Monday, June 12, 2017

100+ Little Souls Created by God

Trinity Sunday 2017/Genesis 1 Creation
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
Chatfield UMC

So this week while the UK found itself in crisis, we had VBS.
This week while trials and hearings were held in the nation’s capital, we hosted over 100 children in VBS at the Lutheran church and here..Facebook Page for VBS
This week while I struggled with back pain and others struggled with their own trials, I taught 4, 5, 6th grade VBS classes
This year I had the pleasure and challenge of teaching the 4, 5, 6th grade cl

asses in VBS. Usually I teach the elementary age. It was of God that this was assigned this way because no way could I have gotten up and down from the floor to teach the youngers students.

It was also a challenge because making bible stories meaningful to kids who just beyond needed to hear ‘just the facts’ or just the stories without getting too complicated stretched me and my teaching style.

And I got to reconnect on a different level with my Project Go kids.

So all around it was a great week for me. While the world descended into chaos, once again; it was a great week here in Chatfield.

And, of course, I am always in awe of everyone who helps out. Jennifer for her passion in wanted the children to hear the bible stories and making VBS an unforgettable experience. Joyce, Sandy and Kathy and this year Bev, who helped the children create crafts that reinforced the bible stories AND taught important skills. Marlene, who makes the bible stories come alive for our preschoolers. Just going into her room teaches you about the bible and love and what it means to care about teaching preschoolers the stories of God. Ruth and her granddaughter Clara who managed the kitchen here at our church, Kathy K and Sara Ellis who were some of the adults who helped out all week as group leaders. and Sara Ellis who was one of the group leaders.  
And our youth, Jack, Maddie, BrookLynn, Sydney, Peyton, Ellie, Anna, Olivia, Abbi, Lexi, and Ruby, who guided the children from class to class, kept order, disciplined when needed, and were role models for the younger kids.
We are doing what we promised when we baptize these our children. Walking with them, training them in discipleship and teaching them the stories of God.

And I have to say how wonderful it is today to baptize a baby of a child of this church. A child who came to Sunday school, vbs, and who had grandparents and parents who helped her learn the stories of the bible.
The circle of life here in this church, the connection from one generation to another, is such an important piece of what it means to be a part of a faith community. 

And part of the entire circle of life that is God’s creation.

Now here is the best thing about my back pain and VBS this year, other than the not having the get up and down off the floor…
The way we do VBS is that one person teaches all the lessons for all the preschool classes, one person teaches all the lessaons for the elementary age classes and one person teaches all the lessons for the upper elementary age classes.
So three people teach all the lessons. And they teach their age group lessons for at least three different groups.
So, for example, I taught a 4th grade class, then a sixth grade class, then a 5th grade class. And the other teachers did the same thing. Each one the same lesson. But when I’m teaching the elementary age classes I usually have to spend the scant 5 minutes in between class groups getting my room back to where it started from so that I can teach the lesson from the beginning to the end again.
If there was a campfire involved in the lesson, for example, I have to put out the campfire and rearrange the logs so that the next class can build a new campfire…that sort of thing.

Well, this year, I didn’t have to do that. My greatest challenge was to make sure the videos I had on you tube played and the ppts got queued to the beginning. And the youth leaders did such an excellent joy of transitioning the classes in and out of my room, I mostly sat in my chair and waited as one class came and went and the next one came and went…
So, I got the rare advantage of being able to listen carefully as students came and went. I got to observe more carefully what was going on around me and outside the classroom. Plus, I was often pushed in the wheel chair in between churches…

Ok, so you get the idea. I had a lot more time for listening and observing.

While I was teaching the students about the love and forgiveness and strength giving God that we serve I was hearing of the scaubbles about who pushed the food cart from the Lutheran church to the Methodist church and how it had gotten out of hand and punches were thrown.
I heard the taunts that kids spoke to each other. I saw the burpees one student had to do because his language was a little raw. I saw the chair legs that were being deliberately moved to trip someone or the chair that was rearranged so that friends could sit by each other.

In other words, I saw the day to day life of a Chatfield young person.

