We Are Family...

((To hear the full sermon, click here and listen to the June 10, 2018 sermon))

“You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you the gospel in the face of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority.  Instead, we were like young children among you. Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” 1 Thessalonians 2: -18

This passage and these words come at a perfect time after a week like this week. Mental Illness is still very taboo in today’s society.  Nobody likes to talk about it, and many believe if you sweep it under the rug, it’ll go away.  Others believe that mental illness (depression or anxiety) is a sin and that if you pray enough, God will save you from your illness.  If you come from a tradition like that, let me be the first to tell you that God. Does. Not. Punish.  God does not see our shortcomings or our inabilities or disabilities as sins or something that we brought on by ourselves and because of something we have done.  IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT.  If anyone ever makes you believe it is your fault, come talk to me and I can clear that right up for you.  It is not your fault.

A lot of what I’ve heard this week about people like Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain, were that they were full of life.  Why in the world would someone who was as rich, adventurous, or bold like a fashion designer like Kate Spade, or world renown Chef and adventurer Anthony Bourdain take their own lives?

When Lutheran Pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, does a funeral for one of her beloved church members who have taken their lives, she says “If love alone could have saved them, they’d still be here.” If love alone, the love of friends and family. The love of spouses or siblings, could have saved them, they’d still be here.  That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be kind to one another, or that you shouldn’t reach out when you see people struggling.  Yes, there are hotlines and text messaging numbers- but there’s also a responsibility that humankind has to show up for one another.

I think this is what Paul meant.  When we’re family, at our best, we can be the children and the mothers and fathers and orphans.  In the church family, like Paul, we all play all of these roles. We are brothers and sisters walking alongside each other. We are each other’s babies in need of care. We are mothers to one another, pouring out the milk of teaching and love. We are fathers cheering each other on in the faith. We are orphans when we’re apart, vulnerable and anxious. We are all of those things. When we start to pigeon hole ourselves into only one role, we aren’t following Paul’s example. If we see ourselves only as vulnerable infants, needy but with nothing to give, we stunt our own growth. When we see ourselves only as nurturers, always pouring ourselves out for others, not allowing anyone to care for us, we burn ourselves out. 

Paul and the Thessalonian church teach us that being a family together means bringing our full and true selves, every needy and nurturing part, without deceit or shame, to the table, like children ready to learn and grow. It means letting go of any claims to power or authority, and instead being willing to share the very best most nourishing parts of ourselves, like nursing mothers tenderly caring for each other. 

If you’re new to this crowd, we hope you feel the bonds that are already formed. And know that there is room for you here. In this family.  We carry one another.  We look out for one another.  We nurture and encourage.  We empower and help and journey alongside each other.    

May it be so.

((Pictures by Suzanne Vinson, silvertreeart))

Grace and Peace to You...

A snippet of Pastor Judith's sermon from May 6, 2018 based on Philippians 1: 1-11; a letter of a communal thanks and a communal challenge: 

Grace and peace to you, saints and sinners of Emmanuel Baptist Fellowship.  I do indeed give God a lot of thanks for the ways you have remembered me; for the ways you have cared for me, been gracious to me, been Church to me, been God to me.  I rejoice in the foundation of this place, what this church has meant, means, and will mean to people, because you have found ways to bring the good news to people.  The good news of not only welcoming people in this space, but affirming them for being exactly who they are.  The good news of Jesus Christ.  You not only welcome the child at Christ’s side, but the poor and rich, and unhealthy, and the lesbian, gay, bi, trans, and queer community.  That good news is worth celebrating, so I celebrate that with you.  For that is good and holy work.  I am confident that the work that God has called you, individually and collectively, to do will continue to make this world a better place.  And will bring the KOG closer to here- this place. My prayer is one of persistence.  My hope is that you will continue the good fight for peace and justice.  The will to stay on the fence, the will to stay silent, and be complacent is strong.  My prayer is that you persist over that fence, that you speak up, and ignore the will to be complacent.  Because when you do, you are inviting people into a space that never felt comfortable until now.  You are inviting people that were made to feel broken, and by not ignoring that, we are also less broken.  May we hear the continuous call to join in Christ’s work.  We know that we may have to lead the way, but we stand and work and march together to aid in justice.  With a church like this one, with family like you, we have no fear. Together, we can continue the good fight, and reap the harvest that the work of justice brings to all God’s children. 

Peace be with you, EBF family. Amen.

Marching in the Light of God: A Palm Sunday Sermon

An excerpt from the sermon on Palm Sunday:

“Maybe, just maybe, Palm Sunday happened yesterday morning.  High school students stood in solidarity with other survivors of gun violence yesterday, just 39 days after the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.  All over the country, students marched.  Young people led the way.  Parents and educators and aunts and uncles followed.  Ministers and police officers followed.  On the stairs of state house in Columbia, hundreds of students stood, using their voice and taking a stand.  The only thing missing yesterday were palms. The same way Jesus rode in on a donkey saying staring the Empire and oppression in the face, claiming that time was up, our young people are marching, too.        

