Foundry UMC

Foundry UMC header image 1

Guided By Which Star

December 31st, 2017

A sermon preached by T.C. Morrow, Ben Roberts and Will Green at Foundry Unithed Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, December 31, 2017. 


Opening Night

December 24th, 2017

A homily preached by Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC December 24, 2017, Christmas Eve.

Note: The homily begins at 51:00 in the mp3 file.  

Text:  Luke 2:1-20


Imagine that you are a composer who has gained a faithful audience over the years. Though some haven’t heard or don’t pay attention of your work, the harmony and rhythms, the tension and resolution in your music are loved by many. But you are determined to reach different audiences, to bring people together around your music.  So you break out of the normal mode, you use different instruments, perhaps, or play with old melodic themes in new ways and create a whole new kind of sound and music.  It’s a risk to do something unexpected.  Will people get what you’re trying to do? What you’re trying to communicate? //  Then it comes time for the new work’s big debut.  Opening night.  Your creative vision and passion have been poured into what you will share.  It’s your heart behind the curtain.  And it is pounding…anticipating…hopeful…  And when the curtain rises, what you have conceived in your heart is out there in the world to be received or rejected.  To be taken in and cherished or ignored and forgotten. 


Tonight, we commemorate an extraordinary opening night, we remember when the curtain rose on our creator, composer God’s most ambitious performance ever.  A whole new movement of love.  It’s an inspiring risk.  This opening night is God’s heart laid bare, vulnerable and breathing in the world—and not some ideal world, but this world, the same world we inhabit tonight.  This offering is a profound act of hope…God’s hope that we will receive and nurture the gift, that we will shield it and help it grow, that we will share its beauty and power with others.  The curtain rises tonight on the birth of Jesus, the light of the world, the perfect love of God in flesh, the hope of God for the world…the hope of the world for God… //


The ones first invited to this premiere were out in the fields, shepherds minding their own business when, all of a sudden, the world is invaded with messengers and messages from God. They hear news—good news—about a child who has been born, a child who will be a Savior.  They’re told where to go to find this child.


The shepherds have a choice at this point.  They can either believe the mysterious and wonderful news that they have just received and accept the invitation to go or they can talk themselves out of it…. “after all it was probably just my eyes playing tricks, my ears imagining music, my heart yearning so much for some good news that I made the whole thing up, and why would I be invited to witness such a thing?”….  But instead of allowing mere rationality or cynicism to rule, those shepherds let hope win.  I once read that what happens next is that the shepherds “rush off in pursuit of hopefulness.”


And, as the story goes, they weren’t disappointed.  They found everything just as the angels had said.  In that humble place were Mary and Joseph and a baby boy.  The spot of starlight fell upon the scene. And from the manger, in that new life, there radiated love and truth and hope and grace, the very heart of God on the world’s stage. //


And here we are, responding to the invitation to come and watch the curtain rise once again on this simple and glorious scene, this movement of God’s love for us, the act of God’s yearning and God’s hope.  Why do we come again and again?  I imagine that, like the shepherds, we are in pursuit of hopefulness. 


We want to hope.  We need to hope.  And we live in a world overrun with realities that inspire anything but hopefulness.  Every year we travel the long road from Bethlehem to Bethlehem, those twisting and turning 12 months that separate this night from the next Christmas Eve.  And in the course of that yearly journey, the hope that supposedly “springs eternal in the human breast,” gets battered and bruised and chipped away and used up so that by the time we wander into a sanctuary on Christmas, we need to be filled, we need our hope to be born again so that it can carry us through the journey of another year—or even another day.


The shepherds set out in pursuit of hopefulness with the promise of the angels still ringing in their ears.  They would be given a sign that they had found the source of their hope:  the sign was that baby of Bethlehem lying in a manger.  And they found their sign.  They got to see him, maybe even hold him.  Their pursuit of hopefulness was not a vain search.  Hope came to life in that baby.


Where is our sign?  What will be our sign that our hope-thirsty souls have found what they seek?  On this night, I hear the angel chorus speaking to all of us gathered here saying, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people”…for tonight in Washington, DC and in towns and suburbs and villages and hillsides around the world, people are singing God’s song, are gathering to worship God, to pray for peace, to be filled with grace through Jesus Christ.  And this will be a sign for you:  you will find yourselves in the midst of this world-wide congregation, maybe not even certain of why you are there.


