Wednesday, December 05, 2012

And a child shall lead us

A question is like a small child and should be treated as such:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

 - Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet (1934)

Friday, November 30, 2012

Thanks and wow

Last night I went to Symphony Space in NYC with my friends Suzanne and Christie to hear Anne Lamott speak about writing and her new book on prayer, Help, Thanks, Wow:  The Three Essential Prayers.  Annie was so sweet she signed every book everyone brought or bought there, plus posed for photos.  You'd think you were over at her house, just having coffee.

Seeing an author in person, for me, is more like seeking confirmation that an author's inner life matches or shines through their outward being.  I once saw Octavia Butler at a booksigning, and when I asked her a question, she made me feel like a bug.  I mean, the woman's genius was off the planet.  But Annie had patience with folks.  (We're in a picture together, so I feel like I can call her Annie now, at least here.)  One woman at a microphone didn't ask a question; she just wanted to thank Annie for inspiring her and giving her the hutzpah to be a writer herself.  Since she didn't have a question to answer, Annie then talked for a spacious 5 -7 minutes about being a writer and some experiences she's had and a good small story.  Annie is really good at the small story with the big spiritual shoe drop at the end.

Another woman who asked a question copped to being clergy.  One my friends who went with me is also a UCC minister.  Made me wish Annie had taken a poll, asked us to raise our hands.  But then I think being called a theologian scares the shit out of her.  She just likes to write about the big questions with her one small life.  Thanks, Anne Lamott, for all your help.

Monday, November 12, 2012

There's a new blog in town...

...for that day when church and I find each other.  Go check it out and tell me what you think.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

And the soul felt its worth

Psalm 146; Mark 12: 38-44
Lordship Community Church, Stratford, CT
November 11, 2012
(Whenever song lyrics appear in my sermons, I sing them.)

Widow's Mite,

            This is a story that Jesus could have told alongside the story from Mark’s gospel of the robber baron scribes and the widow’s offering of all she had.  It comes from Calcutta, India, from the Missionaries of Charity and their superior, Mother Theresa.

Unfortunately it was nothing unusual for her, just an entire family in one of the slums of Calcutta that was suffering from malnourishment, nearly on the brink of starvation.  Mother Theresa put some rice into a sack, a few handfuls—all that she could spare—and delivered it to this desperately hungry family.  The mother was so thankful and joyous, she instantly took the bag of rice into their small cooking and living space.  In a few moments she came out with half of the rice in a container and rushed down a small alley.  Puzzled, Mother Theresa called after her, “Where are you going with that rice?”  The poor mother replied, “I know another family who has nothing to eat, who also needs rice.”

            Prosperity and poverty live side by side in Calcutta or Kolkata.  In a city the size of Dublin reside more than 14 million people.  Alongside beautiful historic buildings and its educated middle class, reside the sick and the dying, the starving and destitute outcasts, about 3 million people.  Calcutta has a rich history of religious tolerance, with Hindus, Muslims and Christians living together in community.  Yet even though all three religions advocate for the poor and decry the injustice of poverty, still 80% of those living in slums live on $11 - $37 a month.

            None of us really like to sit through public service announcements picturing the bloated bellies of children or gaunt-faced women breastfeeding a baby, asking for our support.  When we go to a city we try to avoid panhandlers or anyone with a cardboard sign or we give the change jangling in our pockets.  None of us likes guilt; none of us are truly motivated to give more because we may feel guilty about the abundance we enjoy.

            This is not a sermon about guilt and money.  We’ve all heard more than our share of them, and they’re not highly effective at changing our giving habits and money attitudes.  Instead, I’d rather talk about knowing our own worth as a human being, and thus knowing the worth of every other human being on this planet.

            There are two interpretations of this reading from Mark.  The traditional understanding is that Jesus is praising the widow’s religious devotion, for giving all she had to live on, in contrast to the offerings of the rich, who are giving what will not be missed.  The other explanation is that Jesus is lamenting that this poor woman is being taken advantage of by the religious authorities, paying for the expenses of the temple out of an already impoverished pocket.

            I would like to propose a third reading of this passage.  The widow, having no one else, sees herself as connected to a larger, wider family, that of her faith; that in her giving she becomes part of the community, that she too can give, like those around her.  The widow knows her worth as a child of God and gives accordingly.  What Jesus praises is that she knows her own worth, that she has not devalued herself because she is a poor widow.

