Saturday, December 15, 2012

Come Be God With Us

We gather this day on the Sunday when we are supposed to be particularly celebrating and rejoicing in our waiting. And the words we’ve heard in our Old Testament lesson, and the Psalm and Philippians could seem ill timed- there is no unbridled rejoicing this day. We’ve been all too clearly reminded that evil and pain come crashing into our world, taking lives. Evil still takes up residence in people we thought we knew and makes us strangers, not only in Connecticut but in many other places closer to home. As we like lots of other people are asking the question, “what then should we do?” The stark reality of events breaks open a rare moment when we are prepared to walk away from all our obstacles and ask the question. And if ever there is a time when the words “O Come Emmanuel” signify our longing call to God, it is in times such as this when we think about the lonely, and those in misery and cry “Come be God with Us and free us from this. We’re confused, come bring wisdom and help us learn. We’re broken by depression and fear, come restore us and make us strong enough to go on. Come bring some light into our darkness and hope into our doubt”. Boy, I not only want to sing that, I want it to work, don’t you?

And at first I was thinking how ill-suited today’s readings are for such a time, but then on second glance, they are not just unbridled rejoicing without a care, they are rejoicing as those who have been or are in the midst of pain and sorrow and regret. Where people saw they were on the wrong path, or realized the weight of being dominated or menaced by others, or like Paul, were captive. For us as we try to find and hold onto that promise of ultimate rejoicing, the harder question is what about now? How did these people in Scripture find the power to rejoice? How might we? It has to come from beyond us, the power and strength to do so.

The people coming to see John in the wilderness were not wise religious experts in Luke. They were confused everyday people like you and me. Some coming because they were curious, some figuring it couldn’t hurt, some swept up by the crowd or a charismatic person. They were interested in this new message, but not committed. John challenges them and tells them they have it all wrong, that they are focusing upon surface stuff. IF they are serious, there is more to this message and this Messiah. You can’t just be curious. This good news is about committing to a whole new way of living, and having hope because there is a whole new source of power to do so.

Repentance is about refocusing your whole life outlook. This is what we dare to glimpse when life gets serious. But to continue to refocus with staying power, with focus that lasts long after big events are history, takes more. The source of this power can only come from the One of whom John spoke- the One more powerful than all of us. The One who has used that power to save us.

This year we have of course focused upon how we are recalling the birth of Christ into our midst. And talking about hoping real hope for God’s ultimate promise. But I’ve also been trying to lift up “God with Us” in the here and now. God active and a Kingdom present now. Frankly sometimes it is hard to see or hold onto. Yet this day I am trying to remember that God’s story is not just about God coming to say “You’re mine, you’re fine, carry on.” Which is good because we’re not fine. This is why God continues to come to be God with us and to save.  Maybe we can together rejoice that this is true as we help each other live into it. Into believing that God is so powerful we can walk away from the way the world sees things over and over again because God is with us.

But God with us is not God for us ( not save us so we can get back to business as usual) and not God for me (others can fend for themselves). God with us is a whole new outlook and the journey into it takes an “us.” This is why of all the examples John is giving the crowds I like the two coats, something I see in a whole new way today.  Most of the crowds were poor and they may well have only had two pieces of clothing- a tunic they wore underneath and one they wore on the top. Two coats- one on the outside and one functioning like underwear. Be willing to give away one.  Be willing to walk around in your underwear so someone else isn’t naked. And trust that when your one wears out, you’ll be covered-that’s radical giving and radical community.

But there are so many concerns in our world to which we could ask the underlying question-What would you give for life to change? What would you give for people to be made whole? What would you give for an end to violence? What would you give to save lives? That’s the point. There are so many life struggles that could have different futures.

What would it mean to believe that someone had the power to help us make rejoicing possible in the places of our longings? For all of us? That’s the point of the gospel. Christ is the answer to all our questions and the strength for our struggles. God who knows who we can be and still longs to save and to free us.

Once I was putting together a toy with one of our daughters and the instructions were time consuming and challenging, and as we worked on it, I secretly suspected that even when put together, it might not work. My daughter on the other hand, was approaching this from a very different perspective- she was eager and focused because she was working in a sense of expectation and rejoicing- what if it works!! How great would that be?

In all our songs of sorrow, God’s never ending refrain is “I love you, I want to bring hope. I will rejoice over you and renew you. I will save, I will change you. I want to bring you home and give you strength. I can bring peace where it seems impossible.” If it is true, this is great news of expectation and rejoicing. The kind that we should want to trust in, to share and to live into because we’d give anything for it to be real and to work.

 It does not end today’s pain, but does offer much that can shape our conversations about our world’s challenges. There are no straightforward pat answers, but maybe the best way to honor the children, ourselves, our world and our God is to embrace that vision. To meaningfully look for and share the expectation that it can work. To dare to silence the voices of the non committal and self focused and instead to walk together as a community and a nation in a whole new conversation. One that leads us away from demonizing and clashing that bring bitterness and pain. One that dares to work with each other and with God trusting that Jesus came to break open real power and possibility. And that rejoicing, however slowly comes in trusting God’s power and light and life really do work.

So Come Emmanuel- Be God with us. We want to rejoice. Help us be this people with  you.

(This video of the Piano Guys is produced by the Mormon Church)


Monday, November 19, 2012

It's not When, It's Who

In 1984 my college friend and I buried a Twinkie in the ground outside our dorm. At the height of the nuclear arms race period of our country’s history, pondering what would survive a nuclear holocaust, we’d heard it would be cockroaches and Twinkies. And if we survived we’d glow in the dark. Perhaps Twinkies contained so many preservatives they were indestructible. At year end, it was still there-untouched. Yet this past week the company that makes Twinkies announced its closing, apparently not as indestructible. For those who believe the Mayan calendar prediction that the end of the world is in less than a month, perhaps the death of the Twinkie is a sign. Who could imagine a world without Twinkies? 
The obsession with the fate of the Twinkie is perhaps a joking way to talk about our fears amidst turmoil and uncertainty engulfing us. Are we really on the eve of the Apocalypse, the end as we know it? And if so when? It’s the question of centuries. Lots of energy spent trying to be prepared or to master interpreting events, or lining up world events with the words in the Bible. This week we face looming fear of dangerous military action in the Gaza Strip in Israel, and the flood of cash to either Israel or the Palestinians. Many world economies teeter on disaster, with riots throughout parts of Europe, and our own incessant nattering about whether there will be a fall off of the fiscal cliff, and if so, how far? Or is it really only a slope? Will we bounce back or be stuck in the pit? 

Many parts of the world are in the grip of famine and drought, and the massive use of antibiotics in our food supply is rapidly rendering us incapable of fighting off infections. What about superbugs and superstorms? Are these the signs of the Apocalypse? Plenty to be afraid of as we wonder if this is the time of anguish such as we have never seen, or the beginning of the birth pangs. My Twinkie experiment aside, plenty of people worry about stockpiling money for economic collapse, the rest of the world be damned, and others who worry they will be found inadequate, allowing themselves to be convinced to send money to assure salvation, or to buy the set of books and DVDs that will help them prepare for the end while their clueless neighbors will be swept away. Hurry before it’s too late! Because “When” might be “now.” If we only knew…

Is this REALLY how we see our God??? Maybe the better conversation is not about when, but who.  Who is our God?  This may offer the best way to think about what it all means.

Next Sunday we again declare Christ is the ruler of all. The ruler whose apocalypse is coming. And for the record, “Apocalypse” is not a term about butt-kicking Jesus, it means “unveiling” or “revealing.” 

We’re waiting for the fullest revealing of God. While this may be horrific to those who would prefer to sacrifice us to their needs, and fear inducing to those who prefer domination and unrest, it is for them that the anguish comes.
What’s being revealed to us is not horrific tests of our loyalty but a loving God who says that offering up the same sacrifices and anxieties every day doesn’t change a thing.

That's actually good news. The good news is that we are not the authors of how God sees us. Jesus the Christ is.

While we live in a world that even today would scapegoat and kill such a Savior, the depth of the love of God is greater. So we can stop being consumers of worry and fear, and drink in this love of a God who promises to be a refuge and a protector and the light stronger than the darkness. This is God. And this is the light we can reflect. Just like we will experience when we light those candles we will hold on Christmas Eve and we sing of our Savior.

Still many will run after other sources of security and have their troubles multiplied. But even in the darkest of times, in all of the dark nights of our souls, Christ is our light, ready to guide us and teach us, and remind us. Follow me. Don’t be afraid. God’s ongoing message to us.

There’s a path of life, and joy and a promise of forever even in the storms and beyond. This is what we can share- there’s refuge from the storms of this age, and a light to warm and guide us here. Even when it seems that such a way and such a promise cannot possibly be so.  Hold onto the light and bear it here and wherever we go. To all the others in our world who long for it. And while today's moments matter, there’s more to God’s story.

This week as the world’s drama unfolded, closer to home a young person struggled with feelings of ending a life, and a mother discovered her child beaten by a gang. 

