Saturday, February 26, 2011

Church Potluck

So we're having a potluck this Sunday, February 27. And you're all welcome to Tiny Church!  Someone's bringing sandwich stuff, and I'm bringing Korean BBQ, so I'm not really sure why you wouldn't come by.
Worship is at 11am, lunch is at 12noon. Come feast with us!

New Covenant Presbyterian Church
240 Creek Road, Mt. Laurel, NJ 08054

But if you're not in the area and still want some Korean BBQ, here's the recipe I used: Crockpot Korean Beef Ribs. I used cut up stir fry beef instead. You could make it with other meats, tofu, or and/or vegetables. It's really quite delicious served over rice.

So you should come by, is all I'm saying.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Can I Sleep in Here?

From Psalm 91:

You who dwell in the shelter 
of the Most High,
and pass the night 
in the shadow of Shaddai,
say: "YHWH, my refuge 
and my mountain fortress,
my God in whom I trust!"

For YHWH says: "I will rescue you from the snare, 
and shield you from poisoned arrows.
I will cover you with my pinions; under my wings you will take refuge;
my faithfulness will shield you.
You have no need to fear the prowlers of the night 
or the arrow that flies by day,
the plague that lurks in the shadows 
or the scourge that stalks at noon."

(Special thanks to Sonnie, 
who gifted me with The Inclusive Bible, 
from which this translation was taken.)

Sermon, Sunday, February 20, 2011
by Katie Mulligan

Scripture Readings: John 3:1-10 and Mark 4:35-40

I hate the wind. I love the concept of the wind. But I hate the actuality of the wind. The concept of the wind is lovely: an invisible movement of air that sweeps through. One never knows where it comes from or where it’s going—there’s something romantic about the wind. We see in the movies the wind blowing through a woman’s hair, a triumphant moment of one kind or another and Marilyn Monroe's skirt flipping up on a poster. Leonardo DiCaprio in The Titanic leaning out over the ocean at the end of the ship yelling out “I’m on top of the world!” The wind, the wind, blowing through with its breath of fresh air, cleansing hearts and minds. The wind, in its playfulness, causing autumn leaves to dance. The warm Santa Ana winds of California, sweeping hot air from the desert down the mountains and out to the sea, or the gentle onshore breeze of an early summer afternoon, bringing the smell of salt and the sound of the sea gulls. The concept of the wind is lovely.

The reality is that the wind distracts me. It bothers me. The sound of the wind howling through trees and snapping branches for the last two days has sent me to my bed to curl under the covers and wait for it to stop. The wind these last few days has been a constant companion, rattling my windows, snapping power lines, pushing my car in directions I hadn’t planned. One year the wind was so strong that I had to hold on to my youngest son to keep him from blowing away.

In California that gentle onshore breeze can quickly become a difficult gusting wind that sinks boats and sailboarders. The Santa Anas, with their dry heat, pick up the slightest spark in the mountains and cause the chaparral to explode into flame, burning acres and acres of wild brush and often homes, sometimes people. I have come to understand better the cruel capriciousness of hurricanes, now that I live on the east coast. These days I am closer to the southeast, and I know more people and their families who live in Florida, Texas, the Caribbean. Tiny islands, long flat inland swamps and beaches, places where hurricanes and their winds and rain push deep into people’s homes and livelihood, destroying what is in their path.

The wind, when she blows, causes my head to shrink inwards, the pressure of the sound, the air makes me ache. And when I step out into the wind, and it snatches my hair and whips it around like it does everything else, I want to return to my home and not leave until the air is still once more. And that gentle onshore breeze? I leave the beach with my hair sticky with salt blown up from the water, tangled beyond repair. Oh the wind.

Nicodemus came to Jesus with some questions. He came at night—perhaps he was a night person, I like to think Jesus was too, although there’s some evidence of early morning fish fries and other suspicious events that lead me to believe he was a bit too cheery in the mornings for my taste. Or perhaps Nicodemus came at night because he did not want to be seen chatting with this peculiar rabbi. Or perhaps it was only late, after a glass of wine or two, that Nicodemus was able to gather the courage to ask his impertinent questions. Whatever his reason, he showed up on Jesus’ doorstep and began to play the question game with Jesus. How can someone be born from above? What does that mean? Teacher, I do not undersand. What do you mean born a second time? Does a person crawl back in their mother’s womb and get reborn again?

