Light in You: Matthew 9.19–34

Delivered at Ames UCC on August 19, 2018
©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 and August when times vary. Check the calendar for details.

2018.8.19 lampSTEWARDSHIP
I suspect that more than a handful of you, on seeing the cover of our bulletin today, thought, “Oh, she’s going to preach about giving money to the church. But isn’t it too early for the pledge drive?”

Yes, it is. It will be another four weeks before you receive a letter and pledge card along with a proposed budget that would fund the dreams of our church leadership teams. And though this is the first of three sermons on stewardship, I’m not going to speak to your time, talent, and treasure today.

Instead, I want to speak to your spark. Actually, I’m going to invite you to let Jesus speak to it.

MATTHEW 6
My preaching professor once said that sometimes we need to let scripture speak for itself, let the passage do all of the work. This passage does both well, as Jesus’s meaning here is not hard to find, particularly once returned to its larger context. In this case: a very long speech by Jesus.
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Love: Ruth 3

Delivered at Ames UCC on August 5, 2018
©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 and August when times vary. Check the calendar for details.

2018.8.6 LoveLOVE
Sometimes I get into conversations with people who aren’t religious who want me to offer proof of God or with people who are religious who want me to defend my concept of God. Often, I’ll talk about love. When I do, sometimes I get eye-rolls or accusations of making God weak. Why do we need a religion to practice love? Doesn’t calling God love deny God’s true power over us?

I don’t understand either response.

I don’t understand because nothing takes more focused, collective preparation than living into the love of God. And nothing, not any of the Biblical tantrums or pouts attributed to God, asks more from of us than God’s love.

Just look at the book of Ruth.

HESED
The book of Ruth offers a depiction of love which, in our tradition, is paralleled only by that of Jesus. It is a kind of divine love known as hesed. That’s the Hebrew writing on the cover of your bulletin. Hesed is hard to define, but you will see some attempts listed there, too: loving-kindness, so a love that takes a kindly form. Long-acting love, a love with long-term repercussions. Steadfast love, a love unmoved by time. Devotion: a love with a worshipful quality. Covenantal devotion: Love that is worshipful and relational at the same time. A love the will not let you go, no matter how hard you try. Hesed is a love shown in “loyalty and commitment (to other people) that go beyond the bounds of law or duty.”1Hesed is to manifest God in the world between people.

The moment on the threshing floor that we just saw in light and shadow is considered the ultimate expression of hesed, of divine commitment, humanly expressed.

How is that possible? How is this story of sexual trickery a story of divine love?
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Covenant Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love: Exodus 20.1–11

2018.6.3 earth needsDelivered at Ames UCC on June 3, 2018
©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 and August when things change up, so please check the calendar here).

DEALMAKING
Look at God, working the deals.

Last week God asked Moses, who is now in the desert wilderness with the freed Hebrew slaves, to say to the people, “You saw what I did back there. Now, if you will just bind yourself with devotion to me, you will be my most special people for all time.” I helped you, now you serve me. God wants a little something for God’s trouble, it seems.

But we are not Moses and Moses’s people. We have witnessed no plagues, no walls of water providing safe passage. What have we “gotten” from God? What has God done for us lately, that God can make demands of us still?

To use Advent as an answer: hope, peace, joy, and love.

ADVENT
Last week I handed out copies of the church’s schedule of seasons and holidays along with their traditional colors. I invited you to put those into your own personal calendars as a means to remember that our finite lives are within the infinity that is God.

Today I’d like to continue the practice of putting our everyday into the context of our faith, this time by bringing Advent into Ordinary Time. Not only is the time of faith cyclical, as exemplified by the perpetual calendar of the church, the time of faith is all seasons at one time. We are no less in Advent today than we will be in December.

But as a refresher, Advent is over the four weeks before Christmas. I wish I didn’t have to put it that way because then it sounds like Advent is the Christmas prep season, the Christmas pre-season. It isn’t. Advent is the first season of the Christian year and it is followed by the twelve days of Christmastide. So Advent stands on its own.

