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You are special. You are loved. You are God’s child.

Today began our Youth Missions Week at New Hope. We are so excited to be joining with Koinonia offering arts, crafts, and songs to the students gathered this summer. This morning we read God’s Dream by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and were reminded that we are unique and special and that we are all a part of God’s family.

We asked students to complete the sentence, “I am special because…” It was amazing to see how astute they already are about how they are different than anyone else, but as we were working on the crafts, I noticed that the adult and youth leaders began to make their own. Maybe it was the finger paint, maybe it was the book, maybe it was that we all need this simple reminder:

You are special.

You are loved.

You are God’s child.

A New Hope

Yesterday, New Hope Christian Fellowship called me to be their pastor and I said a wholehearted YES!

A New Hope…started a journey and ongoing battle between the dark side and the Jedi. A journey that has continued onto this generation in the form of new characters, missing story pieces, and a bond of love for Star Wars between parents and children. Perhaps new hope does just this, unites us, challenges us, and invites us to participate in a greater story.

Anew hope…If there has ever been a time that our world and our church needs anew hope, doesn’t it seem like now? As a millennial, I have certainly found myself in periods of church hopping and church knocking and church blocking. All of these stages and phases indications of my desire to find a place to serve where my experiences match the need surrounding a community, but I know so many other people who are looking for communities of faith to belong to. People to gather to worship with. People to gather around the table and eat with. People to call when life is so overwhelming that you know you can’t do it on your own.

People looking for a new hope. Thanks be to God for the community of faith called New Hope Christian Fellowship who are dedicated to learning, growing, and ministering to the community together. What a joy it is to be called Pastor by you!

 

“I’ll Keep Getting Stronger”

I know some of you were left nursing reopened wounds in light of the presidential results and the discussions and rhetoric that has followed. I certainly was knocked off balance, but sometimes you’re watching your one-year old dance to a Sesame Street song and you recommit yourself to the work of reconciliation that you have been called to do.

“I’m never going to give up…I’ll keep getting stronger.”

We Have Vastly Underestimated The Needs That Surround Us

As we awaken to the reality that our country has elected Donald Trump as it’s next president, I hope what we have also awakened to is the reality of the needs that surrounds us. 47 million people live in poverty according to the 2014 creating a poverty rate of 15%, that’s 2.3% more than at the height of the 2007 recession. In 2015, there were 17.7 per 10,000 people who live in homelessness. In one year, 10 million men and women are victims of domestic violence.

The need for the hope of something great for many, many people is real.

These statics haven’t changed overnight because we elected a new president. These are needs that are ever-present and have become more prevalent since 2007. In this period of recession and recovery, our faith communities have lauded and celebrated legacies of white male privilege in leadership positions patting ourselves on the back for accepting applications for women to serve in leadership positions, but never actually calling them (at least we had a female presidential nominee, that’s progress!). The teachings in our communities of faith, retreats, and trainings have focused on self-care and spiritual formation rather than community-care and spiritual transformation. We have created a reality we wanted to believe: that we our communities of faith are welcoming and affirming of all people and are relevant in the changing dynamics of our society.

But our eyes have been opened this morning.

We must now wrestle with the truth that we are participants in the privileged culture that favors some and not all. We must wrestle, no matter who we voted for, with the times that we felt we should have said something to challenge and question the systemic discrimination we have encountered. We must now wrestle with the truth that as ministers, followers of Christ, and communities of faith we have failed to offer hope in real and tangible ways that connect to the deep needs that surround us.

May this morning bring heartbreak for the part we have played and resolve to play our part in bringing out real, systemic change that meets the needs of our fellow Americans.

“I Have Plenty”

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As I sat in the middle of a tarp filled with donations of men’s short-sleeved T-shirts and collared shirts on Saturday morning with our 11-month old, I was overwhelmed with the way a community can make a difference. There were so many winter items gathered in order to help those who might not have enough to stay warm through the cold. I was already overwhelmed by the generosity of the two communities of faith with whom ministrieslab had partnered in order to collect and sort items for the distribution. This, I thought, is church. Individuals, nonprofits, and communities of faith all coming together to help those in their own community who needed items to help them stay warm. This is the gospel.

