Amazing Grace – Sermon, 12/3/17

My guess is that most of us here this morning are familiar with the hymn, “Amazing Grace.”  Even if you are a faithful member of the 8 AM congregation, the hymn, “Amazing Grace” often appears in funerals and even in movies.  There was a movie out about 10 years ago that prominently featured that hymn.  The movie, also called “Amazing Grace,” told the story of William Wilberforce whose views on slavery were changed radically through his experience with the hymn, “Amazing Grace.”  Through the hymn, William Wilberforce received the grace necessary to see the truth of slavery and how awful it was.

Advent Police – Sermon, 12/10/17

Some of my priest colleagues are known as the “Advent Police.”  They want to see Advent as a season completely separate from Christmas.  There shouldn’t even be hints of Christmas peeking into Advent.  Part of me hopes that those “Advent Police” don’t show up here at Saint James.  For the “Advent Police,” Christmas decorations, including trees, wreaths, and especially the manger scene, should only magically appear before midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. 
I have to admit that I bordered on being an “Advent Police” person before my first Advent as your priest-in-charge.  There can be something truly beautiful and almost magical about the sudden change in church decorations between the Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve.  In some churches, the process of making the church look Christmas-y has its own name: the greening of the church.  Here at Saint James, though, there is a gradual change, a progression of changes in church decorations.  Our church is gradually “greened.” 
One week sees the banners hung.  One week sees the tree up.  One week sees the bows on the pews.  Finally, just in time for Christmas Eve, the tree is decorated, and the Christ Child is moved from Kerri’s mailbox and gently placed in the manger. 
So how did I change my tune?  How did I stop being an “Advent Police” person?  Well, part of it was because I dare not mess with long-standing traditions.  Who knows who began the gradual greening of the church, but I am not about it change it now.  In addition to not wanting to mess with tradition, I came to see some theological sense in gradually greening the church.

Left and Right – Sermon, 11/26/17

Even as a kid, I struggled with the whole right-and-left concept.  I was never allowed to be the navigator on road trips because I was forever mixing up right and left.  “Now, Kristen,” my father would ask, “do you mean left or your other left?”  Thank God for GPS!
Then, to make things even more challenging, I joined the East Brunswick High School Marching Band.  When marching, you really need to know your right from your left.  You have to keep track: left foot, right foot.  Then, you need to follow directions barked at you by the drum major: detail left harch, et cetera. 
I had just about figured out my left and right when I became one of the drum majors during my senior year.  I was the one who would stand before the band, face to face, waving my arms in time with the music.  I was very good at waving my arms, but giving marching directions was impossible.  Facing the band, my left was their right and my right was their left.  And my brain was a mess.

Night and Day – Sermon, 11/19/17

I never quite understood why, but when I was 14 years old, my parents gave me permission to fly to Montana with Aldersgate United Methodist Church to work for two weeks with the Blackfoot Indian Nation.  Now, my parents were generally fairly protective of me.  For example, they were quite strict about the whole PG-13 thing, stating quite firmly that PG-13 movies were off-limits until I was 13.  Even then, I still needed their permission on a case-by-case basis to see PG-13 movies.
So, the thought of being given permission to fly to Montana, with seemingly-limited adult supervision, for two weeks was surprising to say the least.  There were certainly adults involved who provided supervision, but wasn’t traveling to the middle of the country somewhat more threatening than going to see a PG-13 movie?  Yes, yes, yes, I was traveling with a church, so that probably gave me a better chance of being allowed to go, but it was still surprising.

Tricky Tray Final Report from Mary Testori – Priestly Pondering, 11/12/17

The Hands of Hope Tricky Tray Fundraiser held on 10/28/17 was a great success! There were about 100 folks in attendance hoping to win 128 donated gifts, plus several donated door prizes as well. Attendees enjoyed desserts donated mostly by Costco, danced to music, and genuinely seemed to enjoy themselves. After expenses HOH netted about $4471.00. There’s a recurring word here: donated.  Without donations of gifts, money, time, it would not have been successful. Thank you to the committee members that worked as a team from day one, and everyone that donated items for the tricky tray. 

Source: Ponderings…

Past and Future – Sermon, 11/12/17

I promise I didn’t plan it this way.  Today, I have been tasked with offering my thoughts about stewardship.  I didn’t get to choose the readings.  That is a monumental task undertaken by the Revised Common Lectionary crew – a random group of people who actually pay attention to the readings offered throughout the church year.  I definitely lucked out, though.  Today’s first reading and psalm were practically handpicked for this year’s stewardship campaign slogan: proud of our heritage and eager to embrace our future. 
Let’s look first at the first reading from Joshua.  For weeks and weeks, we have been journeying with the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt to liberation in a new place.  This week, the nation of Israel has finally arrived in its homeland.  Their precious leader, Moses, has died before reaching the Promised Land, but Moses named Joshua as his successor. 
Maybe Joshua was facing a community in chaos, a group of people anxious about their future.  Yes, they were back in their homeland but that was no guarantee of future success.  For all they knew, God was going to take a back seat in caring for the people, especially because the people had not exactly been faithful to God throughout their journey through the desert.