In a world where fear and anger and distrust and greed and brokenness often seem to be the dominant powers; in a world that often seems bent on its own destruction, it is no small thing to pursue hopefulness.  And yet tonight and tomorrow millions of people will gather to sing, to tell the story, and to be filled with the hope that is born in and through Jesus.  This is our sign, our flesh and blood reality that confirms that our own pursuit of hopefulness is not in vain.  Because when people in drought-stricken, AIDS and Malaria-stricken Africa gather in hope; when people in the Middle East gather in hope; when people in South and North Korea gather in hope; when people standing in the rubble left behind from fires and hurricanes and floods sing the songs of Christmas; when people who are standing on the brink of disaster and despair and deportation gather together and light candles and drink from the well of Christian hope even in the face of every other kind of hunger and thirst, then it’s hard not to see at least a glimmer of hope ourselves.  Christian hope does not deny the circumstances of the present, and hope doesn’t help us get out of our difficulties.  But hope does give us the vision for God’s future, a future we can pursue, a song we can sing together.  In the book of the prophet Jeremiah, God speaks to the people when they had lost everything—their homes, their faith, their traditions, everything.  God speaks to them saying, “I know the plans I have for you says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer. 29:11)


A future and a hope.  That is the promise.  And the claim we make however insufficiently or awkwardly, is that God did not abandon that promise.  God does not abandon hope in the world.  Not then.  Not now.  Instead God entrusts to the world God’s own tender son.  God has enough hope in the world to share the most precious life with us.  And because of that gift, the world has never been the same; because of the transforming power of the love that beats in that baby’s heart, the world has the possibility of hope forever.  Because of the love of God in Jesus Christ, we walk through even the darkest, longest night, across the most uncertain, frightening terrain, clinging to our hope in the God who clings to us.  Don’t give up on hope.  God hasn’t given up hope in us.


All around the world tonight the curtain has risen again, starlight shines, and the movement of love and grace and justice moves out into the world afresh.  Will you receive this most precious offering from our God? Will you, with God’s help, sing God’s song of love not just tonight but throughout the coming year?  O beloved ones, sing…sing and be the sign that others seek.


Let us pray: Loving, composer God, may we have the courage to hope, to receive your outpouring of love, to cradle and shelter the Holy One, to sing your song, and be worthy of your astonishing hope in us. Amen.




Time Collapse

December 24th, 2017

A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC, December 24, 2017, the fourth Sunday of Advent (and Christmas Eve).

Texts: Luke 1:46b-55, Luke 1:26-38 


Time is a funny thing.  I remember the feeling as a child that summer break or even a week at my grandparent’s home was such a long stretch of time…And having to wait for something for a month? Well, that was an eternity!  Somewhere along the line, I heard older folks talk about how, with every passing year, time seemed to fly by faster and faster.  As I’ve aged, I’ve learned I’m not a fan of flying time.  My equilibrium goes haywire when I realize that something I think happened last year actually occurred three years ago!  How can that be?!  Time seems to fold in on itself, to dissolve, to collapse.  At some point, I hope I have the time to read more about the experience of time at different ages and stages of human development.  My guess is that with so many responsibilities and distractions as we age, the minutes get so filled up that they seem smaller—less space in them to linger and breathe…


In preparation for today, I took at stab at reading about the science of time—the space-time continuum, relativity, and the like.  Maybe it’s just because it’s the end of such a challenging year, but I didn’t get very far.  My sense is that there’s something about how all time and space are somehow always “there” at different points on a kind of existence continuum.  Instead of time moving in a forward trajectory, all time exists in some sort of circle of eternal “now.”  Or something.  Maybe? I know there are profound spiritual insights to be had from physics on this topic.  Maybe I’ll have time in the next year to glean them more adeptly.  For today, what I know is that we’re experiencing another kind of “time collapse.”  The fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve exist in this time and space, in this “now.”  This doesn’t happen often and, for me, it feels a bit like we’ve been cheated out of our last week of preparation.  Normally, we’d have at least some days between lighting the fourth candle on our Advent Wreath and the big event.  But not today.  It’s all happening at once.  It’s all happening today. 


