Thursday, December 30, 2010


Break open the world with light and song!
A passionate song to that one king
whose throne, whose life so bright gems held
but wood and straw and dust beheld

A life like ours too short, too hard
and ever by injustice marred
from angel song to mother's tears
at last the hard road did appear

A manager born, a cross and grave
darkness upon all things alive
break open the world with light and sing
of great victory of our king

Saturday, December 4, 2010

on noticing

It's one of those Christmas/birthday seasons when I don't really need anything, and so I haven't offered the eagle any suggestions for gifts. I think we're going to buy some more furniture. Most of our stuff isn't new and never was new. We have a LOT of 'recycled' furniture. The dining room table and chairs come close to being antiques, because they belonged to my great aunt. We've had them since we were married, and they date from the 1950s. (So did the washing machine we got rid of last year.)

The big couch upstairs was a freebee from an estate. The upstairs recliner (which hasn't aged well) and the downstairs couch were from a used furniture store. Lots of things from our mothers. We did buy one recliner new, about 15 years ago. And various desks and stuff, usually cheap, and they show it. Our stereo system sits on an old sewing machine cabinet.

So the eagle wants a new cabinet for his cds - and he took me to the local cheap store and said - see - this is on sale! It was ugly. I said no. Now I'm looking for something better, better looking and better made. I'd love to buy local - but how does one find that kind of thing?

He turned to me and said, "I don't know how many women would go all these years without anything new." (aside from the stereotyping, I think it was a compliment.) "Well," I said, "I don't really notice."

Now I wonder, should I be noticing? I notice clutter, I notice broken things, but useful things are just there. I suspect I'm like my own mother in that regard.

What else do I not notice? What is in the background, accepted, but not paid attention to?

Monday, November 29, 2010

red-green team and the blue side

The sermon from this weekend. I held up red & green and blue ribbon bows while I spoke. And I did find Luther quotes for both sides.

Advent 1A, November 28/29 “That Day and Hour” - Matthew 24:36-44

You know, it's that time of year. The church calls it Advent, and the world calls this is the time before Christmas. Those are two different orientations, you see. I’m going to call these two attitudes the Red/Green Team and the Blue Side. And these are balanced, I think, and we live, more or less, in both ways of life, some of us more, some of us less.

The Red-Green Team – those who live in the ‘Time before Christmas” find their world filled with stuff to do,
• plans to fulfill, things to buy or to make, places to go, people to see.
• These folks have no problem with hearing Christmas Music early, seeing decorations and spreading the delightful promises of the festival season early and often. Why can’t we sing Joy to the World?
• It is a time filled with doing and activity. Those are not bad things – we really try to think about what others might want, we become more generous and kind-hearted. I love the time before Christmas for its ability to stir even the least spiritual into an awareness of others, of giving to the less needy. Charity at the holidays is something we can be proud of.

Now on the church calendar, we call these 4 Sundays the time of Advent. This is where the Blue Side lives.
• The Blue side is all about waiting, listening, watching, keeping awake, becoming aware of silence and uncertainty.
• The Blue Side remembers there are old and seldom sung hymns just for this season. They are the O Come, O Come Emmanuel folks.
• It is less about doing, and more about listening, seeing, asking questions. Where is God today? What does God want? What does it mean that God became human, and was really present in this first century Jew we call Jesus?

These two attitudes are often looked at as opposites, as two things that can’t exist together, but today I see both of these orientations as having their own blessing as we live as the Advent people. Both orientations, the one that is busy and full of things to do, and the one that is quiet and attentive, both respond to the same hope, the same great news.

The hope is the one expressed in our scripture readings today – over and over again – that God will do a new thing, that the kingdom of God will be made real, that the city of God will be established, that the people of God will be safe, that all people will be gathered into God’s loving embrace.

We know that this movement of God, this new thing, began with the birth of Jesus long ago, and flowered in the life of Jesus and was testified in his death and resurrection – and we wait in hope for the next moment, that which was promised. That’s why we call this time ‘Advent’ (which is related to the word advance – this is time in advance of something). There are these strange images from the Bible and they tell us that in some way, God’s not done. God’s not done with us. God’s not done with the story.

So both the Red-Green Team and the Blue Side are working in this sense of hope, of expectation that something is going to happen, and we ought to be ready for it.

We do not know when God will complete the story of his love, his victory, his justice for all. But we know that we live in advance of it – we live in expectation, in hope, that both justice and judgment will come. Those two things – justice and judgment – are not opposed at all in the eyes of God. The kingdom of God is a place where peace is practiced, where all are called to the banquet, and no one goes hungry, no one is cold, no one is left alone. And those blessings are to come through God’s chosen people, through the grace and love and strength given by God. The story is not completed, but we play our part as this generation of those who must be prepared.

So listen to the lessons – They speak of the joy of salvation – of being God’s loved people and they speak of responsibility. They speak God’s actions, yes, but also of the expectations for God’s people. Isaiah calls the people of God to ‘walk in the light of the Lord!’ even though the complete victory of his vision is far away. Walk in the light - there is a way to live that is close to God’s intentions.

The apostle Paul has the same insight – that when we are living in the waiting time, we are living not just for ourselves, but for the hope that is in us. So he reminds his listeners to cling to honor, to seek to live well, remembering the better way that we have been taught.

And Jesus gives us this extraordinary reminder that life can be short, that encounters with God can come at any moment – we do not know the hour or the day. We might want to shrug off this passage, but it should re mind us that judgment will come, and in the Gospel of Matthew, judgment and justice lie side by side. Like the owner of the house, we should be always ready to respond – never thinking that tomorrow is soon enough for charity, that next year is soon enough for commitment. God doesn’t work that way. Now is the time.

Perhaps for each of us, whether we are on the Red-Green team or Blue Side of this season – we can take a lesson from pattern of the other.

For the busy Red-Green people – how do we listen for God’s hope beyond our own busy plans? The answer may be in those practices of quietness and mediation – in devotions and music and scripture reading that force us to take time away from planning and doing so that we are just present. Luther was asked how he fit everything into his busy life - well, I pray 2 hours a day, and if I'm really busy . . . I pray for 4 hours.

If you are like me, and make to do lists, we could put ‘PRAY’ at the top of our list. If you already do this – then you may already be leaning to the Blue Side, but for those of us who find ourselves full of tasks to do, our Advent challenge is to stop and listen, stop and contemplate, stop doing and start waiting.

For those Blue Side – we must realize that God has placed us in the world and called us to service now. So the question may be: how do we find our path of impacting and serving the world that God has placed in front of us? There is an old story about Martin Luther being asked what he would do if he were to discover that the world were coming to an end tomorrow. Luther’s response: “I would plant an apple tree.”

That’s a Red-Green response if ever there was one. It was Luther’s way, I suspect, of asserting that our calling is ever to trust in God’s faithfulness and to seek to be faithful followers of Jesus, day in and day out. Our calling is to embrace the sharp edge of expectant hope, to affirm that, even now, God may well be at work in the world around us.

So whether you identify with the Red-Green Team or the Blue Side, whether you desire to sing your Christmas Carols today or long to hear the rare and solemn ancient hymns of Advent – you are called to live in expectation that, yes, Christ is Coming, Christ is coming indeed.

Monday, November 22, 2010

day off? on?

I found a free day, and I don't know what to do with myself. Or rather - here is a day in which I don't need to go to the office at least - the first in 10 days - and it's hard to get moving. I have a list of things to do - shop for Thanksgiving, clean house, call back on church details (oh, that's work again), catch up on school - - but.

But. Something in me just wants to curl up and finish my Trollope book (I love Anthony Trollope! His insight into people! His dry wit! Despite the fact he's writing in and about the 1850s, I know these people, and know these places), drink tea and listen to music. Now that I have a funeral on Friday, that day is chopped up. Sorry Sara, I can't spend all day with you at home.

Some of you know I'm taking courses in counseling. For my current course I need to speak to someone who leads group counseling/support groups, and I've come up dry. Any suggestions?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Christ the King Sunday


Christ the King C, 2010 – Nov. 20/21 – ‘End and Beginning’
Luke’s Passion
When did this start, this idea of the kingdom of God – this new thing that God does? We usually suggest it starts with the birth of Jesus – Christmas – that little babe. (The little babe, so few days old, has come to rifle Satan's fold) But in Colossians and in John – it is part of God’s imaginative hope when he made creation- these creatures, with imagination and language and reason – these ones who bear his image- these are the ones who might understand what it means to worship him. We are called to worship, from the beginning. And when we fall away, we – our flesh and blood and DNA - are still the vehicle for this miracle of incarnation. That’s where it starts – with being who we are, with being human.

