Archive for June, 2009

June 30, 2009

Not on This Sunday

Family Fun Night 022

Historically, Baptists have believed in separation of church and state. We don’t talk about politics in worship. We don’t support political motions in the context of church services. We believe in religious freedom for all. (Though this would not be the case in some Baptist churches because they’ve ceased to remain true to our roots).

Thus, on this Sunday of National Celebration, the weekend of the 4th of July, this preacher will not be taking Uncle Sam with her into the pulpit. (Don’t let the smile on my face fool you). She will not talk about national politics or elevate our country above other nations around the globe.

Yet, we will do what we always do each week: we will worship God with thanksgiving for the freedoms we have in our nation to do so. And, we will pray for our country’s leaders that they may have the wisdom they need to led us in good paths.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t be a faithful Christian and patriotic. (Hear me say though, that I do feel blessed to have this country as my home). I just think it means that there is a time and place for everything. Politics and religion don’t mix well if we seek to keep our freedoms. Just read some histories of other nations for more examples to count than I can describe here.  Our goal as a congregation is to model this foundational truth of the Baptist kind of Christian and do it well.  Join us as we think about on Sunday “A Different Kind of Power.”

(The back story on this photo is this: it was taken during the Somos el Mar concert in the sanctuary a couple weeks ago. I was seeking to be a part of two events at once. The kids were outside and concert goers were inside. I was cleaning up some of the children’s stuff only to have Kevin come running out to me saying, “You’ve got to see this. It is something you’d never imagine in your pulpit!” And to my great surprise, there was Uncle Sam. The concert was an international folk themed event. Towards the end giant inflatable things began to rise from all over the room as props for the songs. During an American themed song, Uncle Sam appeared. Entertaining, yes, but wow! We were quick to snap this photo after the concert. A moment to remember for sure as it won’t be what you’d see on any Sunday).

June 29, 2009

A Hard Preaching Task

How does one preach at a Gay Affirmation Service and stay true to the Biblical text and the nature of what is and isn’t appropriate in the pulpit?

I wasn’t quite sure.

I got special help this week though from my Duke friends who I hung out with eariler in the week and also through conversation with church folks through the week. And, of course, the normal “sermonizing.”

I don’t normally post sermons (as I think they should be heard not read) but in this case, I thought it might be important.

A Different Kind of Love

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 and I Corinthians 13

Today, Washington Plaza Baptist Church is doing something that sets us apart from most churches. We are celebrating Gay Affirmation Day. When I shared the word about this special emphasis day with friends of mine from outside the church, those who attend other congregations and even my pastor friends in other churches unanimously there response was “Wow, I’ve never heard of that before!” (And, I have to add that some of my pastor friends were jealous about this special day in the life of our church about how it is celebrated with such ease). As part of our “daring to be different” sermon series, I think today we are enacting in a powerful way through our presence here what it means to be a different kind of church.

It’s a day to celebrate the diversity of who we are as a local Body of Christ. It is a day to be true in proclamation of our convictions about God’s love and care for all people. It is a day to be authentic in whom we really are as a community of faith about who is welcome here which is everyone. This fact about Washington Plaza church gives me great hope not just for our little community but for the church universal going forward in the future.

Today, I know that you as worshippers here come with a variety of different expectations about what will be said from the pulpit this morning in light of this special occasion.

Some of you come, secretly wishing that the sermon doesn’t mention the words gay at all. While you have no problem with it personally, you don’t want to hear a theological verse by verse explanation of all the verses in the Bible that speak to what it means to be gay. You’ve been a part of churches where you heard this before. You’ve been a part of churches where one topic seems to dominate the pulpit. You’ve seen pastors go overboard and not seem to know how to talk about anything else. You wish this morning that we could just talk about God’s love as clearly explained in our New Testament reading this morning and move on. But, in hoping for all of this, what might happen is we don’t stay true to the Biblical text placed before us this day.

 Then, there are some of you who have come this morning hoping that this pulpit takes on the larger issue of what it means to be gay according to the Bible. You are hoping that our sermon will clear up some ideas and maybe even some misconceptions you’ve had about the topic. You are hoping for a clear Biblically based answered to dispute those around you who might claim that homosexuality is a sin. But, what I suggest that you are looking for is a Bible study or small group discussion. You are hoping for something that better suited for a different forum at a different time.

