Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ni de aquí, ni de allá

A prayer from Gideon Addington, my twitter friend who took his own life last week. He would have liked this sermon. 
"Let us be still, O Lord, let us dwell in the gentle silence of your approach.  You who lift up the weak who repairs, the broken who heals the sick; we await You.  We struggle to remember that Your Kingdom is at hand.  Guide us Merciful Judge, in being instruments of your peace. 
May grace more abound within us!"

Sermon by Katie Mulligan
December 27, 2009
First Sunday After Christmas Day

(Audio recording of the service can be found here: http://www.mediafire.com/?juk1wtimndh )

First Scripture Reading: Matthew 2:1-12
Second Scripture Reading: Matthew 2:13-23

There is a LOT to unpack in these 28 verses of scripture.  But let me say this up front: I won’t get to it all. AND today’s scripture reading is about movement and borders, violence and refuge, remembering the past and visioning the future.

Let us begin with movement and borders.  From Luke’s gospel, we know that after Mary conceived a child, she traveled to see her cousin, Elizabeth. Then after returning home, she and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem for the census, where Jesus was born. Next, Matthew tells us, three wise men from the East came following a star in the sky, leaving behind their home and comforts to see if their astrological predictions had come true.  They stopped in Jerusalem, a center of power, in the same way that one might stop in the state capitol if one was looking for the governor.  But the only King of the Jews to be found there was King Herod.  Fearing for his own power and authority, King Herod set the priests and scribes of the kingdom to the task of figuring out where the baby Jesus would be born. And then he sent the wise men on their way, wandering toward Bethlehem with instructions to return to Herod with additional information.  The star in the sky went ahead of them, perhaps a bit like the pillars of cloud and fire went ahead of the Israelites in the wilderness, guiding them along their way.

Mary and Joseph had enjoyed a quiet period of time after their son’s birth—a few weeks perhaps a few months.  They had some shepherd visitors, but overall it must have been a time of rest, a time to learn their roles as parents, nurturing an infant, figuring out if the child was hungry or tired.  I imagine they meant to leave Bethlehem eventually, perhaps return to Nazareth where grandparents and aunts and uncles, cousins were eager to see the child. The wise men’s visit to the baby Jesus marked the end of Mary and Joseph’s peaceful time with their baby. They came bearing gifts and glad tidings but also they brought down upon the holy family the wrath of King Herod.

Having been warned in a dream, the wise men wandered home by another way. And then an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream saying, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”  And so Joseph got up in the middle of the night, gathered their few belongings and went to Egypt.  Matthew does not tell us how many times Mary and Joseph prayed during that journey.  Praying for a safe journey, praying that Herod’s men would not find them, praying that when they got to Egypt that there would be someone to take them in.  Shelter, refuge, food, someplace safe to sleep.

Behind them in Bethlehem a terrifying story was unfolding. King Herod was jealous and fearful at the news of Christ’s birth.  He sent soldiers to Bethlehem to find the baby Jesus, and when he realized that the child had been hidden and the parents warned, he reacted viciously and ordered the murder of all children under the age of two.

How relieved they must have been to arrive safely in Egypt!  News of the massacre must have followed them as they traveled, and the journey must have been uncomfortable and frightening with a baby.  I imagine as new parents that Mary and Joseph were eager to settle in somewhere and raise their child in security.  But their journey was not over yet, for some time after they arrived in Egypt, King Herod died and an angel appeared again in a dream to Joseph and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.”  So he took them back to Israel where he heard that Herod’s son was the new ruler, and that Archaleus was as bad as his father. And so the angel of the Lord appeared again to Joseph, and they moved on to Nazareth, where they were finally able to settle and raise their child.  I don’t know about Joseph, but by the time that angel showed up for the fourth time, I’d have been shaking my fist at God!  Your wife to be is going to have a baby that isn’t yours, but do me a favor and marry her anyway. By the way, King Herod is going to try to kill your baby move to Egypt. Oh, just kidding, Herod’s dead you can come back home now. Whoops! My bad! Try Nazareth, where you can live in relative obscurity. We gloss over the drama of this, but following God and keeping babies safe was hard work then and its hard work now.

One of the things all this movement does is begin to create a framework for the Christ child as one who transgresses borders.  The simple act of his birth necessitated the crossing of borders, both geographical and cultural. The wise men came from hundreds of miles away; cultured and educated men in their own right, they came to pay homage to a baby born under humble circumstances.  Mary transgressed cultural boundaries to bear this child and Joseph did as well to stand by her. Together they wandered the countryside, first pregnant, then with an infant, then with a young child.  Constant movement and border crossing, and such habits have an effect on a child’s identity.

