April 22 – “Confessions of a Gay Catholic” by Joe Jennison


“Confessions of a Gay Catholic”

by Joe Jennison

Sunday, April 22 at 2:00 pm in the Sanctuary


Writer/performer Joe Jennison will bring his one-man show “Confessions of a Gay Catholic” to the First Presbyterian Church of Mount Vernon, 301/309 First Street NW, Mount Vernon, on Sunday, April 22 at 2 p.m.

The play is a series of true stories that track Jennison’s relationship with the Catholic Church, from his earliest memories as a 7-year-old until today. The play ultimately details his reconciliation with the church after 32 years away. The play will be followed by a brief talkback and reception with the actor/writer.

Despite feeling ostracized by the very church he was baptized in, Jennison continues to attend and advocate for the church he loves. He is the director of the Mount Vernon-Lisbon Community Development Group. “Confessions of a Gay Catholic” is his 25th and most personal play to date.

“In 2011, I had a supernatural experience while attending confession,” said Jennison of his one-man show. “And I started to realize that my own personal story and struggle with my faith and my church is far more interesting than any fictional story I’ve ever written. These stories I tell are personal and true and are written and performed with honesty and love.”

“I saw Joe’s play performed recently at Theatre Cedar Rapids,” said church pastor Lori Wunder. “And I was so moved and honored that this new piece was built from the little piece he did as part of our Living Into Our Vision series that I just had to invite him back.”

Jennison has been writing and performing plays since 1985. His play “A Beautiful Man” was voted Best Play and Best Comedy at the 2003 San Francisco Fringe Festival. He also won the Dean Goodman Award for Best Play that same year. Some titles of his plays include “The Night I Kissed Osama bin Laden,” “Twinsburg,” “Cedar Rapids Famous” and “My Five Husbands,” and have been performed in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Minneapolis. “Confessions of a Gay Catholic” was featured most recently in the Theatre Cedar Rapids Underground Play Festival.

The First Presbyterian Church of Mount Vernon is pleased to welcome Jennison to the church, an earlier and shorter version of this play, titled “Jesus in the Confessional,” was performed in the church in 2014.

The event is free and open to the public. A goodwill offering will be taken at the performance.


April 8, 2018 Sermon – A Place for Everyone

Easter Sermon Series – A Place to Call Home, Week 1

A Place for Everyone

John 20:19-31

April 8, 2018

Rev. Lorene E. Wunder


I saw a billboard yesterday that said, “Fear is contagious.”

Isn’t that the truth? “Fear is contagious.”

I haven’t looked into it, but I have to wonder if fear is contagious on purpose, like that’s the way we’re designed. After all, the fear response is intended to keep us alive, right?

But I suspect when we are afraid, we prefer to be afraid with other people rather than alone. Perhaps this is why scary movies are so popular, and haunted houses. For some—not me—it is fun to be scared with your friends.

In a similar way, when there is something we hear or see or read that scares us individually, our impulse is to tell other people. We call others, ask, “Did you hear about…?” when we run into people we know, post and share the story on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram.

The saying goes, Misery loves company, and I suspect the same holds true for fear—fear loves company, too.

Perhaps that’s why on the evening of that first Easter, the remaining disciples were huddled together in a locked room, afraid.

Just a moment to talk about context:

Last Sunday, we read Mark’s version of the Easter story, which ends with the women running from the tomb, too scared to say anything to anyone. (But of course, they did tell someone at some point, because gospels were written, and here we are.)

This morning’s reading is from the Gospel of John. In John’s version of Easter morning, we see the women tell the disciples and Mary Magdalene have the experience of meeting the risen Jesus.

And yet…the disciples were still terrified. After all, the religious authorities (which is the more accurate translation of “the Jews” here) might come for them next. They were his followers, other people had seen them with Jesus, so they were huddled and hiding in a locked room, trying to make sense of what the women had told them and what they were supposed to do with this absolutely unforeseen development.

Fear is contagious, and best experienced in a group of people.

Suddenly, through the locked doors and into that frightened group came Jesus, who stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”

Given everything that’s happened, it’s an interesting thing for Jesus to choose to say.

It’s possible that Jesus saying this might have rung a distant bell in the disciples’ heads, calling them back to what Jesus told them just a few days before as he said good-bye to them after washing their feet. Jesus said a lot of things that night—four chapters worth (see John 14-17)—but one thing Jesus promised was this:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

Jesus offered them peace. He showed them his hands and his side. The scales fell from their eyes and they began to believe, and even to rejoice. He tells them again, “Peace be with you.” And then our translation says he breathed on them but a better translation is breathed into them, in an echo of the story from Genesis in which God formed humankind out of the dust and breathed into them (Genesis 2:7) to give life. Jesus breathed into them the Holy Spirit, also known as the Advocate or helper (John 14:25), as a gift to help them understand and act.

