Monthly Archives: December 2014

#CancerSucks

teal ribbonCancer sucks.

Are there any two words written that were ever more true?  Is there anyone that read that sentence and didn’t think, “Yep, it sure does.”  It sucks more than the suckiest suck that has ever sucked.  Sorry about the 10-year-old mouth, but I think most would give me a pass.

My Mom has cancer.

Those words were hard to even type.  It’s not something I ever wanted to say again.  Six years ago her ovarian cancer went into remission.  Six doses of chemotherapy spread out over three week spans knocked it out. We hoped it was knocked out for good, but we have already established the sucky nature of cancer.

After my Dad told me the news, these are the things I did:

I cried. I sobbed full force, white-knuckled into my pillow. I know cancer. Cancer and I work in a lot of the same places. I can meet cancer at a hospital, or at someone’s home, or in a conversation at church, and I seem to know what to do. I’m not saying that I’m altogether comfortable with cancer, but we’re familiar. This time though, I wasn’t ready. I thought we had an agreement.  Cancer isn’t supposed to bother me at home, but like I said, Cancer sucks.

I hugged my wife, because it was her turn. We seem to take turns being strong in moments like this. It is strange, but I seldom recall a time when we were both crying at the same time. Someone told me once that I’m supposed to be the spiritual leader of our home. That’s bullshit (again, sorry about the language, but my emotions are pretty raw). We are partners. Sometimes I’m strong and confident and fearless and protective and all that stuff. Sometimes I’m not.  Sometimes I’m fragile and raw and broken. Sometimes she kicks me in the ass, and says, “Get up. Suck it up, and get after it.” Sometimes she holds me, strokes my head, and lets me just be broken. It seems like she always knows when she needs to do either, and I love her for this.

We went to our friends house. We have good friends. We have the kind of friends with whom we can play “Cards Against Humanity,” and hold nothing back. Nuh-thing. We share the big celebrations like weddings and births and C-League Volleyball championships (Go Spiking Vikings).  We share the mundane stuff of life like carpools, Tuesday dinner, red wine, and school plays. As soon as I was able to stand, I needed to see our friends. We’ve already buried two parents together, and they know more than anyone that there are somethings that even my lucky rocket-ship underpants won’t help. At their house, the conversation went something like this:

“I just found out that my Mom’s cancer is back.”

“That sucks.”

“Yep.”

Sometimes friends have the perfect words for the moment.

A couple of weeks passed before we were able to tell anyone beyond our very small circle. Finally yesterday I emailed the prayer chain at our church. I’m not sure why I was resistant. Sometimes I feel like a character in Harry Potter, afraid to say the name of You Know Who for fear that speaking it’s name will give it power.  Or maybe I can’t let go of ill-gotten notion that as a pastor, I shouldn’t be vulnerable. There are people in the church that are in need of care, and I how am I supposed to care for anyone when I’m hurting?

The text I’m preaching from on Sunday is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, and starts with these words, “Rejoice always. Pray continually.  Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” You’ve got to be kidding me. (I typed and then deleted a certain expletive in between the words “be” and “kidding me” about five times. I decided to go with leaving it out, so you can re-read that sentence and put it back in, if you so choose).

Rejoice always? That’s going to be a hard sell.

That, however, might be the point. Rejoicing always isn’t about skipping along in a land of rainbows and gumdrops. Praying continually is not about kneeling, folding my hands, and closing my eyes to the world. Giving thanks in every situation isn’t about denying the parts of life that just plain suck.

I rejoice in the life my Mother has lived, and I rejoice in the life she continues to live. I rejoice in her strength. I rejoice in her faith. I rejoice that she just called me from Sam’s Club to ask if I needed a new top coat. “Yes,” I said as I paused from writing this very blog. “My overcoat is blue, and it would be nice to have a black one for funerals.”

You see, I deal with cancer all the time. Truth be told, we had no deal. I knew all along that cancer goes where cancer is not welcome. I’m not rejoicing in its return. Yet in the midst of all things I give thanks.

I give thanks for a Mom who gives me more than I could ever imagine. I give thanks for her partner, my Dad, who taught me that its okay to take turns being strong. I give thanks for my brother and sister, for getting the teal bracelets and doing all the things I can’t do because of distance. I give thanks for my own partner, for being strong enough to hold me up from time to time. I give thanks for my daughters, who teach me every day about grace. I give thanks for my friends, who right now are probably thinking, “I thanked your Mom last night.” I give thanks for my church, who didn’t get an invulnerable pastor. They deserve better.

calvin

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An advent letter to my congregation

christmas eve candleDear Church,

This is our first Christmas together, and I cannot tell you how excited I am for Christmas Eve.  Every year, there are two moments I most look forward to at Christmas.  One is my daughters coming down the stairs on Christmas morning, pausing for a picture, then slowly making their way to see what magic transpired under the tree.  The other is singing “Silent Night, Holy Night,” as the lights are slowly turned down and the candles are lit in the sanctuary on Christmas Eve night.

