Thursday, February 28, 2013

Words for the week: fish or cut bait?

Last week in church, we heard the audacious words “imitate me” from the apostle Paul. (Philippians 3).  In my sermon, I joked that if someone speaks with such arrogance they are probably not to be imitated. But then, I pointed out that Paul didn't command people to imitate him in order to become successful.  No, Paul’s “imitate me” comes on the heels of confession and humility.  

I asked the congregation to talk about this question: who is your hero of faith?  As our athletic heroes keep failing us and our government teeters on the brink of this sequester, it can bolster all our spirits to remember the countless humble people whose heroism doesn't result in arrogance.  They are inimitable precisely because they don’t think there’s anything particularly grand about themselves.  They help point us to Christ.

This week, the gospel (Luke 13) includes a short parable.  A landowner wants a fig tree cut down because it hasn’t given any fruit.  The gardener begs for mercy, saying: “let it alone for one more year until I dig around it and put manure on it.  If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”

When to nurture and when to cut?  When do we give mercy and when do we say “enough is enough?”  This is far from a theoretical question.  Lawmakers debate the death penalty. Congress figures out what programs to cut and when. Parents struggle to discipline a child. People in hard relationships try to figure out if they should leave. Decisions have consequences but indecision does too. We live in this tension between mercy and endings. 
Jesus’ tells this story to remind us, first and foremost, that we are all of us in need of mercy.  Remembering the many ways that people have been merciful to us helps reframe this question.  But still, I picture the gardener for that whole year begging the fig tree to bear fruit, doing all he can to make it thrive.  At some point it will become clear whether or not it will work. Will he let it go if it doesn't bear? Will the landowner have the heart to cut it down? We don't know how this one ends.  

be at peace - Sarah

Note: each week I email the congregation a brief snippet from the previous week's sermon along with my thoughts on the upcoming week's texts.  I repost these words for the week here.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Words for the week - are you God's type?

Each Thursday, our church, Peace, sends an email.  Besides announcements, it includes a main point from the previous week's sermon and a glimpse at my thoughts for the upcoming Sunday.  Because I haven't had the bandwidth to blog lately, I am going to start including my "Words for the Week" here.  If you would like to join our congregation's email list, please email me at

From last week’s sermon:
(Luke 4:1-12)
The devil began his temptation of Jesus with these words: “If you are the son of God…”  He asked Jesus to prove himself using means that would only prove the opposite. Jesus refused to believe the fiction the devil told him about his identity and stayed secure in what he knew. His identity as God’s son was proven in his ability to love people, not in his ability to gain security, power or fame.

The wilderness is not a place to escape our lives.  Rather the wilderness is the place where all the external markers we so often rely on to make up our identity are stripped away so we can find our lives again. In the wilderness, it doesn’t matter how perfect you look, what amount of money you have, nor how successful your life has been. You stand naked and essential in front of God and learn that your core identity is as a beloved child of God.  Knowledge of that love gives us the courage to resist the temptation to lose ourselves in the quest for security, fame and glory.  What matters is that God loves us. . The “if you are the son of God… “ becomes  "Since I am a child of God..."  We have nothing to prove.

This week:
The gospel lesson (Luke 13:31-35) shows Jesus freely headed toward Jerusalem even though he knows he will be killed there. Once again he identifies himself as a prophet (a theme in Luke’s gospel) and compares his ministry to a hen, gathering and protecting her chicks.

I’m going to switch gears a bit, however, and preach on the 2nd reading, Philippians 3:17 – 4:1.  It comes near the end of the letter and starts with this: “Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.”  I’m fascinated by the image here.  The Greek word for “example” is typos.  That’s the same root for the word typewriter.  I keep thinking of us as people who – because we are made in the image of God – stamp God’s presence on the world like a typewriter stamps an image on a piece of paper.  Or maybe the better thought is that we allow ourselves to be typed on by God in the ongoing story of God’s merciful love.  The important point, however, is that part of how broken, sin-bound people like ourselves type God onto the world is by asserting God’s power to forgive.  Being God’s type isn’t to be arrogant or worthy – it’s to be humble and forgiven.  

Be at peace - Pr Sarah

Ten for Ten. Ten reasons it's great to be a pastor, in celebration of my 10 year anniversary of ordination.

I'm in there somewhere. I was ordained at Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington DC on November 10, 2007, ten years ago today. ...