Monthly Archives: November 2012

Stewardship Letter… but also about sweeping Church change

Dear Friends,
A week ago today I watched my fourth child be born. My children are born by C-section – call them lazy, call them wise (I’m still convinced Warren heard a rumor he could just hold on and wait till we came and got him and chose this as the better route), the fact is our kids come out through surgery. In the OR here in Boise, they don’t have a high separation between where the doctor is working and where I sit at Caroline’s head so I literally watched Danielle get pulled out into this crazy, bright, loud, chaotic world she was created to enter… kicking and screaming all the way!

How much of our lives is that the case? That we are kicking and screaming about not wanting to change when the change, while scary, opens us up to an amazing new world. I think that is the kind of precipice that most faith communities are staring at right now. They know they need to change, and they are scared to relinquish the control and just flow with it… flow with the Spirit. 
I get struck by another image. An image of the top of the ski hill when people stand there staring at just how steep the hill is and they psyche themselves out. They stand there, scarred, trying to work up the courage to go down. 

I used to love to whip by those people, young and dumb, willing my life away to the whim of a mountain I cannot control. And I had a blast. And maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t so young and dumb after all… Jesus, it seems, thinks the Kingdom of God belongs to the children. Those who aren’t so caught up in fear but are willing to push ahead and go where life leads.

First Pres Boise is sitting at the top of that hill. We are staring down and we know we need to go, but we aren’t sure if we can do it. We aren’t sure if we won’t get hurt. We aren’t sure if we have the energy or the passion or the desire to navigate the bumps and the falls, the ice and trees, the stops and the starts. We aren’t sure if we want to plunge ahead. I feel it… I too fear it. Then I hear these words… again!

“Look I am doing a new thing, now it springs forth. Do you not perceive it?”

God is whipping by us at the top of that hill. God wants us to plunge down it as well and is inviting us to join in the fun. God wants us to dream big, to dare boldly, to fall and to get up, to risk newness and experience the awe of participating in the birthing of new life. 

In two days we will have a Pledge Sunday to commit our money, but more importantly our energy and lives, to God’s dream. We will have a congregational and corporate meeting to elect the leaders who will help us to see and pursue it. And we will have a meal, Harvest Dinner, to celebrate with the people who share that journey with us. I hope to see you there. I hope you are ready to commit yourself – not just your money, but your life, to falling into the newness God has in store for us with me. It is a journey I, for one, wouldn’t miss.

Grace and Peace,
Andrew

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It’s a Wonderful Life

It is almost that time of year again… in fact if you start trolling strange channels at odd times maybe it’s already that time of year.  Time to hear those dulcet tones say, “Every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings.” The movie from whence I stole my title begins with a question mark and ends with an exclamation point.  Because first we have to ask – is this life wonderful?

At the strangest time I find myself asking that question.  Is life wonderful?  You see at the moment I feel a gnawing sense of something akin to despair but not as dire.  I walked into work to some frustrating conversations.  This is nothing new but in my sleep deprived state I’m just not patient enough to have them right now.  I have this lingering disease of being someone who is renting a house and owns an unoccupied house to boot – every month ensuring that when we do sell that house we will have significantly less money left over to try to actually become home owners a second time.  Then I got some sad and disappointing news and I felt it… a small but ubiquitous sense of despair lining the layers of my life…

If you know me you realize this is a really strange timing… or maybe its entirely to be expected.  It was only four days ago that I watched one of the greatest miracles.  I watch my child emerge, with medical help, from my wife.  A child born… a fourth time through all that, four wonderful children – a miracle that doesn’t get new.  I’m watching this mewling, fragile child object to birth – the ultimate change, but a necessary one for life to happen.  That child could not have remained where it was and live.  So that child had to die… yes die to everything it knew, and we had to make that happen for the child because she would not have chosen it for herself.  She had to die to live.

Image

I got to watch that happen… it is amazing.  So really why despair?  I should be reveling in life right now – overjoyed… ecstatic… caught up in the moment.  Instead I’m reflecting and spinning and caught off guard at how I can be happy and sad to great extents at the same time and not be torn in two by the juxtaposition of it all.  I think happy… but I feel sad. 