Back up a few days from our Gospel story. We think the disciples, those who knew Jesus in his active ministry, who traveled with him, and listened to him daily – we think they had a pretty good idea of what Jesus was about. The stories we have received, however, show us otherwise. Those closest to Jesus misunderstood him, and showed themselves as ordinary folks who wasted their time debating who would be most honored.

Two of them, brothers James and John, came to Jesus and asked him to honor them by promising that they – James and John – would be the right-hand man and the left-hand man when Jesus came into his glory. Get this – they asked for the particular places of honor and power. They asked to be recognized above all the other ten intimates, above all the others who followed Jesus daily, above Jesus’ mother and Jesus own brother, above anyone else who would even join the movement. Let us be your lieutenant – your generals, your chosen men.

Jesus said to them: “you don’t know what you are asking. Will you follow where I am going to go? Will you do what I am going to do?” “Oh, yes, of course” And Jesus probably looked at them with love and shook his head – because he knew they would indeed be taking up the way of the cross, and that they had no idea of what was in store for them. “Indeed you will drink the cup that I drink, and you will go the way I go – but to guarantee that kind of honor you seek – it is not in my hands.”

The son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for all.

Now look were we are a few days later – Jesus is abandoned on the cross. James and John – well, they are not on his right and left hands. Those on his right and left hands are criminals, probably either highwaymen or revolutionaries foolish enough to get caught. All three are face the horrific execution of crucifixion. Let’s remember, Jesus was not the only one to suffer this way – not the only one to ‘take up his cross’ – it was a common practice in those cruel days.

This is the cup which Jesus must drink, the baptism he must be baptized by. This is what he asked James and John if they were willing to undergo. For James and John, this is the END – this is the end of the Jesus movement, this is the end of the hopes that through charisma, through teaching, through works of power and healing justice and righteousness might win. This is the end to the hopes that James and John or Peter or anyone might find themselves able to act with God’s Power and Might and Judgment.

This is the end of all that – all that expectation that the Reign of God, this Kingdom of Heaven was going to be a Nation, an Empire, a Government like any other Government.

The sign above Jesus head said “This is the King of the Jews” and at his right hand and his left hand were the scum of the earth. It was meant to be ironic, a claim that was so obviously untrue that no one would ever claim that title again. But Jesus, in the midst of his own agony, shows what a king truly is.

What is a King? A King is forgiving: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Extraordinary – those soldiers knew what they were doing – they were mocking the dying, they were benefiting from other’s pain, they were killing people. Jesus still asks that they be forgiven – for the complete generosity of his kingdom will include even those who are cruel, the enemy, the scoffers, the on-lookers.

What is a King? A king is gracious. So Jesus turns to the one who acknowledges his own guilt, defends Jesus, and attributes innocence to him, and Jesus promises grace. Jesus promises paradise, Jesus promises that this broken man will be with Jesus in Paradise.

What is a King? This cross is the moment of beginning of the kingdom of God. This cross is where we see what a King is and what a King does. How a King becomes not a King of the World, but a King of our soul, of our hearts. The cross is the end point of any dreams that following this Messiah would provide power and authority on earth. The cross is the beginning of a new thing, a new kind of kingdom.

And if we are not sure that this story is true – that this is the way that God will be working - God completes the drama, God provides the last act, has the last word – on Easter morning Jesus is seen alive and whole and complete. The King has returned, and the new way has truly begun.

The New Kingdom is an invitation to all of us – to see ourselves in the story. Who are we, where do we stand?

o Are we still like James and John, wondering what the reward on this earth is going to be? And if so, what happens when the reward is not forthcoming? Can we open our hearts to realize it isn’t about us, isn’t about what we think is important – that God is pointing to an internal, spiritual transformation that must precede the reformation of the world?

o Are we like those on-lookers, not so sure that this King has any real power over what really matters to us? What do we miss when we do not see that this King, this incarnated savior, is present for us always, showing a way of life that does powerfully shape what really matters to us?

o Are we like those thieves – caught up in our own pain? And then, even then, in pain – real pain – grief, illness, fear, anger, disappointment, frustration – do you see that there are two ways to respond to the presence of our broken King?

He’s there with us in our pain – and we can turn away or we can turn toward. Turn away: “Save yourself and us!” and when he does not save us in the way that we want, let bitterness overtake us. Or we can turn toward him – and do what the thief did: Worship him. See him in his truth. See what he went through, and why.

The New Kingdom is an invitation. To you and me, to know this King, to struggle with what he means for us, in the old language to conform our lives to his, to figure out how we live -
How we spend money, how we participate in all the uses of power in our lives,
How we love each other, how we treat each other.
The New Kingdom is an invitation to live in Christ Jesus, to embody this King – forgiving, gracious, and hopeful of Paradise.

Not a bad way to begin a new life – forgiving, gracious and hopeful of Paradise. Amen.


Friday, November 19, 2010

On who we are to Christ the King

"Today I tell you you will be with me in Paradise"

Who is there in the kingdom?

The kingdom of those who have no other possession.

The kingdom that we enter (only) as we know we are dispossessed - leave behind the safety of possessions, leave behind the gratification of success, leave behind the conviction of health, security, 'okayness' - then and only then do we enter his kingdom - naked, solitary, ashamed - and honored.

Who will be there?

Bandits and thieves and failed revolutionaries, criminals who have been caught and humiliated, teenage prostitutes who cling to their pimps, the battered mother who loves and coddles her son, the fellow who bet it all on a great stock tip, the half-dead long-haired ex-con who can't get a job. And the banker and the lawyer and the priest and the lucky one who won the lottery.

When does this moment of the cross happen?

the cross moment happens every day - every day that life ends, or life begins.
Every day that joy is born and every day that joy is extinguished.
the cross moment is when we learn who we really are before the cosmos.
When we are small, or very big, or disappear - which is all the same.

Then we glimpse Paradise - not as a completed version of what we desire, but as the time we are fully known and will know fully.

Flannery O'Connor had it right. The Revelation is that all the Turpins - like me - who think they have it right, will only be on the way to Paradise when all is burned away. Entering the kingdom, on our way to Paradise, isn't anything like exaltation - it's life, burning through us, taking away, taking away, taking away.

I don't know how to preach this.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Reformation Sunday

Reformation Sunday
“Slaves and Free” – JOHN 8:31-34

There were a lot of great things to see and hear in Germany. For each person, a trip like that holds particular memories. The City of Wittenberg is called one of the ‘LutherStadt” cities, recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site. There is a long mile street from Luther and Katie’s home to the Castle Church where Luther posted his 95 theses on the Eve of All Saints Day, October 31st. There is a short digression off the main street to St. Mary’s Church, which was the parish church for the city, the common church, the homely home for most of the people of Wittenberg. This was the church were Martin and Katie were married, where their children were baptized, where they made their spiritual home.

The church itself is nothing special. It is old, started in 1300 and finished a few years before Luther was born – and it has been re”muddled” many times, made modern in whatever fashion was in fashion, so the interior is not at all like the church of Martin and Katie’s days. Then there would have wood screens hiding the priest from the people. There would have been small chapels in the aisles for personal devotions. There would have been many statutes, many painted plaques remembering the gifts of the deceased. There would have been the smell of incense and the hovering sense of mystery – of the words of the Latin mass murmured far away from the worshiper, the raising of the host in its gilded holder. Only the priests would consume the wine, and only a few people would be considered holy enough to receive the bread. It was, after all, a medieval Catholic building.

But this is what grabbed me – here, in this place, this sanctuary, on Christmas Eve , the pastor of this church, who was named Johannes Bugenhagen, said the service in German, the language of the people, and offered communion to the people in bread and wine. In that place, for the first time in centuries, the people heard the words of the Holy Eucharist in their own language. In that place the mysteries were opened and while not less mysterious, all people, young and old, learned and illiterate, men and women, were invited into the mystery at the heart of our faith.

