Saturday, December 26, 2009


This was not what was preached - exactly. The manuscript never got to church with me - so I jumped onto the Holy Spirit trampoline and bounced. It seemed to go well at the 8:00 a.m. service.
Of course, I never got to it at the 10:30 - I heard Retired Pastor Friend go "I was listening to the sermon at the early service and it went like this . . ."

Advent 4C, Dec. 20, 2009
Luke 1 - the visitation and Magnificat

“Blessed” We don’t use that word much - it’s not part of our everyday imagination. We think about those who have enough - who appear to be happy - as blessed. We are ‘blessed’ with children - when they are small. But when they are grown - some of us would say we are blessed with our progeny if those sons and daughters have done okay - it is hard to say we are blessed when the kid is out of work and living in the basement.

In some ways ‘blessed’ is also synonymous in America with luck and/or hard work. We are blessed to be healthy, to be white, to be Americans at all - to have all the benefits of our color and class and nation. America itself is called blessed - because we’ve had lots of resources to develop or exploit - because we’ve governed ourselves relatively freely and wisely over 200 years. So on a larger scale we are a blessed generation. Some understand themselves as blessed because they can look and see what they’ve accomplished, and they are satisfied.

But, but, there is always another side. - we may not think we are blessed - we have bad fortune, disappointments - our children turn do things differently than we would like - our good job disappears - our cherished institutions change. Our health gives way - the situation of a loved one becomes drastically different. Don’t feel quite as blessed, then, we don’t. And the world is uncomfortable with those who don’t seem to share in the good fortune, those who walk in darkness.

In our story we see two women meeting - they walk in light and approval, and they walk in the shadows of the world‘s disapproval. Many would have called Elizabeth blessed - after all, she has had her heart’s desire fulfilled - she’s now pregnant with her first child, although she’s getting up there in age. In her time and culture - she would be definitely be seen as blessed, as rewarded, as having God’s favor. So would her husband Zechariah, if he hadn’t been strangely quiet about the whole thing.

Mary, on the other hand - her situation is not quite as favorable. She’s still very young - she is only betrothed, not married, and she has this interesting story about being pregnant without knowing a man. She has rushed from her home, immediately after her vision of the angel Gabriel - and rushed to meet with the only person who might understand - her cousin Elizabeth, who has also been touched by God in a wonderful way.

This Gospel is the story of two miracles meeting for the first time. Both John and Jesus have now been conceived. John is more than six months along, we are told, and thus very capable of giving a swift kick or two to his mother, and Jesus has just been conceived. In fact, just prior to this text is the story in which Mary finds out about Elizabeth's pregnancy, and it is to rejoice with her kinswoman that she goes on this journey.
. . .

Mary is blessed - not because she’s had good luck, good favor, or good things are happening to her. She’s blessed because she’s heard the word of God - and believed it. And accepted it - she said yes - let it be to me the way you desire, God.

That is radically different from our usual way of talking. We usually say someone is blessed because of how their life has turned out. Not here - there is no judgment about God liking or not liking someone - about Good things happening to Good people, and when bad things happen - well. And that’s what we should be remembering in this season.

Mary’s state of being blessed, of being faithful - has nothing to do with human judgments upon her, and everything to do with the power of God. Here is the message in this story:
God is powerful - and that is true whether you have it all, or you have nothing. God is powerful and that is true whether you have smiling children at the Christmas tree, or a small and quiet day by yourself on Thursday.
God is powerful - and his power comes to each one who turns to him
- in joy and in sorrow,
in thanksgiving and in frustration,
in the best moments of our lives - and more significantly -

God’s power come to those who turn to him even when the world says they are not blessed.

Mary’s song makes this clear - he looks at the lowest down, the sad, the depressed, the poor, the helpless, the guilty, the have-nots - and they will receive blessing. While the British occupied India - Anglican priests were not to read or teach the Magnificat to the Indian people - it was too revolutionary. God’s word of power is revolutionary - it sets things upside down - it makes a poor teenager the mother of a king - and makes that king walk the most difficult road.

Elizabeth knew, rightly, that her cousin Mary was blessed - blessed for what was happening in and through her - even though the world couldn’t see that - and blessed for the faith Mary held in her heart.

