Tag Archives: love

Breaking the Silence (part 3): Domestic Violence

Domestic ViolenceThis is the final part of my three part series called Breaking the Silence. It was an emotional set of sermons, each dealing with important topics that have too often been ignored in the Church. I am in the process of creating brochures to go along with these three sermons, so that others can get the facts and help loosen the stigma that so often keeps people from getting the help they need.

For domestic violence, there seems to be an important Biblical understanding that needs to be addressed and reshaped. The nature of marriage and divorce has often been used to keep people, especially women, in abusive relationships. The sermon below goes into more detail, but it should be said that the Biblical understanding of a marriage is that it is between two people who are in a covenant relationship to be mutually submissive. When some cherry-pick Scripture to read “wives submit to their husbands,” they often leave out the surrounding paragraphs which are inevitably about love and kindness. The Bible describes relationships built on mutuality, not hierarchy. Secondly, a divorce does not end a marriage. Violence ends a marriage. A divorce may be the legal ending of a marriage, but a covenant relationship of love, respect, and mutual submission is broken not with a signed document, but with spiritual, emotional, sexual, or physical abuse. There are other ways that a marriage may end, but in regards to this issue, too many women have been trapped inside a destructive relationship in the name of “saving a marriage.”

If you are in an abusive relationship, I implore you, save yourself. The marriage is already destroyed. Call the police and get out, then call the Pastor to seek healing.

Breaking the Silence Series

Mental Health: Silent No More

Suicide: Nothing Separates

Domestic Violence: Call Police, Not Pastor

 

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The Gospel According to Pixar: Finding Nemo

Dear Daughters,

On your first day of Kindergarten I wore sunglasses. It was a sunny day, but that is not why I wore the shades. I wore them because I didn’t want you to see. I didn’t want you to see the redness in my eyes or the tears flowing down my cheeks. Your mother and I walked behind as you and your sister walked together, hand in hand, toward the school. It looked so big, and you looked so tiny. Your head seemed to barely peak over the top of your backpack, which was wider than your body even though it carried only the lunch I had just made for you.

You walked to the big lot where all the other kids were waiting. Other parents. Other sunglasses. I wasn’t embarrassed of my tears. Everyone who knows me knows that I a crier. You even know it, but not today. I didn’t want you to be thinking about my tears. You had enough to deal with. You found your line. We gave you hugs and waited for your teachers to come. And she did. The line of kindergarteners started to move. Some of the parents walked with their little ones. It was a first-day exception to the rule that I was not aware of. I didn’t know that we could walk in with you. So Mommy asked. She bent low and said to you, “Do you want us to come with you or do you want to go alone?”

“I want to go alone,” you said. And into the deep blue you swam.

Into the deep, fraught with dangers on all sides, you ventured. There, kids could be mean to you. There, teachers could crush your spirit. There, cafeteria chaos loomed. There, I would not be able to scoop you up if you called out, “Daddy uppy!” There, into the deep you swam. There you ventured out, wanting to go alone. Needing to go alone. It is possible to be both overjoyed and terrified at the same time. For in that moment I was joyful that you were ready. I was so proud of my brave, independent, smart little girl; and I was terrified for my precious, vulnerable, sensitive little girl. So I waved, and I watched you as long as I could. Then you were in the building, and somehow I went about my day until it was 3 p.m., and I found that you had survived.

Finding Nemo is about a Dad, Marlin, trying to find his son, Nemo. Along the way Marlin bumps into Dory, a wonderfully optimistic fish with an extremely short attention-span. She reminds Marlin that when things look difficult, the best thing to do sometimes is “just keep swimming.”  Most of the story of the movie is of their adventure. They engage much danger along the way, encounter strange creatures, and develop a lasting friendship. Meanwhile Nemo is made a pet, trapped in a tank in a seaside Dentist’s office. Here, Nemo makes some unlikely friends, draws on his own courage and teamwork. Eventually, Marlin and Nemo are reunited, and through the power of teamwork and positive thinking, they are freed from a fisherman’s net.

It is a wonderful adventure, but it is easy to forget how it all started.

I get Marlin. Here, on Nemo’s first day of school, he is rightly worried. Maybe he goes overboard, but I understand his desire to protect his son, and I cringe at Nemo’s open defiance. Marlin knows that the deep blue is a dangerous place. He knows that something as simple as touching a boat can get you killed. I struggle with the same emotions as Marlin. I think every parent does, and I don’t expect it to get any easier. The dangers just seem to get bigger as life goes on. In the end, all I can do is trust.

