Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Finding My Voice with Such as These

Last night I preached my first sermon. I am taking a grad course in Homiletics, and the "big day" finally came. (In fact, my life has been wrapped up in grad school, thus the reason for lack of blogging.) My emotions were all over the place...nervous, excited, anxious and peaceful--all at the same time. This class has been big for me in a lot of ways. I intend to write more on that later, but for now, here is my first attempt at a sermon.

Such as these

Mark 10:13-16 And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, "Permit the children to come to me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all. “And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them. (NASB)

It’s quite a story, quite a concept. The kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is near…The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you…This is what the kingdom of God is like…What shall we say the kingdom of God is like?...The kingdom of God belongs to such as these….Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!....You are not far from the kingdom of God.

What is the kingdom of God? Is it the far off eschatological reign of God, or was it Jesus’ ministry on earth. Or is it God’s presence within the church now? Whatever the full answer may be, what we do see is that the kingdom of God is very important in the world imagined in Mark’s gospel, and it seems to be inextricably linked to the identity of Jesus.[1]

And the question of the hour for Mark centers around the identity of Jesus: Who am I? And in this whirlwind of narrative, miracles, and teaching, Mark begs the question from us in return: Who are we? It’s kind of unfair, you know--we get the inside scoop with these questions. We know the beginning, we know the end, and Mark gives us great direction for the journey. We have the benefit of knowing from the very beginning that he is “Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (1:1) We know that “He has risen. He is not here.” (16:6) And we know, too, that “whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant” (10:43). And I think that is where Mark wants to take us in this journey today.

Now, as usual in Mark’s narrative, the disciples just didn’t get it. Their confusion about the elusive kingdom of God was greater than ours. And Jesus takes time (and time and time again) to try and show them, tell them about his kingdom. Jesus’ ministry is coming to a close. He is on his way to Jerusalem; He knows his time is quickly approaching, and the kingdom is closer to his heart than ever. He’s predicted his death twice already, and the disciples repeatedly respond inappropriately. They are ready to be the trusty sidekicks to their “superhero” Jesus who they think has come to save the day from villainous Rome—march in, take over, set up shop. Can’t you see it? James and John, fighting for position of “Robin”, second in command to their “Batman” Jesus. But Jesus reminds them that the first will be last in his kingdom--that his kingdom requires a life of service and sacrifice, not honor and glory. And that is where we land in our text today. Listen, once more, to the words of Jesus in this narrative:

People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. (NIV)

These few verses raise several good questions: Why were people bringing their little children to Jesus…Why did the disciples turn them away?...Why was Jesus so angry with them? But in light of our kingdom context, in light of the question posed by Jesus “Who Am I?”, and in effort to shed light on our response to Jesus’ question with another question, “Who are we?, I’d invite us to settle down and spend some time with Mark considering what it means to be “such as these.” After all, the kingdom of God belongs to “such as these.”

Please, Mark, tell us more! What did Jesus mean? Mark seems to make the point, time and again, that the heart of the kingdom is found in unexpected places and through unexpected people. In this story, the little children are those “least likely” people. The little ones described here are truly the smallest of children. And I think part of what makes them so unexpected is simply the fact that they are literally the “least.” They are small, helpless, needy, and quite unable to make it on their own. But even more than this, Jesus sees something in the hearts of these little ones that he wants us to see.

Now, let’s be honest. There are attributes of children that may make us question Jesus a little bit here. Aren’t children selfish? Aren’t they completely self-centered? Don’t they deliberately disobey and then lie to cover it up? Well, yes…they can be and yea, sometimes they do. But I’m not sure this is what Jesus was getting at.

I asked some good friends what they thought about Jesus’ words about children. I received replies from mothers, fathers, teachers, grandmas, and preachers.[2] A common thread throughout their responses was the idea of a child’s trust, faith, simplicity, ability to forgive, honesty and purity. My friend Brenda, a special education teacher, shared her thoughts rather poignantly: I believe that children have some qualities early in life that are often twisted and thwarted by the devil in those of us who have grown older. One of the most important qualities is authenticity. Children have not yet had the world batter and bend the spirit that God gave them into something else that the world might find more "acceptable." They are honest, brave, willing to take a risk, willing to learn something new, willing to be taught and molded by those who have more experience, and willing to always give you another chance to do good. They will forgive and forgive and forgive even the most chillingly hateful and neglectful parent. They will share too little food with a younger sibling, or curl up in your lap and hold you through the deepest depression. They will always reach out first, and ask what risk or cost it will have for them later. They say things that we are all thinking. This sometimes makes us cringe at the brutal honesty found in what they have observed. It often makes us confront our own lacking example to them.