 Yet, we are here today to here from this pulpit the good news of the Christian faith proclaimed from a reading of God’s word. For, we aren’t a community which is a one issue wonder. We are the community of Christ here in Reston where no particular group is above any other. We are a Baptist community which means all our members have equal responsibility and a voice to be here with no bounds to sexual orientation.

As part of our six weeks this summer spent examining key moments in the life of David, it just so happened that our text for this morning from the Revised Common Lectionary, (a collection of lections studied today by a majority of churches around the globe) is about David’s lament for two men, Saul and Jonathan. It is a passage that speaks about the bonds of love holding together the nation of Israel between its people and its leaders, between Saul and his son Jonathan, and David and Jonathan.

I think it is important for us to begin with an understanding as to why it was that David was lamenting for Saul and Jonathan’s death in the first place. In doing so, we might just have a model of the importance of expressing our love for our fellow human beings, whoever they may be and whatever form the relationship  may take: a model which is not bound by culture, class, marriage laws in our land, or just our own insecurities about expecting anything in return. But, a model of loving which takes its cues from love incarnate, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Beginning in verse one, one of 2 Samuel, we learn that a major shift in the life and history of Israel has taken place. While in battle, the ever present enemy, the Philistines, attack and Jonathan dies in battle along with his father Saul. The king and the heir to the throne are gone.

Knowing the history between David and Saul’s family, you would think that David would have thrown a victory party at this moment. As David’s popularity and military fame grew throughout the land, so did Saul’s jealousy of him. It was a jealousy so great that Saul sent his men on the hunt to take David’s life. Much of the remaining part of scripture from David’s killing of Goliath we studied last week until today’s text is about a game of cat and mouse between the two. Saul wants David dead. Yet, David, being the Lord’s anointed, escapes Saul’s grip on him.

 But, instead of a party or celebratory dance, David begins to write a lament of grief—a special kind of poem in Hebrew, used during special occasions. Speaking words of honor over this enemy, showing respect to this first king in all of Israel’s history, and providing the words of sadness for a nation looking for answers after the death of their leader: this was David’s response to Saul’s death.

 He was showing a different kind of love- a kind of love that Paul writes about when he says, “Love is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” David’s lament for Saul was most unusual. It was a love of an enemy. It was a love that takes the high road when life’s difficulties could easily lead him down disrespectful paths. It was a love that exceeded the bounds of position. It was love spilled out of honor for the diseased. It was a different kind of love from that found in the tabloids or from culturally-popular ideas about how to how to “make friends”—it was real, it was vulnerable,

 And, then there was Jonathan, Saul’s son, who also died in battle that day. Jonathan was not your typical king’s son climbing the social ladder. Though he had every right to defend the honor of his succession to the throne, he struck up a relationship with his father’s greatest rival, David. Jonathan went out on a limb even to make a covenant of relationship with him, vowing loyalty to David above his father even though he knew this would cost him his life of privilege and power.

 Thus, it only seems natural for David to grieve for his dearest Jonathan, a man who had risked his own life to be in relationship with him. Look with me as to how David lamented over Jonathan in verse 26. David says about Jonathan: “I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.” One translation even says, “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan.”

 It is a passage that in fact, gay rights advocates have often upheld as one of their proof text. Saying, “See there are people who were gay in the Bible.”Yes, very interesting. It’s quite strong language used to describe the depth of relationship shared between these two. (I think this was a verse of scripture that was omitted from the cannon of children’s Sunday School curriculum I was taught as a child of the Southern Baptist Church).

 In seeking to understand the way that David chose to lament for Jonathan, I did a lot of reading this week from all perspectives along the spectrum of viewpoints. What I learned in doing so, is that scholarship coming out of some conservative seminaries to the more liberal theologians, the consensus across the board is that the original Hebrew and greater context of the passage does not lead to any conclusive findings. Most Biblical scholars say that sexual relationship between David and Jonathan can “neither be ruled out nor clearly established.”

