Three Essential Prayers: Thanks (Worship 2/3/13)

Three Essential Prayers: Thanks Luke 17: 11-19     What are the magic words?  You know, the ones parents coach and coax out of their kids.  Until I read a certain book last year, I thought there were two “magic words” phrases and I thought they were “please” and “thank you.”  This is what I hear parents of small children endlessly reminding their kids to say at the appropriate times.  This is what I still rehearse with my stepson Blair, because autism takes extra rehearsing, too.  Please and thank you. Then I read a thoughtful little book about the differences in American and French parenting, a book called Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman.  Druckerman is an American mother living full-time with her family in France, raising small children there, and encountering some interesting differences in our assumptions about and methods of parenting.  One of them is in the magic words category.  In France there are 4 magic words, or magic phrases.  In addition to please and thank you, they also insist upon bonjour and au revoir (hello and goodbye).  Every child is rehearsed in greeting adults as they enter a room and then again as they leave. Druckerman explains that to the French, saying bonjour is “the first part of a relationship” (Bringing Up Bébé, p. 154).  She writes that it’s “crucial” to say bonjour as you climb into a taxi, enter a shop, or approach a salesperson to ask for help.  She says, “Saying bonjour acknowledges the other person’s humanity.  It signals that you view her as a person, not just as someone who’s supposed to serve...

Three Essential Prayers: Help (Worship 1/20/13)

Three Essential Prayers: Help John 2: 1-11   I can’t tell you how to pray.  I could tell you about styles of prayer and techniques but that’s not what this is about.  I’m also not going to tell you that you should pray. Thursday night at forum I said it wasn’t a “you fail” forum and neither is this a “you fail” sermon.  But I am going to talk about prayer because I think it’s often misunderstood, marginalized, and underestimated. Last week I heard our bishop, Bishop Cho, say this about prayer:  “You learn prayer by praying.”  I know that can sound maddeningly like a riddle or a Zen koan.  I also know that for UVA students this may seem incredibly annoying and time-consuming.  A 5-step “how to” list might come in handy, but telling us to just go pray and figure it out – are you kidding?  Who has time to fiddle around like that? You’re not the only ones.  There are a lot of us who will try something if we know we’ll get a certain result – and who won’t waste our time if we aren’t sure where it’s going.  That’s where prayer is tricky.  You almost never know where it’s going – or precisely how you got there once you do get somewhere. Barbara Brown Taylor, the Episcopal priest and writer calls prayer “waking up to the presence of God no matter where I am or what I am doing” (An Altar in the World, p. 178).  Writer Anne Lamott has a similar take.  She calls it “practicing the presence of God” (Help, Thanks, Wow,...

“Ponder” (Worship 12.16.12)

Ponder Luke 2: 1-20 Advent 3   Mary doesn’t say much.  Have you noticed? We focus a lot of our attention on her seemingly simple “yes” to the angel Gabriel.  We also appreciate her response to her meeting with Elizabeth, her beautiful song of praise and joy and anticipation at what God does.  But by the time she gets to Bethlehem there are no more words.  The way the story is written we don’t even hear the heavy breathing or grunts of her labor.  We are simply told she delivers Jesus and then the tableau takes over – holy family gathered in close and humble surroundings.  There are other people talking:  shepherds, maybe some more angels, onlookers, even the lowing cattle, if we go by one of our favorite hymns.  But Mary has no more words by then. It’s easy to think that the few words she says are her whole story.  I think that’s how many people encounter her.  But I think her quiet speaks, too.  It’s another way of entering the story.  Just hold onto that for a minute while we consider Elizabeth. I was struck by the contrast between how I usually read and hear her cousin Elizabeth’s story and how I heard it told last week.  The first birth story we begin to hear about in Luke’s gospel is John’s and it starts with Zechariah and Elizabeth, who, we are told, was “barren” (Luke 1: 7).  I don’t know anyone who thinks that word sounds good or neutral.  I know a lot of people who cringe at it and feel personally hurt by hearing it....

