We Are Family: Christmas Day 2016

Delivered at Ames UCC on December 25, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard rather than read.
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JOSEPH’S FAMILY
There’s something about the Christmas story that has been bothering me this year.

As we hear in the Luke version of Jesus’ story, the Roman emperor tells everyone to go to their home towns to be registered. So we learn that Joseph is from Bethlehem but living in Galilee. That’s a 70 mile separation, a long way by foot and by mule.

But what is bothering me is why Joseph left his family, why he wasn’t already in Bethlehem at the time of the census. Why did he leave his family, his clan, his tribe in the first place? Did work take him away or war? Was he a refugee or merely an émigré? The story doesn’t say.

We know that it was important for the early Jesus storytellers to link Jesus to Bethlehem, to prove that he was the anointed one predicted in the older Hebrew prophecies. But they could have just said he was there at his birth, they didn’t need this elaborate story of hardship.

FAMILY HARDSHIP
As you all know, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s can themselves be a hardship for some us because of our families of origin.

With the juggernaut of family-themed advertising, those of us whose families are broken or cruel or broke or without a home, can be left feeling lonely, angry, or even like failures by this morning. After seeing ad after ad, we might want to scream, “Why can’t I come to a well-lit house on Christmas Eve to be surrounded by exclamations of joy and shiny gifts?”

Why? Because family is complex.

Maybe that is why our faith ancestors in the community of Luke included Joseph’s distance from his family, when none of the others did. Maybe the followers of Luke heard a holy call to tell a story as complex as real life, a story to remind us that God is in the complexity of real life. Including the complexity of family. Including the family we enter into through God.
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Peace Hangs on One Word: Joel 2.12–13 and 28–29

2016-12-4-yesDelivered at Ames UCC
on December 4, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

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A WORD
A few years ago a poet named Christian Wiman wrote a book called My Bright Abyss. It’s his story of living with cancer, knowing the divine, and rediscovering Christian community, which just happens to have been through a United Church of Christ congregation.

As a poet, it is not surprising that Wiman reflects on the language and kinds of storytelling we encounter in Christian scripture. He states that, “Christ speaks in stories as a way of preparing his followers to stake their lives on a story.” (p. 90) In other words, Wiman believes that the use of stories to talk about life is a way of training us to stake our lives on those stories themselves.

He’s right, of course, that when we choose a religious tradition, we are saying that we would like the stories and ritual and even architecture of that tradition to inform us and our lives. But are we really saying we will stake our lives on them? Are we saying that we will risk our lives as the stories often directly ask?

Take last week’s story about Daniel, for example. Daniel stayed true to his faith regardless of a law that was enacted to scare and entrap him. His integrity revealed how willing people are, in a grab for power, to criminalize others, to make other people out to be a threat.

It was a risk, though. Daniel literally risked his life for the God of the exodus, the God of freedom. Will we? Will we let these stories do more than just inform our lives but be what we stake our lives upon? For me, some days, the answer can rely on just one word.
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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

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IN THE BEGINING
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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Job 42.1–7: Let God be God and Care for the Needful

wombofgodDelivered at Ames UCC
on August 28, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

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RIGHT/WRONG TIME
I was a little worried about starting a series on Job in the summer. Summer is a happy, sunny time and Job is such a bummer. His is a winter tale, not a lure to come to church when you could be out on a kayak or hike.

But over the last few weeks our church has experienced a surge in suffering: cancer diagnoses, cancer treatments, emergency surgeries, housing loss, relational loss, imminent death, and death itself through disease or depression.

I have never believed life is or should be easy, but the particulars and the volume combined have shaken me at times. And more than one of you now have either asked, “Does this make me Job?” or otherwise referenced this sad and serious story.

There is no right time to study Job because the trauma the poem describes will always come at what feels like the wrong time.
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Hope in Poetry: Job 14.7–15; 19.23–27; 31.35–37

hopestillatworkDelivered at Ames UCC
on July 31, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

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THE MADNESS OF JOB?
Has Job gone mad? I ask this not in a lighthearted way, not in a way demeaning of mental illness and trauma. But, really, has Job disconnected from reality?

He has lost everything in his life. He is grieving the death of all of his children and children’s children. His wife has left him. He has no money and no capital. His body is decaying. His friends stood by him for a time, but bailed when Job refused to accept any blame. And so he sits in the trash heap, yearning for death:

Would that You hid me in Sheol,
concealed me till Your anger passed,
set me a limit and recalled me.

