Our Public Square

Published October 27, 2017 in the Ames Tribune

By Eileen Gebbie

On Thursday night I sat down with my wife in a church basement for pie. We were attending a fundraiser for an area humane society. Everyone was friendly and smiling, thanking us for coming. I had spice cake, one of my favorites. It was the best hour of my day. Not just because of the frosting or the cause, but because nobody was calling me a heretic, witch, Satanist, pedophile, or abomination; no one was blaming me and my church for AIDS, the high suicide rate among people who are transgender, or the end of the world.

Let me go back a few days: On Monday night, my church came together with two non-profits and nine other churches (the Ames cluster of AMOS, A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy) to take responsibility for building an Ames that works for all families. Nearly 150 of us committed to identifying an actionable solution to the massive gaps in mental health care in Story County. We then asked for commitments from the candidates for Ames’s mayor, City Council, and hospital board. All Council and mayoral candidates agreed to continue to support the Story County Housing Trust Fund, which we identified and launched through an earlier AMOS effort, and to meet with us within six months of taking office, if elected. The hospital candidates all agreed to put us on the Board’s agenda—rather than just the open comment period—within three months so that we can formally bring our proposal regarding mental health services forward.

It was a fantastic night. For over an hour and fifteen minutes we listened, clapped, cheered, and reminded ourselves that the public square is ours. And it is ours to maintain as a place of civility and respect and tangible outcomes that benefit our common good.

Tuesday was pretty quiet. I spent my time preparing for the two different Bible studies I lead on Wednesdays, as well as a Halloween party our youth and their parents had been planning for LGBTQIA teens and friends on Wednesday night. We were still sorting out who was bringing the soda (not caffeinated!) and how many pizzas I had to order. Normal party prep.

Early Wednesday morning I woke up to a text from my church’s office administrator, which in itself is very unusual. Her message, from the night before, read, “We’re getting brigaded on Facebook. A conservative blogger is pretty upset about our party and is sending her followers after us.” I logged on, saw what she meant, and sent an email to the congregation. I asked them not to engage with online bullies, because that is both unproductive and antithetical to the embodied, real-time faith we are called to practice.

I also reminded them that, “On the eve of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, this moment is a reminder that there has never been one kind of Christianity. Not in the days and months after the ministry, murder, and mystery of Jesus Christ, nor in the centuries since. At Ames United Church of Christ, we stand confidently in our conviction that the diversity of human gender and sexuality is just one example of the outcome of God’s invitation to the tehom, to create life, a truth with basis not only in love but in biology.”
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Year ‘Round Faith: Ephesians 2.11–22

2017.7.23 no hostilityDelivered at First Christian Church
on July 23, 2017

©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard rather than read. During July we worship at 9:30 a.m. at either Ames UCC, First Christian, or Brookside Park. Please see the website for details so that you may join us.

DIVISIONS
What are the top ten most intractable divisions between people that you can think of this morning? What tools have leaders used to try to bridge those divides, or eliminate them? And how much hope do you have that in your lifetime those opposing sides will come together for once and for all, and be able to work together with respect for each other’s voices and well-being?

AFTER FAITH
Last week, I responded to the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (or not-Paul’s sermon to churches in Asia Minor), about the partnering of theology and prayer. Theology is only a fun game without the prayerful dialogue with God to make it real. It is when the two come together that faith may take root and grow.

So what? To what end? To what end faith? Is faith an end in and of itself? Some traditions say yes. For some traditions it is the leap of faith that is the goal. But in our two traditions faith is often a stepping stone to action.

We have good reason to believe that faith naturally does and should lead to action. Our ancestors in the Hebrew Bible tell us to care for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. Every prophet’s indictment is for failing to do so. For Jesus, faithful action took the form of food (as in the miracles of the 3,000 and 5,000 and the last supper), healing (of lepers, of possession, of mental illness), and listening (to women, to children, to God).

For the Paul of this letter, an additional task follows from faith: bringing together different types of Christians.
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Feeling the Love after the Hate

Published Jun. 19, 2016 in the Ames Tribune.

I learned about the Orlando mass murder on Sunday morning before worship. I was dilly-dallying at home because we were gathering at a congregant’s llama farm rather than our sanctuary at Sixth and Kellogg. My wife read me headlines, but I didn’t look at any of the coverage myself. During worship we prayed for the victims and the perpetrator both, as our tradition teaches us to do, but in retrospect I was functioning only at an intellectual level. I had the information but had not heard the truth.

On arriving home I turned on the news to hear President Obama’s address. When he said “This is an especially heartbreaking day for all our friends—our fellow Americans—who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender,” I started to cry.

