Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Sermon for Thanksgiving Eve

Grace and peace to you, my sisters and brothers in the name of God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I am grateful to be in your presence this night. This time last year I was preparing to move here. It is a blessing to be in your midst.
Tomorrow we journey to our older daughter, Catherine’s apartment- she is cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the first time. She is, I assure you, not listening to the gospel. She is indeed fussing about the table, considering the bird and concerned about appearances. At least based upon the many conversations we have had. And between now and next September we have a lot of wedding planning to do. These words feel very different in this season of our lives and  of busy ness and preparations for Thanksgiving into Christmas and  beyond. It could be easy time as a  frenzied slide of days and expectations. Perhaps some of us here tonight are thinking about all those preparations in our own lives. In the midst of whatever is filling your head, rest assured I will not preach as long as Jesus did the day he uttered these words. In the midst of the sermon on the Mount where he talked long enough people probably were  wondering about dinner.
We gather here on this eve of the holiday in our country called THANKSGIVING. And I can’t help but think it is misnamed. In part because I think it frequently is framed in the category- of thanking God for lots of food,  where we roll out the door of homes and restaurants, stuffed. Our thank you at times feels perfunctory- or just the expected thing to say. “Thanks!” can be superficial. I hope what we really approach God with is gratitude.
I was reading this past week, what someone wrote- “I believe gratitude doesn’t come to the front door all dressed up and bearing Thanksgiving pies- rather, it slips in through the kitchen door like the plumber did when the pipes were clogged just before my daughter’s  wedding that was to happen at our home... You never know what gratitude the sound of a flushing toilet can bring until you’ve seen one overflow three times during the week of your daughter’s wedding.” That plumber was a life changer.  An agent of gratitude.

“ My deeper  point is that gratitude is not the same thing as giving thanks (for us in our culture). It comes from a deeper place that knows the story could have ended up differently, and often does. Gratitude is surviving the worst thing you can imagine  and realizing that you are still standing.”
Many of us with more than a few miles on the car in our lives have had these moments. The ones where we get out of our head and what we consider our worries, because we have seen the profound place of gratitude. Where we can stop, pay attention, and deliberately behold and appreciate what comes to us only as gift and grace from God.
Given the history of those Pilgrims who were devastated by winter, disease, famine, conflicts and shock, being alive was not just about
 “ thankful,”  it was about gratitude.  Overshadowed by economic development,  a day of Thanksgiving was not a national day until, after years of petitioning Sarah Josepha Hale, at age 74, convinced then President Lincoln, in the midst of the Civil War, to declare a National day of Thanksgiving. A day to recognize blessings in aftermath of a bloody battle at Gettysburg and the despair that the war raged on.

In October of 1863, Lincoln issued a proclamation beginning with these words:
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields ad healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God…” he goes on to list blessings in the midst of adversity.
To speak these words in the midst of turmoil and fears,  is indeed a statement of gratitude. Yes there was turmoil and unrest, but look at blessings still.  The prophet Joel has just finished speaking to people who are asking where God is in their distress, only to hear in the midst of it, don’t be afraid- the Lord has done great things. And what they hear is that pastures will become green, trees will bear fruit, and life will have richness, not because it looks that way in its fullness today, but because the Lord who has been faithful and provided, will continue to do so.
While personally and in our world, we may have worries, it is right to stop and give thanks and behold moments of gratitude first to praise God for them. Those things that only God could have brought forth, and we remember them so that when we are tempted to worry we are reassured of who God is with us and for us and will be. A God who not only provides material things, but shows us more. Both in the the love and  grace and mercy of Christ. And in the things brought forth by God through the gift of community- in both celebration and consolation.
Tomorrow regardless of the world's worries or the state of the mashed potatoes, I will be grateful that after a year of travel abroad, our younger daughter is back in the States, my husband is recovered from significant surgery and our older daughter is making her way in the world. Joys indeed amidst life changing stories.
 And yet Christ, in the gospel, wants to draw us deeper. Into remembering that the God who provides these moments, is so trustworthy, that we can devote our energy not to worry, but to living lives of praise. Being people  whom God uses to bring moments of gratitude and life changing stories for  others. Right before this part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has told the people they cannot serve two masters- they cannot put their wants first  and place God first. It is here that he tells them not to worry- since God will provide, seek God’s kingdom first. We can’t tend the relationships with God and others when worries distract us. Don’t worry-  Show love and  grace and mercy to others. Show the gift of community to others. This is the kingdom that God desires for all God’s children.
 At the beginning of  his sermon, Jesus said that the downhearted would experience God’s kingdom; the mourners would be comforted; the meek would have a place; the hungry would be filled. Mercy would be shown, God would be made known and the peace would be lifted up.
At the beginning of my message, I said that “Gratitude comes from a deeper place that knows the story could have ended up differently, and often does.” Gratitude for God’s blessings hopefully leads us to know that the story can end up differently and should for those who are struggling.

 It doesn’t have to be grand, just come from the heart- It can be offering a word of encouragement; a phone call to someone you haven’t talked to or seen in awhile;  feeding the hungry with good things; making peace with someone, maybe simply giving time to really be present with someone and thank them for what they mean to you.
As one new to the community here this past year, I am grateful to God  for you and pray that  God bless you this day and always. As you gather in  gratitude for the immeasurable blessings we are shown by God’s hand,  I encourage you to pause and reflect on how God has been at work in your story. Then  ask God to show you how you can be an agent of gratitude so others can experience the kingdom- God’s life changing story.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Sermon for Christ the King Sunday, 2015

Usually on this Sunday I am trying to figure out how "King" is a term with relevance but this year as our world has had a lot to say.  These end times readings ring out differently. One person wrote this past week, " There’s a war going on, in case you haven’t noticed.  There is the war “out there”–the one with bombs and guns and blood and death.  But there is also a different kind of war going on that is also deadly.” ( Jill Clignan- Practicing Families)
  It's true- A clash in our interactions that makes everything be about polar opposites- Hate versus love.  Strife versus peace.  Fear versus courage. And no in between.
That’s our world talking.

“ while it would be so easy for me right now to sweep my arms grandly across the landscape of this shattered world and declare that the sky is falling and the world is ending, I choose, instead, to stubbornly look with hope at the life right before me, to believe that God has not yet given up on His will being done on earth, as it already is in heaven."
That’s kingdom talk.

And that’s when  I remember what Jesus says to Pilate- "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were my followers would fight. My kingdom is from another place."
Earlier in the gospel of John, we hear the disciples say, "you talk about your place Jesus, but we have no idea how to get there."
That's us a lot- we don’t know how to get to the kingdom.
And Jesus’ response is – "you do know, because you know me. You know what I have been about, and you know God’s will."
 But knowing his disciples and how hard it is to follow,  elsewhere in the gospels, he tells them that  no matter what life brings, no matter how impossible it seems, here’s a prayer- pray like this.
And he taught them the Lord’s Prayer. I can rattle it off in three different versions almost without thought. And sometimes it’s just rote. Sometimes that’s a comfort that I have it internalized, but other times, I suspect I rattle it off quickly  because when I slow it down I remember- "your kingdom come, and your will be done" is not addressed to my desires, but to the King.
Our King and Lord.
I can pray for the kingdom to come, but here on earth, that’s an awfully tall order.
That’s probably why later on the prayer says,
"Lord,  lead us not to be tempted otherwise. Because YOURS is the kingdom."
 Christ is the ruler of the universe and the kingdom IS. Not will be, but IS now.