Rosa Linda Fregoso writes in her book, meXicana Encounters: The Making of Social Identities on the Borderlands, about the intersections of identity along the Mexican-U.S. border.  We think of that border sometimes as a hard line, a wall or impassable desert, but the truth is it is rather permeable.  There are always ways to pass through that border from both sides, with our without legal permission; many of those ways carry risk of death or imprisonment, but the border is passable. And its not just a geographic border; there is a cultural divide between the two countries that is instantly apparent as one moves from the U.S. to Mexico and back again.  San Diego has its own distinctive flavor, but it looks a lot like any other large U.S. city. But one only needs to walk or drive across the border into Tijuana and it is obvious that one has moved into a very different space. The buildings, roads, landscaping, signs, and habits of the people are different. And yet again, borders are deceiving and permeable; there is movement across the border on both sides; people cross the border every day to work or live on the other side. It is impossible to draw a hard line.  Fregoso writes in particular of the term meXicana as a social identity referring to people who live along these borderlands:
As the interface between Mexicana and Chicana, “meXicana” draws attention to the historical, material, and discursive effects of contact zones and exchanges among various communities on the Mexico-U.S. border, living in the shadows of more than 150 years of conflict, interactions, and tensions. “meXicana” references processes of transculturation, hybridity, and cultural exchanges—the social and economic interdependency and power relations structuring the lives of inhabitants on the borderlands.
Not recognizably Chicana or Mexicana, “yet geographically and historically localized”—echoing the lyrics of Chavela Vargas’s song, “Ni de aquí ni de allá” (Neither from here nor from there)—meXicana is a metaphor for cultural and national mobility. And even though the term is an amalgamation of “Mexicana” and “Chicana,” it does not signal an erasure of difference, but rather calls attention to the intersections among the multiple narratives of race, gender, sexuality that inform nation building. (Fregoso, xiv)
In other words, things get complicated along borderlands, and the movement and transgression of boundaries found at borderlands contains a threat to established powers and governments of all kinds. Borders, by their nature are difficult to manage and control. Jesus, because his nature is rooted in movement and crossing borders, is difficult to manage and control. He is a threat to the status quo. Hallelujah!  He is neither from here nor from there; ni de aquí ni de allá, and therefore may be claimed by those who stand outside the borders we proscribe.

So movement and borders. This passage is also about violence and refuge. I often wonder when reading this text why it was necessary to arouse Herod’s interest. Maybe there was fog that night and the wise men couldn’t see where the star led?  Couldn’t the angel of the Lord have appeared in a dream before they spilled the beans to Herod?  A friend of mine pointed out that the scripture says the flight to Egypt was necessary so that Jesus could come up out of Egypt and fulfill a prophecy.  But in my sleep I can come up with six other plans to get Jesus and the parents to move to Egypt that don't involve the slaughter of babies in Bethlehem, so this rings false to me, even if its written right there in my Bible.  The Slaughter of the Innocents they call it, and this event has inspired many terrible paintings.  Albert Camus writes of the event in his novel The Fall.  It is an odd little tale, a one-sided description of a two-sided conversation. We only hear the voice of the main character, Clamence, a cynical man bent on causing doubt in others. Taking advantage of the very human question “Why does God let bad things happen, especially to the innocent?” Clamence explains (somewhat blasphemously):
Say, do you know why he was crucified...?  The real reason is that he knew he was not altogether innocent. If he did not bear the weight of the crime he was accused of, he had committed others—even though he didn’t know which ones. Did he really not know them? He was at the source, after all; he must have heard of a certain Slaughter of the Innocents. The children of Judea massacred while his parents were taking him to a safe place—why did they not die if not because of him? Thos blood-spattered soldiers, those infants cut in two filled him with horror. But given the man he was, I am sure he could not forget them.  And as for that sadness that can be felt in his every act, wasn’t it the incurable melancholy of a man who heard night after night the voice of Rachel weeping for her children and refusing all comfort? The lamentation would rend the night, Rachel would call her children who had been killed for him, and he was still alive! (Camus, 111-112)
Here then is the question of our hearts we ask when things go terribly wrong. Why this baby instead of any others—why did my child have to die?  What does it cost to keep our children safe—are we keeping them safe at the expense of somebody else’s children?  Where were those who could stand against the soldiers as they killed children? How many parents lost their lives trying to protect their children? How many mothers and fathers lived with the horror of that moment, the horror of their own powerlessness against violence and death?  This event is unexplainable; there is no easy justification for God’s action or inaction in this situation.  I know the angel was busy, but could it not have visited a few more people’s houses?  Where was the passover blood to paint on the door posts to keep the children from dying? Was there not room in Egypt?  I don’t know—I just shake my head at this passage.

But maybe, just maybe this passage is simply bearing witness to this truth: there are horrors and betrayals in this world. Innocent children are slaughtered, and sometimes we stand by powerless to save them. Sometimes in our eagerness to curry favor with authorities like Herod, we give away secrets that are life or death.  And sometimes we are the ones who were in the right place at the right time and escaped violence that fell on others.

Patricia Davis wrote a book called Beyond Nice: The Spiritual Wisdom of Adolescent Girls. She tells the story of a young girl name Nilla, the daughter of eccentric parents. She loved to tell ghost stories and was “the student who could be depended on to notice the odd subtexts in the Bible stories and the one who demanded explanations of hard passages.”  As a youth pastor, I loved students who asked these hard questions, because they pushed me beyond the bounds of an easy faith. Such questions transgress social boundaries in church and as such are holy questions indeed.