And then I see it again… a thousand images some sterile and beautiful and heavenly and some gross and dark and ominous and some are other worldly and some are so incredibly in-the-pain-of-the moment… a thousand images of the cross.

Because isn’t that a lot of what the cross is?  A crossroads of life and death, of despair and hope, of joy and trauma, of escape and commitment, done and ongoing, completely but not yet, to be avoided and embraced.  The cross is the great juxtaposition of two realities that struggle to exist in one moment and one place all tied up together.  And Christ at the cross tells us this is life – existing in the spaces that cannot be…. embracing the great ALL of life.

We prepare to watch, or flip by a thousand times, It’s a Wonderful Life.  We also prepare to welcome the birth of a child… a child born to die – and live again.  What is more the movie, and our own seasons of the church, asks questions of itself in order to invite us to that ask ourselves that same question.  Is our life – in all its swirling emotions and experiences – wonderful?  Can we embrace despair and hope at the same time?  The cross similarly invites us, Jesus birth similarly asks us, can we embrace death to find life? 

That is a big question.  A wonderful question.  It will also manifest differently for each of you… you are welcome to stop reading now – simply walking away with that question in whatever particularity with which it applies to your life IS the point of all this babbling on my part.

There is much beyond my control right now that I passionately wish I could control.  What a perfect time to welcome a child in a reminder that sometimes we need to pushed beyond what we control.  Sometimes we need to be killed (or have our world so changed that feels like death) in order to find the wonder-filled life that is all around us.  I am reminded of that now… again.  I will need the reminder again soon.  This is why we journey through the church year to see over and over again Jesus’ invitation.  Jesus who bids us come and die… that there might be life. 

Thanks be to God….i think… most days at least.  Amen. 

Blessed to be a Blessing

The following was the sermon preached at my Installation service at First Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho by my good friend and colleague Katie Day of Jacksonville, FL.

“Blessed to Be a Blessing”

by Rev. Katie Day
for the Installation of Dr. Andrew Kukla
First Presbyterian Church of Boise, Idaho
October 14, 2012
Genesis 12:1-5
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan.

2 Corinthians 4:6-10
For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.

***

What a journey this has been!
This is the beautiful thing about the Presbyterian call process:
that an associate pastor and his family in Florida can somehow hear the call to get up and go,
and a church clear on the other side of the country has also heard the call
to leave what they know and seek something new that God will show them,
and somehow the associate pastor and the congregation who are on opposite sides of the country,
many miles and two time zones and mountains and deserts separating them
somehow God managed to get them together.
What a gift. What a blessing.
What a journey.

Not to mention that the pastor’s former congregation were never quite sure where exactly he was going,
some thought he was going to Iowa (point to yourself, silly)
some knew he was going to Idaho and believed it to be in the Midwest
some thought it was so nice that in Iowa or Idaho he’d be closer to his family in Illinois
Let’s just say Floridians aren’t super good at geography.

Map-reading skills notwithstanding,
I bring greetings and hugs and lots of well wishes from Palms Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville!
The Kuklas are well-loved by folks there,
by me and the other clergy and staff, and by all the members of our congregation,
and I have specific instructions for you all to take good care of them.
because it has been quite a journey getting here.

Our text from Genesis features another family who heard the call to get up go.
Quite out of the blue one day, Abram hears God’s voice telling him to go,
and not just to go but to leave,
leave your country, your extended family, your home and lands,
leave your friends, dig up your roots, pack up your house,
and go.

Go to a place that I will show you.
Leave practically everything you know for something entirely unknown.
It sounds a bit insane actually, when you really think about it.
And God makes all kinds of promises to sweeten the deal:
I will make a great nation out of you
I’ll bless you
I’ll make your name great
You will be a blessing.

The journey is costly.
For Abram and Sarai, leaving their family meant leaving
their source of identity, their economic security, their protection.
And because we are told earlier in Genesis that Abram and Sarai are unable to have children,
those family ties mean even more.
So God steps into that role:
I will bless those who bless you and I will curse those who curse you.
I will be your family now, and I will make you a bigger, broader family than you ever imagined.
In fact, all the families of the world will be blessed because of you.

