for one situation may be completely inappropriate in another. The words that I find comforting may ring hollow for someone else. Even the way that we say different words and assign meaning to them is constantly changing depending on our context – geographical, cultural, social, etc. If you’re ever looking for a fun way to waste a few minutes, look up some of the phrases and slang that are unique to different parts of American. The phrase “bless your heart” can mean two very different things in the north as opposed to the south, for example. And as we in Minnesota well know, the seemingly-simple word “interesting” can have a whole host of unsaid things attached to it.

In his 2nd letter to the church in Corinth, Paul even likens us to words:

You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all;
and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us,
written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God,
not on tablets of stone
but on tablets of human hearts.
~ 2 Corinthians 3:2-3

God took the time and the effort to create each and every one of us with a unique purpose and joy and vision in mind. But just like words, we are constantly in flux – changing, shifting, stretching, growing. We are constantly being guided – being written and rewritten, defined and redefined – by the movements and the nudgings and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In every sense of the word, we are God’s story, filling a blank page each and every day with the words of our hearts and our souls and our lives. Sometimes those words bleed over onto the pages of another. Sometimes our stories become intertwined. Sometimes they diverge. Sometimes we feel like the pages of our hearts are so full, they could burst, and sometimes we feel like they’re so empty, we can hear our own echoes. But through it all, we remain God’s favorite story.

Maybe that’s why the Thanksgiving tablecloth-writing tradition resonated so profoundly with me. Throughout the years, you keep adding to this tablecloth, heaping thanks upon thanks and gratefulness upon gratefulness and creating a powerful story of the life of you and your loved ones. I picture this tablecloth after 30 … 40 … even 50 years – words winding around each other, squeezed in beside each other, overlapping each other, even thanks from one year inspiring those for another, creating and recreating a stirring and authentic story of graciousness and gratitude.

Pastor Lisa sign

[1] Ann Broyles. Journaling: A Spiritual Journey. (Nashville, TN: The Upper Room, 1999), 14, 17.

Sunday’s sermon: Strengthening Our Future

This is the final sermon in a 3-part series on stewardship. There are a few different elements in our stewardship worship services this year that are explained in the beginning of this sermon. Those elements are included at the end of this post.

