United Church of Democrats?: 1 Kings 12.1-4, 16-17

Delivered at Ames UCC on October 27, 2019
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are the result of pastoral preparation, congregational presence, and Holy Spirit participation. Please join me in that mysterious but always delightful process at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays, except in July and August when times vary. Check the calendar for details.


I am going to offer two interpretations of this story, one I think you might like and one I think you might not.

Let’s start with what is happening in the passage: Three generations before, God had warned the people, the ancient people whose theological interpretation of their history we study for help in theologically interpreting our time, that kings mean war and poverty. They then experience, under Saul and then David and then Solomon, war and poverty. They also experience internal disunity.

After the death of Solomon, it doesn’t seem certain whether a united kingdom of Israel can hold. The people, as you heard in the story today, call on his heir Rehoboam to be a more gentle ruler than his father.

Rehoboam consults his father’s advisors who tell him to be a king who is a servant. Rehoboam doesn’t like that. Why be an absolute ruler and use that power for others? So Rehoboam goes to his own friends. They advise him to double down on his authority. Flush with their new power by proximity to the heir, they seem to want nothing more than to assert it with violence.

Rehoboam takes that juvenile advice and so the kingdom splits. Rehoboam rules only in the southern part of the kingdom, now known as Judah, and Jeroboam takes over the north, still known as Israel.


The first interpretation of this story, the one I think you will like, and that certainly gives me more emotional satisfaction, is that strong men are trouble. Leaders who surround themselves with sycophants and yes-men, leaders who only want to be affirmed and not actually counseled, are dangerous and un-godly. The only thing they can do is oppress and divide.

While accurate, this is also a bit of a finger-wag, and a not even veiled critique of some of the leaders of our own day. So I don’t know how well that it serves us. I don’t know how that interpretation helps us to serve God, because it isn’t an interpretation that reveals anything new, that gives us a new theological interpretation of our time. We could take one semester of world history and learn that same lesson.

So here’s the second reading, which I am not so sure will satisfy. It begins with a conversation I had last month when I had coffee with the lead pastor of the Cornerstone Church.

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Why I Left Social Media

Published March 17, 2018 in the Ames Tribune

By Eileen Gebbie

Early this year I read this passage in the book of Proverbs (chapter 4, verse 23, from the Jewish Publication Society’s translation of the Hebrew Bible):

More than all that you guard, guard your mind,

For it is the source of life.

It hit me like a ton of bricks.

Over the last year, I had felt more distracted and bombarded by information and stimuli than ever before in my life. When I needed to focus the most—writing sermons—I would find myself in a loop of reading what I’d written, changing a couple of words, then checking Facebook, Instagram, my email, or my phone for the latest “news flash.” I’d then return to the sermon, feeling surprised that it hadn’t particularly progressed.

I firmly believe that paying attention to someone is the best way to demonstrate love. Yet, at home I was also distracted from my family, wondering about what I should be posting online next and how many likes or comments I was receiving when I did. I had built up a public Facebook page with about 1,400 followers and a public Instagram page with about 200 (I never really got into Twitter and I am way too old for Snapchat). I read articles about how to hone my online identity so that my “brand” would be distinct, and how to best leverage the technology and audiences unique to the two platforms.

My goal, in drawing users’ attentions to my posts, was to redirect that attention to God and my faith, which is my public role. I wanted to especially be an advocate for fellow women and my queer community, as well as people of color, the disabled, immigrants, refugees, and people who aren’t Christian. The Bible makes clear we are to care for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger—the most vulnerable members of any society—and these are contemporary equivalents. I wanted to also represent a branch of the Christian family tree that takes the Bible seriously, but not literally, because we do not believe the Bible is the same as God. And, I wanted to represent a church that welcomes doubt and disbelief alongside faith, hope, peace, and love.

But the process left me with anything but faith, hope, peace, and love. I’m not a neuroscientist but I believe the studies that show “getting likes” causes a dopamine response, one that sets us up to seek more, more, and more. And if we don’t get more, we tank. When this happened to me, I would lose the focus and energy that I needed to use those platforms in the first place, and to build beloved community for the healing of the world.

So when the season of Advent began (the four weeks before Christmas), I took a social media Sabbath. I didn’t post a thing.

And I didn’t miss it.
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The Iowa Caucus

Published Feb. 28, 2016 in the Ames Tribune.

When I told people in southern California that I was moving to Iowa, the overwhelming response was, “Won’t it be too cold?!” Having lived on the windy plains of central Illinois and through the Chicago blizzard of 2011 (“Snowpocalypse,” “Chizzard”), I could respond that, yes, it will at times be too cold but then there will be spring. I love the seasons of the Midwest.

One response, though, stood out. It was from a woman who was very active in her county’s politics. She said Iowa would be great because of all the time I would get with presidential candidates. California barely warrants one visit, let alone the dozens each caucus season, she explained.