Jesus says: “if you continue in my word … you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” As Christians we struggle with this question – what does it mean to be free, to live in the truth, and in the converse, in what ways are we not free, are we still slaves? In the time of Luther and Bugenhagen, at that moment in St. Mary’s Church – the question of slave and free was deeply important.

The first slavery was the influence of false teaching – the notion that people could buy off the consequences of their sins without true repentance, confession and reformation of life. The established church would allow the viewing of relics to substitute for change in life, for responsibility. The objection to this is the beginning of Luther’s actions with the 95 statements.
But there was a deeper slavery, a more fundamental disease that existed then and now that Luther and his colleages struggled with. It was ignorance – ignorance of the depth and width of Jesus’ Word – of the whole intention of God’s plan and promise – the ignorance of the Gospel itself.

When Jesus says: “The truth will set you free” his listeners protest – wait , we are free, we are born free, we are not in slavery to anyone or anything. They are essentially saying – what do you mean – we are okay just as we are. “We are okay just as we are.”

Let that echo for a minute – We are okay just as we are. Does that sound familiar? That assertion – I’m okay – I don’t know about you, but I’m just fine – that attitude is the same 2000 years ago, and in Luther’s time, and in ours. It is an on-going stance of the human condition. Those who point it out get into trouble – Parent, don’t correct that behavior, because you won’t be your kids’ friend anymore. Ecologist – don’t remind us we are wasting the world’s resources, polluting the planet, changing the weather. Social reformer – don’t suggest that we can share the wealth, so that no one goes hungry. Pastor, don’t preach about sin, you’ll hurt someone’s feelings. Don’t ask for a commitment, because you’ll be going against culture, and only be disappointed.

And, if you read all of John chapter 8 – you’ll find that Jesus is in this exact situation – he is using the language of slaves to sin, and no one wants to hear him – they want to kill him.

“The truth will set you free.” is a message that was true in Jesus’ time and the time of the Reformation and in our time. And the people – all of us, we are no different – we reply with the same blind perspective. In some way we respond with ‘We are descendents of Abraham’ – “I’m okay just as I am”

When I spoke about the Christmas Eve service at St. Mary’s in Wittenberg I said that the mysteries were opened up and all were invited in. There is a mystery at the heart of every Christian worship service. It is the mystery of our freedom, our true identity in Christ as beloved Children of the Divine.

The heart of the Gospel will always be a mystery – but it doesn’t need to be an unknown. Jesus desires us to know his Word, know his Truth, to know him. When we suggest that we are okay just as we are – we don’t need to learn more, don’t need to change, don’t need to repent – we are fundamentally at odds with the Gospel. The Gospel is always about change, change in the heart, right here. It is always about recognizing that we are slaves, slaves to sin, we are a community of slaves, struggling to be free.

That’s strong language, but it’s the only kind of language that I can find that reflects how strongly the Gospel Word should touch us.

We figure as we go through life, we have to go it on our own – we have a problem, we figure we’ll fix ourselves – be it through buying indulgences, or psychotherapy without prayer, or making tons of money, or spending tons of money, or drugs to dull our panic attacks, or giving our body away to another because we think that will make us loved somehow – you can name the situation – we go it on our own and the fix is always temporary, partial. We can eat well, and feel empty, we can be intimate and be alone, we can come to church, and not hear a thing, not feel a thing.

There is a mystery that dwells at the heart of every worship service, a mystery that near to each one of us. It is not far away, and not difficult. It isn’t a secret. It is a mystery. It is that Jesus Christ took care of our slavery already. It is that the price was paid. The way out of prison is right here.
The race to be independently found worthy is over. We don’t have to be okay just as we are. We aren’t supposed to be okay just as we are. The Gospel is fundamentally about change. We are called to be better. We are called to be justified, make right, approved, blessed, identified as Children of God, better than anything we can do on our own.

The truth will set you free. Free to change. Free to turn away from unproductive habits, from self-satisfaction, from fruitless fixes that never last. Free from fear that you are faking it, free from always striving to present a good face.

Free for living – choosing healthy ways to relate to others, free for self-respect, free for compassion for others, free for worshiping in thanks and praise. Free from selfishness, ready to step out and give up a little for others, for God, for God’s mission.

500 years ago, the world was reminded that God’s Truth, the Word of Jesus, could not be purchased, was not to be held back, but was a treasure that could be, should be shared, opened, consumed and praised. Let us praise and worship and give thanks, that in Christ alone, we are free.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

a tale of two men

Proper 18C, September 5, 2004 St. James

Philemon 1-20, Luke 14:25-30

My husband knows I love the small things. Literally - I love little vases, little icons, little boxes. Somehow in the artistry of a small thing I can sense the wonder of the greater thing - the artist and his work.

That is why I tell stories - sometimes the smallest of incidents can tell us more than a wealth of data. I can bore you to tears with a lecture on the effects of the atonement on the life of the Christian Community, or I can tell you a story. Which would you rather hear?

So, there were two men - one was named “affectionate” and the other one “useful.”

The names fit them, for Affectionate had become a person of great love. This was not easy for him, to become a person of great love. It was hard, because in his time, men were not encouraged to be loving toward others. It was a time when there were very strict rules about who one spoke to and how, about who one ate with, who one could have as a friend.

Affectionate had had a life-transforming encounter, not that long ago. He had turned away from his old life, a life that, as far as we could tell, was involved in shallow relationships with many gods, to a life that involved acceptance of the love of One God. A man had come to his city, and preached about the saving life and death and resurrection of Jesus.

This apostle had convinced, convicted, Affectionate and his family, and they were baptized, and they believed.

Affectionate committed his life to Christ, and worshiped in the Name of Christ. In fact, he had offered his home for the meetings of the Christ-worshipers in his town.

And in this he was living up to his name - Affectionate.

But as a man of his time and place, Affectionate still had some blind spots. And one blind spot was the role of people of different classes - slaves and masters. Affectionate was of the class of the masters, and to him a slave was a slave, a thing, a piece of property, a something to do what it was told - not a person, not a soul, not human being to be free in Christ.

And Useful - remember Useful?, was his slave.

Useful was a good name for a slave, for a slave was first and foremost to be of use. To serve and to do his job and to be invisible. Which may be why, when the apostle first came and spoke to Affectionate and his family, when they all came to believe in Christ, why this slave still fought against his bonds, remained angry and did not know Christ in his heart.

Useful, perhaps dimly understanding that what his master said about forgiveness and new life and freedom did not match up with his actions, ran away. He stole from his master, and he ran away.

The existence of a runaway slave is dangerous. He could be caught at any time, by anyone, for a reward. He could be beaten, maimed, killed.

So where did Useful run? We don’t know for sure how he got there, but he ended up with the apostle. The Apostle who had preached about the saving work of Jesus Christ, who had converted and baptized his master and his master’s family. Useful ended up being useful to the Apostle, who was in prison. Maybe Useful ran errands for him, maybe he went to work and earned money to buy them both food and necessities.

The Apostle in prison and the runaway slave became close. Useful found his heart transformed in the love of Christ. He believed.

And time passed. The Apostle knew that this person, this man, whom he loved like a son, who shared his ministry, who worked side by side with him, who demonstrated the love of Christ in his life and work - was a wanted man, had committed a crime, had stolen, had run away from his master.

There was still this gap, this division, between Affectionate and Useful - between a slave and his master, between two men who had both been wronged. Affectionate would see Useful as a runaway and a thief, as someone who had hurt his pride, his pocketbook and his honor. Useful would always see Affectionate as the one who held him in bondage, who degraded and dehumanized him.

The Apostle knew that this grand canyon stood in the way of the Gospel. This estrangement meant than neither Affectionate nor Useful was truly free in Christ - they were still caught up in the past, in the anger, in the betrayal, in the memories of their life together. And as they were caught in these emotions and thoughts they could never be the apostles they were called to be.

So the Apostle wrote a letter and he sent Useful back to Affectionate with the letter. He did not ask that Useful repent - He did not ask that Affectionate apologize. He did something different in that letter, the letter that we still have, we still read. We read that letter today.

The Apostle said: My dear friend and brother, Affectionate, or Philemon, I love you. And I am I sending you someone who is now my very heart, my son, Useful. I know you have a history with him, but for the sake of the love you have for me, and for the love you have been given in Christ Jesus - love him.