“What Are We Waiting For?” (Sunday 12/9/12)

What Are We Waiting For? Luke 3: 1-6 (Advent 2)   Here’s the thing I used to get confused about:  waiting does not have to mean waiting patiently.  I remember being in my grandmother’s kitchen waiting for something – for the fudge to set up or the timer to go off on the cookies.  I was eager for the payoff.  I probably kept asking her how much more time until it was time.  Finally she said to me, “Deborah, you have to learn patience.” She was right.  Of course.  I did and still do need work on my patience skill set.  I get antsy easily.  When I know what I want, I want it right away.  When chocolate is involved, people can get hurt making me wait too long. But that’s only part of the story.  That’s what it’s like when we know what we are waiting for – the timer on the brownies, the start of the movie, the grade to come back on the paper.  What happens when we aren’t sure what we are waiting for? I started thinking about that this week after something Lacey said.  It was something like, “I know Advent’s different than Christmas and it’s all about waiting but what are we waiting for, exactly?”  Good question. In the last reading we heard, John the Baptist quotes Isaiah.  The hills will be lowered and the valleys filled until the crooked paths are straight and the rough ways are smooth (Luke 3: 5-6).  When Isaiah wrote about that geographical rearrangement he was writing to people in exile in Babylon.  He was proclaiming that God...

“Belonging to the Truth”

Belonging to the Truth John 18: 33-38   My friends Ed and Otis tell a story about stopping into a convenience store in Pike County, Kentucky, right in the heart of Appalachia.  Though they were both living not too far away in other parts of Appalachia, they were clearly not from around there.  Both Ed and Otis had long hair in ponytails then, neither had the right accents, and they were in Ed’s car with Pennsylvania plates on it.  On top of that, they were trying to use a check to pay. The clerk called the sheriff and a local board member of Habitat for Humanity, where Ed told him he was working.  As Ed says, that call “determined we were the good kind of strangers.”  At that point, the sheriff’s deputy was there and already examining Ed’s driver’s license.  He decided he needed to do his own investigating.  He looked them over and asked their names.  Otis’ last name – Thornton – isn’t an east Kentucky name so that didn’t help their case.  But Ed’s last name – Smith – had potential.  Though they didn’t know it at the time, they were just a few miles from Smith Holler. So at this point the officer looked at Ed and said, “Who’s your daddy?” This was before that phrase was ubiquitous for other reasons.  So neither Ed nor Otis laughed, unless it was nervously. For two guys from the suburbs in other parts of the country, this was a strange exchange when all they wanted to do was pay and leave.  It felt ominous, like a challenge.  Like somehow...

“What Time Is It Anyway?” (worship 11/18/12)

What Time Is It Anyway? Mark 13: 1-8   I don’t know what sort of image you have in mind when you hear a pastor say she is “working on my sermon.”  Perhaps you, like many of us preachers before we went to seminary and starting doing this every week, had a well-lit, comfy-study image of this endeavor.  Perhaps you think when we approach our desks and commentaries, the light of God fills the room and it’s impossible not to get what the meaning is and precisely how to preach it.  Perhaps you think we emerge after hours of study and prayer and thinking and writing and we are aglow. Let me disabuse you of this notion. Let me tell you what it’s really like by offering you a direct quote from one of my go-to United Methodist resources for study and preparation.  Our General Board of Discipleship offers online reflection and commentary on each of our four lectionary texts each week and I find it’s a good starting place for familiarizing myself with the week at hand, where we are in the liturgical year, and what the texts are up to this week.  So this week as I sat down to work on my sermon and I read the “helpful hints” there about the text from Mark’s gospel, here is what it said, “Who wants to preach about the end of time – especially in an age when so many crackpots have misused Scripture?” (gbod.org/worship). Yep, right there next to the Bible, those are the inspired words I began with this week.  Who wants to preach about end...
Weekly Meeting Schedule
  • Sunday
    • 11:00 Morning Worship at Wesley Memorial UMC (next door)
    • 5:00 Sunday Night Worship
  • Tuesday
    • 6:00 Tuesday Night Dinner
    • 6:45 Forum — Discussion/speaker on a variety of faith topics and student life.
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