Truly the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I have to ask myself, is my heart one that is moldable? Do I speak truth and forget wrongs before I even have the chance to forgive? Do I truly have a heart authentically seeking Jesus? Do you? And isn’t that really the heart of the matter? A child is completely dependent on someone else to meet their every need. Children realize that they need someone in their lives to care for them, and they desperately want to be close to that person—for their life utterly depends on it.

I have a good friend who told me a story about his 3-year-old son, Derek. He would often sing himself to sleep, and especially at that age, he would sing out just as loud as he could. My friend would often tiptoe down the hallway and sit at the bottom of the stairs – just to listen to him. Derek would sing songs he learned in Sunday school or songs he heard his parents singing around the house or playing from a CD. But every once in a while, he would just sing what he was thinking or feeling – almost like a 3-year old writing a song, or even singing a prayer. One night he went on at length about how much he wanted to be close to God, addressing Him in first-person, and saying over and over again how he wanted to be close to Him and see what He looks like. And at one point, little Derek sang out as loud as he possibly could, “I just wanna be close to you, I just wanna see you, Jesus!”

Oh for the heart of a child. A child knows just how needy they are, and they aren’t afraid to ask for—even cry out for help. They can accept the gift of the kingdom for what it actually is without thoughts of earning it or deserving it. They know they need it—and they know they need the one who feely gives it. Indeed, the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

I have been on this journey with Mark, Jesus, and the little ones for some time now. And our journey, rather vividly one day in particular, took me to the world imagined in scripture. Maybe today I can take you with me and Mark a little further into that world. I think we’ll see that “that world” is not so different from “this world”. I think we’ll see that we can find our story in the story.

-Let’s go Benjamin; I don’t want to miss him.

-Okay, I just want to finish this building. See? It’s our house.

-That’s nice honey, but we need to leave now. Your aunt Mary just told me that he passed by the fish market and is on his way toward the road out of town.

-But mom!


-Auhghghhh. Fine.

-Come on, take my hand.

-Where are we going, mom?

-We are going to see Jesus.

-Jesus? Who is he?

-He is a very special man, Ben. He can make sick people better and Jacob’s mom told me that he even raised a little girl back to life in Galilee.

-Oh. Why are we going to see him? Is someone sick?

-No, Ben. I want him to touch you. He is a holy man, and his touch will bring special blessings for you.

-Come on, hurry! I see a crowd over there…maybe….Yes, that must be him. There he is… there’s so many people here…I guess I’m not the only one who wants a blessing….Jesus, Jesus! Please, will you bless my boy? Jesus!

-Whoa, whoa, Everyone just step back. Jesus doesn’t have time for all of these little children. We’re on our way out of town, and he’s tired…we’re all tired…please, just leave him alone right now. …

-Why won’t those men let us see Jesus, Mom?

-Well, there are a lot of important people here, honey…I think we are just in the way…Come on, let’s go home…

-Wait, Wait! What are you doing, Peter? (let’s be truthful…we all suspect Peter was in the middle of all this) James? Stop! Don’t turn these little ones away—don’t get in their way! Don’t you see? I have tried explaining this so many times! My kingdom is close to their hearts. My kingdom, God’s kingdom—these little ones get it. They know it and accept it for what it is. They can accept me for who I am…. Learn from them. To be a part of God’s kingdom, you must accept it like these children do—simply, with faith and trust. They know no other way. Let them come to me…

-Wow, I didn’t expect that. There’s something different about him… Mary, look at Jesus picking the children up and embracing them! What is he saying to him? Will you look at Benjamin—look at him laughing—he can’t take his eyes off Jesus. I can’t remember the last time he looked at someone like that…the last time I looked at someone like that ….

-Mommy, mommy! I got to see Jesus. He gave me a hug and spun me around like Papa used to.

-That’s wonderful Ben. What did he say to you?

-He asked me a funny question.

-He did?