I grew up in a somewhat political household. My mother’s position was through gubernatorial appointment and she once worked in President Bill Clinton’s administration. But I mark the beginning of my own political participation in the 1992 election season in Portland, Oregon.
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Why No Shoes?

First published September 2015 as a pastoral letter for the Ames UCC Courier
© The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

One of the most common questions I’m asked after church is why I don’t have any shoes on.

The reason was initially practical: I get really hot when I lead worship.

At my previous church I was tucked away in a high pulpit where no one could see what I was up to. And although my initial reason for going unshod was comfort, I came to really love the feeling of preaching bare- or stocking-footed: connected, grounded, and agile.

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Politics of Church: Mark 6.30–4, 53–56

sanctuarygreeting300Delivered at Ames UCC on July 19, 2015
© The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard rather than read.
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Several weeks I ago I was talking to Carla, my wife, about this sermon, this day. I told her that I was really anxious, surprisingly so. I explained that I didn’t know how I would be received. Yes, we had a marvelous time at my candidating event, but that was just one day, one weekend.

Preaching is a public act with consequences both public and intimate. It is an act of hubris to stand up before a gathered body and speak to the nature of the divine. So I always want to take great care when I do so. I want to make sure I’m not just preaching my agenda, but that of God, as best I can discern with honesty and integrity. I have to check that I’m not just addressing my needs, but those felt more largely in the community of Ames, the congregation of Ames UCC.
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Letter to Claremont: Romans 1.1–17

letter to claremontFirst published May 3, 2015
© The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

I think a lot about how to do church and be a church pastor. And I read a lot. Here is a selection of recent titles:

Not a very sunny list, is it? Continue reading

I Cried

First published March 18, 2015
© The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

What do you do when a dying congregant tells you that you are the light of her life?

In order to graduate from Chicago Theological Seminary and pursue parish ministry in the United Church of Christ, I had to do something called Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). This is a form of ministerial training that can take place in a nursing home, a teen homeless shelter, a hospital, or even a not-for-profit. What makes it unique from a regular internship is daily time spent with others in the program to debrief feelings and receive reflections from others on how you handled given situations.

I chose to do my CPE unit at Northwestern Memorial Hospital (NMH). A hospital that included a level 1 trauma emergency room, high-risk infant care, a large cancer facility, and all the other kind of health needs in between, I felt that NMH would give me the range of health crises I might encounter in parish ministry.
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The Lord of the Dance wants you to Read Comic Books

Published September 21, 2014
© The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

I recently asked a group of colleagues, most of whom are decades older than me, two questions:

  1. If you could tell baby you—the you of your first years in ministry—anything, what would it be?
  2. If you could tell the church (writ large) anything, without fear of retribution, what would it be?

Their responses to the first were a mix of professional and personal advice: Don’t judge congregants for not being like you and protect the integrity of your pulpit, read fiction, take a dance lesson, and have some FUN.

In The Secret to Motivation, Amy Wrzesniewski and Barry Schwartz describe how humans have two basic motivations for their behaviors, internal and instrumental:

If a scientist conducts research because she wants to discover important facts about the world, that’s an internal motive, since discovering facts is inherently related to the activity of research. If she conducts research because she wants to achieve scholarly renown, that’s an instrumental motive, since the relation between fame and research is not so inherent.

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Published September 21, 2014
© The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

My professional title is The Reverend Eileen Gebbie. Most people call me Eileen, Pastor Eileen, Pastor, P.E., P-Mitts, or Mother Mittens. Ok, those last two are pretty rare/in my dreams.

In the United Church of Christ (UCC), the title “Reverend” is reserved for ministers who are ordained. Ordination is a culminating worship service that includes vows, a charge from the community, and blessings. Getting there requires becoming a “member in discernment” of a local church as well as the regional Association; seminary education (or equivalent experience); clinical pastoral education; field education/internship; an ordination paper for an interview with the Association; and an Ecclesiastical Council (public testing) with a culminating vote. (To learn more, see our Manual on Ministry.)

If a candidate is “cleared for ordination, pending call” at the conclusion of the Ecclesiastical Council, she may then start to look for work. Once employed—called—by a church, she is ordained. She has earned “the R.E.V. degree.”
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Collar up!

Published September 15, 2014
© The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Earlier this summer I started to wear a clerical collar every day at work.

Clerical garb is not a large part of my denomination’s identity. I imagine most of my colleagues wear stoles when they lead worship, but I can only picture a handful of us that are in a collar. I don’t know of any who wear them full-time.

Why not? Our history: We are puritanical in our roots, very invested in simplicity, and the priesthood of all believers. Rejection of the Roman church and its hierarchies and the trappings of those hierarchies has been important to us. We are all accountable for our faith, we can all go straight to God. Pastors are not magical mediators.
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