[I am uncomfortable quoting the lengthy passage directly here from Davis' book. You can view pages at Amazon fairly easily (pages 46-48), or I encourage you to get this excellent resource for your own library.  A quick summary: This is the story of how Nilla came to play Herod's hit man in the church Christmas pageant]
On that Christmas Eve night--thanks to Mrs. Alexander and Nilla--their Methodist church saw and heard a fuller version of the story of Christ's birth, with both the wonder and the horror intact. In this church the wise men traveled to King Herod before they arrived in Bethlehem; they were accompanied by a shadowy figure on their way to the stable. Outside the stable, a hit man lurked as Mary cherished the baby and the angels sang. On that Christmas Eve, Nilla's church may have been the only church in Christendom to remember Christ's birth in this more complete narrative, including not only the beauty and glory but also the fear, the evil, the grief, and the hit man. (Davis, 47)
Beauty and glory, fear, grief and evil. A baby and a hit man. This is a story about life as we live it, and there in the middle of all the messiness and horror, there is Jesus, God incarnate, transgressing boundaries, moving across borders, challenging the status quo simply by existing as a lump of flesh.  His birth story, in its completeness highlights the violence that is a part of our lives, and also the refuge offered by those who care enough to risk offering it.

Finally, then, let us talk about remembering the past and visioning the future. This passage is rich with Jewish history.  It was significant that Jesus was born King of the Jews in Bethlehem where King David had been made king so long ago.  Jerusalem where the wise men went to meet Herod, was a seat of power and an important part of God’s plan for Israel. King Herod’s chief priests and scribes referred back to the prophets to answer the question “Where is this child to be born?”  The flight to Egypt recalls for us Joseph’s travels to Egypt after being sold into slavery by his brothers. Ironically, slavery in Egypt turned out to be healthier for him than staying home with brothers who hated him, and he thrived in Egypt. And so this little Jewish family wandered down to Egypt to seek refuge. The slaughter of children in Bethlehem echoes the killing of the first born, a plague sent by God to get Pharoah to let the people go. Rachel weeping for her children refers back to Israel’s defeat by the Assyrians and the Babylonians, yet still the Jewish people lived on and thrived through national tragedy.

This passage is about who we are and have been as humanity: beautiful at times, yet also cruel and brutal.  There is much history to celebrate and mourn in this passage, yet also an important belief that it is possible to preserve a thread of life in the midst of terrible oppression, that even in the worst atrocities, hope can be found. There is life in the middle of the night when all the babies are being slaughtered.  We do not passively look away from evil, silently acquiescing to its advances. No we witness it. We are to find ways, subversively, secretively to bring new life into this world and preserve it. At times God is a vulnerable baby in need of adult protection.  Take care to recognize those times when you will be called to act and protect those in need. Take care to know how and where you fit in the borderlands of your life and faith.




Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Gideon Addington


I just received the news that my twitter friend @gideony (Gideon Addington) took his own life on Saturday night.  I do not have words to express my grief and anger (or at least not printable words). I never met him, but we had many conversations over twitter.  I had hoped to meet him in the spring at a conference or perhaps next fall when he planned to begin seminary studies at General Theological Seminary in New York.

Here's a link to a sermon I preached years after the suicide of a young student in my hometown. There are also links on that post to websites and help lines for depression and suicide.
"A Prodigal Daughter"

For those of you who are wondering if anyone would care if you died, the answer is yes. And if you are wondering about that, then call me or e-mail me. Damnit.

[Update: for anyone else who, like me, woke up this morning praying this was an on-line hoax, here is a link to folks who made a more direct connection and confirmed Gideon's death. And again: damnit.]

12/19 Update: Gideon's family has requested donations go to Iron Gate, a not-for-profit that focuses on feeding the hungry http://www.irongatetulsa.org/index.cfm

For those of you connecting here for the first time, looking for information about Gideon, welcome. Stay a while, but here's a few links to help you on your way:

Gideon's blog: http://blog.gideonaddington.com/

A prayer Gideon wrote: Prayers for Broken People

A piece of liturgy he wrote last week. He was so proud of this, and it's beautiful:
My First Liturgy

Gideon's Twitter Feed: @gideony  He had a public profile, so fair to post it here. It's bittersweet to read his words today (this feed will dissipate after 2 weeks, like all tweets do, but probably you can google @gideony) http://twitter.com/gideony

A video he made http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=591057324317&ref=mf

Emergent Outliers, a website he moderated for emergent Christian folks: http://emergentoutliers.com/

A post Gideon wrote for Bruce Reyes-Chow (moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.) in response to the question "Why do you choose denominational life?"

Gideon's umbrella website with links to a lot of his other on-line presences: http://gideonaddington.com/

There is at least one on-line memorial service being planned. I will post a link when I have more info.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Joy, Struggle & Resistance

Sermon, December 13, 2009
by Katie Mulligan
"Advice For Bad Decisions"

if you must mount these gallows
give a joke to the crowd
a dollar to the hangman
and make the drop
with a smile on your lips.