            When Jesus observes the scribes in their long flowing robes, sitting in the best seats, requiring acknowledgment and respect from others, and saying long prayers just for show, I doubt these scribes saw themselves as connected to the poor, the outcast, to the orphaned and the widowed.  Most people who strut have not only an inflated sense of self but are also fearful and insecure.  They are more likely to be disconnected, lonely, and isolated.  When Jesus says that they will receive the greater condemnation, I interpret that he is saying that not only will they suffer the consequences of their actions and attitudes but they will do so alone—separated and apart from others.

            The great gift of the incarnation, of God with us, is the realization that we are all connected, one to another, and to the earth, to the creation itself.

Long lay the world, in sin and error pining,
‘til he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

If Jesus is lamenting anything, I think it would be over the rich scribes and others who don’t yet realize that their worth is not dependent on money or influence or power or education but simply that they draw breath.  In the first creation story, when God made human beings and breathed life into them, God declared them good before they had done anything.  When as yet Jesus had not yet begun his ministry but had simply risen out of the waters of baptism, God declared that he was a beloved child.


But we human beings tend to size up others based on actions rather than seeing the deeper kinship we share.  Often we put ourselves in the place of God, forgetting that it is God who judges “people and nations by [God’s] righteous will, declared through prophets and apostles.”[1]  It takes a lot of hard work to be able to see all people the way God sees people—as beloved children.  And that is because we don’t yet know our own worth.  We don’t yet see ourselves as precious.  We don’t yet see the hope that God has placed in each and every one of us.

The Son of God lay thus in lowly manger
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need; our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Before Him lowly bend!

Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest in Los Angeles, has been working with gang members for the past twenty years through his organization Homeboy Industries.  When they are ready to leave the life of gangbanging, maybe when they get out of jail, maybe when a close friend dies, maybe when they become a mom or a dad for the first time, these young people come to Greg, or G as they call him, for a job in the Homeboy Silkscreen warehouse or the bakery or Homegirl cafĂ© or in another offsite job that partners with them.  In his book Tattoos on the Heart, Greg describes, in story after story, how these once violent, risky kids begin to see themselves as something other than a life that will end before the age of 25; as something other than a target for a bullet; as something other than a waste of a human being.  They begin to see that their soul has worth.

Homeboy Diner

But then the stories catch us up short, because this young man or that young woman who saw their worth then dies as a result of a stray bullet or one that was meant for them.  Greg has baptized over a thousand gang members and their families but he’s also buried over 160 of them.  Over and over again he is asked the question, and he asks it of himself too:  What’s the point of doing good if this can happen to you?  What’s the point of changing your life if you don’t even get a chance to really live it?  The answer that Greg came to was this:  these gang members were human beings who came to know the truth about themselves and liked what they found there.  He says, “What is death compared to knowing that?  No bullet can pierce it.”[2]  All she had to live on.  And the soul felt its worth.

In the Monroe Congregational Church we say our church covenant as a Body of Christ every Sunday except Communion Sundays when we say the UCC Statement of Faith.  In our covenant we promise ‘all that we are and all that we have, to the fulfillment of God’s kingdom’.  In order to promise all that we are and all that we have we need to know our worth.  And of course it’s a journey that we’re on, a process that we’re engaged in.  I’ve yet to see a member of my church ‘give it all up for Jesus’.

But we don’t come to know our worth on our own.  In Africa it is said that we become a person through other people.  It is through our connections, our relationships, through a sense of belonging that we know our own worth.  The more connected we are, the more engaged we are with others—others of all stripes and not just our own—we begin to see ourselves and others the way God sees us: as something other than abundantly rich or oppressively poor or somewhere in between; as something other than one of the many labels that have been placed on us or that we own with pride; as something other than just an obscure person who can’t make much of a difference.

Do you, Lordship Community Church, know your own worth as a body of Christ?  Do you realize how precious you are in the eyes of God?  How have you experienced the hope that God has placed in you?  How do you connect with the wider church and have a relationship with it? 