But maybe it’s not really a cheat, but instead a gift, an appropriate illustration and ending to our Anacrusis series here at Foundry.  We’ve been exploring the Christian understanding of time throughout the season of Advent using Anacrusis as our creative metaphor.  Anacrusis is a musical term describing the notes preceding the first full measure of a composition; it’s the beginning, the entry point. Advent may be the metaphorical “opening notes” to the Christian year, but the stories and spiritual preparation that mark the season are infused with both the past and the future.  Our vision of God’s intended future is informed by what God has done and revealed in the past.  The future vision is carried upon the wings of Spirit who nudges us in the present moment toward God and God’s way of love.  We breathe in the vision and it gives us life, it gives us guidance, it gives us energy to respond in concrete ways, to scatter seeds of God’s Kin-dom NOW.  You see, even though Advent is known as a time of waiting, a season when we are more aware of time than most others, using daily Advent calendars and weekly lighting of candles on the Advent Wreath, this season is really one in which time collapses—God’s promises and prophecies of generations past burst into the present, into the NOW with Jesus’ birth; and the way of life and love revealed in the flesh-and-blood Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s future.


In today’s familiar story, we hear echoes of past, present, and future in the words of God’s messenger to Mary.  “Now you will conceive,” Gabriel says. The child will—in the future—be great, be called the Son of the Most High, will sit on the throne of his ancestor David without end—eternally.  References to the “house of Jacob” and the “ancestor David” point back in time and history, energizing Gabriel’s visit with stirring memories of God’s activity and presence in the past. This is a moment when time collapses or—perhaps better and more theologically stated—when time becomes full.  The past, present, and future fold in and exist powerfully in one place and heart—in this case, in the heart of a young woman named Mary.


Every time this story comes up in our annual cycle, I stand amazed before Mary. What was her experience of time and space and reality?  I can only imagine the way that time must have stood still when this word came to her from God.  We don’t know about Mary’s past, her life prior to this moment.  But we do know a bit about Mary’s response.  Perhaps we’ve heard this story so many times that we don’t even think about the possibility that Mary could have said “NO.”  I mean, Mary was not like Elizabeth or other women in the Bible who had been praying and longing for a child.  Mary wasn’t even married yet.  However, when given the news by Gabriel, Mary—claiming her own voice, freedom, and agency—says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  Mary couldn’t have known all that would transpire in the future; though she surely must have imagined that her acceptance of this baby would mean losing Joseph, her betrothed, and that saying “Yes” to this pregnancy would mean being shunned from her community.  And even though tradition tells us that Joseph went through with the marriage and cared for the child they named Jesus, we would do well to remember that receiving this new life from God meant hardship for Mary for the rest of her life. 


But even in the midst of all the potential hardship and heartache, Mary’s response in the moment is full of courage, joy, gratitude, and deep faith.  Luke records Mary’s song of praise and prophecy—a song we call the “Magnificat.”  She sings:  “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for God has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.  Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed…” (Luke 1:46-55)


Mary’s song acknowledges that God is doing something new in and through her life.  But in many ways, what God is doing is nothing new.  History shows that God has a habit of doing extraordinary things through unlikely people.  King David wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth and wasn’t the obvious choice for that role—he was the youngest of his brothers and a shepherd.  God tends to do the unexpected, to turn things upside down and around so that the world might see things in a new way, so that we might begin to see and understand that what is most powerful just might be the small thing, the simple thing, the least expected…  Mary’s song and story highlights the way God works:  the powerful are brought down and the lowly are lifted up.  Those who are hungry and seeking are filled—and the rich, comfortable folk with full bellies are sent away empty because they already have enough.  (if I had more time this morning, I might elaborate on the point that God’s economy doesn’t include fattening up the rich so that more crumbs might fall from their table to the poor…)


God, the creator of the universe, the Word without whom no thing was made, begins life as a human creature in the womb of a young woman of no standing or account according to the world.  What we learn today is that our God, historically, has chosen to work in the world among lowly handmaids and barren women.  God sees those the world ignores; God knows and God sees gifts and strength and wisdom and power others miss.  It seems this has been true across time, eternally true. God delights to turn things around and to see the world surprised by the gifts of those who respond and bear the vision of love and justice into the world.


So, while much has changed in our world since the time of Mary, the way God comes into the world likely remains pretty much the same.  In a culture that values strength and control and wealth and confidence, in a culture that prizes “having it all together” and nearly constant activity, consider this: that God works in the world not through that part of us that swaggers and struts through life, confident and self-sufficient, but rather that God is most present in those empty places that need to be filled, in the quiet places that can’t find the words.  Perhaps part of the message for all of us is that God has a habit of coming to us in ways and places that we don’t expect—in the broken places, the fragmented places, the places that are weak and insecure and vulnerable to intrusions of the Spirit…  Recently, our nation has experienced the power of women and some men giving voice to the truth of their lives from places of deep pain and fear, naming the pervasive reality of harassment and abuse.  This brave truth-telling, saying “Here I am!” is powerful and has the capacity to turn some things around.  Rich and powerful men who think they can touch anyone and are, themselves, untouchable are thinking twice today—because through the prophetic witness of the abused, “God has shown strength with his arm/ God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts./ God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,/and lifted up the lowly.” (Lk 1:51-52) 