future

Text used – Matthew 25:14-30

  • Stewardship sermon series → recap
    • Last year – talked about what we contribute
      • Resources
      • Time/talents
      • Attention/commitment
    • This year – talking about where we contribute → Where do we devote those resources, time and talents, and our dedication?
      • First week: giving to church
        • Being involved here
        • Being invested here
      • Last week: importance of mission-giving
        • Through/within church
        • Also your own personal
      • This week: giving to our future → investing for the long run
      • FOCUS: How do we use all those elements of our own stewardship to actually strengthen the church?
        • Not about half-heartedly committing these things
        • Not about keeping the church limping along and just scraping by à How do we move from an attitude of simply surviving to an attitude of dynamically thriving?
      • And as part of this series, after each sermon, you’ve been hearing from other people in the congregation – their testimonies about why they invest their time, talents, resources, and hearts into what we’re doing and what we’re about here. Because as we have said throughout this series, the whole point is that we are the church together.
        • Today
          • Kamyn
          • Angie
        • After the testimonies, we have a time of reflection.
          • Questions listed in bulletin – Think about them. Pray about them.
          • Yellow post-it notes in bulletin – jot down anything that comes to you about how you can strengthen this church
            • Time, talents, resources, heart
          • Leave the post-it note on the notecard and put it in the offering plate as it passes. During the final hymn, I’ll put those post-its up on this board, completing our picture of who we are and who we hope to be in stewardship together here in [Oronoco/Zumbrota].
            • Last week’s question: Why is mission important to me? What mission opportunities speak to my heart?
              • Read some of pink post-its
  • So today, we’re talking about the future of the church. But when it comes to stewardship, what does that even mean?
    • Basically – about expectations
      • With two 2-yr-olds in the house, our whole lives right now are about envisioning and defining and explaining and sticking to expectations.
        • EXPECT that boys will be polite (“please,” “thank you,” “excuse me”)
        • EXPECT that boys will be kind (no hitting, no pushing, no kicking, no pinching)
        • EXPECT that boys will listen to us (come when I ask you to, stop when I tell you to stop)
        • Our expectations are very clear … to us. But teaching and engraining these expectations into the mostly-irrational and totally impulsive minds of 2-yr-olds is a challenge to say the least. It’s a constant battle to help them turn these expectations into habits, and when one of them finally starts manifesting all by itself – when they started saying “thank you” without us having to prompt them, for example – it feels like the world’s greatest victory.
      • Expectations in the life of the church – crazy package of hopes and dreams for the congregation all wrapped up in our willingness and our efforts → This is what I’ve been talking about throughout this series when I say that we need to move from an attitude of simply surviving to an attitude of dynamically thriving. Any teacher or doctor or nurse or psychologist or counselor or parent will tell you that expectations play a major role in the outcome of a situation. What do we expect for the life and mission and giving of this church?
        • Safe, get-by sorts of things?
        • Audacious but great sorts of things?
      • Scripture speaks to expectations
        • Overarching expectation of the man going on the “extended trip”: He called his servants together and delegated responsibilities. To one he gave five thousand dollars, to another two thousand, to a third one thousand, depending on their abilities. Then he left. … After a long absence, the master of those three servants came back and settled up with them.[1] → implied expectation = servants will be responsible with man’s money
          • Question: Does responsibility always exclude risk?
        • 2 different expectations in the servants – polar opposite reactions
          • First 2 servants: Right off, the first servant went to work and doubled his master’s investment. The second did the same.[2] → These two servants had the expectation of dynamically thriving. They put themselves and their investment on the line. They were responsible with their master’s money – responsibly risky. And their risk doubled down their return, and they were rewarded in more than just funds.
            • Reward from master: “Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.”[3] → They are rewarded with trust, with greater responsibility, and with a deeper relationship.
          • Last servant: The man with the single thousand dug a hole and carefully buried his master’s money.[4] → This is the servant who acted from a place of timidity, a place of fear, a place of reservation.
            • From his own explanation: “Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money.”[5] → response born of an attitude of simply surviving
              • No risk involved
              • No uncertainty involved
              • But you know what they say … no risk, no reward.
  • Life in the church is full of uncertainties, especially life in a small church.
    • Uncertainties: numbers (people and finances), filling roles within church (“Who’s going to be the next deacon/[session][council] member/Sunday school teacher?”), where we’re going and who we’re continuing to be and become as a congregation
      • Often comes from being too stuck in the past – too often comparing what and who and how we were 10/15/50 yrs ago to who we are today
      • Keeps us stuck in uncertainties and anxieties and worries → so busy looking backward that we forget to look ahead
        • E.g.: Ian walking into door jam – too busy looking backward, not enough time spent looking forward
      • In order to truly be good stewards of our future as the church, we have to take that incredible history that this congregation has and let it support and inform and inspire us without it hindering our desire, our innovation, and our risk-taking as we look ahead. It’s about …
        • Defining our hopes/dreams as a congregation
          • Honing and expressing our dreams
          • NOT about limiting and shrinking them
        • Having the audacity and the chutzpah to dream big and to have confidence and trust in our hopes
          • California politician and LGBT rights activist Harvey Milk quote: Hope will never be silent.
          • Hear this in master’s admonition for the last servant: The master was furious. “That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least?”[6] → Are we living cautiously? Are we selling ourselves short by expecting less than the least of ourselves and our future? Do our hopes speak boldly and unabashedly about our faith, our relationship with God, and our identity as Christians and as a congregation? Are we being criminally cautious or responsibly risky? Amen.

Testimonies

Time of Reflection
How am I invested in the future of this church?
What is our passion as a congregation? Where is it taking us? Where can it take us?
How can I be a steward of the future of the church?

Charge: From transcendentalist, author, and abolitionist Henry David Thoreau: Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

[1] Mt 25:14b-15, 19.

[2] Mt 25:16-17.

[3] Mt 25:21 and 23.

[4] Mt 25:18.

[5] Mt 25:24-25.

[6] Mt 25:26.