 And that’s what Jesus tells Pilate that he came to testify to this truth- God’s truth. THE ONE THAT DOESN’T LOOK LIKE THE TRUTH OUR WORLD DISHES OUT that sucks us in to playing the game of fear, and mistrust and hate. The one that tempts us to believe that  fear and mistrust and hate and struggle are what  it takes to rule.
If I am being honest, this week, and I am,  I cannot easily stand here and profess that I see Christ as the ruler of the universe, and the kingdom breaking forth.
I suspect that  it is so hard to see so often because we fall into the pattern of our world, the pattern  we all have a lot more experience with.

I tell you this not because I am now going to dissect and pontificate about the actions of others. This really is a confession and maybe it's yours too.  Because I don’t follow our King as I should.
 I wish I could more deeply live out what I pray when  I say Christ is the King- the ruler of the universe. That I want Christ's kingdom to come.
And that Christ's truth would meet the truth of my life and it would be obvious that I get that Christ’s kingdom rises above this world.

 We all get caught up in the fight between hate and love, and struggle and peace. And the biggest thing of all I am fighting isn’t evil, in the end, but fear.
Fear of others.
And fear that I know I am not living as one who acknowledges Christ on that throne.
Fear of what I would sacrifice or face if I lived that truth of that place that is not this world.
Maybe that’s why there are 365 places in the Bible where God’s people hear, “Do not fear.”

We are called to practice the truth of Christ and walk in the light. But, truly, sometimes the darkness is so attractive. But what really has me thinking and worried is when we say we cannot help one group of people because another group needs it more, but then we don’t help them either. And there’s nothing stopping us.

We find ourselves at odds and fighting in so many ways.

But you know what Jesus’ opponents hated was when he helped the wrong people. When he raised the dead, when he healed the sick, when he freed the captive, and prioritized the needs of the least. When he promised paradise to the criminal and food for the hungry. And salvation for all. Yes, all.

And when he commanded, yes commanded- our king commanded one thing of us- LOVE.
Love your neighbor as yourself. By the way, everyone is your neighbor. Love them enough to share daily bread, and forgiveness, and the life of the kingdom.
And he promised that the Spirit would give us the truth to prove the WORLD wrong and would give us the power and wisdom to do so.
So that our faith and what propels our actions and beliefs would be based upon this. That we would enact the kingdom of Christ.
Jesus our king and Lord, the ruler of the universe commands we love one another.
And the hardest part of all, is that there are no disclaimers, no fine print, no exceptions. No exceptions about Christ’s love nor about his power.

 This is the hardest part of all- swearing my allegiance to this gospel with no exceptions. And believing that Christ really is the ruler of the universe- no exceptions.
And  our king,  showed power in a cross. And keeps trying to set us free even as we keep holding on to rulers and kingdoms that deal death and pain and destruction. With Christ  telling us to take courage – he has conquered the world. And we are no longer of that world. We don’t have to be in that world- What a beautiful thought!
No exceptions. We don’t have to get sucked into the world’s talk and even better- because one more thing has  no exceptions- grace.
In the face of all of my shortcomings- I get to keep my citizenship in Christ’s kingdom. We all do
Because Christ our King is a gracious king.
And this kingdom that rises above our world  is for real.

Christ IS the king. We have a place in his kingdom, thank God.
And our King calls us to kingdom living.
What should the kingdom look like?
I’ve been asking people
And here’s what I have heard from some of you.
The shelves at the food pantry would never be bare- we’d feed the hungry all the time no exceptions
We wouldn’t only remember certain people at the holidays- we’d care about them all the time- no exceptions
People who are sick would be able to be cared for and not jump through so many gosh-darned hoops- no exceptions
We wouldn’t use one group’s needs as a reason not to help others- we'd help them all!
And  the poor, and the sick, and the elderly, and the oppressed, the veterans, the homeless and any one with any needs would be our business.
There’s a lot to think about there
 And it’s the work before us as workers in the kingdom of God.
A lot of people will say that our world today isn’t the same. One person said to me in fact, "we don’t live in Jesus’ world." But we do! It was scary then and is scary now.
But the truth and good news is that we do- it is a challenge but also a blessing.
And while it challenges us to try to live out our king’s command and what it would do to our economy and business as usual, guess what?  If we did so,
In the extreme, doing the business of  Christ’s kingdom would put the other one of our world out of business.
 Imagine despair, and suffering and injustice and struggle put out of business!

And so this day  while it would be so easy for me right now to sweep my arms grandly across the landscape of this shattered world and declare that the sky is falling and the world is ending, I choose, instead, to stubbornly look with hope at the life right before me, to believe that God has not yet given up on His will being done on earth, as it already is in heaven."
 Because Christ’s power shines brightest in our dark places. That cross shows power in places we think it can’t be possible.
And you are my co-workers.
And our only job is LOVE- that’s speaking the kingdom and lifting high the cross as we lift others to life.
 May the Spirit guide us, reassure us and  help us to  commit ourselves again to honoring Christ the King- our  Lord and Savior of the universe, with our lives.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Long and Winding Road