But before we start shaking our heads and proclaiming, kids wouldn’t have gotten away with that in my day and age. In Our VBS. Let me assure you, our kids didn’t get away with it either.
But because I was listening hard and observing more I also saw, kids being concerned because the kid lost it and we were able to talk about how that particular kid had a good heart and we all knew that. How that kid is usually kind and good and how all of us lose it once in awhile. How all of us have good hearts that turn away from doing wha we know if right, once in a while.

And becaue I was observing I was able to ask the 6th grade boys about the tshirt they were wearing that said: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. And these boys gathered around my wheelchair anxious, anxious, to tell me the story about reading a book by Tebow after their friends Hunter and Caleb died. How reading that book together helped them and motivated them to make tshirts and sell them to help Hunter and Caleb’s families cope with their loss.

And because I was listening and observing more quietly, I got to hear students ask to push me in the wheel chair and ask for help when they didn’t think they could keep me from running down into the street at the bottom of our steep driveway. I got to see students making sure others were careful and being supported.
And how one very young boy determinedly pushed me all the way from the Lutheran church to here up the very steep driveway.

Because I was listening and observing this year I was able to say with sure and certain convictions, with stories of their own lives to back me up, that God sees their hearts, the hearts of these 4, 5, 6th graders and just as God said at the beginning; it is good, so God says now, it is good. Your heart is good.
You don’t always do good, but God knows, your heart is good.

And because you can know that God knows your heart is good, you can live the truth of that.
You can forgive yourself and your friends when your good heart or their good heart isn’t the first thing that you see.
Just like Jesus does, just like God does, because the power of the Holy Spirit in us makes us able to be like God.

Because you know that God knows your heart is good, you can love others who are strangers to you, who say things that aren’t kind to you, that don’t always show love to you. Because you know that God knows that their heart is good, too.

And because you know that God knows that your heart, your friend’s heart and even your enemy’s heart is good, you can teach others through your actions of forgiveness and goodness and love that their hearts are good.
You can be the one who tells them that God know that their heart is good.

We heard this week about Noah and Jonah, who were not perfectly good people, but who listened to their good hearts and heard the word of God. We learned about Peter who denied Jesus and didn’t trust Jesus, who was impulsive, just like some of the kids in our classes, who said things without thinking, who challenged God without realizing what he was doing. We spoke about Paul who was a murderer but also a spokesperson, a passionate spokesperson about the love of Jesus for the world. He wouldn’t let anyone stand in the way of the message of God’s love through Jesus and even said to those who said they hated Jesus that their sins, their sin of hatred, was forgiven.

We heard about people and we experienced each other as whole human beings, who have good hearts and, yet, do stupid, impulsive, murderous, and sinful things.
And we had a choice, surrounded by 100+ little and big souls. We could have focused on the good hearts or the stupid, impulsive, murderous and sinful things.

Hmm…So while I was teaching VBS this week, my gardens sat there. Because VBS was about all I could do.
The flowers bloomed, the birds sang. A cardinal is sitting on eggs, a bluebird is building a nest, a wren is feeding the young birds. The peonies popped open, the yellow rose started blooming. And grandma’s primroses started opening up.
It is glorious.
But do you know what I saw every time I walked from the parsonage to the church? Do you know what I saw unless I was very, very careful? All of the weeds I cannot pull, all of thistles that those birds seeded in amongst my flowers, all of the grass that is growing out of my yarrow…

Hmmm…so what do we do, hear what God says: And it is good. Or focus on the weeds?

100+ little souls need us to hear God.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Through the Work of the Holy Spirit

Acts 2
May 7, 2017
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
Chatfield UMC

So I have been bragging on this congregation in all sorts of places recently. At Diversity Council and Mayo events. At clergy gatherings. At casual conversations with friends. I tell them about all the work we are doing together. Serving at funerals. Opening our doors to a food shelf. Juggling schedules that make use of the building challenging at times. Collecting items for adults who face challenges in their lives through addictions and mental illness and debilitating disabilities.
I tell them how we find those things that touch our hearts and respond with acts of mercy and compassion.
I tell them how we are living out the heritage of our founder, John Wesley and the call of God through Jesus who told us to give a cup of cold water to those in need.