When the world looks at us and thinks - unlucky, when the world looks and thinks - bad choices - when the world looks and thinks - there but for the grace of God go . . .
God looks and says . . . For you I was born. For you I came to Mary. For you this life was lived. To bless you - to offer to you solace in your grief and peace in your busy life - for you I am.

That is true blessing - knowing that God is powerful - thanks be to God.

Monday, December 21, 2009

really, it was a good weekend. really

It really was a good weekend. I had Friday night by myself as the eagle rehearsed - and that was fine, because I tweaked my sermon about Mary and blessedness, and watched the last episode of Glee and went to bed content. I even finished cookies for the bake sale with plenty of time.

And Saturday morning I helped at church with the Christmas baskets, and hung around with some good people. And went home and got cleaned up and attended Lessons and Carols and went out for dinner with the Eagle. All was well.

All was well Sunday, too. Well, I felt a little groggier than usual since the cat woke me before the alarm. Got to church early, and the first service went fine. Even though I had forgotten the manuscript of the sermon at home - I did well jumping off the edge and the Holy Spirit did hold me up. The sermon was basically about 'blessing' being not about good fortune or good luck - and all of us are blessed at Christmas because Jesus was born for us - not because everything is all right - it's okay to be grieving or sad - and you are still blessed.

Good that my pastoral colleage was listening - good that I was partnering that day - because I fell apart at the 2nd service. Opening - was okay - music - good - prayers - fine. Call the children up for the children's message and . . .

The world started spinning. Dramatically. All at once. I managed to finish speaking to the children, say to my colleauge- "and now Pastor will read the message", sit down quickly and put my head down. First thought - 'fainting'. But I never passed out - I heard everything going on around me. I passed the mic to Pastor and whispered - tell him to go on! "Are you okay?" me: "no." Do you want us to: - find the paramedic that goes to church there - oh, yes. Couldn't find him or the either of the doctors. Call 911 - 'yes, please.' All this with my head down, eyes closed and breaking into a cold sweat.

I heard one of our guys sing a great solo. I was just hoping no one was paying any attention to the woman slumped at a table in front. Of course they were.

Finally, 911 came and I was carted off in front of everyone! Could not open my eyes or move at all. I was holding on to the gurney for dear life. Medicine helped stop the spinning in the ambulance. I was released after about one and a half hour.

Medicine seems to be keeping the vertigo down - I'm on a 8 hour dosing schedule more or less, but I'm concerned that it's only supressing the vertigo and it will come back at the end of the period. I do not feel okay yet, still tired and fuzzy and what I call 'woozy' - but it's not full-blown spinning.

Well, I am blessed - in ways I don't quite realize. Good, good spouse, co-workers, a comfortable house to recuperate in. Peace to all.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

saturday before Christmas

Okay - Tree #2 - is up and decorated in the simplest way possible - just lights and selected glass ornaments - no brass or gold or glass or theme or special colors - just the first ones we laid our hands on. And then I said - well, there, that's pretty and closed up the bins with the unused ornaments. And it is pretty. It's okay that the glass ornaments (which represent at least one a year since we've been married) aren't used this year. There will be other years, other trees. This year needs to be simple.

Still no card -writing and presents to the east coast not sent. Pro-Flowers is a great thing, but I need to get on it.

It's Saturday afternoon and I must polish the sermon - and be ready to go to John's concert at 4:00, have dinner, then will have some time after that.

Still need to get readers for the 7 p.m. service, maybe ushers. I think the other two are set.

But, as thing go, it seems managable.
Peace, Peace, Peace.

Friday, December 18, 2009

musings for advent

I'm back to preaching again, after taking it easier the last two weeks - thanks Dan~!

At the same time Christmas is drawing near, with all its joy, the pastoral staff is walking with an extended family through the end stages of a tragedy, and I hear about others whose loved ones are moving into the end stages of life. Or moving into the place of needing more care. Or just moving out of the house, out of marriages. Or moving away from the church - my churches, because we just don't seem to give them what they want/need.

