Money and Fear

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Dave and I have never been in poverty.

But we’ve visited.

This means we have never dealt with the real difficulties people face when they are in true poverty.  We haven’t had to fight to take care of our family while working minimum wage full time and still struggling to pay rent. We haven’t had to choose between feeding our kids or eating dinner ourselves. We haven’t experienced true poverty. But there was a period of time where we didn’t have quite enough.

We were both full time seminary students when we got pregnant with our first child. What we soon discovered was that being full time students and paying for prenatal care and baby supplies was expensive. We learned how to cover the basics. We qualified for the WIC program, which is a government program that provided peanut butter and cheese and cheerios. We ate lots of toast at the free bread bar on campus. We brought popcorn to the neighborhood potlucks. For our parents sake, I want to clarify that we probably could have called home and asked for help but we were young and stubborn and determined to make it on our own.

But when it came time to furnish the nursery, we had met our match. How would we afford nursery furniture? We were talking about that one afternoon when we were out walking. Then we saw it. Right next to the dumpster at our apartment building. A glider rocking chair. The wood was pretty chipped, it had seen better days, but it was in one piece.  So we grabbed it and painted it and hauled it up stairs. We were so excited.

Had we just pulled a rocking chair out of the trash? Yes.

Did it make a loud screeching sound if you rocked too far in either direction? Yes.

Did we have to learn how to stay in just the right spot so the screeching sound wouldn’t wake up our baby? Yes.

It wasn’t great. But it was our screechy dumpster chair.

It turns out old habits die hard.

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The Devil

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I have a cold today.

Which is fitting. Because we are going to be talking about the devil.

I do wish we could blame the devil for things. He would be such an easy one to pin it on. We nod in that direction.

We say things like

  • the devil made me do it,
  • the devil is in the details,
  • the devil is coming out of my nose.

That last one isn’t a saying, but maybe it should be.

But then we have a feeling that isn’t what we really believe, as Presbyterians. It would be easy to pin this cold on the devil trying to get me to stay in bed and watch Netflix but I think i think the blame actually lies with the start of school germs that are in every home with children right now.  So if we can’t blame the devil for things like a cold, what do we believe then about the devil?

The devil and demons aren’t something we talk a lot about in the Presbyterian Church. As postmodern Christians, we tend to shy away from really thinking about the devil and demons and evil. It feels a little like Greek mythology, with God and the devil battling it out. But there is no getting around the mention of them in the gospel teachings. 

I was thinking back to my earliest impressions of what the devil might be. 

A lot of it came from cartoons.

The devil showed up a lot in the cartoons of the 80s, usually perched on someone’s shoulder. This version of the devil would whisper things into your ear, trying to get you to listen. But there was always a little angel on the other shoulder, pulling you the other way to convince you to do the right thing.  

Or there were kids who dressed up like the devil on Halloween, which always involved a red tail and a pitchfork and usually some sort of horns. 

Or, there was the George Burns version.

I grew up watching the 1980’s ” O God” movies with George Burns on VHS tape. He may have been my favorite devil of them all. George Burn’s devil had a great sense of humor and drove an amazing car.  Why wouldn’t you, if you were the devil? These were my earliest devil impressions.  I’m sure you have some of your own too.  We all have some image of the devil.

But what do we really believe about the devil?

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Scarcity: Everything Jesus Taught about the American Way

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As Americans, most of us wrestle with some level of a fear of there not being enough. We worry there won’t be enough for us, or that there won’t be enough to go around. The truth is this fear isn’t unfounded.  The competition that is at the core of our economy as Americans virtually assures that some will not have enough. For those who struggle each day to get food on the table or to make rent, scarcity isn’t a distant fear, it is is a reality.  This is the kind of hardship we have been talking about the past few weeks when we looked at what Jesus taught about social justice, and our call and responsibility to help those who need us.

But for today, I want us to focus on the fear of scarcity that isn’t grounded in a daily struggle to make ends meet. This is the kind of fear that shows up in us when we aren’t experiencing an actual hardship, but we still have a nagging feeling that there won’t be enough.  We hold on tight to what we have, we protect what’s ours, we worry about me and mine. When this happens, there really is enough for what we need, but we make decisions as if there isn’t. This is what we will call the scarcity mindset.

