I do not wear shoes when I preach.
It started out as a theological statement: that in worship we come into God’s presence, just as Moses did at the burning bush. And in recognizing this space as holy ground, we (like Moses) remove our shoes.
But removing my shoes is not an empty theological gesture that has no consequences. On the contrary! Every week, I remove my shoes and allow my feet to be visible to all who would examine them. (And my feet are not traditionally something I am excited to show off.)
Moses removed his shoes … and then, in his encounter with God, went on to demonstrate both his best and his worst natures. So, too, do I find that God’s call utilizes my best gifts, while challenging me in those areas where I need the most improvement.
In an act that is both freeing … and slightly unsettling … I remove my shoes each week and allow the less-than-polished parts to be visible. Barefootedness is no longer just a theological signpost; it has become a continual reminder and my weekly, intentional consent to allow my vulnerabilities to be apparent, rather than hiding behind a polished facade.
This week, I am thinking of Shoeless Mo (Exodus 3) and I am particularly cognizant of the unusual places in our lives that God is at work. And I am oh-so-thankful at the opportunity to remove my shoes and come into God’s presence.
Yesterday, during our after-worship potluck, the topic turned to babies.
Sparked by something she heard in the conversation, a delightful four-year-old daughter of the church (the same four-year-old who inadvertently but repeatedly calls me “Mister Meg” instead of “Pastor Meg”, much to my enjoyment) announced: “I was born in Kentucky.”
Because I never know what to expect from her, and because I enjoy giving her opportunities to surprise me, I asked her: “Did you like being born in Kentucky?”
She looked at me with a solemn expression and emphatically said, “No! I cried the whole way home.”
I love my job.
An preview of today’s sermon:
They who had seen Jesus call Lazarus forth from the tomb were stunned and amazed and even disbelieving when confronted with the empty tomb and rumors of a risen Lord. But once they knew it to be true, they didn’t ask Jesus for the play-by-play. The text says that Jesus showed them his hands and his side and then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Their response to the risen Christ is joy. But, approximately 2000 years later, what is our response?
Resurrection doesn’t make sense to us. We would like very much to be able to explain it so that it fits somewhere into our rational, logical, scientific worldview. But we can’t explain it; and it doesn’t fit. We still have questions.
I wonder sometimes if our questions give us such discomfort that, instead of living with the unsettling mystery of Easter, we settle for something less. Easter ends up being more about colorful eggs and chocolate bunnies and green-bean casserole. Those are things that make sense.
A portion of my sermon for Maundy Thursday … to get us in the mood for worship tonight:
There are two very church sorts of words that get used an awful lot … and often get used incorrectly. These two words are especially important tonight, on Maundy Thursday.
The first word is liturgy. Liturgy just refers to the words we use in worship: the words we pray, the words printed in your bulletin that we say back and forth (the leader saying something and the congregation saying something), the words we use to tell the story of God.
Telling the story is important. It’s what we do as the people of God. Liturgy comes from a Latin word that means “the work of the people”. It’s what we do; it’s our job or our calling.
When God told Moses to instruct the people on how to do the Passover, God told them that the purpose of the feast was to give them the opportunity to tell the story … to pass it on to those who didn’t know the story.
We tell the story … and we do it through liturgy.
The second churchy sort of word is ritual. Usually when we use the word ritual, we mean the stuff we do at church … and especially the way we do it.
Sometimes we get to thinking that there’s only one right way to take up the offering or to pray the prayer of confession. We talk about these things as rituals. But that’s not really what ritual means.
People of faith engage in rituals ‐ in particular actions ‐ trusting that God will meet them in those actions. A ritual is an action that we do as an offering to God, trusting that God will accept it, and ‐ in some way that we don’t quite understand ‐ God will take our action and make something much more, something truly extraordinary out of it.
The Passover, the Lord’s Supper, the whole of worship … all of these are action we take, offerings of ourselves that we make, trusting that God will accept them and do something with them beyond what we, ourselves, can do.
Ritual isn’t just something that we’re so accustomed to that we take it for granted (which is often how we use the word).
Ritual is not a thoughtless action, but a thoughtful one. It is not something that we take for granted but rather, it is a way of giving of ourselves. It is an act of intimacy.
