Check out Pastor Lia’s sermon from December 1, 2019, the first Sunday of Advent.
Check out Pastor Lia’s sermon from December 1, 2019, the first Sunday of Advent.
A sermon by Pastor Lia Scholl based on Matthew 6:25-33
As most of you know, I pastored a Mennonite congregation in Richmond, Virginia for eight years before coming here.
A little bit about Mennonites: Mennonites are closely related to the Amish. In fact, several of my congregation came out of the Amish community. They are generally amazing singers—with full on 4 part harmony in the congregation. Except this congregation. Really? They didn’t sing so well.
Mennonites do this thing when you meet them—they try to figure out who you are by your last name, or who you know… If you ever meet a Yoder, ask. There are plain clothes Mennonites and fancy clothes Mennonites—and as far as I can tell, plain clothes Mennonites dress like the Amish, with long dresses, and head coverings for the women, and the men wear suits without lapels. And fancy clothes Mennonites wear Birkenstocks.
Mennonites have a strong streak of peace, justice, and pacifism. They believe that violence is “not the will of God.” That pacifism translates into slow, deliberate decision making.
They will deliberate, deliberate and deliberate.
As you might guess, that drove me nuts.
A funny story… I had been at the Richmond Mennonite Fellowship for about five years when I decided to begin preaching from the Narrative Lectionary—you remember this—it’s a four-year cycle of long Biblical texts.
Now Mennonites NEVER told me what to preach, but low and behold, the coordinating council was meeting, and one of the items on the agenda was the Narrative Lectionary.
Now y’all know me, by now right? I saw that on the agenda, and I got a little huffy. How dare they try to tell me what to preach!” As we settled into the meeting, I was just WAITING for them to bring it up—I was ready with all my arguments—they had never discussed what my texts were before, I choose my texts, not them… You can imagine, right?
Finally, we got to the agenda item. And rather than waiting for them to fill me in, I jumped in! Why are we talking about this? We’ve never talked about my choosing texts before…
A giggle went around the table, and it turned into a guffaw.
I was starting to get hot! Finally, the coordinator said to me, “Lia! Don’t worry! We just want to know how we can help you with the Narrative Lectionary!”
You see, at 5 years, they knew me. They knew my foibles, my faults, my idiosyncrasies.
And they could tease me out about them.
And I knew theirs, and could do the same. There was trust. And love. In spite of our foibles.
And I needed to lean into that trust. Because they could.
Today’s text is about leaning into trust.
In Matthew’s gospel, the author groups Jesus’ teaching together in a long sermon. We call it the sermon on the mount. Near the end of it, Jesus talks to the crowd about trust.
Only Jesus calls it worry…
I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Look at the birds, don’t they eat well? Consider the lilies—don’t they look splendid? Can we add any time to our lives with worry?
But how many of us worry?
I know I do. I have a hard time with trust.
Even though I know God has always been here.
Even though I know God is here right now.
Even though I know God will always be here.
What does trusting God look like in a congregation?
Does it look like nervously considering the budget each month?
Does it look like worrying about attendance?
Does it look like obsessively checking the church facebook page for more likes?
You might have guessed that the last week was one of my most worrisome in 18 years of pastoral ministry. In addition an unsmall incident of conflict, there’s an office to move, a budget to resolve, internet service to transfer, cabinets to move, worship to plan, staff to manage, people to visit.
But deep in the midst of the week, I literally heard a voice.
The voice said,
Lia, you can do everything right and still fail.
And you can do everything wrong and still succeed.
Because you know what?
The future of this church doesn’t rely on my work. It doesn’t rely on your work, either.
It relies on God.
When we go back to the text, it says don’t worry, and “Seek first the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and God will give you everything you need.”
It dawned on me that here at the end of the sermon on the mount, Jesus was talking about the beginning of the sermon on the mount. Seeking the kingdom of God looks like:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
And if we seek that kingdom, then God will give us everything we need.
I wonder. What do you need from church? All our needs are right there—we need the kingdom of heaven, comfort, nature, justice, mercy, to see God, to know we are the beloved children of God.
Every week I think about you all—and I wonder, What do you need from church this week?
And you know? You probably don’t need a budget. You probably don’t need internet. You probably don’t need a sofa!
But I bet you need to know that someone is praying for you. I bet you need to know that you have the strength get through the things you’re going through. I bet you need to know that you are loved. I bet you need to know you are appreciated. I bet you need to know you are cared for.
And in some way, folks, in my anxiety I am failing you.
Because I’m worried about the budget and trying to fix that.
Because I’m worried about conflict, and trying to fix that.
Because I’m worried about moving things next door and trying to do all of that.
I’m worried about the wrong things.
Maybe you are, too?
My husband Drew told a story this week about worry. For those of you who don’t know, he used to work in TV.
And one evening they were putting on the evening news, and the producer (who was a highly anxious person and let everyone know by her language) began screaming at everyone, because everything was going wrong.