Tomorrow a year ago began what seems like a whole different life. It had already been a turbulent time of emotions as my family and I discerned that it was time for a new call in ministry, with it's attendant mixed emotions of beginnings and endings. It was already a time of great excitement for a new opportunity and sadness of having to announce I was leaving a place, especially since I detest goodbyes. I thought that was the hard thing- having preached and been called to a new congregation on Sunday and having to announce our departure on Monday. But then Tuesday happened.
On Tuesday morning the phone rang and a woman speaking a mile a minute said things like "ambulance" "hospital" and "collapse." Speaking so quickly and repeating it rapid fire that by the third time I interrupted to ask who she was and why she was calling. "Oh, your husband, it's your husband."
Fumbling in numbness I threw myself together and actually beat the ambulance to the hospital. So when I asked in the ER reception area and they told me there was no one here by that name, my chaplain brain kicked in and I assumed that if there was no live patient with his name that meant only one thing. A chaplain was going to call me with news I did not want to hear.
As I repeated where the ambulance was coming from, they found him, but then my clergy ID was insufficient to go to the ER. I was told I had to walk back outside and through security. Even the security guys were saying it was not necessary but they made me leave and walk outside and around to another entrance and then wait for a visitor sticker. So much for that encrypted clergy tag.
I made it back into the unit and they were bringing him back from tests. It had been so hard to be lost and separated and told I couldn't go past a simple door.
After awhile they decided that because his blood pressure was coming down and he had no chest pain they were sending him home for an outpatient stress test. But as I listened to him describe his symptoms they suddenly rang a bell " my legs felt like concrete" was exactly what his mother said before her heart attack that ended in a quadruple bypass. And the advocacy training of law school kicked in. If his condition might me genetic, so could the symptoms. And I learned how hard it is to be heard.
Apparently I was persistent enough without being irritating.
They ran more tests. One test result, and only one was enough to keep him longer.
And run a test again.
And when that one thing still seemed odd, they decided not to send us home.
That is why my husband did not die at home.
So they decided to perform a heart catheterization the next day.
It took longer than expected.
And when the cardiologist came out he looked astounded.
As "this is is the worst case of coronary artery disease in someone so young" spilled out like a tsunami, followed by " he should have died on your recent vacation with all that hiking." And then- scheduled for surgery followed by- we are keeping him alive until then with a ballon pump.
Time sure feels different when keeping someone alive is at stake
And staying the night was not helpful.
To this day I thank God that our neighbors who happened to work for the cardiologist, swooped in. And our other neighbors mobilized.
It all felt like all I did was ride the wave.
I let family know and deputized people to tell others. There are only so many calls you can make.
And they all feel like it's not real
Having been somewhat self sufficient and used to being the care giver, I realized I simply had to let go. And when a pastor colleague asked what she could do, "Be my pastor" spilled out.
God bless Eileen for sitting with me all day and praying with Michael and I.
In the days and weeks that followed where a steady stream of people and demands emerged, I was always exhausted but also always provided for.
Both by our new church and our neighbors especially. Even people who barely knew us, sustained us- you sustain the weary with a word- has forever changed meaning for me.
Our new congregation could not have been more gracious- from packing and moving us to feeding us and helping at every turn. How odd to show up as the shepherd for others yet needing such shepherding.
Here is the part that followed- the grief part. Yes, Michael survived. Thanks be to God! And yes, we are very happy! But I can tell you that it took a full eight months for me to begin to feel like I wasn't in a fog. Simple things felt gargantuan.
The simplest task like measuring and hanging curtains was a mess. Trying to put rooms together- something I love, felt almost impossible.
And perhaps most of all, taking care of myself, which initially was put on hold, suffered as we waded through adjusting not only to a new place, but a new life.
Of sorting out meds, and falls in the night. Of facing depression and naming griefs.
While both having careers dependent upon poise and focus.
And having to navigate what it takes to move from survive to thrive.
A few months ago I actually sat myself down and pronounced that taking care of my physical and spiritual health needed to happen and made steps to do it.
Reconnecting with my spiritual director, making retreat. Attending to all those appointments- mine, not his. And getting back to the gym.
I have never been a coordinated sort, but after finally getting in decent shape it had all fallen away over most of the year.
It was very hard to stop feeling guilty and sad about how all my hard work had evaporated and the 20 pounds had crept on.
And at 51, going on 52, no small feat.
I give thanks for my mutual ministry committee for gently encouraging me and for my trainer, Lisa who has been willing to work with a person who already had a curve in my spine, and war wounds of fitness in a knee and shoulders. And who would work with someone who will not be the "buff gym success story."
She helped me get over myself and just start working back. And I give thanks for Betsy who bugged me when I did not show up for spin class. She spins to get over losing a son. I could surely get over getting to keep a husband. Boy is grief a powerful thing.
When I got to walk "energetically" with Michael in a 5k for Betsy's son, it was victory!
I have farther to go to get back to the me I was a year ago. And yet in some ways I am infinitely wiser and stronger. Maybe the me I was has been resurrected- and born anew!
Not the least of which is realizing it was my back that needed to be stronger in my training. For years I was always in pain even after training and told myself I just needed to work harder. That was how my ministry felt sometimes too. Work harder.
Turns out I didn't need to work so hard- I just needed to let others guide me.
Maybe this is a story about managing grief, or about accepting who I am. Maybe it's about telling that no matter who you are or what you face, you can work through it with faith and patience with yourself.
Probably most of all it's about seeing how much God carries us through others- not to show our weakness but to demonstrate how God strengthens us. I cannot even imagine how we would have carried on without God in so many people.
I finally am getting the last of the parsonage together- 11 months later. The old me would be horrified. The new me is just grateful that so many people have shepherded us on the long and winding road. We absolutely knew God has called us here. We give thanks and hope there is much more of the road together to come.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Getting to the Other Side

So today I want to talk to you about my friend, Keith. Keith and I were on a seminary trip to Greece and Turkey a few years ago, and Keith was very excited as was his congregation which had blessed him by paying for the trip to advance their pastor’s knowledge. Things were going well until we went to travel from Greece to Turkey when a storm hit. Not one with waves, but a problem at the border. Keith was a citizen of Bermuda and the travel agent had not obtained the right visa for him. And there he was stuck on one side and we on the other. And no idea what would happen. For him to get to the other side was going to take a lot. And there in a flood of emotions was it must have felt like that question the disciples ask Jesus, “ Can’t you see I’m perishing here?”

He had fly to Germany and then on to London and then hope to get the one emergency visa issued by the consulate, which he did. And then he had to fly back to Germany, and to Turkey and then take ground transportation to catch up to us, all in about 48 hours. It was exhausting and it took resources he didn’t have. It took talking with people back him to make it all come together. And he made it.

We’ve been talking about gratitude these past few weeks and there was immense gratitude for God’s leading and protection. Because honestly, how did Keith do all that? God calmed the storm and made a path. You could see God’s hand and power at work to help Keith carry on through.

I remembered this story this week when I thought of Keith because my brother in the gospel is an African Methodist Episcopal pastor in New York. And the news of the week, heavy on my heart made me want to reach out. Keith and I were at Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary together. Which at first might sound odd.

Why Gettysburg? That has to do with another storm being calmed and path cleared. In the early 1800’s Payne heard the call of the Lord to preach. But seminaries would not give him entrance, except for Gettyburg. And a major force in the AME church was able to study because the Lord made that path. And many AME pastors have since followed this path- there is a bond.

When news broke of the racial hatred in Charleston that killed 9 innocent Christians at Mother Emanuel AME Church, I thought, “ What can I do?” And how can we live in this storm that just keeps churning in our country? Amidst so many emotions, there are so many questions. The same ones in the gospel, “ Jesus, can’t you see we’re drowning here?” And the one perhaps they spoke to themselves, “ What can we possibly do?” Questions for all of us. When I reached out to Keith I shared the memory that he was the crucifer at my ordination service. And I remembered that while he was delighted to do so, his question to me was, “ What will your people think?” Even now, so much work to do. What can we possibly do we might ask.

Then I heard the interview with Debbie Dills, the florist running late for work in Shelby, North Carolina. She spotted a car that looked like the one on TV and a person that looked like the one on TV. She didn’t want to believe it was him. But she called her boss, and asked, “ What should I do?” He replied, “We need to call someone” and called the police while he kept her on the line. Debbie decided to follow the car, which was daring if it was a person who had killed nine others and had a gun. She provided the tag number and an arrest happened. Afterwards when asked if she had fear, she said, “ I am no brave person, but I felt I had to do this.” And went on to say that she felt someone was watching over her, and in control. “The Lord had his hand in it. God is the one who made this (arrest) happen.” She had been driving to work and praying for the families in Charleston. “ I can’t imagine, they were just studying the Word and they were massacred.”