But a mom from our afterschool program told me she has passed her GED tests and thanked me for the prayer,  because the day before the fear was fierce. Still little glimmers of glowing light in the darkness. And so it goes. 

The writer Edith Wharton once wrote there are two ways of spreading light- to be the candle or to be the mirror that reflects it. We are blessed to be claimed by the light of a God who assures us that in all that seems uncertain, God’s love and will for us is certain.  And that in the face of all of our fears we have this light. A light that we can reflect in the midst of our darkness.  

Today I’m wearing that stole I told you my friend Julius wanted me to have. As he gave me the stole he shared with me the back story- that his father had tried to stop a time of great division in part of the church, heartbroken when factions would rather fight than even pray together. At the height of the conflict when the very world he had dedicated his life to was crumbling, when relationships were broken and turmoil was everywhere, he preached a sermon calling people to give thanks and bless God even though these thoughts seemed impossible. 
We listened to the tape of his words-
Bless the Lord and forget not all His benefits. The church and the world, though flawed in our hands, are a gift from God, like God’s holy word in Scripture. It was a beautiful and moving sermon- you could imagine the light and hope in the storm.  But it came from a man who was 87 and blind. He couldn’t even see the light anymore yet he reminded, encouraged and even provoked people to believe that God’s vision is bigger and beyond this time. Hold fast to the light of the Word, because God is faithful. All the more so when it seems that there’s little to hold onto.

In a moment we’ll sing our hymn for this day- right now, I invite you to listen as we pray some of its words- for all the places in our lives that feel just like the stories we heard in Scripture, places of longing and fear. Places where we need to see Jesus. Places where our world needs Jesus. 

Lord, the light of your love is shining, in the midst of our darkness, shining. Jesus, light of the world, shine upon us, set us free by the truth you now bring us.  Shine, Jesus, shine.  Fill this land with the Father’s glory. Blaze, Spirit, blaze, set our hearts on fire. Flow rivers flow. Flood the nations with grace and mercy, send forth your Word, Lord and let there be light!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Living Saints

One of our youth attending Catholic school lamented having to read a book called “The Lives of the Saints.” Seemingly a boring book about old dead people. It would seem to me however, that such a book is one that is still being written. When I was in seminary I was blessed during internship to meet a saint named Julius. A fascinating man who was the black sheep of the family because in the midst of generations of sainted pastors, he cut loose and became a lawyer instead. I met him in the hospital and his situation was grave. After I chatted awhile with him and his family, they stepped out so Julius could speak to me the things he needed to say. Thus began a series of conversations about life and death and life eternal, reminding ourselves that God’s promises of resurrection and new life are true. Because it’s all theory until those moments we have to try to believe. Then sometimes we need help to live faith and say resurrection is a word we can believe. Julius didn’t seem long for this life, but he pulled through. Several times I visited him and Louise in their apartment crammed full of art collected in world travels, all of Julius’ books, and tangled up walkers and oxygen lines. Our conversations about faith and culture left me feeling I was far richer than they were by our encounters. But then Louise became ill and rather suddenly died. I was blessed to share in her service of resurrection victory, but when we arrived with family at the nursing home chapel, we learned Julius had himself taken a turn for the worse. We may in fact lose him that very day. How hard to finish that service wondering his fate. I wondered how hard it was for Jesus hearing of Lazarus.

In his room, Julius was pale and weak. We cried with him as he wondered how life could go on. And I made the sign of the cross on his head, commending him into the hands of his Savior expecting full well the imminent outcome. Amazingly he recuperated, but was weakened. But my last Sunday at the church, he insisted his son come and help him get up and bring him to worship. This blessed 95 year old saint put on a suit, held onto his walker, and came to hear God’s words and be revived. Since then I’ve heard from Julius three times. The most recent was this past week. The day after the hurricane came through. I’d come to the church with no power or heat, water in the basement and alarm systems screeching, wondering how long it would be like that and how hard it would be to recover. There at the church office, still wet from the day before was the mail. For a moment I paused and thought about our postal carrier Sandy and her faithful witness to be out when most of us had packed it in. Looking through the mail, I came across a letter, hand addressed, from Julius. In it he noted it’d been about a year since we’d last been in touch, and that he’s been praying for our ministry. Then he went on to say he wants to give me his father’s stole. What a blessing to be connected not only to Saint Julius but to a saint who shaped his life. At 98 years of age, Julius is still busy saint-ing. Helping others grow in faith and be strengthened as disciples, as those who believe in the resurrection AND in the life. That letter revived me.

Today we gather to praise God and to give thanks for the saints we’ve known, and the saints of every age. To linger over names spoken and ponder their faithful witness. And it’s perhaps a time of tears and thoughts of loss. Maybe even hard to say “I believe” to Jesus’s words, “I am the resurrection and the life.”  Surely we long for the beautiful words from Isaiah, echoed again in Revelation- a time without tears, when a new creation with God will come. Sometimes these words can seem like it’s just about remembering the past and waiting for the future.  But there is more. All Saints Day is about connecting to God’s story in the lives of saints departed and living, and helping each other try to live those words “I believe.”


Today we hear the story of Jesus and Lazarus and Mary. Before it though was the one about Jesus and Lazarus and Martha. Jesus learned Lazarus is ill and by the time he arrives, Martha meets him and tells him he’s too late. It’s all passed. To which Jesus asks-do you believe in resurrection? Martha responds with the theory about the future. Jesus then tells her resurrection and life are real in him. Now. He meets her and helps her say again, “I believe.” But when Jesus encounters Mary, she responds in different way. She cries. Rather than lecture her, Jesus cries with her and then instead of telling her about resurrection, he does it. Telling Lazarus to get up and keep living. Jesus not only offers a future, he restores their present. We are Marys and Marthas and Lazaruses.  Sometimes we need to talk and be reminded to believe, and sometimes we just want to cry, and sometimes we need to hear, “get up.” Jesus is present in all these moments, through saints living and past who show us resurrections start in this life. There will be losses and challenges, but yet God’s desire is that we be freed, and lifted up in this life. God uses us and fellow saints to show us this. Sometimes to help us believe, sometimes to comfort and sometimes to encourage us to get up and keep living.

For Mary and Martha and Lazarus, Jesus changed it all. But there would be many more moments of joy, fear and sadness where they probably took turns telling the story, walking together, pointing to Christ together. In their ordinary lives telling of the extra-ordinary power of Christ and trying to believe. We too are the very ordinary people God makes to be saints who take turns hearing and speaking across the ages as we all try to hold onto “I believe.” We have moments when we want to cry and when we hope to see. And moments when we need someone to unravel what is holding us down and help us get up. The saints across time were people with doubts, who needed to overcome sadness, who struggled. People whose lives had really lovely parts and a lot of other bits too. They were flawed, yet called saints and people of resurrection and life because Jesus said so. And this is also true for us, fellow saints. This is our common bond.

This is a place full of saints this day-as we are connected with the saints of every time through Christ, not only for a future day but so that we can live THIS life. Julius and I have taken turns reminding each other of this- Jesus is the resurrection- the promise of life eternal; and Jesus is the life-the power of resurrection starts now. And God continues to speak to, and to walk with, and to lift up to new life all of us, as people who by God’s hand, can “saint” others, and speak resurrection and new life together in God's story.

Let us give thanks for all who have blessed us, and share the rich story that God’s resurrection and life are words we can believe not only for the day when we will join the throng around the throne, but for today as we help each other live the words “I believe.”  