I trust that the things your Mom and I have taught you can hold true even in the midst of hardship. I trust that you feel my love and my presence even if I’m not there at your side. I trust that there will be others that care about you that will guide you on your way. I trust that there will be friends who will love you for who you are. I trust that your own strength and resourcefulness will surprise you when you need it. Above all, I trust that the same shepherd who guides and protects me through the darkest valley is the same shepherd who will watch you too. If I am to claim faith in the Scriptures, and find solace in words like the 23rd Psalm for struggles in my own life, it means I have to find solace in them for you as well. Even though you will walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil. For the same rod and staff that protects me, protects you as well. Surely goodness and mercy pursues you as relentlessly as it pursues me, too.

Holding onto this is the only way that I can let go of you, and letting you go is precisely my job as your father. The only way for you to become the amazing women that God has created you to be is if I allow you to venture. I have to allow you to get lost, to play in the rain, to have your heart broken, to scrape your knee. You both have so many gifts. You have incredible kindness and curiosity. You are ferocious and gentle. You are passionate and loyal, and sometimes agonizingly stubborn. So go out into the deep blue.

Explore. Fall. Imagine. Sing. Bless. Feed. Dance. Play. Read. Love. Fail. Forgive. There will be hard days, and sometimes the best thing to do is just keep swimming.

Through it all know that no matter what, I will pursue you with as much goodness and faithful love as I can.

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the Bible under my bed

I still have that red Bible with the frayed edges.

I still have that red Bible with the frayed edges.

I found it under my bed.  I know, not the best place to keep it.  I have no idea how it got there, but one of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever had with my Bible came the night I found it under my bed.

I was living alone for the first time in my life.  A graduate student in a small apartment with a strange roommate, it was probably the most lonely I’ve ever been.  I missed my girlfriend.  I missed my friends and family.  I had some nice co-workers, but the relationships were still at the very superficial level.  I was about six weeks into a two-year commitment.  When I decided to go to graduate school, I thought two years wouldn’t be too long to try and have a long-distance relationship.  On that night though, sitting on my bed feeling sorry for myself, two years seemed like an eternity.

For reasons which I cannot fully explain, I decided to clean my room.  I started at side of my bed, picking up clothes and books and whatnot.  I looked under my bed and found the red book with gold letters on it surrounded by dust bunnies.  I felt a little guilty that my Bible had been pushed that far back under my bed.  I picked it up, and held it for a moment and decided that cleaning my room could wait.  I crawled back on my bed, and felt compelled to read.  I didn’t know what to read.  I didn’t know where to start, so I started at the beginning.

I had never really read the Old Testament before.  Seminary was still in my distant future, so I knew nothing about JDEP, historical criticism, or a post modern hermeneutic.  I simply read the stories.  They were confusing.  The story of Noah was redundant and seemed to contradict itself.  It was boring.  Seriously, do I really care about the sons of Ham?  It was troubling.  Abraham did what to his son?  Yet I kept reading.  I also found the stories to be direct, and easier to follow then I thought they might be.  It all read like a TV drama.  As I read I found myself eager to read more.  Then I read this line:

“So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.” (Genesis 29:20)

The words stopped me.  I read them again and again.  I drew so much comfort from that little verse.  The truth is, Jacob was a pretty unsavory character.  In my Pulpit Fiction Podcast, we’ve been blasting Jacob as his story has unfolded through the lectionary.  He was pretty much a scoundrel.  The story from which this verse emerges is a sordid affair that wouldn’t do very well in modern romantic comedies.  Yet at the same time, there was something so pure about this notion.  There really isn’t a lot of romantic love in the Bible.  There are a lot of property exchanges.  There are relationships fraught with deceit and unfaithfulness.  There are some strange tails men claiming their wives are their sisters.  This particular story finds Jacob marrying Rachel’s sister and Rachel, nevermind the fact that Rachel and Leah are his first cousins.

The fact of the matter was, in that moment, I didn’t care about any of that.  I didn’t need to know the cultural context of marriage.  I didn’t need to understand the source criticism of Genesis.  All I knew was that I was hurting.  I was lonely.  I missed the woman I loved, and somehow that verse spoke to me.  A pain was lifted.  It wasn’t erased, but I was able to look at my situation from a new perspective.  Call it the Holy Spirit.  Call it the power of the Living Word.  In that moment, the Bible spoke to me, and I was renewed.  Did God move me to clean my room?  Did God direct me to look under my bed?  I don’t know, but a couple of years later, my sister read that verse at our wedding.

