A Brief Introduction
Jenny McDevitt // January 20, 2018
I have been thinking long and hard about what to say to you today, about what might help me move from “unknown stranger” to, well, “slightly-less-unknown stranger.” It is my hope and my prayer that we will have lots of time for conversation in the future, but we have to start somewhere. And when we aren’t sure where to start, scripture is a good place to turn.
The Bible is absolutely chock-full of genealogies, which are really good stories that are really, really well hidden under piles and piles of long, barely decipherable names. Among other things, they remind us that it’s always good to know where we come from.
So perhaps it is helpful for you to know that I was born and raised just outside of Detroit, Michigan, which means I am the daughter of grit and grace, the descendant of many who never shy away from hard work, who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. Growing up, we were taught never to ask someone else to do something we weren’t willing to do ourselves. We were surrounded by a deep appreciation of hometown pride and a conviction that while things may be hard now, our best days are still ahead of us, so it is always right to choose hope and work with indefatigable spirit toward the promise of a brighter tomorrow.
And perhaps it is helpful for you to know that I have been formed and shaped by the people of Kansas City, which means I have learned that “midwest nice” is entirely genuine, and that there is always time to not only ask someone how they are doing, but to wait around long enough to hear the real answer. I have been loved well by people whose hearts beat at the center of our geography, who have learned to embrace being referred to as “flyover country.” From them, I have learned that it is worth paying attention to the people and places that are so easily and so often overlooked.
And perhaps it is helpful for you to know that I stayed for a spell in Richmond, Virginia, where my accent softened, and I learned that yes, God loves you, but God loves y’all even more. It is there I learned the art of southern hospitality, but even more about the radical hospitality of God. And it is there I learned anew that we are all bound up in a very complicated history, and that it is important we remember the mistakes of our yesterdays, not emulating them, but not ignoring them, either.
And perhaps you are curious about what I have gleaned so far about New York City, a place I never before dreamt of living, but a place to which I now find myself eager to give my heart. I have much still to learn, and I will need your help with that, but so far I have learned about all manner of public transportation, from buses and subways to taxis and Uber. There is always more than one way to get somewhere around here, which reminds me there is always more than one way to move through this world. I have seen and heard that the pace is fast and the expectations are high and the schedules are full and sidewalks are crowded to overflowing, which reminds me that no matter where we call home, one of the deepest longings of us all is to know we belong — to be assured we are enough, to be convinced that we are worth loving, to be confident that there is always more room within the heart of God.
The places we live and move and have our being … they shape us. Of course, people do, too.
So maybe you would also like to know this — I am the oldest daughter of Paul and Brenda, who grew up in Detroit proper but who now call northern Michigan home. They are buried under more than a foot of snow as we speak. I am the sister of Paul Junior, who I grew up calling PJ. For the record, I am the only one who is still allowed to call him that. I am the sister in law to his wife, Erin, and I am the proud and overly indulgent aunt of Lily, Logan, and Annabelle.
This family of mine, which now stretches up and down the Great Lake State, gave me my roots and continues to love me even as we challenge each other. For I am the first, and so far the only, member of my family to attend college, never mind graduate school. I am the first, and so far the only, member of my family to live out of state. I am the first, and so far the only, member of my family to claim or be claimed by Presbyterianism.
In fact, I come from a family that does not regularly attend church of any sort, which inevitably leads to some entertaining discussions around the dinner table, because there is no one in the world more comfortable with asking direct questions than a younger brother. Those conversations, however, make me a better pastor.
My family has taught me more than I could summarize here, but among other things, from them I have learned that love in its truest, most gospel-shaped form, is not predicated upon shared experience or common understanding. Love can include all manner of emotion and feeling, but really and truly, love is a choice we make, over and over and over again, and it is always worth the effort.
As for my own household, should you invite me to come and be your pastor, I will be moving here with about nine million boxes of books and two beloved dogs. Reilly is my old man dog, a sweet and tolerant guy who has slept at my feet for fourteen years now. People often ask me what breed he is. The best I can do is say: he is black and brown and big. Annie is the Labrador retriever puppy, an unexpected addition who spent the first several months of her life living in the drainage system of a local park, whose “zest for life” made it difficult for her to find a permanent home. She wakes me early, tests my patience, and has absolutely wormed her way into my heart. Like most of us, she wants little more out of life than to be adored. She’s just less subtle about communicating it.
Yes, this is my natural hair color. No, I probably won’t get any taller than this. Yes, I am tall enough for your pulpit. (Yes, I checked earlier today.)
I tolerate the act of cooking, because I’ve found that eating helps keep us alive, but I delight in baking, because I love to watch a plan come together and smell good in the process. Plus, I have a bit of a sweet tooth. I have been vegetarian since eighth grade.
I played field hockey way back in high school and college, and since then I have run a few marathons, very, very slowly. I consider it an extension of my ministry to finish toward the back of the pack, helping lots and lots of other people feel good about how much faster than me they are.
I am a terrible gardener. I am the person plants come to when they are ready to die. I drink too much coffee. I sing with all sorts of joy, and very little skill. I am a manuscript preacher. I tell stories as if life depended on it. In some ways, it does.
I love early mornings. I love crossword puzzles. I love egg sandwiches and good bagels. I love snow days that cause a city to take a collective breath, and I love spring days that remind us life always finds a way. I love scripture — studying it and talking about it and listening to others talk about it. I love Jesus, and I try to live the way he teaches us.
I love the people of First Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the people of Bayside Presbyterian Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and the people of Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Kansas.
And if you’ll have me, Madison Avenue … I am very eager to love you.
SEE JENNY'S SERMON HERE: https://youtu.be/t301q25Y7Z8
"The Worst Good News"