The apostle refuses to take sides. He will not argue anyone’s case. He is not going to go over the past. He will not accuse Affectionate of being such a bad master that the slave risked his life to get away. He will not accuse the slave of being such a rebel that he sunk to theft. He stands between them, with his arm outstretched and his love around them both. And this is not a cheap plan - not just ‘forgive and forget’ - this is something much deeper and wiser.

This is the crucial thing, he takes up the cost of the reconciliation in himself. “if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.”

That is, welcome him not as a slave at all, but as an honored guest, the most honored one possible, the guest who brings the Good News of Christ. Do not hold the crime against Useful, rather assign the theft - the value of the gold or jewels, the humiliation, the anger, all the consequences of the crime - not to Useful, whom we know as Onesimus. No, assign them to Paul, the Apostle. Charge him with the crimes, he will take the punishment.

He stands between them like Christ - arms outstretched - outstretched in love, in embracing, outstretched on the cross. He stands between them as Christ, saying, between the lines, as Christ says in our Gospel - yes, this is costly, for both of you -

it is costly to give up anger,

it is costly to see someone who hurt you in a new light,

it is costly to put the Gospel before all else.

There is a cost to discipleship, there is a cost to following Christ. There is a cost to reconciliation. And as Onesimus and Philemon learn -

That cost is borne by Jesus Christ.

That cost is seen every week on the Altar.

That cost is learned every day in our hearts.

Be reconciled. Charge the cost of the crime to Christ, and be reconciled.

Be reconciled to one another, and so fulfill the love Christ has for you.


Thursday, July 8, 2010


Summer is usually the time of fullness, of rest, of long lazy days and hours open to reading, crafts and projects. Time to get things done on my own schedule.

But now I'm waiting. Waiting on other people's issues - not able to blog, or speak, or reveal these issues. But now I wait. It's a stop and start process - a little today, then another date, then another. (And no, this isn't in any way, shape or form a work issue). (And it's not a health issue either).

And in the middle, in the interior mental space, such a desire to take action, to do something, to tell someone off, to clarify boundaries, to correct the situation. However, my inability to correct means something - that this is a situation that needs prayer, that need love.

I've prayed a lot - and nothing much changes. Prayer doesn't change the situation or the other person. Prayer only changes me. Right now, allows me to wait.

Friday, July 2, 2010

things that drive me . . .

fill in the blank
I can't rest when . . .

I've lost my planner.
I have an overdue library book.

It's the second. I have an overdue library book and I can't for the life of me figure out where it has gone.

Boy, am I a goody-two-shoes!

it was there a month ago. and then it wasn't. I renewed it figuring it would show up. But it has not. There are only so many places that a book can hide. But there must be more places.

Just a tad obsessive, no?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

traveling light

I've been thinking ever since we saw 'Up in the Air' last week. I found the film moving because it was not inspirational. No happy ending. It's a very modern take on life, meaning and superficiality. Because it's not manipulative, it would be a great film for a deep discussion about what really matters.

This sermon comes out of that reflection, and out of spending time with this cranky Jesus. At the second service on Sunday, we don't have bulletins with the text in them - I'll have to slow down and ask folks to turn pages - we'll see how that will go. Such 'bible-study' sermons have been requested, this is the second one I've found a way to incorporate the request. My concern is that some people will appreciate the 'please turn to the Bible' part, but others will just tune out. Confirmation students always tune out when they hear that phrase, so I've discarded it from my teaching.

'Traveling light'
June 27, 2010, Proper 8 – Luke 9:51-62, Galatians 5:13-25

I wish I could show you a clip from a movie. This film is George Clooney’s “up in the air’ (not to be confused with ‘Up’) – it’s about a man whose life is perfectly stripped down to the essentials – he spends hours traveling for his job as a professional ax-man – he fires people for companies who don’t have the guts to do it themselves. He comes in – delivers the bad news – looks at them so sincerely and recites the appropriate script. Then he flies to the next job. He has a goal – to collect 10 million miles, to have the gold (not fake gold, real goal) frequent flier card. He has a complete system for getting around – everything has to fit into one carry-on suitcase. Clooney’s character, Ryan Bingham is lased-focused, so intent on living this life that he has nothing else.
He is saddled with a young woman – to show her the ropes. She is not traveling light – at her first airport check in – she appears dragging a huge, hard sided suitcase. Clooney’s character promptly makes her re-pack into a modern carry-all – and in the process they discard all her comforts – her extra outfits, her extra shoes and even her pillow. During the course of the film we see these two characters trying to figure out what is essential for their lives – what things, what dreams, even what emotions and relationships are necessary.

Jesus is doing the same thing in these passages. He’s on the final leg of his ministry – he knows this. He has turned toward Jerusalem – the city that stones the prophets and where he knows he will face his greatest trial. So he’s heading out. And he’s traveling light. He’s laser-focused on what is to come.

Say here, go the disciples, Jesus, these villagers dissed us – they would not welcome you – should we set them up for fire and pillage? (It is interesting that James and John would figure they had the ability to command fire from heaven – a bit of overkill, maybe?) And Jesus rebuked them – and when on. He’s not getting into that fight – he’s not about retribution for old animosities – he’s not starting up the argument between Jews and Samaritans – that’s an old battle – that’s behind him physically and mentally – that’s not what is important. Focus – Jerusalem – the coming moment.

And so on the march – Jesus, the twelve, and all the others, who love him and have formed a community, on the march. And they meet others, who are drawn by the message and signs and the wonders and the hope. “I will follow you” a man cries with fervor. “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Throw away that pillow – something is going on that is not comfortable, not easy, not expected. This is not a trip in relaxed stages; this is not a quick trip to a Club Med – all inclusive, all the trimmings. This is a long walk – remember it’s done by walking, it’s carrying your own load, it’s being part of an army on the march.

And Jesus invites another – “You there – you long for this – come and follow me.” But family and responsibilities enter into the equation – into the response itself. Not yet, not now – maybe someday – when father, mother, boss, spouse, children, friends, society, - when the question “what do the others think of me?” doesn’t matter – then, then I can follow fully – be on the way – accept the hardships, be part of the fellowship. (Sigh)

Jesus answers: “let the dead bury their own dead. You are called to proclaim.” Not someday, but now. Not somewhere else, but here. And so it goes – “I only want to say farewell, to tie up loose ends.” And Jesus is not particularly pastoral, if you think being pastoral means being nice. He makes a judgment on who is FIT for the kingdom – for whose devotion, whose speed of response, whose focus makes the grade.

What are we to make of this? Jesus is focused – focused on his destination, on Jerusalem – he’s not letting anything get in his way – not old religious conflicts, not the hardship of the journey, not wistfulness for a golden age gone by or concern about the feelings of others. He’s like that laser – aimed in at one spot. And to be that way – he is releasing all those things. He’s traveling light. And in this story we are hearing, I think there’s a message for us.

We desire to be like Jesus. We desire to walk in the way. But we want this commitment on our own terms. We are like those men and women who come up to him in this snippet – I hear your invitation, I will follow you. And Jesus, Jesus, pushes even more – he’s got a full-on focus. It’s all for the kingdom. THAT’s where we have problems.

Our reading from Galatians 5 helps show the way. In this passage Paul draws a picture in light and dark, Spirit and flesh, right and wrong – yes, categories we want to deny these days – we live in the gray, we think. But look at Paul’s words at Galatians 5:19-21– the works of the flesh are obvious – and there’s a long list: the first three are about disastrous sexual conduct, the second pair are about turning our lives over to other consuming interests, then a long set of issues about living in anger, and finally using substances and parties to dull ourselves. And again, we have a warning that people who are living this way are not FIT for the kingdom of God.

So, there are ways of living that make us not fit for the kingdom of God. There are attitudes that Jesus doesn’t want to have on the road with him. If you put your hand to the plow and look back – if you want to travel with Jesus, Jesus is saying – travel light. Paul is saying ‘give up that which doesn’t satisfy, but only pulls you back into selfishness and war, turn away from all those things that confuse you, that eat at your peace of mind.’

