Mutuality: Luke 15.1–32

Delivered at Ames UCC  on March 19, 2017
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard rather than read.
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RING OF TRUTH
I have a friend who, when her kids were young, convinced them that she could tell if they were lying or telling the truth because of the “ring of truth.” They sincerely believed that grown-ups could hear a little bell ding when people spoke truth and a silent void at lies.

When I was a young child hearing the story of the starving son come home, I did not hear a ring of truth. I felt bored and I felt annoyed. Yeah, yeah, yeah: The guy realized what a mess he’d made of his life, apologized, and asked his dad for a job. And that older brother, who had done all of the work all along, shouldn’t have been angry with him because Big Daddy God is generous and loves us stinkers and do-gooders alike. And so we should try to be the same.

It felt so obvious. A sledge-hammer of a message without any subtlety. So any ring of truth, for me as a young person, was drowned out by my intellectual snobbery, defensiveness, and snoring.

Which is why I am so glad we read it here along with the stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin.

LENT
I’m also glad we are reading these during Lent. These forty days are a nod to the forty days of Noah’s time on the ocean, the Egyptian slaves’ forty years wandering in the desert, and Jesus’ post-baptism forty days of faith formation in the wilderness. The idea of this season, which was instituted by our imperial Roman forbears in the early 300s, is to really prepare for Holy Week and Easter.

Because if there is any one story whose truth is suspect, it is resurrection.

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Impatience and Love: Luke 13.1–9 and 31–35

2017.3.12 fig treeDelivered at Ames UCC
on March 12, 2017

©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to beheard rather than read.
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at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays.

SAME CONCLUSION
For the last two weeks we’ve had guest preachers, Tim Wolfe on Seminary Sunday and Harry Cook as our Theologian in Residence. Tim and Harry came to us from very different branches of the Christian family tree: Tim was, for most of his life, Pentecostal and for years directed very large African American gospel choirs. Harry is a long-retired Episcopal priest and newspaperman.

Tim preached on the transfiguration story. This is the one where a few of the disciples wake up and see Jesus with Moses and Elijah, prophets from the far distant past. Harry had the story of the Samaritan who helped a naked, bleeding man in a ditch when neither a priest nor a deacon would do so.

Tim’s message was “Get woke and stay woke.” Harry’s was “Go and do it.”

Despite their divergent religious traditions, Tim and Harry came to the same conclusion: God wants us to be awake to the world and responsive to what we see.

That was neither planned nor is it a coincidence: The Jesus in the gospel of Luke is insistently oriented to the needs of the world and to action.

HARSH STORY
He is also impatient, as in our reading today.

Do you think you are special? Do you think anyone is more favored by God? Jesus asks his listeners. Not really the best tactic for building a movement. But Jesus doesn’t care. He goes on to tell a story about an orchard owner and his farmer and a fig tree. One way to hear it is with God as the orchard owner and all of us as the gardener and our faith as the fig tree.

For years, such an interpretation goes, God has been looking for us to nurture some productivity from our faith, only to be met with disappointment. We are a waste of space and resources if we do not fertilize, till, and weed our souls so that they are actually of use. So that we may provide sustenance and succor. If our fig tree does not actually produce something, best to yank it out and move on, Jesus says.

It’s a harsh story. It is harsh because Jesus, like all of the Biblical prophets before him, knows what is on the line: lives. Not life in the sky by-and-by, but lives chucked into ditches like trash.

The reason we have so many healing stories about Jesus isn’t just because people are sick. It is also because he is impatient for us to know that God cares about actual bodies and so we should, too. When bodies and the communities in which they exist are sick, there is no time to waste.

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Are You Eating?

Published March 26, 2016 in the Ames Tribune

2106hunger

For the last five weeks my church came together on Wednesday nights for a meal, book study, and meditation or choir practice. This was all part of the Christian church season called Lent, a time when we prepare for Easter. As I wrote previously, the book was about the work and responsibilities of white Christian churches who profess a desire for racial equality in the world. The discussion each week was so rich that we barely made it half-way through. At times we disagreed with the author’s premise, at others we were surprised by our ignorance around, for example, the Black Power movement. In smaller groups I heard expressions of defeat and guilt. I think the experience generated more questions than it did answers.

But the number one question I was asked each week had nothing to do with racism, structural inequalities, or unearned advantages. It was, “Are you going to eat?”

The meal that proceeded our class was a soup potluck. Meaning, each week church members signed up to bring a soup. They also brought bread, olives, pickles, peanut butter, and jelly. There was always just enough for the 60–80 people who came to feast and visit.

For me, this was a tremendous opportunity to get visiting time with members of my community. After leading the group in prayer, I went from table to table to check in with everyone, see how their weeks had gone, get a review of the night’s offerings, and whatever else floated to the surface. I made a couple of PB&Js for kids and handed out milk. I had a wonderful time.

I was able to do this because I ate before everyone arrived.
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Lenten Repentance: Mark 10.32–52

transcendedDelivered at Ames UCC
on February 21, 2016
©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.

GOD TALK
Was Jesus divine? Was he human? Was he half and half? Did he transition from one to the other over his lifetime or only at the resurrection? This was the topic last week at God-Talk, our month theology free-for-all.

In classic UCC fashion, we had no one answer. Some felt that Jesus was not divine but clearly gifted and blessed. Others expressed certainty that he was divine, and not just because scripture says so, but from their own life experience.

We also touched a bit on how our understanding of Jesus reflects on our concepts of God. If we deny God any role in Jesus’ conception or birth, for example, are we denying God the capacity to do miraculous, counter-natural acts? What is God’s power if not to do things we cannot do?
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Why the Cross? Mark 10.17–31

whythecrossDelivered at Ames UCC on
February 14, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be
heard rather than read.
(Listen to this one
here.)
Please join us for worship at
10:45 a.m. on Sundays.

LENT
On Wednesday night we gathered with our friends from First Christian Church and First United Methodist Church to mark Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. We prayed together:

God, this is a hard time. The focus of Lent is on the journey to pain and suffering of Jesus and our own role in continuing to cause such pain. It feels like a time of gathering darkness. We would rather skip this part and go straight to the radiance of Easter. We would rather ignore suffering and avoid the hard work of true self-examination. Forgive us for wanting this to be bright and painless and easy, when we know that Jesus did not take the easy way, but risked the cross for the sake of justice.

After he was baptized by John and God, Jesus was filled by the Holy Spirit and led by it into the wilderness for 40 days. During Lent’s 40 days (plus Sundays) we emulate that trust in God and that fast and struggle. And as the prayer shows, we name the ways we dodge the hard parts of faith, including the cross and what it brings.
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Dear White Christians

By Eileen Gebbie

Published here on Feb. 8, 2016 in the Ames Tribune.

In the Christian tradition, Wednesday, February 10 is known as Ash Wednesday. It marks the beginning of Lent, a 40 day period (excluding Sundays for convoluted, medieval reasons) that prepares us for our highest of holy days, Easter. Lent is marked by quieter, more meditative Sunday services and simplifying the visuals (like fabric art and candles) in our sanctuary. We pastors who wear robes to lead worship will switch from white to black and wear purple-colored stoles (those long scarves). As a result, Easter morning, with its flowers and white banners and loud alleluias, becomes that much more of a celebration.

Another common Lenten practice is to intensify our corporate spiritual work with mid-week meals and study. At Ames UCC, that means a soup supper at 5:30 p.m., a book study at 6:15 p.m., and a choice of choir practice or 30 minutes of meditation at 7 p.m. (beginning Wednesday, February 17).
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