-What did he ask?

-He asked if I knew who he is.

-Oh? …What did you say Ben?

-I said that my mom says that you are a special man who does special things…. And then he asked me what I thought.

-He did?


-And what did you say?

-Well, I just hugged him again and said that I think that he must love me like my Papa loved me and that I love him, too. Do you think we could go and see him again sometime, Mom?

-I hope so, Ben. Come on, let’s go home

-Hey, who’s that guy coming down the read?

-I don’t know honey, but it looks like he is a very rich man. Look at all the animals and servants he has with him.

-Yea. Where is he going, mom?

-I don’t know…maybe he is heading toward the big city to do business.

-Oh… Maybe he wants to talk to Jesus.

-Probably not, Ben. I don’t think he really needs anything from Jesus.

-Why not, mom?

-Well, he seems to already have everything he needs...

-Oh… Mom?

-Yes, Ben?

-I think I need Jesus.

-You do?

-Yea, I think we all need Jesus.

-(Pause) I think you’re right, Ben, I think you’re right.

Indeed, the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

[1] Frederick Aquino notes that the concept of kingdom is “inextricably linked in the person of Jesus” in his essay, “Mark and Becoming Fully Human” from Preaching Mark’s Unsettling Messiah; ed. David Fleer and Dave Bland.

[2] A special thanks to my friends, my community of interpretation, my “scholarly seminar” for their thoughts and ideas around this text: Kellie, Brenda, Josh, Larry, Tom, Lynne, Shannon, Rubel and Janet.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Road Is Narrow, But It Has Many Curves...

I never cease to be amazed by God. He has always been faithful in leading me. The way of God is narrow, but that doesn't mean it can't twist and wind and present some sudden curves...

I graduated Rochester College with my Bachelor’s degree in 2002 and knew then that I had the desire to pursue graduate studies at some point in the future. The question a graduate is always asked, “What is your degree?” is always answered by me as, “Interdisciplinary Studies—my two concentrations were Religion and Communication.” Inevitably, the reply is, “Oh, what do you plan to do with that?”, to which I respond, “Go to graduate school…someday.”

The question floating in the back of my mind throughout the past four years has been what field of study do I want to pursue? I have varied interests, and my interdisciplinary degree provides a diverse background from which I could have a good chance of being accepted into a variety of graduate programs. I have thought for some time that I would really be interested in becoming a college professor, but again, the question becomes what field of study? That background is the setting for a life-altering event in my life that I experienced only a few weeks ago.

Sara Barton invited me to be a part of the Women in Ministry Conference held on the Rochester College campus during the last week of May. I had no expectations of that two day experience, but I certainly came out changed. While I continue to wrestle with my egalitarian tendencies while desiring to remain true to my restoration heritage, I have never felt the sense of empowerment and enlightenment that I experienced while engaging in dialogue and communion with these other women who were pursuing their passions and giftedness in ministry in Churches of Christ settings. In those two short days, God worked on my heart in a way that frightens and excites me. I feel empowered to pursue what I am passionate about, regardless of gender. Now I know that God can use me within the ranks of my church heritage in ways I had not really considered.

While deciding on a major in undergrad, the only reason I didn’t get a degree in Biblical Studies is because I honestly felt that I wouldn’t be able to “do” anything with it. And I could vividly anticipate the questions that would come…“Well, what are YOU going to do with that?” I felt that at that time, and maybe there was more truth in that thought then, that there wasn’t really much place for women in full-time ministry within the Churches of Christ. Honestly, there was a lot of fear on my part—I didn’t know of any other women in Churches of Christ working in full-time ministry. Now, however, I have seen that those thoughts and fears are simply invalid, right here, right now in 2006.

Therefore, the question of what field of graduate study to pursue became quite clear. I am passionate about God and His people, and I thrive on engaging in intellectual dialogue and learning about theology and ministry. Therefore, it is off to grad school in fall at Rochester College. At the moment, I consider my goal to continue my education after the Master’s program and eventually become a college religion professor. But I am always open to the Lord’s leading, and I am excited that He has led me to this place in my life.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

How Long?