When we know the truth about ourselves and like what we find there, we give not out of our abundance what we won’t miss, we put in everything we have--even our hopes, our dreams, our fears--all that we have to live on, to the fulfillment of God’s kin-dom.  We give so that others may know that we are kin to them and they are kin to all of creation.  Death can’t touch it.  No bullet can pierce it.  Love is its name.

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.


[1] United Church of Christ Statement of Faith, 1981.
[2] Tattoos on the Heart, Gregory Boyle, S.J. New York:  Free Press, 2010.  Pp. 16-17.

Monday, November 05, 2012


No matter your political persuasion, make yourself heard and vote!  So many people in other countries either do not have the right to vote or there are numerous obstacles they must overcome in order to do so or their vote is a joke.  We have this right granted to us in the constitution of our nation and in the 15th and 19th amendments.  One of the many things to be thankful for; one important way to bring about change.

This is a video of my friend Kristen Graves singing her original song "Dear Mister".  I hope you enjoy it and share it with others!

Thursday, November 01, 2012

The undiscovered country, part 2

Well, another temporary gig is finished without another one in sight...nor an interview for a settled gig.  Usually this leaves me feeling like a spider's silk swinging in the breeze.  Recently, though, I've discovered that this isn't a bad thing.  Have you ever wondered how a spider gets those threads over such a distance?  She spins and spins and spins a very long thread.  Then she waits for a breeze to waft her to a branch, a stem, a leaf, a post--anything that she can land on.  If she can affix her sticky silk to her landing place, then she begins the next anchor thread of her web.  If not, she tries again and again until she sticks.  So here's to me sticking somewhere!

For now I plan to do some volunteering at a couple of places. One is Simply SmilesI've done some data entry for them in the past; they probably still need to do more, entering all the volunteers they've had on mission trips over the past 10 years. The other is an outreach ministry at United Church in Bridgeport. This is a church that takes the gospel seriously by ministering to those in their midst. They feed over 200 people a week with a community supper. On Thanksgiving they'll feed over 800 folks! They do afterschool tutoring, ESL education, addiction recovery, children's art program--lots to do and be a part of.

If I am too idle, I am miserable. I like having the freedom of a flexible schedule but I need somewhere to put my energy. To all of you who have been praying for me, many thanks and please keep it up! I'm praying for you too.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The undiscovered country