I know that Easter is supposed to be the big day. Singing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” with the throngs and the organ and the lilies and the spring air at Easter is pretty special, but it is Christmas that touches my heart like no other. I know that Christmas is wrought with commercialism, consumerism, and a secularity that some mourn.  Maybe that is why that moment is so special to me.  It is so needed.  It is that moment where nothing matters but joy.  I can block out the noise and the fear and the distractions.  Sure, “Silent Night,” has helped contribute to a falsely idyllic understanding of Christmas, but I’m okay with that.  It is a song that can end war, even if only for a moment.

I get a pretty special view for Christmas Eve.  I get to stand up front and look out at the faces of those gathered.  I can close my eyes and see it through the years.  I can picture each of the congregations I’ve had the awesome honor to serve.  I can see the faces of those who have supported me, shaped me, challenged me, and molded me into the man and pastor that I am today.  I can see the faces of young and old, woman and man, single and married, healthy and sick.

I can see the faces of people lit by the glow of a small candle as we sing those holy words, and I’m very much looking forward to singing it with you.  We haven’t been together very long, but things are going well.  No church is perfect, but I believe that I am right where I need to be.  Already we’ve laughed and cried together.  Already we’ve dreamed of a Kingdom future, and mourned the loss of pillars.  Already we’ve eaten too much, shared some of our scars, worried a little, and stumbled through some movements.   Already I can see the excitement and the energy.  I can see good things happening.  I can see people being fed without asking first if they deserve it.  I can see invitation that is born from joy, not fear.  I can see welcome.  I can see grace, and a desire to share lives,  not just small talk and pleasantries.  I can see the Body of Christ, redeemed by Christ’s love, reaching out into the world.

Incarnation.  That is what Christmas is all about.  It is the coming of light in a world of darkness.  It is God breaking through all of the barriers.  It is strength and power and might redefined in the form of a newborn baby.  Christmas is peace, love, joy, and hope.  And just as that candle spreads from the table in the sanctuary to those that are singing in the pews, Christmas is the light of Christ spreading into the hearts of the faithful, and being carried out into the world.  It is not about “happily ever after.”  It is about the presence of God in the midst of real life.

It is a reminder that right here in the world is a promise that God is with us.  Right here with the cancer is hope. Right here with the struggle and upheaval is peace.  Right here in the gathering of Christ’s people is joy.  Right here with our fellow humans, hurting, sinning, and falling, is love.

So I’m waiting for Christmas Eve, and not altogether patiently.  I’m waiting to wish you a Merry Christmas, and to see your face lit by the glow of a candle.  It’s my favorite time of year, and I’m so glad we can do this together.

In Christ,

Your pastor

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Two Rivers United Methodist Church

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A service of Communion for Advent

The following is a liturgy I wrote for use during Advent.  Permission for use in worship is granted.  A note that it was “written by Robb McCoy, at http://www.fatpastor.me” would be appreciated.  If you’re going to use it, I also love hearing about it in the comments below, but that’s not necesarrt.  The musical settings found in the liturgy are Copyright 1990 Steve Garnaas-Holmes. Published by The General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church.  The links are to a pdf file.  Some of the Words of Institution are also from the United Methodist Book of Worship.

Communion Liturgy for Advent

One:      In this season of expectant waiting, we are invited to Christ’s table here and now.  Coming to Christ’s table is a way to experience the grace of God.  Therefore it is open to all.  The only requirement is a sincere heart.  The only barriers to the table are created in our own heart.  So we come together as a people to confess our sins to God.  We confess as a people because we all fall short of God’s plan of perfect love.  We do not confess to avoid punishment.  We confess to free our own hearts and minds, so we may remove the barriers we build between ourselves, our God, and our brothers and sisters.

All:          We confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.   We go about our lives as if Christmas is an event to be celebrated, but not lived.  We hear the good news, but do not heed it.  We turn away the holy family for there is no room in our hearts.  We hear the cry of the expectant mother, desperate for care and a place to lie, but listen instead to the carols.  We see the lowly children, born in mangers among the filth of the world, but we look instead to the decorations.  We hear the call of the Angels to come and worship the newborn King, but we bow down to the idols of our culture.  Forgive us, we pray.  Forgive us and free us for joyful obedience.  Remove the barriers that we construct, and empower us to be a people doing the real, gritty, holy, graceful, loving work of Christmas every day. In the name of the Holy Spirit, we pray.  Amen.  (pause for silent confession and prayer)

One:      Out of the wilderness a voice calls out.  Prepare ye the way of the Lord.  Prepare ye the way of love.  Prepare ye the way of forgiveness.  The Christ child was born in the midst of darkness.  The waiting is over.  Christ may be born today in your heart.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we are all forgiven.