The death of a child. I don't think there is really any good explanation for why. Today the Rochester Church family celebrated the life and grieved the loss of little Linsi Westerby. The words of U2's 40 have haunted my mind all day...

by U2

I waited patiently for the Lord
He inclined and heard my cry
He brought me up out of the pit
Out of the miry clay

I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song

How long to sing this song
How long to sing this song
How long...
How sing this song

He set my feet upon a rock
And made my footsteps firm
Many will see
Many will see and fear

I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song

How long to sing this song
How long to sing this song
How long...
How sing this song

How long will we suffer in this world? How long will there be pain? How long will mothers cry for children they can no longer hold? How long before you come to rescue us, Oh Lord?

Oh, how we long to sing a new song.

The Lord calls us to be a people who lament with those who lament. But, periods of lament always seem to come full circle. It is because we have hope. The other song playing in my mind is the new song...

With Hope
by Steven Curtis Chapman

This is not at all how
We thought it was supposed to be
We had so many plans for you
We had so many dreams
And now you've gone away
And left us with the memories of your smile
And nothing we can say
And nothing we can do
Can take away the pain
The pain of losing you, but ...

We can cry with hope
We can say goodbye with hope
'Cause we know our goodbye is not the end, oh no
And we can grieve with hope
'Cause we believe with hope
There's a place by God's grace
There's a place where we'll see your face again
We'll see your face again

And never have I known
Anything so hard to understand
And never have I questioned more
The wisdom of God's plan
But through the cloud of tears
I see the Father's smile and say well done
And I imagine you
Where you wanted most to be
Seeing all your dreams come true
'Cause now you're home
And now you're free, and ...

We can cry with hope
We can say goodbye with hope
'Cause we know our goodbye is not the end, oh no
And we can grieve with hope
'Cause we believe with hope
There's a place by God's grace
There's a place where we'll see your face again
We'll see your face again

We have this hope as an anchor
'Cause we believe that everything
God promised us is true, so ...

We can cry with hope
We can say goodbye with hope
'Cause we know our goodbye is not the end, oh no
And we can grieve with hope
'Cause we believe with hope
There's a place by God's grace
There's a place where we'll see your face again
We'll see your face again

We wait with hope
And we ache with hope
We hold on with hope
We let go with hope

Monday, May 08, 2006

We See The Invisible Children

Last Saturday over 300 people gathered on the campus of Rochester College in support of the "night walker" children of Northern Uganda in hopes of ending a 20-year-old war. Over 60,000 people committed to "lying down" around the US for these children who commute to local cities (sometimes upwards of 10 miles one way) each night to sleep in safety out of fear of abduction by the LRA (Lord's Resistance Army). The LRA forces the children they kidnap to kill, to be child soldiers in "a war older than its warriors."

We walked, sang, laughed, and cried for these little ones. The hope is for our government to get involved with the Ugandan government in order to stop this war and bring peace to these children and their families. Our work won't end until the war ends.

Children of Uganda: We see you.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

On The Move...

Two big moves in one year! I feel incredibly blessed and excited to be on this journey. Brian and I are seeking to live our lives in step with the will of God, and that has led us on another adventure. We will be packing up in June and moving an hour and a half east to Lansing to work with the Greater Lansing Church. Brian will be using his gifts in preaching, teaching, and campus ministry at MSU. This church is filled with loving people who have clear vision, direction, and mission. We are more than excited to join the ministry there. God is cool. He has answered many prayers. Keep um coming...these lines on the road...

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Mouse

You have to figure when someone starts a sentence with "now don't freak out, but....", that whatever follows can't be good. I wish I could remember all of the scenarios that played out in my mind when those fated words escaped Brian's mouth on Friday afternoon. Did one of the cats throw up? Did one of the cats pee on the new couches?

No, not so much either of those options or the other 20 possibilities that I thought through in that brief 10 seconds it took Brian to lead me by the hand into our bedroom. Instead, on the floor in front of our bed, there it was...brown, fuzzy, long tail, and very dead. Yes, a mouse. Now in theory, I have always pictured myself pretty calm and mature when it comes to handling such emergencies. However, when I saw that nasty dead mouse I screamed and jumped like a teen-age girl at a N'Sync concert (or a Watershed concert, so I learned Saturday :). I did, indeed, freak out. I don't know that I have ever encountered a dead animal laying on my floor. When I was 12 I found my Hampster, Petri, dead in his cage. I think I freaked out then, too.