~Eila Mahima Jaipaul




Here's a link to the audio recording of the service. Scripture & sermon starts at about 9:30.

First Scripture Reading: Zephaniah 3:14-20
Second Scripture Reading: Philippians 4:4-7

This third Sunday of Advent we lit the third candle. On the third Sunday of Advent we get to light the pink one. The pink candle represents Joy as opposed to the purple candles which symbolize Repentance. First there was the Candle of Prophecy/Hope. Second came the Candle of the Way. And now we have the Candle of Joy. (Advent Calendar guide for those who need it.)

It is an interesting thing to think about what it means for Christians to have joy. According to my Advent Candle guide, “The third candle indicates that the only lasting Joy to be found in life on earth is through Christ. All other joy is fleeting and does not last.” I am struck by our ability, as Christians, to gloss over the context of our joy in Christ and our joy in life. We have developed a finely honed instinct for removing sorrow and pain from the stories of our joy—as if it were possible to find joy in every moment of every day if we just pray right or hard enough. We forget easily that moments of great joy often come with a backdrop of long periods of anguish and sorrow. We forget that there is struggle behind joy. And in that forgetting we refuse to allow Joy to have its complexity and depth; we refuse to allow Christ his complexity and depth. If the only lasting Joy to be found on earth is through Christ, what does that mean if we look honestly at the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Preparations

Sermon, December 6, 2009
by Katie Mulligan

This week's sermon comes as the weather starts to snap cold. We had snow last night. Burlington County does not have a homeless shelter. There are families and indiviuals living in cars and tents and in the woods.
So this week's sermon is a question:
what are we, Tiny Church, going to do about this?

For my audio minded friends, you can find a recording of the service here. I edited out the prayers of the people to protect privacy.

I am meeting this week with some folks to find out more about housing resources, but here's a quick link for now: Housing Programs

[update: an article about youth who are homeless & a church helping to open a shelter in NY: 
Church Aids Expansion of Shelter for Gay Youths]

Love to you all!

[A later reflection: The term "the homeless" or "homeless people" dehumanizes people who are living without homes. I apologize if this caused pain to anyone. I've left it in the text because that's how this was preached.  Also, I regret that I did not speak about the intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality with respect to homelessness and poverty.]

First Scripture Reading: Philippians 1:1-11
Second Scripture Reading: Luke 3:1-6

Let us start, shall we, with preparation. This is not my strong point: the careful and meticulous preparation of things, doing things early.  But let us talk of preparations anyway, knowing that I am a hypocrite.  Last week, Ruth shared with us the story of the Annunciation: the announcement by the Angel Gabriel to Mary that she would bear the Christ child into the world.  There were a lot of words that came with that announcement, promises of greatness and great sorrow, and Mary asked a few questions, got her answers and said “yes, I will do this thing you ask of me.”  It was a bold and brazen act, to bring a child into her world in an unmarried state. She risked everything, including her life, to follow the call of God. One might say she was young and impetuous and didn’t know what she was getting herself into. One might also say this was a reason God chose her—because she would say yes, when anyone in their rational mind would say heck no.  But regardless of the reasons a woman chooses to bear a child, once the decision has been made, there are preparations to get into.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mother's Day Redux, Advent Week 1

Greetings all.  It's the first Sunday in Advent, and the kids and I are away, so this sermon is from last spring.  TinyChurch stepped outside the lectionary a bit this morning to focus on the Annunciation (the angel telling Mary she was going to have a baby), and I had used the same passage for Mother's Day.

The holidays are a tough time for me and always have been.  Expectations swirling in the air, a big buildup to Christmas Day (both Santa AND baby Jesus), the crush of people in homes and stores, the constant jingle of Christmas music, the darkening of days as we approach the solstice.  I know I am not alone in my sense of a downward spiral.  If you're feeling full of the Spirit this Advent season, I thank you for carrying the torch for a while. And if you're grumpy and spiraling down, just know you are not alone in the journey.

I pray for you all peace and wholeness. May this advent be a time of restoration and beginning, however you get there.

Here's that sermon:

Sermon, May 10, 2009
by Katie Mulligan

First Scripture Reading: Psalm 91
Second Scripture Reading: Luke 1:26-38

We gather this morning to give thanks and praise for all of the mothers in this world. Each of us was born to a mother, and many of us have given birth to children, or will someday. We gather this morning to honor the physical act of birthing and mothering children, for carrying a child in one’s body and laboring to bring that child into the world is an act of love and sacrifice in many ways. Yet motherhood is more than a biological act, and there are many ways in which we nurture and care for one another. We often associate motherhood with women, as if the ability to physically give birth determines the ability to nurture and care. On Mother’s Day in 2009, we also gather to honor all those who are mothers—women, men, the young, the old—all of those who set aside their own self-interest to tend to the needs of another.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pop Goes The World

Sermon, November 22, 2009
by Katie Mulligan

In the beginning, the Universe was created.This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.

