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.
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Our Calendar, God’s Calendar: Psalm 100

Delivered at Ames UCC  on June 11, 2017

©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 have a different schedule—see our website).

CALENDAR
Who knows what this is? Yes, it is a calendar of the liturgical church year. Liturgy means “work of the people” so this is a calendar of the seasons of our work as people of faith.

Last week was Pentecost, with all its red excitement. Now we go into Ordinary Time, which is a season to reflect broadly on Creation and Church, so it is a cool green. We will stay green until Advent, way off in November.

I love this calendar, for several reasons. First, the design. I just think it is neat. Second, the lack of dates.

While the rest of our calendars are numbered and the years just keep going up, going up into digits that still feel impossibly futuristic to me, this calendar is eternal. This calendar has no concern for what year we are in or even what month we are in, since sometimes Easter (the white square with cross) can be in March or April. This calendar does mark the passage of time but it has no beginning or end, only cycles of preparation, transformation, celebration, and application.

Our scripture is the same: Although time does progress within it, marked by the rise and fall of human nations, it has endured because what it has to teach transcends all such specificity. And so it allows us to transcend our specific time.

IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA
A few weeks ago, I took a retreat to a Jesuit center a couple of hours west of here. The Jesuits are a Roman Catholic order of priests, formally called the Society of Jesus (thus, Jesuit) founded by Ignatius of Loyola in France in the mid-1500s. I’d heard for years about “Ignatian spiritual exercises” but all I knew was that, when done in full, they take 30 days. I don’t have that time, but I do well with structure, so I asked for a four-day version.

I learned many things during those days, about myself and God. But what I want to share with you today is Ignatius’ use of imagination within prayer and with scripture. Ignatius believed our imaginations, our ability to mentally place ourselves someplace we physically are not, is a gift from God.

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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!

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.
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Making Prayerful Meaning: Acts 1.1–14

lovecallsDelivered at Ames UCC
on April 3, 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.

MEANING-SEEKING
We humans are seekers of meaning. We are makers of meaning, too. Through science, art, religion, family, and friends we both interpret and create the world around us. In doing so, we come to know what to expect in life. Or, when something unexpected happens, we either try to make it fit within our existing expectations or reform the expectations all together.

The book of the Acts of the Apostles begins with the greeting “Dear Theophilus” and references how the author has already described the life and work of Jesus up to his ressurection. That was the gospel of Luke. Luke and Acts were written together, in the 80s, to describe the full arc of the Jesus movement.  They are a well-constructed history of Jesus making an argument for his messiahship. There is no sense or claim, especially in Acts, that these words came together through divine inspiration or dictation. Instead, the author researched the alleged happenings and is now interpreting those stories of Jesus for his audience. He is explaining the meaning of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection as well as the actions of his followers.

That’s a pretty good description of my job, and Pr. Hannah’s. You searched for and hired people trained in Christian history and theology and ritual in order to continue to find or make meaning in the stories of Jesus and his disciples with you.
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Keeping Hope for Peace Alive: Isaiah 40.1–11

precious childrenDelivered at Ames UCC on December 6, 2015
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard rather than read.
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PEACE

Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”

Judah survived the Assyrians only to fall to Babylon in the 580s. The elite, the powerbrokers, are sent into exile but their descendants return in the 530s BCE, about fifty years later. Somehow the exiles and their children maintained their identity as Judahites, as followers of the God of Moses, while in a foreign land. After becoming the widow, the orphan, and the stranger themselves, the ancient Hebrews are reunited with those who were left behind to tend the home fires of faith. Continue reading

Sandra Bland and the Stormy Sea: John 6.1–21

lead_960Delivered 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.

SANDRA BLAND
I opened up my social media streams on Saturday morning and immediately my blood pressure spiked and my chest felt heavy. Sandra Bland was being buried.

If you haven’t followed her story, here are the currently verifiable facts: On a Friday she was pulled over by an officer for changing lanes without signaling. As dashcam footage shows, Sandra expressed frustration at being pulled over when she was just trying to get out of the officer’s way on the road: he seemed to need to get past her.

The officer asked Sandra to put out her cigarette and when she refused, he became angry. He threatened her with a taser, saying “I’m going to light you up.” Sandra exited her car, there was an off-camera scuffle, and she was ultimately charged with assaulting an officer. That’s how a traffic infraction resulted in a weekend in jail.
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Practicing Forgiveness: Matthew 18.15–35

forgive in chainsDelivered at Claremont UCC on February 22, 2015
© The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

Most merciful God, we confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. For the sake of Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and follow in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.

We may begin our worship with welcome and song but we quickly move to a prayer of confession. The one I just read is very old, appearing in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer in the mid-1500s. Those we pray each week are similar: Here is how we are broken, here is how we have fallen short. We yearn to do better so please do not abandon us.
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