Monday, October 6, 2014

Pastor Doug's Sermon from 10/5/14

Philippians 3:4b-14
So how is your resume?   That’s right, your resume.  If you had to find a job tomorrow how would you do? What would your resume say about you?  What information about your life would you highlight?  What stuff of your life would you omit?
So, here we go…

I just happen to have brought with me today, some tips on how to build your resume. 

How to:

And on and on and on…
Now don’t get me wrong.  Resumes have their place.  And when push comes to shove, they may in fact even be necessary.  Except when it comes to the church.

“If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more” says Paul: 
“Circumcised on the eighth day…

            A member of the tribe of Benjamin…

                      A Hebrew born of Hebrews…

                                    As to the Law – A Pharisee

                                                As to zeal – a persecutor of the church;

                                                            As to righteousness under the law – blameless”

There you have it!

If that’s not a church resume for success, I don’t know what is.  
A member of the tribe of Benjamin?  I mean if you’re going to be a member of any of the 12 tribes of Israel, that’s a prime one.

Even the name “Benjamin” in Hebrew means “son of the right hand”. (which, by the way, is the seat of honor that 2 of Jesus’ success-addicted followers, James and John, tried to climb and claw their way too).

Israel’s very first king came from the Tribe of Benjamin.  I mean can you imagine the bragging rights if you could say that George Washington was part of your family tree?

A Hebrew born of Hebrews?  Talk about pure ethnic stock.  There’s nobody more Hebrew than Paul.

            This guy’s got the brand name that’s going to sell tickets.

                        He is definitely Rock Star material in his church.

He’s like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Billy Graham all rolled into one.
A zealous and righteous Pharisee?  You want that guy who’s going to work 18 to 20 hours a day to make your bottom-line skyrocket?  Paul is your guy. 

Your profits will be off the charts…

Oh yeah and sales?  This guy is so righteous he makes “Honest Abe” look like a pathological liar.

He doesn’t just sell you the Brooklyn Bridge.  Paul wrote the sales manual on it.

Second only to Jesus, Paul is the guy that every call committee from every church known to humanity is looking for.  You want growth?  You want success?  Paul is your guy! 

“Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.”

Wait a minute Paul….  What do you mean “gains” have become “loss”?

 In the world of spread sheets, gains are good things.  Loss is not. 

Your decimal point must be in the wrong place. 

You’re talking “fuzzy math”.

That can’t be right Paul. 

Come on, Paul, get your head in the real world.  

Success and accomplishments are what we strive for…

But here’s the problem:  Despite his resume of success,

Paul himself does not buy into any of this.

Writing to proud Roman citizens who

control the city of Philippi

                        Its economy…

                                    Its entire competitive system for status and social honor…

And its robust imperial cult, which regularly celebrates the Lordship of Caesar, Paul offers a

                        Reckless and even scandalous alternative.


“Yet whatever gains I had    (and you know he had a lot of them)

            These I have come to regard as loss because of Christ”


“For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things

            And I regard them as …. (wait for it…)  [rubbish]


Ok, I spent thousands of dollars on a seminary education to get this next piece of information, and today you’re getting it for free.

That word “rubbish”?  In the Greek, it’s not rubbish.  We’ve tamed it way down.  The Greek word here is “Skubula” – literally translated – and I’m going to try and say this politely… excrement.   Hey, don’t stone me, I’m just the messenger. 

I don’t believe for a moment that Paul uses this harsh word lightly, or as a joke, or because he wants to be a foul-languaged “shock jock”.

 I think for Paul, the gospel is serious business… 

            So serious he will use whatever language he needs, to get the point across!

I think for Paul, the Christ who poured himself out on a Cross, like he told us last week in Chapter 2 of Philippians, is the one who has “set the bar” for his followers.

If Christ, who is equal to God, (by the way that’s a great resume strongpoint) can be completely poured out in love for the world, how can those who would claim to be his followers do any less?

If Christ can be poured out in love for the world, how can we, who would claim to follow Christ, do any less?

 Oh and by the way, in case we think that we can somehow pull ourselves up by our own faith bootstraps to make this all happen, Paul’s use of the Greek language tells us differently.

In verse 9 Paul talks of having a righteousness that comes through faith in Christ.  Sounds like first I have to accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior.  Nope! That’s not what the Greek says.  The likely translation of verse 9 doesn’t mention “faith in Christ”, but rather “faith of Christ”.

In other words, it is Christ’s faithfulness that makes any of this even possible.