And, he gives an alternative: living by the Spirit. (v. 22-25) The Spirit, which we don’t make, we don’t possess and we don’t control – the Spirit, which is all gift – moves in us to lighten our burden, to open our hearts, to teach us how to live. The Spirit of God – is what allows us to – yes – to put our hands to the plow and not look back. To not be so consumed with what others think of us that we can’t find our place on the journey road.

To not be sidetracked by old angers and fights. If anything is practical in these lessons – if there is a takeaway here--it is that to hold on to anger – “call down fire upon them,” to engage enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, dissensions, factions, envy (more words than any other in the list) – to hold on to anger, to be unforgiving, to be that person who will not work at finding a solution – is to have an attitude that is contrary to the kingdom of God. Look at the list of the fruits of the Spirit – these are qualities of letting go – letting go of anger, letting go of the need to be satisfied, yes, even letting go of the past. Crucifying part of ourselves – putting our hand to the plow and not looking back.

We don’t do it on our own. It’s the Spirit, and only the Spirit, that makes us FIT for the kingdom, for traveling light through this life. It’s the Spirit, the Holy Spirit of church and community, of study and friendship that pulls us into this journey, that supports us during this journey and that will guide us to the end of the journey. Ask that Spirit into your life – place those things that trouble you in front of it – and learn to travel light. Amen.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

off to see

Well, sometimes things go well. I won two tickets to the Wizard of Oz for Friday. We have such a long stretch of nothing special to do this summer - and now we have a treat!

Let's see. There's the Ren Faire in Bristol - still to be scheduled.
I have a couple of Saturday's off. That's about it.

Don't ya love the ministry?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

school of slowing down

I was just about ready to jump up and do stuff - vacuum, laundry, bills, print out the sermon, etc., etc., when I was joined by the cat. He possessed himself of my lap and purred. Slow down. It's okay. be loved.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

my sink runneth over

Yes, I am handy-woman! After months of living with a stuck bathroom sink stopper, I had enough energy and interest to get a pair of pliers, stick my head under there and figure out what was wrong.

I even went to the Re-store and found the right size pivot sticky-thing in the bin of various parts. And I replaced it. The sink leaks a little, but I'm pretty proud of myself. I can always just superglue the old cottage cheese container under the leak. (just kidding). Now I have to find plumber's tape, undo the connection, but the tape on and tighten it all up again.

Thank goodness for Google and diy sites.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


I don't get the handsoff headsets. I've been on the other side of this too often.
"You talkin' to me?"

That's all folks.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

finished finally

No, I'm not finished - just tired. The big 'rummage-bake-book-brat-auction' event for Haitian Earthquake relief is finished. We raised something in the thousands of dollars, full figures will arrive later in the week.

We had a great and huge crew of people working. Lots of folks gave three hours or so, and some real athletes spent days. I think I worked at least 30 hours in the last 4 days just one that, and about 10 hours on regular work. I'm just beat, but it was fun. I'm sure I'm in better shape now, with all the running from one end of the gym and inside and outside

I'm just sorry I didn't get many photos.

I preached today from notes, quite loosely, on love and aspagarus. Jesus commands love, which seems strange to us because we think of love as an emotion that cannot be forced, however Jesus was thinking of love as a deep consideration that comes from commitment between people.

When we moved here 10 years ago we were excited to find two aspargus plants, but they had been neglected. We regularly snap off the shoots, and the plants have yielded more. Aspargus takes commitment, and the more you harvest the more you get. But it takes years, and that's the kind of committed love Jesus was thinking of. Love that sticks it out for years, that knows that others laid the ground work, and believes that the more you harvest, the more love there will be.

And, to top it off, it's a beautiful, beautiful day. I hope to sleep well tonight.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

In Lazarus' house

Elements from a sermon on John 12

Let’s think about this for a minute. If we didn’t know what the author John tells us, if we didn’t know how the story continues through the next week of Jesus’ life – would we think so harshly of Judas’ comment? The mission to the poor – is this a bad thing?

I find a theme running deep through all the lessons of this Lent. It is not what we usually concentrate upon.
It is the theme of the one who stands outside not ready to be fully with Jesus.
It is the story of the interaction of Jesus and those close to him who don’t get it
– who are almost ready to accept his radical, impossible understanding of the grace of God – but who don’t or can’t quite come to embrace it.

We hear of Jesus mourning over the city of Jerusalem – wishing to cover them with his wings like a mother hen, and they will not. (2nd Lent) We have the tree for which the gardener pleads for time (3rd Lent). We hear about the younger, forgiven brother, and the elder brother, standing outside in the dark, looking in (4th Lent).

And now, this scene in Lazarus’ house – the party gathered of Jesus closest companions – probably the twelve, since Judas is present, but also Lazarus, back from the dead – Martha, the hostess, and Mary, the prophet of Jesus’ own death through her beautiful, extravagant, expensive gesture. All gathered at this moment of quiet before great things may happen. Jesus will enter Jerusalem the next morning.

He will be in the midst of the city that will reject him,
with the Pharisees he’s been reaching out to for three years,
in the Temple he has visited, studied and worshipped in his whole life – and which he knows will not stand.

And right there, while Mary uses burial ointment on his feet, washes his feet with her hair and her tears – prepares him for his burial – right there –
one of his own chosen still stands outside,
still lacks recognition of the great sacrifice about to be made –
still tries to control the events with criticism and righteousness.
He can’t come to understand what is going to happen to Jesus next –

That Jesus traded his life for that of his friend Lazarus –
because Lazarus was raised from the dead – Jesus must go to his death.
That despite, or because of the acclamation that will happen on the next day
– Jesus is not entering Jerusalem as a king to be crowned,
but as a hostage to Satan and death.

And there is love in each one of those stories – love for the outsider, love for the tree, for the wild children of the city, for the elder brother – even for Judas. There is love for the outsider, the hard case, the resister all the way to the end –
“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

And the lesson for us? It isn’t new. We have heard it before. It’s that we are saved by Christ alone, as St. Paul reminds us. All our own righteousness is rubbish, trash, worthless. That is what Mary of Bethany knew, and Judas did not. That graceful gift of forgiveness was what the younger son received, and the older brother was offered.

Judas and the Older Brother represent all our good works – our programs to help the poor, in essence are all those good things we do or desire to do. All that good stuff we want to be proud of – our mission trips, mission events, our pretty buildings, our numbers, our right-ness.

Remember all that St. Paul says about himself – all checkmarks on the good smart Jewish boy list? We all have lists like that – and Jesus looks at Mary of Bethany – who is totally outside the box – and approves her gesture of worship.

For that is what she does – she worships, and through worship she has included herself in the action of Christ’s cross.

Jesus goes to the cross to bring us closer to the Father’s heart,
to open a way for our hearts to worship in spirit and in truth.
He extends a hand to us, and to all who struggle with being good enough, right enough.
He extends a hand to us – and we are joined in worship of this act itself.

Worship first, and worship forever. Jesus goes to the cross for the sake of our hearts.
Our service to the poor will happen, our programs will continue, our good deeds will multiply when Jesus is first, when Jesus is Lamb, when Jesus has made us his own.


Friday, March 12, 2010


This Sunday's lection is the story of the two sons and the father. Remove the word prodigal to remove the usual associations - who is the runaway, who is the generous one, who is the keeper of the standards.

Given my family situation, this is a very hard parable to exegete and to preach upon. It's too close to home. Should parents really be like the father in this story - so ready to rejoice at the appearance of the lost one? Our son has been sleeping on the floor in the back bedroom. He wants a room of his own again. Is it grace to grant that? Or are we then approving his choices, and setting ourselves up for manipulation, and abuse, and disappointment?

Jesus often thinks in terms of the end times. This passage from Luke tends to be seen in the present time. If it is an end-time parable, does that make a difference? When the world is falling apart, when all the resources are gone, when their is a famine, and even one's terrible 'just-a-job' doesn't supply enough to live on - then return home, because home is where, when you go there, they have to take you in.

What are we, am I, missing in the concept of 'son-ness' that is restored to the wayward child, and affirmed in the stay-at-home? And through the arc of the parable, offered to the listeners? What is this 'son-ness' identity? It is acceptance, love, support, celebration. It is God's preferential option for the sinner - the full-out, messy, messed-up sinner - over the cautious and careful working brother. And yes, it feels wrong when put that way.