Many races believe that it was created by some sort of god, though the Jatravartid people of Viltvodle VI believe that the entire Universe was in fact sneezed out of the nose of a being called the Great Green Arkleseizuer.

~Douglas Adams
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: 

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe



First Scripture Reading: Daniel 7:9-14
Second Scripture Reading: Revelation 1:4b-8


(Friends, an experiment. I recorded my sermon today. You should be able to download it here. It's an mp3 file, the scripture reading & sermon start at 18:11.  If you mock my singing, my mother will be sad.)

I hope that you will forgive my casual attire today, but we are talking about the end of the world, and if it’s going to be the end of the world then I am going to wear jeans and a hoodie and a pair of waterproof boots...

There’s a lot of theories as to how the world came into being, and we have ours. And there’s a lot of theories as to how the world is going to end, and we also have ours, as Christians. This is not new, but it’s also not old. There are a couple of pop songs from when I was in high school, which was a while back. “It’s The End of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” and “Pop Goes The World”, a surprisingly cheerful song, given that it was talking about the end of the earth.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Yurodivy


A Twitter friend of mine tweeted this today: "If the church is to survive, it must abandon the idea that it is sacred and everything else is profane. It is all sacred."  This reminded me of Iulia de Beausobre, who wrote an essay called “Creative Suffering” If you get a chance to read her story, she is quite an amazing woman.  But here is a little bit of her essay.

(And my deepest gratitude to the yurodivy's of my life, who have walked with me through my most terrible moments and taught me to dance. You know who you are.)

This matter of participation brings us to a figure as popular as he is typical in Russian history and life--to the yurodivy, 'the born fool', so hard to describe to anyone who has not grown up in Russia.

It is perhaps best to begin by pointing out what the yurodivy is not. He is not a monk, though there is much about him that might lead the passer-by to think that he was: his speech, intonation, cant phrases, sometimes his clothes, and always his absolute voluntary poverty lend him a monkish air. He is nobody's son, nobody's brother, nobody's father, and has no home. He is as old as the history of Christian Russia and wanders over the whole of that huge country feeling equally at home everywhere. But he settles down nowhere and is usually to be met on the road. As often as not he has a practised trade, but prefers for the most part to live on the people, and in return for his meal and night's lodging will give them a piece of his mind, seldom mincing his words. Though he has no schooling at all, he is always ready to express, in chant and rhyme, his views upon the world of matter and the world of spirit; on Russia, her friends and her enemies, and on infinity; on the past, present and future, and on eternity. And yet he remains somehow lovable, and he is loved; cherished in fact, because he is a living personification of what most Russians take to be true Russia, and in him every Russian is confronted with something of his own essence.

From a practical point of view, no useful purpose is served by anything that the yurodivy does. He achieves nothing. Yet there must be some strong attraction at work to draw men (and women too), poor creatures most of them, to choose such a rough and comfortless life, manhandled from time to time, pelted by children and set on by dogs. The attraction is found in participation, participation in all the dregs of life. The aim of the yurodivy is to participate in evil through suffering. He makes of this his life's work because, to the Russian, good and evil are, here on earth, inextricably bound together. This is, to us, the great mystery of life on earth. Where evil is at its most intense, there too must be the greatest good. To us this is not even an hypothesis. It is axiomatic.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

"The Perfect Gaze"

I was thinking today (and chatting with a couple of friends on Twitter) about love across theological differences. As our own denomination (PCUSA) continues to struggle with how to stay unified in the midst of deep theological divides, I remembered this poem.  Regardless of what we do with the structure of our church, I hope we can regard one another with this kind of tender care.


"The Perfect Gaze"
by Mary B. Campbell


Great care must be taken in looking
At the beloved. If you look
Too long, the spirit of the other
Will be forced into hiding
Or disappear from this world.
The gaze must be no longer
Than five glances; otherwise
It is fatal.

The gaze should be empty of design
Or content; it is like a question
Which is satisfied at every moment.
Even in sleep, the face of the other
Forestalls the need to know more.
If you ask out loud
You will waken a liar.

Ending the gaze is a rupture:
You look away, you abandon the beloved
You travel inwardly. This is freedom
And the hardest part. But love
Is the breaking of all spells,
Even its own.

Campbell, Mary B. The World, the Flesh and Angels: Barnard New Women's Poet Series. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1989.






Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Parenting

Here you go, beloveds. This is a video of my entire evening last night. Perhaps you can relate?






Sunday, November 8, 2009

Thin Places

Sermon, November 8, 2009
by Katie Mulligan
















First Scripture Reading: Isaiah 25:6-9
Second Scripture Reading: Revelation 21:1-6


I confess to you this morning that I am feeling rather thin. In this last month I have taken on too much, said yes to too many things, and too many circumstances spun out of my control, so that I am stretched thin. I can always tell this is true because things start to go wrong—little things that pile upon each other until it seems like nothing can go right. Things like misplacing the bulletins and then plugging in the microphone and it doesn’t work. Thin, stretched thin. Worn down. I bet I’m not the only one here that feels that way this time of year. Kids are in school, winter is upon us. The holidays and relatives are days away from descending upon our homes. And still there is more to be done.