 The church stands at a critical crossroads in its life

            We have some tough choices to make.

I’m not talking about what hymns we like and don’t like…

or what kind of a sign board to put out in front of the building..

or if our worship preference is traditional or rock band with projector screens.

Those are NOT issues.  They are DISTRACTIONS.


For they have the potential to distract us from seeing what’s really happening around us.

416 shelter beds in the city of Rochester and on any given night there are between 500 and 600 souls seeking a warm place to lay their heads at the end of the day… 

What do followers of the one poured out in love have to say about that?

55% of the city’s children living in poverty

And unlike other places around the country where that rate has gone down, that rate has gone up 6% here in Rochester since the year 2000…

What do followers of the one poured out in love have to say about that?

Growing numbers of people turned off and disaffected by church because all they hear from the church is talk of survival  

or even worse, moralisms seeking to judge whose “in” and whose “out” of God’s Kingdom.

            All they hear from the church is talk about “creeds”

                                                                        And not so much about “deeds”

Put another way,

The only question people hear the church asking is “how do we attract people?”

                        Not “how do we go out and feed them?”

What do followers of the one poured out in love have to say about that?

 Hey look, I get it. 

The church is not just another Social Service Agency, nor should it be one.

                        But neither can it be a museum of past accomplishments

 No where in any of the gospel accounts does Jesus ever invite his followers to sit back on their laurels, puffing up their golden calf resumes, while lamenting days gone by…

            Instead he sends them out as laborers in a vineyard, feeding God’s sheep.

 I’ve begun going out with a group of folks who, every month, seek to provide those living on the streets with blankets, coats, food, medical kits, and yes even vouchers for shelters and hotel rooms.

In the past 8 months, this mixed group of social workers, medical students, and church folk have found stable housing for 40 people.

            Does that end the cycle of poverty in Rochester?  Of course not.

 But is it work of the Kingdom?

Does it affirm that our city of Rochester is a beloved vineyard of our God where no one should go hungry and no one should be living on a dangerous embankment out in the open overlooking the 490?

 Folks, if Paul tells us nothing else, he tells us that life in the Kingdom is a matter of choosing a focus:

We can strive to be the biggest and the best…

            With the glitziest and most polished marketing campaigns…

We can strive to get our name up in lights with big programs and fancy feasts…

We can pound loudly on the doors of every television and radio station in Rochester pleading for them to promote our ecclesiastical resume…


Or we can focus upon a Cross where God himself experienced shame and humiliation…

 that Love may abound…

                                                That Love may win the day…


Yet whatever gains I had,        

            These I have come to regard as loss because of Christ”


You know, Christ…

            The One, poured out in love…

The One, who joins us in the vineyard with these simple yet timeless words, “Feed my sheep”.



Thursday, October 2, 2014

Funeral Sermon for Charlie Pogue

Funeral Sermon for Charles Pogue
September 29, 2014
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word
Rev. Douglas L. Stewart

Isaiah 25:6-9
John 14:1-6
“Charles did many things, but his dream was the arts.  My name is Charles and this is my story”
So begins a four-page document entitled, “The Legacy of Charles Pogue” in which Charlie gifts us with pictures of his life – a life marked by profound experiences, unusual pathways, immense joy, and tragic heartbreak.

In reading through Charlie’s “legacy”, one cannot help but wonder and marvel at all that Charlie’s eyes saw in his lifetime;  All those places and events upon which his gaze fell.  We cannot today even begin to scratch the surface of all that his eyes saw; those gentle, warm, intelligent, and inviting eyes that made you feel like you were the most important person in the world when you were in Charlie’s presence. 

From a horse-drawn delivery wagon driven by his father to a piano played by his mother for the silent movies in his grandfather’s theatre, right from the very start of his life, Charlie’s eyes were exposed to vastly different worlds. 

A quiet young man, active in his church, Charlie would have gone into the ministry were it not for his innate love of performing.  I have no doubt that Charlie would have been a phenomenal pastor had he followed that path bearing the light of Christ with a spirit of compassion and gentleness.

But that pathway was not to be.  Charlie had the “bug” for performance.  And it was this “bug” that took him to New York City where he not only attended acting school on a GI Bill, but landed a job with NBC doing production work and set design; even befriending Jimmie Durante whom he referred to as “a good performer and a kind person”.