And I was feeling good about the work we had done to create partnerships to have a bigger impact by joining together. And I was feeling good about being there in the midst of need and being able to hand someone exactly what they were asking for.

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“Do you have a black XL T-shirt?”

“Sure thing!”

“Would you like a collared XL shirt as well?”

“No, I have plenty. Thank you!”

“Are you sure? These are all XL.”

“No, thank you. I’ve got more than I need already and there are other people who need those.”

I looked in his hands and saw two pairs of socks, one pair of jeans, the black T-shirt, and a coat. More than he needs? He has plenty? My mind reeled as I took in what he was saying and what my privilege had assumed. I wanted to give him more, but he wanted to make sure that the people who would use and wear the collared shirts would be able to have those. He knew he wouldn’t use them, so he left them for someone else.

And I thought about how much I have, about how many times I’ve not even thought about other people who might need something I have more than me. And I was confronted with my privilege again.

As a woman who has pursued ministry, in particular preaching and pastoring ministry, I have fought against privilege and systemic discrimination. And as I have confronted and challenged that privilege by simply trying to answer my call, I have often thought there was no way I could have privilege, no way I could not understand those who are fighting the same battle I am fighting in different realms.

I was wrong.

The work we have done with the homeless has humbled me, challenged me, and made me confront the reality that I have privilege that makes me want to give more to someone who thinks more about the community surrounding him than he does about how many clothes he has.

 

      

The Privilege in Choice

As the cooler weather has crept in, I realized that this time last year, my choices were pretty limited on what I could and couldn’t wear because I was 8 months pregnant. As I looked in my closet, I wondered what I wore two years ago before I was pregnant to stay warm. Then, I realized, I have clothes from two years ago and three years ago and four years ago….

As I looked in my closet, I was overwhelmed by my privilege. The privilege of having choices of clothes in my closet. The privilege of having a place to keep these clothes year after year. The privilege to change clothes. Privilege that I hardly ever think about, but that exists as part of my daily life. Privilege that separates me from other people. Privilege that helps me sleep at night free of worry about what to wear tomorrow because I know there are clothes in my closet and in my children’s closets.

As we prepare at ministrieslab to partner with the good work Resurrections is doing to provide winter wear for those who come and eat at Lunch on the Lawn this Saturday, I am thankful for partners like Garden of Grace and New Hope Christian Fellowship. Partners who are willing to acknowledge their own privilege in having clothes and winter gear that could help someone in need. Partners who are willing to give freely rather than defend their right to that privilege.

When We Forget Natural Disasters, We Forget the Need That Surrounds Us

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This morning I took the puppies to the running trail we used to frequent once a week only to find that the majority of the trail was closed because of damage. I tried to remember the last time I had gone to this trail. I knew it was before Ben was born and then remembered that when we went to take newborn pictures a a part of it was closed as well. Had there really been parts of this trail closed for over a year off and on and I had no idea? How was that possible?

Certainly I have thought about the ongoing impact of the historic flood, especially in light of Hurricane Matthew’s recent visit. I have been involved in relief work off and on in my capacity as a local minister, but no matter how involved we are, if we are not directly impacted by natural disasters, then they slowly fade from our newsfeeds and slip from our minds.

In an effort to regain a sense of normalcy, we push the suffering of people out of our consciousness. When we do, we forget and by extension ignore the need that surrounds us. It’s a coping mechanism that is innately human and innately inhumane at the same time.

It’s not until our schedules, our routines, and our plans are impeded and have to be altered that our eyes are reopened. Thanks be to God for this reminder this morning.

When Our Children Serve Beside Us

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This Saturday as part of ministrieslab, we partnered with Resurrections that has been popping up on Saturdays in downtown Columbia to serve a midday meal for fourteen years. We knew it was going to be hot and we knew that there were going to be a lot of people in need. We also knew we had all three children. We made the choice that all the kids would go and serve beside us. We made that choice not knowing for sure if children had helped serve before or whether there would be tasks they could handle, but knowing we wanted them to understand that serving and helping others in need is part of who we are as a family.

When we arrived, we found that the whole team at Resurrections believed the same thing we did. They believed that willing hands are willing hands, no matter how big or small. They asked our children to jump in by carrying the tents and serving food just like the adult volunteers were doing.