The scarcity mindset believes there will never be enough, and acts based on this perception of lack, whether there is truly a lack of resources or not.

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Justice While We Wait

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There is one thing we fear most as Floridians. 

It’s not sharks. Or hurricanes. Or even snakes and spiders.

No.  

There is one thing so much more frightening than that.

It is the moment when our air conditioner breaks.

A few weeks ago, Dave and I came face to face with this very fear. I noticed the house felt a little hot, and went over to check the thermostat. The thermostat was set for 75 degrees. But the inside temperature of the house was 78, which meant we had a problem. 

We found a few more signs of trouble near the condenser and quickly called the one person we knew could fix the problem, the repair company, and then sat down to wait. 

Because once you call the one person who can fix something, that’s what you do.

You wait.

And watch the number on the thermostat.

An hour later it went up another degree.  

We were powerless. All we could do was wait.  

But then it went up to 80 degrees.  There had to be something we could do!

We can’t overhaul an entire air conditioner, but couldn’t we do something to help with the problem? A quick google search gave us a few ideas, and an hour later Dave was outside with a shop vac, some clear tubing, and a roll of duct tape.

AND IT WORKED.

Now, can we fix every air conditioner problem? No.

Can we build an air conditioner from the ground up? Absolutely not.

But we were able to do something to make a difference this time when we realized it was broken.

I know it’s a big jump to move from thinking about our broken air conditioner to thinking about the broken state of the world – but hang with me, because the principles we are going to talk about are surprisingly the same.

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Justice and Mission

I feel in love with doing mission projects the same way I fell in love with chocolate cake.

One bite, and I was hooked.

I love the way mission projects wake up the team working together to a world they might have ignored. I love the way it breaks down boundaries between people you might never find in the same room short of the work of the Holy Spirit. More than anything, I love watching other people fall in love with it too.

I have this scrapbook of memories of seeing people catch a vision for helping other people. Watching a group of teenagers go out from behind the soup kitchen counter to go play dominoes with the homeless men at the shelter. Seeing the love in the eyes of young mom helping another mom who lost everything in an apartment fire.  Walking through a completed home with a man who helped build it’s frame, and now got to meet the children who would live there.

I do love mission projects.

But after several years I realized something.

These projects are really important. They are valuable and important and they transform the people who do them and show the people we partner with that they are loved and not forgotten. But they are a first step, not the only step. It’s where we start, but it’s not the end.

Social justice is more than a one day project.

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Truth and Who You Are

Several years ago when we were living in Ohio, I was driving back to the church after lunch, and traffic came to a quick stop. The person in front of me stopped. The person in front of them stopped. I came to a complete stop. Then the person in back of me stopped too. By driving into the back of my car at 40 mph.

I climbed out of my car and I stood in the small center median looking at the damage. My car was pretty banged up. Her car appeared to be totaled. We were both basically ok. But I could already feel that I had hit my neck and head.

That day I learned something about myself. That apparently when things are not at all fine, I decide to tell myself that I am fine, and I become what Dave would lovingly call “a little stubborn.” So as I stood there in the median next to my wrecked car as they tried to put a neck brace on me, Dave received the following phone call. “Hi! It’s me. I got in a little car accident but everything is fine and I am definitely fine so no need to come. Love you!”  Click.

This was the phone call I made about 20 seconds before they helped me into the ambulance to go get checked out, just before the tow truck arrived to take my car.

Truth: I wasn’t fine.

My own perception: Nothing to worry about here. It’s just a regular day.

Lucky for me, I have a wonderful husband who knows that the more I say I am fine, the less likely that is to be true, and he was there in a minute standing next to me.  What did I learn that day, besides what it feels like to get whiplash?

Even I am not the best judge of who I am or how I am really doing.

It would seem like the best source of information about myself would be me, but it turns out that even I can’t always be trusted. Even I don’t always know what’s true, even when it’s about me.