I think we can all understand that. I think we can sympathize with his desire to be done, to ask God to limit the pain he must endure. But then here’s where Job seems to go beyond the rational: he expresses hope.
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Loving Job: Job 1.1–22

releasegodDelivered at First Christian Church
on July 3, 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 (except in July, when we worship with First Christian Church at 9:30 a.m., alternating between FCC and Ames UCC).

LOVE–HATE
Show of hands: Who loves the story of Job? Who really dislikes it? I was wary of it for a long time because it sounded so mean: God letting someone lose their whole family to prove a point. It seemed to reinforce notions of God wanting suffering and suffering somehow being redemptive—what I consider the worst of our tradition’s contribution to understanding the holy.

And I think I felt like having faith in God would require me to accept that ugliness, that somehow becoming a Christian meant accepting and professing a characterization of God that I found grotesque.

Now Job is one of my favorites. Job gives us glimpses into other times and cultures; it reminds us that our religion is a hybrid. Job asks the fundamental questions of this life, without the Christian distraction of afterlife.

And, as I hope you will see, in the end the story of Job offers a portrait of God that denies all of our efforts to humanize the divine. In Job, holiness is at a scale that truly inspires awe and justifies our faith, hope, and love.

God in Job is not grotesque, but glorious.

So, as our Bible itself does, let’s begin at the beginning, with the context and main characters.
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As If: Acts 3.1–10

Delivered at Ames UCC on April 10, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

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ACTION
Remember how last week I said that in light of Jesus’ death and the Easter mystery, the disciples are now trying to find and make meaning of Jesus’ work, life, and death, as well as their own? That’s not how the Acts of the Apostles actually reads. I believe it is true. I believe that they had to have had a crisis of faith after Easter, one that made them rethink everything. But we don’t get to hear those words or attend those meetings. What the author of Luke–Acts, again about 50 years after Easter, offers is a lot of public action.

Here is what has happened up until and just after today’s passage:
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When Jesus Becomes Christ: Mark 2.1–22

when jesus becomes christ(1)Delivered at Ames UCC on
January 10, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

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(Listen to this one
here.)
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WILBUR HELD
I once knew a man named Wilbur Held. He just died last year after one hundred years of life. Wilbur was many things, including a world class organist, composer, and arranger of organ music. It is safe to say that thousands of churches are hearing one of his tunes today.

Well, after hearing me preach for a few months Wilbur gave me a call. Wilbur said he didn’t want to be one of “those congregants,” meaning complainers, so I could ignore him completely, but something was eating at him. When a 98-year-old says something is eating at him, I listen. Continue reading

Poetry: Mark 1.1–20

Copy of poetryDelivered at Ames UCC on December 27, 2015
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard rather than read. Please join us for worship at 10:45 a.m. on Sundays.

Our service this Sunday incorporated poetry rather than traditional prayers. They included “Up-Hill” by Christina Rossetti, “The Risk of Birth” by Madeleine L’Engle, “When the World Was Dark” by the Iona Community, “A Short Testament” by Anne Porter, “In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver, “Walking to Jerusalem” by Philip Terman, and “The Work of Christmas” by Howard Thurman.

POETRY
Although the lectionary has Jesus baptized, in the wilderness, and calling disciples already, I want us to stay a little longer in Christmas.
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God’s Unending Story: 2 Kings 22.1–10, 23.1–3

open ended storyDelivered at Ames UCC on November 29, 2015
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard rather than read.
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ADVENT
Advent: A new year has begun. Advent: a season of anticipation and preparation. Advent: a reckoning with revelation. Advent: a searching look beyond Easter’s tomb.

Despite what marketers and even our own wishes would tell us, Advent is not a preparation for Christmas. Advent is a preparation for Christ’s coming after the birth, after the baptism, after the miracles, after the revolt, after the execution, and after the resurrection. In Advent we lay the groundwork so that each of our discrete scriptural encounters with Jesus between Christmas and Easter remain within the cosmic context of God’s presence and love.

In Advent, we are reminded of the open-endedness of God’s story.

Which I think it somewhat hard for us. I don’t think human beings do so well with open-endedness, particularly as it relates to something we cannot easily see or feel against our skin, as with God.

JOSIAH
Let’s take Josiah for example. Josiah was another king of the southern nation of Judah. They had, fortunately, survived the Assyrians that Hosea and Isaiah worried about so much in our previous weeks’ readings.
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