Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Earth Hour 2008

This Saturday at 8 PM join with others around the world in a conscious effort to care for creation by turning out your lights for an hour. This video from the World Wildlife Federation says it far better than I, but just think of how romantic or peaceful an hour could be?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Building Our House

I spoke with my parents yesterday who asked how much church service was. Service- singular. One of the vestiges of a change in existence. Service? Try 8 services between Passion Sunday, Triduum, and Easter. Followed by the hour trek to the inlaws and then home to regroup. But of course today I was up to preach in my preaching Matthew class. And back to the grind of daily commuting and academics. A day of rest would be cool. But in truth, I enjoyed the preaching last week, the services of Holy Week and the three on Easter. It was not too cold in the cemetery, it was not windy and the sunrise among the beloved was great. So was the Easter Breakfast, although I passed on the pickled tongue. And oddly my sermon text for today is for Pentecost 3. Yet, as I spent this past week steeped in the traditions of a flock who struggle to envision the future, I ponder my sermon about identity. And I wonder about their future. Easter is a day that makes me ponder time. In another few weeks, my time in their midst will be done. So though it is early, here is the sermon I will not be preaching in their midst, but could:
Matthew 7:21-29
One of the amusing stories in Russian history is about the ambition of a man named Grigory Potemkin, an adviser to Empress Catherine the Great in Russia in the 18th century, who was angling for a “closer” working relationship with her, if you know what I mean. Catherine and an entourage of foreign ambassadors were going on a cruise down the River on holiday, along the riverbanks of land she had conquered. Potemkin hatched a great idea to spruce up the drab, impoverished land of peasants. He had elaborate villages constructed along the river that would be seen from the boat- elaborate, but fake. Hollow facades complete with glowing fires in the evening, and flocks of sheep seen grazing. Painted screens of happy, robust peasants looked pretty real from out in the river. Everyone would be impressed and he could say, “ Look what I did for you.”
But, it was all one-dimensional. The same flock of sheep were moved from place to place down river, and a strong storm would have toppled it all. There was no “there” there. Simply boards propped up on the ground without a foundation. Appearances can be deceiving. No one wanted to see the plight of real people behind the facades, struggling to merely survive. Those in power looked on from afar, applauding themselves for their own good fortune.
As our lesson opens, Jesus has been teaching. There on the mountain, revealing God’s will. This time, those who listen are meeting God as He reveals the foundations of faithful living, contrasting the teaching and piety of the authorities with his own. Teaching that we need to build the right house- to live out God’s will.
There listening are those at the foot of the mountain hearing the teaching in real time, but also, those who first received this teaching in the written gospel of Matthew, sometime in the first century. A time of crisis about identity. The temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed. People are asking, “How do we worship now?” “Where is God?” Tensions in churches started early. Jesus’ followers have split from the mainstream over these issues, and over the question of what it means to live a life in relationship to God.
The scribes have been the authorized teachers. Teaching structured, complex demands for purity, sacrifice and holiness which must be fully complied with to be in good standing. To better understand the scribes, we need to realize that they not just religious men, but also work together with Rome, to control the people and perpetuate mutual interests at the expense of the people, with traditions of sacrifice interpreted in ways bolstering the elite and teaching oriented toward personal gain for some, in the name of God. For the poor, the demands are impossible tasks; for the elite, it has become a show, an easy way to be righteous. “Look at me, I am giving money to this poor beggar.” “See me praying” “Did I mention I am fasting?” BUT “Pay no attention to what I do the rest of the time.” Deeds of self- promotion. Their synagogue probably looks great, and they sit with the right people, and they feel blessed in their prosperity and importance. They have what seems to be a “dream house.”
How do we worship? Where is God? What does it mean to live in relationship with God? Jesus uses the analogy of building a house. Jesus’ teaching serves as a blueprint to build the foundation for our own personal houses, and our house together as a community of believers. How do we build such a house? We are in Jesus’ audience- We ourselves ponder these questions still.