Psalm 23; Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8; John 14: 1-3
First Church of Christ, UCC, Woodbridge, CT
October 28, 2012 – Reformation Sunday
Wheat Field with Reaper and Sun, Vincent Van Gogh
             For the first time in a long time I am diverging from the lectionary.  Normally I like to receive an assignment from the Holy Spirit:  “Here, preach on this!” and then struggle with what I’m given.  In this way the scripture has a way of working on me even as I am working on the sermon.  In spite of this, the Holy Spirit seemed to have another idea.
            Last week I attended the funeral of a long time member of my church in Monroe.  Marie had four sons, one of whom preceded her into God’s glory.  The other three spoke in turn about their loving mother, of how she raised her boys into men who loved their mother, each other and what it means to be a human being in this world.
            The three scriptures for today’s worship came from Marie’s service.  As I sat in the pew and read them in the worship bulletin, I saw words and phrases that spoke to me of this church, right now.  “He restoreth my soul.”  “He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”  “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.”  “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.”  “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”  “…a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.”  “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me.”
            And then the sermon title came to me:  “The Undiscovered Country”.  Some of you may recognize this phrase from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  In his famous soliloquy that begins “To be or not to be”, Hamlet contemplates taking his own life but cannot find the courage to carry through—not because of any fear of divine wrath but because of the great unfathomable unknown that awaits him.
“Who would Burdens bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn
No Traveller returns, Puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.”
(Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1, 76-82)
            But those few of you who may be Star Trek fans will recognize the phrase ‘the undiscovered country’ from the sixth movie of the same name, where it refers not to death, but to the future—itself a great unfathomable unknown that awaits us all.
            There are times we human beings approach the future in the same way we approach death.  Both can make us feel more than just uncomfortable but vulnerable, defenseless.  We’d rather not talk about it but if we do, we do so with some measure of dread.  Some days we do all we can to forestall it.  There are days that thoughts of the future “make us rather bear those ills we have, than fly to others that we know not of”.  We fear it because we don’t know what lies ahead, especially in this ever-changing world.  Yes, we have faith, we have trust in God but in truth we really don’t know.  When the old mapmakers reached the end of the known world, they wrote “beyond here there be dragons”.  No one has traveled to the future or to death and returned to tell us what is there waiting for us.
            What we do have is Jesus’ reassurance, that in God’s house there are many rooms and that Jesus goes ahead to prepare a place for us, not only beyond death, but also into our future.  Jesus has gone ahead of us, like a guide building and lighting a bonfire in the distance, so that weary travelers can find him and come to the place that been prepared.
Walk with me, Lord
Walk with me
Walk with me, Lord
Walk with me
While I’m on this pilgrim journey
I want Jesus to walk with me
            Meanwhile we are on our pilgrim journey, looking for those still waters, that promised green pasture in which to lie down just for a while.  We tend to wander off the paths of righteousness from time to time, sometimes stepping off the path just so we can find it anew.  Because it’s not an easy path, is it?  Righteousness isn’t something we come by naturally.  Sometimes we stumble across it like a gift.  Most of the time it comes from perseverance, from striving in our daily living to align our actions with the will of God.  And we need God’s help to do this.  All the time.
Hold my hand, Lord
Hold my hand
Hold my hand, Lord
Hold my hand
While I’m on this pilgrim journey
I want Jesus to hold my hand
            In order to sit at that table with our enemies that God has prepared, we need God to help us stay at that table, to not leave until both we and our enemy have been fed and satisfied, for that is what God intends.  Rather than God helping those who help themselves (which is not biblical), God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, even what seems impossible.
            Even when we cannot imagine the way forward through the valley of the shadow of death, the place has not only been prepared, and the way, but Jesus promises to come again, to take us to where he is, that we may be there also.  Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, through the surprising grace of the Holy Spirit, God is willing to do whatever it takes to get us to where God is.  God is not yet done with us, for God is still speaking.
Be my guide, Lord
Be my guide
Be my guide, Lord
Be my guide
While I’m on this pilgrim journey
I want Jesus to be my guide
            But it doesn’t mean we get to walk around Good Friday and the time in the tomb, that valley of death.  Our way to that future that Jesus has prepared leads straight through the way of sorrow.  When Jesus said, “Pick up your cross and follow me”, we knew where he was going but did we really think we were going anywhere else?[1]
            There is a season for everything, and seasons mean that there are cycles, ebb and flow, phases of light and darkness that are intended for growth.  And growth includes dying as much as planting, birth, and harvest.  We can’t have one without any of the others.  Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it bears no fruit.”  There is no growth, there is no harvest if the seed does not die.

We are the Body of Christ, something altogether different from another non-profit or an organization or a club or even a family.  Jesus came to change human lives: to heal, to forgive, to love unconditionally, to show justice, to be fearlessly generous with himself that everyone would know the love of God that has the power to transform us into something new.  It doesn’t mean that the way we are is bad or not good enough but that God is still creating us, shaping us, renewing us because that’s what a Creator does.
The purpose of being the Body of Christ is to be Christ in the world:  a living, breathing body doing the work of Christ—healing, forgiving, loving unconditionally, working for justice, being fearlessly generous with ourselves that everyone would know that the love of God has the power to change human lives.  And we are called continually to seek out how to live that purpose in our own lives and in our life together as a community.
Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun and author, writes that “[seeking] depends on the willingness to let God lead us through the deserts of a lifetime, along routes we would not go, into the Promised Land of our own lives.”   How willing are we to be led to that yet undiscovered country called the future?  How healthy is our trust in God?  For surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever, yes?  Then though we may have everything to fear, we have nothing to lose and all to gain.

