Saturday, December 17, 2011

An older sermon on the annunciation

Thought I'd share an older sermon on the Annunciation - it's about 6 years old. It's based loosely on Luther's focus 'Mary said yes.' But as I went through commentaries on-line, I found a well-reasoned argument that 'it's not about Mary.' Now, both ways may be true. Here's my take on the Lutheran aspect.

In Advent, we discover themes that shape our identity. We have heard that we are the waiting people, between the incarnation and the promise of something more -
we are the wilderness people,
holding on to God’s words in a time and place that isn’t really open to knowing God.

And today, today we hear of a third Advent element - the giving and acceptance of call. We see, in Mary, the first believer, the open heart, the one who says Yes. Here then, is the whole message of Advent, that the people who wait, who live in the wilderness to be shaped as a people of holiness and godliness, are also given the call to embody God - and the opportunity to respond to that call.

We hear of Mary, not even really a woman. She’s betrothed, not married yet - probably pretty young (although I think 13 may be stretching it). We usually assume that she was pious, a good, trusting young woman, but honestly, we don’t know that. She could have been a tomboy, a rebellious teenager, resisting her appointed role. All we know is that she is the one to whom the angel came.

And that angel Gabriel came, and spoke to her and she was perplexed, puzzled, and dismayed - as most of us would be if an angel spoke such words to us. “Howdy, You’ve been selected, for a special mission of incredible significance - which, by the way, will ruin your reputation, change all your plans and cause you incredible heartbreak.”

And Mary said yes. “You will conceive a child - in a miracle - and that child will be the Son of God, and the King of David’s line.” and she said Yes. She said “Look, I’m God’s, let it be so.”

God entered humanity this way. Through Mary. Through creation. Through this one person - about whom we really know very little - except she said Yes. Mary was of the people who were waiting - waiting for a Messiah. And she would enter her own wilderness - the place where she alone knew the depth of joy and pain that this child would bring - Mary would ponder all these things in her heart.

And what is so wonderful about this story is that we are all Mary - we are all waiting in the wilderness for a Messiah - and we are those to whom God will offer a call - a mission - a job to do.

And that is exactly the point, the point of Advent - the point of all these stories. God acts through ordinary human beings like you and me, ordinary human beings that trust God enough to undertake extraordinary missions beyond their capabilities or imaginings.

God comes to us in creation - and God became creation - became human in this most loving act of “incarnation.” God always comes to us through creation. To us God comes through the water of baptism, through the bread and wine of the Holy Communion, through the hand of a loved one, or through the voice of a stranger. Mostly, God comes to us in ordinary ways, through ordinary people. This God uses us, ordinary people, to do his work now.

An author visited a monastery and greeted one of the monks with the words “Merry Christmas.” and he said to her “May Christ be born in you.” (Sue Monk Kidd) She pondered this, as Mary did, as we might. What might it mean that Christ be born in us?

That is the message of Advent - may Christ be born in us - may we become “Marys” in our time and place. It’s about an attitude: Look, here I am, let it be done to me, with me, in me, as you, God desire. If God’s desire is to make Christ real, to make Christ known - and he chooses us to do so - what shall we say?

We repeat these lessons, year after year, so that we can be asked, and ask ourselves - what must happen for that birth to take place? What must happen in us, in me, so that Christ may be born in us, in me? What must change - what must be given up or what must be found? What must enter into our hearts and what must be released? What must be shared and what must be nurtured, so that Christ may be born in us?

For Mary, the Mother of Jesus - at this point it was her own plan, her project, even her self-image - that had to be made subordinate to the will of the God. It was the adoption of an attitude of obedience, of trust and yes, a willingness to submit her expectations to the plan of God.

For us individually, it may be our desires to keep things secure and safe - to take the easy road. For the faith community of _______ I would suggest it is similar. Soon you will have the new _____ that God desires - you will no longer be in the interim time, you will no longer be holding your breath.