But that was only the tip of the iceberg:  not only did he work for NBC but while in New York, Charlie got to know “gangsters” – real life gangsters who took him under their wing not because they had “jobs” for him to do, but simply because he was a heck-of-a-nice-kid and they just liked him.  Charlie once mused that with his new-found friends, he had access to private bars all over New York and never once had to pay a bar tab.  Once, he even told of the “girl” whose job it was to hold the gangsters guns for them while they were in the bar.  O Charlie what your eyes have seen…

And of course there was the war and all the savage brutality that comes with war.  Places like Austria, Switzerland, France, England, and Germany were not tourist spots for Charlie, but theatres of war:  Places where he not only saw soldiers and civilians die, but where he himself almost became a mortality statistic.  But not even a devastating war in Europe could stop the performance bug.  Charlie may have been labeled as “Private First Class” by his army papers, but his job description was – get this -- “Entertainment Services”:   Providing respite for those engulfed by the horrors of war.  O Charlie, what your eyes have seen…

Charlie was not immune to tragic heartbreak in his own life.  In what surely could have been the subject of a Hollywood romance script, Charlie’s engagement to the love of his life, Rosemary, was cut tragically short when she died of cancer.  With a broken heart Charlie returned to his work, and never married, remaining single for the rest of his life.  O Charlie, what your eyes have seen…

 Are you kind of catching on that Charlie experienced life to its fullest?  That he was blessed to know a rich life? 

Well, let me tell you, God too knows something about a “rich life”. 

“On this mountain” says the prophet Isaiah, “The Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear”.  No rock-gut here.  Only the finest of wines.

Charlie might have had it made with gangster bars in New York, but they can’t hold a candle to a mountaintop bar where God is not only the bartender, but the guy who makes the wine of life and gives this wine of grace freely in abundance.

Oh yeah and on this mountaintop, that bartender God makes a promise that not only will those events that have broken our hearts and brought tears to our eyes, and to Charlie’s eyes, be wiped away, but even death itself will be swallowed up forever. 

Today – in this place – and in this time, you and I are gathered on that same mountaintop of promise.  Here in this place and in this time, that same God stands in our midst not only assuring us that Charlie has received his baptismal inheritance of life with God forever, but that we too stand in the light of that same baptismal promise of love and life:  That baptismal promise that not even death itself can take away from us.

Here on this mountaintop today, Jesus assures us that he too knows a little something about “set design.”

            “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

The last three times I visited with Charlie at Elder One, I played for him a youtube video of the hymn, “Abide With Me”.  At the sound of that hymn Charlie’s face lit up and he couldn’t hold my smartphone close enough to his face. 

Clearly the words of this hymn became the words of his prayer:

“Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes, shine through the gloom and point me to the skies; heavn’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee.  In life, in death O Lord abide with me”.

O Charlie, what your eyes see now, your heart has suspected your whole life long:  God is with you, enfolding you with his tender care.  With those beautiful eyes may you see your redeemer face to face and enjoy the sight of God forever.



Sunday, July 27, 2014

Pastor Doug's Sermon: " Squishy Thuds"

Matthew 13:31-33
July 27, 2014

There are a certain series of sounds that when strung together in a certain way, not only capture my attention, but force me to completely re-focus my energies.

I may be listening to my favorite song on Alt Nation Radio…
                                                                   That comes to an end.

I may be in deep conversation solving all the problems of the world with Joanne…
                                                                   That comes to an end.

The kids may be deep into whatever they’re plotting together in the backseat…
                                                                   That comes to an end.

All comes to an end when that unmistakable chorus of sounds crescendos from the pavement in a cacophonous mixture of whines and rhythmic thuds literally stopping us dead in our tracks.
Maybe you’ve had a similar experience.

If you’ve ever been driving somewhere and you blow out a tire on your car, then you’ve probably experienced what our family did this past week while travelling home from Cleveland.

All is fine until you begin to feel that the car isn’t as steady on the road – and what you think is the road becoming noisier is in fact your car riding on a rapidly deflating tire.  Within seconds the whine evolves into a rhythmic thump which ultimately becomes a squishy thud and there you are – dead in your tracks – going nowhere.

Squishy thuds that stop us dead in our tracks:  Not just for cars anymore.
Jesus knows something about “squishy thuds”, for that is what he gives us this morning with six simple words:
          “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…”

With these words, Jesus pushes me off balance with provocative twists.  He rearranges my faith furniture.
Jesus tells me that the Kingdom of Heaven is like:

A Mustard Seed

Though a horticulturalist will rightly tell us that the mustard seed is not actually the smallest of seeds, it is nonetheless a seed and therefore one can assume fairly small in stature and not yet what it fully will be.