That is the power of the Bible.  That isn’t to say that the deeper, more scholarly approaches to the Bible aren’t helpful.  I believe in using all of the tools of scholarship, archeology, sociology to dig deeper into the Bible.  I love looking at Scriptures from different cultural contexts, and I try to be aware of the lens I bring to the Scripture.  I believe that the Word of God is made more fully alive when we bring our own understanding of tradition, reason, and experience into it.

But sometimes, encountering the divine is as simple as opening up the book and reading.  Sometimes we can have an encounter with God through the Bible that is free of trappings.  On that night it was just me and my Bible, and I was made new.  That is an important reminder for me as I surround myself with commentaries and studies.  Sometimes God’s grace comes through a scoundrel, and a simple and eternal message of love.

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I only have one sermon.

As you may know, I have started posting sermons on this blog.  It has been a great source of excitement for me because I consider myself a preacher.  I don’t consider myself a great preacher – I just believe that preaching is a deeply-seeded part of who I am.

As I’ve been slowly posting sermons, I have been reflecting on how I can be better.  In this process, I’ve started to get a little worried.  I’m fearful that I’ve been preaching the same thing over and over.  I wonder if I’ve been as creative as possible.  I wonder if I’ve gotten into a rut.  In the midst of this, I was given a gift.

Grace comes in the most amazing of places, from the most amazing of sources.  Today I was given the amazing gift of grace by an 11-year-old girl at a church camp.  A group of five people – three junior high girls, an adult volunteer, and myself – have come to a weekend retreat.  This morning we were gathered for our small group time and we were reflecting on the fact that God not only loves us, but that God likes us.

In the discussion, I directed each of them to say one thing about everyone else that they like.  “I like this about…”  Each person had to simply listen as the four people said one thing they like about that person.  When it was my turn, I was a little reluctant.  Then I received my gift.

“Pastor Robb,” one of the girls said, “I like that when you talk at church – during your what do you call it? sermon?  I like that when you do those you always talk about how God loves us.  You always seem to work it in.  You always make sure we know that God loves us no matter what.”

OK, so maybe I have been a little redundant.  And maybe that’s okay.

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Sermon: And it was still hot

Click here to listen to the sermon: And It Was Still Hot

Click here to read a related blog post.

First Reading: Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak

Date: Mother’s Day, 2012

Scripture passage:  Luke 15:1-10

All the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen to him.  The Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling, saying, “ This man welcomes sinners and eats with them. ”

Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose someone among you had one hundred sheep and lost one of them. Wouldn’t he leave the other ninety-nine in the pasture and search for the lost one until he finds it? And when he finds it, he is thrilled and places it on his shoulders. When he arrives home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who changes both heart and life than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to change their hearts and lives.

“ Or what woman, if she owns ten silver coins and loses one of them, won’t light a lamp and sweep the house, searching her home carefully until she finds it? When she finds it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost coin.’  In the same way, I tell you, joy breaks out in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who changes both heart and life. ”

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I’ve rejected that god too.

rejected godMost of the time, when I talk to someone about the god that they have rejected, it turns out that I’ve rejected that god too.  You know, the god of fear and closed-mindedness.  The god of rejection and shame.  The god that supports oppression, injustice, and bullying.  The god that calls people to violence.  The god that uses religion and ritual as a way to pacify the masses, or line the pockets of the powerful.  The god that demands right choices lest I be punished with eternal torment.  I’ve rejected that god too.   Unfortunately, there are many people that have only been told about that god, and so they have walked away.  I want to tell you about the God that I worship.

The God I worship loves me.  God loves me for all my failures, imperfections, and bad choices.  God loves me just as I am, and is working with me to grow into what I could be.   God has picked me up, dusted me off, and reminded me that I am not junk. I am God’s.  God uses my weakness for strength, and has replaced my shame with grace.

The God I worship wants me to love my neighbor as myself.  God wants me to work for justice and act with kindness.  God wants me to be vulnerable to others, not because God wants me to be weak, but because it is impossible to love without first being vulnerable.

The God I worship wants me to love God with all my heart, mind, and strength.  God wants me to expand my mind.  God wants me to challenge, for it is in challenging that we may grow.  God wants me to look to the stars and wonder, explore, and dream about what is possible.  God wants me to know not just the words of the Bible, but to know the heart of the Word.  God wants my whole self, not just my Sunday self.