As parents, we aren't really playing the part of the father - though we feel the father's pain at the loss of his son - we are playing the part of the elder brother, because we can not forget. The Father forgets and lives in the moment - Now my son is home! Now let's party! Now! Not thinking about the past injuries or future complications. That's the end-time sneaking in - because if there is no future except the fullness of the reign of God - there isn't really any reason to worry about reparations for the past.

Elder brothers must plan and know and expect the worst. They remember the past, and think about the future. They live before the end of time, and expect tomorrow to come, and have learned that the past can predict the future. Trust is an issue that has a temporal dimension - and this brother doesn't trust that wayward one. The past will repeat. Hurt will happen. So forgiveness and celebration - how can they happen?

Only if the elders find the reflect the joy of the Father. Only if they accept the invitation to the party. What does that look like? To say, today we celebrate, and tomorrow doesn't matter? To live in the acceptance of this person, enjoy his presence, and ask for nothing?

I really wish I was not preaching Sunday.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

big question

Well, a reworked older one. This is one of those that needs to be preached carefully - lots of precisely chosen words, as my hubby says.

Lent 3C, - March 7, 2010 PLC – after March 14th, 2004
Luke 13:1-9

Jesus did not have access to the internet, or to newspapers or radio or television. But he certainly wasn’t isolated from the realities of his time. He could have had one of our newsmagazines open in front of him this week. Building collapsing,earthquakes and natural disasters, war and dangerous dictactors abound.

The stories we hear in Lent set us upon the road to learn two things: to learn who God is, and who we are. Here we have teaching on both fronts: We learn about God, we learn about ourselves.

When did you come to that point in your life that you sought for an answer to the Big Question? What disaster or personal sorrow got you to that point? The Big Question, of course, is WHY? Why do people suffer? Why have I been hurt? Even worse, why do people I love suffer? Or we may phrase it as: Why do those who seem innocent suffer? We empathize and ask this question even about strangers, about those caught in earthquakes, and about those we know, who struggle with illness and death so close to us.

In some way this is the human question - this is the question that makes us human, that defines our humanity as compassion, sympathy, empathy, love for the other. If we did not ask why, and if we could not express that distress that these situations create in our hearts - we would not be human. Or, let us call it compassion, for others, of our creation at the hands of a loving God. If we are distressed at the sufferings of others, we must be echoing something of our creator. When we submerge or deny our compassionate response - we then have lost something - some part of the image of God in ourselves.

We learn that the big question - the question we ask as soon as we come to that moment of realization – “why do people suffer?”is a God question and an us question.

The people who came to Jesus, with the example of Galileans who were killed by the Roman governor, apparently as they were offering their sacrifices to God, desired Jesus to make a judgment upon those Galileans. How do we deal with this Big Question?

There were three Biblical strategies to respond to suffering. The first was to assert that Bad Things happen to Bad People. This was the thought behind much of the prophetic writing - repent of your authentically evil ways in order to avert disaster. And when disaster would come - when the enemy would finally batter down the gates and destroy the city - then obviously, one worked backwards - it was in response to the evil in that city.

The problem with this way of thinking is: what about those who did repent? What about those who did not participate in the sins the prophets were decrying? What about the children, the poor, the widows? What about times when there is repentance and disaster still comes? No, this way of thinking leaves much to be desired.

The second way of answering the Big Question is Bad Things happen to Good People - and God is testing your faith in his sovereign might and mystery. We still use this one at times - but it can ring very hollow, when the evil that is experienced doesn’t teach anything, doesn’t enlighten us or anyone.

And then there is the third option: Bad things, and Good things, happen to everyone. It’s what you do with your life that counts.

When these folks came to Jesus and asked him - what is your judgment on these Galileans - killed by the Romans - did they deserve it? Jesus replies: “What? Do you think that we can tell, because they were killed because of politics, that these were worse sinners than anyone else? You know you can’t say that these men are worse sinners.” They were asking for Option 1) Bad things happen to Bad People.
“Here, I will give you another example - there were 18 men killed when the tower fell on them - were they greater sinners? Of course you would say no, because they were “innocent” of sin, it was an accident.” Now the expectation is that Jesus will offer Option 2) Bad Things happen to Good People, and that’s God’s will.

But Jesus, knowing that this question (Why do people suffer) is as much about our heart as it is about God’s will in the world - talks about Option 3 - Bad things (and good things) happen to everybody - it’s what you do with your life that counts. It’s who you are before God - no matter what happens to you, to your loved ones or in the world - that counts.

So, he says, twice: No, it is not that these were worse sinners than those who are still alive - what is critical is that you repent, because you will perish as they did - you will perish without repentance, you will perish without establishing your righteousness with God. For Jesus, that is the tragedy here, that is the warning to all who hear him.

So we hear of the unproductive fig tree with the impatient owner. Shall it be cut down immediately? Or shall it be granted the grace, the free gift, of time, time to become fruitful? Time to be cultivated, nurtured and loved into bearing the fruit it was meant to bear?

This where Jesus desires us to stand. When we hear the news of the day, we are not to deny our compassionate response to the world around us,
and not jump to immediate judgment on wickedness or goodness
- but we are to take what we learn to heart.
We are to understand that we are the fig tree - beloved of the gardener, who is Christ - who is ready to nurture us into bearing the fruit of God’s love. AMEN.

spiritual reality

I’ve been talking a lot about ‘spiritual reality’ these days. I find it necessary to remind myself and others that we believe there is a reality to our spiritual lives, our spiritual needs and our spiritual existence. And understanding that that reality is real is in danger these days. You see, I believe that our cultural world really doesn’t know that we are spiritual being. We are physical being, fashionable beings, sport-fan beings. We are economic agents, consumer agents, and controllers of our health through exercise, diet and habits. We are acknowledge to have lives of the mind, to learn, to study and even to contemplate the universe, but not too seriously, please. We can be philosophers, but not spiritual.

But do we have spirit? Can there we any way we speak about spirit as a real dimension of our total being any more?

(We might ask - what is spirit? I am thinking about the connection with the divine being - in a good Lutheran framework - the part of me that relates to the law (is convicted of sin) and the part of me that embraces the good, great gift of grace (knowing I am loved in a profound way by the divine). So being a spiritual being recognizes that conscience is connected with something beyond or more than societal standards. So being a spiritual being recognizes that ‘self-esteem’ at the deepest level has more to do with the divine acceptance than familial, societal or cultural dynamics.)

The usual “I’m spiritual, but not religious” stance becomes pretty pale and anemic against the Biblical and churchly spirituality of the past. For myself, I know that I’m not just referring to the ‘spiritual’ values of peacefulness or serenity (or acceptance or ‘love’) when discussing Paul’s letter to the Corinthians with bible study. Paul is thinking and pressing for transformation, real changed behavior and hard choices to be made by that church. He sees the issues as ‘spiritual’ - important for salvation.

And for him, the only important arena is ‘spiritual’ - the arena of the right divine-connectedness. All those other dimension of life - sexual, economic, liturgical, judicial that he comments on are relativized by this concern for the ‘divine-connectedness.’


I haven't posted much recently. Life seems to move so fast through the winter. That may be because I was busy, but it may also be a function of being in the winter mode. Winter mode is quieter, less reflective, internall more passive. When I went back to the journals I kept regularly in my teens and twenties - there would often be a hiatus between January and March. And in March my mind would pick up again. (to the side there is a picture of a maple syrup tap - that's me)

This year there has been additional worry with an illness in my extended family, staff changes and re-alignment.

And I started a new program toward my master's degree in counseling. It's at night and on weekends with some on-line options. For me a lot is review right now - but very interesting. I'm becoming more conscious of my own prejudices and habits. Today I have a 17 min. interview to transcribe and analyze, a 5 page paper to write and two chapters to read. But the term is going fast, and will be over at Easter. Then a short on-line course and back to real-life courses in summer, I hope.

I don't even know if I can finish the degree, which requires two terms of 20/hour/wk placement. Don't know how I'll pull that off.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

listening in the car

really enjoying 'Agent Zigzag" by Ben Mcintyre. Fascinating.

Loved Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson. She reads her own books and she is hilarious.

I'm only listening fun books during the commute.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

back again

I haven't blogged for a while - things have been fine, but busy. I am now a student in the Masters in Counseling program through Lakeland college. I admit I snuck in under the wire, without much thought about it, but one day in December I found myself thinking, I can do that.