And these experiences of Jesus made all the difference for the ten disciples here. They could believe and trust again.

However, the 11th disciples Thomas, missed out and because of that, he is forever known as “Doubting Thomas.”

Poor Thomas. It’s really not fair that he got stuck with that name. He only wanted what everyone else got—to have an encounter with Jesus, his own moment of face to face time.

Thomas has an important role to play in John’s gospel. For John, “belief” is not an intellectual assent to a list of propositions (e.g. I believe in God the Father Almighty and Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord and so on and so forth). No. Belief in John is all about relationship, having a relationship with God and with Jesus, and then, finally, with the Holy Spirit. John uses the Greek word meno to describe this relationship; meno can be translated “abide, remain, stay, continue, dwell.”

When Thomas doubted because he wasn’t there, he pointed to the importance of belief as a relationship based on experience. And that gave Jesus the perfect opportunity to look at those of us listening in on the story to say, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:29b)

That moment is a way of saying that going forward, first-hand experiences of Jesus would become far more rare, and that the way faith and belief would happen was and is through the witness of and relationship with other people.

I suspect that for many of you, like me, your own belief, your own relationship with God, is something handed on to you through the witness of others—family members, mentors, friends, pastors, authors, sometimes complete strangers.

My belief, my relationship with God is based on my relationship with other children of God. Yes, I have practices of prayer and contemplation and reading that I must do on my own. But it is essential to be in community, too.

We listen to God’s story together, we worship and pray together, talk about and witness to how we’ve seen it happen in our own lives. When one of us is having a difficult time, we walk together and share the load. When my faith is weak, others of you lift me up, and sometimes it is the other way around.

We believe together because we live together, we are in relationship with one another and because of that, in relationship with God. We belong to God, and we belong to each other. We need each other. That’s how we make it.

Remember that billboard I told you about? I only mentioned half of what it said:

“Fear is contagious. So is hope.

We live in fear-full times. There are real things happening in our world to be afraid of, anxious about, upset about. And, there are forces deliberately at work to keep us afraid, to use our fear to make us support causes and buy products, to manipulate us.

Fear is contagious. So is hope.

That’s why we need this place, this time of worship, this spiritual home, where all are welcome to gather and be reminded that there are always reasons for hope. The way things are right now is not all there is and it is not how things will remain. There is always hope for the future.

And we will find that hope together, abiding with God, keeping our eyes on Jesus, trusting the help of the Holy Spirit and relying on each other.

Thanks be to God for this gift! Amen.

Easter Sermon – A Different Kind of Ending

A Different Kind of Ending

Mark 16:1-8

Easter Sunday – April 1, 2018

by Rev. Lorene E. Wunder

So…Did you notice anything missing from the reading from Mark’s gospel this morning?

Or maybe I should ask…did you notice anyONE missing?

Jesus. His body is missing, just like it’s supposed to be. But there is not even a glimpse of the risen Jesus.

Mary Magdalene is there, but we are used to the Gospel of John’s version with a weeping Mary mistaking Jesus for a gardener.

I imagine when most of us imagine that first Easter morning, what we imagine is John’s version. John has all the drama, as Mary Magdalene moves from grief and confusion to amazement and hope and joy.

Mark’s ending is…different, very different.

From the beginning, some have found it…unsatisfying. You could argue that Mark’s gospel stops just short of a happy, or even a hopeful, ending:

“Overcome with terror and dread, [the women] fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8)

Close the curtain. THE END

It almost seems like an April Fools’ joke, doesn’t it?

What do you think? Do you like this ending?

If you don’t like it, you are in good company:

Look up Mark chapter 16 in a Bible and you will find more after verse 8. Depending on when your Bible was published, it might bracket everything that comes after the women fleeing because they were afraid and indicate that two endings—the shorter and the longer—were added later. [Shorter and Longer Endings Here]

Remember that back before the printing press, manuscripts were copied by hand, and those early scribes occasionally took liberty with what they copied. Clearly, a few of them weren’t satisfied with Mark ending his gospel, “the good news”, with fear and silence.

So they cleaned it up a bit, probably in the early second century.

In the shorter version, just two sentences, we are assured that the women did what they were supposed to do—they told and others believed.