Today I saw my daughter enter a room.  My heart leaped.  I put my arms out and hoped beyond hope that she would see me and come.  I wanted to see her smile.  I wanted to make her laugh.  I wanted to embrace and make her know that she was loved.  That is how God looks at each of us, and even that is insufficient to describe God’s love.

This is the God I have found.  Perhaps I should say more accurately, this is the God that has found me.  This is the God for which I live and breathe.  This is the God to whom I testify.  This is the God whom I fail time and again, but who is willing to stick with me. This is the God of good news, the God of grace, mercy, and justice.  I don’t blame or fault anyone for walking away from god.  Odds are, I’ve walked away from that god too.  All I can do is show you, tell you, demonstrate to you, and live out the love that is in me.

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To my daughters,

Today is Valentine’s Day, and on this day there are a few things I want you to know about love.

First of all, I love God.  I love God with my whole heart, mind, soul, and strength.  There are times when I fall short of what that means in my life, but I try to make the love of God the driving force behind everything I do.  I know also that God loves me.  God’s love for me is stronger than my failures.  God’s love is steadfast and endures forever.  Because of God’s love, I am able to love.

Secondly, I love your mother.  I have loved her for fourteen years, and everyday that we spend together I love her more.  The love that your mother and I share is strengthened by our love of God.  As we get closer to each other, we get closer to God too.  She and I share a bond that I cannot fully put into words. You are a product of a love that is very powerful, and that makes you powerful.  Right now you are young enough and sweet enough to like it when you see us hug and kiss.  Usually you want to join in and turn it into a “family hug.”  Eventually you will probably think it’s “gross,” but you should know that it will never stop.

I want to raise you as girls that love God, and I pray that someday you will find someone that loves you as much as I love your mother.  It’s my job to teach you what that feels like.

It is terrifying to think of you growing up, because growing up can be so painful. It can be so dangerous, and I want to protect you from all of those dangers.  Yet I know that I cannot protect you by keeping you sheltered.  Right now your Mom and I are the most important people in your world.  I know that won’t always be the case, so I’m trying to make the most of it now.  I know that there will be people coming into your life.  Some will be positive, some will be negative.

Some will love you for who you are, and some will use you for what you can do for them. Some will laugh with you, and some will hurt you.  Some will appreciate your beauty, and others might abuse it.  The only way I can protect you is to teach you how to tell the difference.  It’s my job to teach you that love is never about jealousy, violence, manipulation, lust, or power, and that healing is always possible.

That’s why we have “Daddy-Daughter Date Night.”  That is why I read to you before you go to bed.  That is why we turn off the radio in the car on the way to preschool.  That is why we turn off the TV and play in the evening.  That is why I get home as soon as I can every night.  I want to take every moment I can to teach what it feels like to be loved unconditionally.

I love talking with you, listening to your stories, eating dinner with you, and treating you like you are the most important person in the world.  I love asking you about your favorite books, and teaching you about sports.  I love hearing about your friends, finding out what makes you mad, or happy, or excited.  I love holding you in my arms. I love the smell of your hair.  I love your slobbery, open-mouthed, 18-month-old kisses; and your surprisingly strong five-year-old hugs.  I love when you touch my cheek and smile.  I love to hear you sing.  I love hearing you laugh.  When you dance, I see heaven.

 

Someday I pray that you will find someone that loves those things too.  But first, you need to love you too.  Love your compassion.  Love your kindness.  Love your courage. Love your imagination.  Love your strength.  Love your dreams.  Love your intellect.  Love your body.  Love mercy.  Love justice.  Love humility.  Love your God.

You’ll never see me wear a shirt like this.  I understand the sentiment.  I understand what it means to want to protect you.  I will always want to protect you, but I hope that someday I will be able to let you protect yourself.  If I ever feel the need to go get my shot gun, it will be because of my own failure, not yours.

Happy Valentine’s Day.  I hope now you understand a little bit more about love.  It is, after all, what we are created for.

Love,

Daddy

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You are Highly Favored

“It is no small thing to be highly favored by God.  Especially when you are acutely aware of how preposterous this idea truly is.”^

To know that you are higly favored by God can be a life-changing moment.  It is the kind of thing that changes your perspective on the world.  I remember when I realized that I was highly favored by God.  It didn’t come to me an instant.  It was something I realized over time, and when it finally struck me, it changed my world.

When you realize that you are highly favored by God, nothing will ever be the same.