So the sermon title, picked on Monday is 'blessed' and I am pondering what it means to be blessed. In our common current use it means a little more than lucky - everything is going okay, good, excellent. We can be proud of our children, we have good jobs and trust we'll have them tomorrow, we have good health. So we are blessed.

And then, are the tragedy-ridden, the parents of disappointing kids, the unemployed, the sick - not blessed. Well, in common usage, yes, they are the 'unblessed.' It's very OT - deuteronomic system stuff we live with every day. So much so we don't even realize what we're saying, often. So much so that we don't realize the hurt the comes from this assumption - we hint that God has withdrawn his favor from those who suffer.

The expression 'to bless' must mean to pass judgment - really, it is to contextualize a situation and claim meaning for it - positive meaning. And once that sense has been accepted the opposite situation - to suffer - takes on the opposite meaning - to lack blessing (cursed).

Elizabeth saw it differently. She 'blesses' - says good about Mary - for she perceives that Mary has been touched by God. And she proclaims Mary 'blessed' - happy, for Mary has believed what was said to her. Elizabeth knows that God is acting here. That is cause for proclamation, for identifying that God does the blessing.

Blessed. So we are to remember, and be compassionate - that blessing isn't about removal from suffering, about good luck, or happy outcome. It's about proclamation that here - in this life, in this place, God is acting, God is. . .

God is in a pregnant teen and in a poor city in hills of a poor territory. God is with a little old pregnant lady and her temporarily mute husband (that must have been a long nine months). God is with a struggling oppressed community, a minority in the great empire. God is hanging out on the road, in the prisons, in the sick rooms, in the hospital beds. God is doing his blessing thing where his people see that he is acting . . . where compassion comes out, where tenderness is expressed, when violence is stopped, when forgiveness is real.

God blesses. We may judge for 'blessing' - but in eyes of faith - God's blesses. The maker of meaning is the source of any blessing - any good and gracious understanding of our lives.

For those who walk in tragedy - the judgment of blessing seems far, far away - impossible to compute, to realize, to utter. But here is the core of faith - the determination of 'blessed' isn't ours, it is God's. God is in that sickroom, with that wayward child, in the painful awareness of sin and grief and loss - and God determines the 'blessing.'

The hope of the lesson - walk with God, hang in there, trust - and you will find God. Blessing comes. He looks with favor upon the lowly - and blesses.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

One Tree is Up!

One Christmas Tree is up.
The little artificial one downstairs is lovely with golden Met. Museum stars, gold balls, red birds, balls and ribbons, a few white angels. White lights of course.

Who knows when the big one will go up? My dear husband has a concert on Saturday and rehearsals tonight and friday - Thursday may be the day for it going up and Sunday for decorating.

We just do it for ourselves, no kids in our lives.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

cozy tonight

It's my birthday and a blizzard at the same time. So the Eagle and I are squestered at home - I hope he is not called out to the hospitals. It is supposed to be getting quite nasty in the wee hours.

I'd love to 'watch' the blizzard - the blowing falling snow, but it's going to be the middle of night, not the time for visible weather. This will be a secret storm, hidden by darkness. We will wake to the changed world - drifted snow and heavy branches.

We will not fully understand or experience it, cozy as we are, in the house with limited windows and excellent insulation. Our comfort - perhaps it makes us shallow.

December afternoon a day after the first snowfall.

In all cities,
there is a moment, in December,
when the sun is low
and the light is slanting, soft.

When melt and cars and concrete
create a universal smell.
This is not beauty.
But it is real.

That we, humans, ride this tide of our own making
our permanently frozen ground,
our marred landscape
our padded feet not feeling
our swaddled bodies not aware
that the soft sun is crying:


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

advent of

Now that Thanksgiving is over, and the family room is painted, it's time for the big push. That is - the Advent season.

And I need to write a Jan. newsletter article, too. (We have early deadlines). Caroling parties, feeding people at potlucks, special visits, concerts, my birthday, all that falls in this season. I'm stepping back from preaching for a few weeks - so I can think about the Christmas eve stuff.

Have to send presents far away, and complete planning for the season after.

Christmas itself will be very quiet - just John and me and maybe the young man, if he condescends to come over. John and I like being together, that's a good thing.