Jesus tells us “Don’t just focus on the house above ground and its appearance. Don’t just focus on looking like it is all “just right” or on “we’ve always done it this way.” Don’t just show up and tell me about all of your ‘God-work’ to feel good.” While we all can get caught up in this, it is deceptive. The truth is, if all you have is appearance, when life’s storms hit you, you will fall as flat as the propped up board of the fake village, or that house on the sand. There will be no shelter there. If this is our only focus we have failed to comprehend living in faith.
Jesus’ teaching was and continues to be radically different. The scribes are “do as I say, not as I do” people. All around them people are weathering storms and they do not see beyond their personal piety schedule and self-interest. Jesus reorients us to living out the faith. So what is in Jesus’ blueprint? If we remember that this lesson comes as a conclusion to Jesus teaching, a good start is to look back at what we discussed last week in the Sermon on the Mount.
With this in mind, What will our house look like? Like a place where:
We will care for the poor, Got it. Volunteer at soup kitchen.
We will remember the widow. OK, visit shut-in.
We will keep our commitments, OK- even the ones we wish we hadn’t made- OH
We will be honest with each other and reconcile differences. Hmm
We will practice forgiveness, stop judging others, love and pray for our enemies…
This is what it means. And Jesus isn’t saying to us “Hear and walk on.” but “Listen and DO.” Maybe it would be easier to go back to our holiness and righteousness check lists. But if we are honest, the things Jesus asks us to do are the very things we seek for ourselves.
With a little creative license, maybe instead of a “house,” we should think, a “home.” I think about my own home of the last twenty years. My husband and I have celebrated all our of married life there- times of joys, and of testing; celebrating births, mourning deaths; passing milestones and balancing needs, wants and challenges. Our home is more than just a pile of sticks or a basic unit of society. It is a place where teaching happens, where people share a meal, and it’s a shelter. We love each other even when we would rather not. It’s a place where we don’t have to keep up appearances to be loved. Where faith sustains us. Where we think about ourselves together not as just individuals. But it isn’t easy- in fact it can be really hard work. Sometimes our homes don’t feel like this, but we sure wish we could find somewhere where it did.
If you take our home, it, together with a lot of others represents this congregation. Take our congregation and add it to the other Lutheran congregations, and the other places of worship around the world, and.. maybe we start to see that we are really just larger and larger clusters of God’s people not just in our little houses, but in God’s really big house- the kingdom. Places where people hope to be loved, and cared for, not judged. Places where we worship, where we seek God, and hopefully, where mission is revealed and mercy is encountered. Places that are shelters from the storms of life.
Jesus tells us God is not focused upon mere appearances. Not how you look, or how others look. Not what you do and whether it is more than or better than others. And it’s not about looking good at the expense of others. While we want to hear this for ourselves, we need to remember that we also need to hear it in our view of others. Others who also desperately hope that they really don’t have it all together to live in God’s house or who desperately need a hand in the storm.
We all know that life can give us all kinds of times where the ride is more than a little bumpy. Times when the pace on the hamster wheel is faster than we think we can stand. Times we are pulled between the needs of children and aging parents, mortgages and medications, work and family. Times it may seem like we will get swept away. And in our congregation, we struggle with the budget, with competing ideas about what it means to be faithful, about how we worship God rightly. Times we question, where is God? Times where we seek calm from the storm in this house- a sanctuary.
Today’s lesson is not seeking to convince us that we cannot succeed in building our houses, but that we can. Jesus says, “I tell you how to live because I want you here with me, all of you, today and always.” Jesus walked among us to reveal God, demonstrating that it is through Him that we encounter God’s saving presence.
It starts in the foundation of our hearts. Living not by seeking human approval, but with our new blueprint in mind. In houses where we seek to carry out Jesus’ commission; where as one writer suggests, the past and present are not the sum total of God, but where the door is open to God’s future. Houses open to all, not where some pick and choose who should be here. It will not always be easy, or popular. We will disagree about what it means to build and live in this house. There will be renovations and additions. God knows we will struggle. But with God’s help we can build houses-HOMES of love and integrity and faithful living in our lives and in this place.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Light of Christ