For me it came in junior high.  The realization came to me when I realized that God loved me for me.  It came to me when I knew that nothing I did or said could earn God’s love.  When I knew that I was highly favored by God I learned that my missing homework assignment couldn’t change that.  My disappointing test couldn’t change that.  The things that I forgot, misplaced, or mishandled were not bigger than the steadfast love of God.

I can’t point to any one moment when I realized that I was highly favored by God, but it was no small thing, for it changed the way I saw myself, and it changed the way I saw the world.

In the Gospel of Luke we find Mary’s Song, also known as The Magnificat.  It is Mary’s song of glory after meeting Elizabeth.  Elizabeth, who was herself expecting a child whose conception was surrounded in mystery, was filled with the Holy Spirit and pronounced God’s blessing upon Mary and her child.  Mary’s response:

“With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.
Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
He shows mercy to everyone,
from one generation to the next,
who honors him as God.
He has shown strength with his arm.
He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty-handed.
He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
remembering his mercy,
just as he promised to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”

Mary is highly favored by God, and it is no small thing.  When she came to that realization, she sang praise to God.  She realized that through her the promise of God would be fulfilled.  She sings a song of praise and promise.  It is praise to the God that has held her in favor.  It is praise of the God that will turn the world upside down.  It is a song of the promise of God that this has already been fulfilled in the baby she is carrying.  God’s promise has not begun with the coming of Jesus.  It has been fulfilled.

The gift of Jesus is from the God that scatters the proud and fills the hungry.  This is a God that has turned the world upside down by becoming flesh.  Everything would be different because of the coming child.  For all of this, Mary sings out in praise and thanksgiving.

This however, was not Mary’s first reaction.  A few verses earlier, when the angel told Mary what was coming, her response was marked with confusion, fear, and a quiet resolution.  It took Elizabeth to stir in her the power of praise.  There is a lot to be said of the bond of one mother to another.  Elizabeth was a person that Mary knew and presumably respected.  She was a relative – maybe a cousin, certainly older.  I like to think of her as Mary’s aunt.  Mary went to her Aunt’s house when she was in trouble.  She found there a woman who loved her, who comforted her, and who made her feel empowered in a way that even the angel could not.  I can imagine the remarkable bond between Elizabeth and Mary because I knew an aunt much like that.

In the midst of her trouble and fear Mary was given hope and grace through the words of someone that loved her.  She realized that she was highly favored by God.  Her response was a song that has lived through the ages as a testimony to God’s power.  It is a song that reminds us that God used Mary to fulfill God’s promise.  It is a song that we may rise and sing today.  In the midst of your trouble and your fear, I want you to know, “You are highly favored by God.”  Trust in God’s love, and your life will never be the same.

Know that God loves you and wants to use you to fulfill God’s promise.  You are highly favored by God, let your heart glorify the Lord.

 

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^I wish I remember where I read this.  As I was doing some reading for my sermon this Sunday on the Magnificat, I read these words on someone else’s blog.  They hit me with such a force that I didn’t even keep reading, but I built my sermon – and this blog – around this idea.  This might not be a direct quote, but I didn’t feel right not attributing this to someone.

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Coming out

I wrote this many years ago, when I was the pastor of a small church in Central Illinois. I am no longer there, but my sentiments have not changed since writing this.

 

What if I were gay?  What if I was a teenage boy living in a small town in Central Illinois, and I was starting to come to the realization that I might be homosexual?  I started thinking about that today because October 11 is National Coming Out Day.  Not sure who deemed it as such, and I probably would have had no idea about this day if it were not for facebook.  In light of the recent suicides of four teenagers that were bullied, embarassed, and harassed for being gay, the organizers of National Coming Out Day have encouraged others to “come out” instead.  They have asked the following:

 We would like everyone, whether you are gay, straight, bi, trans, queer, curious, confused, or anything else, to come out as an ally. If you have a gay friend or family member, if you do not but would not mind if you did. If you believe that everyone should have the right to feel safe, loved, and respected no matter who they love, on October 11th we ask you to change your status to “[insert name here] IS AN ALLY”.

This morning I was pondering making that change to my status, and I felt reluctant.  I felt nervous about how others would react.  I wondered if it would cause controversy in my church, or if it would anger someone I didn’t want to anger.  I wondered if making such a post would somehow negatively affect my ministry.  All selfish considerations, yet responsible things to ponder nonetheless.  In the end, I made the change.  Why?