Debbie moved from fear to faith, and had a role in calming some of this storm. But she went on to say what I think we should take to heart, “ We need to be lifting them, be there for them and surround them. That’s what we need to do.”

Racism is not just about a few bad actors. We as a culture must ask how we allow it to persist when we say it’s not here, it’s not us, or we just hope the storm calms. This incident will pass but there are storms on the sea. Between the storms there will be calm, but you know what the disciples in the boat came to realize? When Jesus calmed the storm, they still had to row to the other side. There were not at the shore, and now with no wind they had to row extra hard. But remember that they were on the way to where Jesus wanted them to go. The goal was not to hang out off shore. They were headed to the other side to see the Gentiles, people who they don’t really know, or maybe “get” or maybe even want to like. But they have said yes to going where Jesus wanted to go. And Jesus always wants to go there. But when they get there, it’s then they will see miracles. It’s hard work to get to the other side.

We have hard work too. To be people follow as Jesus commands, to go where Jesus goes, and to live as Jesus lived. To be in solidarity with our sisters and brothers. To stand with those in places of suffering and to name evil realities for what they are. I have been meeting with the group headed to Pittsburgh to the Pittsburgh Project- youth and adults headed to the North Side and a predominantly African American community to help with critical repairs to housing and other ways of ministering with people. And we’ve talked about what it means to stand with others, maybe even those we don’t quite get. And when I asked our youth about the evil realities in our world, before the events of this week, without skipping a beat one of them said- racism. It’s an evil reality and a churning storm in our midst. Not only for those in Charleston, or Baltimore or other places but for all of us. And we have to BE THERE.

Almost 50 years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote a book entitled Where do We Go From Here?  Indeed this is the question. The subtitle is Chaos or Community?

 He wrote,” We can no longer worship the god of hate, or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate…Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good….We must hope that love is going to have the last word…We still have a choice today- chaos or community?" Words still today.

I hope you were as moved as I was at the choice of the famiilies of the AME Church who ringed the area in prayer and singing and whose grieving spoke forgiveness to a man who vowed he hated them. They didn't speak chaos. They spoke love. What hard work.

As ever, like the disciples, we keep rowing with our questions. But lest we think our prayer and our service are insignificant they are not. We ask for your prayers as we head to Pittsburgh and follow Jesus. I think our work matters and is only possible because of the most important question the disciples asked- “Who is THIS?” That he commands even the forces of nature”

Jesus. Jesus empowered them. And Jesus is the power and the guide. Because of the work of the cross. New life is possible. The resurrection is the clearest example of love having the last word. For all of us.

And Jesus is calling us to reach that other shore.  To get to the other side because that's where Jesus is going.

To labor still for Beloved Community where miracles happen. For the sake of Christ, may we all lift our brothers and sisters, pray for justice, and not rest until there is dignity for all. We still have rowing to do.

BUT…Jesus is in the boat too, and we’ve got everything we need for the journey.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Dancing with the Trinity

How many of you like to dance? Here among us, it's pretty many. Probably in fact more than I thought. But it's not surprising to me. I'll tell you why in a minute. But first, it may not surprise you that in fact in these parts, not a lot of German Lutherans are much for dancing. Not really. So now, knowing that, I want you to imagine- Lutherans a conga line...on an African song as the keyboard is played and music sung by a man born blind from birth who they only met yesterday- as they sang about how we DO life. As God's people unleashed from fear to do life. They were young and old, rich and poor, of every background and walk of life- DANCING! Some were really dancing, others bobbing in their spots, and still others not able to dance, but you could see it in there eyes, there they were- dancing too!

Celebrating God's work, beginning with remembering our history- in the words of Martin Luther who taught that it's always about God's grace- meeting us in all our crisis and joy and saying- starting in baptism- "I claim you. you are mine, and I don't share- so let's do life!" Freed to do life and dance!

I want to be a part of a community of faith like THAT! And the best thing is, that I am and you are- we are able to dance, the Dance of the Trinity. Living as those who know God is in us. The God who created us into being, Christ who saves us and frees us, and the Spirit who gifts and empowers us- call us into their dance.

This weekend I got to see and to hear many stories of this dance. In the work fighting World Hunger as we celebrated that just at the synod assembly thousands of dollars were given in addition to the recent Bike for World Hunger. We heard that the instance of malaria in Africa has been cut IN HALF by the work of groups like Lutheran World Relief. All because of mosquito nets that cost cents to produce. Life restored by half!

We heard of the work of Lutheran Disaster Response as we prepare to send our own team out in July to North Carolina to restore life. We heard the touching story of a man who was living in Iraq and needed to find a safer place for himself and his family to live. He tried traveling to Egypt and to Israel but ultimately was helped by Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services both for himself and for his family. And I tell it like it took mere moments. But it took 6 years for his family and he to be reunited .  And next month he will become a US citizen and he works as a caseworker helping others have life and freedom because he was given a home and taught English. By this church.

And the list goes on - feeding projects like the Potato Project where last year I worked with kids and adults and in one half day 10,000 pounds of potatoes were harvested. all because a man had a field and others had a vision to feed others. And we give life in suicide prevention, college ministries, chaplains for prisons and the military, prayer ministries and more! We are freed to live out this joyful response! 

And I say "we" because it is with a certain point of pride of pride that I tell you that we here are the third largest giving congregation in our synod. Not the largest in people, but among the largest in Spirit. I tell you not to boast but to celebrate how you are living out your lives in faith. And so it's not a surprise at all that many of you like to dance-  we've been doing a lot of dancing with the Trinity here!

But in all of this, as our Bishop Elizabeth Eaton noted, the goal is not that we are just a better social service organization. It's more. We are helping others live not in that spirit of fear, the Apostle Paul speaks of,  but the Spirit of Life! We are proclaiming and sharing in the life Jesus talked about- where the hungry are fed and the oppressed are freed. Here and now- living as those who in baptism were claimed by a loving God to show that love- to be who we were created to be, who Christ saves us to be and who the Spirit empowers us to be and to join the dance for the sake of God's kingdom.

Some of us dance well, and some of us try, and some of us can only nod our heads but each week when we gather here we remember our place in the dance. We celebrate what has gone well, and hear  new life for those things that have not. At the table and the font we are reminded of  the heart of the Trinity and God's love, forgiveness and mercy. because we are THAT church!

Sent forth and led by the Spirit. We've done some great things but there is still more to do for the sake of the gospel. There is more to the dance of the Trinity, so don't put your dancing shoes away just yet.
Come join the dance.

Monday, April 20, 2015

When I Say I Am a Christian I Need to Get it Right

I am woefully behind in posting sermons here- in part because I was fighting major sickness before and during Holy Week, and then there were the funerals both at the church and beyond. Normally I wouldn't bother to say any of this except to say- for all of us, sometimes there are clusters of busy-ness that we are trying to work through. And when we are busy, sometimes we don't get to pay attention as closely as we might tend to or want to. So in the midst of that I was heading into Sunday feeling like the car coasting on fumes.