 But, I despite the lack of certainty, I think we can look at the passage today from an objective point of view and say that it doesn’t matter if we never know the truth. If David and Jonathan were lovers, great. (Though sad because their culture gave them no acceptable place to form a lasting life together)!  If they were like best friends, great . . .  if they were like brothers to each other, great too!

 What is important here is to examine the freedom to which David expressed his love for this man who had played such an important role in his life: a man whose loyalty and care meant to David more than any other. The depth of love between them felt so great that David sought to honor and care for Jonathan even after his death. Not only in proclaiming in this national lament, his love for Jonathan, but also by taking in his surviving son and caring for him as if he was his own.

 As we know from continuing on in David’s life story, he was not a man without faults- many of them in fact, but his willingness to express love without fear and shame was one of his most stellar qualities. David modeled for us through his proclamation of love for Jonathan the different kind of human love we are to be about in this world. This different kind of love David knew and experienced in his life was without fear. It was without the restraints that many of us place around the love we declare from our lips when someone has impacted our lives in a positive way.

 Remember in verse 18 of our text that David ordered for his lament to be recorded. He did not care who heard the cries of his heart. He didn’t care if people thought something was going on with himself and Jonathan. He did not care if people thought he was showing favoritism or making a political statement by displaying his affection for this prince. His love just was what it was. And, that was it.

 Above all, David lived by the words that the Apostle Paul would later write, “If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or clanging cymbal.” If David’s words of lament were not backed by love (as they easily could have been), the transformative power of his words would have been lost. And, though any healthy relationship has boundaries and lines of respect to abide by, I think we get caught up too much many time on the “rules” of love.

 I believe this is why the most popular modern approach to persons who are gay, lesbian and transgendered persons doesn’t really work. You’ve all heard it before: “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.” Or, “Don’t ask don’t tell.”

 Words of condolence, words of support, words of affection don’t really work unless they are birthed out of love—a different kind of love that doesn’t ask others to change first before we are willing to do so ourselves.  After all, from his earliest moments this is why David was chosen to be the next king of Israel in the first place. Just as the prophet Samuel was told: “Humankind looks at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart.” It’s a different kind of love that is patient, that is kind, that takes no record of wrongs and looks beyond the outside “qualifiers” that we want to use to describe what love looks like.

This different kind of love that God is calling us to as a community might frankly surprise us.

It is the kind of extravagant love like paying your respects at the funeral of someone who wronged your family and smeared your name at work just because making peace with an enemy is good.

It is the kind of extravagant love like that shown between one partner to another: an airplane flying an “I love you dear” banner near the shoreline on the beach not to propose but just because your feelings can not be kept inside.

It is the kind of extravagant love that is not afraid to write words of appreciation and affection to a friend not because something is wanted, but just because it is truly how you feel.

It is the kind of extravagant love that means including a person struggling with addiction or depression in a special gathering not because their presence will mean ease for everyone, but just because everyone needs somebody to care about them regardless.

It is the kind of extravagant love that Jesus showed us long ago, when he had done nothing wrong but allowed the worse of human deaths to come upon him, because he loved us.

All of this is the different kind of love that Christ longs to go forth from our community of faith.

Where there are prophesies they will cease, where there are tongues, they will be stilled. Where there is knowledge, it will pass away. Now these three things remain. Faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.

The land of peace, oh people of God that God is longing for us to create together, comes from this different kind of love is when gay and straight, white and black, Asian and Hispanic, rich and poor, high class and no class come together and say there is too much at stake in this world to let anything keep us apart and from working together.

Let us be this different kind of love as we covenant together this day to build a land where God’s love is what brings us together. AMEN.

June 29, 2009

A Stand for Justice

more summer pictures 002

June 25, 2009

Why I Never Left

This week, for a couple short days, I was with several of my seminary classmates during our annuaduke girls at the beachl beach retreat in Hilton Head, SC. Not everyone could come due to changing family situations and recent moves, but the five of us enjoyed some great time catching up and of course swapping stories about our churches.

During the course of one of our conversations, we discovered that four out of the five of us present had roots in the Southern Baptist Church. Though now, one of the four is Episcopal and teaches school, one is an ordained United Methodist pastor and the other two of us were ordained in “flavors” of the Baptist faith which were more moderate to liberal (thus little to no connection to the SBC).