Advent stands on its own because it is not just pointing toward the birth of Jesus but to his execution and mystery, too. We spend that month preparing not for one night, but for another year of studying and praying the full story of God in Jesus Christ. Advent’s means for doing so are the weekly themes of hope, peace, joy, and love. In Advent we are preparing for the story of a holiness in whom, through whom, and with whom, we can receive hope, peace, joy, and love.

But that didn’t start with Jesus. What God has to give didn’t begin just two thousand years ago. Let’s look at today’s passage.
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Des Moines Register Op-Ed

On Saturday, October 28, 2017, the Des Moines Register published this Op-Ed piece, Ames church deserves kudos, not hate Campaign, for inclusive Halloween party for teens by Rekha Basu, in support of my church, the Ames United Church of Christ, after it suffered online attacks from a blogger and her followers. Thanks to the Des Moines Register for spreading the good news about our work.

Faithful Evangelism: Acts 8.26–39

Delivered at Ames UCC on May 7, 2017

©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

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JOKE SET-UP
2017.5.7 xian hegemonySomebody in our church—who shall remain nameless—told me that today’s reading sounds like the set up for a joke: An evangelist and a eunuch meet on a road…It’s not a funny story in that sense, but it is one both odd and joyous. Odd because of Philip’s whisking away by the Holy Spirit, joyous because, unlike with Stephen last week, no one dies because of witnessing for Jesus.

THE EVANGELIST
It begins with Philip. This is not the Philip you may be thinking of, one of Jesus’ disciples who had a particularly prominent role in John’s gospel. The Philip in this book, the Acts of the Apostles, is new. Biblical scholars refer to him as Philip the Evangelist to distinguish between the two. He is, as Stephen was last week, ordained to be a table servant, a caretaker of the widows and growing Jesus Way movement community.

But after Stephen’s lynching, there is a general assault to crack down on all movement followers. Some go to jail, some flee Jerusalem, including Philip the Evangelist. We find that, while he is on the road, Philip the Evangelist has the power to heal, just as Jesus did. He converts all of Samaria, we are told, to the new Jesus Way. You might remember from other references to the Samaritans that they and the Israelites were generally hostile to each other and practiced competing versions of Judaism.

So Philip the Evangelist seems to be a powerful and important figure in the early months after resurrection day.
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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

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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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Indecent Love Will Make Us Strong: Luke 7.36–50

2017.2.19 sister christaDelivered at Ames UCC
on February 19, 2017

©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

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ALL CHANGED
One of my spiritual practices is to write in a journal at bedtime. Not that I’m always writing about God, but I’m trying to make sure that I am a reflective person rather than a reactive one. God does know that we have enough reactive people in the world.

So several nights ago I found myself writing, “I’m doing my work and living my life as if the world hasn’t completely changed.” As I sorted through my frustrations and fatigues and worries, I found that one of the problems contributing to all of them is that I have not found a new way in this new world.

Not the new world that we call Easter morning, but the new world of this hot planet. We should not be eager to get outside on February 19. We should be bundled up and crabby about it.

And our personal temperatures are being tested daily, with threats to the Endangered Species Act, ban-breaking weapons testing by a nation with whom we do not have the best relationship, and the corruption of our teachers’ ability to teach us what they need to do their very hard jobs.

That last one feels among the most personal to me. In this room alone, that touches Emily, Sunny, LeAnne, Genya, Laurie, and Susan. Do you know how many hours they work? And with any student that might come through their door? Why sabotage their success?

Any one of these issues would be sufficient to create anxiety and redirection in our community efforts, but we are getting new ones each and every day.

I know some of us survive this by checking out: Just keep the regular schedule and turn off all media. Or we self-soothe by telling ourselves it can’t be that bad, it can’t get much worse.

