Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Sermon: Part 2

It's long but I do hope you will listen to it.

I think you can find the video of the sermon here, too. You have to have QuickTime to play it.

And, my transcript:

The Truth of the Three T’s

When Pastor Rusty first approached me about giving a sermon… I thought he’d lost his mind. I’ve since learned that it is relatively common practice to have “lay ministers” in a congregation that can give a sermon- at least, common the United Methodist tradition. I grew up in the Missouri Synod Lutheran tradition. My grandfather was a pastor, we were serious members of our church, my mom was very involved. And you would never, ever have seen anyone behind the pulpit other than our pastor. I have memories of one of the Church Elders sternly walking down the center aisle with a tape recorder carried in front of him. When it was time for the sermon, the Elder would come to the altar, bow, go to the pulpit, hit play, adjust the microphone, and we would all listen to a previously prepared sermon from our church’s pastor. We rarely had a guest pastor and never, ever ever would a “regular person” stand in front of the congregation and preach.

Like many who come to The Promise, my church background and my right now church life are very different. I grew up in a very conservative, stern, “old school” theology. I recently went back to my home church for a reunion of all who had been Confirmed through that congregation. It was fantastic to reconnect with people I’d grown up with- but strange to see how much the building and the people hadn’t changed. Ceremonial robes, serious lighting of altar candles, choir robes and folders, no laughing or smiling until church was done. Still a place of love- just a different kind of expression of that love.

When I finished college and moved from Cincinnati to Indianapolis, I wanted to find a church home. But I wanted to find the “right” place for me- and it was a challenge. I visited several different churches and faiths. But nothing felt like home. I first attended service at The Promise on Good Friday, 2004. I’d met this guy, Daniel Shock (a member here), in a community theatre production and he talked openly about his church and how great it was and how different it was. I was kind of looking for a church home but… also very unsure of what I would find out there. He assured me over and over that I would fit in and find like minded people here. Then he told me he was singing at the Good Friday service and I wanted to support him so I went. I met plenty of nice people and I was greeted warmly (something we are pretty good at, I must say!). I was pregnant for the first time and that was a big push to find a church. It was important to me to raise my children in a church- mostly because I had such fond memories of my own church family as part of my growing up.

My earliest church memory was the relationship I had with our pastor at our church in Lexington, KY. He would ceremoniously exit down the aisle at the end of service and go stand in the doorway to shake hands as people left. No one else would move until the end of the hymn… no else but me, of course! I would always skitter down the aisle behind him and hold his hand while he waited for the hymn to be over. When we moved to Cincinnati, the activities at church became a staple of life- not just something I could count on happening but also something that helped hold me together through difficult times. Vacation Bible School, pot luck dinners, pig roasts, lock ins, youth group. I had a solid foundation in each of these churches- my mom had a family she could turn to when we needed help with groceries or paying a utility; it was our church family that provided before and after school care for me while my single mom was in dental school; it was this church family that gave me a safe haven and, eventually, a place to share my deepest secrets and be loved in return. I knew that a church community- a church family- would be a very important part of my raising my kids.

So I was 10 weeks pregnant and was looking for a place to raise my children in God’s love. I had attended Good Friday service and liked the people, liked the message. Easter Sunday, I was out of town for the holiday.

The Tuesday after Easter, my world shut down when I miscarried our pregnancy. I felt like I was drowning and didn’t know where to turn. The baby had stopped growing at 8 weeks, according to the ultrasound. It was 2 more weeks before we knew what had happened. For weeks, even with friends and family reaching out to us, I was battling myself, beating myself up. What had I done wrong? Was it eating in the smoky restaurant? Was it letting that doctor take an x-ray? How had I not noticed that my baby had stopped living? I prayed- a lot. I wanted… I needed a clear answer to what had happened and why and what I could have done differently. The answer to my prayers wasn’t what I wanted to hear- God kept nudging back to this place. I kept coming- and asked for prayers at a Weds Connexion one week. I received a lot of support from people who didn’t know me- but knew I was a child of God. 2 months after the miscarriage, I was struggling and mourning and questioning and confused so I asked to meet with Pastor Rusty. While I don’t remember everything that he said (sorry, Rusty!), I do remember that he asked what was the hardest thing about the miscarriage. I responded that my husband and I had both come from backgrounds where it really felt like we’d had enough bad stuff happen to last our lifetime. And that finding each other seemed like the start of our happy ending. And that this miscarriage didn’t fit into “happily ever after.”

You can imagine what Pastor Rusty’s response was. We’ve all heard him preach on the subject- life is hard, this is a broken world. It isn’t supposed to be easy! No one is guaranteed a life that is filled with “happily evers!” But sometimes, bad things happen to good people and there isn’t an earthly reason. And that God hurts when we hurt and that God wasn’t doing this to me and that God didn’t turn his back on me when this happened and that this wasn’t some kind of punishment. Miscarriage is something that happens for lots of reasons, for no reason. The important thing was that God was with me. He was by my side, He was holding my hand, He had an arm around my shoulder… He even carried me on the days that I didn’t think I could move. (Maybe I remember more of what he said than I thought!) After we had talked for a while, Pastor Rusty asked to pray with me, for me. I closed my eyes and bowed my head and folded my hands and opened my heart and my ears and my mind.

As Rusty prayed, I felt an enormous weight lift from my shoulders. I felt… peace. Peace that I hadn’t been able to find in the midst of all of my sadness. Soon after, I planted my “faith flag” here at The Promise. And now, 6 years later, I feel that I’ve grown into a place where I actively follow God’s will in my life pretty consistently. Even when it’s hard, uncomfortable, scary. God equipped me to do His work and follow His word. He gave me my brain, my intuition, my feelings, my heart and those things lead me on His path for my life.

How did I get to this place in 6 years? At first, as a new member, I didn’t get very involved. I came to church and I sometimes came to dinner on Wednesday. I didn’t join a Face Out group. I think there was a part of me that was holding back because I hadn’t grown up in the Methodist church so I felt like I was going to do something wrong or that I wasn’t qualified to really get involved or that I needed a special invitation or something. I did little things here and there and eventually started connecting to more people and events and opportunities. One of the things that I did participate in- even though, at the time, it was out of my comfort zone- was back when this building was under construction. One Sunday, after service was over in what is now the Hallmark, the congregation walked over to this building, armed with Sharpies, and we wrote prayers and Bible verses on the cement floor of this sanctuary. I chose part of a Bible verse that has always been an underlying guide to my life and has now become one of the main tenets of my faith. I know that God not only loves us but that He is love defined. For me, these verses from first Corinthians describe who God is. And by knowing who God is, what love is, I can take that and make love actionable. In the sentence “I love you,” love is the verb, right? But what is love as an action? For me, taking this definition, this explanation, of how to love others and writing it on the foundation of our church was my way of cementing my purpose- to put God’s love into action.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7, 13 (New International Version) 4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 13And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Once we moved into this building, I started to get more involved. I was seeking my way to put God’s love in action through my hands and feet. I worked as a Greeter. I worked in the nursery. I started attending a Wednesday Face Out Group. I became a member of the Pastoral Support Team. I felt like I wasn’t really finding my place, my niche. I prayed about it. I was very happy here and loved the people and the message that I carried home each week.

Here’s the thing. God was sending me loud and clear messages about where I needed to be and I was flat out not listening. I’d hear Him- and I’d back away. There was no possible way I could wear a green shirt and stand in front of the church with a microphone in my hand and sing these praise songs that I didn’t know. Yes, music was a huge factor in my joy and praise experience each week. Yes, I love singing and I know it is my talent. But… I have little kids and can’t commit the time. But… I’m not ready to sing in front of people again. But… I’m not qualified because I don’t have the “right” church background. But… I don’t know these songs and I don’t listen to K-LOVE. But, but, but. I had a good long list of reasons to keep ignoring the talent I knew I had and knew God was calling on me to use.

So He went a different route. One Wednesday night about a year ago, one of our members- Ashli Moore- happened to sit in our Face Out Group. In the course of the discussion, I mentioned that I someday, might possibly be kind of interested in maybe joining Music Team. Ashli said something to Pastor Jennifer (our associate pastor), Pastor Jennifer came to me that Sunday… and encouraged me and told me what the schedule was really like and… well, here I am! Almost every Sunday- I stand up here and sing and raise my hands and dance and cry.

1 Corinthians 12:4-11 (New International Version) 4There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. 7Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,[a] and to still another the interpretation of tongues.[b] 11All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

We all have gifts. We all have talents. God has given each of us a purpose and brought us to this place. All of our gifts, coming from the same Spirit, work together to create a church family, a solid foundation in this community. We just have to be willing to step up and take the challenge. Maybe you’ve been hearing a little whisper about how you can get involved… maybe you’re feeling a pull to teach My Church or lead a Face Out group or help with Youth group… and part of you is pushing that away, ignoring it, shaking your head and denying that you could really be in that place… But here is the really cool part. Finding my place has changed my church experience. Truly. In amazing ways. By giving to my church community, my life has changed and become more enriched and blessed. Pastor Rusty often talks about giving your time, talent and treasure.

The 3 T’s.

Time. It is such a precious commodity and one that most of us feel that we don’t have enough of. The days are too short, the weeks fly by, life goes so fast, all the time! With the busy schedule we keep- Jeff and I both work full time, Teagan has soccer, need to run errands, kids are in school, in daycare, family commitments, part time jobs, etc- there simply wasn’t time to give to church outside of showing up on Sunday morning, right? Showing up on Wednesday evening... showing up for Music Team on Thursday evening… coming to special events (like the Mother Daughter dinner or going to an Indians game)… being on a team that meets on an evening from time to time… all of that time that I now give to my church, that I give to God… it’s returned to me tenfold. I’ve developed friendships. I’ve found my church family. I’m connected to people who love me, love my kids, love my family and who are ready, willing and able to help us through any difficulty that comes our way. And I’m fully prepared to love them- you- back the same way. And all because I put in a little bit of time. Time to connect to God, time to connect to the people here, time to connect with myself.

Talent. I sing. It used to be a serious talent- back in the day. I sang in competitions. I was in “exclusive” singing groups at school. I was a featured soloist at church. I sang in community theatre productions and college productions. I stopped singing for a while- having kids and becoming a mother became my priority. But my love of music has always been there. God gives us our talents and He gives them to us so that we can use them to help other people, to reach other people. My love of singing isn’t mine just so I can love music. It’s mine so that I can connect in this special, intimate way during worship; so that I might be able to reach out and connect to someone else. God has given me several other talents that I’ve only recently been discovering and figuring out how He wants me to use them. It can be downright scary to hear God pushing you in a certain direction… to have faith that you can be what He wants you to be. I was asked to consider starting up a children’s choir on Sunday mornings. But… I don’t have experience! But… that will interfere with…. But… but, but, but! That was what God was calling me to do- and after just a couple of months, my life is unduly enriched and blessed because of your children and because I can share with them the joy I get from singing praises.

Treasure. Oh, boy. This is a hard one, isn’t it? I will confess… for the first few years that I attended The Promise… I rarely gave a cent. If I happened to have cash on me that Sunday, I would drop it in the basket. Anonymously, because I didn’t want anyone to know how little I was giving. I didn’t want to be connected to this church community in such a real, “grown up” way. I wanted to enjoy the ministries and the people and the message and the fun. But I didn’t want to really be committed to any of it- responsible for any of it. Once my daughter started attending My Church, I have to admit that I started giving out of guilt. I felt obligated because now we were definitely using church resources. I still wasn’t giving regularly- but if I had a little extra after paying the bills, I would give money to church. Then God sent out that call to get involved with the Music Team and I never knew that listening to that one, scary, uncomfortable call would get me where I am now. I give out of every paycheck- it’s the first check I write. I send in my check through my bank’s online bill pay service. I’ve even managed to find a way to up my giving recently- something I never thought I’d actually do.

Once I connected in to this place and the people here, I realized that the responsibility of the care of this community isn’t on everyone BUT me. It isn’t about I pay this so I get this in return. It isn’t about who gives how much and how often. Once I connected in, my eyes were opened to the beauty and love of what a church family and community has to offer- not just to the individuals and families that attend but also to the community. Giving to God, giving to my church, giving to my community- it’s all part of that love thing. The care of my community is up to ME so I give my money as an act of love.