None of us saw female pastors until we were well into our 20s. The other one of us whose roots were in the Methodist church who is now ordained in her tradition, also grew up never seeing women in the pulpit. She said “I was the first woman I ever saw preach!”

This particular conversation led our group to have a discussion about why we entered the ministry and why we stayed or didn’t stay in the traditions we’d be first introduced to faith in as a child. And, this was actually one of the first times I really began to think about the question: “Why did I not leave the Baptist church especially after all the discouragement the Baptists gave me during my early days of feeling called to the ministry?” (Baptist churches, especially in the South, really aren’t the friendliest to women– to put it nicely).

The reason why I’d thought I stuck around was because I was a Baptist at heart. I loved the theology of the priesthood of all believers. I affirmed believer’s baptism. I loved the Bible. I grew to be proud of our stance on the separation of church and state.

But, really I think none of these convictions would have mattered much to me if I had not discovered a progressive community of faith that challenged me, welcomed me, and called out my gifts for ministry– that just happened to be Baptist too.

This congregation for me was Baptist Church of the Covenant in Birmingham, AL.

I found it through some friends during the last week of my last semester in college. And, upon first visiting, I was so blown away by its divchurchersity, inclusiveness, and character that I quickly changed my post-graduation plans so to spend more than a couple Sundays there. (Washington Plaza and BCOC have a lot in common).

I stuck around for nine months until seminary called. For the first time in my life, not only did I see a woman in the pulpit EVERY Sunday, but I made dear friends with persons who were gay, lesbian, straight, married, single, black, white, poor, and wealthy. I was accepted in these friendships simply on the basis of who I was. I laughed a lot. I shared meals a lot. I was encouraged to be of service both in and outside of the church walls. And, I came to know the best of what church is all about.

When I entered seminary in 2006, I declared myself to be a student in the Baptist tradition because of the kind of Christian community I’d come to love at BCOC. There was no wavering. It was who I was and what I hoped to continue to be.

So, why did I not leave the Baptist church even with all the hardship?

BCOC showed me the way. They gave me the hope. They gave me courage to know that churches like Washington Plaza existed in the world. And, one day such a church would want me to be their pastor.

To all my BCOC friends out there, you are a major reason why I am the pastor of a Baptist church today.

I’m glad I remembered this all again this week, so to give thanks.

June 20, 2009

The Busy Night Report

We had a great time tonight- playing games, eating hot dogs, and enjoying face painting and balloon animals at the first Family Fun night.  The Washington Plaza church volunteers were out in full force and lead the event amazingly along with help with the TLC Children’s Center– such great folks! Thanks to Eve Thompson, of Friends of Lake Anne for pulling us all together on this. I love the partnerships that are being created.

Some shots from the evening:

Family Fun Night 001

Sharon Lee is the master of the bean bag bag toss.

Family Fun Night 005

Twister was a bit hit- who knew a older game could be revived again? Mary and Nancy look on.

Below, Nancy, Sharon, Mary, Terri and Cindy work to organize the prizes for the games.

Family Fun Night 014

Family Fun Night 006

A shot of Barbara with some kids. The duck pond game was great for the smaller ones who loved getting wet as they played.

Family Fun Night 013

Chair of Trustees, Ernest getting in on the Twister action before Mr. Derby begins the musical activities.

Family Fun Night 015

Even the pastor gets in on the group dance time. I mean, how can you not like the “hookey pokey” and the “electric slide?”

Family Fun Night 017

For those who were able to come inside, they enjoyed a treat from the local group: Somos el Mar. Their presentation was full of all sorts of folk music and even some interesting props, things you wouldn’t expect to see in a church (I’ll explain more later).

All in all- great night. In review, a night we have much to celebrate and continue on with! If you missed out on the fun- no worries, we’ll be doing this again on the 3rd Friday of both July and August!

June 19, 2009

A Busy Night Ahead

Attention all Reston folks and others in the area, come rain, come shine, you are invited tonight to:

* Family Date Night on the Plaza beginning at 6:30 pm. There will be face painting, a clown, games for kids young and old, and friendly faces from Washington Plaza seeking to play with your kids. There will even be hot dogs and lemonade! We look forward to seeing you soon. We are so glad to partner in this event with neighbors- TLC Children’s Center and the Friends of Lake Anne. If I haven’t met you come, come find me there- I’d love to say hello!