Thursday, October 25, 2012


I confess that I literally feel swept by the Holy Spirit in ways that continue to move me to tears of joy and to just tears. And frankly I feel very inadequate because I used to be a person who was never at a loss for words, but lots of times these days, I am. We have been blessed with 88 kids coming to our church in the city for our afterschool program. Kids who are hungry, kids who need help with homework. Kids who want to be safe. Kids who want to None of the stories I hear are unique, and maybe that is in part why they touch me. I want them to be unique and they are not. I want to believe that the three kids who started with us who have already moved, again, are not upended one more time. Or that the girl who has said she knows she is only here until November 1 does not really live that life. I want to believe that the mom who is on welfare but getting her GED through welfare is not still, and she is STILL on a waiting list for her book to be paid for, and is already ready to take the first three parts of the test. I want to believe that when we say we will help you achieve that we mean it. As today, I gave her the money for the first three parts of the test and she promised to tell me the date she is taking it so we can pray, and then hopefully another day celebrate. As she comes each day to volunteer after class so her girls know what matters. I want to believe that the girl who I worked with to do the 100 multiplication problems and who another volunteer helped with averages really doesn't have to say that she is grateful because we are the first people who stuck with her. Or that we aren't really going to have a community meal where we cook together because one mom has no stove, and one can't pay the gas bill and one is afraid because when she turns it on, las cucharachitas come out.
I wish that the mom with the protection order was getting support so she could buy diapers as she promises me to pay back next week so someone else who needs it more than her can have money. I wish that someone's dad had not paid $10,000 to someone for an immigration visa only to end up in detention and with no hope of being here legally for at least the next five years.
I wish a lot of things.
And I wish that the public schools had not cut afterschool tutoring, and that no one joined a gang and no one sold drugs because then we would not have been in lockdown until the raid finished. I wish mandatory Sundays were not reality for people lucky enough to have jobs and that landlords paid their taxes so people would not be evicted by constables and that broken windows would be fixed before winter.
And yet, here we all are. And I have way too many ideas so I keep asking God for patience and wisdom and self-control as I marvel. This was once a neighborhood church full of kids. And now it is again. And because other saints of the church built a large building we can take it over. And we are- the whole lower level and two rooms above.
And because people give we can feed, and we can offer help out of the pit, and we can stand in the face of all of the pain and violence and injustice and proclaim that the cross is greater.
As Lutherans this Sunday is often about remembering our history with a sense of wistfulness and singing and history.
Yet where I am re-formation is what we are about. Re-forming our lives. Because Christ offers us new life and promises that even though things may seem to lie in a wreck at our feet, what God does matters most and that what is most important, just as it was for Luther, is that real people can encounter God's word in their lives as they are.
And that fortress is not just about squirreling ourselves away and holding on while the rest of life is outside. But about believing that God is present and helping us in all of our trouble and that when it all seems too much, we can speak again those words of promise and cling to them because they are true.
We may take turns being strong, but we keep coming back to the truth and re-membering to add more and more and more people as we hold on to the thing that matters- that only God can save us. A God that over and over does just that.
And it may be that we tell the story over rice and beans, or a happy dance about scores, it may be that we laugh at our children who though they try us, bless us.
Today I realized that every time I thought in English, I also thought in Spanish.
Today I was blessed to hear we can start with a small group for a bilingual womens Bible study. And I met a man who will come and teach drumming to our kids. And got the card for a fitness instructor. Today I had a man offer a piano and accordion he cannot keep as he hopes to spend time with his kids here. And today I saw again the hope of our kids as they make this place their own, and as they tell me their dreams and sometimes their prayers.
Re-forming and re-membering
There is no reason for it but that God wants it.
When I ponder it all, I cannot explain it.
And though words fail me, I know that we are all being re-formed into an entirely different critter, but as one person said recently- entirely different critters is what God is all about.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Onward Christian Soldiers

When I was talking with the girls, one of the things they immediately told me when we were planning the service was the fact we had to sing “Onward Christian Soldiers” because it was Donald’s favorite. As I looked at the many accomplishments in Donald’s life I could see that pattern of always moving vigorously forward the way the music suggests by its very beat. Always onward. Throughout his life’s work, and his commitment to conservancy, evidenced this day, his commitment to local government. And vigorous describes his commitment to this place, where it was well known and understood that unless you were sick, you were here! Onward! And in his life in the military and many years beyond he also lived in that overarching theme of victory. But then I thought about this day.

A day where we are here to celebrate the life and witness of a man who touched lives and lived fully and also here to proclaim resurrection victory through Christ in the face of his death. And in our loss we sang “Onward Christian Soldiers.” No matter how strong or weak we feel this day, joining that same voice across time. Yet words that sound different as the cross is not leading a throng of mighty men, but a single casket. “Like a mighty army moves the church of God, walking where saints have trod.” We join the song across the ages of the many who now are the saints. And it is at this moment made clear-these are words we can only sing in faith. Grasping in faith that improbable kingdom of God where our only weapons are faith and the Spirit. Reminded that our hope comes from reliance on more than the promises and protection we can muster, but what comes only from the power of God.

As I read Donald’s obituary he seemed larger than life, he was a giant. Not in a self-proud way, but simply a man who used well the gifts he was given by the Creator. I only knew him in this past year- in a very different time. And he was aware of its difference. He had suffered significant chronic health concerns though, in spite of them, in later years, he marveled in the year 2000 that he never expected to see the turn of the century yet through the power of prayers God brought him moments of unexpected healing and another 12 years after that century mark. All the way to 85, sharing yet again that birthdate he and Donna have in common. I believe in these fading years Donald grasped not so much a feeling of marching by one’s own strength, but a feeling of being carried by God.

Our Scripture readings this day all point to the fact- that no matter how accomplished we were in our lives, no matter whether you can trace your family back to the 1700’s, it all comes down to what God gives us- new life in Christ, and faith and the Holy Spirit to believe. In the words of Isaiah, and the words of our Psalm- we hear we can look to God for comfort, and strength, believing that we will receive them and have peace. That God is our helper. Certainly in these last days for Donald and for his family God has provided what only God could give- helping hands, moments of serendipity and the ability to be together with him at the critical time. In these waning times, there have been many such tender moments to sustain.

In later years as Lillian and Donald were separated in two different units for care, Lori was able to arrange to take them to a Hampton Inn overnight so that they could have a meal together and stay together and share in times of closeness that feed our souls. A great act of love shared made even greater by the fact that the Hampton Inn chose to not charge Lori for the room- an act of love and kindness. And there are many of these stories- of God placing people and blessings at just the right time. Right down to the loving care of the folks at St Joe’s who were able to let the family know it was a critical time. They say that the last of our senses to fade is hearing and I believe it brought peace and comfort that he could hear his family in that moment God gave them together. They could gather like that small but mighty army, to surround him with love that greatest of gifts- To be able to be there to complete an earthly circle. As someone said, he was there for our first breath and we were able to be there for his last.

These are the moments when we truly hang upon Jesus’ promise in the gospel- I am the resurrection and the life as an earthly life ends. This is the moment when we have to believe that it is more than living this life excellently. We are here to speak and sing that resurrection and to say-I believe. Over and over again Jesus uses this word in the Gospel of John often. Believe, believe believe…It’s actually best translated “keep on believing, keep on living into belief.” Over and over again. Said by a God who knows we need to be reminded and offering up for us to hear-Jesus words as we read them, and as we share them with one another. Sharing faith in the cycle of places we travel- not only in places of joy or victory or birth, but in places of fear, and death and doubt. Keep Speaking, keep believing.

Words for us this day. These words of Jesus day came as Martha meets Jesus to tell him that her brother is dead and to chide him- “if only you had been here.” This day we instead give thanks not only for Donald’s life but for eternal life he has now received through the power of the cross of Christ. And to this we say- Lord we thank you that you are here!

And that because of you, death does not have the last word

Because ultimate victory is yours in Jesus the Christ. A victory you give to us to share. This is what pushes us onward- your power alone. And this is how you carry us- as we await the day when we’re gathered with Donald and all your army of saints

In peace and for eternity. Amen.

POSTSCRIPT: Because the deceased was a former Fish and Game Commissioner, there was an honor guard in uniform who stood watch at the casket and who served as pallbearers. Because he was a military veteran of distinction there were military honors at graveside. As we arrived at the cemetery, there was a dove that came and sat in the tree above my head. (A little worried about how that would turn out for me) After the committal, and the salute and taps were played, the dove flew away. As it happened the Fish and Game officers caught notice as did I. When we shared this with his daughters, one said that when he father helped her work on her house, every day there was a dove that came and sat there while they worked on her porch. It gave her comfort to think of her father checking one last time before flying off.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Reflection on Blessing of the Animals

Yesterday Toby and I set out in for the trail in the woods, probably with different objectives- Toby intended to sniff and mark everything while I intended to photograph some outstanding mushrooms and toadstools I had seen earlier and get a little exercise. We started from our cottage down the street and through a grassy section toward the highway. Suddenly along the walking path there was a man who asked if we had seen a runaway beagle. After noting that I had not, I remarked that I assumed he was looking for his. He said the dog actually belonged to a friend but they had spread out looking for it. We had just exchanged names when I saw out of the corner of my eye a short beagle snoofing its way through the grass down the hill from us. As her tags jingled I saw she was sporting a pink collar. I asked if the dog was a girl and pointed to the beagle ahead. He paused and said that he thought so, but then he stopped and asked,
 “ But even if that’s not the beagle I am looking for, it is SOMEONE’S dog headed for the road, right?”

We split up. He called her name while I hoped to draw her to Toby for the usual sniffing exchange. This was foiled by two things- one was Toby’s desire to sniff everywhere she had been as I was tugging on the leash to get him to my more important task. The second was the beagle’s belief that this was a game of chase as she careened closer to the road. We were able to coax her back and ultimately to us where we grabbed hold of her to check her tags. On the pink collar was a Minnie Mouse tag which in the back had her name. “Puzzle.”

It turns out this was the runaway in question. We had been looking for a Puzzle.
For want of a leash the man took off his belt and fashioned one and away they went after the usual thank yous and pleasantries. As we were about on our way a van pulled up and asked if I had seen a man named Drew. I was able to report that Drew had Puzzle and they were headed back to the cottage. More thank yous and off we all went. Exchanging only minimal and yet necessary information. Deed accomplished. Yet each of us in some way still thinking about what had reconnected or connected us.

As Toby and I headed on to the trail I was struck and still thinking about the comment of the man named Drew as we looked for the missing Puzzle.
“It is SOMEONE’S dog” as the precursor to why we should care no matter what.
Today we had our Blessing of the Animals which this year was Blessing of Animals and Their People. All kinds of dogs, and some who brought pictures of departed pets or named them, and one brave lone cat. One dog named Mercedes even sported pearls. In a circle of sorts, in the park, surrounded by the fall Flea Market, the two and four-legged gathered. We read from Genesis and the arranging of all things by our Creator, as we named ourselves and our pets and received blessing, and as we gave praise for all of creation, it really is the point-We are all someone’s.

This is why we have pets, and long for relationships. And it was obvious there was much love and care for our critters. But there are two things to take away that I think are even bigger- one being the most important- that we are all someone’s- we are all God’s. God who created an entire arrangement for our care and companionship and did so out of love. God who redeems all creation so we are always someone’s in the work of the cross begun at our baptism. And that as much as we love our pets we are then called to look for others so that no one is ever under the impression that they are no one’s someone.
After all of the pets and owners were blessed, I invited anyone else desiring a blessing to come forward in our little circle in the park. Probably about 6 people did. I assumed all was complete when an elderly gentleman came to me and said, "Pastor, these two guys were not blessed." Because everyone is SOMEONE'S.

Today we gathered as young and old, Christian, Jewish, a little of everything, gay and straight, single and married, partnered and widowed, to remind ourselves that we are someone’s and that those relationships are with each other and with God.
And no matter when it seems like a puzzle in life, there is a place for us
 and we are the ones God is looking for.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Proclaiming Jesus-God's Power Rising Out of the Hurt

Here in the city we have an afterschool ministry three days a week, offering a safe place for kids to get a hot meal after school, get help with their homework, work on literacy, and sometimes do crafts and games. Last year we were averaging about 45 kids a day and another 30 kids on top of that, who did not come for the program but came to pick up weekender bags of groceries we distribute one day a week.
Last year we found we needed more space and moved the program from a row house by the church into the basement of the church with a larger kitchen and more space.
This year when we opened our doors, and by day 2 we had 60 kids. By the second week we had to cut it off at 70 but between others coming who we could not accept and a few kids we had to ask to leave for behavioral reasons we could have been at 90.
When we had hit 60 kids on day 2, I literally went into re-think mode with our volunteer director and we grew again, moving into another room of the basement. We are now in all of the rooms of the basement.
And we are scrambling everywhere for volunteers but God is gracing us in many ways.
This is all the backdrop for what I really wanted to write about.

One of the strengths of our ministry is that we offer something different than the street and in some cases, offer something different than home. We know that sadly there are many reasons why the kids bond heavily with us- some are starved for attention as much as for food. Some have no role models for how to get along in the world. Sadly I can look at some and see their future stretching out in front of me and know it will involve jailtime, teen pregnancy or substance abuse.
But most of the kids we see are delightful, and funny and loving and trying hard to get by in school.
A few of our kids are gifted academically or are real models of leadership in places like JROTC or the arts.
These are the things that sometimes surprise others-
just like it is easy to assume what means to live in the city, we can fall into a pattern of thinking we know what city people are like. And when you live here it is easy to succumb to the belief that only certain things are possible. Or only certain people can be trusted and quickly people fall into defensive or offensive strategies. These are the things that our neighborhood kids learn.
Some learn that yelling and fighting are the answer. Some learn that lying and accusing are a good way to avoid things. And in groups of 60, this means we have to try hard to reinforce why the culture of this place is different.
Last week a small group of kids began to gather around one young girl. I have watched her almost patrolling the neighborhood. She is fiesty and bossy and physically confrontational. More importantly she has the capacity to get others to do her bidding.
Last week as she had left on our grocery distribution day, she came back to the door and demanded I find her little brother because she had forgotten him. I suggested she walk to the other door where people were not lined up to get groceries and others could help her. She began yelling and encouraging her posse to yell at me. She and another girl held up a cell phone and demanded that unless I left what I was doing to find this boy she was calling 911 to say I had kidnapped him. I laughed it off and sure enough he came out from around the corner from the door I had said would be the place to go.
I have watched this girl shakedown others for things she wants and at 10 years of age, she has well developed patterns and minions to help her.
Fast forward to this week when I could not be at the program on a rainy day but was called and told that outside the building of the church there had been a big fight. Where kids were holding down a boy so that this same dominant girl could hit him. The noise had made a local mom go to the window to see what was going on only to see that it was her son being hit. She came out and the fight broke up. But needless to say there was a lot of commotion and emotion as she came to our volunteers and wanted to know what had happened. And at least two moms were furious with each other about what had happened.

Of course the challenge was, while these were all kids from the program. The fight happened outside and just down the street, not inside. And we had not seen it all go down. But following the policy we had put into place, the director called the adult contact for each of the kids connected with the fight and invited them to a meeting the next day. The goal was that each kid would come with his or her parent or guardian and we would talk about what happened and who was involved in what way and what it all meant.
The moms connected with the victim, and those seen as holding the victim came.
No one came connected with the girl who was the hitter.
There we were with the three kids and the two moms, the volunteer director and myself as the pastor.
Since the moms are Hispanic and this was an emotional subject, English quickly turned into Spanish as the mom of the boy who was hit and then the boy himself talked about what happened. Then the mom of the other two kids began to talk and to ask questions first of the boy, but then quickly turning to her own two kids and demanding them to tell the truth. She told them she would not punish them for telling the truth but that they needed to be honest.
What emerged was that they had been with this aggressive girl and another larger boy who was not connected with our program but was known to the girl. That when the physical confrontation began the one kid was trying to break it apart and the other was trying to keep the victim from responding with aggression. That it all went down fast and that it was too big for them. That they had not realized what would happen.
I pushed a little bit on this and reminded the one girl of the events of the week before, pointing out that when she was not with this aggressive girl, she was a totally different person. That I was saddened to see who she became and that it would not be a path she should choose.
Both of the moms knew of the aggressive girl and shared other stories of bad connected with her, how they have told their kids to stay clear and this is why.
At this point the mom of the two kids confessed that she had no idea when she signed her daughter and son up that our program was at a church, but that as a believer she now was embarrassed. She spoke of having been in a bad car accident and being brought back to life and how she promised God she would live because she knew there was something she was to do. And how it was a blessing that while this was hard, God brought her here.
She and the other mom commisserated about being single moms and both looked at their kids and told them- these people are doing great things for us because they are Christians- they are doing this because of Jesus. You all need to apologize and remember that we are not going to act like this. They pushed hard, almost too hard, as the kids have tears in their eyes.
I turned to the bookcase behind me and picked up the cross sitting there. I held it up and told the kids that things went down fast and we all make mistakes but what matters most is what this cross means- forgiveness because God loves us. That I wanted each of them to be there and to be the really great people I know God has made them to be. And that this cross is also about the power of peace.
Transformative love was taking shape.
The two moms not only were no longer ready to take each other on, but had connected.
We talked about how our neighborhood is not the place people assume it is, and does not have to be the place some want to make it be. That this is an opportunity to think about how we walk together and with Jesus to make it be the place it ought to be.
We stood up to end our meeting and as we did, the door opened and in came the aggressive girl with four kids in tow but no adult. The moms looked at her and said
"We're done here, let's not revisit all this again."
We reminded the girl that to be here she needed to have an adult. That when we could sit with her and an adult, she could return and that we hoped that was possible.
She was escorted out.
I really wish she could return but without adult buy-in, my fourteen months of knowing her suggest there is not great hope otherwise.
Sometimes when I have said that we could reach out to the parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents of these kids, there has been trepidation, a kind of "if you think so" that belies lack of trust by our volunteers. We're not sure perhaps that we should. While in some cases this reaching out is not possible or fruitful, God showed that for us to use the broadbrush approach that keeps others as recipients of our benevolence and not co-workers in the kingdom, means we miss out on a part of the amazingly transformative power of that cross.
As we stood to end our time and before I could ask, one of the moms asked if we could all hold hands and pray. What a perfect way to solidify where we had been and who now united us.
As the kids went down to the program, we talked about our vision and hopes and about how they might be helping hands as they were able, not only because they now have a more connected interest, but because we have others who need to hear, and how some of those need to have people they can culturally relate to. I apologized that my speaking of Spanish is not as quick as my understanding what I read or hear.
"Oh Pastor, we help you. This is how we can help you."
We talked about worship and their desire to come, but also the possibility of developing an informal Wednesday night worship time that connected with the ending time of our afterschool program.
We talked about how to share this vision in their respective parts of the neighborhood and the power of women to nurture change rather than be victims. And to demand more. I am reminded of Leymah Gbowee's work- "Pray the Devil Back to Hell."

This fall I wondered why now the sky rained kids, then I wondered why this violence, but out of this I am increasingly convinced that God is breaking open something new. Healing and hope and promise.