But I don’t want a seed – I want an oak.  I want the Kingdom of Heaven to be mighty and sturdy and insanely tall – able to weather all kinds of storms. I want the Kingdom of Heaven to tower over everything else where there are more cars in our parking lot on a Sunday morning than at Wegmans.
I want brass bands and flags unfurled announcing that God’s reign of justice and mercy is not only here but is kicking butt and taking names.

I don’t want a seed which takes time to grow.  I want the promised shade tree now.  I want results right here – right now.  I want the silver bullet program that is going to bring hundreds of people into our pews next Sunday.

I want to be able to report on our ELCA Parochial forms that worship attendance at Incarnate Word is skyrocketing through the roof that synodical benevolence is the envy and talk of all the synod and that Joanne and I are the highly sought-after Biblical studies gurus in this synod and beyond.

But apparently that is not how Jesus works.  Or at least how the “squishy thud” of the Kingdom of Heaven works.  As much as I may want one, Jesus never speaks of a magical get-rich-quick scheme for the church.   He doesn’t come armed with a church program guaranteeing a 40% increase in worship attendance or your money back.

He doesn’t come with glitzy brochures plastered with a sea of happy, smiling faces promising instant success if you just add drums, amps, electric guitars and a big audio/visual screen to your worship space.
Instead Jesus gathers a bunch of illiterate, impoverished nobodies around him sending them out to bear God’s foolish, prophetic, outwardly feeble and scandalous Kingdom to a world addicted to success, numbers and organizational survival.

What congregation would ever call a pastor who didn’t promise to help preserve the institution by getting more warm bodies into their pews?  Especially young families with lots of money to toss into the offering plate? 

What faith community would call a pastor who said that worship attendance doesn’t tell the whole story of the congregation and that in some cases smaller churches are preferable to larger ones?  That it’s just in the DNA that some churches are small and others are large?  And that Jesus needs small churches just as much as he needs large ones?

Is it possible that when Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a mustard seed, he is not comparing it to the latest evangelism program of a 3.7 million member denomination?
Instead he is comparing it to your arms and mine …
extending an embrace,
          giving food
                   providing shelter?

Is it possible that what Jesus treasures is not more churches, but more followers?  Those who enflesh God’s reality of doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God? 

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed.

Who better to talk of a seemingly small and inconsequential mustard seed than the one whose own birth seemed small and whose death seemed inconsequential?  Whose Good Friday seed of death (against all odds) blossomed into Easter Resurrection?  
So where is the Kingdom of Heaven?  Just look around and listen.  Looking and listening...
not for the loudest and the largest but for the least and the last.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed.  
Complete with squishy thuds and all. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Gun Violence: What’s a Church to do?

We have a serious problem in America and its time for the church to step up to the plate and do something about it.  There’s been yet another school shooting with fatalities.  Since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there have been 74 school shootings in our country, with most occurring in K-12 schools.  We are now up to 1.37 school shootings per week.  What meaningful gun legislation or mental health reforms have taken place?  Our elected officials have either run scared from powerful political action groups or they’ve chosen not to care anymore.  Is there a problem here?  Though some may claim this is primarily a Second Amendment issue, we in the church know otherwise.

Those of us who have mentioned anything about gun control from the pulpit have perhaps already been harshly criticized.  We are told that religion and politics should not be mixed.  To that flawed argument I say that gun violence and any other kind of violence perpetrated on the innocent is primarily a religious issue. 

Contrary to the individualism running rampant in our culture today, where individual rights are held as gospel, the scriptures are more than clear that life in covenant with God is a life lived in community.  Individual rights are trumped by communal needs every time.  There’s no such thing as individualism in the scriptures.  Instead of being preoccupied with the morals and ethics of individuals, the voices of scripture are overwhelmingly concerned with public morality especially when it comes to issues of economic and social justice.  How the widow and orphan are treated matters to God.  How those living on the margins are cared for matters to God.   How victims of violence are healed matters to God.  Life in Christ has nothing to do with walking alone in some remote garden with Jesus, rather it is lived out in our responses to alleviate the suffering of the innocent.  For every admonition about personal behavior, the scriptures give five exhortations toward compassion and social justice.  

When violence in school classrooms and on our streets causes the deaths of children we must take action to heal it and stop it.  A church that claims to follow Jesus and yet stands idly by offering nothing is not worthy of being called a relevant church.