( One example of a very animated Easter Vigil)

Last night we extinguished all of the candles. The Light was gone. Today we do nothing. Suspended between where we were and where, this side of the empty tomb, we know we will be. Tonight we will celebrate Easter Vigil. We begin out side with a fire burning made from greens from Christmas. We will light the Paschal candle and begin a walk into the church. "The Light of Christ" is what I will chant as we move from the darkness and cold into the warmth of the nave. But the nave is dark, except for the persistent light of the Paschal candle. "The Light of Christ"
Tonight we will hear stories starting with creation as the tale of mankind is woven from God's perspective- why we needed The Light of Christ.
And we will break the darkness. And we will celebrate new life, including the new life of baptisms- three tonight. One of whom is D, Lutheran Chick #2's friend, our spare teen. D who has become an integral part of our church family and our family because we are the shelter from the storm. Whose parents are divorced, and for whom their new lives have moved on without her. We are the haven when there is fighting, drinking and when she has been locked out. "The Light of Christ"
Our youth group is becoming a haven for other teens like this, as some of our kids are reaching out to those they see who are at risk. LC#1 has such a friend. A, whose mom and step Dad are fighting. They are both recovering from substance abuse, which is why A's mom has no drivers license. She could get it back now if the fees were paid, but there never seems to be money for that. So when they fight, he strands A and her mom who have no way to get places. This is how he controls them, A says. Now he has had a court date for charges from a couple of years ago. A is scared it will not go well and the anger will surface. He was charged with .. dealing drugs. So A has been here more lately. Whatever spare money the family had will now go to "deal" with this. Come for dinner- relax just a little. "The Light of Christ"
Then there is K. Her mom is divorced and is trying really hard not to drink. When she succeeds, she smokes incessantly and has extreme anxiety- she does not leave the house. K is in charge. But she too has been enveloped by the youth group, and maybe, her mom will come to church some time with her. I have seen K become more like a teen and less like a functional adult. She smiles more and she is getting baptized later this spring. "The Light of Christ."
And this is how I imagine Jesus' ministry, and that of the early church. One by one pulling the oppressed, the confused, the stressed and the messy, out of the darkness and into the light. And Jesus calls us still to take these risks, get our hands dirty.
The first disciples were terrified. And confused. And probably convinced that after Friday it really had been too good to be true. It was back to the darkness. We know what they learned, we, an Easter people. And we are commissioned to carry that light into a darkened weary world, to be "The Light of Christ" - one soul at a time.
So tonight- Rejoice! Shout that repressed Alleluia that has been stifled these weeks! Jesus Christ is risen. He is Risen indeed. Alleluia! And let our light- The Light of Christ- burst forth into the world proclaiming the Good News by living it for the sake of all the weary souls!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Friday Five- He Didn't Die for Nothing

Rev HRod writes: As a child the designation "good" for today confused me. How could we call such a somber day, good? Holy, yes. Blessed, yes. But, good?

As an adult I understand the meaning of good for this day. It is a solemn day of remembrance but it is also a time for us to stop and recall the great gift of love that we received this day. And that is most certainly good.

Our worship today will differ from place to place. Some services will focus on the great litany of prayers. Others will use the seven last words of Jesus. Some of us will walk the stations of the cross. Others will participate in a Tennebrae service of shadows and light.

I hope that this Friday Five will be a meaningful part of your Good Friday. God's blessings to you on your journey.

Our prayer concerns are as varied as we are this day. For whom would you like us to pray?
For all in the world who are the "Blesseds" in the Beautitudes.

Are there things you have done or will do today to help the young ones understand this important day in our lives?
I am not sure I have done as much as I could. In truth, we struggle as adults to face this message. It is a challenge to impress upon kids that which makes us cringe. One small way is to take the palm from Palm Sunday and weave it into a cross- to show that this is the path Jesus took to save us.

Music plays an important part in sharing the story of this day. Is there a hymn or piece of music that you have found particularly meaningful to your celebrations of Good Friday?

