Tag Archives: preaching

detour?

Let’s just say from the outset, that one should be careful what one chooses for a sermon title…

A few months ago I was asked to be a guest preacher. I love to preach, so I said yes.

Usually when asked to preach, I take a look at the lectionary text for the day, the ‘assigned passages’ from the Bible. Sometimes I choose to preach from the lectionary passage, other times I don’t.

For this particular Sunday, May 9, one of the texts was Acts 16:6-15. I read it and knew it was the passage I wanted to use. It is a story of the apostle Paul and it is a story of Lydia, considered to be the first European convert to Christianity. It is not a long passage, and, on first glance, one may be tempted to think that there is not much going on in it. But if you dwell in the text for a bit there is a lot more going on than meets the eye. Oh wait, I just started into preacher mode, and this was supposed to be, not the sermon, but the story of how the sermon itself became a detour. Right.

So, as I had been working on the sermon one of the things that struck me was that, in the text, God prevented Paul from going where he wanted, prevented Paul from going back where he had already been. It was God who sent Paul somewhere new (through a dream) and that lead to a meeting with Lydia and a group of women outside the city gates, alongside a river. They were in Macedonia, the city of Philippi, which is modern day Turkey, in the European part. But Lydia was from Thyatira, which is actually in Asia.

I was so excited to have stumbled upon this little gem…the first European convert was actually an immigrant, and a woman at that! The few times I’ve heard the story of Lydia (which is not all that common of a story, actually) I’ve never heard anything about her being an immigrant. In this time of anti-immigrant laws and feelings, it seemed like an interesting piece, that the first European convert actually talked about Jesus with an accent.

I happened to post something about the Lydia passage on facebook. Fellow pastor Steve Yamaguchi commented on the passage, how it was one of his favorites. We exchanged comments back and forth about how cool the passage was, and how we both had noticed and appreciated this ‘immigrant’ piece within it.

Cut to… Sunday morning, a few minutes before I was to preach this sermon about Paul and Lydia, entitled Detour, at the First Presbyterian Church of Downey. I arrived at the church a bit late due to an encounter with Jesus in a parking lot (see previous post) and was discussing the service with the Associate Pastor, Alfredo.

Offhand, I made mention of the text, of Lydia, and of my ‘punchline,’ that Lydia was actually an immigrant.

“That’s great,” said Alfredo, “but Steve Yamaguchi just preached on Lydia a few weeks ago.”

What?! Oh no. What was I going to do? Having just been emailing back and forth with Steve, I knew what he must have preached about Lydia. There went my punchline.

“Um, should I preach on something else then?” I asked Alfredo.

“Do you have something else?” he responded.

“Nope.”

“Well, then I guess God wants us to hear this passage again,” said Alfredo.

I guess so.

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meeting Jesus in the parking lot

“We preach from experience for one reason, and one reason only: experience is where God meets us.” Anna Carter Florence

It wasn’t God who met me. But it was Jesus. Jesús, to be precise.

He was on a bicycle, riding through the Starbucks parking lot in Downey. I had stopped at the Starbucks to do some final sermon prep, and was taking Tigger out for a quick stroll before heading over to First Presbyterian Church of Downey to preach a sermon I had entitled “Detour.”

We got to chatting, Jesús and I, eager as I am to practice my Spanish. Finally I told him I had to go, I was going to be late for church.

“What church,” he asked. “I’m looking for a church.”

“The Presbyterian Church,” I responded. “It’s on Downey Ave, just a few blocks from here.”

“What is the address?”

“I don’t know. But it is on Downey Ave, just a few blocks from here. You should come. They speak Spanish. The services are at 10AM.” I replied, trying to be friendly, but knowing that I was now a few minutes late for my ‘guest preacher’ meeting before the service started.

“Could you tell me the address?” he asked.  Okay Jesus, I was thinking, can’t you just find it on your own? I’m late for church! It was the irony, more than my own sense of generosity or hospitality that forced me to respond, “I will look it up for you.”

So, I went to my iPhone, looked up the address, and proceeded to tell him.

“Could you write it down for me?” Seriously, Jesus, I don’t have time for this! I thought to myself, but again, noting the irony of being too much in a hurry to invite Jesus to church.

I found a piece of paper and wrote down the address.

“Here it is,” I said. “I’m so sorry, but I really have to go–I’m running very late.” I did not mention that I was the preacher for the morning. We said our goodbyes and I was on my way.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” I said to Alfredo, the Associate Pastor who met me as I arrived at the church. “I met Jesus at Starbucks.”

Running, preaching, gardening and rain

It’s a good thing that I can type with my hands and not my legs (probably for many reasons) because I can tell you that after doing a long run today my legs are stiff, sore, and as Tommy says, just plain “weared out.” Aside from the post-run tiredness, in other marathon news I have been truly overwhelmed by the amazing support from so many of you (for the rest, there’s still time…just kidding, I mean, there is still time, but kidding about the pushy salesperson part) and I am happy to say that I have reached the $2500 point! Not only does that mean that the Labrecque Foundation gets that much more money to help research and hopefully cure lung cancer, but it also means I don’t have to take up a side job as a street preacher with a collection jar in front of me.