And, rather than see this new period as the time of setting out your own personal agendas - I challenge you to enter this time as the Virgin Mary did - with an open heart to hear the call, to accept the mission, to search out and be obedient to the will of God. The call is coming - in some way the call is here - in the needs and desires and lonely hearts all around us. Now it is for us to find the attitude of obedience, trust and seeking for the Holy Spirit that will allow us, with Mary, to say Yes.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Unexpected Saints


Unexpected Saints – Matthew 5:1=12, Revelation 7:9-17 “Gives self away”

In this time of instant communication we can be friends with anyone, anytime. We can follow the instant musing of – what’s his name – you know, that young guy who married and cheated on Demi Moore – now he has a tv series – oh yeah- how could I forget – Ashton Kutcher – you can friend and follow him. He’s made a career, it seems, at being the guy who will give you a glimpse of how the other half – other 1%? – lives.

We can live in our imaginations; we can invest our interest in other people, famous people. Marketers use our curiosity to drive us to their sites, like cattle, we are commodities. Watch and discuss Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, or whatever is the newest fad! Of course these celebrities are not in our world; of course we hope we are smarter than the marketers.

So how do we speak of saints in such a world? How do we speak of holiness when we are distracted and focused in commerce and media, bombarded by cultural and political and economic forces that would have us live in the here and now – only in the here and now, responding to whims, playing the game? How do think of ourselves as servants of God when we struggle with health issues, with decisions about family and life itself. What quality of life, of faith, of hope, of perseverance, links us with the ones who have gone before?

Jesus says: Blessed are you. He uses the truly ancient concept that God looks with love and honor upon those who follow him. To be blessed means there is a connection – between us and God. To bless something is to give it a sacred meaning. To bless a meal is to say that what you are doing is a holy thing. To bless a person, means that God’s holiness is to penetrate their very core and to make them holy. Jesus is not playing around when he pronounces, “Blessed are you.” He is offering a great gift. He is offering to his listeners a way of life by which they will be the blessed of God – the holy ones, the sanctified, the saints.

I gather from our lessons there are three elements to this saint-making process of God.

1. Set-apartness

2. Going through tribulation for the sake of that set-apartness.

3. Trusting God in midst of it all.

The first may be the hardest – to be blessed, to be a saint, to be sanctified – means to be set apart. It means to stand away from the shallow ways identity is shaped for us – to find our deepest identity, not in the nation, not in the culture, not in our education, not in our obligations, not even in our family – but to find our core identity in being a child of God.

To know, in our hearts, that we have a different call to life – I would almost describe it as to put the best old-fashioned values at the center of our lives. Listen – the best old fashioned values, like honoring the family into which you were born, and the family which you choose to create. Like serving in the greater world, not blindly, but seeking wisdom, honoring differences and respecting those who differ. Honoring the body through restraint and prudence. Sharing the wealth. Truly caring for your neighbor.

Say we ask what is needed in our neighborhood – and it’s afterschool programming. We can set ourselves apart, and live out our identity as servants, not just takers.

Second. Understand that being set-apart will be challenging. The forces of this world do not like those who don’t conform. The forces of this world will work against our seeking to serve– it can be as dramatic as ‘I don’t forgive and won’t forget what happened/didn’t happen’– it can be as subtle as the ‘I don’t want to go and help today!’ issue. Perhaps to be poor in spirit means not to carry grudges, not to remember past wrongs, and re-commit to the good of the community.

The forces of resistance are subtle, are seductive, and are everywhere – in the distractions of television, the internet and get rich quick, get healthy now, take care of yourself first. Mourn quickly and get back to work. Work a lot, hover over the children, and get priorities right – school, sports, family and then, maybe, sometimes, faith.

If our identity calls us to serve our neighbors – our real life neighbors – and our method of dong that is afterschool programming – then the subtle resistance is in the message – “someone else can lead, help, deal with it.” It is in saying “I’m tired of hearing about it already.” It is in wondering – when did I sign up for this – for this active service, for this getting out of myself?

That bring us back to the core question of our lives – whom do we trust? From where will we take our direction? From the society around us? From our own self-monitor (which is usually conditioned by those very same outside forces?) From a higher power – and where do we find that? Jesus calls those who are his sheep to listen to his voice. That’s key – it’s the voice of the Shepherd, found in our Scriptures. We trust our God.

Those who are blessed are set apart, and will know resistance, even persecution, but they will find their trust in God rewarded. They will be comforted, receive mercy, know God, be recognized as children of God. They will be part of the kingdom.

What is does it mean to take being a saint seriously in our time? Again and again, we are called to an older, realer form of life. More like the life of past generations – of the generations that built and nurtured this community into life.