This entire gospel, the entirety of all the gospels, is to teach a story about a God who loved us, people, so much, that God made God’s self fully human- that advocated for and fought for the rights of all humans.  And empowered us to do the same.

The life of Jesus is best explained by Richard Rohr.  He says, “Jesus announced, lived, and inaugurated a new social order, an alternative to violence, exclusion, and separation.  Jesus went so far as to promise us this alternate reality.  It is no fantastical utopia, but a very real and achievable peace.”

Jesus created a new social order.  We call him the prince of peace because that’s what he embodied.  And he promises us a world of peace, inclusion, and unity.  It’s very real and achievable.  But we can’t stay silent about it.  As Christians, as people who wave our palms once a year, giving thanks for a Jesus who created this new social order and who taught about love and grace and peace, we cannot keep contradicting ourselves.   

On this Palm Sunday, may we give thanks for all the people that ride into town on donkeys with a target on their back, who refuse to give up or who refuse to hide.  May we give thanks and learn their ways.  Instead of standing on the sidelines waving our palms, shouting “Hosanna! God save us!”, let’s follow this Jesus to the cross, facing the Empire and oppression, claiming that their time is up.  May we actively and boldly work to create a world of peace that Jesus taught us about.  May we boldly kneel at the feet of others and wash their feet.  So yes.  Hosanna. God, save us.  But God save us from ourselves, lest we become too quiet, too complacent.

And instead, let us march.  March into the light of God.”

 

 Jerry Basden, Lisa Davis Brownlee, Annis Rankin, Pastor Judith Myers at the March for Our Lives (Columbia, SC/March 24, 2018)

Jerry Basden, Lisa Davis Brownlee, Annis Rankin, Pastor Judith Myers at the March for Our Lives (Columbia, SC/March 24, 2018)

A Letter to EBF..

2017 has passed. Now we must learn to write 2018 for all of our dates. Now we make resolutions and goals. Now we want to better ourselves during 2018.  

But we take a moment and give thanks for all that was in 2017.  I was called to pastor with you all in January 2017, beginning in February. We immediately jumped into an extraordinary Lenten season, following Barbara Brown Taylor's Learning to Walk in the Dark.  It was meaningful and intentional. It was beautiful and sacred. We celebrated the resurrection on a chilly Sunday morning. It was a morning filled with family and friends, with flowers, with hope. The spring was full of logistics. We had holy conversations about where God was calling us to- motivating us to revise our covenant and values to better match who we are today. We revamped our committee structure, again to better match who we are today.  We signed up for committees and got to work! 

The summer was laid back and restful. We ordained one of our own, Shaunna, a Chaplain now serving in August, Georgia.  We had cookouts and dreamed about what good Emmanuel can do.  We also had my Installation service.  We brought folks who knew me well, who nurtured me and encouraged me so that I may be confident in my call to Pastor.  

We kicked off the fall with energy.  We shared our own stories on Wednesday evenings. We had deep discussion in Sunday School about the Apocalypse (and read Scripture through an apocalyptic lens).  We began the Narrative Lectionary, following the Old Testament story from Creation to the prophet Isaiah giving God's people hope about what was to come. We celebrated World Communion Sunday with breads from all over the world.  We gave thanks for the Saints who have gone before us.

Advent was full of outreach and fellowship. We had our annual Christmas lunch and celebrated Christmas with Leaphart Place. We welcomed new members. We celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ.  

We said goodbye to people who we have loved, and who have loved us.  We said "welcome, beloved child of God" to the people who have walked into EBF.  Many of our people have had a hard year. We've walked with them well, giving the needed space, or lending a shoulder for the tears.  

This year, we've narrowed down our outreach efforts.  We prayed about the organizations that we have a close bond with, celebrating our relationships and building on those foundations.  We continued our strong connection with Leaphart Place, an organization that provides stability and assistance for those who have aged out of foster care. We celebrated Christmas with many of their residents. We also maintained our Little Free Library and Pantry at Victorian Lakes.  We marched with pride at the Famously Hot Pride parade, celebrating the beloved-ness of all humanity. 

I've learned a lot about this congregation this past year.  We've built some mutual trust.  And yet, there's still so much to figure out. I'm excited to learn more about the family systems at play. I'm excited to continue to build and gain trust with each of you.  I'm excited for how God is calling us to be a "unique kind of Baptist", where God may call us and lead us.  I give so much thanks for this call.  I give so much thanks for what this past year provided.  And I pray for this coming year.  That we get our hands dirty, being the presence of Christ to those who are on the margins, for those who were made to feel unloved and unworthy.  May we bold enough to claim our mission in this world.