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


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


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.