Speaking of preaching (talk about a segue), I preached to the choir again a few weeks back.  This is the same small, struggling church in Long Beach where I preached this summer and where there were more people in the choir than the congregation. This time the congregation had three times as many people as the choir! But unfortunately that’s just because the choir’s down to 5…  The text was the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37) and though you can’t listen or read it (they don’t tape and I was practicing my ‘preaching without a manuscript’ skills) the question I posed to them was one of wondering if the priest and the Levite (if you don’t know who I am talking about sorry, you’ll have to read the story) did what was logical, practical and almost to be expected (what I might do?)…and if it was the Samaritan who did the unheard of act.  If he was the good guy in the story, what does that mean for us and our lives?

Speaking of life reminds me of the garden. The good news is that the lettuce is going strong as are what I am affectionately calling “the world’s largest cherry tomato bushes.” The bad news is, apparently the gardeners (the paid kind) thought the pumpkin and Crenshaw melon patches were just a bunch of dead leaves (which they were) and tore them out, leaves, melons, pumpkins and all…the worst was that one of the 3 “Thanksgiving” pumpkins was just starting to turn orange and look like we might actually get our pumpkin pie from our very own garden. Tommy (7) seemed to rebound better than the rest of us from the tragedy, though he also lost his ‘stick pile’ in the destruction.

Speaking of stick piles, actually, that one doesn’t work… Anyway, the other tidbit to share is that I have links to new photos. These are photos from the Ecuador Photo Project that I helped teach this August (you can see pictures of the students themselves, their work, and pictures from our ‘exhibit’ on the concrete soccer field) as well as the LA Photopiece that I helped to teach this summer (you can see pictures of their work). It has been really fun to be involved in both of these opportunities to combine my love of photography with a desire to spend time with students and help them find their ‘voice’ and realize that they have something to say to the world about their world. This Sunday is considered World Communion Sunday and Christian churches around the world will all be sharing in communion (Eucharist, Lord’s Supper, depending on your tradition) together. As part of that, four of the churches that participate in the Ecuador trip will all be displaying exhibits of the Ecuadorian students’ work, hung on clothes lines, with clothes pins. If you are anywhere near Branford or Hartford Connecticut, or Monson or Weymouth Massachusetts, you should go by and see! If you are somewhere else and you know of somewhere to show the work locally, let me know!

Oh, and not to be negligent on my weather reporting, we actually had rain in Southern California a few weeks back! The first of the season, and according to the rain gauge, 1.5 inches overnight!

Sqaush updates, preaching to the choir and other news…

Greetings from the garden,

I have to say I got many funny responses to my email about ‘manually’ pollinating the squash…

After all that effort with the Q-tip I found out from a community college herbs and vegetables class (definitely an email in its own right) that the problem was likely either too much water or not enough carbohydrates. Though I contemplated pouring some spaghetti in the pot, I tried the ‘less water’ approach first and it seems to have worked like a charm!  My mom did comment that this seemed like a lot more work than simply going to Trader Joe’s…

I’ve also been doing some gardening with Tommy (he’s 7) in his grandparents’ (Martha and Jack) backyard.  So far we’ve got an herb garden, some undocumented succulents (yes, there’s a story there), cherry tomatoes, peppers and even a pumpkin patch! Martha makes the best pumpkin pie in the world, so Tommy figured we should grow her some pumpkins to make it from.  He also wanted to put in a fountain and a fish pond, but I told him that might be out of the scope of our initial gardening phase. In the experimental section of the garden we’ve planted an avocado pit. I think we might have some guacamole in about four years, if we’re lucky.

When I can fit it in amongst all of the gardening I am actually doing quite a bit of freelance work these days…writing, photography, and websites as well as preaching two weeks in a row. The first week I preached to the choir—literally!  I think there were about 8 people in the choir and about 7 in the pews… It was actually wonderful getting to know the 15 of them!  The following week I preached to more of a traditional congregation, size-wise. There was one funny moment when the offering had been collected, the ushers were standing in the back, the organist was playing, and playing, and playing…and all of a sudden I realized that I was supposed to stand up and call the ushers back to the front for the prayer. I wonder how long we would have sat there? If you are interested in the sermon I preached, it is posted (in text form for now) and called “It’s a Crazy Story.” Honestly, it really is a crazy story.

Finally, I am getting ready to head to Ecuador tomorrow for my third “Adopta Una Familia” trip with Erica (seminary roommate) and a team of about 70 gringos. We will all be staying with Ecuadorian families and while they will all be doing hard manual labor (mostly construction) my job will be to photograph them sweating!  Actually, this year I will also be teaching a photography class to 10 teenagers from the barrio. It should be fun, and I can’t wait to share the pictures with you! It is a mini version of something called photopiece that I have been helping my friend Leanna to teach in downtown LA last fall and this summer.

Stay tuned for (hopefully, internet connection willing) photos and updates from Ecuador…