Warning: Danger Ahead

If you’re interested in a homiletic case consistent with Bernie Sanders, check out the Rev. Ed Martin’s sermon at Shepherd of the Hill Church in Chaska, MN. It’s superb.

The Socks in the Kitchen Sink

Dirty sock washing

Dirty sock washing

She was washing her socks in the kitchen sink next to the hors d’oeuvres and the punch bowl after the ice skating party.

Marguerite was a bit different. Brilliant. Socially challenged. Single. The church group of singles and young marrieds was her closest thing to family. The family was used to the quirks, except for the newly married minister’s wife who’d never seen anything like this.

“What are you doing?”

“Washing my socks.”


“They’re wet.”

Recognizing that Marguerite was clueless, the 22-year-old minister’s wife quietly moved the splattered dish of hors d’oeuvres and the punch bowl to the long table nearby and saved her comments for later. Sometimes you have to stuff a sock in your mouth. Without room for every kind, a church is not a church.

Disclaimer: The picture is not from the church and it’s not Marguerite. It’s staged…I think.


Ever dream of being lost? Or confused? Distraught? Inconsequential and dispensable? Join the club.

    Scene 1

It’s my first Sunday back from a sabbatical. I am returning to the pulpit of the large church with the great music program. I love this church and am glad to be home.

    Scene 2

It’s Sunday morning just before worship. I’m running VERY late. My robe is in the office up several flights of stairs but I can’t remember exactly where. It’s just “up”. The robed Choir – the best in the city – is coming down the stairs while I’m trying to go up the stairs to find my robe in the lost office. No one in the Choir acknowledges my presence. They are in a rush down to the Chapel.

    Scene 3

I walk into the Chancel. The Chapel is fairly full. Attendance is good. I take my normal seat as their Pastor, prepare myself for the Call to Worship that will follow the Choir’s Choral Introit. Three Choir members dressed as animals crawl out onto the front of the Chancel and start to sing. I realize then that there is no Order of Worship. Instead there is a music program.

(The music program has always been a thing of controversy. A great blessing with the highest standards and exquisite classical musical taste, but it is also criticized for drawing attention to itself and demanding disproportionate financial resources from the church budget. I am a big supporter of the music program, but have also worked to maintain its rightful place in worship and within the broader life of the church.)

    Scene 4

I am confused and annoyed that this appears to be a music program stuck into the hour of Morning Worship. This is NOT worship. The congregation and I have been blind-sided. It is not what anyone in the congregation expected. It is performance, not worship.

Two members of the congregation who love music but who care more about the integrity of worship get up and head for the doors.

More people – five or six at a time – are getting up and leaving. Disgust is emptying the place.

    Scene 5

I am no longer in the Chancel. I am in the rear balcony pleading with those who are leaving.

“This is not worship! This is something else. I’m sorry. This has to stop!” But the few people who remain are heading for the exits.

    Scene 6

The Director of Music is deeply distressed. He’s gone too far, and he knows it. Finally…he knows it. So do some of the members of the Choir. What to do? Call them together quickly right now…but newer members of the Choir whose faces and names I don’t recognize are heading down the stairs for the doors. They don’t like conflict and, I suppose, feel hurt and unappreciated, like their Director.

    Scene 7

I realize that I had returned from sabbatical without giving the church office an Order for Worship in time to meet the deadline for printing. I am disappointed with myself and upset with the Director of Music. I’m feeling lost. Alone. Invisible. Clearly dispensable. My first day back from sabbatical there has been no welcome, no acknowledgement. I have lost all of the control that, over the years, has kept the Music Program, its Director, and its critics from killing each other in ecclesiastical warfare, and, from the looks of it, everyone and everything I have worked for is…lost.

Two kinds of prayer :-)

Verse — Sanky Reed

Standing in the center aisle
of the small church, she told her friend
about a thief the night before
(while she was sleeping) broke into
her shed and stole her new chainsaw.

Agnes said, “Well, we should pray
for him–we are in church.” Sanky
said, “Let’s pray he cuts off his leg!”

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL

Meeting President Bill Clinton

Steve officially welcoming President Bill Clinton to Champaign-Urbana

Steve officially welcoming President Bill Clinton to Champaign-Urbana

January 28, 1998

He gave the State of the Union address
the night before, and flew on Air Force One
to our college town in the middle-west
to check out press and public reaction.
(The sex with an intern story made news
the week before.) For six years he had met
not politicians, but “Local Heroes”
at airports (Do-Gooders the Democrat
Party chose.)