Seeing that Nicodemus was not understanding, or perhaps becoming exasperated with his questions, or perhaps suddenly hitting upon the perfect metaphor for life lived in faith, Jesus finally says to Nicodemus: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound if it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is of everyone who is born of the Spirit.” When I first heard this scripture many years ago, preached by my pastor in those days, Steve Jacobsen, I was rather taken with it. This particular verse seemed to describe perfectly my own faith journey and the sense of being blown about a bit by the wind or the Spirit. Steve explained that the same word that meant Spirit also meant “breath” or “wind”, and all the connections for me between Spirit and life and the capacity to breathe in this world came together in my mind. I have lived on this verse as an explanation for how my faith functions for a long time. And like I said, the concept of the wind is quite lovely, a breath of fresh air, the winds of change, a gentle breeze restoring one’s soul.

But there are seasons in our lives when the wind is not so kind and gentle. Seasons where the winds are destructive and violent, forcing change and brokenness that we did not seek or desire. And I have been reflecting on that kind of wind lately, as I put back together the pieces of my life that have been shattered and scattered by winds I could not withstand. There are days when I wonder where is the strong hand to hold onto that will make sure I do not blow away?

Friday night as the winds howled full strength outside our apartment windows, the cats paced and fought with one another. The warmth of the day (66 degrees!) turned quickly cold, and I had to shut the windows I had opened for the first time in three months. My pleasant dinner on the balcony turned chilly too fast. An hour after I put the children to bed and then put myself to bed, a little voice came out of the dark. “Mom? Can I sleep in here?” The wind was loud indeed, and although I am old enough to know that I would probably see the light of day, no matter how hard the wind blew that night, my little guy wasn’t so sure. And so I held on to him til morning so he wouldn’t float away on that wind.

The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is of everyone who is born of the Spirit. The longer I walk in faith, the less stable everything is. I would like to be able to tell you that the more of the Spirit you let into your life, the more settled you will be. Many people will tell you that the more grounded they are in Christ the more peaceful their lives become. In the midst of the silence of their souls, the still, small voice of God comes to them with assurance and insight. But that has not been my own experience—the more of the Spirit I let into my life, the windier it gets, the less settled everything becomes. And we know this was true also for the disciples. Step into a boat with Jesus, and you are likely to run into a storm. And not only that, it’s likely to be a big storm. And not only that, but Jesus is likely to be sleeping peacefully while you are fretting about the wind. Fretting and worrying, the winds of the Spirit whipping through your hair, threatening to overturn the boat, until in fear and despair you awaken Jesus himself crying, “Do you not care that I might die from this???”

I wonder if this isn’t the reason Nicodemus came that night to Jesus. I wonder if he hadn’t heard a bit of Jesus’ teachings, if he didn’t already know something about being reborn in the Spirit. I wonder if it wasn’t just a little too overwhelming and his visit to Jesus wasn’t about seeking reassurance in the middle of the storm battering his spirit. Is this any different than “Mom, can I sleep in here?” Jesus, I don’t understand. Jesus, the boat might sink. Jesus, do you not care that I might die in the middle of all this wind, this change, this life-altering, life-shattering experience of the Spirit? Do you not care that I will never be the same again? Do you not care that I am frightened? Do you not care that I liked things the way they were just fine? What kind of a God are you, anyway, who would so fearfully and utterly alter the core of our being? And then Jesus rebuked the wind, and to the sea he said, “Be still!” And then he looked at the disciples, wind worn and storm weary, and he said, “Have you no faith even now? Why are you afraid?” 