* Then, stay for the concert in Washington Plaza’s Santuary at 7:30 pm. We are happy to support these community artists, Somos el Mar, an International Folk band, and raise money for UNIEF, a great global relief organization.  There will be a cookie and ice cream reception afterwards in the Plaza Room. How fun!

Poster June19

June 17, 2009

Film and Friendship

The Hagan household loves movies. When we are able, one of our favorite weekend evening activities is to head to the theater (and it doesn’t help that popcorn is one of my favorite indulgences . . .) in search of the next great film.

Over the past several weeks, we’ve had the chance to see  movies that were well worth the money for particular reasons. I want to mention one in particular as it speaks to the topic of friendship.

Several weeks ago at the AFI Cultural Theater in Silver Spring, MD we saw the film The Soloist starring Jamie Foxx. Foxx’s performance was brilliant! He should win or at least be nominated for an Oscar. 

One of the things that I loved most about this film, was the beauty of the musical interludes and how the director truly enabled you to get into the head of the main character (Nathaniel Ayers) suffering from homelessness and mental illness. But not only this, the meat of the plot dealt with the true friendship story that was play200px-SoloistPostered out between Nataniel Ayers and Steve Lopez, the LA Times reporter who happened to strike up a conversation with this man one day and couldn’t get him out of his head or his columns.

Without giving the ending of the story away, I can say that I was most moved by the fact that in the end, the virtue of friendship was exalted as what both saved Mr. Lopez’s life and Mr. Ayers’, even though both of their life situations never made dramatic changes.

One of the best lines spoken came from the social worker assisting homeless Ayers, saying to Mr. Lopez: “You are the best thing going for him. His life is better because he has you as a friend.”

My mind couldn’t help but go to the people who have been in and out of my life through the years to whom I could say: “You are one of the best things going for me- You are my friend.”

This only confirmed my hope to led a class on friendship sometime in the near future at Washington Plaza. 

I attended a “friendship and the pastoral life” seminar while at the Transitions in Ministry conference last month and was given some great resources of thought on the topic. As I’ve chewed over all I learned there, I’ve becoming all the more convinced that what is lacking in our technology driven, running crazy, spending our nights watching tv alone in our house society is that friendship. It  is something that all of us need more of in our lives. Yet, we find few places to discuss our needs for it or friendship’s frustrations and joys. We struggle and celebrate in silence, often without the resources to know how to grow in this important kind of love.

Research studies, show that friendship or otherwise known as meaningful human interaction led to healthily life outlooks, better health and life expectancy. Plus, if you read much of John’s Gospel, the idea of friendship seems to be a constant theme. Jesus saying, “I have called you friends.” So, why is it that we are so scared of talking about it?

Let me know if this topic rings home with any of you and if so, let’s chat. Until then, check out The Soloist when it comes out on DVD- well worth the rental fee.

June 15, 2009

Monday Mornings

monday garfieldMonday, Monday . . .

(Anyone have the song in their head that I do as I type this?)

I think Monday mornings can be one of the most difficult or exciting days for pastors depending on how Sunday went.

You can be bouncing off the walls with excitement for all the encouragement that has been seen in a congregation over the weekend (which I have done) or you can feel like you are nursing your wounds a little based on interactions with people, response to your sermon or worship attendance.

With Sundays being our biggest day of the week, anything can happen. Anything is possible and how it all goes really does affect your pastor– though she or he may not tell you this directly.

For me, there were good things to celebrate about our gathering yesterday- the choir sounded wonderful and helped us to worship through their beautiful music even though many of the regular members were out of town, I taught Sunday School to a large group gathered around the tables with some very eager and receptive learners, and we had a peaceful Church Council meeting after lunch that got out five minutes early (a first)!

But, then there was the sermon. For some reason, as I was delievering it, I felt awkward and as if my words weren’t connecting with the listeners. It was something I’d never experienced in this way since becoming the pastor of Washington Plaza. I wanted to call a “time-out” by paragraph three and find another sermon to give. It was difficult to get through it because I wasn’t getting the usual eager eyed feedback and I was rattled a bit until the end (when I think I got at least some of my stride back).