"Ah Holy Jesus" "O Sacred Head Now Wounded" - the idea that I crucified thee- none of us can claim to be better than those who actually carried it out.

As you hear the passion narrative, is there a character that you particularly resonate with?

As a parent I wonder what Mary the mother of Jesus must have experienced. And wonder when she knew how it would be? So often we focus on the prominent figures in the story, but there in the shadows was Mary.

Where have you seen the gracious God of love at work lately?

In the faces of all of those who see Christ in others, particularly those who work to help the homeless, the mentally ill, and the oppressed, often in ways that go unnoticed by the mainstream. Like the church that hold a service under an underpass in California for the homeless and migrants who "live" there.
Today's video post by Jars of Clay says it- "You didn't die for nothing."
Blessed Holy Week and Easter to all. Pax Christe.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

When Have I Denied You Lord?

None of us wants to place ourselves in the same space with Judas, or with Peter in the courtyard that night. After all, what they did or did not do, was so much more serious than any act we could commit or omit, right? And they ACTUALLY met and walked with Jesus in real time, which we never have, so isn't their sin the greater? Or is it a key feature of sin that we seek to justify what looks so glaringly wrong by playing compare and contrast? I know that when I have decided I was too tired to do evening prayer, I have denied you. When the irritating member of the parish wants to talk, I want to run away. When I have been silent when I should have spoken out against an injustice, I have betrayed all you stand for.
My Lenten discipline was to give up making excuses for things I did not do, or things I did that i should not have. If I forgot to return a phone call, or just did not make something a priority, when I spoke in haste or anger, or was impatient, instead of giving a "reason" why, I made myself simply acknowledge what I did or did not do - period. After all , if we say God's grace is sufficient, it is so regardless of our own efforts at justification. And if there is something we need to amend, we should stop seeking to dress it up with feel better words. It has made me more conscious of little things. Like, if I snapped at someone, I said I was sorry - period. Not "sorry but I ... " I found I was not only more aware of the ways I may not measure up, but more honest and more truly grateful for grace. I can do nothing to add to it. This week I think about the ways I have denied God and give thanks for the fact that in spite of it all, nothing can separate us from God. And I am also reminded to not try to decide how God also acts this way for all of my brothers and sisters, even when I cannot comprehend. We all deny God, we all need grace, we all are embraced in this grace - let us live it out in our lives and our response to those in our midst.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Not a Good time to Get the Flu

We LTSG-ers are on Reading Days ( timed like Spring Break, but with projects in need of attention- take home exams, exegetical work, papers). I had a great plan to divide up the work so it would be manageable and completed and I would get a head start on what lies ahead in the face of the time constraints of Holy Week and Easter. And I am preaching this Sunday in the Country Parish, followed by the fast pace of services for the Triddum. And the three services Easter Sunday, the first of which is in the cemetery at 6 AM on the breezy hilltop with no trees in balmy central PA.
I am singing a solo on Maundy Thursday, and singing the first three verses of "Were You There" on Good Friday, a capella. I am intoning the over five minute long Exultet at the Vigil and assisting in a service I am so looking forward to, when our spare teen is baptized. She is into Japanese anime and I have found the Manga Bible to keep her interested in new ways.
And to top it off the weather has been nice, I could be out cleaning up the yard and garden for spring planting.
Most of my friends were deathly sick a couple weeks ago with the flu, bronchitis, pneumonia and mono. And I escaped. Until my older daughter got sick. And now, on the threshold of all of the above, I have been increasingly sick for the last four days. Over the counter meds are just not risingto the occasion, so today I go see the doctor,something I never do. I am hoping I can get propped up well enough to do all of the above. If I can stop coughing long enough to sleep that will be a blessing.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Super-Greeters