And indeed why are we afraid? In our own time, each one of us will pass on from this earth. Along the way we will be carried off and shattered by winds we cannot control. Yet still, the hand of God reaches gently to each of us, promising shelter even in the middle of the fiercest storm. And should we not live to see the light of day, we will surely discover the light of God. With such knowledge, what is impossible? With that knowledge, what change should we fear? Let us then lean into the wind.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Valentine for Those Who Fear (Repost)

My sermon today was a mish mash of things I have preached on before. The scriptures were Hosea 2 and Song of Songs 2. Here are some links to sermons I've preached before that I pulled from:

Hosea 2 (About Gomer):
The Gomer Sermon
Why Gomer Married Hosea

Song of Songs:
Arise My Fair One

Valentine's Day brings together love, violence, romance, bitterness, singleness, couplehood, secret love and public displays of affection, wrapped up in a pretty bow. Dig deeper and you may or may not find beauty. For those who live with violence in their home (or remember what it was like), this is my Valentine to you.

Links for help dealing with Intimate Violence:
     (Burlington County, NJ) 
     (Mercer County, NJ) 
Domestic Violence Solutions
     (Santa Barbara County, CA)

Valentine's Day is coming, and I watch with envy the couples around me sweetly wooing one another.  As lovely as it is to witness love, I also know that sometimes love comes with violence and fear. If that is something you relate to you're not alone. A group of us gathered in October for a service focused around intimate violence--the violence perpetuated by family members, close friends, lovers, spouses, parents, cousins, aunts and uncles. We meditated on what it meant to live in fear. And we remembered. You're not alone in this, but if it feels that way, make your way to my doorstep. Email is

October, 2009, Princeton Theological Seminary
by Katie Mulligan

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

There are days when I cannot stand being in church. This is one of them. There are days like this one when my reflection on the violence around me sensitizes me to the abuse of power, words, and bodies to the point that I can barely stand to be enclosed within four walls. On those days, when the memories of fear and shame are triggered by the everyday, careless uses of power around me, I come to church wondering how this can be a place of healing and safety. I long for wide open spaces.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Thoughts on Tiny Church

Passed on to me from my friend Ashon,
I give you the Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Being Enough

~by rvacapinta
Sermon, Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011
by Katie Mulligan

Scripture Readings:
2 Kings 4:38-44 and John 6:1-14

So, we have three stories this morning, two from Elisha’s time as a prophet of God and one from the days of Jesus. What they have in common is that some people were hungry, and a servant of God fed them.

The prophet Elisha was the successor to the prophet Elijah, and what characterized Elisha most, is that his ministry emphasized miracles more than any other prophet in the Hebrew scriptures. He turned bad water into good water and he healed people. A certain widow came to him, overburdened with debt, with nothing left in the house except on jar of oil. She sent word to Elisha, and from far away, he caused her empty jars of oil to fill—enough for her to pay off her debts and then some. Later, he raised her son from the dead—this is a prophet from God, indeed! So that when there was a famine in the land, it is not surprising that Elisha was able to feed the company of prophets—one hundred of them in all. And when one of the men accidentally put a poisonous weed into the stew, it’s not surprising that Elisha could throw a little flour in the mix and make the stew edible. As the company of prophets sat together, a man from Baalshalish brought them a few loaves of barley and grain, and Elisha’s servant wondered how on earth it was going to be enough to feed all one hundred. But this was Elisha, after all, and when the food had been distributed, there was enough to feed all one hundred with plenty left over. Prophets are handy people to have around when you are hungry, it seems.