Lakeland is located about 60 miles away, but operates a satellite campus right between work and home. There's nothing on tv anymore and I can only amuse myself with computer games and knitting so much. That's not the whole story, of course. And one would think I wasn't busy enough.

When the eagle and I took the Family-to-family course through NAMI last fall, we committed to freeing up our Thursday nights. The course was good, but even better was the fact I had said 'this is for me' and nothing (except wedding rehearsals) kept me from that class - I told the various councils and committees I just wasn't available.

(although I got teased today about being absent last Thursday - and for the one teasing - I think there was some bite).

And not being available didn 't hurt anyone and didn't hurt me, so I'm taking a Thursday night class and a Saturday morning class, and hoping I can keep up with the schoolwork when Lent starts. I'm taking 6 credits now, and want to take 2 credits on line after Easter. I'll take 6 credits in the summer, but skip fall since we're going to Germany.

I don't even know if I can finish this program, because they tend to have the same classes on the same night, and I don't get Wednesdays too free. Eventually I'll have to do a 20-hour/week practicum. Sabbatical anyone?

I believe it will help me work on my skills, my perceptions, challenge me and most importantly for me right now - give me an arena for thought outside of the congregation. (I'll never be outside the church!)

Friday, January 15, 2010

that thing

You know the classic thing - write a letter and then put it away and do not send it?

It works.

Was up restless last night with the memory of being discounted in my head. Wrote it all down and saved it on the computer.

This morning - well, I really was whining. Not worth losing sleep over, really. And not the way I want to appear to anyone, not only the person to whom I directed the missive.

So it will stay between God and me.

God knows why I was so disturbed. And God certainly helped me not make a public fool of myself. I do that often enough.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Great Expectations

The Baptism of the Lord C, January 9/10, 2010.
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 “Great Expectations”

You all know the story of the Cat in the Hat? It’s a terrible story, really, about these latch-key kids and an strange intruder with all sorts of strange ideas. The Cat’s idea of play gets wilder and wilder until the house is trashed, a mess, a horrible scene. The only sane voice is the fish – and when the fish talks to you – you know you are in trouble.

The fish reminds us that there will be a judgment, a reckoning , a taking stock of what we have been entrusted with. The children were trusted to be home alone – and now, now, Mother is coming – you can see her shoe through the window.

That was the terrible tension in the story, always for me. I always worried that the children would be caught and in trouble. Even when I knew how it ended.

It ends with Grace, because the Cat himself becomes the instrument of putting things back together.

I thought about this story, because we hear about ‘expectations’ in the Gospel lesson – we hear about the expectations that God is going to come – the Messiah is going to appear, much like Mother almost appears at the end of the Cat in the Hat.

Great Expectations – That’s what struck me when I read this story from the Gospel – the people had great expectations about John the Baptist and the coming actions of God. In their hearts they were questioning whether John was the Messiah. Interesting, they were convinced that the Messiah was coming – just not who the Messiah was or how it would happen.

So John, with all his strange behavior – living as a hermit in the wilderness, and for all his strange and harsh preaching about the judgment to come – John was in the running to be the Messiah.

That’s a great expectation, for sure. Could you be following the One, could repenting for your sins and getting baptized by John protect you from the coming wrath? John was pretty strong stuff, after all. But John the Baptizer had another role, another understanding of what he was there to do.

“I can baptize you with water – to mark your repentance – but someone else is coming, someone more powerful than I, with intentions to harvest the best – to test with fire and Spirit. “

Strong stuff. Winnowing and sifting, separating the chaff from the good grain. My husband, the old farm-boy – did you know that he grew up pushing cows around on an old-fashioned dairy farm? Ask him sometime about the old way of farming.

My husband commented that few people today would understand what winnowing was about. My research shows that winnowing the grain actually takes place inside the combine now – it is a hidden part of the process when that grain is taken into the machine and shaken.

In Jesus’ time it was a clear and obvious step in the process of getting good, clean grain. It was a necessary step, to move from the natural state of the wheat or barley – with its dried threads and covering – to first beat it – threshing or thrashing it, on a special threshing ground (the threshing floor), then throwing it up in the air for the lighter and looser waste to be blown away. It was hard, dusty and dirty – but necessary to get the good out.

That’s what John is promising – a process that will be dramatic in its rigor. Notice John is not saying this about himself – he is saying it about the One who is to come. He is saying it about the messiah of God. That one will be involved in a powerful movement with fire and wind and Holy Spirit.

It’s like the Mother coming back in the Cat in the Hat, you see – except I don’t think the Cat will magically correct everything that got messed up. The Mother will come, and that can make us anxious. John is about pointing the way to Jesus, and his vision is a difficult one.

So what is being winnowed and sifted and blow away?
Is it only the people of Israel – the people who are listening to John at the River Jordan?
Is it people in a group – some of whom will be cast out on the wind, and some who will be kept?
Or could it be that each one who comes to the water will face this process? Each one of us, could face this time of threshing, sifting, winnowing and removal of chaff?

If the Baptism of the Messiah – the one who is to come, is not just a moment in the life of a child – long ago for most of us - . If the baptism of the Messiah is really the start of our relationship with the Holy Spirit of God – then we should expect our lives to show it. Our expectations may not be about the end of the world – but we should have expectations that something will be different – in us.

John talks about a winnowing fork – a object that picks up the grain and tosses it high in the air, so that the lighter waste may blow away, and the good grain, which is heavy and meaty, falls to the ground.

Now some of you had had moments, even in the years I’ve been here, and certainly in the times before I came to work with you – when you’ve been tossed around by life. Maybe those are the times of threshing and winnowing by this Holy Spirit, the Spirit of honest love that comes to us in Baptism.

There have been times of stress and trial, times of doubt and grief, times of anxiety and times of repentance. There have been moments of hard decisions – of words that expressed our disappointments and struggles with each other – our families, loved ones, even the church.

There have also been, I’m sure, moments of joy and celebration – times when you felt you could commit to the best things in your life – to right relationships and honest work and excellent goals.

Are these the times when our chaff is blown away? Is this what John was telling us to expect?

Maybe these times, these hard times, these times of decisions, the times of celebration – are moments when the Holy Spirit – the spirit of fire and wind, the spirit of Jesus in love and in judgment – works most concretely in our lives.

I know, sometimes only when looking backwards, that the rough times, when I had the deepest struggles with other people, with myself and my dreams – is when the Holy Spirit was working in me to truly convict me of my sins, to point me in a new direction, to urge me to repair my relationship with God, and to start with a new attitude. And, in a lot of ways – that process never ends.

If the baptism of the Messiah is really the start of our relationship with the Holy Spirit of God – then we should expect our lives to show it. We are God’s children because he is our Father, and beloved of him – but like the children in the Cat in the Hat – we ought to be aware that he is also coming to ‘check us out’ – yes, to judge – and to make us more like him.

Great Expectations, indeed.
Great expectations of the Messiah – and of those who will follow that Messiah.

John’s words about the ‘One who is more powerful’ are frightening on the surface, but they are ultimately comforting, words of promise to those who trust and believe that Baptism is powerful event, an event extends to our whole lifetimes – birth and death and everything in between.

Welcome to water, fire and Spirit, says John, welcome to life, welcome to the power of the Holy Spirit in your life.

toward Sunday

I was struck by this part of the Working Preacher Blog by Roy Harrisville

John first replies to the expectations of the people by telling them that someone greater than he is coming. This message is shared by all three synoptic Gospels, but the reply concerning the threshing floor occurs only in Matthew and Luke. The Baptist mentions the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire. Perhaps this is a reference to Pentecost in Acts 2. Perhaps it is a reference to Jesus' powerful life and teachings. The preacher may want to make the point that every baptism in the Lutheran church is a baptism of the Holy Spirit. That is why it is taken so seriously. It is a miracle each time it occurs.

The seriousness of baptism is made clear by the metaphor of the threshing floor. It is a discriminating rite. It is not an act that one may undergo lightly, but is linked to salvation in opposition to judgment. The Holy Spirit is not inclusive but excludes all unrighteousness and sin. Baptism is not a mere welcoming rite but a rite that signifies one's separation from evil. Any theology of judgment has fallen on hard times recently in favor of a softer and gentler message of peace and justice. But with justice comes judgment. It cannot be otherwise.