Yet, upon further reflection of  the content of the sermon, I don’t know what it was. I worked as hard on it as I usually do. I really tried to tell the story of the passage, knowing that it is faithful to tell a story if you have one. (The stories of scripture speak truth enough for themselves, I believe) Of course I have a few ideas of what I’d like to improve on for next week, but ultimately I think it was just one of those days. . .  

Preaching can be studied and rehearsed and thoughtful and prayerful, but in the end, I think that preaching is mystery. It is a mystery how God takes the word and makes it come alive in the hearts of the listeners. Preaching is more than what I prepare with words on page. Preaching is even more how I deliver the sermon. Preaching is about receiving the word and what comes forth as a result.

I care deeply about being a good preacher and connecting in faithful ways with the congregation, so know I’ll get back on the horse and try again next week. But, as I keep working on the messages I seek to deliver, it is the job of the congregation to seek to be listeners. Take charge of your own experience of the text. Come to church prepare to receive and pray for your pastor that she might confidently take hold of exactly what God would have her to say from week to week to week. It isn’t any easy task.

And, now back to the Monday morning . . .

June 15, 2009

Website is Back!

I never knew how much I loved the church website and how much our ministry depends on it until this past week. Due to some technical errors, it was down for more than 8 days!

Visitors and other interested persons were emailing about questions that it would be so easy to answer more effectively by sending them to the website.

I was worried that the recent newspaper ad we’d placed in the paper with only our web address to find us wouldn’t be worth the cost.

I was afraid that people wouldn’t find us on Sunday because the address and good directions to our building wouldn’t be online.

I missed our website a lot and I know that many of our church regulars did too.

But, I am happy to say that thanks to the network coding and uploading skills of one of our church faithfuls, Ryan and the long chats Deb, our church administrator had with the web host (though this company turned out to be unhelpful), we are back in business.

Check it out here.

We live in the age of the Internet where the best outreach I feel that a church can have is a up-to-date and reflective website that tells the story of who they are. Know that this is one of our greatest priorities as a church, especially from the viewpoint of the pastor.

The website is back! Thanks be to God.

June 12, 2009

Coming Soon

Sunday, June 28th 11 am as part of our “Dare to be Different” sermon series, Washington Plaza Baptist Church will celebrate Gay Acceptance Sunday.

If there ever was a doubt that we were a different kind of church, this Sunday tops the cake! It is a day to celebrate the gay community that is within our church family and thank God for all people in our community no matter who they choose to partner with.

But, really the service, won’t be that much different than normal worship at Washington Plaza, so no need to be worried.  We’ll probably sing more hymns about God’s acceptance and love. And, as we do every week, we’ll hear the scriptures read and proclaimed about God’s love and desire for all of us to be in relationship with our Creator. We’ll all share a meal together afterwards in the Plaza room where table fellowship creates bonds of community.


I am happy to continue the tradition of this service because their are so few churches like ours that will be so welcoming in this way. I consider it this day an opportunity to proclaim God’s justice- that all are welcome in the kingdom, even those this group of folks have been traditionally shunned by the church at large. It is our chance to express God’s love through the welcome of open hands.

Yet, I know that there are some outside our community of faith that are still struggling with acceptance of this. So part of the week of Gay Acceptance Day, we will be showing the documentary film: “For the Bible Tells Me So” at two church members’ homes on Friday, June 26th. It will be an opportunity for an open dialogue about faith, sexuality, and God’s love.

This is how the film describes itself: “Through the experiences of five very normal, very Christian, very American families — including those of former House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt and Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson — we discover how insightful people of faith handle the realization of having a gay child. Informed by such respected voices as Bishop Desmond Tutu, Harvard’s Peter Gomes, Orthodox Rabbi Steve Greenberg and Reverend Jimmy Creech, it is a great thought provoking film.”

If you would like more information about Gay Acceptance Day or the Church-wide movie night, feel free to email me. We’d love to welcome you during this important weekend in the life of our church.

%d bloggers like this: