Judy. Jan. Matraisa.

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There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. –Galatians 3:28

This week we learned that a constitutional amendment affirming equality for women in the United Methodist Church failed to pass.  Part of its slim rejection may have been because of a statement declaring God as neither female nor male.  Whatever the reason, important declarations about the value of women in our denomination risk being unaddressed.

In the face of such a bummer, here is my Hallelujah:

~~~

The first sermon I ever heard in a United Methodist Church was by a woman named Judy, my mom.  She was a Presbyterian pastor serving Kipp Presbyterian and Gypsum United Methodist church, so this was our introduction to Methodism.  I already knew she was good.  Every sermon she preached was deep and spiritual and poetic. Her pastoral care was loving. Her doctoral work developed a process for discipleship for small churches.  Even as a rebellious teen I was learning from her.

Throughout her ministry, in a climate where women were not always accepted, she ministered with grace and grit. She’s retired now, but still preaching nearly every week, filling in at several churches in Northern Alabama.  She keeps growing as a preacher, but she also writes awesome novels, about a fictitious pastor, Suzanne, serving a variety of churches in Kansas in the 1980’s. Hallelujah.

~~~

One of the best sermons I ever heard preached in a United Methodist Church was by a woman named Jan, my wife, who was serving at Bonner Springs United Methodist Church at the time.  Although she writes many enlightening and insightful sermons, for this sermon, she simply recited the Sermon on the Mount out of The Message.  She did it without notes, breathing to life this scripture I’d always loved, but never heard like this.

Today she is pursuing her PHD, working on the relationship between foreign born pastors and the congregations they serve in the Great Plains Annual Conference.  Along the way, she teaches sociology to hundreds of students at Emporia State University and Southwestern College.  Her classes on social problems and intimate relationships allow her to openly and honestly relate to students in a way not always available in the local church.  Hallelujah.

~~~

The most recent sermon I heard preached in a United Methodist Church was by a young woman named Matraisa.  A senior in high school.  6 months ago she approached me saying she’d like to preach.  This Sunday, we made that happen.  She stood before both services with a message about the Imago Dei, the image of God.  Her powerful words reminded us that God did not make a mistake in making us the way we are.

Matraisa is one of several youth group members who are considering a call to ministry. She and I are part of the praise band together. She has been to gatherings and national discerning events for young people.  She has been mentored by our wonderful youth director, Bri, and many others.  She’s the type that looks forward to annual conference each year.  She has hope for the future.  Hallelujah.

~~~

Now, consider this:

Judy, decades ago, was the first person to have mentioned the possibility of ministry to Jan.

Jan, over the past several years, has repeatedly encouraged Matraisa about the possibility of ministry.

Matraisa, just this Sunday,  modeled the possibility of ministry for the confirmation class who sat watching her preach.

Let the whole world know and believe what I have seen.  Women of faith have proclaimed the Good News in many ways down through the ages, and they surely will for generations to come.  You and I are so much the better for it.

Hallelujah.  Preach on.

Mitch

Sisters with a Purpose COLOR

 

Father McKenzie

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I’ve been wondering…

Am I Father McKenzie?

I hope not.

I’m built to be a preacher.

Writing and preaching sermons is my favorite part of ministry.

I look at it as a spiritual art form.

I may not always score a bulls-eye with my sermons, but it’s what I do and who I am.

I don’t think I’ll ever want to stop.

And that’s a problem.

You see, apparently, Millennials tend to hate sermons.

So, 20 years from now will this be me?

Father McKenzie, writing the words
Of a sermon that no one will hear
No one comes near.

–The Beatles, “Eleanor Rigby”

Gulp.  I hope not.

My anxiety is this:  Am I part of a dying industry?

Are sermons on their way out?

Am I Father McKenzie?

I hope not.

I’m willing to change.  I’m willing to grow in my craft and my calling.  To find new ways to proclaim the old, old story.

I’m willing to listen, to share space, to adjust my words so they might best be heard.

I’m willing to do the hard thing, because I love God, and because my heart longs to make a connection.

But with whom?

Maybe with “all the lonely people”.

No matter the age.

All the lonely people who are searching, who feel disconnected from God and from other humans.

20 years from now, I hope these are the people I am preaching to.

Romans 10:14 says,

 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

I don’t want to be Father McKenzie, wiping his hands as he walks from the grave, where no one was saved.

So I am committed to preaching the Word the best I can,

to children of this new century,

and every Eleanor Rigby.

Have a great week,

Mitch

P.S. Eleanor Rigby on Youtube

goodnews

Keep ’em Coming

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When I look at this picture, I have some really great memories…

of being bored out of my mind.

This is Saline Presbyterian Church, in Michigan.