As a side note, do you know how hard it was to give a cup of cold water to people in Jesus day? Unless you were at the well when the water was drawn the water you drank was probably at the most lukewarm if not hot. Whenever I travel to developing countries one of the greatest luxury is often a cup of cold water that is safe to drink.
Jesus was saying more than just give people a drink. Jesus was saying, give people a precious type of drink. One that would cost you something and would be out of the ordinary.

I think that is what we do here. It isn’t convenient to do what we do, to juggle schedules, to allow our building to be used up, to work with others in the community who aren’t always on the same page as we are.
I don’t always keep the schedule straight. I so appreciate all of you who help us get from one event to another seamlessly. Particularly my husband Steve who has put up and taken down more tables and chairs than most paid custodians.

You know, when people go to seminary to train to be a pastor or when people think of church what they imagine is worship, prayer, visiting the sick and dying, teaching classes that sort of thing. So, in one of my facebook pages I follow called: Things they didn’t teach us in seminary, new clergy are astounded at the ways being in ministry is complicated and challenging.  And so much more than worship, prayer, visiting and teaching.

The early church found that out too. In our passage from Acts this morning, it would be tempting to think that worship, praying and visiting were all the early church was about. But if we read any of the other passages about the early church we will learn that they were doing quite a bit of juggling and figuring things out.

There was the whole question of where to meet. How to meet. Who all to meet with.

Then there was the question of how to take care of each other and how to manage their resources. From the sounds of this passage everyone just gladly shared what they had with each other. But we know from other passages in the scripture that wasn’t the reality. People who were wealthier weren’t so generous as this passage suggests.

There was a huge conflict in the early church about who could come and eat at the weekly potluck type of meal that was held before regular worship. While we don’t know the exact details, it seems that the wealthy only wanted to eat with their own kind. The poor people had to come after the meal was over to join in on the worship service. So, the wealthy were full and well fed while the poor came with rumbling stomachs.
That seems like a no brainer when you think about Jesus teaching about sharing and the first shall be last and last shall be first and whoever has a coat should share with those who don’t. You would think the church wouldn’t have even struggled with this.
But they did.

And not just this. They struggled with how to be a Christian in the midst of a culture that was much like our own. Full of temptations toward violence as entertainment. Full of the disrespect of women as sexual objects. Full of abuse of the environment, abuse of power, abuse of children.

They struggle just like we do. And were making it up as they went along, just like we do.

Which is good news for us, isn’t it?
We won’t always get it right, even the obvious stuff.
But God continues to use us for God’s purposes and even God’s glory! Amazing!

And I believe that God will always use us for God’s purposes as long as we have the attitude of Jesus. Or as it is put in this scripture passage:
They served with glad and generous hearts. I really like that, glad and generous hearts.

You know, sometimes when things don’t work out very smoothly and things get complicated… Sometimes when we don’t see eye to eye with another person… Sometimes when what you planned to do conflicts with what is on the schedule…Sometimes when things get complicated our hearts become sad and mean spirited. We become discouraged and discouraging.

And the whole point of what we do becomes clouded and a burden rather than a joy.

But then, the Holy Spirit does her work, if we are open to her.
The Holy Spirit warms our hearts again.
The Holy Spirit does what we cannot do on our own.
The Holy Spirit creates a community that can work together in spite of the challenges. In spite of the complications. In spite of the differences of opinion.

Which brings me back to bragging on you all.

What I say to people is: we are not of one mind. We have different ways of being and seeing the world. Our farmers have different ways of farming. Our shop keepers have different ways of looking at the community. Our people who work in Rochester have different places in society.
Our people who work in Chatfield have different ways of looking at the economy and how it should work.
Our people who are retired have different experiences and expectations.

Yet, in the midst of all of these differences, we come together to worship and celebrate the sacraments and speak words of blessing to each other and serve the community together.

(Invitation to the Lord’s Supper:
Today we will all eat at the table of God. No one will be turned away. We will come no matter who we voted for, where we shop, what team we root for. We come because this is not our table it is God’s table and God invites us saint and sinner to eat.)

The Holy Spirit works in the midst of our differences to create a community that means something. For us and for our neighbor and for the glory of God.

When people ask me if I believe in miracles, I say, “yes” Because I live in the midst of a miracle called Chatfield UMC every day.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Is It Christian?