My survival strategy as a Lesbian in America has been to simply reject any and all statements or efforts that diminish me as a person, as a full citizen in this nation. I am a product of my biology and I do not suffer ignorance of that reality.

But that hasn’t meant I’ve walked through the world unbruised. It bruised me to have to go to Canada to get married. It bruised me to learn that, because she retired before the Supreme Court upheld gay marriage, I will be denied survivor benefits from my wife’s pension. It bruised me to have to leave the church of my childhood because I was considered invalid. It bruised me to know that 75% of congregations in my new church considered me invalid, too.
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Naked and Unembarrassed: Genesis 2.4–25

Delivered at Ames UCC on September 13, 2015
© The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

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

EXPLAINING
Listen to everything this passage is trying to explain:

  • The origin of agriculture;
  • The geography of the Levant;
  • The source of gold and gems and perfumes;
  • The human practice of taxonomy;
  • And the transition from parent-child to marital relationships.

It’s a broad array of topics. And the passage covers them in a broad array of styles: poetry, fable, and facts. In our era, we tend to read poetry or prose, news reports or editorials, not amalgamations of all of the above. Now if an author switches between genres or other source material, she generally tells us she is doing so and provides a citation.

But Genesis is thousands of years old and does not function within our contemporary parameters for literature. For example, while today’s passage might reflect some material realities—the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are real places in Iraq—it is not meant as a scientific treatise, but a theological one. That’s why we have two different creation narratives side by side.
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Open Sanctuary: Hebrews 9.1–14

maxresdefaultDelivered at Ames UCC on August 30, 2015
© The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard rather than read.
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10:45 a.m. on Sundays.

 

INDIANA JONES
Passages like today’s give me a very “Indiana Jones” vibe. You probably remember the Harrison Ford movie from the 1980s. In it, the Nazis are trying to get the Ark of the Covenant, the portable sanctuary of God and the ten commandments.
The goal of the lunatic scientist is to access that divine power. So we watch him, with Indy, as he dons ornate ceremonial garb and opens the ark. Immense power does emerge. Then everyone’s faces melt off.

The ancient Hebrews could have predicted as much. Look at today’s scripture: In the Hebrew temple there was a tent with a lampstand, a table, and sacred bread. Behind that, the holy of holies, with a golden altar and incense. In a container of gold there was manna from the wilderness and the 10 commandments.(A)bove it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat.”
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Christ is Defined by Change: Hebrews 1.1–4

sf_ntBooks_Hebrews01Delivered at Ames UCC on August 9, 2015
© The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

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

BUILD
Last week I went to a training hosted by AMOS with Linda Hanson and Michael Johnson. AMOS, which stands for A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy, is an alliance of churches and social service agencies that work together to create social change. For example, AMOS was instrumental in helping to make more affordable housing available in Ames through our city’s recent negotiations with the Breckenridge developers.

I have a lot to share from the training, but today I want to focus on one comment made by one of the organizers, Bishop Douglas Miles of Koinonia Baptist Church in Baltimore, MD. Bishop Miles has been in ministry for over 40 years. He’s been active with BUILD, AMOS’ sister alliance in Baltimore, for almost as long.
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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.
Please join us at 10:45 a.m. on Sundays.

NEW PREACHER
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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Choose Love: Psalm 1

HBP_2974Delivered at Claremont UCC on May 31, 2015
© The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Happy are those
who reject the advice of evil people,
who do not follow the example of sinners
or join those who have no use for God.
Instead, they find joy in obeying the Law of the Lord,
and they study it day and night.
They are like trees that grow beside a stream,
that bear fruit at the right time,
and whose leaves do not dry up.
They succeed in everything they do.

But evil people are not like this at all;
they are like straw that the wind blows away.
Sinners will be condemned by God
and kept apart from God’s own people.
The righteous are guided and protected by the Lord,
but the evil are on the way to their doom.
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How do We Grow the Church?: Psalm 23 and John 10.11–18

psalm 23Delivered at Ames UCC on April 26, 2015
© The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

HASHEM
How many times do you think you have heard the 23rd Psalm? Ten times? A thousand? It is used at funerals and memorial services more often than any other piece of scripture. Perhaps you’ve already decided to have it at your own. Perhaps we have all heard it so many times that the words flow together into that still water, losing a little of their meaning.

That’s why I chose the Jewish Publication Society translation. Instead of “the Lord,” “the Lord is my shepherd,” we heard HaShem, meaning “the name” in Hebrew. The Name sets a table with our enemies; the Name leads us to green pastures.
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Letter to Claremont: Romans 1.1–17

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

CHURCH AND CHURCH PASTOR
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