All:         Joy to the World. Amen.

(Musical Setting)

One:      The Lord be with you

All:         And also with you.

One:      Lift up your hearts.

All:         We lift them up to the Lord.

One:      Now let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

All:         How good it is to give thanks and praise.

One:      It is good to give our thanks and praise.  It is a good and joyful thing always and everywhere to give thanks to you, God Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.  You create the world from chaos.  By simply speaking, you set the cosmos into motion, and create all things from the dust of stars.

All:         Blessed are you, O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth.

One:      God of many blessings, you called out a family to be a blessing to all the families of the earth.  You gave them a land, and promised to make of them a great nation so that all of the nations of the world could be blessed.

All:         Blessed are you, God of Abraham and Sarah.

One:      God of salvation, when the people were but slaves in Egypt you called upon your servant Moses.  You gave him the power to speak salvation to the Pharoah, and led your people out of slavery.  You led them over the water, and helped them Passover into freedom.  When the people were hungry, you gave them food from the sky.  When the people were thirsty, you brought forth water from the rocks.  When the people were no people, you gave them the Law.

All:         Blessed are you, God of our salvation.

One:      When the people asked for a King, you anointed David to be a just ruler. Though flawed, David united the people, and you promised to be with his line forever.  When the Kings rebelled, as you warned them they would, you anointed the prophets, who called the people back to obedience.  The prophets spoke the truth to power, and called the people to remember who and whose they were.  The prophets warned the people of the consequences of injustice and false worship.  When the people fell into exile, the prophets spoke words of hope and restoration when all around them, there was nothing but despair.

All:         A voice is crying out: “Clear the Lord’s way in the desert! Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God!

One:      You promised the coming of an anointed one, who would lead the people to peace and righteousness.  You promised that the descendant of David would rule forever.  You promised that out of Bethlehem would come the Prince of Peace.  You promised the coming of your Kingdom, when “swords would be beaten into plows, and spears into pruning hooks.”

All:         “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”

One:      John the Baptist came, telling the people to “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!”  John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. People from Jerusalem, throughout Judea, and all around the Jordan River came to him. As they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. And so now we come, having confessed our sins, searching for the Holy Spirit to come and fill us with expectant grace.  We come to be transformed by what has already come, and waiting with hope for what is to come.  We deck our halls with joy, but it is our hearts that truly matter.

All:         Prepare the way of the Lord in our world.  Prepare the way of the Lord in our communities.  Prepare the way of the Lord in our churches.  Prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts.

One:      And so, in hopeful anticipation, we give thanks to you, God of Creation,  God of Abraham and Sarah,  God of salvation, God of the Law, God of King David, God of the Prophets, God of hope and deliverance, God of John, and God of us all.  We join in praise and come together to sing unending hymn of the saints of glory.

(Musical setting)

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord.  God of power and might adored, heaven and earth are shining bright with the glory of your light.  Loud Hosannas now we sing. In the highest they may ring. Blessed is the coming one. Christ Emmanuel your son.  Glory in the highest. Holy God, your name is blessed. 

One:      Holy are you, and holy is your Son Jesus Christ, who is the Word made flesh.

 

All:         Holy are you, and Holy is your Son Jesus Christ.

One:      Who is the one to whom John pointed in the wilderness.

 

All:         Holy are you, and Holy is your Son Jesus Christ.

One:      Who was born to us in a manger, for there was no room in the inn.

 

All:         Holy are you, and Holy is your Son Jesus Christ.

One:      Who came to show us the way to your love.  He proclaimed good news to the poor.  He restored the sight to the blind.  He called the children to his side, taught the women, ate with sinners, and called out the religious leaders blinded by the letter of the Law.

 

All:         Holy are you, and Holy is your Son Jesus Christ.

One:      Who was betrayed by those who loved him.  Who was persecuted by those who feared him.  Who was crucified by those who thought that his death would be the end of him.

 

All:         Holy are you, and Holy is your Son Jesus Christ.

One:      Who, on the night in which he gave himself up for us, he took bread, gave thanks to you, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said:

All:         “Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

One:      And when the supper was over, took the cup, gave thanks to you, gave it to his disciples and said:

All:         “Drink from this, all of you.  This is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

One:      And so, in remembrance of these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ, we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us, as we proclaim the mystery of faith.

All:         Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.

One:      Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood.  Make us a Christmas people, secure in what has come, and hopeful for what is yet to be.  By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.  Keep us vigilant in our Advent waiting until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet. Through your Son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in your holy Church, all honor and glory is yours, almighty Father, now and forever. Amen.

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