I would have been around 9.  My brother was 7.

Up front, the preacher (our dad) was preaching,  and we were trying to make it through another hour of worship.

Tic Tac Toe.  Hangman.  That dots and boxes games.

We’d count the number of ceiling tiles.

We’d scratch out letters and words in the bulletin to make new sentences.  “We lift up our cares” became “We lift up cars.”

We’d try to make the other one laugh, and then look scornfully if they did.

We’d stand and sing the hymns, sometimes changing the words.  “When I fall on my face with my knees to the rising sun…”

We’d doodle, and fidget, poke each other, and stare at the clock that seemed to tick so slowly, and sometimes, when all other options were extinguished, we’d actually listen.

My dad was a great preacher.  When I was a little older, my mom became ordained.  She was a great preacher, too.

Still, I’ll be honest.  There were plenty of Sundays when I would have rather been any place other than some old stuffy sanctuary.  But something about that weekly discipline, that time spent in “Holy Space” listening to words of wisdom, began to affect me.

Theological concepts began to make sense.  Stories from the Bible became more intriguing.  And I was actually able to see the connection between what we did in here, in the Sanctuary, and what the Church is called to do out there, in the world.

Today, when I see kids in church, there with their families, I feel so happy to see them.  I wouldn’t begrudge them some doodling or tic tac toe throughout the service, either.

But when I preach, part of me is preaching for them.  I want to make them smile, or laugh, or perk up. Or even learn something.

I want them to catch a glimpse.  A glimpse of Jesus there in the room with us.

I know worship can sometimes be boring (for any age),

but I do believe it has a cumulative affect.

So parents, keep ’em coming.

Both for their sake, and for mine.

After all, the glimpse of Jesus I get to see

is frequently in them.

Have a great week,

Mitch

BringKidsToChurch

4 lies I’ve told from the pulpit

When it comes to lying from the pulpit, I’ve heard some doozies.

I’m happy to say I’ve avoided most of the big ones, but I must confess I’ve told a few of my own.

Here are the four I could think of (or am willing to own up to):

Lie #1: “THIS is what it’s all about!”

This has to be my most common lie from the pulpit. Whatever I’m preaching on that Sunday, that becomes the most important aspect of Christianity.

“Stewardship is what it’s all about!”

“Small groups are what it’s all about!”

“Worship is what it’s all about!”

The Truth: I don’t know what’s most important. Love? Jesus? The Kingdom of God? Discipleship? It all seems really important to me.

The Verdict: It’s all connected, all related, and all… important. So I’ll probably keep telling this weekly white lie.

Lie #2. “So-and-so from the Bible was just like us.”

An easy way to make a sermon come alive is to point out how much we have in common with the characters in the Bible story.

”Moses was on a journey to the promised land, just like us.”

”Paul saw the light, just like us.”

”Martha learned to not be so busy all the time, just like us.”

The Truth: Moses had a difficult life filled with more conflict than we’ll ever see. Paul wrestled with his faith far more vigorously than most of us ever will. And Martha? She’s gotten 2000 years of grief because she lost her cool at a dinner party!

The Verdict: Yes, there’s a bunch we have in common with Bible folks. We can learn a lot from that. But their world was not just like ours. It was very different. We can learn a lot from acknowledging that, too.

Lie #3. “I’m really happy to be here today.”

I just have to come clean on this one.

On Sundays I’ll stand up front, flash a great big smile and welcome everyone to worship. And say “I’m glad to be here with you today.”

The Truth: Sometimes, I’m not. I know! Sacrilege! The truth is, some Sundays I have a headache, or 3 baptisms, or a sermon that doesn’t ha

ve an ending yet. Remember, I’m not just worshipping, I’m working.

The Verdict: I’m almost always happy to be at church. But on those rare days when I’d rather be at home in my pajamas, my hope is that you’ll never know. I’m gonna lie. It’s my job.

Lie #4. “Together, we can change the world.”

This one’s tough, because when I say it, I’m not just lying to the congregation. I’m lying to myself.

”If you invite your neighbors and co-workers, together we’ll change the world”

”We are the Church. You and me. Let’s go out there and change the world.”

You get the idea.

The Truth: We probably won’t. Didn’t Jesus say, “The poor you will have with you always”? It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight poverty and injustice. It means real, lasting change in this world is a rare thing.

The Verdict: The world has already changed because of Jesus Christ. Sometimes we make big changes, sometimes we just get by. Always we’re asked to be faitfhul. It doesn’t sound as glamorous, perhaps, but it’s more truthful.

Whew. It feels good to get those off my chest.

I’ll keep them in mind the next time I preach from the pulpit.

Okay, The Truth?


I haven’t preached from a pulpit in years.

Have a great week,

Mitch