Pledge to Bring God’s Vision to Life: Genesis 37.3–8, 17b–22, 26–34, 50.15–21

bustedupfamilyDelivered at Ames UCC
on September 25, 2016

©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be
heard rather than read.

Please join us for worship
at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays.

Our schedule of scripture this fall is taking us on an interesting walk through the formation, the dissolution, and legacies of families.

It began with the first human, split then into two. The first two humans betray God. But they live to make a family. One of those children betrays God, parents, and a brother through murder. But the generations persist.

Last week we met Abraham and Sarah. Abraham and Sarah were old and infertile and without home. They were cynical but they were also kind. And eventually Abraham and Sarah had a child together. That child, Isaac, came with the promise of many more generations to come.

Isaac and his wife Rebekah have two children, children are Jacob and Esau. Jacob acts up a lot. He steals his brother Esau’s rights as first born son. Jacob dreams of heaven and he wrestles with an angel, Jacob becomes Israel. Israel has four wives and many children. But with Rachel he has Joseph.

As much of Joseph’s story that we heard today, we skipped a lot. Once enslaved in Egypt, Joseph is able to outsmart a false assault charge and rise to the ranks of highest power in Pharaoh’s court. Thanks to going through these terrible trials, Joseph is in the position to influence power when he has dreams of famine and the need to be prepared. Joseph saves his master and even his own cruel brothers from starving to death.

Joseph ultimately forgives those brothers, is reunited with his father Jacob/Israel, and is able to mourn him when he dies. Joseph, the youngest brother, then becomes the patriarch of the clan and lives to see many generations after himself.

Between the international and court politics, and the jealousy, and the forgiveness it is a truly rich story. But I want to start today with dreams that provide for the future. I want to talk about stewardship.
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Why, Oh Why?

Published Sep 23, 2016 in the Ames Tribune

By Eileen Gebbie

I haven’t written a piece for this paper in some time. I scheduled myself for every month, and was succeeding, until members of my church began to experience an unprecedented wave of death, cancer and division. Not the kinds I usually write about, not the large scale losses and diseases of racism and poverty, but intimate and very present lives in ruins.

This means I have been spending more time than ever asking the biggest theological question of them all: “Why?” Not just why did a loved one die, why does someone have to have cancer, why doesn’t a relationship work, but why did God allow this to happen and why isn’t God fixing it all?

This makes sense to me. In crises we generally know who, what, when, where and how. Those are the sources of the pain. But the “why,” even when the concrete answers are bad cells or bad communication, seems to remain hidden behind a curtain. It is the same curtain that also seems to hide the divine.
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Genesis 2.4b–7, 15–17 and 3.1–8: The Problem of Creation

applestoryDelivered at Ames UCC
on September 11, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be
heard rather than read.
Please join us for worship
at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays.

In the beginning two female girls were born. There was land, but no one knows how long it was there or where it came from. The girls were born underground, in darkness, and so they took a long time to grow and only knew each other through touch. As adults a spirit came and fed them and they learned to think for themselves. The spirit also explained that when they were ready, the women would get to go into the light.

Much time passed and the women learned their language. They also found baskets filled with seeds and images of animals. The spirit said they were gifts of their father that they would take into the light by planting four seeds and climbing the trees out of darkness.

The spirit taught the women prayers and after a very long time out they climbed. The sisters were named Life and More. After praying and singing the creation song they asked the spirit why they were made. “Your father made the world but was not yet satisfied. So you he made in his own image and gave these baskets to bring more life.”

Initially scared by the dusk, Life and More understood that above ground had cycles of days and nights. They learned how to plant and watch food grow. They learned to cook corn and eat it and now they were dependent on food to live. They created animals and food for the animals, mountains and the trees that cover mountains.

Life and More were competitive. They became selfish. Through the spirit, their father told them not to even think about having kids, that other humans would be born at the right time. But a snake told More if she had a child of her own she would be happy. The snake sent her to a rainbow and she became pregnant and had two boys.

Her sister, Life, asked why More had disobeyed the father. “For your sin, he is taking me away. You are alone now.”1
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Luke 11.2–4: Ask God for the Word

lordsprayerDelivered at Ames UCC
on September 4, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be
heard rather than read.
Please join us for worship
at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays.

A few years ago I was in the art gallery at a retirement community for pastors, missionaries, theological professors, and other religious workers. I came up to a silkscreen in black on an off-white background. It was of a male preacher at a pulpit. His mouth was open, hands holding onto the pulpit, and all around him was “WORDS WORDS WORDS.” Meaning, the word WORDS was scattered all over. I took it to mean there was no substance to his preaching, just blathering, empty words.

I about busted a gut laughing when I saw it because, first of all, preachers really need to not take themselves too seriously. And, second, because I could relate so well. As anyone who has been around me when I’m trying to find my way through a sermon can tell you, on being asked what the topic is, I will often say, “I don’t know! Blah, blah, blah, Jesus, blah!”

In other words, “I cannot find the words to share and explain what this passage seems to be saying about God and us.” I know there is truth in Jesus, but words often fail in expressing that truth.

Yet how often do we Christians find ourselves clinging to specific words? Take the Lord’s Prayer, for example: Is it “forgive us our sins” or “forgive us our debts” or “forgive us our trespasses”? How many of us, when in a space that uses a different version than we are accustomed to, still pray our preferred version?

And which one is the right one? Which one did Jesus really say and mean?

Well, as often happens in our sacred collection, there are two versions of this prayer in the Bible, one in Matthew and one in Luke.
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A Eulogy

life-is-uncontrollable-wildnessOn Saturday, September 3, 2016 my church gathered to celebrate the life of a gentleman who just two weeks before had been a vibrant, healthy father and academic. Then he was stung by a wasp.

Services for those who die suddenly or “too soon” have a different rhythm and tone than those for someone in their nineties or who has had a long illness.

In this case, the family had asked for four speakers, so it was important that I address the theological issue of the day (“Why?!”) succinctly, then allow the rest to tell his story.

Our last reading today, the familiar passage in Ecclesiastes, says that there is a time for everything in life, the good and the bad. But I think I speak for the family and all of us gathered here when I say this was not Chet’s time to die. This was not somehow his cosmic turn, one ordained in the stars, or dictated by the divine. Chet is gone too soon, well before his time.

Over the course of this summer our church has been studying the book of Job. Job’s story of wholescale loss, his argument with well-meaning friends, and his poetic dialogue with God, give voice to our own confusion and pain and anger on a day like today.

And although later editors tried to explain away Job’s suffering, the ancient poem ultimately says that “Why?” is not the question in senseless death. Instead, the question holiness actually answers is “What is?” What is life?

Life is uncontrollable wildness, a tapestry of biology and chance, infused with the sacred and partnered with death. Chet’s biology could not withstand its chance encounter with wildness. And so death came.

And in each moment that he drew breath and the one in which he stopped, Chet was in the presence of God.

At the end of Job, a community of family and friends who are family, help to rebuild the daily life Job had lost. They could not replace those who had died, but they could ensure that he was not alone in grieving and the necessary taking of steps and breathing of breaths. It is our sorrow and our privilege to do that today for Chet’s loving family.

What is life? It is loving, even though we know we will lose what we love, it is living richly and bravely within God’s wild tapestry.