The other Sunday I had the Sunday "off" from the Country Parish to go the The Stone Church in the City as part of a requirement I see urban ministry. The city is in a county of a couple hundred thousand people, so in the pantheon of cities, not large. But it is in the corridor between Baltimore and New York and has changed immeasurably over the years. Lots of drug trafficking and influx of people, often transient. The church used to be a neighborhood church, but now most people live "out" and come in.
The church has a new pastor and is evaluating how they can best provide ministry where they are- they have specifically and overwhelmingly rejected flight to the suburbs. They enmeshed in an intentional visioning process and are open to many avenues that other similar congregations would not take on. I pray they discern their path- they have great facilities, an endowment, eager pastor and..
And they have - the Super Greeters.
When I entered, I was greeted by an eager, but not pushy, older gentleman. He introduced himself, determined I was visiting, asked me to sign the visitor book, showed me to a seat, made his way to shake my hand during sharing of the peace with his wife in tow. Gave me a coffee mug, magnet and pen, and invited me to fellowship. When he learned I have a home congregation, encouraged me to consider their church, my home whenever I might be in the area.
And today, two weeks later, a card in the mail from The Greeters, telling me they were blessed by my presence, hope I found the word of the Lord sustaining in my time with them, wished me peace and come back anytime.
If this enthusiasm can translate beyond the doors and into the community in evangelism and mission, there is great hope for the future. What a blessing to be in the midst of someone with the true gift of hospitality.

Monday, March 10, 2008

"I want it to be Easter or Spring or something"

I cannot change the weather, or the fact everyone is still passing around nasty illnesses. I cannot change the fact I want to be in my garden and can't, or the fact that I am tired of sweaters. I don't want to run the heat anymore- I want to open the windows. I want to fire up the grill not the soup pot.
I can start my seedlings and eagerly await their little green shoots in the starter tray ( I still get a smile when they first poke their heads up out of the potting mix ( this summer they will hopefully be tomatoes and peppers!) I can change my blog template to at least reflect that spring green is one of my favorite colors. Such a simple thing, like moving a chair to a different place in the room. But today - a new outlook! I am tired of the wind and more than a little dismayed that this will undoubtedly be the weather for the 6 AM Easter sunrise service in the cemetery at the country parish on top of the hill.

This past Sunday I practiced with the "Ladies ( and now 2 Guys) Who Sing" - the Easter music. They also practiced music for this Sunday. The song is cheerful, and in the third line the "Alleluias" start, and are pretty much throughout. For Passion Sunday- not so good. After a kind and patient discussion, it is agreed to change the "Alleluias" to " Hosannas." And everyone is pretty much OK, but the truth is- they really just want to get to Easter. If only we could just run by all of the cross and suffering stuff and get to the happy ending. After all, one person said, "Aren't we an Easter people?" And what difference does it make really?

It is a little ironic to me that as a culture we have become obsessed with death, real time news, HDTV graphics, and knowing everything we can about people's lives. But the one story we fear to face, the most important story, we would just as soon not. Luther's affinity for theology of the cross not withstanding, many of those who today worship in the church that bears his moniker would just like an extra helping of grace, thank you very much.

So I talked with the Ladies and 2 Guys and explained what this Sunday is about. Not just Hosanna and kids waving palms. Not just knowing who has what lines in the narrative reading. But that this Sunday we focus on the Passion, the selflessness, the suffering and ultimate love of God on the cross. Do we really want to sing "Alleluia" as a word of praise for the mocking, or the suffering or the humiliation, or the killing of Christ?

We can hear the endless drone of sad statistics about the dead in a senseless war, the dying who cannot get food or medical care or clean water, and we are numb to it. But ask us to imagine the nails, the thorns and the cross. Not so much.

This week I am reading The Crucified God by Jurgen Moltmann for my systematic theology class. Somehow, just in time. May we be brave enough to linger in the tension of Lent, and then as Easter people, be bold enough to proclaim the mission of the church to and for the oppressed, the afflicted and those who desperately need this Christ.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Good but Bittersweet News

Rejoice with me! Lutheran Chick #1 is going to Lutheran Summer Music Festival and Academy for a month in July at Gustavus Aldolphus in Minnesota! She will be playing flute and singing with other students interested in church music,and making a joyful noise unto the Lord for a month! To learn more about the program, go HERE. She is very excited. She is our quiet, creative, but kind of disorganized child who often has great ideas that just.. kind of.. don't quite come together. In spite of struggles with some learning disabilities, she has always said that music is what makes the day worth getting up for. And we are grateful that she has a song she wants to share. Sadly, this wonderful month concludes with a week of concerts in a festival setting and I will be ... in CPE. It is a blessing she is going. Shouldn't that be enough for me? I have started trying to figure out if I can swing crazy shift swapping and maybe even get out for one day. Figuring out the Northwest flight schedule and how long the drive is from Minneapolis to St Peter. I am preparing to accept that the whole family ( none of whom is video savvy) will see and I will only hear about it. I guess it would be like hearing someone just saw the risen Christ on the road and I missed it. Well, maybe not that extreme.
And do I try to just work this out with my supervisor once CPE has started? DO I try to talk to him now? I have never met the supervisor. The person I met and who told me I was accepted has now been terminated. I have a place in the program but why make waves? Just really not sure what to do. I know there will be great moments in her life that I will not be there to see. Maybe this is one.
If anyone has advice about how to handle this- I would appreciate it. If anyone has info on getting to Gustavus Adolphus from Minneapolis and the like- also appreciated.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Beautiful Goodbye

Today in systematic theology we discussed evil, sin and healing. Light topics for a dreary day. Aside from reading which highlighted how sin cannot be captured in a single metaphor, and the idea of evil and sin as separate concepts, which are related but not causal, our readings focused upon the theology of evil and sin for victims of domestic violence. There is no specified and logical way to heal from the deeply fracturing behaviors. There is not a set amount of time, a set formula in which to achieve, healing. It is more a process of becoming. Coincidentally, I had read recently of one woman's struggle following an abusive marriage and a bitter divorce. She prayed to find it in herself to forgive the past. Daily she prayed for this, for far longer than I can imagine. If I remember correctly, it was over 20 years. Finally one day she reached that point. Some may never. One of my classmates challenged the view of one of our authors who suggested people may need to be told that they do not have to forgive in order for them to feel grace. He is rightly troubled by the notion we as pastors would ever tell someone that forgiveness is not necessary.
But the truth is, the survivor owns this process. We can walk with them, lift them up and encourage them, but we cannot mandate the fix. How do you encourage trust in someone whose existence is defined by the utter erosion of it? And while I have blogged before about the goal that we should forgive AS God has forgiven us, there is no magic formula or date. Domestic violence and sexual abuse affect those in the lives of the abused in a ripple effect. The other day I was visiting Diane over at Faith in Community where she had posted this video. It is a touching video - may we all be committed to helping, healing and doing all we can to prevent the harm to people who are, as this video depicts, more than statistics.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Six Random things

I have been tagged by Eric Heart of a Pastor and ,Unlikely Conversation for this here it goes...thanks guys!

The rules for the meme are:
--Link to the person who tagged you.
--Post the rules on your blog.
--Share six non important things/habits/quirks about yourself.
--Tag six random people at the end of your post by linking to their blogs.
--Let each random person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their website.

So here are the six non important things/habits/quirks about me:

1. I am a piler. I am generally an organized person, but my system involves piles for each thing. As a result my Beloved has given me a place for my piles, so that there are not piles here or there throughout the house. Interestingly, he too is a piler.

2. I cannot go a day without chocolate. This probably means I need some vitamin or nutrient found in chocolate. It could also mean I am a kid at heart. I like the second option.

3. Music is a part of every day. It is how I get motivated, how I pray and how I unwind.

4. Mexican food is my comfort food.

5. I have never gotten rid of my kids' art work. It is all living in two cedar chests in the attic. I dream of some day giving each of them one of the chests for their home and they can open up the chest and find their art from preschool.

6. I wish I could play guitar. I have small hands and I am not eye hand coordinated enough. Maybe electric guitar- the bass player always looks like the guy in the band who has the most fun and expends the least energy.

SO there you have it, I am not very interesting. I tag Prepare Ye, Faith in Community, Grace Notes, Questing Parson, Dogblogger, and Lutheran Zephyr to come out and play!