So in the place that feels like a weakness in your life, how is God trying to do a new thing?  What are you being asked to learn, to receive, to offer?  In the broken places in your life, how can your faithful, loving response bring about healing or new life for someone in the world?  How is God trying to use what is or has been difficult for you as a resource or a gift for those around you?  Do you have something to teach?  To share?  How might your own experience of vulnerability or need be directed by the Spirit toward a new ministry or relationship? 


Mary was vulnerable in many ways.  She was, after all, just an ordinary human being, just a woman preparing to be a mother for the first time.  But in her vulnerability, she became strong.  Because she was open to God—she received God—who recognized her strength and her grace and came to her when she least expected such a visit.  She was open and allowed herself to be filled.  Mary’s “Here am I” resounds through the ages, across all time:  Here am I.  I’m just me, but here I am. 


We, like Mary, are called to be bearers of God’s new life in the world.  I don’t know what this might mean for each of you.  But I trust that God’s messengers will visit you to help you figure it out in the fullness of time.  What I can say now is that, because of brave, faithful women like Mary, we are assured that we, in all our imperfection and insecurity, are worthy and probable participants in God’s wild and wonderful work in the world.  Because of Mary, we know that God chooses to use ordinary folks to make things new.  As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. 




Call Time

December 17th, 2017

This is a sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli on Sunday, December 17, 2017 at Foundry UMC in Washington, D.C. 


Text: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11John 1:6-8, 19-28


Update 12/21/2017: We are working to provide a sermon transcript. Thank you for your patience. 


In Breath

December 10th, 2017


A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC, December 10, 2017, the second Sunday of Advent.

Texts:  Isaiah 40:1-11Mark 1:1-8


Foundry’s music-inspired annual theme gives us opportunity to lift up a little-known word and concept: anacrusis.  An “anacrusis” consists of the note or notes that are the “lead-in” or “pick-up” notes for a melody before what’s called the first “down beat” of the song. You don’t have to understand the music theory of it to appreciate the metaphor. A musical anacrusis is the beginning, the entry point into a song. Advent is the beginning, the entry point into the Christian year. 


Last week we introduced a resource provided for you this Advent season, a weekly prayer card including a scripture verse and invitation to practice breath prayer. Our hope is that the prayer card will be an “anacrusis”—an entry point into moments of mindfulness with God.  This week’s prayer is…




+ + + + +



Our worship today is filled with music and singing. I learned to sing in the children’s choir of First UMC, Sapulpa, Oklahoma. I learned about harmony and creating a “blend” of sound with other voices. I learned that singing depends on breath and was taught how to use my breath to create and sustain sound.  Brass and woodwind instruments also make sound only with breath—and to make the music we’re hearing today requires highly developed use of the breath!  Some who may not be singers or musicians but practice yoga will have experience with what I’m talking about through chanting “OM”—always preceded by an intentional, deep in-breath… The out breath carries the sound; the deeper the inbreath, the more sustained the chant. The precursor for chanting, singing, for speaking, for crying out is breath. Without breath, there’s no sound, no music.  So the first thing you need to do if you’re going to sing is take a breath IN. //


Today we hear the first lines from what is believed to be the oldest account of Jesus’s life—the Gospel of Mark.  And in Mark’s story of Jesus, there’s no Bethlehem or heavenly host or glowing starlight.  As I’ve said before, Mark’s drama is less Hallmark Channel and more independent film.  And the scene picks up with a character whose appearance must have been odd even for his own day.  It’s rare that someone’s attire or menu selection is mentioned in scripture—and yet the characteristically spare language of the author of Mark includes these details.  So it’s unlikely that John’s wildness and weirdness are described only for entertainment value.  Instead, I imagine, it’s part of the point, part of the message.  Just to look at John heralds something different, something jarring, something uncomfortable. And then he cries out. And what does he cry? Repent! Confess! John’s voice is even more alarming than his appearance, it’s a voice crying out for things to change, for hearts and lives to change, for people to get ready for something—someone—who is coming, one who will be even more disruptive still.