So where do we start?  It seems to me we begin by acknowledging the fact that the One we claim to follow was himself an innocent victim of violence as his tortured body hung dying on a cross.  Tell me where Jesus would advocate that the right to bear arms takes precedent over the right to not die by them.  Only after we have acknowledged that the One whom we follow defines who we are, can we begin to have meaningful conversations as people of faith about gun legislation, mental health issues, and the culture of violence.

How we address the violence inflicted on Jesus and on those who die violently in our schools and in our streets, will in the end prove what kind of a church we really are.  If we, whose Lord was an innocent victim of violence himself, don’t speak out for and act on behalf of all victims of gun violence who will?

Let the holy conversations begin.

Peace and Love,
Pastor Doug 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

My New Office!

I have a new office and man is it huge!  You should see it.  My desk sits in front of a huge window that looks out on a bustling street and sidewalk.  The walls have some of the coolest artwork you’ll ever see.  The furniture in my office is incredible too.  My ceiling lights emit some of the most awesome colors.  Red, green, yellow, and white everywhere! There are tables all over my office where folks can gather together and just chill out.   I even have an oversized couch and two of the comfiest lazyboy chairs you’ll ever experience.  Bring a pillow, you might just want to take a nap in my office.  Of course that is if you can fall asleep to the tunes of  “Cage the Elephant”, “Bastille”, and oldies like “The Ramones”, and “Pink Floyd”.  Did I mention the coffee bar in my office?  Lattes of all sizes and temperatures are available.  Would you like a Three-Cheese Panini with basil and tomato on multigrain bread with a side of kettle chips?  Come to my office and let’s have a meal.  It’s all here in my new office.

But wait you say, how can all of this fit in your 15’ x 15’ office?  Well, actually it doesn’t.  My office at 597 East Avenue doesn’t quite have enough room for all of this, so I’ve undertaken an expansion effort.  This afternoon I took my office on the road – or down the street if you will and spent some time in a local coffee shop on Park Avenue.   Laptop in hand and work to be done, I spent almost two hours today in my newly found satellite office and I have to tell you I loved it!  And yes, I actually spoke to folks whom I would never have seen had I done the same work in my 597 East Avenue office.   Maybe it was my trusting face or the clerical collar I was wearing, but I actually had someone ask me if I would keep an eye on their computer while they went to the restroom.  Talk about trust!

Anyone who knows me is keenly aware of my obsession with coffee.  But that is not why I chose to turn my office into a coffee house.   Coffee houses and other places like them are where the world lives, not in locked up church buildings.  We are told in scripture that a long time ago the Word became flesh and lived among us.  Literally, the Word became flesh and pitched a tent among us.  I’d like to think that I pitched a Jesus tent on Park Avenue today. 

I pitched a Jesus tent at Boulder Coffee not because I desire to “sell” or “market” our congregation to the world but because I want to know people’s fears and doubts as well as the things that bring them joy.  I want to know that for which folks in our neighborhood hunger and thirst.  After all, I believe Jesus when he tells us that he is the bread of heaven who provides living water.  I believe Jesus when he promises to exchange our heavy burdens for his rest.

I did not expand my office today to bring people to church.  I did it to take Christ into the world.  This is not to say that I won't keep office hours at 597.  Of course I will.  That office is important too.  But I need to get to know my neighbors.  How else can I bear Christ if I don't know the neighborhood's needs?  So that you may join me anytime, I will regularly post my next coffee house office hours on Incarnate Word’s Facebook page.  After all it’s not just folks in our neighborhood who hunger and thirst.  You and I do too.

Peace and Love,
Pastor Doug

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Synod Assembly thoughts...

With Synod Assembly fast approaching, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking today about this concept of the body of Christ.  Beginning on Sunday, the ELCA body of Christ here in Upstate New York will spend three days together hearing about and sharing in a variety of ministries. 
We will celebrate the reception of a new congregation in our synod, Immanuel in Olean.  We will hear about how our gifts are being used to combat Malaria in Africa and hunger around the world and in our own streets.  We will engage in inspiring Bible studies which will remind us of what it means to follow a God whose love for us was poured out upon a cross.  We will hear from six nominees for the office of bishop who will share their love of the church with us as each lays out their vision for mission in Christ’s name.

There will be voting members from churches large and small, urban and rural, progressive and traditional, as different from each other as day and night.  But all of us will be in assembly, connected to each other by the waters of baptism – standing, sitting, praying, and singing at the foot of the cross.