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Testimony Is Evidence

Several years ago, when we lived in Ohio, I opened the mailbox and found . . . a jury summons.

Ugh. I had never been on a jury before.  It was a super busy month at the church where I was serving, and with my family, so the timing wasn’t great. But I wasn’t too worried . I had heard from several pastor friends that no one wants a pastor on a jury.  The day of the summons came and after just a few minutes of waiting they called my number to come to the jury box to answer a few questions.

What is your name? Megan.

Is it correct that you are a pastor? Why yes, yes it is.

Can you state the name of the church where you serve?  Sure.  No problem.

At this point I started gathering up my things, thinking about what was next on my schedule, now that I was almost done at the courthouse. 

But then they asked one more question: Is there anything about your role as pastor that would keep you from being a fair member of a jury? 

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Looking for Truth

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Today we will be talking about truth, and especially how we can find truth that affects our lives.

But this is new for us.

Because we aren’t on the look out for truth nearly as much as we are on our guard against things that are not true.

We tend to be pretty skeptical.  No one wants to be made the fool, or tricked, or come across as looking gullible. This may have started when we were kids.  Many of us were lucky enough to have amazing, loving, attentive parents.

Who also happened to be liars.

Think about a few lies almost all parents tell.  Let’s say parents are on a walk or on a car trip with kids.

Child: How much longer?  

Parent: We are almost there.

Are we really almost there? If by almost, you mean another two miles on foot, or another 3 hours in the car. Potato, Potahto.

Child: Where is the dog? 

Parent: The dog went to live on a farm.

Oh yeah? What farm? Can we go visit? I didn’t think so.

Child: Can I go to the party?  

Parent: We’ll see.

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The Holy Spirit (and Mother’s Day)

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I’m going to be honest with you all.

Mother’s Day is a tricky day for the church.

For some of you,  it is pretty straightforward. On Mother’s Day you celebrate your mom with lunch together, or you are celebrated by your children, some cards, some flowers.  To you all, I wish you a wonderful Mothers Day celebrating together. Being a mom isn’t easy, and a lot of you aren’t just moms, you are great, hard working (and probably exhausted) moms, and you are pouring into your children everyday, or supporting your children as they raise up their own. Make sure your family appreciates you. Or at least grab a nap.

For some, Mother’s Day is great.   And for some it’s really, really hard.

Some of you have had to say goodbye to your mom.

Some of you have battled with infertility, maybe for a really long time, wanting to be a mom.

Some of you are moms who have lost children.

Some of you might not want to be a mom and  people get really judgey about that.

Some of you have a mom who is sick, or who the relationship there is….not what you’d like to it to be.

Some of you are finding a role change in your life, where now you are taking care of the mom who took care of you.

So for Mother’s Day, we could  focus on the mothering side of God .Or one year I preached about how God is like a mother hippo. But that didn’t go over so well.  Or we could have gone the way of one pastor I knew, who totally forgot it was mother’s day at all….and preached on hell.

But this year we are focusing on everything Jesus taught. Looking back to January, we have looked at how Jesus’ teachings can help us live our lives to the fullest. We have studied forgiveness.  But what does Jesus say about mothers?

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Unfair

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The Jesus teaching that we are going to look at today takes us into a story of family dynamics. He talks about two brothers, and their father. And if you have a brother or sister or even a cousin or friend that hung around a lot, this story will strike a chord with you.

Earlier this week was national sibling day, and people all over social media were posting pictures of with their brothers and sister, saying how much they love them. And we do love them… for the most part.

On the other hand, we also know that having a sibling means feeling the deep and real sting of things being unfair.

Think back to when you were a kid. Even when our parents tried their hardest to keep things equal, we are always alert, as kids, to any slight, any favoritism…anything that might be unfair.

I have one sister, a few years older than me. And I can still remember a moment when I was 8, and she was 13. 8 for me was an especially annoying year, and as soon as my mom left the room, I unleashed all of my 8 year old obnoxious powers on my teenage sister. She retaliated by yelling at me to stop.

Well, I had two choices.

I could stop.

Or I could flick her.

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