Theory, Prayer, Faith: Ephesians 1.1–14

Delivered at First Christian Church on July 16, 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.

SABBATICAL
This is the last Sunday that First Christian Church will be without their pastor, Mary Jane Button-Harrison. She’s been on a three-month sabbatical, or process of clergy renewal, after about a dozen years of ministry in this church (and about 10 before that). When she left, she went straight to Plum Village in France, the home of the Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peacemaker Thich Nhat Hahn. From there she went to a series of other spiritual homes to focus on the concepts of boundaries and belonging. Over the last week she has started to write about what she’s learned, on her website and Facebook page.

Ames UCC’s own Minister for Families and Children, Pr. Hannah Hannover, is also on sabbatical, after ten years at our church. She’s using the time to renew her faith and understand whether she is called to ordination into the national church in addition to being licensed to our local church.

And I’ve just had a month off from preaching thanks to vacation and these joint services.

All of this has given me room and reason to think about the dynamic of pastor and congregation. What is a church without her pastor? What is a pastor without her church? How does faith happen in the mix?

EPHESIANS
Today we have a kind of blog post, a letter from Paul to the church in Ephesus, to help in our wonderings.

I should clear up, though, that Paul did not write it and it was not for the Ephesians. There is plenty of evidence that someone other than the Paul of the Acts of the Apostles wrote this letter and that originally it had no specific recipient.
Continue reading

Ames High School Baccalaureate

2017.5.24 aweOn Wednesday, May 24, 2017, I participated in an interfaith service of celebration for the Ames High School Class of 2017 at the Ames Middle School. A voluntary event for participants, its goal is to recognize the role of god in our lives and give the school’s visual and performing artists one last chance to share their talent. My fellow speakers were Imam Mahjoob Jaily of Darul Arqum Islamic Center and Father Charles Ahenkorah of St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Catholic Student Center.
My remarks follow:

Thank you, Ames Community School District and Ames High School community for inviting me to participate in this, your 2017 Baccalaureate. I am The Reverend Eileen Gebbie from Ames United Church of Christ. If you don’t know of my church, we bear the distinction of being the oldest one in Ames—by one year—and sharing a parking lot with one of Ames’ most important public institutions, the library.

In the Christian tradition, we practice many different types of prayers, from silent and solitary to corporate and loud. But one writer has described the content of all types of prayers as falling into three categories: help, thanks, and wow.

So, I will offer my remarks tonight, prayerfully, in those categories.

HELP
First, help.

I need your help. I need your help badly.

Ours is a world that is hungry and angry, alienated and frightened. None of those are new: The human experience has never been easy, we have never been particularly fair with or kind to one another. As you already know from your schooling, the history of humanity is defined by tribalism, which requires some people to be seen as acceptable and welcome with others seen as foreign and unwanted. I do not need to name for you all of the violence done because of the boundaries we create through religion, race, sex, and nation of origin.

But I believe that you can help us find a new way through all that old ugliness.

You are of a generation far more experienced with and exposed to the varieties of human existence than ever before. Your generation knows best—from your families of origin to the families that are made up of your friends—that it is not only possible to come together across religious, racial, sexual, and national identities but it is joyous, too.

So, please, help me. Help me and the older generations to know and do better so that you are not the last generation of all.

THANKS
Second, thank you.

Thank you for making it to this day. Thank you for doing your homework and showing up for your teams and clubs and for putting in your hours of rehearsal and for sharing your talents with others.

Some of you may shrug this off with a, “Pfft, no big,” but it is. It is a big deal to get through high school. High school is a test of every facet of your self at the same time that you are trying to define that self. Even if you have a stable home life and parents to help with homework and sufficient money to eat every day and have a cell phone, the relational pressures of this time of your life could have become too much, could have overwhelmed all of your talents and drive.

And if you made it to this day all while being uncertain about clothing or meals or bed, I thank you doubly.

Thank you all for loving yourselves throughout the moments when the world treated you, or you simply felt, unlovable or unloved.

WOW
Lastly, wow.

Wow is an expression of awe. We humans, regardless of age or education, need awe.

Our ability to be of help and to be grateful for the help of others is grounded in our ability to stand in awe before that which gives us the strength for both. You may call it love, you may call it God. Whatever your name for all that is sacred and holy in creation, find a community that will help you develop a deep and lasting connection with that divine power.

Even though your final exams are over, even though you may be going straight to work after graduation or to the military or to more learning, life itself will continue to test you.

A faithful community of awe will not only feed your good works and precious souls, it will also help you when you are sick, mourn with you when you grieve, and celebrate with you when you are blessed. And it will show you the profound honor of doing the same, with and for others.

So, Ames High School Class of 2017, help, thanks, and wow.

Amen and congratulations!

We Have Already Won: 2 Samuel 7.1–17

already-wonDelivered at Ames UCC
on October 23, 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.

NATHAN
Last week was Hannah, this week is Nathan. Pr. Hannah’s family has Biblical proportions!

Nathan isn’t a prophet that we talk about a lot, not as we do Amos or Isaiah. But he’s an important character in the story of David.

Remember that prophets are those people who have a singular focus on God with no regard for social niceties. However, not all prophets are created equal. Nathan is a prophet in the king’s court. He is employed by the king. We might question whether he is able to sustain a singular focus in such an arrangement.

When we first meet Nathan today, King David has just wondered aloud how it is that he himself lives in opulence, but the artifacts of God are still in a tent, as they have been since the Exodus. David decides to build a temple. Nathan encourages David to do so—Go for it! Build a temple! God is with you! That same night, though, through Nathan himself, God says not to build a temple.

Later, when David has become an adulterous villain, it is Nathan who calls David out on his abuses. Nathan keeps David in check when he threatens to reverse himself on promises of royal succession. Nathan also assures David of God’s forgiveness after a genuine period of repentance.

So, the speech of prophets is not always prophetic. But Nathan did do the work of one who upholds the heart of the Ten Commandments: reminding others to honor relationships.

LOST IN TRANSLATION
But the focus of today’s portion isn’t Nathan and his prophetic qualities. It’s this issue of whether or not, and when, David should build a temple for God.
Continue reading

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.

WORDS, WORDS, WORDS
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?

MATTHEW AND LUKE
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.
Continue reading

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

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

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.
Continue reading

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.
Continue reading

Join the Cloud of Witnesses: Hebrews 11.1–16, 12.1–2

communionofsaintsDelivered at Ames UCC on September 6, 2015
© The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

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

SUMMER IS OVER
I know it doesn’t feel like it today with the heat, but summer is about over. The kids are back to school. Football is underway. I’d wager many of us are even deep into negotiating Thanksgiving and Christmas plans.

Next week we will kick off our church year with a breakfast potluck at 9:30 a.m. and worship at 10:45 a.m. Everyone is invited to wear superhero costumes and we will receive new members in worship. Our scripture will be from Genesis. We go back to the beginning.
Continue reading