Anyway...I promtly ran out of the room after screaming and jumping and squeakily telling Brian to "get it out of the house!". Then I thanked Angus and Ellie for saving us from the creepy mouse (I am pretty sure Angus made the kill), by pouring out a handful of cat treats which they quickly gobbled up. I am sure the hunt that morning was pretty much the most exciting thing that has ever happened in their short cat lives thus far. I spent the next half hour scouring the apartment for a point of entry. I found nothing. Maybe it was just a one-time, freak occurrence....

However, last night as I was lying in bed, almost asleep...I heard something scurry down the wall outside of our bedroom. It was either the outside wall or in between the outside and inside walls. GROSS! The saga continues....

Monday, April 17, 2006


Good One. The Brian. You. So, we're not very creative with nicknames. Anyway, I have been thinking about my husband a lot lately, and remembering how blessed I am every day to have someone who loves me, cares for me, and values me and our relationship and commitment to God. When I think of the man I love so much, I can't help remember our story.

I think we had somewhat of a supernatural beginning. Most people call it fate--maybe that is not a bad word for it, but I call it a God thing.

Brian was at NWOCYC--a camp in Ohio, for only a week. He was interning at a church in New Jersey, but wanted to take a week off to counsel at camp. I was traveling with FOCUS, a Rochester College singing group, and our summer was packed with stops at camps and churches. Our stop at NWOCYC was only a two day stay. A good friend, Jon, happened to be at camp that week, and he met and became quick friends with Brian. He mentioned that we (Focus) were coming to perform and that I, "a really cool girl" was part of that group.

After a fat lip, pink eye, sprained ankle, and a lot of innocent flirting, Brian invited me to chat by the campfire our last evening there. We talked from 10:30-4:30. I left camp at 6:30. Brian says the conversation was really more of an "interview." We went from 0 to 60 in a 6 hour conversation. I knew more about him, his family, his passion for ministry, and his dreams in that short time than I knew about most of my own friends. Four days later, Brian wrote me a letter that he sealed and read to me the day he proposed. In it, he factually stated that he knew he was going to marry me. How he knew, only God knows.

We grew in a long distance relationship for a year while he finished his senior year at OVC and I continued at RC. He moved to Michigan in August of 2000, proposed (officially) in October, and we were married in June 2001.

So about him--Brian.

He is the logical type, and he balances my not so logical personality.

He is funny. Yeah, he make corny jokes, but he makes me laugh.

He has a way of cheering me up when I most need it.

And when he laughs, I mean really laughs, I can't help but want to just grab his face and plant a fat kiss on his smiling lips--he's just so cute!

He has a passion for God and for ministry that drives his personality.

I am comfortable with him--I can be myself with no stings attached. And he is comfortable with me. He trusts me with his frustrations.

He shares his every excitement..I can't count how many times I have received a call from him beginning with...I just called to tell you....

He has taught me how to love--how to really love. Agape. And through our relationship I understand grace--there is nothing he can do to make me love him more; there is nothing he can do to make me love him less. I love him because he is.

We feel like our relationship began in an extraordinarily God kind of way. We value that, and we have made a commitment to each other and to God to continue be about His will in the path our lives take. I am blessed to be on the journey, the adventure, with you, Brian.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

I didn't know what a blog was a year ago...

I am still not sure I know what a blog is. It seems like most people who publish blogs have something profound to say. Maybe someday I will have something profound to say.

But most of my life isn't really that profound. I wake up. Feed the cats. Go to work (which I actually love). Go home. Watch LOST or Survivor. Hang out with Brian (which is never often enough--I hate our opposite schedules). Go to bed. Start over.

But sometimes God surprises me. There are these little daffodils peeking up from the soggy ground in front of our apartment. They are so perfect. And the birds--I love hearing the birds singing when I roll out of bed in the morning. I see fresh life waking from the darkness of winter all around me right now. If this is a fallen creation we live in, I can't even begin to imagine what the Lord has in store for us in eternity.

So, until the profundities begin rolling off my fingers, I hope to keep you all updated on Brian and I, our adventures in this crazy life, whatever random musings I feel like musing about (it is a blog after all :), and maybe even the cats--although when I start updating about the cats it could be a real indication that I have way to much time on my hands. But I will show you a picture...

They are really have to admit :)