From a previous Palm Sunday sermon …
The parade that begins on Palm Sunday eventually becomes the parade that leads to Golgotha … but the closer we get to the cross, the smaller the crowd gets.
Palm branches are pretty light; they’re easy to carry and they’re fun to wave around. But when the time comes for that other, heavier burden – will we take up our cross? Or do we have our hands full? Are we too busy holding on to our own power and our own security?
Holy Week is a clash of two kingdoms …and each of us must examine which kingdom – and which king – we serve. It’s not easy to do, because we will most likely find a bit of both Peter and Judas in our hearts. We may discover that we care more about our own power and security than we realized.
In the clash of these two kingdoms – where an innocent man ends up on a cross – we are faced with our own sinfulness. But in this Holy Week “showdown”, we also discover redemption and new life. Long live the king!
The Transfiguration story is, ultimately, a mountaintop story.
And while I hope that all of you have a “mountaintop experience” at some point in your life … I hope we don’t assume that moments of awe, of wonder, of holiness can only happen on mountaintops or only on rare occasions or only when the conditions are right.
In fact, every day we’re surrounded by dozens – hundreds – of things that are worth our wonder …worth our awe.
So why don’t we see them?
Perhaps we’re distracted.
Perhaps we’re jaded.
Perhaps we’re busy.
Perhaps we’re cynical.
Whatever the reason, we seem to have lost touch with our own childish delight, our own adolescent passion.
Perhaps this year, the Lenten season could be about awareness: a deeper awareness of God’s presence with us and a more profound sense of awe at the wonder of our ordinary, everyday moments.
Recent discussions with new parents about baptism have given me a lot of time to reflect on the meaning of baptism, especially the language that the Presbyterian Church (USA) uses to express its theological beliefs about baptism.
Even though the PC (USA) affirms infant baptism while some other denominations do not, that hasn’t been the focus of my conversations of late.
The focus of my most recent conversations has been on baptism as the beginning of a covenant relationship with God, rather than a liturgical or spiritual act that stands alone, apart from the gathered community of disciples of Jesus (the Body of Christ).
Presbyterians believe that baptism marks a covenant between God and the people of God. When pressed to explain the term covenant in a way that is easy to understand but still reflects the depth of its meaning in the Reformed tradition, I usually explain that we can think of a covenant as a promise that begins a relationship.
In a wedding ceremony, two people make some promises (also called vows) and those promises mark the beginning of their life together. In that way, marriage is a good example of a covenant. It is a covenant between two people and God.
Baptism is similar. In baptism the covenant is between God and the person to be baptized and the whole Body of Christ.
The baptized person promises to follow Jesus, the congregation promises to nurture the person in their faith, and (of course) God has already promised God’s faithfulness, love and grace to the person.
When we’re talking infant baptism, of course, we know that an infant can’t make any promises. To me, that’s what’s so precious about infant baptism: before we can promise anything or understand the theology of baptism or even focus our eyes fully, God has already claimed us as God’s own and promised to be faithful to us.
That’s powerful stuff.
That’s not to say that there aren’t promises made in infant baptism. The parents make promises on behalf of the child. They promise to not only teach their child about God and about the life of faith … they also promise to be role models, allowing their child to see their own life of faith and to learn from their actions what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
In that way, these promises mark the beginning of an ongoing relationship.
The congregation (as representatives of the whole Body of Christ) makes promises, too. The congregation promises that they will be the vessels of God’s grace and love to the child, that they will provide instruction so that the child can learn ways of drawing near to the God who has already claimed her or him, and that they will make opportunities (when the time is right) for the child to profess a faith that is their own in response to the God’s grace given in their baptism.
Again: the promises are only the beginning.
Baptism is the way we mark the beginning of an ongoing relationship with God and with each other. (Although, we can never fully mark the actual beginning of our relationship with God, since God is present with us long before we are ever able to recognize it!)
It is the way we celebrate God’s love and care for us and the way we enter into relationships of love and care for one another.
It is the way we commit our lives and our children’s lives into the hands of the One who knows us best and loves us most, recognizing that our life with God is inextricably woven in and through the lives of others.