Our church worked with homeless men.
As Pastor, I was picked to shake his hand
as he came off the plane (in a long line
with 14 other folks.) He called each one
of us by name. He firmly gripped my hand,
looked in my eyes, pretending to be fine…

-Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL

Verse – Habemus Papam

Bishop of Rome? Why him? Hot head!
Remember how he swore and cursed
when he thought no one was around?
Who could be more stubborn? “Rock head,”

was what we called him (when he was
not anywhere near by–he has
a temper and he always wears
a sword.) He should stick with his boats

and nets. Remember how he sank
when he looked down? How could he walk
on water with his size and bulk?
Yes, Jesus said he was a rock–

how we all laughed–a pile of sand
perhaps, just blowing in the wind…
a braggart till a serving maid
caused him to deny our Lord.

No one in school could ever teach
him how to talk right. Can he preach?
He will not ever help the Church–
Peter will not amount to much…

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, March 14, 2013

Commentary: Church cancels gun violence dialogue series – Chaska Herald: Commentaries

Editor’s note: This column, submitted by the Rev. Gordon Stewart and Bill Tisel, clerk of session, on behalf of the Shepherd of the Hill Presb…

via Commentary: Church cancels gun violence dialogue series – Chaska Herald: Commentaries.

Verse – “A small Christian Controversy”

When just a Cardinal, the current Pope

compared the Church  to a large ship at sea.
The people safely on board had the hope
of heaven,  but those swimming by would be
heading for hell if they refused the rope,
the lifeline from above.
Hans Kung, the Catholic theologian, wrote
The Church, 800 pages saying, “No!”
Kung quoted chapter 10 of John who wrote
that Jesus said, “Other sheep I have not
of this fold…”  For the Good Shepherd was sent
to all to show God’s love.
– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Jan. 14, 2013.
Steve and I cut our eye teeth on the likes of Hans Kung during the Second Vatican Council. Our teeth are long now, but they are essentially the same.

Jack Baker’s Church

A small, white dairy barn had stood alone upon that hill for years.

The town had grown around it.  Now a university professor, architect,

will try and see if he can build a church for students there.

They have almost no money.  But they are Reformed, still Puritans with

simple tastes:

a concrete floor will do with folding chairs, clear windows open to

the light, the street, the passers-by, invite all in.  They meet

around a table, pulpit, bowl, and hear the word.  The room is filled

with song and prayer– the walls, inside and out, like milk are white.

Up high, no steeple, but a box of light, a cupola like on a barn:

just right…

Hessel Park Church

Hessel Park Church

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, September 2, 2012

The Prenuptial Dinner


Describing  the prenuptial dinner in Bend, Oregon calls to mind my niece’s twinkle-in-the-eye declaration after her first experience with Japanese Sushi (raw fish): “It was,” you might say, “an experience!” The memorable “experience” was the company more than the food.

Scene 1

The room in the back of the Middle Eastern restaurant in cosmopolitan downtown Bend, Oregon was hard to find, but well-prepared for the 16 family members.

We introduce ourselves to Bonnie, the bride’s mother, and Mike, the bride’s second step-father. The next 25 minutes is a tag-team Bonnie and Mike monologue. We learn all the places they have lived, why they are now moving from Maryland – on the Chesapeake Bay – to Texas, Bonnie’s ancestral home. They have put their house on the market…and their boat with a listing price higher than the market value of our house in Minnesota. Third marriage for both Mike and Bonnie. No interest in knowing anything about us. Monologue. Texas monologue. The first taste of what is to come.

Scene 2 

The bride’s 65 year-old gregarious Uncle Billy Bob (“Uncle Bill”) – married to the bride’s Aunt Frances – makes his grand entrance. Uncle Bill is very large – 6’4” 280 lbs. of massive  proportions wearing a khaki work shirt tucked into suspendered khaki work pants hiked up high above his waistline and a tractor hat.

Uncle Bill’s voice is as loud as his body is big. He is a commanding presence. We’d met the night before when the families were gathering from Oregon, New York, Texas, and Minnesota. He’s been told I’m a minister.

“Have s seat,” he says, glad to see me, pulling a chair from the long table and slapping it with his hand like a command from a drill sergeant. “So you’re a minister. What kind?”

Uncle Bill and Gordon

“Yes sir. Presbyterian,” I say, wondering where this is leading.

“Well, lemme tell ya a story,” says Uncle Bill. “Ma Granddaddy was a Hah Babtist. He married my Grandmomma who was a Hah Church of Chrast.”

“What’s ‘high’ mean?” I ask.

Uncle Bill’s face tells me he’s astonished by my ignorance, a man of the cloth and all that. “Well, sir, there are Hah Babtists and Low Babtists; Hah Church of Chrast and Low Church of Chrast. ‘Hah’ means ‘mine is the only way.’ So my Grandaddy and Grandmomma’s son, ma Daddy, was a heathen. He married a Hah Babtist.