In the longer version, eleven verses, Jesus appears to Mary in what sounds like an abbreviated version of John’s ending, followed by Jesus appearing to two people who are out walking (which is remarkably similar to Luke’s version of the road to Emmaus), and then Jesus appears to all the disciples as they are sitting together in a room.

There are a couple of things that I find interesting about the longer ending of Mark.

First, it emphasizes belief, almost as if it is trying to make up for Mark’s original version of not believing. This longer ending includes some signs that will accompany those who believe: casting out demons, speaking in tongues, healing the sick with the laying on of hands, and—my personal favorite—picking up poisonous snakes and drinking deadly things and not being harmed.

Ever heard about snake handling churches, deep in the Appalachian mountains? The longer ending of Mark is where they come from. Wow.

I don’t know about you, but I am glad–and relieved!–scholars determined that this ending was added on later!

Another thing I find interesting is that when the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples, he “upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.” (Mark 16:14) This could be an abbreviated version of the disciple Thomas who doubted, as told by John.

I have to say, it just doesn’t feel like Jesus to me, that he upbraided or (as different translations say) rebuked or scolded or criticized the disciples for not believing.

I don’t think that sounds like Jesus. I think that sounds like followers a few generations later who wanted Jesus to be tough on the doubters, and chew out the disciples for running away at the end. That sounds to me like a human ending, not the unexpected ending God delivers.

And here’s the thing…I actually like the ending—the original ending—of Mark’s gospel.

I think it is an entirely appropriate response for the three women to be scared beyond the power of speech by an angel at the empty tomb, telling them Jesus is not here.

We know the ending so well, it’s virtually impossible to put ourselves in their shoes, to truly imagine how scared and despondent and hopeless they felt after Jesus’ death. Crucifixions were a part of life under the Romans but Jesus’ followers assumed he would end that humiliating death sentence altogether. They thought Jesus would change everything, end the Roman Empire, not die at the hands of it.

That was not the ending the women and those first disciples were looking for.

Ending the gospel with Jesus’ followers all frozen with fear even as the angel tells them the tomb is empty and Jesus is alive—what I experience is a sense of humanity, of compassion, of making space for doubt and disbelief, and yes, fear and grief.

And there was plenty of that to go around that first Easter morning:

Notice that the angel instructed the women to “tell his disciples and Peter” (Mark 16:7, NRSV) that Jesus has been raised and is going ahead of them to Galilee. And Peter. Peter, who had made a big show about how he would stay with Jesus no matter what.

Instead, just as Jesus had predicted and Peter had sworn would never happen, Peter had denied knowing Jesus, denied that he was one of his followers.

Peter did a belly flop, got exposed as a fraud. The shame, the humiliation, the grief, the regret. Can you imagine?

When the women finally told Peter that Jesus was back, did that sound to Peter like the best possible news, or the only thing worse than Jesus’ death?

If you were Peter, what would it sound like to you?

But here’s the thing:

With the resurrection, God brings life and hope and new and unexpected possibilities to dead ends and no way outs.

In the resurrection, God brings new life where none is expected, where everybody has stopped looking for it.

So when the women met that angel and were too overwhelmed and frightened to say anything, it was okay. Jesus was raised for them, waiting patiently until they were ready to try to share what they had experienced.

When Peter was huddled away somewhere, ashamed of what he had done and terrified that he would be next, it was okay. Jesus was raised for him, too, to offer grace and mercy and forgiveness.

Jesus was raised to change the ending.

Where do you find yourself today?

Are you afraid? Ashamed? Full of doubt? Full of grief? Wondering where the good news is for you, a loved one, our country, our world?

It’s okay. It’s okay to feel that way.

But take heart. The way things are right now is not the ending, it is not the way things will remain.

The resurrection promises there is hope, that God somehow, mysteriously finds a way to make a way whenever and wherever there seems to be none.

The resurrection shows us that compassion and mercy and grace and forgiveness are far more powerful than shame or humiliation or failure.

The resurrection shows us that God can redeem even the world’s worst violence and hatred and abuse of power because God is on the side of life and love.

The resurrection say, this is not the end. And thanks be to God for that.


L: When we are all despairing;

when the world is full of grief;

when we see no way ahead,

and hope has gone away:

All: Roll back the stone.

L: Although we fear change;

although we are not ready;

although we’d rather weep and run away:

All: Roll back the stone.

L: Because we’re coming with the women;

because we hope where hope is vain;

because you call us from the grave and show the way:

All: Roll back the stone.

~Janet Morley, in Bread of Tomorrow (found in Resources for Preaching and Worship Year B)