After three weeks of children home sick from school, I somewhat foolishly got in my car and drove to Cleveland on Thursday for a conference. I could not afford the time, and yet I wanted to be there—there were people I wished to see at that conference. And the topic of discussion was the full inclusion of gay and lesbian sisters and brothers in the church (Quick aside: There was not much discussion regarding bisexual and trans folks; this silence is problematic). Our national denomination is divided bitterly, and although our little church does not have much to do with denominational politics, I have been following the discussion closely. By Saturday afternoon I was stretched thinner still, with a long drive ahead of me. The Pennsylvania Turnpike may be the longest road on earth (or so it seemed).

But as I drove along the Turnpike, the muted colors of late autumn washed over me. Not the bright colors of summer turned fall, the brilliant reds and yellows mixed with still present greens, but the pale golden orange of late autumn. Only a few of the leaves left on the trees, but not all the way grey...And as I drove, the amber color of late afternoon sun mixed into the beauty of autumn. As night fell, my soul came to rest, and the world became timeless. The Turnpike became a “thin place.”

These thin places in life are glimpses, I think, into the Kingdom of God—those moments where we see what might be possible. Our stretched thin souls find restoration and hope in the possibilities, and for a little while the new creation breaks in to our tired existence. I get into trouble with my colleagues with scriptures like this—when a Presbyterian calls you a “universalist”, it’s a four-letter-word. But look at these words “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all people a feast of rich food...” Our future hope rests in the fulfillment of such promises—forgive me if my heart yearns for the time when all will feast together. A twitter friend of mine asked me after the conference where I see hope. And I couldn’t really answer until after I’d driven along the Turnpike a while, until I’d spent some time in that thin place, and glimpsed the possibilities.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Dry Bones Sittin' in the Canyon, Some of Them Bones Are Mine

Sermon (preached March 9, 2008)
by Katie Mulligan

Friends, forgive me for recycling a sermon. The little ones are under the weather, which reduces my brain to mush.  But also, as I read through it, I realized that it is the perfect sermon for today, All Saint's Day.  This day when we reflect on death and life and resurrection, and on the cloud of witnesses from all times and places who worship with us whenever we gather.  This sermon was preached for Larry King, an openly gay young man murdered by a classmate on February 12, 2008.  For people who do not conform to society's sexual and gender norms, this world is an extra dangerous place.  It's time to breathe new life into our communities and our churches; it's time to educate ourselves and practice what we preach: love.

November 20 is set aside as "Transgender Day of Remembrance."  Clicking on the link will take you to a website with more information and a memorial for those who have been killed around the world.  Take a minute and say some prayers. Reach out to anyone you know who doesn't have safe space. If it makes you angry that I'm bringing this up, send me an e-mail and let's have coffee.  Somehow, we've got to do better.

First Scripture Reading: Ezekiel 37:1-14
Second Scripture Reading: John 11:32-37

We come this week to the eleventh chapter of John, and like a pastor friend of mine once said, “These stories are long!” The story of the raising of Lazarus is 45 verses long, and it’s almost impossible to pull out part of the story because it builds upon itself and there are a multitude of layers and meanings. That being said, I’m going to pull out part of the story because I am not talented enough to preach on 45 verses! Let me catch you up to verse 32.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hey Jesus! Heal Me Already!

Sermon October 25, 2009
by Katie Mulligan


First Scripture Reading: Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Second Scripture Reading: Mark 10:46-52

Happy Reformation Day to you all! This is a day perhaps more celebrated by our Lutheran sisters and brothers, as it has been set aside to honor Martin Luther and the beginning of the Reformation—that’s Reformation with a capital “R”, that church movement in Germany that split away from the Roman Catholic church to become eventually the Lutheran church. But as church splits often do, Martin Luther’s actions motivated and inspired many others to go their own way with regard to faith, and 500 years later (or so) hundreds of protestant sects have sprung up; one of those is the denomination we know as the Presbyterian Church in the USA. Although we usually give more attention to John Calvin in the Presbyterian Church, we owe a great deal to Martin Luther and his followers—if nothing else for having the courage to act on their convictions, despite threats of physical violence, ex-communication, and eternity in hell.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Shelter: The Church that Never Stops Talking

Sermon October 18, 2009
by Katie Mulligan

Places to get help and resources:

     (Burlington County, NJ) 
WomanSpace
     (Mercer County, NJ) 
Domestic Violence Solutions
     (Santa Barbara County, CA)
(If you're looking for the Gomer sermon, go here)


"A Reverie"
Once when I was small,
I stumbled home broken and bruised and weeping.
It was not the first time nor the last.
At a moment, perfectly balanced between him and home,
I stopped and began to laugh.
At that moment, perfectly balanced,
I perceived with my six-year-old mind that I could think.
A space big enough for me, but too small for him,
opened in my body and I crawled in.
I stayed there for twenty years
until I was sure he was gone.