Life that is lived in relationship with those around us – not with the media stars or escapist fiction – life that recognizes our deepest investment is our loved ones, our community and our faith. The promises that Jesus holds out in the list of blessings are not just for others – not just for those who have passed away, or those who are especially great in faith – for the Mother Theresas and the great reformers. These are promises for you and me, for everyday people, living everyday lives trying everyday projects – with extraordinary awareness.

We have been called out to be servants, set apart for his work – we must recognize that there will be ordeals, will be resistance, will be frustrations – and we trust and claim the promises that God offers.


About the Law

Proper 25A/Lect. 30A, October 23, 2011 – PLC, Matthew 22:34-46
‘About the Law’ – concentrating on the first half of our reading.

Jesus is at the end of his dialogues with his opponents – they have challenged him on all points of law and theology – shall we pay taxes to the emperor, who shall be married in the afterlife, what will be the place of the nation of Israel in God’s great plans. Jesus has answered with wit and wisdom and power – and astonished the crowds, and convinced those in power that he must be silenced.

By pulling together these two great scriptures from the Old Testament (Deut. and Leviticus) Jesus holds together two strands of law into one great whole of Love. Love God and Love Neighbor. He is not the first and will not be the last great teacher to do this. We hear similar exhortations from many, many traditions. So much that we think – ahh, the Golden Rule. Jesus does state it, earlier in Matthew 7 – do unto others as you would have them do to you.

My mother used to pull the Golden Rule on us. I’m sure she felt it was the best way to get some semblance of order in our big and let us say, personally diverse clan. I am between two brothers – Jimmy – 18 months older than I, and Peter, who is 3 years younger. When we were in elementary school we would get into battles – and sometimes my mother would come upon us and pull us apart – usually I was on the bottom of the pile, because they would gang upon me. “You know the Golden Rule – do unto others . . . Would you like it if Nancy hit you.” Jimmy would answer - “I can take it – so should she.”

That’s the great downfall of the Golden Rule by itself – it is really based on what one can endure, on what is expedient, on what is acceptable, what I can imagine. Its basis is loving the self – and self love can lack imagination. Self love can wear blinders. Jesus wants us to go farther – to think about the other person as a creation of God, beloved by God.

Look at the order of what Jesus says – and that will tell us all. The First commandment, and the greatest – is to Love God with all your heart, soul and mind. Love God with all the parts of you that are in the image of God. Love God with all the intellect, emotions and will you have. The word ‘love’ here is that wonderful scriptural concept of ‘agape’ – which combines affection and attention, will and action, adoration and trust.

Understand the "love" that is being called for is not emotion; it is not "liking," "getting along with," "desiring," or "feeling warm about." The "love" Jesus is talking about here is trust, loyalty, enduring devotion, being attached to. You may actually hate your neighbor, but you will still love them in the Biblical sense if you continue to act for their well-being, don't tell lies about them, and refuse to cut off your relationship with them.

Jesus goes beyond the Golden Rule when he connects it with Loving God – loving your neighbor (which can be hard, indeed) is the response to turning to God with your all. The Golden Rule is not enough, he says. First, one turns upward – acknowledging that self – which the Golden Rule depends upon – is created, loved, guided and judged by the Almighty.

In some ways he is speaking past his immediate hearers, to all those, who like us – find ourselves without law, without clear direction, without clear answers on how do we behave, how do we act, how do we love?

Loving your neighbor is good, but not enough. Jesus suggests that without love of God – a person cannot fully love their fellow human being. Turning toward God is primary – is the bedrock of any ethics, any morals, any choices made.

I said earlier that Jesus pulls together two strands – Love of God, and Love of Neighbor, but he slips in a third thread – at the end there – ‘on these hang all the law and the prophets.’ Yes, there are other laws besides the Law of loving God, the law of loving neighbor. There are particular rules established for good order, for care of each other, for protection. Now, In today’s world, we like to think anything goes – that love not only conquers all, love excuses all. Love excuses all sorts of bad behavior and injury to others. Listen to Jesus – he’s not going there. Three strands, not just two.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself and on that hangs all the law and the prophets – he does not say that by those two commandments all the law is dismissed, dissolved and moot.

The law of old – the law Jesus knew very well – was a law code that pointed out answers to questions of everyday life – what to wear, what to eat, etc. It seems strange to us, liberated as we are – that these things would ever be commanded. But remember – ‘on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets’ – on these two great commandments – hang all the decisions that we will make. We don’t have 613 little laws – but we do have the same issues of how we live, what choices we make, what elements of our environment become important.

