A Letter from Liz

How often do we write letters anymore?  When was the last time I sat down, with a pen and paper (or, fine, a laptop)?  It’s not something we do often.  Email is today’s form of a letter but we use it for business, for necessary communication.  Letter writing feels like something altogether different.  Letter writing is reserved for when we have something meaningful and personal to say.  The last time I wrote a letter, not to be confused with a thank you note, I was saying something deeply personal to someone very close.

The Apostle Paul wrote letters to many, different faith communities in his ministry.  Some of the communities were having theological arguments that he needed to help sort out.  Others were concerned about him sitting in prison and he wrote to ease their worry.  Some of Paul’s letters were in response to good reports about how the community was doing.  But, in all of his letters there are two consistent characteristics.  He reminds each community of the centrality of Christ’s teaching and he encourages them.

As I was thinking of how to write you, I could think of no better model.  I have loved my time at Plymouth.  I have grown to love many of you.  I love our worship together.  I love our ministers and staff. I’ll return to Georgia a better minister because of my time here.  So, while it will be difficult for me not to be with you, I am not worried because of who I see you to be, Plymouth.  You are a church that indeed encourages one another and looks to the Gospel for hope, instruction, and purpose.  The centrality of Christ in all aspects of your ministries is evident.

Paul wrote to the Thessalonians in his first letter of the beautiful hope we have in Christ.  Life was not always easy for this community living in Greek culture and learning to follow the way of Jesus.  Culture often conflicts with what we learned from God incarnate.  And so Paul, to these people he had grown to love, wrote these words:  “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”  That is what I, likewise, say to you.

Thank you for blessing my life richly and for encouraging me.  Keep up the good work of God that I have seen you doing and keep remembering because of whom you do it.  Be different and have courage for the awesome work that God is offering you.  See with God’s eyes and know that the spirit of love shines brightly through you.

I pray all of God’s grace and joy for you as you continue to grow in community and faith.




Teach Us to Pray

Lord, teach us to pray . . .

When life troubles us
and we need a clearer view
of your path.
When we must act now
but need help to act well
with a grace that surprises
and transforms.

Lord, teach us to pray . . .
When our vision of prayer
and our experiences of it
are much too small.
When we use prayer to hide
from your world and you use prayer
to help us engage the world
with compassion and love.

Lord, teach us to pray . . .
As you taught generations of disciples
once filled with fear
who sought your help
and found strength
to do the brave things
you ask your people to do
with courage and faith.

Lord, teach us to pray . . .
Until prayer becomes
the breath that fills and moves us,
the gift that draws us to you,
the way we learn
that all these days we live
are yours.


Worship Receiving Line Etiquette

photo-feb-19-12-01-40-pmAfter Jesus’ first sermon, the congregation tried to throw him off a cliff.  Since then churches have instituted a receiving line as a way to avoid an unfortunate end to a worship service.  The preacher at Plymouth is stationed at the door through which most people exit, but we leave room for the disgruntled to escape without comment.

This Sunday after she preaches, Liz will have the joy of these conversations.  Most of you are quite good at this exchange, but, nonetheless, just to be helpful, here are a few comments you should not make after the sermon:

“Good try.”

“Do you have a cold?”

“I’m just saying it’s 12:30.”

“Why don’t you preach on Revelation?”

“Every sermon you preach is better than the next one.”

“That used to be one of my favorite texts.”

“Where do you get your hair cut?”

“I’ll give you five bucks if you say the word zamboni next Sunday.”

“Do you know if we’re using real eggs for the Easter egg hunt this year?”

“Here’s what I would have done with the sermon.”

“I don’t come to church to be preached at.”

“Let me respond to the tiniest bit of minutiae from your sermon.”

The receiving line is your opportunity to be the preacher’s favorite—and with so little effort.  There are so many good things to say.  Try one of these on Sunday:

“If you had been my preacher twenty years ago I wouldn’t be so corrupt.”

“You almost make me want to read the Bible.”

“I never thought about that text in that way.”

“I like the Jesus you preach more than the Jesus I grew up with.”

“I talk about prayer a lot, but today I prayed.”

“I feel less tired than when I got here.”

“I remembered some things that matter.”

