Month: January 2016

Getting it Right , Eventually


I have always envied the people who seemed  to “get it right” the first time, whatever it was.

I always wished I could be one of those people.

I remember learning multiplication in third grade. Everyone seemed to get their multiplication tables faster than I. God knows kids got the hang of driving a car faster than I. Oh, and being able to sing, and learn how to tap a Time Step, and how to type, play Chopin, and learn Hebrew (Lord in your Mercy, that was hard), and figure out how to Relevé en point, and write a good paper, and run, and work a sewing machine (gave up on that one)  and read (and understand) Karl Barth, and the list goes on…..

I assumed, as I looked over the proverbial fence, that everyone was catching on faster than I. I assumed that because I had to work at it, revise it, redo it, and struggle with it, that I wasn’t good at it.. and therefore that I was less than.

I also assumed that it was a race to catch on – that somehow the kids that caught on before I did were smarter than I, and that I was smarter than the one or two kids that were still figuring it out after me.  This of course, is untrue.

I have never been a person who has gotten it right the first time, and I think in truth none of us are. We live in a world that values the finished product: the winner of the violin contest, the art on display in the museum, the performance on stage, the published book.  What we don’t see, nor can we fully appreciate, are the hours of practice, discipline, drafts, and retakes it requires to get it right.  Furthermore, is it ever really right?     There is always one more word choice, one more touch up.

If it is true art, even finished products are never finished.

My oldest daughter is about to start high school, and let’s just say I’m an emotional basket case over this.  A. I’m too young to have a high school student. B. That went WAY too fast. C. High School is when everything starts “counting.”  D. What if she doesn’t get it right? E. What if we don’t get it right?   Slow down there, sister. High school is but a heartbeat in the scheme of life.

Here is the thing: life is not about getting it right the first, fifth, or 100th time. Life is about the practice of living. It is the exploration of the self.  There is no right. There is only the practice of living.

What we practice at, whether it be the practice of being a good parent, a good friend, a good leader, a good student, a good athlete, a good citizen, these are things that shape our lives and make us who we are, but we never get them right.  We just keep at them, shaping them revising, breaking them down and starting over, working at them until we…. well that’s it isn’t it?   There is no end to the practice of life, until there is no life.

Our vision of what it means to achieve, excel, or accomplish is far too short-sighted.  We need to take the longer view and change our expectations of ourselves and others.  Everyone is working on and practicing living life.  What if we acknowledged that in each other?  What if we valued the work in progress, instead of the final product?

What if we could see that each of us are ultimately a living piece of art?








ORDINATION: Sermon on John 1:1-18

Ordination: The act of conferring Holy Orders on someone.

Today we are going to experience an ordination ceremony. There is nothing I hold in higher respect or reverence than my ordination vows.  They serve as ideals, the best of what we are called to be and honored to uphold.

Ordination is one unique ritual that separates us from other non-profit organizations. We don’t ordain people to the library board, we appoint them.  When we ordain individuals, we  acknowledge that they are called to a ministry and we ask them to respond to that calling.

The other day I was speaking to a certain 9 year old, who I happen to live with, and he said, “You know those people who hold the bread and the cup on Sunday? How do you get that job?  I want to be one of those people someday.”

Who are those people who hold the bread and cup on the Sunday mornings and why do they hold them?

Ordination generally is the rite, or the sacrament in Roman Catholicism, that confers status and authority to clergy.

In our tradition, the same ordination is conferred on clergy and laity, ordination to service in the church. Here are some Presbyterian values in regards to ordination.

Number One –There are two types of elders in the Presbyterian Church. – Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders. Ruling elders are the lay people that are elected by the congregation to equip the church in the mission of the world, comfort and care for sick and oversee all of the spiritual, educational and practical activities of the church. Teaching Elders preach the Word and moderate session.

The word Deacon means to serve. The ministry of deacon means  “to have compassion, witness and service to the poor, hungry, sick, lost, friendless, and oppressed. It is the duty of deacons to minister to those who are in need, to the sick and friendless and anyone one who is distress.”

Woe to the Presbyterian minister who thinks he or she has a lot of authority and is in charge of the church, not to mention the lives of the church members.  The very nature of our sanctuary and the way we worship instills this value of equality and approachability. There is no alter set apart that only a few can enter.

Moreover, we don’t have an altar. We have a Table. A place for gathering and communion not sacrifice and burnt offerings.

Rather this space, this sanctuary is both reverential and approachable. It’s set apart for worship, prayer, contemplation, praise. Ordination is like a sanctuary – it’s a role that is set apart. Once you are ordained, you are always ordained. Your ordination doesn’t end when your term ends –Because your calling never ends.

Second, calling in the Presbyterian Church is always Trinitarian. It’s a three legged stool. The person feels the tug, the calling by God. The congregation or the community of faith affirms that call, they see that calling in the person and in the case of the pastor, the Presbytery affirms that call. For the church officer, it is the person, the nominating committee and the congregation who affirm that call.

