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…. So says Archie Bunker, as he sneaks into church and baptizes his grandson in secret because his father is a “dopey atheist”. On the pioneering television sitcom “All in the Family,” Archie’s theology is refreshingly direct, while politically incorrect, at least by today’s standards.

How comfortable would you be labeling yourself publicly as a Christian? Would you prefer to call yourself a seeker? An Episcopalian? A, member of St John’s? Maybe you’re uncomfortable with the whole idea because “it’s complicated.”

Much about our faith IS complicated, including Scriptural passages that make us cringe. One that is cringe-worthy for me appears this Sunday, “The Great Commission,” calling the disciples to go forth “to all nations” and baptize everyone in the name of the Trinity.

Politically incorrect? Oh yes. Outrageous? Probably. Nonetheless, the rallying cry for countless number of “missionaries” over the years and for many Evangelicals today.

As husband Desi says to his wife on another sitcom from the era (“I Love Lucy”), “Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do.”

More on Sunday….

See you in church. And check out Joey’s Baptism

Barbara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the heady perfume filters into my yard from the lilac hedge next door, I am intoxicated with spring. The warmer weather (although not yet muggy), the happy (although expensive) trips to the garden store, the birdsong, the tulips flaunting their flowerhood… my favorite season by far.
However, the fatigue that results from the government’s antics the past few weeks in particular can temper the perkiest spring-like attitudes. The lying, the inconsistencies, the disregard of basic human rights, the narcissism, are all deeply troubling to many of us, regardless of political affiliation.
St Paulite F. Scott Fitzgerald told us, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
I’m floundering on the balance thing.
And I’m scared. (I have a pre-existing condition, for goodness sake!)
However, when you are a preacher by vocation, you’re not allowed to wallow much. The lectionary readings come into your life, often with stunning relevance, and you’ve got to put away the attitude and get to work.
Consider some of the phrases in this week’s reading:

“But they covered their ears and with a loud should all rushed together against him…” (Acts)
“Do not let your heart be troubled…” John
“No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John

We have a vivid description an angry mob, a tender reminder to calm down; and one of the most divisive verses in all of Christian scripture! AND it’s Mother’ Day, always a minefield in church because of the many intense and very personal feelings about what is involved. Of course the original Mother’s Day proclamation in 1858 was a way for women to protest war. Then Hallmark intervened, the political and moral statements disappeared, and the sentiment of the day changed completely.
Returning to the lilacs, I love this from the writer Patricia Hampl. She notes that lilacs were first brought to America by 19th century Czech immigrants and that the lilacs now seen next to a farmhouse on the prairie in Minnesota or Iowa may have been there longer than any of us have been alive: “With all that immigrants had to leave behind, they valued these bushes enough to make room for a cutting or two among their baggage and bundles … They’re immigrant flowers brought here by people who loved their beauty. They survived the journey and they thrived.” (Spillville).

And reading that, my heart is less troubled.
See you in church.

Barbara

 

It can be difficult to do Lent on command, just because the calendar dictates it, especially if you are in a good place in your life. This is true of Holy Week as well, where we are called to summon up all of the strong emotions it evokes: betrayal, sorrow, outrage and compassion for great suffering.

The past few months have seen an epidemic of sorrow in my own life as I have sat with two good friends, each having lost a dear sister, many deaths in the St. John’s congregation including a splendid woman who lost her life unexpectedly at a young 63, a friend whose healthy and very fit husband has been diagnosed with stage four cancer, and what I would describe as the the ongoing toxicity from our nation’s capital. Tuesday will be the funeral for my wonderful adopted father, Jack, who brightened my life every time I saw him and treated me as daughter in countless ways.

T.S. Elliot was right when he wrote….

“APRIL is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow….”

And yet sadness – like the tomb of Jesus or the burial cave of Lazarus – cannot cut off life. Spring breaks in (this year early!) flaunting forsythia, early pansies, warm air and ridiculous hopefulness. And of course, the “firsts”… the first lunch eaten outside, the first plant brought home from the garden store, the first walk without a coat… And the promise of Easter.

In two days is the last Sunday of Lent and the lessons are a preview of Easter. They are about rebirth and resurrection, and I will suggest also about friendship and laughter. “I am the resurrection AND THE LIFE,” says Jesus. Life in all of its fullness now, not just later.

Religion is not a mood that we wait to strike us so we can feel holy or be in the right frame of mind for the season, but a practice of behaviors (prayer, sacraments, church, Scripture) that can help us be receptive to God when God shows up. Which is pretty often….

So I’ll see you in church.
Barbara

The Ad

Come Sunday and find out what this ad has to do with your spiritual life!

See you in church….. Barbara  ( Be sure to press “show images” to see the ad

 

SUNDAY DINNER

unknownI’m in a bit of a predicament as a preacher, as are all of my colleagues preaching this coming Sunday: I can’t talk too much about Christmas because it’s still Advent (although it’s Advent IV – come on!). Also I’m supposed to preach about hope and I’m finding it a little elusive right now. Because it’s the elephant in most of our rooms, I have to reference the political scene but how? I’m looking for the hope, I really am. I’m pretty sure I’ll find some. I’ve got another day.

I’m reminded of those Sunday noon dinner table conversations (i.e. battles) at home when my dad and I discussed politics. He was fortified by three or four bottles of beer, me by my unshakable progressive convictions and a big fat dose of Adolescent Intensity and Rightness.

It wasn’t pretty, as I extolled the virtues of Hubert Humphrey and all things Democrat, throwing out facts and statistics (even then an inveterate researcher), examples and specifics. My dad retorted that when the Democrats get in, we always have war. And they were all a bunch of crooks. He was also, to be frank, a racist and that set me off further: “How CAN you say that? How the heck many black people have you even MET? Zero? You have no idea what you’re even talking about?”