The picture I am taking away from this Saturday is our eight-year-old serving another eight-year-old who was there with her mother. To serve someone her own age and own height was a powerful picture of what happens when we invite children to serve beside us rather than restricting them to children’s missions activities. When we serve together as a family and serve other families in need, there is a powerful communion that occurs. We understand that family is what unites us and binds us, whether we have a lot of whether we have little.

When our children serve beside us, we are welcoming them into the gospel message. We are letting the little children come unto God. We are bringing the kingdom of God here to earth in ways that we as adults can’t see. When our children serve beside us, we hear in their voices, “I like that better than some of the other times we’ve served because we actually got to do something. They actually let us help and serve the food.”

Thanks be to God for pop up meals and for people who understand that when Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food,” he wasn’t just talking to adults.

When Ministry Merges Into the World

I was headed home after procuring my afternoon cup of coffee from Panera, one of our ministrieslab partners when a car coming from a merge lane never slowed down. She didn’t even look before she continued her trajectory into our lane, despite the yield sign. It was a scary moment for me because I didn’t have time or space to hit my brakes. Thankfully, there was a bread truck in the next lane who was paying attention to what was happening and slowed down so I could move into the left lane and let her pass.

I saw her raise a hand in recognition of the mistake she had made in not slowing down. As she looked in her rearview mirror, she realized what she had caused by concentrating just a little too completely on getting where she was going. Sound familiar? How many times have I been in such a rush from one thing to another that I didn’t I almost ran over people in my path?

It’s something we often hear ministers preach about: the disconnect we have from our time fellowshipping in the church and our time living and being members of our community. If we are called to follow after Christ, we are not called to simply show up to church, but instead to have our ministry merge into our lives, so that what we say we believe and how we speak to each other and how we interact with our neighbors all circle around reflecting the love of Christ.

But merging ministry into our lives means yielding and looking to see who is coming. It means paying attention to the people we encounter. It might mean buying gas for someone who is short on money or cooking dinner for a neighbor or picking up someone’s lunch or dinner check. Because it’s in those moments that we merge our beliefs with our actions that our faith becomes something tangible and visible. It’s in that moment when ministry merges into the world that Christ is resurrected and lives are transformed.

 

“I’m Not Good Enough to Take Communion”

This week at ministrieslab, we studied chapter 14 in Luke’s gospel where Jesus teaches his disciples a parable about the place of honor at the table:

14:7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 14:8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 14:9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 14:10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 14:11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 14:12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 14:13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14:14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

I told those gathered the story of my family and how growing up, we always had the same seats at our round, wooden table. I told them that the way it had ended up was with the youngest seated next to my mom and the second youngest (that would be me) sitting next to my dad, probably because we were the two who needed the most help. The older children had migrated away from my parents as they had gotten older and younger siblings had come along.

We knew we had a place at the table and we knew that we were welcome to the table.

For so many whom we have worshipped with at ministrieslab, this isn’t true. They aren’t welcomed to a table because they are without homes or because they have can’t see family, children, or spouses because of past choices.

And so when the man said he didn’t feel like he should take communion, I wasn’t surprised, I had heard this often in our worship and work. I said what I usually say, “Here are ministrieslab, everyone is welcome to the table. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since you’ve been to church or what kind of church you attended. All are welcome to fellowship with us and remember Christ’s sacrifice.”

“Thank you, but not today, I’m not good enough.”

I looked him squarely in the eye and said, “I’m not saying that and our passage today is not saying that.”

“I know, I’m just working on some things.”

I smiled and nodded appreciating the reverence with which he engages in the sacred act of communion. Afterwards, he came up and asked if we would have chapel next week. I told him we would. He asked if communion would be served. I assured him it would.

“Good,” he responded.

“I look forward to seeing you next week.”

This radical act of breaking bread and pouring wine or juice and offering it to God’s people wherever we encounter them is transformational just as this parable in Luke. Perhaps if we concentrated on sharing God’s table with those who can’t repay us with tithes or designated gifts or invitations to feast together and instead invite those who can’t repay us to table fellowship, we would understand this parable more clearly and in turn we would understand what it means to be a disciple of Christ.