Nobody but you, Lord
Nobody but you
Nobody but you, Lord
Nobody but you
While I’m on this pilgrim journey
Nobody but you, Lord
Nobody but you

[1] Thanks to J. Barrett Lee for his reflection, A Growing Church is a Dying Church

Lizz Wright, "Walk With Me, Lord" - live, Soho Revue Bar

Star Trek VI - "The Undiscovered Country" trailer

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A holy disruption

Psalm 91: 9-16; Mark 10: 32-45
First Church of Christ, UCC, Woodbridge, CT
October 21, 2012

             A spiritual discipline that I have endeavored to apply over the years of my adulthood, especially as a pastor and mother, is the acceptance of disruptions.  A disruption is any change in the status quo.  It can be welcome or unwelcome, expected or unexpected, or merely a suspension of the usual process of living.  Many a time I have welcomed a disruption, even planned for a few of them, such as moving away from my home in Massachusetts to Ohio, then to here in Connecticut, and resigning from full-time ministry.  Some of these planned disruptions of ‘the way things are’ were of the most positive kind, like getting married or having children or returning to work, yet each also came with its own challenges as well.   Most of the time I work at welcoming disruptions into my status quo; many of them are of the merely inconvenient variety, but usually they are an opportunity for ministry.
            In fact, ministry is comprised mainly of disruptions to the status quo, the way things are in our lives.  Someone loses a job or needs some help paying the bills or just moved into town or was in an accident or has just quit smoking or is in recovery or received disturbing news from a lab report or a relationship has ended or a loved one has passed away—and they need to talk, they need community, they need help. 
            Jesus knew this.  Often he would try to get away by himself and pray but more often than not, folks who were sick or hurting or lonely would find him, and Jesus would give them what they needed most: healing, love, forgiveness, and a changed life.
            In this morning’s scripture lesson Jesus and the disciples are headed for the biggest, most traumatic disruption of their life together.  For the third time Jesus has told his closest friends and followers what will happen to him when they reach Jerusalem.  He goes into great detail—betrayal, torture, then death, and at the last, resurrection. 
            Two of the disciples, James and John, have the strangest reaction to this disruption, this oncoming train wreck:  they ask to be at the right and left of Jesus when he comes into his glory.  The author of Mark does nothing to gloss over their request or to make them appear less connected to this impudent demand, as does Matthew by having their mother ask Jesus for them.  Mark presents the disciples as very human.  It would not be the last time that when a leader’s death or leave-taking is imminent, even one as beloved as Jesus, someone would make a power grab.  This does not beg for a judgment but rather understanding.  By asking for seats of glory, they betray their fear at losing Jesus and the intimate community from which they have received a new life.
            Nevertheless, Jesus is as cool as a cucumber.  As the ultimate transition man, he exudes an ideal non-anxious presence.  He does not judge them for asking something from him, even as he is about to enter the city where he will meet his death.  He responds to the ignorance that is masking their fear with gentleness, as though they are young students lacking certain life experience.
            What the disciples do not understand is that disruptions can also be deep sources of transformation, especially the ones that cause a great deal of pain.  Like a mother giving birth to a child, painful disruptions have within them the possibility of transformation, of birthing us from one life into another.  It is how we approach and creatively handle these disruptions that determine what shape this transformed, changed life will take.
            Jesus warns James and John that indeed they will drink from the same cup and share the same baptism, but who will be at his right and his left has already been prepared.  I have often wondered if the two thieves who were crucified on the right and left side of Jesus were representative of these two disciples, illuminating the truth that on the path to glory there is no escaping pain and disruption, but that there is also transformation of the highest order.
            You’d think that if the other disciples were listening in, they would have heard Jesus’ warning and heeded it, but no.  Thankfully these other disciples are just as wonderfully human as we are.  They become angry at James and John, perhaps because they made the request before any of the rest of them could.
            Jesus then reminds them of the worldly powers that be, that there is a certain pecking order to be observed and obeyed but as usual with Jesus, it is turned upside down.  Eugene Peterson puts it this way in his paraphrase The Message:  “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around,” Jesus said, “and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage.”  And in so doing, Jesus has set the disciples and us free from any humiliation from the powers that be by commanding that we be humble instead, by living as servants and slaves.
            Servanthood is a life lived in the service of disruption.  The master calls, the servant responds, disrupting whatever task or chore they were currently doing or few minutes of peace they were enjoying.  The servant is willing to disrupt his or her life for the sake of the master.
            A few years ago I used to meet with a group of clergy friends for a monthly spirituality group.  Each month we would take turns leading the group through a discussion, some prayer and singing, and sharing Communion.  One particular occasion we shared Communion quite differently.  We were instructed to take a sizeable chunk of bread and then to feed each member of the group with a small morsel of it, saying each person’s name with the words “I am willing to disrupt my life for you.”  Communion reminds us that Jesus was willing to disrupt his life, even lay down his life, for friends.