There will still be violent kids, but my prayer is that we won't just turn away or yell about it.
We are going to proclaim Jesus into it.
Step by step, trusting in God's work in all of us.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Reflectionary thoughts and a sermon with no title

Spending alot of time thinking about this weeks Lectionary- for those who do not know I practiced family law for 22 years before entering seminary. But in my own family tree, divorce and heartbreak are pretty rampant. At the same time I am seeing this week's lesson not so much for the easy to grab onto- man and woman=marriage, or what do we say about divorced people or even only the treatment of women and children in society. These are all worthy of conversation but what about the larger picture of all the ways we cut out and cast off in relationships while God says it's not good to be alone? Right down to the techno savvy debates about friending and unfriending and following in Facebook and Twitter (though this last bit is probably lost on most of my flock) Here is my rambling so far- thoughts?

There was a couple who long ago had made their vows, and could proudly say that they had stayed together no matter what. They could at least say that. But long after the days of hope and promise and being bound together as one, little by little it had all fallen apart. And they found themselves in a place where she cut all of the pictures of them in half and threw his side away, and he had cast her aside for the affections of another. And she gave him the silent treatment which made every meal at their table exquisite torture. And he would disappear but then return. And she would get up at 4 am and make his lunch for work each day. But no one would call it a blessed relationship. Or even really a relationship at all. Some might even say that a divorce would have been a blessing. There are many such relationships where in some way, it all goes wrong. And many reasons why. Places where people wondered why they ever walked away from where they had been, to end up in such a place of pain or shame, or anger or regret. Places where people wondered why if this was a relationship blessed by God, it had gone astray, and where some in pain would shout out that God would judge the other in the end. people would come to see me in my first career as a lawyer to find out how the law would fix this. I listened as one woman told me that her abusive husband said that the church would shun her if she left, and as one man told me he was met at the door by his wife who told him she had found someone on the internet and she just didn’t need him anymore. I have hours or perhaps days’ worth of stories. Over and over again I saw people walking with great wounds and disappointment and bitterness. Moments of regret for so many things that had been done or they wished had been. Some came seeking justification, some revenge, some a life raft in the swirl of financial and emotional needs. How can two households run on what can only sustain one? It was hard to not reduce people to laws and numbers and statistics in the challenge of whose needs matter most. What do we do with this brokenness? I used to start out by telling people at some point that there were three things I could not guarantee they would receive no matter how gifted in the law I was. I could not get them “a pound of flesh”, or a meaningful apology and I could not turn back the hands of time. In short I had no real solution for the brokenness.

We find ourselves today in another challenging place with Jesus. Last week we heard graphic language about how God feels when we place stumbling blocks in people’s relationships with God, and cut them off from community. We heard that in the times we cast others aside or disregard the dependent, God wants our attention. And we move from hearing about the plight of children who were often caught in the wake of the decisions of others that left them hurt or worse, to the plight of women who were the object of marriage contracts and yet sometimes viewed as disposable and without concern for their being separated from the embrace of companionship and support. More talk about the pain and heartbreak of what happens when we cut off and cast out. And I would like to suggest that just as last week we could get caught up in the language about body parts, we could today get caught up only in the words “divorce and adultery”, or even the language of “man and woman.” There are lots of ways we divorce each other all the time. Cut off and cast out.

In the broader narrative across our lessons we hear that God does not intend us to be alone. We are created and intended to be in relationships- to have companionship and joy, to know embrace and love, to share comfort and care and to help each other. And when for a variety of reasons, and in a variety of ways, we are both on the giving and receiving end of broken relationship, it grieves God. Because God’s hope is even deeper than ours that we will be blessed and be a blessing to others in our relationships. And that when others see this, they will be amazed at our God. Sometimes it is hard to even hear that we are a part of God’s family, when our earthly understanding of families may look and feel more busted up than whole. It is in these moments Jesus again sees our need, and reaches out, embraces and blesses. Because beneath all our words and actions, justifications and regrets, we are those little children who need this. And so do our brothers and sisters around us in God’s world. Even the ones we cannot remotely fathom ought to be so blessed. We are forgiven and claimed by a God who in Christ, casts off our brokenness and failings and claims us through the cross. We can’t really expect or earn this, yet, by God’s grace, today again we meet Jesus at the table and hear the good news that in all of our need and need for forgiveness that we are not cut off or cast out but invited. Even in our conflicted places, we are invited, forgiven, healed and fed. The solution to our brokenness can only come from this. And yet in union with Christ, it does come.

Today happens to be World Communion Sunday, and if we really think about those words –World Communion- the whole world drawn together and made one in a relationship forged by Christ’s love, it means that it is a comfort and challenge that God’s family and table are that wide. But Thank God there is a place for us all. Blessed indeed.

Let’s listen to God in the words of Jan Richardson, a blessing entitled- “And the Table will be Wide”

And the table

will be wide.

And the welcome

will be wide.

And the arms

will open wide

to gather us in.

And our hearts

will open wide

to receive.

And we will come

as children who trust

there is enough.

And we will come

unhindered and free.

And our aching

will be met

with bread.

And our sorrow

will be met

with wine.

And we will open our hands

to the feast

without shame.

And we will turn

toward each other

without fear.

And we will give up

our appetite

for despair.

And we will taste

and know

of delight.

And we will become bread

for a hungering world.

And we will become drink

for those who thirst.

And the blessed

will become the blessing

And everywhere

Will be the feast.

Jan Richardson the Painted Prayerbook

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

They Don't Call Him Prince of Peace for Nothing

It sure is a little hard to say “Praise to you, O Christ” to today’s gospel, isn’t it? With all its talk of cutting off body parts and casting off people. The language is graphic to be sure, intended to get our attention. And it does. Yet I want us to look beyond that to what is behind those words. To point to the idea that we, as those trying to follow Jesus, are supposed to focus upon the fact that what do is in Jesus name and by God’s power. How this is lived out is always broader than we think. When I was growing up, our church hd about 2000 members, and a vibrant afterschool program and lots of fellowship meals. So of course the real hub of the church was- the kitchen. There were teams of kitchen ladies who worked to produce massive quantities of yummy things. Some had special aprons and a regimen of what needed to be done to keep the kitchen humming. Overseeing it all was THE kitchen lady whose first name was Alice but even the other ladies did not call her by her first name. She ran a tight ship, with everything in its place and time. The ladies were friendly and helpful, but you knew NOT want to go to the window to ask for a drink or anything else when they were cleaning up. Only certain people could be kitchen ladies or be in the kitchen at all. Once we put together a sub sale and were making subs in the kitchen on a Saturday to sell for our mission trip. We got in trouble for using the kitchen without them. In later years, as the ladies aged, it became harder to do the same work. Yet it was a challenge to allow others to join in the work- they resisted. People still needed to be fed, but the question really was whether they would accept that others could also give someone that glass of water or a meal for a mission trip, or whether they would go down preserving that only the right people do this. By the way, I am talking about a church…I am not mocking the ladies who had their heart in the right place, but we all fall into patterns even when we didn’t mean to. But whether we are talking about kitchen ladies or landscaping guys, or whatever, the question really is when we claim to follow Jesus are we really just serving up the same dish as the rest of the world or whether there is something distinct in our flavor? We’re trying to live into following Jesus, but we dosome crazy things when we feel insecure. And let’s be honest- we are the ones who are here – but we can forget whose name matters.

The disciples in the gospel were a long way from that first moment of new possibility when the journey with Jesus began. Not ready to let all that “deny yourself” stuff sink in. Still preferring to grouse or take matters into their own hands. Jesus sent them out with power to cast out demons, but they discovered it was trickier than they thought. They forgot to put their trust in God’s power. But then they focused lots of energy on who is the greatest and the most right, only to be reminded it’s not about power the way they think. Now they’ve come upon someone who’s entirely beyond their circle who has no fear in invoking Jesus’ name and casting out demons, and those who’ve have been there day in and day out with Jesus are stymied. How dare this guy just say a few words and do it! It can’t just be anyone doing this. They repeatedly try to stop him until they succeeded, and they come tell Jesus they have taken care THAT! Quality control! Never mind that people were being healed, right?

But…And Jesus corrected them yet again. We can all lose sight of the fact that what matters is remembering this all is in Jesus’ name. Not ours. We get uncomfortable with those who are different, or have insecurity about ourselves. And it might lead us to travel from good order or to bureaucracy, to manage our anxiety. We want to be affirmed in our value and point out who is NOT one of US. But again Jesus insists otherwise- whoever does a good work or deed in his name won’t be able to do otherwise later. We say “whoever is not for us is against us,” but Jesus says the much broader and more positive- “whoever is not against us, is for us.” Then we hear the real switch-up. Jesus promises that anyone who does a good deed for one of his people because they follow Him, will be rewarded. Not only might they do good, it might be for us.

As those who are care givers, can we imagine being on the receiving end of care in Jesus’ name? Dependent upon grace in another? Even from the “the wrong person”? We’re prone to draw lines between the “in” and the “out.” We want to decide. Sometimes we even decide what we believe about entire groups of “others” always assuming we are the “in.” There is sadly a lot of this in the news. When we fall into this, we spend more time focusing on the negative rather than promoting the good. And more time focusing on ourselves and our name than promoting the one in whose name we are to live and serve- JESUS.

Again this day Jesus is calling us to open up how we think about who God will use, even those who name God differently. To step farther into God’s broader view of community so desperately needed in our city, much less our world. This is how we can share life among ourselves and our neighbors in peace. To be a community that gathers and remembers our mutual responsibility for each other, willing to share both in our struggles and well being, accepting we can both give and receive from each other. We have a chance to break open a new possibility- it’s not only possible, it’s essential and central to following Christ. As one writer notes, sometimes our zeal for the gospel – or perhaps, more honestly, our fear of those who are different from us – places a stumbling block making it harder for others to see and feel the love of God in Christ.

Years ago, there were popular bracelets that said, "What would Jesus do?" More importantly we are pointed to "what Jesus actually did." Jesus says don’t stop someone who is doing good even if they're not a member of your group, nor refuse the help of someone even if you don't know what they believe. Instead focus on making Christ known. Promote what you love instead of bashing what you don’t.

God has given us love and life so we can respond by loving God and each other.

This is being distinct from the world and how we can "be at peace with one another" and have life.

Again this day, Jesus gives us pretty good advice, but then again they don’t call Him the Prince of Peace for nothing.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Jesus Prince of Peace or Can You Lead When_____?

I have decided there should be a course in seminary entitled- "Can You Lead with Peace When It Looks Like This?" I speak from experience. Last year I preached while I heard the furnace blowing a pipe off the wall in the basement. Because "here I stand I can do no other- Lord help me." And that turned out alright- I mean not for the pipe or the furnace for that matter, but we were all OK. Frankly that is a miracle. And as it was happening I knew I should be scared, but oddly I wasn't. Then there was my non-worship event with the guy who broke into the office which I blogged elsewhere.
So tonite, I had agreed to cover for my sister in ministry in the city so she could be at a quinceanera for one of her confirmation kids. Simple informal evening worship- thank you Jesus, that sounds lovely. And it was. But I always travel with my phone because I have parishioners in ill health and a family and the three buildings of the parish. I put the phone on vibrate in my bag behind the altar. As I am leading the prayers I hear it buzzing. Then as the elements are coming forward I hear it and while the congregation is singing I look down and see it is the sexton and the alarm company's calls I have missed, and as I am saying the words of institution a third call.
I have to confess that by now I was seriously believing there is the real possibility of a fire at my church. But here I am and the people are about to encounter Jesus and all I can do is lead them in the best prayer of all, the one Jesus taught us.
Ironically I had just preached about how we can let our anxieties get the best of us and we can forget about the fact that every thing we do is in Jesus name believing in God's power. And so, struck by the irony, I picked up the bread and just kept telling people that this is Jesus for you.
As it turned out I must say that trying to tighten a screw on one of the alarm pulls had set off the system. The sexton was calling to say he had it under control and then the alarm company telling me they were sending trucks and another call to tell me there really was no fire. For which I indeed give thanks.
But the last line of my sermon ( the one I will probably post after it is preached again tomorrow) is this-
Jesus gives us good advice and they don't call him the Prince of Peace for nothing.

That may indeed be the thesis for the class entitled " Can You Lead When..."
And for that matter when all we are trying to do is follow you, Lord.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Hey There is This Church...

This week began a new year for our afterschool ministry, the Dove's Nest. Last year we welcomed a little more than 40 kids each week and have navigated our first year together. Over the summer we gave things a fresh coat of paint, did some planning, picked up some new volunteers. And I was feeling ready to start a Bible club come October because some of our kids want to talk about Jesus and what it means to follow Him. And as we made our usual contact with the schools, I was feeling like we had this thing NAILED! We were lookin' good and ready to go.. The neighborhood was eager, the kids were excited. And that first day we had 36 kids. More than first days of the past, but before we could wonder what that meant we got to Day Two and it was like the sky opened up and rained kids. Almost Sixty of them. They just kept coming! An amazing thing! We had prayed to be able to reach out to our neighbors and here it was! But sixty kids was overwhelming. I was away with other obligations and when I opened the door to come downstairs I could hear the noise, and then I saw the almost pandemonium. It was just about too much.

There was lots of prayer, and Carmen and I did quick brainstorming, creating entirely separate spaces for homework and reading from the areas for eating and games and crafts. I found that moving furniture is quite therapeutic when thinking about big things with God. A lot of worry, trying to stay sane, and think about safety and our mission as the church. And wouldn't you know that Jesus is talking about welcoming children “Whoever welcomes a little child welcomes me.” “Let the little children come to me.”

If you’re like me you’ve seen these sayings with cherubic children dressed immaculately, with perfect hair and blue eyes, depicted in pictures in the Sunday School. Innocent, trusting, attentive, and delightful children at the knee of a fresh and glowing gentle Jesus.

Yet this was not the world of children in Jesus’ day where 30% would die by age six, and 60 percent were gone by age sixteen. They had no status, subject to the will of others, sometimes seen as one more mouth to feed, or an afterthought. Although children represented the future, they had to survive the present- hunger, disease, and dislocation. Even worse some would lose one or both parents. Then there was no safety net. The orphan was the weakest and most vulnerable member of society. Being an orphan was almost certainly a death sentence. Children were always on the margin, affected by all the squabbling of others looking to be the greatest, by adults acting out disputes in ways we call “childish” – those things we hear of the gospel and James this day.

And for our kids here, some of the statistics are different but much what they face is the same today. They’re hungry, and insecure, and longing for a future, caught in effects of the decisions of adults. The fray of school budget cuts. Shuffled around because landlords in Nueva York told their parents it’s cheaper to live in Reading, but not about the lack of jobs. They take your money and run, til you find yourself locked out when the landlord was finally "sheriffed" for failure to pay taxes, and you’re scrambling. Some kids are here because no one is home or wants them home. Some are so far behind but hope we’re their resource for change. Some are so desperate for attention and love they’d stay forever if we let them. Some are so hurting, with desperate needs, but money is in short supply. Facing hunger and need and dislocation.
And the school, taking us at our word that food and tutoring and literacy matter said-

 "Hey, there is this church..."
To the powerless- Hey there is this church. Our church at 4th and Windsor.

Where God is sending kids and telling us to welcome them. Jesus keeps telling us to welcome them.

Because there is this church.

It is not lost upon me that Jesus keeps placing children here saying, “Look.” Draw near to what God is showing.”

The child in the gospel shows us God’s grace. This is what it means that Jesus loves them. The little children are more than just something to be managed they are grace breaking in. Being servants in this way truthfully takes everything we’ve got. It tests our patience, our resources and capacity for the things we think we shouldn’t have to do. And to see just how long our arms can stretch to embrace them. Yet Jesus says see them, welcome them, feed them, lift them up.

We have a history of this in this church- 101 years of meeting needs even when it seemed hard. From starting a Sunday school because people needed it, to building a church. From drawing orphans from the Childrens' Home  to caring for the myriads of children in the neighborhood. People have told me with a gleam in their eyes that we used to just open the doors and the children came.
God is still sending the children of the neighborhood through these doors. And the challenge is to see them  not just something for us to manage but for us to see in them and to share with them God’s grace.

We are the powerless who cannot earn our salvation, but are blessed by our savior. And then we’re reminded that Jesus’ words to keep welcoming “little children” are a challenging task for those already graced.
To love like Jesus- to keep embracing and keep serving as God continues to appear to the world in the small and powerless.

This past week it was not easy. After moving a lot of furniture I was feeling stooped low. And yet this is where I saw God. An old rabbi once said that to see God you must stoop low. We see God when we continue to stoop low, draw near and share God’s embrace. This past week I watched our people stoop to hug a boy so angered by another who taunted him he wanted to punch someone’s lights out. They embraced him and helped him to let it go. And I watched as little ones almost too small to get their meals were lovingly embraced by volunteers stooping to help them not get knocked over by the herd. As someone stooped to clean the mess another left behind for the umpteenth time. Cleaned it up so no one would slip. And I watched a girl with learning disabilities struggle to read and share a hug as she confessed she was panic stricken to read it at all but glad someone let her.

Jesus placed kids in our midst and this is a glimpse of what God is up to in our dedicated volunteers.
I saw God in them and in the children. God is here!!

There ARE still so many...

There are still just too many "little children"

As I read the lead in to today’s gospel I told you how those disciples empowered by Jesus to preach and heal and cast out torment were so mystified by why they could not help one boy and Jesus’ response was that this one takes prayer. As we contemplate how we will indeed welcome all the children, it does take prayer. So my prayer is that you will help.

Can you help to listen to a child read, or check homework or just listen to someone tell about their day?

Can you reach out to others you know and ask if they can join us in this ministry?

Most importantly, you can pray- pray that God will send not only the children but the hands to embrace them. Pray for our volunteers- I know they will be thankful.

God is still sending children.

Because there is this church.

This day as we celebrate the grace of our history

let us also pray God’s grace and guidance to keep stretching our arms and hearts wide in welcome.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Holy Fibs and Holy Truth

Yesterday I again found myself in the sacred space of sitting with a dying woman. Death and I have sat together alot in the last eight weeks. Each time I am with a saint laboring toward peace there are themes that emerge. Some are looking for resolution, others are longing for reunion. There are often things they say that reveal the core of their being.
Over the last weeks of visiting this particular saint she has been most concerned that she has not been able to be in church to bring her offering envelopes.
She is a person of few means who literally puts a couple quarters in each envelope. She does not drive and had been dependent upon a ride to get to church
but whenever she came, there were enough envelopes for the number of weeks since the last time.
She would toddle in to "her" pew and would be there early. I always knew she was in church because the fluffy white wig that was outsized in proportion to the rest of her was usually the first thing that would catch my eye.
Over my time here as the pastor, I came to know that she had been married and then after her husband died, had found love again, but for an elderly woman on Social Security with no pension and an elderly veteran, marriage was unaffordable. It was hard enough.
I had visited and provided food, and fuel assistance. And communion and anointing.
I was told by many that the old vet was gruff and hard to like.
Little by little I learned that while the old veteran was still a curmudgeonly guy who was never going to come to church, but in his way he did what he could for her and for her faith life.
Even calling a few months ago to tell me she was pretty sick, and on a hot day I made the trek out.
She was in bed with a fan blowing, not dressed like church, but in pajamas and sans wig. But her three wigs were all resting on the dresser on their hairdresser heads. She was very worried about those envelopes of quarters and out of the corner of my eye I saw the old vet shaking his head "no." He did not share and I left wondering. But before I did, we had shared communion. He joined us and owned that it was the first time he had been offered communion in years. It changed things

In these last weeks, after trips back and forth between the hospital and the extended care facility, and the decision to simply provide palliative care, it has become clear. What she had been too proud to share was that she has an inoperable tumor. What is now taking her life is the onset of pneumonia and I watch each day as she becomes more and more a shell of her former physical self. Her jawline and collarbone more pronounced. Now the old vet and I have talked out in the hall about what is to come. Where it is clear that the reason he shakes his head "no" about those quarters is that with the cost of her care, there are no quarters.
And yet this has been her fixation.

As though as she ponders it all she worries that in the absence of being caught up with her offering the holy gates will be locked and she will be lost.
And so we collaborated in a holy fib.

It reminded me of years ago on the medical drama "House" where a woman had been driving her family in a car and made an error in driving that resulted in a terrible accident that took the lives of her husband and family. As she lay dying in a hospital bed a couple years later, still punishing herself for the accident, she was calling for her husband. The normally curmudgeonly doctor who had unearthed both her story and her husband's wedding band, put the ring on and held her hand. She stroked the hand with the wedding band, and a tear rolled down her face.  She believed her husband was there and she could have peace. Though no one would consider a "House" character and holy in the same sentence, it was a holy fib.

So here the old vet and I found ourselves. Confronted with this fixation that left no peace. And in the face of the repeating theme of the offering envelopes we knowingly colluded. As she worried about the envelopes I assured her that he and I had taken care of things and everything was caught up. She looked at him and he nodded his head and assured her that was right. It took two times but she eventually accepted the holy fib and could lay to rest the issue of the envelopes. That was a couple days ago.

Yesterday when I came to sit with her the mere opening of eyes was a struggle as was speaking. I just sat and held her hand and offered a prayer. At the end of the prayer, she became very alert and very concerned.
Will God REALLY take care of me?
I need to confess because I have done things wrong
Will I be in trouble?
She was not able to speak about what the wrong things might be about
But it was kind of like the back story of what the envelopes represented-
what if I am not "caught up" with God?

I spoke God's forgiveness and reminded her of God's promises
for her
God's love
for her
and made the sign of the cross on her forehead to remind her
this is how much God loves you
God is here with you
and will be there to greet you where you are going
Replacing the holy fib with words of holy truth

She looked up at the ceiling and said
God if you love me just take me
take away this pain

My prayer for her is that this indeed what happens for her soon
Rest in God's everlasting arms

I held her hand til she fell asleep and hope perhaps there will soon be a good and peaceful transition to the world where there is no catching up to do.

Monday, September 17, 2012

So here is what it takes to vote

Since Alex does not have satisfactory photo ID issued by a government agency or government employer and is not attending a PA state University, she must have the right birth certificate and a valid passport to now obtain a PA non-driver ID so she can vote. Here is what it takes. Only once she has these forms can she have ID to vote. She cannot even request her own birth certificate. This also means that until we have the right documents she cannot drive.
Oh yeah and no one told her about this whole other process because it was not operable in August.
And this is not the PennDOT employees fault- they were just doing what they were told.

She can register to vote in Ohio where she is in college which however does nothing for her status in Pennsylvania.

See below:

Obtaining a Free PennDOT Secure ID for Voting Purposes

New Department of State Voter ID

All forms and publications related to obtaining an ID for voting purposes are now available or will be available shortly in the following languages; Arabic (العربية), Chinese (中文), French (Français), Hindi (हिंदी), Khmer ( ), Korean (한국어), Russian (Русский), Spanish (Español), Ukrainian (Украинский) and Vietnamese (Tiếng Việt). Please check back periodically; as forms are translated they will be posted to PennDOT's website.

For a Secure Pennsylvania Photo ID

If a voter does not POSSESS PROOF OF IDENTIFICATION FOR VOTING PURPOSES as defined at section 102(z.5)(2) of the Pennsylvania Election Code (25 P.S. § 2602(z.5)(2)) and requires proof of identification for voting purposes, the following applies:

You must declare under oath or affirmation by completing the Oath/ Affirmation Voter ID form that you do not possess any of the following forms of identification: In particular,

-Identification issued by the United States Government that includes my name, a photograph, and an expiration date that is not expired.*

- Identification issued by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that includes my name, a photograph, and an expiration date that is not expired (unless issued by the Department of Transportation, then the expiration of the identification cannot be more than 12 months past the expiration date).

- Identification issued by a municipality of this Commonwealth to an employee of that municipality that includes my name, a photograph, and an expiration date that is not expired.

- Identification issued by an accredited Pennsylvania public or private institution of higher learning that includes my name, a photograph, and an expiration date that is not expired.

- Identification issued by a Pennsylvania care facility that includes my name, a photograph, and an expiration date that is not expired.

*In the case of a document from an agency of the armed forces of the United States or their reserve components, including the Pennsylvania National Guard, that establishes the voter as a current member or a veteran of the United States Armed Forces or National Guard and that does not designate a specific date on which the document expires, the document must include a notation indicating that the expiration is indefinite.

$13.50 fee for acquiring an Identification Card will be waived for individuals completing the Oath/ Affirmation Voter ID form. All identification documentation is still required to obtain an Identification Card as follows:


To obtain a Pennsylvania Photo Identification card for voting purposes, an individual needs to visit a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Driver License Center with a completed Application for an Initial Photo Identification Card; form DL-54A, and the following:

Social Security Card


One of the following:

• Certificate of U.S. Citizenship

• Certificate of Naturalization

• *Birth Certificate with a raised seal


• Two proofs of **residency such as lease agreements, current utility bills, mortgage documents, W-2 form, tax records

*If they do not have a birth certificate with a raised seal and are a Pennsylvania native; and do not have one of the acceptable, alternative forms of photo identification to vote; and will provide a signed oath/affirmation form, when visiting the PennDOT driver license center, they must:

• Tell the PennDOT customer service representative they are a Pennsylvania native who needs a photo ID for voting purposes, and do not have a certified copy of their birth certificate;

• Sign an oath/affirmation that they do not have an acceptable form of ID for voting purposes and the photo ID is needed for voting purposes;

• Show a Social Security card and two proofs of residence, such as a deed, lease, tax bill, or utility bill;

• Fill out a DL-54A form requesting a non-driver photo ID and;

• Complete the HD01564F (Request for Certification of Birth Record for Voter ID Purposes Only) form, which collects information such as birth name, mother and father's name and place of birth. This Department of Health form is available at all Driver Licensing Centers.

PennDOT will then forward the completed form to the Department of Health, which maintains birth records. After verifying the birth record is on file, the Department of Health will securely transmit this information to PennDOT. PennDOT will then notify them by letter that their birth record has been confirmed. They may then return to any driver license center, with the above noted documentation, to receive your free photo ID for voting purposes. This verification process will take up to ten days and does not require the payment of a fee.

**Students at least 18 years of age: Accepted proofs of residency include the room assignment paperwork (considered a lease) and one bill with their dorm room address on it. Bank statements, paystubs and credit card bills are all acceptable. Other Individuals who may not have any bills, leases or mortgage documents in their name may bring the person with whom they are living along with their Driver�s License or Photo ID to a driver license center as one proof of residence. Homeless individuals can use the address of a shelter as their residence provided they visit a Driver's License Center with an employee from the shelter that has an employee photo identification issued by the shelter and a letter on the shelter's letterhead indicating that the homeless individual stays at the shelter.

Step 2

When their application and supporting documentation have been reviewed and processed, a Driver License Center staff member will direct the applicant to the Photo Center to have their photo taken for their Photo ID card.

Step 3

Once their photo has been taken, they will be issued a Photo ID card.

So you just want to get a better birth certificate? No problem:

From Pennsylvania Department of Health Website

An applicant must be eighteen (18) years of age or older to apply for a certified copy

of his/her birth record or the record of an immediate family member. The Division of

Vital Records issues only certified copies of birth with the raised seal that are acceptable for numerous uses, i.e. passport, Social Security, employment, and personal identification. Records are available for births from 1906 to the present.

Eligible Persons Who May Request a Birth Record

• Person named on the birth record

• Legal representative

• Immediate family members (husband; wife; parent/step-parent; brother/sister/half

brother/half sister; son or daughter; stepson/stepdaughter; grandparent/great

grandparent (specify maternal or paternal); grandchild/great grandchild). If the

person named on the birth record is deceased, a family member who is not an

"immediate family member" must submit a copy of the death certificate to be eligible

to receive the birth record. A step-parent or step-child is required to submit

additional documentation supporting their relationship.

• Power of Attorney: If you have been granted Power of Attorney (POA) for the

person named on the record, it will be necessary to submit a notarized POA

document that contains the original signatures of the parties involved, including the

original notary's signature and seal. If you do not wish to send the original POA, you

may file the original notarized POA with the Clerk of Orphans' Court division of the

Court of Common Pleas (usually in the county where the person granting the power

of attorney resides) to obtain a certified copy of this document issued by the court.

You may then submit the certified copy of the POA document that includes the seal

of the court, to our office to process your request. We will return this document to

you upon completion of your request. If you cannot comply with these instructions,

an eligible requestor is required to apply for this record.

Information Required

• Full name at birth of person named on the birth record (if name has changed since

birth due to adoption, court order, or any other reason other than marriage, include

changed name)

• Date of birth

• City and county of birth

• Gender of person named on birth record

• Parents' names, including mother’s maiden name

• Relationship to the person

• Reason for the request (if applicable, include specific information, such as name of

foreign country for which certified copy is needed, etc.)

• Applicant's signature

• Applicant's daytime telephone number, including area code

• Applicant's mailing address


• $10.00 fee per copy (Please do not send cash. Make check or money order payable

to "Vital Records.")

• This fee may be waived for individuals who served or are currently serving in

the Armed Forces and their dependents.

Online Requests can be made at this website:

Obtaining Certified Copies of Birth Records by Mail Request

• Mail requests are processed in approximately three weeks from the date of receipt.

• Include $10.00 fee per copy. Please do not send cash. Make check or money order

payable to “Vital Records." This fee will be waived for individuals who served or are

currently serving in the Armed Forces and their dependents. Refer to application

form for more information.

• The individual requesting the record must submit a legible copy of his or her valid

government issued photo identification. Examples of acceptable identification are a

state issued driver's license or non-driver photo ID that verifies the eligible

requestor's name and current address. If possible, enlarge photo ID on copier by

at least 150%. Photo identification will be shredded after review.

• If you do not have acceptable photo identification, it may be necessary for an

eligible requestor possessing government issued photo ID to apply for the

certified copy of this birth record in your behalf. Eligible requestors must be 18

years of age or older and includes the spouse, parent, grandparent, child,

grandchild, or sibling of the individual whose birth record is being requested. If an

eligible requestor is unable to apply for this record in your behalf, you may complete

and submit a Statement from Requestors Not Possessing Acceptable

Government-Issued Photo ID with two documents verifying your current address.

• If you have been granted Power of Attorney (POA) for the person named on the

record, submit a notarized POA document that contains the original signatures of

the parties involved, including the original notary's signature and seal. If you do not

wish to send the original POA, you may file the original notarized POA with the Clerk

of Orphans' Court division of the Court of Common Pleas (usually in the county

where the person granting the power of attorney resides) to obtain a certified copy of

this document issued by the court. You may then submit the certified copy of the

POA document that includes the seal of the court, to our office to process your

request. We will return this document to you upon completion of your request. If

you cannot comply with these instructions, an eligible requestor is required to apply

for this record.

• The individual requesting the record must mail the completed application form(s)with

a copy of his or her photo identification, payment, and self-addressed stamped

envelope to:

Division of Vital Records

101 South Mercer Street, Room 401

PO Box 1528

New Castle, PA 16101

• All requests must be submitted on an application form and include the signature and

photo ID of the individual requesting the record. To download the application form

for mail requests right click and "Save Target As..." this file to your desktop then

open the file from your desktop by double clicking on it.

Obtaining Certified Copies of Birth Records in Person

You may apply in person at one of the six public offices:


Division of Vital Records

Erie Branch Office

1910 West 26th Street

Erie, PA 16508-1148

(814) 871-4261

Office Hours

Office hours are 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, excluding State



Division of Vital Records

Room 129, Health & Welfare Building

Harrisburg, PA 17120-0012

(717) 772-3480

Office Hours

Office hours are 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, excluding State


New Castle

Division of Vital Records

Room 401, Central Building

101 South Mercer Street

New Castle, PA 16101

1-877-PA-HEALTH or

(724) 656-3100

Office Hours

Office hours are 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, excluding State



Division of Vital Records

110 North 8th Street; Suite 108

Philadelphia, PA 19107-2412

(215) 560-3054

Office Hours

Office hours are 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday excluding State



Division of Vital Records

Room 512, Pittsburgh State Office Building

300 Liberty Avenue

Pittsburgh, PA 15222-1210

(412) 565-5113

Office Hours

Office hours are 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, excluding State



Division of Vital Records

Room 112, Scranton State Office Building

100 Lackawanna Avenue

Scranton, PA 18503-1928

(570) 963-4595

Office Hours

Office hours are 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, excluding State


*In conjunction with Act 18 of 2012, Pennsylvania citizens may request a birth certificate for Voter ID. The certificate will be issued free of charge to those individuals without proper ID that will allow them to vote. The free birth certificate will include a stamp indicating that it is only to be used to obtain identification relevant to voter ID and is not valid for any other purpose.

• If you do not have acceptable photo identification, an eligible requestor possessing government issued photo ID may apply . If an eligible requestor is unable to apply, you may submit a completed Statement from Requestors Not Possessing Acceptable Government-Issued Photo ID with two documents verifying your current address.

Statement from Requestors Not Possessing an Acceptable Government Issued Photo-ID

If you are unable to meet our photo ID requirements, we suggest that an eligible family member submit a request for this record. It will be necessary for the eligible family member to complete and return the enclosed application form with a legible copy of his/her government issued photo-ID. A birth record can be requested by a spouse, parent, sibling, child, grandparent, or grandchild. A death record can be requested by any family member of the person who died. If it is not possible for an eligible family member to apply for a certified copy of this record, you may complete the form below and return it with photocopies of two documents that include your name and current address. Examples of acceptable documents are noted below. Please allow sufficient processing time for review and approval of these documents.

***************************************************************************************I declare that I do not have a government issued photo-ID and that I am presenting the attached two documents, including my name and current address, as proof of identification in order to process my application for a certified copy of birth or death record. (Note: Acceptable documents are a utility bill, car registration, pay stub, bank statement, copy of income tax return/W-2 form, or lease/rental agreement. If your mailing address is a P.O. Box, one of the documents submitted must reflect that you have used the P.O. Box for at least two months.) Submit photocopies, as this documentation will be shredded after review.

By my signature below, I state I am the person whom I represent myself to be herein, and I affirm the information within this form is complete and accurate and made subject to the penalties of 18 Pa.C.S. §4904 relating to unsworn falsification to authorities. In addition, I acknowledge that misstating my identity or assuming the identity of another person may subject me to misdemeanor or felony criminal penalties for identity theft pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S. §4120 or other sections of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code.

Signature of Applicant (Person Making Request)

Date of Signature

Please PRINT the following information:

Name of Applicant

Residence Address:

If PO Box, one document must reflect that you have utilized the P.O. Box for at least two months.




Full Name on Birth/Death Record Being Requested

Official Use Only Below This Line

Clerk’s Initials:


For Use of DVR Staff Only: Please check the two documents presented, which verify the name and current address of the requestor from the list below, and attach photocopies of both documents. Utility bills Bank statement Car registration Pay stubs Income tax return/W-2 Lease/rental agreement Other – Description: Approving Clerk’s Initials

Division of Vital Records
101 S. Mercer Street, P.O. Box 1528
New Castle, PA 16103-1528

Order Online

• The fee for each certified copy of birth is $10.00. An additional $10.00 service fee per each application will be charged to your credit card.

• The birth record(s) or a response to your request will automatically be shipped by UPS Air unless you select regular mail delivery for the Shipping Option. If you do not change the Shipping Option to regular mail, the UPS Air delivery fee will be charged to the credit card used for ordering the certificate. A signature is required for UPS delivery.

• Typical processing time for certified copies of birth certificates with a date of birth of 1968 to the present is ten to fifteen business days (from the date the order is received) which does not include delivery time. For certified copies of birth with a date of birth of prior to 1968, please allow an additional ten to fifteen days for processing time, excluding delivery time.

• The status of a request cannot be verified unless it has been a minimum of two business days from the date request has been submitted.

So how does a university student now in Ohio comply when she did everything right in relying upon her birth certificate?