To ignore judgment leaves the preacher with no reason for preaching the gospel. It is not a matter of scaring people into heaven. It is a matter of revealing the need for salvation and why Jesus is so important. If he is only a common messiah who does what the people expect, then he is no use to us. But if, on the other hand, he is the Messiah who lays bare the pretenses and false expectations of the people and reveals their deep seated need for personal and inner transformation, then he is someone surprising and filled with ultimate and eternal meaning. For preachers to leave out the fire is to let go of the reason for the gospel and thereby cheapen the good news.

End of quote.

Now to get into the sermon in an accessible and coherent matter.

Cat in the Hat, here I come!

Friday, January 8, 2010

food for thought

Just finished a thought provoking book, The Nurture Assumption, by Judith Harris. It proposes that parents are less influential on the personality and behavior of older children and adolescents than we tend to think (the 'assumption' of the title), and peer groups have more influence. Not that parents and adults have no influence on personality, but they have less power than the culture that children and adolescents share. And that culture is often coherent with the parent's culture, so kids turn out rather like their parents. But at times the culture of children and especially adolescents can be 'contrary' to parent's values - then we have the generational war.

She wrote this more than 10 years ago, and I certainly can see the generation gap growing in the last 10 years. This concept speaks to me on so many levels.

On the personal level, our son's choice of friends, which we didn't control, didn't intervene about, does seem to have done more to shape his current malaise than our values. He just didn't accept what we were showing/speaking/living out. He admits we weren't bad parents (at least when he's calm) and that we have shown him what it means to work hard, be brave during tough times and have a good relationship/marriage. He even says he wants those things for himself, but none of his friends or their families really are strong in those elements.

Harris suggests that the culture of the peers parents/'the neighborhood' has a lot to do with shifting values over generations. I think it is one of the pieces for DS's issues. Parents who act to control their children's friends, through careful attention to their schools, etc., are fighting a hard battle, but one that may pay off.

As an occasional teacher of adolescents, I found her analysis of 'groupness' very interesting. 'Groupness' is her term for the sense that individual have when they identify themselves as a group against some other group. For teens, the major overarching definition that they are not adults. Being 'not adult' means, even when they fall into smaller groups when they get together, they first recognize (sub-consciously, probably) a pressure to remain as a 'group' against the visible adults.

Ah - confirmation class. It IS us vs. them! People in the group that see themselves as the majority, but without power (confirmation students) will always desire to resist (as a group, not as individuals) the control of the group by the minority, more-powerful adults (confirmation teachers). Even learning, and accepting the values put forth by those adults (the curriculum and the behavorial standards) is resisted by the pressure of 'groupness.'

This is what I fear I have learned. In America, we no longer use adolescence as a period for 'training' to be an adult in any real sense - there is no real life connection/valid skills/importance for real life (to the kids) for much of what we teach (especially in the church) - we have lost them before we start. Basically, we've had a 'liberal arts' approach to religious learning (it's good for you, it's fun (it was for me!), it just has to be done, and this is nothing you'll need to apply in real life), when maybe we should have a tech school approach (you will need this skill, focus on productivity, go out and do). We aren't doing anything that matters for the group.

All this doesn't mean that individual cases may be different. Yes, some kids love this learning, find it significant, find Jesus, live spiritually, etc. But look around, for each one that sticks, how many others are lost?

I don't know if I have any answers, just more questions. This raises so many issues for me, in the church, in the larger culture, in so many of the stories I heard.

Continuing to ponder.

Monday, January 4, 2010

God's autobiography

This is a early draft, I rearranged some paragraphs and improved the ending.

Christmas 2C, Jan. 3, 2010
John 1:1-14 “God’s Autobiography”

It's good to be here. It really is. As some of you know, the last time I preached here was on the Sunday before Christmas. I was fine during the first worship service and during the coffee hour before hand – I chatted with folks as we were setting up for Spirit of Hope, and all was well until I started the children's message, and then I started to feel – odd. Like the world was spinning and I was swaying with it. Like I was on a carnival ride – the ones that go around really fast. I don't like those rides. I could not stand up.

And all I could do was sit down and put my head down and close my eyes. Turns out I had an episode of vertigo – which is defined as a sensation of spinning and swaying. I'm all right now. But as I was recovering I had all sorts of people worried about me, and for that I'm grateful.

I also did some research on what could have caused the episode – and I learned more about the anatomy of the ear. There are three parts – the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. Something probably was off in my inner ear. It's an extremely complex and delicate instrument in there – tiny canals and openings and spiraling structures and teeny, weeny hairs measuring every movement.

I was reading and looking at picutres and I said to myself – there is no way, no way, that this came about randomly – just no way. This beautiful and delicate instrumentation is inside of me. And inside of you, inside of all of us.

That is what it means to be flesh, to be made of matter, and to be a thinking being – to not only have these amazing bodies, these masterpieces of biology, but to know we have them. To be conscious of them. To know we are part of this organism and that we are so much more. We are our bodies and we are spirit, soul and mind. We are our bodies, and we are groups, families, teams and communities. We are our bodies and we are living through time in stories, making meaning or finding meaning. We are our bodies, and we are what we leave behind, legacies, books, buildings, relationships, grandchildren.

And we are part of communities that honor that and work to fix and heal what is wrong. To live with being flesh is to be in wonder, and in despair, too – for these bodies are also frail, will eventually fail, will no longer sustain life. To be a thinking person is to know this – all this truth – about each one of us.

So we are told God entered flesh. We are told that God, who created everything, who worked out the design of the inner ear, who is eternal and everywhere – chose to 'pitch his tent' among the species who stays aware of life and death, who lives to struggle with meaning of our fleshly existence. God, Almighty, Magnificent, the Lord, limited Godself to one man, one time, one language, one culture, one story.

The Gospel of John sets up it's unique way of telling the story of Jesus this way: In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God.
This Word – capital W Word – is eternal, is one with God, is God's Word. (As much as the speech you hear right now is my word, part of me, given to you – so God gave his WORD away)

This is the intention of God that made the world – this Word – this spoken desire – this is the heart of the Creator. Without the WORD – capital W – nothing was made, came into being, was created. It is because of the WORD – capital W – that we have life, that we breathe, speak, wonder and learn.

And this Word – this desire of God – became flesh, like us. Had an inner ear, like us. Had a name – Jesus. Ate, had friends, walked, talked, struggled and suffered. Like us. Faced conflict, cruelty, pain, like us. Died like us. And more. Because he was the Word of God- the heart of the creator – in his life, his death and in what happened after he died – he showed what God desires.

“Yes, Jesus is God's autobiography - Jesus, is the Revealer of God. He communicates to us the thoughts, feelings, and desires of God. Yet, he doesn't just talk about what goes on inside God -- he is God. His life reveals God. In order to know God, one needs to look to Jesus, to listen to Jesus, to try and understand Jesus." (Brian Stoffregen) The Word – Jesus - reveals the creator of all.

And in this revelation – this autobiography – this great story – we find our story has greater meaning. Because Jesus lived – because Jesus taught – because Jesus suffered and died – because he arose from the grave and showed that this life of flesh is not all we are – our lives can be different – can be richer, shaped and formed into lives lived for others.

So, what difference does it make? That this thing happened? That this miracle – God taking up flesh – having a body like ours – once at least. What difference does it make?
That Big became little – that Great became weak – that Power came to know death?

For me – it has always meant that I am not alone. In these bodies, in these lives, in these relationships we are not alone. We not only have each other- we have someone who knows us even better than our mothers, our spouses, our dearest friends. We have someone who knows what it was like to have made us, and to live like us, and to be us. And that someone cares enough to invite me into his family – to be his child.

12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

That's the difference. That the God who created this realm of matter out of love – and who desires love back – offers to this part of his creation- human beings – his story of love. His autobiography of love. And through believing - we are part of that story – part of that movement.

It's a fleshy movement. It's a movement of people, like you and me, acting out God's story in a world of flesh and bone, money and agriculture, power and greed and evil and good. It takes flesh when we meet together here, when we have committee meetings and do good deeds and study and argue together. When we grieve together, when we rejoice together, when we eat together.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.