“I did not enjoy the sermon, but I will think about it.”

“I have a neighbor I haven’t spoken to in ten years.  I’m going to talk to her this afternoon.”

“Thank you for being honest.”

“I want our church to do more for hungry children.  How should I start?”

“I am going to be more aware of God this week.”

“I think I heard the Spirit invite me to do more.”

The best response to a sermon is not the words you offer the preacher, but a renewed openness to God.  As you leave church on Sunday consider shaking Liz’ hand and saying, “I want to be a Christian more than I did an hour ago.”



Face Time

I rely on my phone a bit too much. It’s my personal assistant, reminding me of appointments I’m prone to forget and birthdays I don’t want to miss. My phone gives me access to the latest news and weather updates- however unpleasant at times. It lifts my spirits. Songs I waited hours to hear on the radio, photos of my family and favorite spots in Brooklyn are a thumb tap or two away.

My phone makes communicating easy and efficient. I can text everything.  Information- on my way- have entire conversations. I can check my work email and gmail and share a moment with friends via Instagram.  Occasionally I’ll even talk to someone, the old fashioned way; but I refuse to face time.

A child whose family had moved came to visit his former Sunday School class a few weeks ago. Every other boy focused on retaining his popularity in the classroom. Bad jokes were made and the laughter was louder than usual. Goldfish crackers and Lego pieces were “accidentally” thrown.

I started the lesson about temptation with a question: “What are you sometimes tempted to do even though you know you shouldn’t?” Not an easy answer to share but a number of hands went up. A number of children were willing to reveal themselves, to take a risk, to trust that their audience would be kind.

The first child cautiously admitted that she wanted to be a couch potato, to watch movies and read all day long. A clever, honest answer.  Well, some of the boys thought that was just too funny. As their laughter took over the room, the child’s tears took over her face.

But they weren’t looking at her face, they were looking at each other for approval. When they did look at her face, when they saw her trembling lips and eyes,  they were horrified. Their intentions had not been bad, but the outcome was.

It’s easy to forget the power of our words and the fragility of others. We need to be reminded that those close to us need to be cared for, need love.  “If we love one another, God lives in us. God’s love is made complete in us.”  (1 John 4:12)

While I will never agree to face time on my phone, I will remember to do face time in life.


Underground Railroads

Have you imagined the questions the members of Plymouth Church were asking during the 1850s?  Why can’t the church stay out of politics?  Why are we involved with the Underground Railroad?  How do we know the people we are helping are not dangerous?  What is the vetting process?  Can anyone guarantee that nothing bad will happen to us?  Don’t we have enough to do just taking care of ourselves?  Should a church be breaking the law?  What could the government do to us?

Churches across the United States are now asking those same questions.  Many are part of what they are calling the New Underground Railroad.

Recent executive orders on immigration and two Department of Homeland Security memos move past earlier guidelines to focus only on criminals for deportation, and instead put undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation for something as minor as a traffic ticket.  We are being asked to ignore the fact that immigrants are statistically less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans.

The present administration’s ramping up deportations raises new questions, but the immigration system has not been effective or humane for a long time.  We break families apart and penalize the kind of people we want in our country.  Since 1995 the United States has allowed 5,000 visas per year for unskilled workers (and a guest worker program of about 200,000).  But for years this country has imported most of its agricultural workers, so twelve million people work in the shadows.  Ninety percent of undocumented men are working, because our country needs their labor.

People who do not think of themselves as political, but take their faith seriously, feel compelled to speak out.  Churches are resisting the deportation of undocumented immigrants.  They believe that the Jewish tradition compels us to practice hospitality to the foreigner.  They recognize that the Gospels are clear about the Christian requirement to care for the outsider.  Jesus warns those who pretend to follow, “I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.”

The Sanctuary Movement includes more than 800 courageous congregations that have committed to protecting immigrants.  They pledge to pray, educate, and give money.  Churches like Judson Memorial in Manhattan have formed study groups that are looking for thoughtful and responsible ways to follow Christ’s instructions.  Churches like Pilgrim St. Luke’s in Buffalo are preparing to use private homes as part of a modern-day underground railroad to move undocumented immigrant families to Canada.

Christians are asking good questions.