You can imagine how well THAT went.

My mom’s overdone roast beef with lots of “seasoning salt” sat untouched on my plate along with the inevitable mashed potatoes, gravy, and lettuce wedge smothered in Western French dressing. My younger brother stuffed his face, oblivious as usual, and my mother nervously pushed the food around on her plate: Another Sunday dinner wrecked because Barbara just can’t shut up. (“Me? Me? What about HIM?”)

Eventually I learned that only experience can change some people’s minds. Many years later, my dad stopped being a racist and he didn’t even realize it. In the nursing home, he was gently cared for by men and women of color. Never one to hold back, he couldn’t sing their praises loudly enough. Wisely, I never pointed out that —- I WAS RIGHT ALL ALONG!

Some arguments you cannot win and I know that now. I have hope that my dad does, too, along with knowing how far he really came. Wherever he is, I’m really glad he has not been here for this past election. REALLY glad.

Regardless of your persuasion, this Sunday we will celebrate the hope that is the promise of this beautiful season. And it WILL show up.

It always does.

See you in church (even if it’s cold),

Barbara

 

 

 

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“Should you say what you sincerely believe is true in a sermon, even if it means your church might lose members?”

That’s the weighty question we faced at a clergy workshop I attended recently. Needless to say, the consensus was, “It’s complicated.”

I’m pretty sure that St John’s lost a couple of members due to my preaching around the issue of marriage equality. That was a long time ago, in the earliest stage of the debate. And as Jered points out, we also gained members from our stance on this. Nonetheless, preaching conscience vs. congregational temperament is tricky, and an issue that many clergy are facing right now.

Some hold the belief that the Church must not say nothing to upset people in their spiritual lives, nothing to make them squirm or detract from the purity of the worship experience, from the personal prayers and the ancient liturgy, as if people should be insulated within church walls for an hour each week from what is happening outside of them so they can be at peace.

Is the church called to be this kind of sanctuary? I suppose you could argue it either way.

Of course, the Church should not endorse one candidate over another, but many denominations have no trouble treading into political/cultural waters. The Roman Catholic Church is clear on its opposition to abortion. Evangelicals preach against same-sex marriage and push for prayer in public schools. As usual, Episcopalians try to walk the middle ground.

The answer for me is Scripture, particularly the Gospel. Whatever we say must be informed by the text and presented in that context. As Episcopalians, we also believe that the teachings of the Church as well as our own reason and experience influence our interpretation of God’s word. Which makes it more, well, complicated.

Last week, the St. John’s clergy read a letter signed by dozens of Episcopal clergy declaring their support for any individual or group that is victimized by governmental policy or personal actions. “We see you,” we said. I was proud that we took this position.

But in addition we must talk about national mood and policies that might result in this victimization, about the people who support these policies and create them, about the concerns of those who vote for them, and what to do in addition to offering sanctuary.

There is so much I would like to say on Sunday that I can’t. So much hurt I want to voice that I shouldn’t. So much fear that I have that I must temper. And realizing that the Church can lose as many members from NOT taking a stand as from taking one….

When I started to prepare this sermon, of course I turned to the text and there it was: words so perfectly in tune with the times that they could have been written yesterday. It’s not a cozy Advent message but Advent isn’t all that cozy anyway for some of us. I see you.

See you in church.

Barbara

 

 

imagesA beautiful fall Friday night on Grand Avenue. People are out shopping, going to restaurants, strolling along…… that is those lucky enough to find a parking place.

BUT the trusty St. Paul Parking Enforcement team is out en masse with their measuring sticks (I’m not kidding) to ticket those who have offended by inches. It’s a nice hospitable touch to our fair city. You may have seen them near St. John’s doing their work on Sundays, during funerals, you name it. Measuring tape in hand…

So of course I got a parking ticket (the second in my lifetime – the first in the very same spot). In my quest for justice, I have now called ten separate numbers, from the police department to public works asking them a simple question about the sign that was posted and which I (and two other ticketed cars next to me) obviously didn’t understand.

Three separate officials have told me that mine is an excellent question! And then they refer me to another person who says the same. No one seems to know the answer to my question – which makes me wonder how drivers should know! The last time I left a message at the “media office” telling them I am not FROM the media but will be GOING TO the media unless I get my question answered in two days.

Yes, I am going to fight this. I HAVE SO HAD IT!

It’s been that kind of a week (someone even stole my xxxx campaign button at Walgreens! I had it pinned to my purse – how did I not see them? And no I didn’t lose it!

Gee, maybe it’s not just the parking thing….

I preach this coming Sunday and am pretty sure that the horrific political campaigns will be the proverbial Elephant in the Room. Of course, preachers cannot and should not endorse specific candidates but the moral tone of the campaigns, the deceit, the incivility, the sexism…. these things are spiritual in nature. They drag us down to the gutter; they hammer away at us; it feels like it will never end. To insist that the Church should be above it all is simply not defensible to me. To say we should take a breath and move on is naïve.

The day’s lessons certainly agree!

Ironically (and it so often is) the day’s Gospel is about “not losing heart.” It is about persistence in fighting for a cause. The Epistle even says this: “For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truths and wander away to myths.”

And look at what Jeremiah says in the day’s reading: “The teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge.”

Ya think?!

As usual, Scripture has pulled me back and even given me hope. Wrestling with the lessons (in-joke for anyone who reads the lectionary ahead of time) has given me perspective and strength. Join us Sunday and let me help you ….or arm you….or at least challenge you. Maybe even a little comfort.

See you in church. Park carefully.

Barbara