And wrestling with a sermon that wasn't quite clicking and I was looking for just that certain something to wrap up with and I found it! Or so I thought. I was preaching on 1 John and wrestling with the notion of Christian perfection and somehow I came across "When I Say I'm a Christian" and it clicked! And the poem by this name was attributed to Maya Angelou. I loved it, and I spoke of it in my sermon and several people were really taken by it.

The dream for pastors is that people tell you how they connected with the sermon, or what they will be thinking about, or in this case, one person was taken by the poem and went out to find it. Only to discover that there was a whole lot more the to story- and as grateful as I am that he was listening to my sermon, I am even more grateful for what happened next.

It seems that the Internet has co-opted "When I Say I am a Christian" and by that I mean that it has been adapted, and given different attribution and circulated in a variety of ways, BUT these things have all happened without the permission or desire of the true author. The true author is Carol Wimmer.

Her website is HERE. Carol wrote her poem in 1988 and it was first published in 1992. She holds the copyright to her poem.

So, perhaps now I should add that in addition to being a pastor, I am a lawyer and in fact have taught at Gettysburg Seminary and at the Region 7 Leadership Guild on the subject of copyright permissions. It is absolutely a question of Christian ethics concerning Luther's notion of vocation, not to mention the 10 Commandments has a thing or two or two to say. And of course the federal law has a lot to say about the rights of those who create.

We want people to create beautiful music, art, poetry, photography, and resources that enhance our lives and ministry. And we want immediate access to the things we want to use. As much as I am a creature of social media and the internet, I was reminded yet again of the deceptive nature of what is "instantly available." This is not the same as instantly usable.

Those who create have a legal right to compensation for use of their work, and a legal right to oppose the use or adaptation of their work in ways they do not wish to consent to. It is a matter of compensation and dignity.

So often in our world of instant digital media, we fall into a trap of a combination of impatience and desire.

Here I was a "late in time" sermon writer who now realized that what I thought was the truth was not. And of all things, in my own area. Ironically, the sermon I was preaching using I John 3 focused upon what it means to be God's children, not only in the great beyond but in this life. The challenge of  living as the epistle says " that those in Christ will not sin." The struggle of the concept of Christian perfection and the sense of gratitude and humility we can sense when we remember God's love. We cannot achieve the vision of what it means to be pure or without sin. Yet over and again, the God who loves us and calls us children invites us to strive to draw closer. Our lives are lived somewhere between perfection and "who cares." " I want to" is not enough of a reason to run roughshod.

There are lots of reasons to care and to do all we can to get this right, rather than become indifferent or even defensive about the value of the work of others. What did I do? Well, first I went back and took out the incorrect information before my sermon will be published and this coming Sunday I will tell my folk that I misspoke. And, I contacted Carol Wimmer and explained that I wanted to use her poem- the real one in my sermon blog ( sermon to be posted later) but that I also wanted to tell the story of how her poem and rights have been infringed upon. She graciously agreed ( thank you, Carol!)

Here are her words- "So many people have NO understanding of the purpose of copyright law. There is NO perception of the need to guard and protect the spiritual intent of a work! I literally receive hate mail from people who have had the copyright infringement removed from their social media accounts. I am accused of not being a Christian. Judged as being spiteful, or against sharing the gospel in order to make a name for myself. These judgments come only from those who carelessly share the altered version of the poem which changed the original intent of the work...It's all about protection of inspiration and intellect...In all my years I have never had anyone come to me with the desire to use my work in the context of discussion on copyright issues. This is wonderful!!!"

Imagine, sisters and brothers, discovering not only that your words have been twisted, but that all kinds of merchandise appears with what is not quite right but also for which you receive NO compensation- coffee mugs, posters, calendars, and more. And to boot, the poem you felt inspired to pen is attributed to another person altogether! I hope you can hear her pain in the words above. This is the way many whose work is lifted feel. And well they should!

While I am sorry I originally got it wrong, I am delighted to have connected with Carol and the rest of her website HERE.
And I am grateful she provided me with a download of the original poem along with permission to use which appears below.


When I say, "I am a Christian"
I'm not shouting, "I’ve been saved!"
I'm whispering, "I get lost sometimes
That's why I chose this way"

When I say, "I am a Christian"
I don't speak with human pride
I'm confessing that I stumble
Needing God to be my guide

When I say, "I am a Christian"
I'm not trying to be strong
I'm professing that I'm weak
And pray for strength to carry on

When I say, "I am a Christian"
I'm not bragging of success
I'm admitting that I've failed
And cannot ever pay the debt

When I say, "I am a Christian"
I don't think I know it all
I submit to my confusion
Asking humbly to be taught

When I say, "I am a Christian"
I'm not claiming to be perfect
My flaws are all too visible
But God believes I'm worth it

When I say, "I am a Christian"
I still feel the sting of pain
I have my share of heartache
That’s why I seek God’s name

When I say, "I am a Christian"
I do not wish to judge
I have no authority
I only know I'm loved

Used by Permission
Copyright ©1988 Carol Wimmer
All Rights Reserved

Sisters and brothers, may we strive to do what is right, walk in grace and honor what others create.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Exposed Yet Loved

When my girls were babies I used to love to give them baths. To marvel at their fingers and toes- pink and beautiful. And babies love their feet. They enjoy looking at them as much as we do. They are a source of joy. Sometime after that though, I am not sure when, we stop thinking that. We learn to think of our feet as something to be covered up, not exposed. Something for which we need props. Even the bravest of us get pedicures. Feet are somehow not beautiful.

And so when we hear that Jesus washed feet on the last night with the disciples, I wonder how many of us would be in the church today if the way we remembered Jesus each week was to wash feet?

Yet here we are with this lesson, and every year for the past three I have preached on it. Maybe some day we’ll wash feet. But not tonight.

We hear that Jesus gathered the disciples for a meal and for conversations and that he loved them to the end. And he is entirely in control.

And slowly, he took of his robe and all the things that identified him as a Rabbi and a Teacher and a Leader. Set them aside. And there he is, wearing only a towel and holding a basin of water.

And he begins, kneeling and crawling, from person to person and washing their feet. And it’s odd and uncomfortable. And we can’t imagine.

It’s odd and uncomfortable. And yet Jesus knew where their feet had been. Those feet were dirty and calloused, perhaps scratched in places. Walking without the best footwear, and walking on the paths animals also trod. And animals do what they do- and the feet bear it- dirty, damaged and stinky feet.

And he goes to person after person. And maybe deep down we even want to say, “Get up, Jesus!” We don’t want this.

As beautiful as it is that tonight we are celebrating 6 kids making first holy communion, and it is beautiful, we want communion, and Easter! Not Holy Week and washing feet.

Like Peter we want to say- no way! Yet Jesus loved them to the last.

To the very last one. Even Judas had his feet washed. Be still. This is for you. Even though you don’t understand it.

In humility and service, in love and intimacy, Jesus loved. Showing there was nothing that stood between us and God’s love.

He loved who we are- people uncomfortable in our skin.

He loved people knowing where there feet had already been- the times the feet had walked away in argument,

the times the disciples said they would do something and then didn’t.

The time feet walked to a meeting to agree to betray for 30 pieces of silver.

Those feet were cleansed.

As Jesus keeps showing intimate, no holds barred love.

Knowing where the feet will go. Yet saying- you belong to me.

And you belong to each other through me.

And the message for us as ever is that we are exposed, but we are loved.

It’s a gift we almost don’t want- we don’t want to be that known and exposed. And yet, it’s the gift we most desperately need- to be renewed and cleansed by real intimate love.

Sacrificial love.

A love that challenges everything in us and yet is whole hearted.

This is what we long for, isn’t it? Isn’t this why we are here?

To experience THIS love?

God knows us- we are exposed. Yet loved. God loves the real us.

It is uncomfortable, and sorrowful, and leaves us in humbled awe, and hopefully joy.

This is the love we are then challenged and empowered to share.
Love one another like this.

This love- This is Christ for us, Christ with us.




Sunday, March 22, 2015

I Will Draw Them All

Perhaps I am just ready, beyond ready for spring. Today we hear Jesus say he must be lifted up, and to the ears of those listening they imagine he means “exalted.” Which is a word not often used in our everyday speech. But to be exalted reminds me of what we see when the winning pitcher or the MVP is lifted up and carried by teammates after the big victory. That image of baseball season seems to work well for most of us. Not just for the warm weather it imagines. Or maybe you’ve been into March Madness and the winning team hoists someone up to cut the net off the hoop. That’s the kind of lifted up people expect.

In the gospel, the Greeks have come to see Jesus. They have come on the heels of Jesus having raised Lazarus from the dead. They are drawn by the curiosity and the power of that move. For the glory, or maybe they are like people perhaps who become fans when the winning streak is on. But as far as we know, they don’t see Jesus at all. Which is ironic since carved into some old pulpits is the phrase, " Sir, we wish to see Jesus." 
Instead, Jesus, hearing of their presence says that it indicates something else- God’s broader mission beyond the people of the covenant, and that for Jesus, his time is up. By the time the Greeks have caught the message, things must move quickly.

And he says what probably confounded everyone- you want to see me now? Come see me when I am lifted up- that will draw everyone.

But of course he’s not talking about the victory exaltation- he’s talking about a bloodied, naked body on a cross on Skull Hill. Why on earth would THAT draw people? I once knew a pastor who had a life sized cross and he would have it laid across a section of the pews each week during Lent. And people refused to sit anywhere near it. Avoided it at all costs. Finally someone came and told him that that cross wrecked the beauty of the sanctuary.

Since the time of my installation, when we borrowed a processional cross from Christ Hazelton, I thought we should have a processional cross here. Frank and Barb Gaval have been working on a processional cross for this congregation. For us to use on special days like Palm Sunday, Easter and the like. But it’s not just a cross- it’s a crucifix. With Jesus lifted up. In the course of its preparation, Barb and I have talked about what a moving experience it has been and the challenge to get Jesus “right.” Some of that is about things like Jesus’ head being the right size or the draping of the arms, and proportion. But the deeper challenge has been things like deciding to make a crown of thorns, choosing the nails to nail Jesus to the cross. And the temptation to give Jesus a little more to wear than we know he was wearing. Can’t he wear a little more than one strip of cloth?

This wrestling with seeing Christ lifted up – in the flesh points up our own wrestling with what it means to imagine God’s love in the flesh in a visible body, in an explicit and heartbreaking way. And the sacrifice.

In death. Jesus followers expected a Messiah who would live forever, and the Greeks expected a victor. No one was looking for death and loss. Just as then, we abhor the notions of death and loss. Not just in imaging that death on the cross, but the concept of sacrifice. We prefer perhaps a different Jesus.

And the question for us as it was for those Greeks and the disciples is I think, which Jesus draws us here? A vision of glory or that seed willing to die for the sake of bearing much fruit?

Every believer and every pastor is tempted, you see- just like the temptation to give Jesus more clothes. Tempted to “realize the kingdom of God apart from the cross of Christ. We are tempted to win the world and draw people here with programs, agendas, food. And we excel at that those here. But perhaps maybe we think at the most basic level because the message of the cross seems by itself, ineffective, counterintuitive, even foolish.” Leading with the cross may not seem like the best idea. People want beautiful and dynamic congregations. And after all, if people see how well we care for ourselves, they will want to be a part. People want winners.

And we are dynamic and vibrant. Yet sometimes I have heard already, we are so good at it. That we communicate that we have it all figured out- and if you do not, maybe there is no place for you. Or that all our programs already so well run, that maybe there is no place for you and your energy.

All of our efforts and ideas, while not entirely bad also have the potential to draw us away from God’s simple truth- it’s not the congregation that draws people into the kingdom, but the Son of Man lifted up. For all.

Yes, we participate in programs and initiatives, and we derive immense pleasure from relationships and events. But at the heart of the reason and the center and the mission is always- God’s Son lifted up for us. This is the game changing love and light for our lives and the promise for all.  

At a certain level we communicate that every day when the lights come on at night. I am not sure how many of you have looked at it lately- we have a profoundly beautiful stained glass window. When I first came, I was not sure what the breathtakingly beautiful stained glass window with all its color and movement was depicting. Frankly, I thought it was depicting the beginning of creation. Perhaps that means I watch too much Big Bang theory.

 It was only in the daylight that I saw the crown of thorns on the outside. Then a visitor asked me about the window, and I confess I didn’t know. So I asked to know more. And learned that the window depicts Christ on the cross, looking down at his head wearing the crown of thorns. And the love and power and new creation that radiates from him. It’s not only breathtaking, it lights this part of the Valley. It shows us the breathtaking beauty of God’s love for the world that we are invited to share. It shows us the heart of God willing to risk it all and it points ever outward. Love and sacrifice.

There is blessing and challenge in this- If God’s mission is ever outward, like the light of our stained glass window showing the vibrance emanating from that crown of thorns, are we ever outwardly turned?

Do we know the needs of the Greeks in our midst, those unchurched? Those who gave up on church? Those who long for a message of good news? Do we know how to find them and meet them with the gospel? And re we ready to let our seeds die for the answer? If they come, are we who love life here prepared to lose it to draw others closer in the kingdom of the cross, even in something as simple as sharing “our seat”?

May God forgive us and then renew us with a clean heart when we realize there are moments when in truth we know that the answer we know in our hearts is “no.”

The good news is that we are saved by the Son of Man lifted up. Not left to try to earn God’s love. Whether we do well or fall short. And we are saved from the belief we have to be perfectly dynamic- Christ on the cross, revealing God’s love is sufficient. It is sufficient for our life and sufficiently good news to share. We are called first simply to believe in this grace and power and live life in faith- that the one whose desire is to draw all into the kingdom will lead ever into the future.

And then, we are called to believe that the God whose desire is always to draw all- empowers us to help others see Jesus. Let’s not let the Greeks be the example- let’s not let people fail to see Jesus.  We are approaching Holy Week- may it be a time when we invite. And maybe, let’s dare to let go of what we might be holding onto that becomes an obstacle, but believe God will bring forth fruit for us all. So look at the cross, and may we be ever drawn deeper into the heart of our Lord and life for all.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

God's Love for the whole World

Whenever our daughters fought when they were younger, there was a lot of stair stomping and door slamming. and they would fight with one another about who had the right idea, invariably, someone would stomp off with one yelling, “I’m leaving!” And the other yelling back some variation of “GO ahead! See if I care!” When I read the passage of Moses and the people in the Book of Numbers, and all of the whining and grousing of the people about the food and the water and oy! I wonder if it doesn’t go through God’s mind to just say- “Go ahead, you stiff necked people, see if I care!” And it is disturbing to imagine that God would subject them to the poisonous snakes. Although in another sense, perhaps God who has been watching over them in all their kvetching while helping them overcome obstacles may in fact just be deciding to stop holding back the snakes. Because normally those snakes would have been around. And maybe until now they have been kept at bay, but now, they are set loose. In the anger and hurt and sense of betrayal. and maybe just like perhaps we have as parents sometimes decided, let the rebellious experience what they seem determined to experience.

When Moses comes to God in prayer for the people it may even feel like a pointless prayer, as he too has been the subject of their complaining. But he prays. God still responds and tells Moses how the people can be healed and live. They are reminded what got them there to that troubled place, and what there is no place for. But the last word is what God has overcome for them. The last word is love.

When I worked as a chaplain I was paged to a modern day situation like that. A mother was in her daughter’s room in ICU, grief stricken and angry. The daughter who hadn’t been in good health for a variety of lifestyle reasons had come to live with her Mom who wanted to take care of her and help her. But because doing so often involved a clash of choices, it was often confrontational. And on a particular day, the daughter, whose whining had reached epic levels and the mother who frustration matched it, had a shouting match which ended as the daughter pronounced she was leaving and the mother shouting at her- Go ahead! And knowing that her daughter was really sick, she also said words she probably meant to keep in her head, but they came out anyway followed it up with- You can die for all I care!

Words borne as much out of grief as prediction, because the daughter seemed determined to buck all efforts to live.

Well, on a hot day, this sickly, overweight daughter, blood pressure soaring, stomped off down the street, on a hot, humid summer afternoon in the city. And it was only a matter of time before she collapsed from a combination of the heat, diabetes and toxins. She ended up in the hospital, potentially not expected to live. Near death at the hands of the modern day serpents in her life. Proof that God who gives us freedom will let us have all of the hell and poison we want if we are determined to have it. There we were.

The mother had called for a chaplain, barely able to contain her emotions. Wanting healing for her daughter, she was also wracked with sadness at having the possibility of the last words her daughter heard her say be those poisonous words. That the last moments were hearts cracked and broken and toxic.

I asked her what she would say to her daughter if she could, and it wasn’t - boy did you screw up! It was- I want to tell her that I love her and I want her to live. And in that moment, the mother glimpsed the heart of God. The heart of a God who wants us to be healed and saved. This is the love we hear of in the Gospel- that even in the midst of colossal mistakes and heartaches and sin, God sends Jesus because God loves us and wants us to live.

Just like that mother wondering why on earth her daughter rebelled so often against what was life giving, God wonders how anyone would choose another way. Rob Bell writes, “How could someone choose another way with a universe of love and joy and peace right in front of them? We see it all the time. And we choose it when we isolate ourselves, give the cold shoulder to someone who has slighted us. When we hide knives in our words and harden our hearts in defiance of what we know to be loving and good and right. That impulse lurks in all of us…if we want isolation and despair…if we want nothing to do with love, we are given that.”

And then it is easy to imagine God whose ultimate purpose is to condemn and to punish. Because somewhere in our hearts there is a crack, there is a poison and brokenness that needs to be healed.

Healing began for the mother in the hospital even as her daughter was being healed. There would be more words between them. She let go of the toxic and those cracks in her heart began to mend as we prayed- and she joined in by telling God she didn’t know who the lady was that came to the room, but she knew what God wanted her to see, what mattered and to be forgiven. To know that even though the journey would still be hard, more than anything she wanted her daughter to wake up so she could say “I love you.” As the days passed and the daughter improved, I prayed it was hopefully the start of a new story for them.

“When we crave the light, are drawn to the truth, and are desperate for grace, God gives” us what God’s heart longs to share-that Jesus was sent not to condemn but to save. Lifted up on a cross to show us both the depths of our sin uncontained and God’s victory over all that robs us of life. So we can live a new story.

God’s love in the cross creates a new relationship of uncontainable things- love, and joy and grace. In those moments when we experience it, truly, we can’t help but share it. Jesus invites us into the heart of God and a new promise. An ongoing story of new creation and healing and transforming our hearts to be closer to God’s. This is who God is, what Christ shows and accomplishes for all.

And God’s love for us is why “God continues to come, year after year, to person after person…to show us an expansive and indestructible love that’s been ours all along- every single one of us.” Even the ones we’d just as soon say “see if I care!” to. Jesus is endlessly inviting us to trust, accept, believe, embrace and experience it again and again. God comes to save- whenever we believe that, it changes everything- how we see ourselves, how we see others, and how we see God.

So again this day we look at the cross, picture Christ and the new life we are given. And then keep believing that a love “as wide as the sky and as small as the cracks in our hearts we think no one knows we have” is God’s love for the whole world.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Words for Life

For the third week in Lent, I have been focusing upon the covenants of the Old Testament with the childrens’ message. So far, we have explored Noah, and Abraham, and now this week Moses. God used Moses to lead the people out of slavery in Egypt to freedom and God gave the 10 Commandments to Moses for the people. Because if you have been a slave with no ability to make choices and now you have freedom, what should that look like? I shared a few “commandments” of my own- “ You are your own boss. Do whatever you want, whenever you want to” and “Parents just don’t get it- ignore them when you want to” “ the one with the most toys wins” and “lies are OK if they keep you out of trouble.” The kids wisely knew those were not right. God wants us and everyone to have life that is good. God’s words for us help us remember how to treat others and how to be connected to God.  Then I shared a few more “commandments” with the rest of the congregation.


“Decide who is important and what is important and pay attention to those people and those things.”

“It doesn’t matter how you use God’s name-swear, tell people who God hates. Use God’s name to get what you want because God is on your side.”

“It doesn’t matter if you worship on Sunday, or any other day. Come whenever. If you have things you would rather do, go do them.”

“the main thing is to get what you want, if you want it. Figure out how to get it.”

“Lies are OK if you get what you want. It’s OK to make other people look bad if it helps you look good.”

You can find these commandments in books, or in popular culture, maybe even embroidered on a pillow. And they point up how at odds being God’s people really is. The 10 Commandments are at odds with life as we know it. It is, as Paul writes to the Corinthians, foolishness.

Add to that our perception of “the Law” as the commandments can be called. Our views of the legal system and regulations, perhaps on our mind here in tax season. And of course we have opinions about lawyers. All of those things can get added into how we hear “the Law.” Like it’s a hammer. We chafe against it.

It can be hard to remember that these are actually God’s 10 words- that’s the Hebrew. God’s 10 Words for Life. Given out of love by a God who has saved the people, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of slavery” and literally in Exodus 19, God says- I bore you up on eagle’s wings. It’s a mothering image. A loving image of a God who saves people and makes promises and provides for life. All of the covenants in some way embrace this.