--For a girl I once knew


First Scripture Reading: Psalm 91
Second Scripture Reading: Luke 18:1-8

I am so relieved to be with you this morning! For I have spent much of this week thinking and praying about this sermon. Thinking and praying, and wondering, as all pastors do, what to say and how much of myself to reveal. What stories shall I share with you and what stories will they bring to your own hearts—those stories of your lives that perhaps you wonder whether to reveal also.

The Gomer Sermon


Sermon February 26, 2009
by Katie Mulligan

At Princeton Theological Seminary, students are invited to lead daily worship once during their senior year in Miller Chapel.  It was an opportunity to bring together what I had learned in 3 years, and also to contribute to the seminary community in gratitude.  Fair warning that it is a hard sermon, even for me to read, but I believe it offers hope to those who have suffered from intimate violence.  A few folks have asked me for it.

Love to you all!  Katie
(click below for the sermon)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wednesday Funny

Sometimes this is what it's like to be a pastor--watch it til the end :-)



Love to you all!


Sunday, October 11, 2009

From Inside A Lion

Sermon October 11, 2009

by Katie Mulligan


I am writing these poems
From inside a lion,
And it's rather dark in here.
So please excuse the handwriting
Which may not be too clear.
But this afternoon by the lion's cage
I'm afraid I got too near.
And I'm writing these lines
From inside a lion,
And it's rather dark in here.
               --Shel Silverstein, "It's Dark In Here"

First Scripture Reading: Job 23:1-9, 16-17
Second Scripture Reading: Mark 10:17-31

Today's sermon was very short and unscripted. First of all, it's hard to do much with this scripture without making it seem like we're trying to avoid giving our money to the poor. Second, I hate asking for money, which makes for very short "stewardship" sermons.  Here's about what I said:

Jesus says clearly in this passage that in order to get to heaven, the rich man must sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor and then come follow him. I have had many discussions in several churches about this passage, and almost always we get into these questions: "How rich do you have to be before this instruction applies to you?" "What does Jesus have against wealth? There are lots of places in the Bible where wealth is considered a good thing." "Don't I have a right to support myself and loved ones?"  Each of us is going to have to read this passage and follow our conscience; even the disciples were shocked; this passage is supposed to hit us hard.

"Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor" is not the same as saying "Give your money to the church."  Yes, I hope you will give generously to the church. No, that's not exactly what Jesus said.  It seems repetitive and trite to point out that we in the U.S. have vastly more wealth than those in many other countries. Rather than repeat it (again), I invite you to reflect on that and see how the Spirit moves.

The rich young man in the story has done everything he was supposed to by following the commandments and yet senses that there must be more.  Coming to Jesus he asks what that might be, and after receiving a difficult answer, he walks away, grieving.  We have no way of knowing whether the young man was grieving because he was going to miss all those possessions he was going to sell, or if he was sad that he was going to miss God an awful lot.  Perhaps he hadn't decided yet.  But the rest of the story is that Jesus told the disciples that no one can get to heaven without God's help. And so I think today's message is that it is a good thing to stick together as much as we can as we try to figure out God's word.  Because sometimes a person comes across a scripture like this and gets too close, and all of a sudden you get swallowed up by the lion and you're not quite sure what happened to the light. It's not so much that today's scripture is confusing or difficult to understand, it's that if we truly give all of what we have to the poor, we will be living a radically different life.  And if one is going to get swallowed up by a lion, one might as well have company.

So today's "stewardship" sermon is this: keep coming to this tiny church and keeping us company. 'Cause it gets lonely trying to live out God's word.  Give of your time and skills (and yes, your money) as generously as you can, but what we really need is to know that we are journeying together.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Singing Horses








Some things just make me smile, and this is one of them.


Click on Singing Horses to go to the page where they'll sing to you.
When you get there, click on the horses one at a time.
Really, I could do this for hours, but I think I need to work on that newsletter!

Peace, friends...



Sunday, October 4, 2009

Grief

Sermon October 4, 2009
by Katie Mulligan


I promised a second sermon on this Mark passage, so here it is.  In more ways than one, this passage caused me grief.  Peace to you and yours...

First Scripture Reading: Mark 9:38-50

Second Scripture Reading: Psalm 13


Last week, we also read the Mark passage—the one where Jesus said to cut off your own hand or foot or pluck out your eye if it was causing you to stumble. If you remember, I suggested that at least one thing this text was telling us was to be careful what we consider an offense—to be careful of what we consider offensive enough to cut off our own body parts. Since plucking out an eyeball is an irreversible action, it makes sense to think things through before reaching for the knife.

As Christians, we often speak of the body as a metaphor for the larger body of Christ, encompassing brothers and sisters across many denominations. The body of Christ stretches across continents and permeates borders. We are not alone in our beliefs; what we do here every Sunday matters to the Christian body as a whole. There are no unimportant body parts—the worship and affection of a tiny church in Mt. Laurel matters to God and enriches the body of Christ. We are connected to our brothers and sisters in far away places of which we have no knowledge. We are connected to our sisters and brothers who worship nearby whom we have never met. And we are connected to the two other congregations who worship in this sanctuary. The body of Christ. Today is World Communion Sunday, and we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper along with believers all over the world. At the end of the Mark passage Jesus says to his disciples, “be at peace with one another.” Well, today, this is us, making that effort.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tiny Church. Big Footprint.