For us today – it’s not about 613 individual prescriptions – but it is about a call to think about our lives and our choices with deliberation and concern for others.

You will hear and read much in the weeks and months to come, from your church leadership, and from people who are engaged in programs here at Peace Lutheran about ways you can act in love toward your neighbor. Some of the ways will be giving ways – giving financially to support our church budget – and giving out of special love for projects that are unique – our new doors, mailing off those Christmas child boxes, helping the Teachers Closet or K-Force. Love your neighbor through working with children at Sunday School or K-Force, through serving on your church leadership, through offering to God your voice at worship or on a service committee.

Some of you may think, in your heart, why doesn’t the church let us be – why do they ask so much? My walk with God is private, personal and not for anyone else to judge. And that is true, but as we are motivated by these words of Jesus – Love God, Love Neighbor, and with those two statements in mind - Think about your life – where else will you be as welcome to express your faith as with your church family? Where else will you find forgiveness when you fail to express love? And where else will you find the Savior, who will be your example of love incarnate?  


Saturday, September 24, 2011


An untitled Sermon on Matthew 21:21-32

Proper 21- Lect. 26, September 24/25/26 – FE & PLC (Monday)
Matthew 21: 23-32 (Argument about Authority, two sons refuse)

A little Bible Study first. To understand what the scripture is telling us, we need to understand the culture and the politics swirling around this Jesus of Nazareth. Up to this point in the story of Jesus, we have heard of Jesus living and working in the hill country around the Sea of Galilee – he has been dealing – with some exceptions – with the people who live in such villages and towns. The local men and women, peasants, fisherman, some small traders, a few tax collectors – those who pressure the people for coins for the oppressing Romans.

Jesus had some contacts with the better educated, the better type of people – the head of the synagogue there, a Roman officer, and especially the men called Pharisees. In the villages these would be those who had more education, probably more land, so they were more comfortable. They were challenged by Jesus because they believed in keeping the law strictly, without gray areas.

Jesus had been working in the back country. His message was upsetting to some people – his powerful vision of the kingdom of God/heaven as present, near, accessible to the ordinary believing person, without going through Temple rituals or keeping every last tiny requirement of the expanded set of regulations – was deeply offensive to the believing Pharisee.

But the ultimate issue, the real trouble, the button-pushing offense was this: Jesus and his followers implied that Jesus himself was somehow connected to the Saving Work of God Almighty in a critical, exclusive and powerful way. Jesus was . . . even at this point in his ministry, the claim spread . . . Jesus was not only a charismatic traveling preacher, not only a great teacher, not only a Rabbi, but more – a divinely appointed prophet – no, more – the Messiah, the Chosen One, the anointed inheritor of David’s power as King, or in addition that he was the mysterious Son of Man bringing in the End of Days – and even whispered the non-Jewish idea that he was the Son of God –that God’s own exclusive divinity had been divided and rested in Jesus – the laborer from the village of Nazareth.

That is what we need to remember when we contemplate these tough passages. The day before this discussion - about authority and two sons who refused in different ways - Jesus had dropped the cloak of hidden-ness as just a traveling preacher.

He entered Jerusalem and his reputation ran before him – and the crowds proclaimed him King, Messiah, David’s heir – they gave a royal welcome – the streets sang. The people in power – the Pharisees of Jerusalem, the minders of the Temple, the Romans – looked on with surprise, perhaps horror.

Jesus entered the temple and in great anger turned over the tables of those who sold animals for the sacrifices. The sick who haunted the temple courts, yearning for healing, converged on him and received his blessing, and found their answer. The cry – Hosanna to the Son of David filled the temple – not only the streets – the cry Hosanna to the Son of David was heard in the temple, shaking the very stones and the very hearts of those in authority.

The next day he comes back to the Temple, and is teaching, and that is the context for this story. “By what authority do you do these things? Who gave you this authority?” These things – coming into Jerusalem like a king, turning over the tables in the outer courts like the Master of the Temple, healing directly by hand, without sacrifices, without the blessing of the priests, teaching as if he is a famous man – these things must be explained. These things are too defiant to be allowed.

