Wednesday, December 21, 2011


I am working on my Christmas Eve sermon today.  There is always a flurry of preparation for this sermon as I look forward to preaching to a different group of people.  Christmas is challenging for a preacher; we know there is lots of competition.  We compete with squirmy children, distracted people who are thinking about the next task they need to complete after church is over, people who rarely come to church, and people who wonder what this story of Jesus’ birth has to do with their lives…hmmm.  Maybe this isn’t so different from an ordinary Sunday.

As preachers we do try to do our best at Christmas.  Yet while I prepare this Christmas sermon I wonder if it’s worth it.  There is extra pressure for a big holiday, of course, and I feel that, but what about the faithful who come every Sunday?  Shouldn’t I always do my best for them, every week?  Why do I feel the need to spend extra time on a Christmas sermon for those who rarely come to church anyway?

As I sank into my ritual of preparation and entered my writing zone this morning, it occurred to me that I have a visit or two to do before tomorrow, and I became flustered.  I don’t really have time for these visits, because there are so many details to attend to, so many bulletins to prepare and print, and so many services to finish planning.  I’m overwhelmed.  Yet I know these visits need to be done.

So I placed a phone call this morning to plan a visit with a woman I haven’t seen in a little while.  When I told her it was me, her voice gave away her surprise and delight.  When I offered to visit her this afternoon, she said, “Oh, I know you’re so busy this week.  I can’t believe you’re making the time to see me.  But if you can carve out some time for me I’d be so grateful.”  Her words were sincere, and my heart melted.  Her grace-filled words changed my perspective.  Suddenly all my sermon preparation took a back seat to a few minutes spent with her, and I realized all my writing means nothing if I am not living it too.

This is how the Christmas story came to me this week.  In the midst of the flurry of my preparation, God called me into the home of a woman who may seem insignificant to the rest of the world, yet her witness to me changed the course of my day.  Jesus came as a vulnerable baby, born to a teenage girl and visited first by lowly shepherds.  The story of his birth reminds us that God came to the helpless, the poor, the weak—those who society sees as unimportant and irrelevant.  We are called to do the same.  This woman I will visit, like the irregular church-goer, the distracted parent, and those overwhelmed with Christmas preparations all deserve to hear God’s love, mercy and grace.  They are God’s beloved—we are God’s beloved—filled with the promise given to us in the manger that changes the courses of our lives.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

God of the Everywhere

I’ve been in a lot of peoples’ homes recently.  It is easy for me to get caught up in the office and administrative work of the church.  There is always more to do, more to plan, more to organize, more emails to send.  Much of the administrative work feels like it can’t wait, so other tasks get put to the side.  Yet recent circumstances (including reading a book called The Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene Peterson) served as gentle reminders to me to let go of some of the office work.  I felt encouraged to trust the people of this congregation to run the church without my constant attention—surely they are more capable than me in many ways.  I made the conscious decision to focus on my writing, my pastoral visits and interactions, and my preaching for a few weeks.

Somehow a light turned on in the room of my heart, and I really began to see the homes I visited as holy places.  For all the time I spend in a church building, one would think I often feel God’s presence there, and I do, especially in worship.  Yet sometimes I forget how present God is everywhere—in our homes, our workplaces, in our daily, ordinary lives and in our hearts.  I became a witness these past weeks to God’s presence in the everyday lives of those around me, and what a privilege it has been.  We often talk about what God can do, but do we really, truly believe it?  And do we believe not only in what God can do, but in what God is doing, in the ordinariness of our lives?

I can tell you what I’ve seen.

I saw God in the way an elderly man gently repeated himself over and over to his wife, who is slowly retreating into dementia.

I saw God in a man who has struggled for years.  He sat across his kitchen table from me, looked me in the eye, and said, “I would never have survived all of this without my faith in Jesus Christ.”

I saw God in the face of the newborn baby I held, and in the way his parents looked at him with pride, terrified of this new responsibility, as all baby-parents do.  This baby fussed through my prayer and blessing over him, and I heard God in his baby-cries too.

I saw God in the hospitality of the couple who welcomed a group of us into their home for our annual progressive dinner, and in the fellowship and laughter we shared, especially when two of us attempted to drive up their steep driveway in a snowstorm only to slide backwards, praying we wouldn’t take out their mailbox.

I saw God in the house blessing I did (my first one!).  We carried a candle and cross into various rooms of the house, sharing Scripture and prayer in each one, acknowledging the presence of God in that place—a place where daily chores are done, where even washing the dishes is a holy act.

I saw God when a few of us went to visit an elderly couple who delighted in sharing their pictures and stories with us.  One of them is a wonderful artist, and his eyes came to life as he showed us special pieces he had created.  We shared communion together, and God formed us into a little community of grace, mercy and joy, even at the end of life.

After I absorbed all these God experiences, I began to ask myself, what about my home?  My often-messy, toddler-tornado filled, TV-on-too-often home?  It can be easy to see God in the lives of others, but it’s often hard to see God in my own home, as I often focus on the flaws and what needs to be done next.  Is God really present in my interactions with my children, in our daily squabbles over food and dawdling, in our searching through the laundry pile for a clean shirt to wear ten minutes before the bus is supposed to come?  Oh yes.  And God is in the messy kisses, the days we let the floors stay dirty while we play, and the bedtime stories. 

God is an extraordinary God who we often find in the ordinary.  May God give us all eyes of faith to see what God is doing, right in front of us.  

So here's what I want you to do, God helping you:  Take your everyday, ordinary life--your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life--and place it before God as an offering.  Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.  Romans 12:1 (from The Message)