Because I thought to myself – “If it is this hard to post on facebook that I am an ally, a friend, a loving, safe outlet, how hard would it be to actually come out to people?”  I thought of those four young people that committed suicide in the last few weeks.  I thought of the thousands of others that have already taken their own life, or are considering it right now.  I tried to feel for a moment what they might be feeling every second of their life.  I tried to feel their despair, their fear.

What if I were a gay teenager living in fear?  What if I had heard someone shout “God hates fags!”  What if I had heard my friends joke about “that queer” or call each other “gay” as if being gay was the last thing anyone would want to be.  What if I feared that my church-going parents would try to send me to some camp because I was broken?  What if I didn’t know what the word abomination meant, but I knew it wasn’t good? What if I thought my pastor was going to tell me I was going to hell because of the way God created me?  What would I do?  Where would I turn?

I thought for a moment about those questions, and I wondered.  What if I were a gay teenager living in a small town and I read my pastor’s facebook status, and it said that my pastor is “an ally.”  What if I knew that there was someone that I could talk to?  What if I knew that even though there are a few that are convinced that “God hates fags,” there are more that think “God is love.”  There are some that think that I am created in God’s image, and that I’m good.  How would that change how I feel?

So I decided to come out.  This isn’t about politics.  This isn’t about church dogma.  This is about love.  This is about offering mercy, kindness and grace.

If you are reading this, and you are gay, straight, or confused, know this: I am a friend. I do not want to change who you are or who you love.  I believe that we are all in need of transformation, that we all fall short of the perfect love that God calls us to. I believe God is love, and all love is of God. I love because God first loved me, and God loves you too.

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Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

17 years ago I told you I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I was 15 years old.  It was the night your Dad died, and I was being tormented with a whirlwind of emotions.  In the midst of my emotions, I picked up a notebook and decided to write.  I didn’t know what I wanted to write, but I knew that something deep inside of me was telling me to write.  I realized in that moment that I was a writer.  I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.  When I told you that, I was expecting you to say, “Really, what do you want to be?”  Instead you said simply, “You are going to be a minister.”  I thought you were crazy.

Yet something within me never let go of that idea.  On the night that Grandpa died, something was born in me.  It was a spark that was probably there all along.  It was a spark that only you recognized.  It was a spark I figured would just fizzle out.  I was wrong.  Tonight I am going to be ordained as an Elder in the United Methodist Church.

I am going to kneel before you, the church, the Bishop and God and take vows to dedicate my life to the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ.  Tonight I will promise to teach the Bible to those seeking a deeper understanding.  I will promise to preach good news to the poor, freedom for the captives, and forgiveness to sinners.  I will promise to sit with a dying man as he takes his final breaths.  I will promise to hold an infant above the baptismal waters.  I will promise to break bread with sinners and share the cup of forgiveness.  I am going to dedicate my life to making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

I will take a solemn vow and enter into a covenant relationship with the Church, the body of Christ – the only source of truth and salvation I have ever known.  The Church is not perfect.  It’s a good thing, because neither am I.  I love the United Methodist Church. I know it has made mistakes, yet I love it anyway.  I love it for so many reasons, but ultimately I love it because it was through the United Methodist Church that I discovered the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

And that is why I want to thank you.  I want to thank you and Dad for bringing me to church as a kid.  I want to thank you both for teaching me about the love of Jesus in word and deed.  I want to thank you for valuing my education, and encouraging me to reach and dream and dance.  I want to thank you for loving me, even when I forgot my homework, even when I forgot to pick up the apples in the yard, or when I forgot to give you a message.  I want to thank you for loving me so much that you could see through all of my mistakes and imperfections.  I want to thank you for loving me so much that you could see something about who I am, and who I could be.

When I kneel before the Bishop tonight, there will be so many people there with me.  There will be people of five wonderful churches that embraced me, welcomed me, and molded me into a man, husband, father, and pastor.  There will be teachers and coaches that pushed me.  There will be friends that laughed with me.  There will be all four of my grandparents, two aunts and an uncle.  When I think of all that has led me to this point in time, I am humbled.  I know that you will be there too.

I thank God every day.  I thank God for giving me more blessings than I can possibly deserve.  I thank God for family and friends.  I thank God for life, life abundant, and life eternal.  I thank God for the awesome privilege of doing God’s work and serving God’s children.  And I thank God for you, and for that preposterous suggestion you made to me so long ago.  It turns out you were right.  Thank you.

Love,

Robb

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