            You are currently living through one of the most challenging disruptions that can disturb the status quo of a congregation, a time of conflict, division and woundedness.  Whenever, wherever there is conflict it is always tempting to root out the source, the cause of the tension and discord, like the disciples in their anger against James and John.   We want to know who is to blame, because if we could just get rid of them, we are convinced that all would be if not well, at least better.
            Father Greg Boyle, who for 20 years has ministered to gang members in Los Angeles, says this about what might be to blame:  "There is an idea that has taken root in this world, that is at the root of everything that is wrong with this world, and that idea is that some lives matter more than others.”  In our hearts we wish this were not true; we think we don’t operate that way.  After all, the very fabric of our American society is founded on the words, ‘created equal’ and yet that same society is shot through with the very real truth that some folks don’t matter as much. 
And yet it is Jesus who is calling us into the fracas, who associated with the ‘those-who-don’t matter’ of his time, who instructs us to love our enemies and forgive them.  It is Jesus who disturbs our status quo by pulling our attention off of ourselves and onto him.  Indeed it is Jesus who is the root, the cause of this disruption to the disciples by going to Jerusalem to face his death.  When he says we will drink from the same cup and share in the same baptism, he is saying, “Look at what God is doing through me.  Be prepared, for God will use you as well, for the sake of God’s kingdom.” 
How might Jesus be the root, the source, the cause of the disruption of this church?  What might God be trying to accomplish here by disturbing your status quo, by disrupting the way things are?   Yesterday at the conference meeting I heard these words:  We are a church obsessed with our doldrums.  When our practice of church becomes an unconscious pattern, when the status quo holds the church hostage, such as giving the same pledge each year or the same people leading or the same people volunteering their time, it is then that a holy disruption is needed.  Author Sue Monk Kidd wrote, “The truth will indeed set you free, but first it will shatter the safe, sweet way you live.”
God does new things.  Our faith may be an old, old story but that story is about God constantly doing a new thing.  Jesus Christ may be the same yesterday, today and tomorrow but Jesus is still and will always be the one who disrupts the way things are.  Church consultant Gil Rendle puts it this way:  The church, right now, is under the illusion that it can build a new prison using the old prison’s bricks without losing any of the prisoners.”  It may be a jarring metaphor but we do tend to think of keeping people here rather than sending people forth to be the church in the world.  We can’t live a life with Jesus and think we’ll remain the same as we’ve always been.
I’ve said once, I’ll say it a hundred times:  a life with Jesus is no rose garden.  The only thing we’re truly promised is that Jesus will be with us to the end of the age; that God will unconditionally love and forgive us; that the Holy Spirit will continue to comfort and agitate, inspire and afflict us.  There are no guarantees that we’ll be successful at this thing called community.
I’d like to share with you a quote by one of my favorite authors, Samir Selmanovic.  He grew up in what was Yugoslavia, the son of a Muslim father and a Christian mother.  He was raised culturally Muslim but as for religion he was raised as an atheist.  At 18 he began his compulsory service in the army and it was through a friendship there that he converted to Christianity.  His family disowned him, throwing him out of the house, and it was years later before he was able to reconcile with them.  He is now a Christian pastor and the founder of an interfaith community called Faith House Manhattan.  He says this about what is promised in following Jesus:
“Jesus offered a single incentive to follow him…to summarize his selling point: ‘Follow me, and you might be happy—or you might not. Follow me, and you might be empowered—or you might not. Follow me, and you might have more friends—or you might not. Follow me, and you might have the answers—or you might not. Follow me, and you might be better off—or you might not. If you follow me, you may be worse off in every way you use to measure life. Follow me nevertheless. Because I have an offer that is worth giving up everything you have: you will learn to love well.’”
Are you willing to disrupt your lives for each other and for the sake of Jesus?  Are you sure you want to be a servant and a slave of all?  Are you ready to learn to love well?  Do the words of Jesus challenge you, provoke you?  His words were intended to poke holes in our arguments, our resistance, in our status quo, to change our lives and our life together.  For through those holes, through those holy disruptions will come shafts of light, to illumine our way to true servanthood, to glory, to transformation.  Thanks be to God.