So it’s not really surprising that Jesus, who followed in the tradition of prophets, would have the ability to feed a crowd of people with less than adequate materials on hand. This story of the feeding of the five thousand is the only miracle that appears in all four gospels, and whether that was intentional or not on the part of the gospel writers, it focuses our attention. The story goes that Jesus went up the mountain with his disciples a little ways, and it was just before Passover. Spontaneously, a large crowd formed around him, perhaps expecting Jesus to heal them or preach. It seems that neither the disciples nor the crowd had expected to gather together for this event, because nobody brought food with them. Nobody, that is, except a small boy who had with him five barley loaves and two fish. It seems obvious to the disciples that they could not feed the five thousand with such a tiny amount of food. Phillip even said it would take 6 months wages to feed such a crowd. 6 months wages at, let’s say $10/hour, comes out to about $10,000 or $2 per head. Any caterer will tell you that’s only going to get you peanut butter and jelly, or maybe coffee and a bagel. It seems extraordinary to me that the boy would even offer up the food he had in the face of five thousand hungry people—I wonder how many others had food tucked away in their pocket but didn’t want to share. It seems also extraordinary to me that the disciple Andrew would bring the five loaves and two fish to Jesus, but perhaps he had heard of the prophet Elisha, or perhaps he had a sense of the abundance that God can make from nothing. This was, after all, the man who had turned water into wine at a wedding—and not just any wine, but the really good stuff!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Dittes Quote

So this morning I posted on my other blog a couple of videos that were my Saturday morning inspiration. One of the videos was a lecture given by Brené Brown on the power of vulnerability. And a quote from that video caught my attention so that I posted it several places: "When we work from a place that says 'I'm enough', then we stop screaming and start listening." This same sentence, which catapulted my day into productivity and joy triggered considerable angst for a ministry colleague of mine, and so I thought I might post here a longer quote that gets me through my most desperate days of ministry. These are the days when I think I am the worst pastor on earth, and that my sense of call is really just a desperate, infantile grasping after power and meaning. Pastors have days like this. Too many days.

But I took a class from the Rev. Dr. Bob Dykstra at Princeton Theological Seminary. And he had us read fifty-eleven books. And one of those books was Re-Calling Ministry by James E. Dittes. And in that book was a chapter called "Thirty-eight Years on the Verge." And at the end of that chapter were these words I live by, work by, and manage to sleep by:
We each have our own way of promising ourselves that moments of significance, of faithfulness, of effectiveness are just ahead: Right now the circumstances aren't quite right; I'm too unprepared, too ordinary, too fumbling. Just a little more patching here and a little more polishing there, then I'll be in ministry...

...There is no such thing as being on the verge. It only feels that way. Either be sick where you are, or else there, where you are, "Stand up, take your mat and walk." There is no moratorium possible. There is no exemption assigned. Wherever you are, however you are, you are living as fully in the world, you are exercising as complete a ministry as you ever will. People are looking to you now (and perhaps away again), affected one way or another by what you say and do. And they won't come back again whenever you finally announce that you are "ready." For you never will. Our moments come and go, and our actions and decisions in them, even in the most unlikely moments and the most unprepared states, affect us and others irrevocably...

...we are assured that this present, hectic, ordinary, unprepared life is not really ordinary and is not really unprepared. For God is here. We don't have to send pleadingly, "Come down, Lord." God is already here and working healing to us and through us. We don't have to beg or wait or yearn for special baptism in the Beth-zatha pool. WE only have to rise up on the verge: "Stand up, take your mat and walk."

God does not call us out of our life as we know it into ministry, but calls us to find our ministry in our life. We needn't despair of present humdrumness, hindrance or hecticness. Nor must we hide in false hopes of the future, of another place or time where signs and wonders and certainty and readiness will abound. It is just possible that in the unlikeliness of your present situation and with all the unlikeliness of yourself as you now are, even in the routines of your life this day--not even waiting until your headache feels better or until you get those letters written, or until you get those phone calls made or until you get away from the phone, or until you have a chance to look up something in the reference book, or until you can consult about it or even make up your own mind--God may touch you to cleanse, to reveal, to chasten, to claim you and your ministry. (81-83)

Let the people say Amen.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Response to the "Deathly Ill Church" Letter

Recently several pastors wrote an open letter to the PCUSA which seems to want to move the denomination toward a more congregational structure. I had some thoughts about the letter, which I published this afternoon on my other blog.

Here is the original letter as published in the Prebsyterian Outlook: Pastors call for denomination to be “radically transformed”

And here is my letter, which does not represent my church or session's thoughts: Response to the "Deathly Ill Church" Letter 

Love to you all. May we find a way to exist in peace.