In this moment, Abram has to make a choice.
We don’t get to see his thought process, the late night conversations with Sarai,
does he seek advice from his friends, his brothers?
Does he make a list of pros and cons?
Does he check God’s references?
Or maybe it was far simpler than that.
We don’t know.

The text simply reads, “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him.”

I want to believe that Abram went because when God started making promises,
it was no longer just about Abram.
God’s first promise is about a great nation to come – not about an individual man.
And God’s promise ends with all the families on earth being blessed.
How could Abram not go?

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he names that
the God who calls us, who gives us faith and the ability to trust
is the God who created the heavens and the earth,
the same God who said “Let there be light” and there was light.
God – mighty, powerful, universe-creating God –
is also concerned with our fragile little human lives.
Paul writes it beautifully – we have this treasure
in clay jars to show that this extraordinary power comes from God and not from us.

(Tell story about eating dinner with the Kuklas at Chick-fil-A – it was chaos but a delightful slice of the everyday life of authentic people/parents.)

The treasure, Paul writes, is
“the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Which I believe is fancy Paul-talk for the brilliant truth that
the universe-creating God loves us deeply enough to dwell with us on earth in the person of Jesus,
calling us to follow, blessing us, and through us, blessing others.

And the clay jars – well, we’re fragile.
Abram and Sarai were fragile.
They were old, and the journey is perilous.
And it wasn’t just that their bodies were fragile:
Abram and Sarai had some dark moments on the journey –
they lied about being married, said they were siblings,
and 2 different kings believed them and took Sarai to wife.
later, when God explained the promise a bit more and said it would include children,
they tried to manipulate God’s promise, using Sarai’s slavewoman to create a child.
But God overcame.
Again and again, God overcame the mistakes,
the lying, cheating, and impatience.

The treasure is in clay jars to show that the power comes from God and not from us.
Again and again, God chooses to work through fragile, broken human beings,
and that again and again, God overcomes our fragility and brokenness,
and does amazing, extraordinary, powerful things.

And on the journeys that are both costly and perilous,
just like Abram and Sarai, we may face all kinds of afflictions, confusion, and persecution.
Because any time anyone gets involved in doing God’s work, there is real life, abundant life at stake,
which means that death is never far away.
Any pastor can tell you that. Any congregation knows that.
Whenever people gather together and commit to sharing life together,
there is joy and also pain, there is much helping and also some hurting,
there is life and there is death.
And sometimes it is in the dark places, the hurting and painful places
that we can most clearly see God’s light shining.
Sometimes it is enough to know
that God is present with us in the darkness.

And Abram went, just as God told him.
Because it was no longer just about Abram and Sarai,
but God was calling them to go, to make the journey,
because through them,
all the families of the world would be blessed.
Our God is a big picture God,
and Abram and Sarai were invited to take the long view and to trust in the big picture, as well.

And that’s where I think you are today.

Some of you might have been thinking that
this whole journey of Abram and Sarai that I’ve been talking about
is all about Andrew and Caroline and their children getting the call to leave Florida
and to trust God and to go to Idaho and now that they’re here
(and with 4th child Danielle coming next month
they are clearly on their way to fulfilling God’s promise
to have descendants that outnumber the stars),
well now…the journey’s over and everyone can party together in the promised land!

I’m sorry to let you down, but I don’t think that’s true.
I believe that the real journey is actually beginning right NOW.
And it’s not just Andrew whom God is calling; it’s ALL of you.
And now that you’re together, the adventure can truly begin,
if you’re ready to respond to the call.
Where will God lead you?
What will transpire on the way?
What new things will be created on your journey?
What promises will be fulfilled?
How will brokenness and fragility manifest?
How will both death and life be visible?
How will be blessed?
How will you bless others?

Abram and Sarai, you may remember, were deeply changed by their journey,
so much so that God changed their names,
and they become Abraham and Sarah.

May you respond to God’s call with a resounding YES.
May you set off together on a journey that is beyond any expectation.
May you experience the deep and abiding presence of a God who loves you
more that you can imagine.
May you take care of one another, and bless one another,
and take risks together, and make mistakes together.
May you truly know one another, and risk being known,
daring to be your truest selves.
and may you be transformed,
deeply changed from the knowing.
Blessings on your journey.

Amen.