Sorry I haven’t put up a post in a while, life has been pretty busy lately. I will be posting one within the next week but in the meantime, I’m hoping this will tide you over. Tomorrow I’ll be giving my first Sermon EVER. So read away, I hope you enjoy it and have a great week! (It should be noted that I am not planning on going to seminary, this is more or less a right of passage for interns at Church of the Pilgrims)
As I begin I would like to invite you all to think about John the Baptist as I have been picturing him this past week. Does anyone remember Chris Farley’s inspirational speaker character Matt Foley from SNL? These are two men who are both impassioned speakers who both live in a van down by the river! Only one eats government cheese is heavily self interested while the other eats bugs and honey and seems to be more altruistic.
Our theme on this third Sunday of advent is “Prepare the Way” which I interpreted as “Be Prepared”. I feel like there are some people in this world, perhaps even in the congregation, who believe that being prepared is the secret to success, or even the secret to happiness in life. I am not one of those people. Every morning I usually wake up at the last possible second because I love my sleep, I run out to catch the bus about 2 minutes before it shows up, I don’t eat my breakfast, which usually consists of approximately 3 granola bars, until I get to church and then I go through my schedule working on everything that I need to do for that day. Now this is not to say that I’m always completely unprepared. I always shower, lay my clothes out and make my lunch the night before so I can get more of that quality sleep time in the morning, since I’m more of a night person anyways. That being said, I feel like there are some things in life that you can’t be prepared for. The most direct example of this in my life, is being a Young Adult Volunteer through PC(USA).
I firmly believe that there is no way to be prepared for a year of simple living, living in community and for me specifically, working at a church. I come from a family of privilege. I spent this last year living on my own in Portland, and I had little to no relationship with God when I hopped on the plane for orientation at the end of August. Now that I’m about three and a half months into my year I really think that being unprepared has helped me more that it has hurt me. If I had any sort of preparation in any of those areas, I don’t think I could have experienced the powerful, overwhelming at times and educational experience that I’ve had so far. I would have come in with all of my preconceived notions and comparing everything to how I had done it in the past. I’m confident that I’m a strong community member because of what my roommates have told me; I have a very welcoming presence, a perpetually open ear and I’m honest, maybe even to a fault sometimes. But I think what has helped me most in community is a piece of advice that came from talking with former YAV and current Pilgrim, Leisha Reynolds-Ramos. That advice was simultaneously powerful and simple. It was to assume positive intention. When someone does something that annoys you or ticks you off or wakes you up early on a day that you really want to sleep in, assume that they did that to help you or from their point of view they thought this might be helpful. Now I must admit that despite my best intentions, I don’t always follow this advice. For example, I’m still trying to see the positive intention in one never unloading the dishwasher, but I tell myself there is positive intention there and it helps me learn to accept our differences.
As for working at a church, I didn’t really understand how involved I would be here until I showed up for work the first day. I didn’t even know I was going to be working with the Pilgrimage until I got off the train at Union Station on the first of September! But when I was at my first worship planning meeting it was like, OK… this is what’s happening. I was planning on working with OpenTable and the Washington Interfaith Network but I didn’t understand that an internship at Church of the Pilgrims/the Pilgrimage meant that I was going to have a leadership role in church every Sunday. My wavering faith was what made me feel most unprepared for working at a church. Walking into YAV orientation, I was confident in my beliefs as an agnostic- believing that there was some sort of omniscient, omnipresent being in the universe but I wasn’t prepared to put a name on it or even try to communicate with it. I didn’t see the validity in the bible-it’s an old book that’s been handed down and dictated and translated time and time again. I didn’t understand how there can be churches like Westboro Baptist and Churches like Pilgrims that base their work on the same book, in fact I still don’t think I can understand that. However, I saw the validity in church as a place of kindness and acceptance, to have a community of like minded individuals and to share that kindness with the communities that we come from. Despite all of my thoughts and opinions, I was committed to being open-minded about what other people thought about church and faith, which is why I’ve been enjoying my one-on-one’s with so many of you (soft plug, if you haven’t shared a one-on-one with me yet and would like to grab coffee or lunch with your captivating young intern, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org) In one of my one-on-one’s with a Pilgrim, we were talking about my faith journey and the response I got shocked me, inspired me and resonated with me on so many levels. The response was, “don’t get caught up on the ‘faith’ question”, and that “worship is not the only reason that we have church. Church is also serving Open Table, going to a WIN meeting, helping out in the garden, being Santa at the Christmas party and having conversations like the one we were having.
I see these beliefs reflected in the gospel story today. John the Baptist tells us that a little bit of water on our skins isn’t enough and that being a son of Abraham doesn’t matter, it’s what we do with our life that matters. These crowds weren’t expecting that sort of response, they thought that just showing up and getting baptized was enough. So then they ask a question many millennials have asked in their lifetime, *sassy*“Then what are we supposed to do??” I’m struck by how obvious his answers were and how revolutionary these people think his words are. If you have too much, give some away; don’t take advantage of people, don’t accept blackmail, be a nice person! Live honestly, have positive intention. He doesn’t say go to church or be sure to pay your per capita! John tells us, Live your life in a way that shows that you’re living for more than yourself. God’s kingdom doesn’t start and end with you or even with everyone at the river. Share that love with everyone in your life.
Isn’t it surprising how easy these instructions are? (Somebody say Wow!) John tells us, Do what you’ve been doing, but do it better, be nice to each other, show love. These actions take little to no preparation. We could all easily walk out the door right now and start living our lives with these intentions. But even for me, when I wake up tomorrow at 8:00 to start my bike ride to work at 8:20, I’m probably not going to be thinking about being nice and showing love to everyone I’m sharing the road with and I can guarantee that all of them won’t be sharing that kindness and love to me. But we don’t do it because we’re expecting something in return or even because it makes us feel better about ourselves. We do it because we call ourselves Christians and we choose to live our lives in a positive, happy, loving, and sometimes unprepared fashion.
I’m going to close with one last bible verse which I think really ties together everything that I’ve said today
Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.