Being a tiny church, I think we often wonder how big our footprint is--does it really matter if we exist as a church? The answer to that is clearly YES! Small we might be, but God works through us too.

But I was thinking the other day about the fact that we're not as small as we think we are, because the New Covenant family includes those who fellowship in our building. I wonder if you know about all the people who call our church home?

On Saturdays, the Mt. Holly Spanish Seventh-Day Adventist church worships in our sanctuary. Around 60 people gather for worship and Sunday school--mostly offered in Spanish. There are children everywhere, and music rings out strongly from the sanctuary. I met Pastor Elder José Guevara for the first time a couple of Saturdays ago--it was a joy to meet with a colleague, and he expressed great appreciation for our hospitality.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Prodigal Daughter

Six years ago this month, a young girl committed suicide in my hometown. I never met her, but I always felt as if I should have, because she was friends with some of the students I worked with. This last year I wrote a sermon for her and for our youth group. I always wished I'd been able to find the words in 2003, but maybe it just takes time. A phone call today reminded me of Maggie and how much I wish I could have been there for her.

Here's a couple of links for help--either for yourself or for a friend:

     *Suicide Prevention Hopeline: 1-800-442-4673
           Lots of resources on this website.

     *PostSecret Community: so you know you're not alone with secrets.

     *To Write Love on Her Arms:
          An awesome website dedicated to providing hope.

If nothing else, e-mail me.

Here's some lyrics from Kimya Dawson's "Loose Lips"

So if you wanna burn yourself remember that i love you.
and if you wanna cut yourself remember that i love you.
and if you wanna kill yourself remember that i love you.
Call me up before you're dead, we can make some plans instead,
send me an IM i'll be your friend.
Here's that sermon. Love to you all...

Luke 15:11-32

Psalm 139:1-12

This has to be one of the most overused parables in the Scriptures. I hesitate to bring it to you today, because it seems like after three years of seminary I should have developed more “sophisticated taste.” But this is the story that started me on this journey, and it seems fitting to pause and give thanks by returning to my theological roots. Perhaps you have your own connection to this parable—so many of us do.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Danger: Biohazard

Sermon Sept. 27, 2009
by Katie Mulligan

Disclaimer: Lest anyone think that I think I'm some paragon of virtue, let me assure you that this sermon was written in the midst of intergalactic sibling warfare in the living room with occasional outbursts from me like: "Stop it stop it stop it! Why can't you get along for just three minutes?" *foot stomp* *glare*


Your absence has gone through me
like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.


--W.S. Merwin

1st Scripture Reading: Mark 9:38-50

2nd Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:12-26



Well, I come to you this morning with scripture that is somewhat radioactive. Reading the Mark passage this morning I had a vision of watching a cute little fuzzy baby bunny suddenly transform in front of my eyes into a monster with fangs and claws. I mean, the words of Jesus can be very challenging at times, but at least much of the time there is a loving side to the words. But sometimes Jesus’ words cut sharply no matter what side of an issue one is on. This week’s passage is one of those times for me—this scripture is toxic. Usually this makes me want to put it down and go find something else to read, but this time we’ll just dive in and spend two weeks on this passage. As a pastor friend of mine said about this passage this week: Good luck with that.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Things Happening This Week

Just a couple of quick notes:

Tues 9/22: Session meeting, 7pm

Wed 9/23: Bible Study at 2pm, continued study in Hebrews

Thurs 9/24: Covered Dish Dinner, 6-7:30pm.
Discussion topic this month is "Revisioning."

Sunday 9/27: Bible Study: "Prayer", 10am
Worship, 11am Mark 9:38-50 (part 1 of 2)

Monday 9/28: Islam Class, 12noon




Wherever You Go

Sermon Sept. 20, 2009
by Katie Mulligan

Someone asked me to post my sermon, so here ya go. No pressure to read it though :-)


Hey, hey, hey — don't be mean.
No need to be mean.
'Cause, remember:
no matter where you go... there you are.


--Buckaroo Bonzai


First Scripture Reading: Exodus 13:17-22

Second Scripture Reading: John 13:36-14:7


“When we see the face of God we shall know that we have always known it. He has been a party to, has made, sustained and moved moment by moment within, all our earthly experiences of innocent love.” –C.S. Lewis


It’s a well known fact that I have little-to-no direction sense, even though my undergraduate degree was in Geography. This is known by those who ride in my car and who often end up going for longer rides than they planned. It is known by those who wait for me at the other end of my journeys, wondering when I’m going to get where I’m going. It’s known to a few of you here in this church, who have received phone calls from the road asking one more time, “How do I get to your place?” And so your gift last week, of a GPS unit, was a kindness beyond imagining—both for you and for me. I can’t say I’ll never get lost again, but at least (if the battery is working) I’ll be able to get unlost without folding and unfolding those paper road maps that never go back together the right way.