John is the fulfillment of the prophecy from Isaiah, is the voice crying out, the one sent to prepare the way of the Lord.  But to cry out with such power requires a deep in-breath. Before John cried out, “Repent!” what did he breathe IN?  Well, in addition to a big gust of the Holy Spirit (in Hebrew and Greek Spirit also means “breath”)--I contend that the “in breath” fueling John’s proclamation, the thing John breathed in is the vision of a changed world, the prophetic vision of God’s reign of peace. The inbreath is the vision of God’s Kindom we pray comes to earth as it is in heaven. The vision is of a reality in which bodies—black and brown bodies, female bodies, trans bodies, bodies of every gender, shape, and ability—are treated with tenderness and respect and not as objects to be used or violated or abused; the vision is a reality in which earth, sea, sky, and all that dwell therein are nurtured in interdependence instead of exploited for financial gain or cheap comfort; the in-breath fueling John’s proclamation is a vision of a reality in which people share their gifts so that children and the most vulnerable are fed and safe, a reality in which provision is made for the stranger and sojourner, a reality in which families are not ripped apart by bad and unevenly applied laws, a reality in which the healing arts are extended to those who are sick regardless of whether they are rich or poor; the in-breath fueling John’s cry is the vision of a reality in which people are not afraid of difference, but delight in the rich variety within the human family, a reality in which guns are transformed into farming tools, a reality in which slavery and the violence that roams in the night is a thing of distant memory.


This vision of peace and care is a vision of God’s Kin-dom fulfilled; it’s a certainly incomplete composite of prophetic promises and when the vision will come to fruition is known only to God.  This vision of God’s future is the metaphorical in-breath of John and every prophet before and since. John breathed in the vision of God’s Kin-dom of peace and love and justice.  And then—only then—could he cry out with such strength and clarity: “repent!” Because the wilderness John inhabited is much like the one in which we stand today. And where we stand today doesn’t look like God’s reign of peace.


John’s proclamation is not a buttoned up, status quo, eggnog and cheeseball, bought-with-a-credit-card kind of thing. It is, rather, a cry reaching for something very, very different. For a world, for people, to be very, very different. Repentance, a dramatic turn from all that is wrong and a turn toward the ways of God’s love and peace—that is what’s clearly needed. Things need to change. And the prophetic vision—then as now—is both the fuel and the goal, both the inspiration and the focal point for that change.


Pastor Ben Roberts, our Director of Social Justice Ministries, shared a fascinating phenomenon with our worship team as we began thinking about how we would celebrate Advent at Foundry this year.  Here’s the upshot: A human being who is blindfolded can’t walk in anything remotely resembling a straight line.  When blindfolded, people end up going in circles and often end up where they started.  Studies show this is true when folks are placed in any context—an open field, a forest, a beach.  Without blindfolds, weather conditions affect the outcome. When the sun is shining, folks go in a straight line; cloudy, foggy days result in more circles. Researchers have yet to find any biological reason for this. As one author writes, “Humans, apparently, slip into circles when we can't see an external focal point, like a mountain top, a sun, a moon. Without a corrective, our insides take over and there's something inside us that won't stay straight.”[i]  So it seems that in order to get to a destination, we need to have a clear vision of where we want to arrive in the future. Having that vision affects each step we take in the present.


Our external focal point is the Kin-dom of God, the vision of a world at peace and living with love and justice. That is what gives us direction and a sense of peace—or at least encouragement that going in circles in the wilderness isn’t the only option.  The Kin-dom is our preferred destination and that vision affects the steps and direction of our lives today.  We have a fancy word for this in Christian metaphysics: “eschatology” is the study of how the vision of the future shapes the present.


John—in his appearance and his words—won’t let us forget that reaching the future vision requires change, requires repentance—and not just from others.  Unless you have already arrived at the perfect love and peace of life in God’s Kin-dom, free of any temptation, resentment, or apathy then you—like me—need to repent, to change.  But you can count on this: God wants to help you and God’s love and mercy are eternally present.  So breathe deeply today the hopeful vision of God’s reign of peace and love, and allow that in-breath to fuel your life and hope and grant you the ability to lift up your voice with strength, to sing God’s song of humility, justice, generosity, and love.


Perhaps we don’t have voices like our soloists today, or the breath and skill to play the instruments we hear; perhaps you don’t have the wild charisma of John the Baptizer; but as people who have taken in the good news of God’s love and the promise of a world transformed, our lives and voices and choices just might become what points others in a direction that gets us all where we want to go.



[i] Robert Krulwich, “A Mystery: Why can’t we walk straight?”