“I was raised Hah Baptist, like ma Momma. Now here’s where the story begins…….”

The waiter interrupts by putting a large platter of hummus and Lebanese pita bread in the middle of the wide table. Billy Bob looks at it. He’s hungry. He’s never seen anything like this. He’s wondering what it is and what to do with it. “Frances!” he calls out to the other side of the room. Frances, who’s recovering from hip surgery, walks to where we’re sitting. “What’s this?” “I don’t know,” says Frances, “I’ll ask Bonnie, maybe she’ll know,” and walks across the room to Bonnie and Mike.

“Now, as I was startin’ to say…you take Frances and me. I was a Hah Babtist; Frances was a Hah Church o’ Chrast.  Now I’m a Low Babtist and she’s a Low Church o’ Chrast.”

Frances returns from the other side of the room.  “It’s chick peas,” says Frances. “Well, I’ll be,” says Uncle Bill, pulling the whole platter in front of him from the middle of the table where others could share it. “Now, what do I do with it?” Before Frances can answer, the large serving spoon is filled with hummus in Uncle Bill’s mouth. “You take the bread and dip it in the chick peas,” says Frances. “Where’s the bread?” “It’s right there,” says Francis, “it’s Middle Eastern.”

“Now the story gets really interesting,” he says. “This is where it begins.”

I’m thinking to myself it’s been 20 minutes and all I’ve said was “What’s high mean?” Uncle Bill doesn’t seem to notice or care. He’s reeled in a minister. Ministers are supposed to be nice people who listen. They just smile, nod, and show interest. This is a monologue by a Texas story-teller with a captive audience.

“I go to my Babtist church and Frances goes to her Church o’ Chrast church. Been doing it for 35 years. Now my minister went off to the Holy Land, I guess they call it and went to the seminar. And you know what the other students told him about why they was at the seminar? Money! They was there for the money. What kinda minister’d you say you was?”

“Presbyterian,” I repeat, “and we’re required to go to seminary in order to be ordained. For us it’s not about money. No one gets more money by going to seminary. Every candidate for ministry goes to seminary because we want our ministers to learn the original biblical languages – Hebrew and Greek – and spend three years in graduate school before serving a congregation.”

“How big was your church?” asks Bill. What was the biggest?”


“See that’s what I mean? Now we’re just a little church o’ 35 people. We pay our minister $1500 a month which seems pretty dang good to me.”

Apparently Bill has concluded that his audience is a money-grubber, although he never says so. He’s Low Babtist; I’m Presbyterian. I’m sipping a vodka martini; he’s drinking lemonade-iced-tea. He’s livin’ the low life; I’m living the hah life.

Scene 3

I’m thinking to myself,

“Funny how Hah (the only way OR the superior way, religion, culture, accent) manages to find an open door even when we think we’ve locked it behind us. High just re-defines itself according to whatever ways my life seems superior to Billy Bob’s or Billy Bob’s seems to him to be superior to mine.”

I poke fun at Billy Bob’sTexas drawl and monologue and laugh at his call across the room to Frances to rescue him in a Middle Eastern restaurant which is stranger to him than the money-grubbing Presbyterian “seminar” graduate from Minnesota. Each of us has managed to place himself on the perch of Hah looking down at the Low.

But there’s something about the two of us sitting there sipping our different drinks, eating the hummus and pita bread, that unifies us. We kind of like each other…maybe the way opposites are attracted to each other, if for no other reason than that they’re interesting.

“Now lemme tell ya another story… As I was startin’ to say…”

“Bill, I’m sorry, I need to catch up with my wife. It’s been a pleasure.”

“You bet. We got a w h o l e evening to get acquainted. We’ve got plenty o’ time.”

Scene 4

As we sit down for the meal, I sit at one end of the long table of 16 people with Kay on the left and Frances to my right. Uncle Bill sits to France’s right.

At the opposite end of the table sits my son Doug with his partner and two of the bride’s relatives, all now living in New York City. They’re on their second bottle of wine, having a great time, as the waiter brings the entrees to our end of the table. Doug flashes a wave to his Dad.

Uncle Bill turns to the head of our table and asks the money-grubbing Presbyterian minister from the seminar, “Would you say the blessing’ for our end of the table?” I offer the blessing on behalf of all the hah and low Baptists, Church of Christ, and Presbyterian people at our end of the table – thankful for new food and friends, for family, and for grace bigger than any of our highs – thankful, you might say, for “the experience.”