Jesus is no longer hidden in the back country of Galilee. He is out there in front of all – peasants in the country and tenement dwellers in the city, soldiers and scribes, priests and governors.

“By what authority do you do these things?” The same authority that John the Baptist had. The Will of God.

He is fulfilling God’s will and he understands that his power comes from the same place that John’s baptism came from – the Will of God. God willed John’s baptism for repentance and the forgiveness of sins – that baptism also challenged the authority of the Temple. God wills Jesus’ ministry in the same way – to challenge the authority of Temple and Priest and Law. God wills that Jesus himself shall be the avenue to God’s kingdom – that this path Jesus is taking – this path, now of conflict and challenge, this path which now leads straight to the horrific death of the cross – this path shall be the way for the followers of God’s will. That was Jesus’ answer then, and it is the answer now.

To understand the will of God is the peculiar task of every citizen of the kingdom. To do the will of the FATHER is the duty of every child. And every child has the question asked of them – “Son, daughter, go and work in the vineyard today.” “By whose authority?” If you were ever an adolescent (most of us are past that age, praise be to God) you recognize this dynamic of defiance of authority, defiance of the parent, the eternal questioning: “why is his will to be dominant over mine?” Why is the will of the Father more important than what I want? Why should my freedom be constrained by the requests of my father?”

Is this resistance fear? Selfishness? Stubbornness? Sin? In the story of Jesus coming into the Temple it was all these things - all these things that lead to the last days, the arrest, the torture, the cross.

And for all of us – it is the same set of responses to that question – asked of us: “Go and work in the vineyard today.” And we are stubborn and selfish and certainly we say – oh, yes sir, but we do not go. We answer the question, in our hearts – by whose authority will our lives be run? By whose authority will our days be ordered? By whose authority will our choices be made?
By our own authority – we think. I choose how to spend my days and I don’t choose to be with the community at worship on Sunday. I choose to how to spend my money, and I don’t choose to support my faith community, much. I choose my friends, and how I spend my time, and how my morals are expressed in my life.

I am my own authority, we say. The book of God – well, it’s only advisory. The will of God – is unclear, but it probably is exactly like my will. The story of Jesus the Christ – it’s all about love and acceptance and being true to yourself – not about crosses and pain and sacrifice and work and honor. I am my own authority and I don’t really know what this vineyard is – I don’t know and really don’t care about the work of the kingdom. So the call to give falls on deaf ears. The call to teach is passed on to a very few. The call to worship is answered by absence. The call to leadership is denied.

By whose authority do you do these things, the Pharisees asked Jesus. John the Baptist came in righteousness and did the will of the Father – and called people to repentance. Did you notice? And Jesus came and called people to love and serve and sacrifice. Did you notice? By whose authority do you live?

(the call to the vineyard takes many shapes – the call to give support, the call to teach, the call to worship, the call to justice, the call the leadership.)

What do you think? A man had two sons – one gave lip service to the father’s will and authority, and never went to the vineyard and the other resisted at first, but bowed his head, and went and did what the father desired. Which one are you?

Friday, September 16, 2011

parable of the vineyard workers

first thoughts - thinking about the parable of the vineyard workers - always a difficult one.

This story is always seen as metaphor, never as literal. Who would do this? What would it mean for us if we take it seriously, as literal ? Is the labor the work we do for the church, and the denarius our ticket into heaven? Is this an argument for socialism (I would love to preach that!) Preachers get hung up on the fairness issue, on the psychology of the individual who resents the late comers who get paid the same. Can this be preached without that discussion of fairness and rights and privilege?

Think differently – is this a parable about getting into heaven? Jesus says it is about the Kingdom of heaven, and the last sentence connects it to God’s gracious acceptance of the children and the poor. Could this be a parable about living in the community, about here and now? About gracious acceptance of each other for who we are, for what we can do, looking at each other with our quirks and faults and failures and seeing that God’s kingdom is among us?

Again and again – who you are in this life does not get you into heaven. Does not make you a citizen of the Kingdom of God. What you do – good deeds – does not get you there. Hearing the preaching gets you there. Accepting the invitation. Coming along on the vineyard express. Being part of the community of faith-work.

Parables can be negative examples. The ungrateful steward is one, here is another one.

I'm working in a hidden time of stress and anger, in a micro-climate of frustration and pending change. What is the good word?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Live in the Daylight

(The story was found in this thoughtful post. It's by Rabbi Zoe Klein and is a reflection on her trip to Ghana)

Ancients used night and day as opposites – because they had to – because they would be immobilized in darkness – some things couldn’t get done, and some things were more likely to happen – bad things. Both in cities and in rural villages, privacy was rare. The level of private lives that we enjoy is truly a modern invention – unheard of in ancient days. Not only would your family know you what you do, but so would everyone else.

If you were grasping after money, people would know it. If you squandered your money in food and drink, that would get around. If you were a married man, and kept a mistress, that would be known. If you were slacking off at work, if you were cheating, if you were going after the latest fad in exotic eastern deities - well, it would come back on your community.

Those early Christian communities understood themselves as living in spots of light amidst darkness – true worship among false idols, taking care to respect and honor their bodies instead of wasting away in sexual immorality and drunkenness, learning to treat others with kindness as beloved children of the Father God – all the differences between this new faith in Christ Jesus that stood apart from the foolish chasing after the whims of this god or goddess, this deal or that patronage.

“See how they love each other” was the statement. See how their visible lives reflect what they believe – see how their choices outline that love that enriches their lives.

Live as if you are in broad daylight, says Paul. Live as if your life is visible – not only to God – but visible in the open marketplace, to your neighbors. Live Love, he says. Live as if Love – true love of neighbor – were not a theoretical concept – but Live Love because Love has been made real to you.

That is what makes Paul’s faith different from any other religion of that time or now – Live Love because Love has been made real for you. Put on Jesus Christ, put on the armor of light – that is your new garment of Love. That’s the garment for Daytime, for living in the daylight, the garment of loving the neighbor as yourself. Notice that Paul does not abandon the commandments of Old Time, the Old Testament, but, like Jesus, he takes them further – sees in them the continuity – Love your neighbor as yourself.

Paul is quoting Jesus here – he is so close to the original tradition, so close to the words of Jesus. As Christ loved – so are you to love. And that love is not hidden, cannot be hidden. In the transparent world of Paul and Jesus – acting out of true love of the neighbor will be a clear sign that something is different here – it will be like night and day. ‘See how they love each other.’

Even when the community is broken – as is suggested in Matthew 18, when the community is broken by individual sin – the community acts in love – sin is identified, named, and gently brought to light – in effect, echoing the greatest commandment – love your neighbor as yourself.

For this community. Every Christian community, carries the life and love of Christ within it. So it is promised, and so it must be – no one can escape that. Each individual puts on Jesus Christ, but the community in concert, when we live and work together – must be understood as the Body of Christ – where two or three are gathered – doesn’t just mean it’s good to gather together, but that we have an obligation to consider what we are doing together in the light and mission of Christ.

Live Love – for weeks now the wisdom from St. Paul has been about Love – about Agape – the kind of open, giving, love-for-others – that marks and makes the Christian community. We show this love in serving our neighbors – yes, the picnic, yes, the afterschool program (still looking for volunteers, I’m sure), yes, the provision of space for programs, yes, the education of our own children and youth, yes, worship – but we also will be known for our own lives – for we live in day-light – we live in the open, we live in the eyes of God and each other.

The beginning of the Talmud asks the question: “Until what time can you say the evening Shema? (The prayer for evening and night-time) Can you say it even until dawn?
And if so, how do we even know what time that is? How do we know when the night is over and the day has arrived?

This classic question leads to this classic story: In which students try to answer this question for the rabbi. One says:” Rebbe, night is over and day arrives, when you can see a house in the distance and determine if that’s your house or the house of your neighbor.”

Another student responded: “Night is over and day arrives when you can see an animal in the field and determine if it belongs to you or to your neighbor.”

Yet another student offered:” Night is over and day has arrived when you can a flower in the garden and distinguish its color.”

No, no, no thundered the Rebbe. Why must you see only in separations, only in distinctions, in determining what something is not. No. Night is over and day arrives when you look into the face of the person beside you and you can see that he is your brother, she is your sister, that person is your neighbor. That you belong to each other. You see that you are one. Then, and only then, will you know that night has ended and day has arrived.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

take a minute = the third question

Third Question: What do you consider to be the big question or conundrum of your life?


Perpetual student, longing for serene and beautiful places, comfortable clothes, new stimuli (all those cities I visit but do not live in), fall and it's colors.

I think the big question is: what am I going to be when I grow up? I know I'm not finished yet. Were is the place of rest that is also the place of challenge?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

take a minute

From Metanoia:
take a minute and write down your responses to the following. No context ~ just whatever responses pop into your mind. Be as general or specific as you want, using as few words as possible.

1. Five colors.

2. Five cities.

3. Five landscapes.

4. Five interiors.

5. Five things you might wear.

1. Orange, yellow, green, bronze, sky blue
2. San Antonio, San Diego, Long Beach MS, Boston, Chicago
3. ocean, mountains, plains, Northwoods, shore of Lake Superior
4. chapel at college, Christ Church Green Bay, silo room at the Bridge, library at St. Anthony's, castle in my head
5. denim skirt, flats, cardigan sweater, glasses, bright socks

Next question: Within each of your groups, do you see commonalities?

Oh yes - my favorite color palate is fall
the cities are ones I have visited and enjoyed, but never lived in
the landscapes are beautiful for me
The interior spaces have been meaningful in my life
Those are my favorite clothes!

Thursday, June 16, 2011



Carrying a headache all day

Is burden ripe to drop

Whole body into sleep


Sunday, June 12, 2011

to each is given

Pentecost Day, Year A, 2011 – Acts 2, 1 Corinthians 12:3b- 13,
A story to start with: one day in a big city – the streets department comes by and systematically digs a hole in the terrace. The hole sits there until the end of the day, when a truck comes by and fills the hole up. This goes on street, by street, block by block, Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday. One woman in the neighborhood notices this interesting pattern as she walks her dog. On Thursday, she stops one of the hole-digging workers and asks – what in world are you doing? Well – we’re on the urban beautification crew. What’s so beautiful about putting holes in the grass? Well, you see, the man who puts the trees in the holes is on vacation this week!

To each is given a gift – and that gift is important. At Pentecost we read this great story about the start of the church and think – wouldn’t it have been a wonderful thing to experience? Wouldn’t it have been a great time to hear all that great preaching, been caught up in the development of a new movement with its great hopes and expectations?

It’s always easy to look back and suggest there was a golden time that was so much better. I’m sure in the third century they looked back 50 years and said – those were the days. Sometimes I suspect that now in the 21th century we are dis-advantaged because we follow such a prosperous time in the church.

But, even in the 1st century – the church had its issues. It wasn’t all fiery ecstasy and preaching. By end of Acts 2 we have gatherings and organization. They were meeting for meals and prayers, and you can be sure that someone was complaining that they weren’t told what door to go in by. By Acts 4 we have trouble with the city officials, but also we learn that stewardship was becoming important within the community, and stewardship issues caused the first scandal. And by Acts chapter 6 we have clear evidence of church troubles and complaints, and establishment of systems to deal with that. Maybe there never really was a golden time when all was smooth and easy and everything turned on all cylinders.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church is written in the midst of these two elements – great excitement at the wonderful things God is doing by the Holy Spirit in the Name of Jesus – and great distress at the conflicts that have arisen in that very community of Jesus. Paul is speaking by and about the Spirit of Pentecost, and in a very deliberate way to his church and to all of us – says that it is the here-and-now – not the there-and-then, or the even by-and-by – where the Spirit of God is doing God’s work. Paul tells his church their energies should not be directed at creating factions based on who evangelized them, no, for that is in their pasts. It is how they treat each other now that is important.

In the church in Corinth, there were people who thought they were better than others – they had more significant talents, more wonderful gifts, more powerful expressions of the Spirit of God in them. They had groups that supported each other – I am one of Apollos’ converts – so, I have the gift of such and such! I am one of Paul’s converts, so I stand for this and that! Preaching is most important – no – speaking in tongues is most important – back and forth they went.

But Paul points the back, not to the gifts, but to the Giver. “No one can say: ‘Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.” That is where all the gifts begin. That is where all church organization begins. That is where we all begin in our lives of faith – as children being given a precious inheritance – the knowledge that Jesus Christ is our Lord. It’s a dramatic leveler. We all start at the same place in faith. “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him;” Small Catechism – Apostles Creed, 3rd article.

But starting in the same place does not mean we all have the same talents – that is also clear that Paul, and Jesus as well – recognized the beauty of the diversity of the followers, and saw that the Holy Spirit would bless us each with unique and significant powers. Yes, powers.

