Building the #Nativity: (#christmas) Mary & Joseph

There are very few pictures of Mary and Joseph that are not Joseph pulling Mary on the Donkey for Bethlehem.

donkey

We aren’t there yet, though.

Besides, they aren’t Even LOOKING at each other!

But I can tell that Mary and Joseph aren’t really pictured before Jesus. Even though, they had some kind of relationship as they were engaged. Let’s face it, Mary and Joseph probably were from the same small town and knew each other really well, no matter how well they knew each other.

MaryJoseph.jpg

So this week we filled in the first characters by telling of when Gaberial tells Mary and then Joseph about Jesus coming. Its interesting because as the artwork shows, we clearly do not picture them together.

There are two distinctly similar portions to these accounts. The first of which were that Mary and Joseph were the afraid.

Can you imagine how they each felt seeing an angel? How worried they were about this unknown, and surprising child? Jesus Christ is probably the most surprising child ever!!

No wonder they were afraid.

Today is also the Hope week of Advent. You know what hope is? ITs saying yes when you don’t know what will happen.

That’s Mary and Joseph.

That’s parenthood too, when you have a child you don’t really know what is going to happen.

My mom remembers women who swore they would come back to work after having a baby, and then realize they couldn’t stay home. Then she knew others who were trying to stay home who were going crazy and needed to go back to work. This taught her that parenthood is one of those things you have ideas about, but you don’t really know until you get there.

And even if you have a partner in parenting, that person wouldn’t necessarily parent the same way. In fact sometimes what works for one parent doesn’t work for the other.

In a way we are all Mary and Joseph, trying to figure out how to relate to Christ. Each of us working to get to know him in our own way.

Faith is a bit by parenting. You have ideas about how it should work, but you don’t really know what practices and theories work for you until you put it into practice. Active, Contemplative, Environmental, Introspective there are many ways to practice faith.

I think of how afraid Mary is that Joseph is going to leave her, and Joseph so afraid about the leaving he thinks they must do. Each of them being afraid, and lonely in that fear.

Church is unique too, because just like a family, even though our practices are different other people’s faith practices can inform our own. Even if those particular practices are never our cup of tea, we can still strengthen one another by sharing about our faith.

Family is that way too!

Last year I talked about how we are the family in the waiting room, waiting for Christ and becoming family. We are becoming family through church.

When Joseph hears that he should keep the baby & Mary, that’s the moment they start to become Family. Before Christ even arrives.

As we build the nativity, we might each be drawn to different characters, but look at the variety of family, friends and strangers that come to see Jesus. This is because God invites each and every one of us to become a part of the family.

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Heck, Jesus wasn’t really the son of Joseph, but the practice of inviting others to be a part of the family start with Joseph, continues with the Nativity,then the Jews, then eventually we are all adopted as brothers and sisters in Christ.

I think of when Joseph is no longer alone in his fears, of the moment when he tells Mary what he was hoping and worrying about Jesus, and Mary shares back. This is the moment they become family, before Jesus is even born.

(Here is our version of the family, we made with the kids as Our First Building the Nativity Ornaments)

This is what I think happened then, even tho there is no such art of Mary and Joseph

We do not have to be a certain ethnicity or worship a certain way or even read the Bible in a certain language. That’s because the Good News of Jesus Christ is translatable. Christianity can fit into any culture (when we do it right).

We are all invited to come and join the nativity, so join us as we build the nativity this Advent season

 

 

 

#Ruth #rejected SermonTitles Let’s talk about #hell (practical applications)

My very savvy 7 year old asked me today what Hell was.

Can I just say that a. I’m glad he asked me b. I’m glad he didn’t have a concept yet

Because, I’m a Pastor and I’m always a little afraid of what is seeping into my child’s brain theologically

I have no doubt this query was prompted by The Corpse Bride.

Halloween is great, and I mean it. Its a way to conceptionalize and deal with fears of death and Hell.

Deep Theology going on.

I have a working concept of Hell.

Its like a hypothesis–in theory this concept has withstood my theological understanding and it works for me to understand life, the universe and everything

Its like a practical application concept. (By the way that’s what theology is…its a working concept of how you apply your faith/beliefs)

The Bible is mostly unclear about what Hell is. When mentioned in the Bible it often carries with it whatever the local culture thinks is the underworld.

My working concept of Hell is that it is that deepest darkest place in existence that has no love.

Not a shred.

Because to me, that is the most horrific concept ever….

And though God promises to be with us, no matter where we are–When we descend to Sheol, God promises to be with us, this does not mean we are able to feel God’s presence/love while we are there. (Romans 8)

When Jesus Christ goes to Hell, when he cries out “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken Me” I believe that Jesus Christ experiences the lonely heart-wrenching existence of no love.

No God.

The hows and the whys of Jesus Christ not being with God and Love when His very self is God and Love escape me, but the definition works for me. Because we all have times in our lives when we feel unloved.

When we feel alone, unloved, unlovely and unable to love.

““Is this Naomi?” She said to them, “Call me no longer Naomi, call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty; why call me Naomi when the Lord has dealt harshly with me, and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” ” Ruth 1:19-21

Naomi feels this, she says, call me Mara, bitter. I exist in a place with no love.

Even if we aren’t actually alone or unloved.

These places and times are Hell for us. A visit into what happens when God is completely ignored and unaccepted in our lives.

On the other hand, it means that those who love, have seen the face of God.

Those who love experience joy and pleasure and beauty and understanding.

In this way, I believe that whether Hell is a physical place or not, it exists.

(For me it was Jr. High, when I hadn’t really any friends was horribly socially awkward, and for a while a group of bullies told me to shut up every time I spoke or laughed)

Have you experienced Hell?

It makes sense then the contrast of Hell is Heaven, a place of love, a place of family, a place of hope.

How many times have poets compared love to Heaven?

Love exists too, and if we are bringing the Kingdom of God to Earth, then we will be like Ruth. Following Naomi, loving her even when she can’t accept that love.

There are times in our lives when we are loved, and we can’t feel it. The entire stage of teenage-hood comes to mind. Where we are loved, but we feel like no one cares.

The important thing about love, though, is that its different from “fixing someone.” Because fixing someone isn’t permanent, but love can go on and on.

Those of us who are married know that no one is perfect, and we can’t fix them forever, that doesn’t actually happen, but we can still love them. I would argue that loving someone is the opposite of fixing them. Its going where they go, experiencing what they experience, and keeping with them.

Too often at church we forget and try to fix people. Often we can’t fix someone, or the fix is temporary or we don’t know how to fix them. We can however, love them. We can experience life with them and build the family of God. We can make sure no one gets left behind, or forgotten, and call one another brother and sister.

That’s why we do this church thing, so we can be together in Christ.

Mark 3:33-35
And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’

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Thanks to Chuck Goodman for the Ohana Lilo and Stitch reference

The Waiting Room: #adoption #narrativelectionary #joseph #christmas

Jesus is adopted

http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2259 here is a good resource to start thinking things and another one http://revgalblogpals.org/2014/12/16/narrative-lectionary-dreams-and-adoption-rooted-in-faith/ …but Jesus is adopted by Joseph

as scripture describes here

This fact is so, so important in understand who Jesus is…..He’s family…http://theinmanclan.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/the-painting-004.jpg

NPR recently played Jillian Lauren’s tale of adoption

(Full 12min story here)

She flew to Africa to find her child, and was terrified, because a friend of hers had just come back from a Russian adoption empty-handed.

She had been warned that some of the people in her group were “super-Christian” so she decided to cover her tattoo, avoid talking about homosexuality (because even if they were nice, they probably actually hated them) and stop cursing.
She makes the long flight over and goes to the orphanage, where amongst beautiful babies, she and her husband are the last ones called over, and finally, finally they get to meet Tariku, for the first time and plays with him all day..and then has to put him back (at which point she wants to run away with him in her arms) until the next day. She describes the promise ceremony, where they meet the mother, who is still a young teenager, and formally hand over the care of the baby. The mother said, that Tariku’s name meant, his story because he already had such a story to tell.

This put me in mind of Jesus Christ’s story…of how he is and was the word of God how he had a story before he was born and that part of adopting Jesus is adoption of the word of God adoption of that whole story of creation….

Back to Jillian and her husband…they get to the embassy for the paperwork, and they get through the line, and the clerk tells them that they cannot adopt Tariku, because they can only adopt up to 4months…Jillian and her husband explain that it is a typo and should say 4yrs, so he goes in the back….

and they wait, and they wait, they wait hrs and there is no word, they don’t know where he’s gone or what he is doing, so by now they are asking frantically for help.

They reach a social worker who listens and also disappears in the back…

Meanwhile, of course, all the other parents received their paperwork fine, they have their cute diaper bags and their children and are ready to rest up for the long flight home tomorrow…

but they wait with the couple who is trying to figure out how to get Tariku …Tariku’s new parents wait, and all the other families wait with them…and their kids all play on the dirty floor together, they all wait beside this almost family….and finally, finally the official comes back and says everything is cleared up…and he-didn’t-know-why-they-were-so-worried-anyway….

Jillian explains how this experience formed a new family for her, for while they were awaiting to adopt Tariku, the people there adopted them…….and they became family, one that meets up regularly and keeps in contact…

Joseph adopted Jesus…just as Mary became mother, Joseph waited for him, and became his father…in fact all the people who were there…all those who had been waiting: the shepherds, the wise men, Mary & Joseph, all of them became a family…

Isn’t this what we practice every year? Aren’t we awaiting a Christ who will be adopted by us, and within that waiting, those-who-are-waiting become a family….and it doesn’t matter how different we truly are, because we have Christ in common. We wait, and we celebrate with one another and we mourn with one another and we do the hard waiting with one another….We wait for Christ at Christmas, because we are practicing, awaiting Christ’s return!

“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba!* Father!’ 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness* with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” Romans 8:16-17

We adopt Christ, Christ adopts us

and somehow, through the love of Christ, we end up adopting each other….

That is what we do every Christmas…that is what the church is….a waiting room for Christ….one where we learn how to love each other as family….

Maybe that’s why every time I walk into a church, I feel like I am home

Painting from http://theinmanclan.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/the-painting-004.jpg

Family Church

I went to General Assembly in 2012 as an observer…which meant, literally that I was there with absolutely no ulterior motives, I just wanted to see how things worked. My husband, my three children and my mother came with me. Luckily, my husband had friends in Pittsburgh, where it was, so he was interested in seeing them. Luckily, my mom is a Presbyterian Pastor so she was interested. Luckily my youngest was an infant so he could easily tag along with me. Luckily, I could go.

But it was a hassle, and there I was a young pastor burning with the call to do things–and I couldn’t find the young/contemporary people.

And, I want young people to go to church–maybe, perhaps, even more than my elders do. I want young people to come not just because they are the “future of the church” not because “we need them” or even “the church is dying” but because I am young, and I feel alone. I want my peers to be into what I’m into, I want friends and partners who understand what it is to be fulltime working, raising children, on all the media and a millennial…it hurts, it hurts because its tempting to take the weight of an entire generations’ conversion on my shoulders (which is stupid because I don’t convert people, Jesus does, but I’m only human, so I slip), one night I cried all over my best friend’s shoulder because it just felt so overwhelmed and sad and alone

There are a few gaps that I see that I think that are obvious to me that do not seem to be a part of the conversation in the greater church.

Churches are NOT family accessible:

I could write the laundry list of why, but lets just say…most timing is very inconvenient and children are NOT included in most of church life…they are either tucked away somewhere else or ignored.

and there is never any babysitting…there certainly wasn’t any at GA….and then they wonder why young families aren’t coming.

This is all to say that I am going to the NextChurch conference next week, and no I am not bringing my children, but there is BABYSITTING. This alone makes me know that nextchurch is on the right track.

“We WILL have childcare available for the National NEXT Gathering. Childcare will run from 8:30a-5:30p on Monday and Tuesday and 8:30a-12:30p on Wednesday. Childcare will be located at the Hilton, the conference hotel. We’re outfitting a playroom there. It will be staffed by fully vetted childcare providers through the service College Nannies. The fee for childcare is $75 per child for the whole conference. Please bring a check made out to Village Presbyterian Church, earmarked “NEXT Childcare.” If this cost is prohibitive, please be in touch with Jessica Tate (nextchurch2014@gmail.com) to discuss options.”

Children! Yay!

It is a gift to love children.

I know this, because as a child, I never wanted to forget what it was to have an adult who talked to you like real human being…there were these grown-ups who “got it” and I read books by authors who seemed to still get it. L. Frank Baum, C. S. Lewis, J. M. Barrie, Raold Dahl, Maurice Sendek, Dr. Suess and a million others.

My husband tells me that I treat everyone like children.

I prefer to think of it as “I treat everyone the same” (including myself…I think that means I still consider myself a child)–Besides we are all children of God, right 😉

I have been gifted with continuous exposure to children, my youngest sibling is 10yrs younger than me, and I have two more! Let’s just say I’ve gone to Disney movies most of my life (either by acculturation or pure survival I still love them!). This means she was only 11 when I graduated college (yep. I was so totally in the know about Blue Clues, Pokemon and what KIDS actually thought about Harry Potter). During College, I worked at Headstart, reading to children. Why? do you ask? Because these children are usually a. not read to at home b. don’t have role models who went to college c. need adults who are around just to talk/listen to them without extra demands. Also, Headstart is underfunded and can always use an extra pair of hands. So, I was around preschoolers 2-3 times a week!
I also dabbled in summer jobs that included a Montessori School, fulltime babysitting and being the children’s director (read: all the Munchkins) of Wizard of Oz

Then I worked at Bethany Presbyterian while I was in seminary where I was the Christan Ed. Director for over 50 kids, with an amazing full out PTA and volunteer staff of Sunday School Teachers.

Then, I also had 2 children at seminary (because, hey, I hate being bored) and babysat part time.

Literally, I have NEVER had a TIME WITHOUT CHILDREN in my life.

So, yes I don’t remember EVERYTHING of being a child, but I didn’t forget everything either 🙂

You know what I’ve learned? You forget! There are lots of adults my age–I’m only 30–who don’t have a clue as to what to do with kids–either they have never been around them, or they’ve completely forgotten.

And, some people are able to rediscover it with parenting or by connecting with a child in their lives 🙂

To love children, to stay engaged with them, to truly value who they are (not just who they have potential to be) is a gift. I’m so lucky to have that gift.

This is why I think that families should be included (w)holistically in church, that real space and time should be given to children to be a part of everything that is going on, and their contributions should be valued…This is why I didn’t become a Christian Educator, because I think Children Should be INCLUDED in church, not just a special category of ministry (altho they are that too) I want to be in the “main church” fighting for and with them!

after all, their contributions have always been a meaningful part of MY life!!!

The Token Young Family

“It’s exhausting being the young family in a church” This sentiment was shared to me by one of our “young families” about what another “young family” told them.

Its exhausting. Of course, I speak from the “young family” and “pastor’s family” congruently, but I know what they mean.

1) Getting the schedule

I’m not sure if it was just very different for families back in the day when our older members were young, or if they’ve forgotten just how crazy it is, but there is some kind of generational divide between what people think young families’ schedules are like and, well, reality. Events that seem easy are actually not. Babysitting is not considered (nor the lead time needed to get a babysitter) and the whole, I have to work for a living is similarly forgotten (which is ironic since I work for the church so hanging out is part of my work but sermons and paperwork need to get done too..I can only imagine how this increases for regular families)

2) Responsibilities

Most things these days require some level of participation that is beyond us: school, clubs, jobs, job-related socialization. Church responsibilities are the same, churches try to toe the line between keeping families involved and yet not being overdemanding, but honestly, most events are more fun if there are children there, except for the ones that children need to stay home for. The truth is, juggling kids at events is tricky, I’d prefer if every event was welcoming and helpful for kids to be present at.

3) Regular attendance

For most families attending once or twice a month is the very best they can do…they are just too busy, and making them feel guilty is not helpful.

Of course the easy solution to this is to no longer be the only “Young Family” at a church, but its hard to figure it out….I toy with ideas of starting a TEDtalks Bible study or doing more Family Oriented programming (Kids Clubs, Parents Night Out, Exploratory Music Classes), but timing is tricky. And I want church to be FUN. In the meantime, the hope is that there are advantages of being the “young family too” such as a. the kids getting more attention b. the church can listen better to your needs c. the church starts to be a better and better place for young families to hang out at…..

4) Welcoming

Being desperate is not the same as being welcoming. Church’s “need” young people to keep going, so they look at young families as their literal salvation (oops) and get very needy very quickly. Prime examples: Expecting young families to have their teenager to help with technology, expecting young parents to teach the Sunday School, Expecting young families believe the exact same things that the church grandparents believe are a few examples.

i.e. The Church should be more than a vampire looking for Fresh Blood!

Being welcoming is accepting the natural gifts of the family and asking them where they want to help out. Being welcoming is allowing for give and take….ask what the family needs from the church, not just vice versa…

What would help you to feel more relaxed and less stressed about families and church?

“If I sin, I pr…

“If I sin, I pray that my sin is to be too welcoming, and to have the door too wide open. Never do I want to stand before God and defend why I didn’t let someone into my community, family, church, faith or life because I kept the opening too narrow. I would rather explain why I let everyone in rather than defend why I kept one person out.”

-Rev. Katy Stenta

To me Church is…

 

To me Church is like a Wedding, a Memorial and a Grand Opening, it’s like a party,

like a neighbor welcoming you in for cookies (fresh baked) and like a playground for children. It should feel like a space that can be sacred and quiet and joyful noise-y.

Church should feel like there is no “right” way to behave, just respect, love and mutual upbuilding. It should feel like a place to ask questions, to stumble and fall (figuratively and literally). It should feel active, alive and full of stories. It should feel imperfect and incomplete (because we all are), it should be rich in tradition yet lacking in all stuffiness. To me church’s should feel more like AA, College Ministries and

Children’s Museums. It should feel like birthdays and Christmases, Yoga and Meditation, Gardens and Sunsets. It should be full of music and laughter, whispers and wahoos, hugs and kisses. Every single door of the church should be wide open, it should be advertised on craigslist and facebook, there should be huge signs welcoming everyone thru the door, and it should be as easy for crawling babies to find a comfortable spot as those in wheelchairs or who have to pace constantly.

It should be a place to find surrogate grandparents, helpful aunts and uncles and annoying brothers and sisters….It should be a place where interruptions are welcome, surprises are a good thing and change is associated with growth! Church should be Home; at least that’s what it is for me.

Why do people actually go to church?* (or …its like a family)

Whenever I talk to people about why they like going to church…the reasons I usually get come down to two reasons. (*Katy’s poll is totally anecdotal)

What Church People are actually saying

1. Its a like a family/the relationships, etc.

2. for the kids (although that tends to be a baby boomer reason)

Seldom to I hear (What church people aren’t saying enough of)

1. We are actually helping people 

2. The prayer is amazing

3. I feel connected to God

4. Worship is so meaningful

5. We are actively welcoming of all people…..

Pastor Fail? Denominational Fail? Gospel Fail? Church fail? Institutional Fail?

Where is the disconnect… (PS families are great, but to me there is more to it)