Beginning on Sunday evening, we will gather together from across New York State visibly living out the reality that the church is one body with many parts.  We are one church with many sizes and many gifts.  If this is so, doesn’t it stand to reason that the body of Christ needs churches of all sizes?  Sure, I’ve had my moments when I’ve thought that just once I’d like to serve a congregation that is numerically growing through the roof.  Wouldn’t that prove that I’m somehow a great leader of a healthy congregation?

Sure, all healthy things grow. But I don’t believe that growth is ever as simple as healthy equals bigger. A pea will never be the size of a pumpkin and a rose will never reach the height of a redwood no matter how much you water them, fertilize them or teach them redwood growth principles. It’s just not in their DNA. All healthy, living things reach their optimal size at maturity, then they grow in different ways from that point on.  So again I ask the question, if this principle applies to churches doesn’t it stand to reason that the body of Christ needs churches of all sizes  - urban, suburban, and rural?

You are not a failure if your congregation reaches its optimal stage of maturity, then starts growing in ways other than butts in seats for weekend services.  Yes, we should always be striving to do church better.  But what works for one congregation may not and probably will not work for another.  In the body of Christ, one size does not fit all.  God doesn’t sell fast food franchises.

So here’s a radical thought:  What if Jesus doesn’t see small churches as part of the problem, but part of his plan? What if it’s been his idea all along to populate every corner of the globe with pockets of his followers – some large, most small – so that everywhere you go you find his people?

And what would happen if we realized this truth and got to work with Jesus on planting, supporting and multiplying healthy small churches, alongside our healthy big siblings?

I don’t pretend to have the answers for how to do ministry.  It just seems to me that if my toes were as large as my leg, it would be really hard to get around.   The body of Christ is a beautiful, living being uniquely gifted in more ways than any one of us could possibly imagine!

So I can’t wait to get to Synod Assembly this weekend.  I can’t wait to see how my sisters and brothers in Christ, from congregations both large and small are being poured out in love as they follow the One who makes all things new.

Peace in Christ,

Pastor Doug

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

I saw God

A wonderful thing happened in church on Sunday.  I saw God.  Now I know it sounds a bit strange to say something like that because don’t we always see God in church?  Yes, but… well that’s a conversation for another time.

But here’s the crazy thing: this God-sighting didn’t happen where I expected it to.  It happened at the tail end of Lulu Grace’s baptism.  After having promised to support and pray for her, we welcomed Lulu “into the body of Christ and into the mission we share”.   And then it happened.  Lulu grabbed Joanne’s extended hand and off she went down the center aisle smiling and waving her little princess wave to everyone.  While Joanne was reminding all of us of the great promises that were made to Lulu by God, her parents, and her congregation, Lulu took a dive.  Yup!  Down to the floor she went.  Here’s where I saw God.  No, God didn’t push her or trip her.  As Lulu began to stumble, at least a dozen hands extended out to her to try and cushion her fall.  There was the church in action!  There was God!

Later in the worship service, we heard about Jesus going away and sending an advocate to be with us.  In just six verses of that gospel reading, Jesus extolled his friends to “love” five times.  Not the gushy, emotional, nutritionally empty feeling of love that we have no control over, but the self-sacrificing, agape “I’d die for you” kind of love that we can control and that Jesus poured out for us on the hardwood of an executioner’s cross.  We heard that this advocate is one who pulls up alongside us in “agape” love to be our voice and to accompany us on the journey of life.  Then we heard that to be a spirit-filled church, a community of the Spirit, is to come alongside each other to comfort and encourage as Jesus first did for us in his incarnation.  We were then challenged to become such a Spirit community where we grow in our ability of coming alongside each other in faith and love.

That’s what God’s people do.  Contrary to those who see the church as a “crock”, we come alongside those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; we come alongside those whose courage falters; those whose hearts have been shattered; those who cannot imagine a tomb of death being empty and we become advocates for each other; partners on the journey.
This pulling up alongside in love stuff?  It’s real.  It’s what Jesus first did and what the Spirit, the Advocate, continues to do.  Where you see that, you see God. 

So, Lulu you won’t remember this, but God was with you on Sunday.  I saw it first-hand.  And you know what?  Wherever you go and whenever you fall, get ready for a flurry of hands to lovingly reach out, ready to buffer your fall because that’s what God’s church does.

Your partner in the Spirit,
Pastor Doug