From Noah, being told never again will creation be destroyed, to Abraham being promised he will be the Father of generations. Look at the stars in the sky- more numerous shall your descendants be. To Moses- I have freed you and I want you to be able to handle freedom.  That’s what the 10 words are about. Life for all.

Given by a God who we hear in Psalm 19 has created an arrangement for all of creation- setting those stars in the sky. Creating life for all- beauty and diversity and abundance. For each of us and all of us. We are connected.

In one connected relationship with God and all of creation.

And it then can seem for a moment, so simple. The  10 Commandments are not long.

But it gets complicated by all our layers of regulations and understandings. Our limits and rules.

And Jesus shows up in the temple where people are bogged down in all those layers of barriers and limits and separation. Where what had been well meaning had gotten lost.

In the system of the temple, the people brought sacrifices- if you came to seek forgiveness, you brought a sacrifice; if you came to give thanks, you brought a sacrifice. The sacrifice system was intended to tend a relationship. And so it would seem that selling animals people needed would make sense. Except that the focus had become so much about the business of the selling, the real focus got lost. And Jesus started flipping tables and clearing out those layers.

So what does that say to us today? After all, we don’t have a temple or a sacrifice system.  The sacrifice has been made in that cross for us.  For one, a reminder that we are not earning something.  One of our confirmands asked whether the 10 Commandments were really just a reward system. And people believe that. God’s 10 words for us are not about earning something. We don’t earn our salvation- that same cross made on our foreheads in baptism shows us God’s words for our life. Christ is the promise and decision for us for life already. God’s love and grace are already assured. We can live in that freedom.

We can remember that we too are not perfect in our living- but have been given God’s promise and forgiveness. In this season of Lent when we consider what it means to walk more closely with God, we can ask what in our lives needs to be cleared out that is creating barriers, or separation or is not centered in proclaiming Christ?

I have no agenda when I say this for us personally or as the church. I’m too new to even guess. It’s just a question, but it is the question. What is our focus? Why do we do what we do? What might need clearing?

Where we find our lives are centered in proclaiming Christ, may we give praise. Where they are not may we turn again to the God who claims us, forgives us and loves us enough to give us words for life.



Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Challenging "Possible"

(This year in the season of Lent, with our children we are focusing upon the covenants we hear of in the Old Testament between God and the people. And in Sunday and Wednesday worship we are using Faith 5 Lenten resources which break down the lessons into three themes- the first two weeks focusing upon Jesus coming to challenge. This week, the Old Testament reading from Genesis lifted up the covenant God communicated to Abram, now Abraham- the promise of generations to come through him even as he was 99 years old. An idea that makes young and old laugh even today. But we talked about how earlier God has told Abraham this would be so and took him out to look up at the night sky at the stars- and especially here in the country where there is less light pollution, the sky on a clear night is chock full of stars. We can truly get that they are impossible to count. Just like it’s hard for us to get just how much God loves us and wants to bring forth blessing. The kids took sticky metallic stars and handed them out amongst themselves and the whole congregation. And we encouraged people put them on clothing not the bulletin and to see how long that star would stay on that day even after worship. Later in worship, what a delight it was to see people of all ages coming up with stars on their shirts and sweaters- on the pin a lady was wearing, or the suspenders of a gentleman. As they came forward for communion, most tried to catch my eye to see if I saw their star. And what a joy to see the delight and life in the people as each week I call the kids forward and some run to get to the front of the church (gasp!) for our time together. It’s amazing what God makes possible!)

So today, all of our lessons are about challenging what we think is possible. Surely the covenant God was making with Abraham seemed impossible. After all, if I ask the man who today we acknowledged for celebrating a 90th birthday what he would think if tonight he was told he’s fathering a child, we can see his laugh and head shake “no!” God told Abraham this but then time passed before the conversation we see today and it had be even more improbable. How astounding to have God already have told you that your descendants will be more numerous than the stars in the night sky. The verses we skip today would tell us not only that Abraham fell face down at this, but he laughed. He and Sarah laughed! Now God comes to make this covenant- a promise to be fulfilled. And many of us know that a baby at any age brings a whole new life- both joyous and sometimes frightening. But here in this covenant with Abraham we see a whole new identity, and a new name ( father of nations) and something sacred- that life together with God is much more connected- God is not distant, but one with the people. It challenges what seems possible. And even though it seemed to be impossible, there was life beyond imagining.

As we look at the apostle Paul, and his writings, we see one who was a persecutor of Christians, who handed over, and imprisoned and oversaw the death of others. Until that dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus where his whole life changed. But at first Paul thought he knew what his mission was- to speak to his people, to the Jewish people, after all he had been one of them. But they rejected him. And he seemed stuck, but instead he learned that his true ministry was to proclaim the gospel to a whole other group of people- the Gentiles. People he thought beyond God’s plan for salvation. But with a new name, and a new identity his message began the work of the church still today- making people one. It challenges what seems possible. And even though it seemed like an impossible thing, there was ministry beyond limitations.

Today we hear Jesus has been astounding flocks of people with teaching, and healings and feeding thousands of people from what seems like nothing. And the disciples are amazed and in response to his question of “who do you say I am?” Peter has blurted out ahead of the pack- you are the Messiah! And it seems like this will usher in the age of power and glory and political might. And yet it here that Jesus responds in a way that shocked them- I will be killed and I will die and yet rise. No! Death cannot be possible! It cannot be the way this goes! It challenges what seems possible. And though it seemed impossible, there was life and salvation beyond belief.
And yet, there it is in all the lessons really- that in order for God’s possibility to be brought forth, there is a death. A death to what we are sure we know, when God’s plan seems backwards. If we use the lens of power and possibility we will fail to grasp it- we will fail to get there.

Because God is challenging what is “possible” and it is radically different- life altering. And rooted in love. A radically different love that looks at people no one is looking at, and goes places no one is thinking about and dares the impossible- Life for all.

One life for all

That is gospel for us and yet there is sacrifice. Here's why:
Recently I saw a picture that on one side shows three distinct circles for work, play and rest and then there is a line drawn from top to bottom on the one side. On the other side is a picture of a church. And it says “2 Lives.” It depicts that way sometimes we all can view things- there is my work, and my play and my rest time that takes up about 6 days and 22 hours. And then there is my other life- the hour or two I spend being “churchy.”

Then there is a second picture where the circles of work and play and rest are interconnected like a Venn diagram (you now know the extent of my math knowledge)- but there in the middle of the connection is that cross. And the caption says “one life.” Not two lives. One. God in the midst of it, creating it and active in it. God in it all, not just the official churchy part. And us in God’s world living out God’s vision.

Here’s where the stars come in. They represent what is possible in God’s eyes. Beyond our imagining for ourselves and our world. Perhaps it seems like we are sacrificing to live a “one life” existence as opposed to just compartmentalizing God. And yet there is such blessing amidst yes, challenge, in one life. Imagine the possibilities for life, ministry and mission. Imaging the scope of God’s love.

Perhaps our Lenten challenge is challenging what we think is possible.

And then taking steps closer to living One Life with the God who is inviting us into what is possible- that everything we are and do really are one life in Christ. When you look at that star, may you be reminded of God’s calling.