When I was discerning whether or not I should go to seminary and be a pastor, I ignored that calling like the plague. There was no way I was called to do this. I pushed it, fought it, ignored it. Until I accepted it, embraced it and surrendered to it. I then called my home church and left a message on my pastor’s answering machine in his office, just thinking he might want to know that I was going to go to seminary. He called me back and left a message saying, he had been waiting for this call from me for a long time. I thought, “well that would have been nice to know!”

Sometimes, more often than not, people see our gifts, our calling in us often before we do. Vocation always happens in community. It is always people seeing our gifts, celebrating them and inviting us to use them, not for our own benefit, but as response to what we have been given.

The third element about callings is that it’s always mystery. “The place God calls you,” Frederick Buechner once said, “is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Or St. Augustine, centuries before: “Love God, and do what you will.”

I say it’s mysterious because our calls – our vocation come from God. It is not always practical or easily define, but it nags at you, pulls at you, beckons you to get up and move. It’s as mysterious as the incarnation. John says, “the Word was with God and the word was God, he was in the beginning with God.” – What? I don’t understand. God incarnate. God with us. Is a mystery we cannot prove – we can only trust.

Kathleen Norris, describes the incarnation as the presence God made flesh as place or time that seems touched by God, (and there is a)  overshadowing, a sudden eclipsing of our  priorities and plans.  Even in those terrible circumstances and calamities, in matters of life, and death,  there is sense that we are in the shadow of God, and we feel light, so much light that our  vision improves dramatically. We know that holiness is near. It reveals that ordinary circumstances of our life are full of mystery.

I want to say something now to anyone who is high school or college – getting ready to get back into it and tackle another semester. I know you feel a lot of pressure to claim that major, figure out what you are going to do with your life, and make sure its practical and profitable. I would encourage you to not listen to the voices that pressure you to make a decision.  I would encourage you to listen to the voice that made you into a person. Instead of figuring out what you are going to do, figure out who you are going to be.

And these leads to the fourth thing about callings. We all have one.  All of us have God in us and therefore has a calling to bring light into the world.

God calls everyone, not just clergy; everyone has a vocation. That comes as a surprise to many people. Vocation is not what you do to pay the bills, its how you live. It’s how you live in relationship with you spouse, your family, your congregation, your world. It isn’t what you hope to do one day, its how you live every day.

Vocation is bigger than job or occupation or career. Vocation refers to the centering commitment and vision that shapes what our lives are really about.

Oswald Chambers writes about the bewildering call of God. He writes:

This bewildering call of God comes into our lives as well. The call of God can never be understood absolutely or explained externally; it is a call that can only be perceived and understood internally by our true inner-nature. The call of God is like the call of the sea— no one hears it except the person who has the nature of the sea in him. What God calls us to cannot be definitely stated, because His call is simply to be His friend to accomplish His own purposes. Our real test is in truly believing that God knows what He desires. The things that happen do not happen by chance— they happen entirely by the decree of God. God is sovereignly working out His own purposes.

So this morning we will ask ordination questions to our church officers and many of you are ordained elders or deacons, or ministers. You have taken these vows not to serve for three years on a committee and do the work of the church. Not to wrestle with the budget, the building, the pastoral care, the daily work of the church – Although someone of you are called to that particular work right now. But the ordination vows don’t ask you what you will do. The ordination vows ask you who you will be. These vows don’t end with your three year term they are questions that ask if this is how you are willing to live. Here are just three of the eight.

Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledge him Lord of all and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

The key word there is trust. Do you trust Jesus Christ as your Savior. Is Jesus in charge of your life or is something else. Can you put your whole trust in Jesus?

Do you promise to further the peace, unity, and purity of the church?

This small sentence says a lot. Do you promise to further peace, further unity and further purity in the church?  Don’t leave it where it is, but further it. Make it more peaceful, more unified and more pure.  This means we disagree without being disagreeable. It means we stand together even if we there is conflict. It means we bring out the best in ourselves and others.

As one elder put it at our meeting last week as he was leaving his term on session, he advised the new team to “treat everyone with grace and we remember that every person has the best intentions for the common good.”

Will you seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?

This is one of my favorite vows.   The phrase seek to serve – to seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination and love. It means try new things, do new things, don’t pull out the same programs as you did last year and expect different results, get some juicy imagination going, use your brain, get energized and love, love, love the people. The vow is full of the Holy Spirit.

Mary Oliver asks the question,

“Tell me, what is it that you plan to do with your own wild and precious life?”

This morning as we ordain these individuals, we are doing so much more than on boarding our next class of volunteers to do the work of the church. We are affirming that God calls men and women into service for the purpose of bringing light into a dark world.

Thanks be to God. Amen.



Oswald Chambers. 1935. My Utmost for His Highest.

Kathleen Norris. 1999.  Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith.