301 First Street NW
Mount Vernon, IA 52314
Worship Sunday at 9:30 am
As a kid, Dr. Seuss stories were some of my favorites. His playful, imaginative drawings and use of language were (and are, as a parent) irresistible. But many of his books offer important commentary on human beings and how we treat one another that children of all ages understand. Indeed, although some his stories are over 50 years old, they still feel like fresh commentary on the divisions we see in our world today!
Recently, I’ve been reading Social Psychologist Christena Cleveland’s book, Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces That Keep Up Apart. In it she explains the cognitive processes (the way our brains work) that both help us and work against us when it comes to how we think about others. We very naturally divide the world in Us and Them and our brains work in all kinds of ways to reinforce that. But being aware of those cognitive processes is a big help in correcting that automatic “othering.”
The processes Christena Cleveland describes are at work in many of Dr. Seuss’s stories. AND they are also implicit in Jesus’ call to us to change our hearts, minds and lives and follow him and the faith community being like the body of Christ in which everyone is necessary and valued.
Join us this summer as each Sunday we explore what a Dr. Seuss story, social psychology and scripture teach us about being humans, faithfully following in God’s way.
Have you ever met someone and within minutes discovered that you have all sorts of connections and people in common?
This happened to me recently with Ben Thiel who led an Adult Forum with his wife, Mary Vermillion, back in February.
From emails beforehand and conversations that day and after, I learned that we both grew up with parents who were VERY active in the Presbyterian Church. Both of Ben’s parents became Presbyterian ministers while my parents served the church in other ways. Our mothers served on several committees together and even traveled as part of a study delegation to Central America in the 80s. It also turns out that when Ben was a student at Iowa Wesleyan in Mount Pleasant he was active in the local Presbyterian church where a close friend of my parents was the pastor. Truly, the world is small and connected and wonderful!
I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Ben and feel like we have so much in common. We have both have loved the church since childhood, love talking about how Jesus calls us to live and witness in our lives today, and are concerned about the ways in which our beloved church is a faithful witness to the kingdom of God in the world today—and when it is not.
Part of the challenge, of course, is Christians do not agree on what that faithful witness looks like. One of the most visible and vocal disagreements among Christians right now in around the place of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning) persons in the church, society, and public bathrooms.
Ben and I share a similar understanding of what the church’s response to LGBTQ people should be. We were both raised by parents who taught that God loves everyone (no exceptions) and that all have a place in the household of God, particularly the outcast and those called “sinners.”*
However, we recognize that not everyone else shares that perspective. Christians do not have a universal understanding of how to read and interpret the Bible, where to put the emphasis in interpretation, and what it means to love someone else.
Ben has a unique perspective on this “issue” because while he was born a girl, from a very young age he identified as a boy. At the February adult forum, Ben and his wife, Mary, read from the memoir they wrote together. For much of his early life, Ben lived in the uncomfortable tension of his outsides (birth sex = female) not matching his insides (gender identity = male). When puberty came, Ben (then Beth) buried those feelings…until several years into Beth’s and Mary’s relationship, when that cognitive dissonance came back with a vengeance and Beth made the transition to Ben.
What was most impressive to me when listening to Ben that Sunday was no matter how he questioned his own identity, what was never in question was God’s love for him, exactly as he was. (A close second was Mary’s story of how she came to understand that she loved a person and not a particular gender.)
Because I think that message is so important for all of us to hear in our own struggles as well as part of the debate surrounding the rights and “rightness” of transgender people, I asked the Session if we might have Ben share more about his story and the role his faith has played in that in worship one Sunday. They agreed and Ben will be preaching on Sunday, June 19.
While we may not all agree, view or understand human sexuality (in its ever more varied expression) the same way, I hope we can agree that God’s love is bigger than us. Please join us—and invite others, too—to hear Ben’s witness to God’s love for him, no matter what.
Grace and peace to you!
PS If you find yourself feeling in any way troubled about this, I hope you will talk to me. I would be very glad to have a conversation with anyone!
*Here’s a slightly fuller explanation of my own interpretation of scripture:
All of scripture is best read in light of the whole story. What I see in the biblical story arc is a trajectory towards acceptance for all:
Because of this trajectory, I see God’s invitation to us to constantly question who is “insider” and who is “outsider” and to do everything in our power to break down those barriers.
As part of our “Love in Action” program, our children and youth are asking church members and friends to donate baby items for families in need. Bring them to worship on Sundays, April 10, 17 and 24 and the kids will then deliver the items to Waypoint Services on Wednesday, April 27.
The most needed items are:
Waypoint Services (located in downtown Cedar Rapids) helps women and children living in poverty and provides shelter for families escaping domestic violence.
Thanks for supporting our kids and the wider community!
Preached at the Good Friday Service on March 25, 2016
Text – Mark 15:16-39
The news, Dear God, the news. This week, and every week lately.
An ever growing list of terrorist attacks, most recently in Brussels, Yemen, Turkey.
An ever growing list of mass shootings in our own country
Endless political rhetoric on the news, on talk shows, on social media.
The anxiety so many people feel about Donald Trump, what he says, what he does, that he keeps winning, and what that says about the state of our country.
There’s also the refugee crisis in Europe, growing anti-Muslim sentiment there and here, and in the US the ever-present problem of racism, and the latest backlash against LGBT people.
Closer to home, I was disheartened this week to read about the apartment complex in Iowa City that is one of that offers affordable rent in that city, essentially evicting tenants in order to renovate. Where will these families living so close to the edge financially go?
And, we’ve had a rash of burglaries in our area. Sometimes while people are in their homes. Many of us choose to live here because we haven’t felt like we had to lock our doors and windows. Until now.
The news, dear God, the news. It’s been disheartening for weeks, for months.
I’ll admit something to you—I have been incredibly grateful for the season of Lent in the midst of all of it.
Because Lent is a time during which we are encouraged to take a careful, honest look at ourselves, our families and communities, our world. Are we living as Christ wanted us to live? How are we missing the mark? In what ways have we failed God and each other? We turn to God in prayer, asking God to show us what we might do differently, how we might live and think and view things differently, more in tune with Jesus.
It is also a time—Holy Week, especially—in which we acknowledge the suffering and injustice that continue to exist.
I was tempted to have us sit with the suffering tonight, but I feel like we need to get to the hope part. At least a glimpse of it. And here again, this season offers that as well.
We started Lent with ashes, a symbol of death, the reality that none of us gets out of here alive. From dust we came and to dust we shall return.
More than that, ashes are a symbol of the worst we human beings can do to one another, to our planet. But they are not the last word, the final word because God makes beautiful things out of dust. So these ashes are both honest and hopeful.
That’s how the season of Lent begins, and now we reach the end today, on Good Friday—the day when everything went wrong. Jesus was betrayed by Judas and abandoned by the remaining 11, those who were supposedly closest to him; the most powerful in the land—the religious elites, the ones who operated hand in glove with the Roman Empire—removed the threat Jesus was to them through the official channels—and unjust trial, trumped up charges, and horrific violence meant to terrify everyone, with a healthy does of humiliation thrown in for good measure.
For Jesus’ followers, the bottom dropped out of their world and it appeared that all hope was lost.
It is this last experience of Good Friday—the bewilderment, the disappointment, the fear for the future—that I think many of us can relate to right now. Am I right? Do you feel we’re somewhere in between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, everything shifting and appearing to have gone terribly, terribly wrong? Afraid of what the future might bring?
Honestly, because I have felt sparks and embers of hope in this season. I almost hate to have Holy Week and Easter be in the rearview mirror.
Because in them I feel less afraid. This story does not end with Good Friday, with Jesus’ death on the cross and his body laid in a tomb. This story promises that what seems like the end of the world is not, and that even when all seems lost God is up to something we can neither see nor imagine. God is on the side of life, of love, of hope, of goodness. Always. Whether we can see what God is up to or not.
Let’s be honest for a moment, as we take a peek ahead to Easter Sunday. In spite of the empty tomb, the risen Jesus, the bewildered disciples, do you know what still remained? The Roman Empire. The corrupt religious authorities. They were still there. By some inexplicable divine power, God raised Jesus from the dead but the earthly powers remained in place.
And yet…the world, the balance of power was different.
After the truth of the resurrection had a chance to sink in, after the disciples trusted the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in themselves and in the world around them, they were no longer afraid. And they got to work, following in Jesus’ footsteps, living with love and mercy.
So here is the truth: On the face of things, the resurrection changes nothing. And yet, it changes everything.
Mark tells us that at the very moment of Jesus’ death the temple curtain, that heavy fabric that marked the boundaries of where it was believed God lived—God’s very address—that curtain was torn in two from top to bottom.
The implication? God was on the loose, no longer contained in the temple (if God ever was) but out there and active in the world.
Here is the truth of this day:
God is with us, at work in us and in the world. This is where we can place our trust.
When all seems to have gone wrong, when the world seems shrouded in darkness, placing our trust in hope, in God, in the promise that since God is for us, who can be against us—
this is the ultimate act of faith, it is the ultimate work of faith.
Let us pray:
O God who never lets us go, whether in times of darkness and fear or times of joy and gladness: You are in the present moment, working your purposes out. Be with us now (or rather, help us to be present with you). Help us not to fear shadows, whether those around us in the moment or the ones we fear may come to pass. Help us to listen for your voice as we walk through the valley of darkness. Give us the courage, strength and faith to trust you, to follow you, to hang on to hope. In Christ’s name we ask it. Amen.
On Easter Sunday this year, we’ll be covering the cross with paper butterflies instead of fresh flowers. We need your help to make those butterflies!
Sunday, March 20 – During Sunday School (11:00-Noon), the children will make butterflies out of coffee filters, paper plates and plain paper.
Wednesday, March 23 – Starting at 2:00, adults are welcome to make butterflies, too.
Or, you can make your own at home. There are LOTS of ways to make butterflies, but here are the links to the methods we’ll be using:
Early in the morning on the first day of the week, three broken-hearted women approached the tomb of their beloved friend and teacher, Jesus. They expected to anoint his body for burial, making their final good-bye. Instead, they found the stone was rolled away, the tomb empty and an angel declaring, “Don’t be afraid! He has been raised, he is not here!”
Join us for worship at 9:30 am as we sing “Alleluia!” and celebrate this good news that “Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!”
Service includes the Butterfly-ing of the Cross, as we cover the cross with paper butterflies as a symbol of new life and rebirth. (Make your own or use a butterfly created by others.)
An Easter Egg Hunt for children up to Grade 4 will take place following worship in Memorial Park (rain/cold location – in the church)
On this first day of Holy Week, we begin with waving palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna!” as we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We will have palm branches for everyone. Children of any age are invited to process in with their branches.
Then, our focus turns to “the rest of the story” as we read through Mark’s version of the last hours of Jesus’ life–the last supper, praying in the garden, Judas’ betrayal and Jesus’ arrest, the trial, Peter’s denial, Jesus’ appearance before Pilate, the crucifixion, and his death and burial.
9:30 am in the Sanctuary
Roger Johanson will lead the discussion starting at 11:00 am in the Community Room.