After a few minutes of mess ups and screaming, her boss came in and told everyone to fade to black and go to commercial.
And then the boss turned to the anxious person and said, “Look. If we ain’t curing cancer or bringing folks to Jesus, it’s not that important.”
Our church budget never cured cancer, and no one ever came to Jesus because of the church copier.
But it’s not just that I’m worried about the wrong things…
It’s that I’m worried about all the things. I bet you are, too.
So today, just for today, I’m going to try to stop worrying.
If God takes care of the sparrows and the lilies, won’t God care for us?
Philippians 4 tells us “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
So will you pray with me please?
Help me, and help us, O God, to not be worried.
To trust in your loving care.
We are grateful for all that you have given us,
the material goods we have, but so much more:
for our families,
for our friends,
for our church,
for our world,
for the lilies and for the little birds.
Help us to trust in your promise to take care of every one of our needs —
Help us to trust you more and worry less.
Please give us the peace which surpasses understanding,
so that we may trust in you. Amen.
A sermon by Pastor Lia Scholl, based on Mark 12:38-44.
As you know, we’re in our second stewardship sermon. Last week’s sermon was called “Show Up,” and I tried to focus on what it means to be a church member: how we show up with our whole selves, in order to serve the whole world.
We talked a little about how church members are supposed to be unifiers, because “when the church members don’t work together, the church is weaker as a whole.”
We also talked a little bit about how some church members come to be served, believing that their tithes and offerings mean that they get to choose the music, boss the pastor, pick the programming. Instead, when we come to church, we’re privileged to get to serve—to share the hope of the Kingdom of God, God’s promise of peace, equality, and justice.
Today’s Gospel lesson is being preached all over the nation, and this widow is being used as a perfect example of serving the Temple—giving enough that it hurts, while the rich people are just giving a small portion of their income.
But what if all those sermons are wrong? And today’s text is really the opposite of all of that?
Her story goes like this: A husband and wife go to the Temple, it is the center of their social life and their religious life. The husband, believing he is providing for his wife after he dies, wills all of his money to the Temple, with the provision that they will care for his wife. Remember that women can’t own property in these times. Then the husband dies.
The scribes take the money. They likely give the widow a pittance to live on, like scraps to dogs, and in order to keep on giving her the pittance, they expect her to show up at Temple… and to give. The scribes have exploited her misfortune, treated her with contempt, and have forced her to give, even as they keep her in poverty to line their own pockets.
So this story is neither a story about tithing, about expectations, about gratitude, or even a halfway good example of why we should give to our church.
So then why should we give?
I think we should start with the question: Why do you come to church?
Do you come to please your spouse?
Do you come to meet new people and socialize?
Do you feel obligated to be here?
Do you come to be a part of a faith community?
Do you come to become closer to God?
Do you come to be a better person?
Do you come to change the world, to make a difference in someone’s life?
Do you come for comfort in times of trouble or sorrow?
What if we pledged based on our reason to be here?
If you’re here to please your spouse? Go ahead, make a small pledge. You’ve driven all the way here, plastered a smile on your face. Just reach back, pat yourself on the back, and just drop a few dollars in. We’re glad you’re here, and we just want to make it easy on you.
If you’re just here to see your friends, you too can make a really small pledge. Maybe just enough to cover your share of the bills—ten bucks or so a week should cover the reception you partake in, the music you’ve listened to, the tiny piece of bread you ate with grape juice.
Really. You have very low expectations—our expectations of you should be the same.
And if you’re here to build your business rolodex? (I know, I just lost some of you young’uns. A rolodex is like your contacts in your phone). Give a little more. These folks might frequent your business. But don’t expect too much—we’re a lot of older folks, we don’t get out as much as we used to, and many of us are no longer homeowners, or not homeowners just yet. You may not make back your investment.
But if you are here to be closer to God? Well, you might need to give a little more. Sometimes it feels like we have to offer more of ourselves in order to break down our own internal barriers to God. We have to feel a little more vulnerable, a little more invested, a little more open—including our pocketbook.
And are you here hoping to be a better person? Have you looked at the patterns of your life and do you find yourself wanting? Like there’s anger, hatred inside you, and you want to be filled with love?
Then you should really give. Give like your life depends on it. Pay like you’re paying for health insurance, only it’s heart insurance.
And if you want to change the world? Well, you’ve got to invest all of it. Yourself, your heart, your time, your money, your energy, your resources. There’s no way to do this superficially. You gotta be serious. And it’s not just a Sunday morning thing. Not just a day or two a week. It’s every day. Every hour.
But what about those of you who come here for comfort? You’re not feeling okay. You don’t want to just change—you want to make it through the week, through the day, maybe even through the hour… You might be struggling with suicidal ideation. You might be overwhelmed with loneliness or anxiety. You might be hungry, homeless, hopeless.