But based on our conversations, I would say the majority of us are more engaged that ever, more attentive to the headlines than ever, and making more phone calls and protest signs than ever before in our lives.

We do not live in the same world any more. How will we endure?

Both of the people Jesus interacts with today give us examples of how to live our faith. But only one shows us how to do so when the world is falling apart.
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What to Bring to The Night: Daniel 6.6–27

2016-11-27-remade-in-loveDelivered at Ames UCC on November 27, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

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DANIEL AND THE GOLDEN BOOKS
The earliest Near Eastern reference to Daniel that has surfaced to date is of a Ugaritic king in the 14th century BCE. After that time, a whole cycle of Daniel stories spread across the region. In the Bible proper he’s in this book, Daniel, as well as Ezekial. He is also in the extra-Biblical books of Susanna, the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three, Bel and the Dragon, the Dead Sea Scroll called the Prayer of Nabonidus, and the Ugaritic Aqhat Epic.1

The first six chapters of the book of Daniel are a series of self-contained folk tales. Daniel shares qualities with other Biblical folk heroes, like Joseph’s gift of dream interpretation, and success in foreign politics like Mordecai, from the book of Esther.

As collected by our Jewish ancestors, these characters helped the Jewish community with how to live under occupation.

But because of my age and how I came up in Christian churches, I can’t hear “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” without picturing the Golden Books versions, all cartoony and not looking at all ancient near-eastern. Daniel looked, maybe, more like he came from Iowa. And what I can remember from those children’s versions is a really bad king and David as a cherubic tamer of lions. In my memory’s eye, there is a big confrontation between Daniel and the lions before his release by the king.

The moral was always that with enough faith God can save you from all dangers. The flip side of that was that if you were not saved, it was because you did not have enough faith.
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God is Everywhere: The Book of Jonah

jonahlovejusticeDelivered at Ames UCC
on November 13, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

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ASSUMPTIONS AND FEAR
I don’t generally like to assume how people are feeling or what they are thinking. It isn’t fair and it can be dangerous. Plus, my personality and my training tell me to do otherwise. I like to assume the best about people and so I want to understand who they are and why they are and how they got there.

I doesn’t mean I respect where everyone ends up. I have no patience or respect for those who publicly pronounce their hatred of others, for those who organize whole institutions around the destruction of those who are not Christian, or of people of color, women, or queer.

Neither does Ames UCC. This is a church that has always stood on the side of people who have been hated for those reasons. We do not all do so from the same political party, but we agree nonetheless.

So I will take the risk in assuming that if you are here today, if you have chosen to a come to a place like this, you have experienced some kind of grief, if not actual fear, since Tuesday night.

Fear of the voters who chanted “Jew S. A.! Jew S. A.!,” fear of the voters who laughed at or dismissed a man who treats women’s bodies as objects for his own pleasure, fear of the voters whose children approached other Black kids in Ames to ask if they knew they would be slaves again soon, fear of the voters in Boone who keyed “die fag #trump” into the cars of two women, fear that those voters’ voices will not only grow stronger and more emboldened, but also translate into law that will reduce protection and rights.

In other words, even though I know we are not homogenous in our formal party affiliations at Ames UCC, I know that we are united in our condemnation of such behavior.
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Easter Proof: Mark 16.1–8

unstoppableDelivered at Ames UCC
on March 27, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

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NO JOY
Fear seems a pretty appropriate response to a grave that has been opened and is now occupied by a stranger. A stranger who lets you know that your most dearest one has walked off.

These women have been through so much already. They were the only ones who waited with Jesus. They were the only ones who tended his body and laid it to rest. When all of the other followers and the named disciples ran away, they continued to ally themselves with this loving, ornery, and seemingly god-forsaken man.

Then they returned to their community. They returned to the traditional Passover festival. If nothing else helps in the midst of grief, familiarity and habit can be soothing balms. But they could not stay away. Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of the disciple James the younger, and Salome the mother of the other James and his brother John know that Jesus’ body yet needs care.
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