This week I was privileged to be a part of an interfaith panel at Charter House in Rochester.
Charter House is an adult senior living facility that caters to well off seniors. According to Chaplain Rachel Hanson, many of the residents are involved in the community and hold leadership positions. 

The panel had representatives from Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, and Jewish traditions. It was truly a great experience to be able to speak clearly about our own traditions and interact where our traditions intersected.

As the white, middle class, Christian I was able to be more 'up-front' about my position on the topic. Which created some controversy and some resonance with the audience members.

The statement we all spoke to

Faith commitment is an intensely personal matter.  It is something we each choose for ourselves, which then becomes a foundation for decision-making, living and action.  However, faith is usually formed and shaped in the setting of a faith community or faith tradition.  And that takes place in the context of a nation or state or cultural milieu with national or tribal interests and concerns.  Sometimes, this results in conflicts of interest between faith claims upon conscience and national claims upon allegiance.  How do we balance freedom of religion with the “national interest” of the tribe nation?  How do the claims of individual conscience relate to the claims of the nation for full allegiance?  How do we balance personal faith claims upon us as believers (in whatever we choose to believe in), and the expectation that as citizens we are required to support our national security in the midst of a much larger world community of peoples and nations?

What I said:

I was born and grew up in small towns in Iowa. But unlike the small towns I experience in southern and central MN, patriotism did not play a central role in my life.

I am still astounded by the
·      prevalence of flags and
·      other patriot symbols displayed and
·      the ceremonies and parades dominated by patriotism
that are central to the life of a small town in central and southern MN.

It is something that I must grapple with as an ordained clergy in a denomination that is global in its polity and membership.
Unlike the other protestant denominations in the United States, the United Methodist Church is global. Which means our mindset should not be focused only on the United States. Our worship and way of being should have a global focus. We should at least see ourselves as citizens of the world but even more as United Methodists we should see ourselves as primarily people of the Kin-dom of God. Outside of the confines and doctrines of nationalism of any sort.
Our question should not be “what can we do for our country.” It should always be “how can I serve and honor God first and foremost.”
Nor should we ever pretend that following the mandates and doctrines of the United States is the same as honoring and serving God because the USA is a ‘Christian’ nation.
The USA cannot be called a ‘christian’ nation until the example of Jesus is lived out in all the laws and practices of the governments of our nation. Which would mean that all of our scales would be completely fair, all of our laws would be applied equally no matter one’s race, gender, economic status, orientation, or family connections, and priority would be given to alleviating poverty rather than amassing wealth.   

So I always cringe when I see an American flag in a sanctuary of a UMC. I do not say the pledge to the flag and have not since I was in primary school. My allegiance is only to God's kin-dom and the teaching of Jesus who was killed because he challenged the authority of the state. Therefore, I do not think it is appropriate to have a flag in the sanctuary of a Christian church.

But I have only been able to get the flag removed from one church that I have served and that was in the Twin Cities.
When I have tried in my other two parishes I have been crucified. Even after I explained the significance of a flag in a place of worship and its position of honor over and against the position of the cross. Which is, of course, one of the most powerful of symbols of our faith.

Which tells me that national pride of some sort runs very deep in the psyche of the people of my churches.

And what this says to me even more deeply is that the people I serve will have a very difficult time separating the promise of the nationalistic American Dream from the call of the Sacred texts of Christianity to love and service of God, self and neighbor.

Which means much of my work needs to be around converting Christians to discipleship as followers of the Christ who taught that our allegiance and passions should only be directed toward God, self and neighbor.

And this is very hard in a place where nationalistic pride and military service and the American Dream and pseudo-christianity are so interwoven that it is hard to tease out truth from fiction. Because men and women from my town have fought in wars, have been taught to hate the enemy, have been enticed with the promise that if they obeyed their government’s orders they would come home to glory and prosperity. They have been taught to kill in the name of a so-called ‘christian nation’ They have been taught to hate in the name of a so called christian nation. They have been taught to strive for their own welfare in the name of a so called christian nation.

And it has irreparably damaged the true meaning of being a Christian and harmed souls.
There is a hymn in our tradition by Lloyd Stone and Georgia Harkness set to Finlandia: It is the song I go to when I feel national pride is overtaking our thinking and we need balance and a corrective

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shire;
But other hearts in other lands are beating

With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.