You know what we want from you? We want you to find what you need. Giving your tithes and offerings is not necessary. All we want from you is to know how we can serve you.
Those of you who want to change the world? You can start right there. How about if you give so that the person sitting across from you can get what they need? Whether it be time, energy, money or just. a. hug.
Our text doesn’t say it, but I believe that when Jesus saw that widow across the way, putting in her last two mites, she who had been exploited, used, abused, and cast aside for nothing, I think he walked right over and helped her.
Or if he didn’t do it, one of his disciples must have. Someone pulled that exploited, used, abused and cast-aside widow out of the river of corruption that the Scribes had created.
I think Jesus and the disciples likely thought of the widow of Zarephath from our Hebrew Bible text this morning. She too had very little.
The prophet Elijah asks her for a cup of water and a piece of bread. She argues that she doesn’t have enough, and he answers, “this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There will always be flour and olive oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rain and the crops grow again!
When the widow did as she was asked, the text tells us, “There was always enough flour and olive oil left in the containers, just as the Lord had promised.”
Friends, you will get what you expect when you come in this place. If you only expect to hang out with your friends, you’ll receive just that… If you only expect to find a way to pat yourself on the back, you’ll find that… But if you expect to get what you need, you will get what you need. And if you expect to give what others need, you will give what others need.
A sermon on John 11:32-44.
When I got married two and a half years ago, Sally Gulley said to me, “There are three little words that will save your marriage. She said, “I bet you think those words are ‘I love you,’ but they’re not. Instead, the three little words that will save your marriage are ‘Maybe you’re right.’”
In our text today, Mary and Martha are facing that fact that their brother Lazarus is dead. They are scared, angry, and confused. Do you notice what they did?
Mary runs out to meet Jesus. She meets him with recriminations. “If you had only been here, my brother would not be dead.” What is the feeling that makes someone accuse another of letting them down? Anger? Frustration? Disappointment?
Mary displaces blame—she’s angry with Jesus rather than with the natural world that caused Lazarus’ death.
And Martha? She anticipates the worst and she gives up. When Jesus suggests she open the tomb, she argues with him, because she feels like it won’t do any good.
Do we do the same thing in a declining church? Displace our anger like Martha…Blame the pastor; blame those people on the other side of the aisle? Or do we give into the idea that we’re powerless like Mary…Shrug our shoulders and say, “it won’t do any good.”
Why can’t we trust in resurrection?
Maybe we, as church members, have forgotten what it means to be a member, what it means to be part of the body of Christ.
I’ve read two books this week by Thom Rainer, a pastor and executive and coach. One was called I Am a Church Member, and the other was called Autopsy of a Dead Church. Both had important things to say about church today.
Rainer believes that church membership today resembles country club membership: you pay your dues, you receive perks and privileges.
He says some church members believe that by being a member, you get to choose the music, boss the pastor, pick the programming. For those folks, membership is about receiving instead of giving, being served instead of serving, rights instead of responsibilities.
We don’t believe that, do we? 1 Corinthians 12 tells us “Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it. And God has placed you in the church.”
We know that the body has many parts, right? Each specially gifted… And each part must find his or her work—and that all parts are necessary.
Again, Thom Rainer says, “When church members don’t work together, the church is weaker as a whole.”
In the church, we are all to be unifiers. We must not be sources of gossip or dissension. A unifying member instead says, “Maybe you’re right.”
I’m convinced that our church should be thriving. Now more than ever, this world needs a place like Wake Forest Baptist Church—welcoming, loving, serving…a place that embraces LGBTQIA folks, who believes that plurality in religion, in race, in thought is to be celebrated, not feared.
This is a dangerous world, y’all. People we love are being attacked: trans, Jewish, Black, women, we’re all under attack…
As one of my favorite authors (adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy) puts it,
Do you understand that your quality of life and your survival are tied to how authentic and generous the connections are between you and the people and place you live with and in?
Are you actively practicing generosity and vulnerability in order to make the connections between you and others clear, open, available, durable? Generosity here means giving of what you have without strings or expectations attached. Vulnerability means showing your needs.
This is a dangerous world, y’all.
As Mother Jones, not the magazine, but the freedom fighter said, we have to “Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.”
We have to show up. And showing up means saying, “Maybe YOU’RE right,” putting another’s needs ahead of your own.
Showing up means sharing the gospel and the gospel is restored hope. Our job is to help restore hope.
And oh, do I know that you have the capacity to do that. Last week I preached on my utter lack of hope, and you know what you did?
You sent me cards. You offered to share your hope. You called. Sent me emails. You made me remember…
You made me remember that in our shared commitment to Jesus Christ, we have hope in the Kingdom of God—in being loving and being loved, in putting other’s needs ahead of our own.
That Kingdom (or kindom) promises peace, equality, justice, God has a plan for the future.
And I believe. No wait, I have hope that we can do it.