The truth is that once you start giving of your time, talent, and treasure- it comes back to you tenfold.

I have a church family. I have people in this place that I look forward to seeing, that I love spending time with, that I turn to for advice and support. I have kids around me that I love watching grow up and that I delight in as they learn to praise God out loud with their voices! We all have friends that we are close to, that we love, that love us in return. I hope that God is a part of your friendships; I hope that you include Him in those relationships. I have friends outside of here and I have friends inside these walls and the relationship with a church based, God loving friend is different. I can rely on my friends, I can trust my friends, I love my friends, I would do most anything for my friends. But there is a depth to a God based friendship, a church family connection… there is a peace in knowing that there is this community that prays for you and holds you up and will step up to help you in times of trouble and celebrate with you in times of joy.

I used to come to church and sit alone almost every Sunday. I came by myself. Then I had my daughter, Teagan, and began to understand the hardship of coming to church every Sunday. Then I had my son, Zach, and it became even more complicated. Packing up a church bag with quiet toys and snacks to keep them entertained, dealing with the Mommy-guilt of having my kids in the nursery after I’d been away all day during the work week, getting everyone up and dressed in clean clothes (or clean enough clothes) and out the door and in the car and on our way and hopefully maybe even kinda close to on time… (and don’t even get me started on the days that we barely made it to church only to have a kid bust out into major meltdown in the middle of the sermon… or all the Sunday mornings that I attended church as the Invisible Mommy, locked away in the cry room) It was really hard on some days- it still is! But so worth it. Not only are my kids plugged in to this church family and loved by this church family… I am no longer sitting alone in a green chair every Sunday. Little by little, that has changed- now I have a row full of family here each week. I have people coming to church on a regular basis that I have prayed for over and over and over again. I am being handed opportunities to connect to others in special and unique ways that I never dreamed would be part of my life- blogging, running, healthy eating, honesty about parenting. God has given me the tools and talents to step into places that I never would have chosen for myself. The changes in my life over the past 6 years… since I chose to open myself up to God and to this church, since I chose to stop making excuses that were based on my fear of rejection and my fear of commitment, since I chose to start listening to God and following even the smallest direction that I felt… I now live a life that is filled with joy.

I am happier, more content, more satisfied, more at peace than I have ever been. (stress) I come from a very troubled and chaotic background and to be in this place in my life is, to me, a true miracle. The bottom line, for me, is that God is the purest love and that my purpose in this life is to take that love and make it actionable. In order to fulfill that purpose, I have to be willing to connect, to commit, to give, to be open, to listen, to take action- to leave fear and worry and conflict and internal struggle and self doubt behind. Pastor Rusty has often asked what it would be like if our sins were suddenly thrown up on these giant screens for everyone to see- and to remember that those things don’t matter in the eyes of God because He loves us as we are and as we seek to become what He wants us to be. The mistakes I’ve made, the sins I’ve committed- and there have been a lot of big ones- they don’t define who I am. The choices I make now, the lessons I’ve learned from the past, the actions I take to share God’s love- those are the things that define who I am, what kind of Christian I am.

2 Chronicles 9:8 (New International Version) 8 Praise be to the LORD your God, who has delighted in you…

I am a child of God. He loves me and encourages me and delights in me- as I do Him. I am a child of God.

You are a child of God. I love you to the best of my limited human ability. He loves you as you are, where you are and His arms are open to you however and whenever you need Him- and most especially when you think you don’t need Him. Pray, be open, listen, and step past whatever is holding you back. Hear Him. Take His hand and step forward. It’s His purpose for each of us- He has given us this place (The Promise), each other, and our individual talents, treasures, time. You have the opportunity to live your best, most fulfilling life every single day. It’s your responsibility to be open to what God is calling you to do and to take action. It’s your choice.

I think that’s some mighty good news you can use.

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3 comments:

Mrs4444 said...

Is there any way to listen to just the words, without the music? (I don't want to download Quicktime.)

Leticia said...

Liz, I think you did a great job!

Eternal Lizdom said...

The play box for just the audio is the radio show so there is a music intro. The vido link goes to my church's website to see the video podcast. The radio show is slightly edited for time. So for just the audio, use that little player thingee from DivShare.