Pentecost is really a story about baptism of the Spirit, baptism into gifts and abilities. Baptism is not only about being named in the sight of God, and being claimed as a child of God, but also about being commissioned as a worker for God. And a worker does his or her work through the power he or she is given. In the Pentecost story we hear of gifts of speaking in other tongues, and perhaps also the gifts of preaching – but as we learned – the church developed so it needed more and different talents – stewardship, organization, communications, support, love, charity, cooking. To each is given . . . do we believe that? For the common Good . . . do we believe that?
Technology – numbers – friendship – speaking to strangers – steadiness – pray without ceasing – argumentation – delight in the movement of the body – music – calmness in stress – compassion for those who grieve – gift of teaching children.

Pentecost isn’t for looking backwards – not backwards to some golden age of the first century, when all was new and shiny – or backwards to the 1960s – when there were plenty of people to do everything. Paul warns us that basing our lives in anything other than the Life of the Holy Spirit in us today is wasteful. Remember that story I began with – what if the person whose gift is planting trees is always missing? Has the Spirit dwindled? I don’t think so – in the church the tree-planting person will be there – we, all of us, need to be open and supportive.

We are the new Pentecost people. We are new every day, in the life of the Spirit. We are the inheritors of the Holy Spirit here and down – and we can say and believe it: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Let us open our hearts to that new wind of the Spirit, blowing through us and discover ways to give ourselves away for the common good.

Friday, June 3, 2011

confirmation sermon

Easter 5A – Sunday May 22 – Confirmation– “Welcome”
1 Peter 2:2-10 (Living stones), John 14:1-14

Welcome! Welcome to the confirmation students who have come this whole way. Welcome to their families and friends who have come to see them step up and affirm their covenant of baptism. And Welcome to the rest of you. Maybe you didn’t realize what we were doing today – and that’s okay – in fact that’s wonderful. You are not here by accident – not at all. God desires this building to be full when we pray for these young people. Too often we forget that these kinds of moments – the baptisms, the confirmations, even the weddings and the funerals – are not just for the people who are doing them – but they are part of the life and breath of the whole church.

That’s what I’ll be speaking about today – the life and strength of the whole church. You see, kids – this day is “all about you” but it’s not all about you. You’ve done some work, hung in there in your Christian education – but you’ll be making your promises ‘by the grace of God.’
My understanding of the process of Confirmation education is that you students ‘try on’ the promises to see how they fit. We invite you to practice worship, fellowship, study, service and justice. We’ve asked you think about those things, how you will experience them in your life. Some of you fought that pretty hard, some of you found a wonderful insight.

Bless your hearts – we’ve asked you to try and try on the promises of baptism – and – you weren’t perfect. Here’s the big reveal – nobody is – I’m not perfect, they are not perfect, no one on earth does it perfectly as God desires.

That’s why, this day, this event isn’t about you at all – it’s about our beautiful God, our loving God. A God who takes even people, imperfect people like you and me – and offers us a place in his house. Yep, even folks who have messed up occasionally – who have frustrated the pastors in class, who have absolutely sat in stone silence in class and only answered us with jokes –

• folks who aren’t totally sure what we believe, (Do I believe this enough to be here?)
• folks who wonder if we’re good enough, (Not as good as – that!)
• folks who are pretty sure if someone knew their deepest hearts –

Well – God does know – and God does care – how we live, what we do, that we fix our eyes on him, our lives on his power to change us – even then, when we are weak God does not discard.
God believes you are one of the living stones.

The author of our second lesson – the lesson from the First letter of Peter – speaks of living stones. Living stones are useful stones, are stones that have strength and beauty for a building. The author invites, yes, invites each of us to “Come to Jesus Christ,” and submit ourselves to be built into a temple. Come and be used. Interesting, isn’t it, that we are make for a purpose – for use.

Christ is the cornerstone – the place where it all begins and ends – but we are the bricks, the stones, the substance of this Temple, spiritual house. All of us, each one of us, confirmation student or parent or regular worshiper or musician or stranger who wandered in today – each one of has a purpose.

Yes, each of us is supposed to be here because together, and only together do we make the great Temple of praise. Here we find out what we are supposed to be doing – what all this was about, kids – is that you are the living stones of the Temple of Jesus Christ. You are the living stones. The role of the living temple – is to tell - is to praise – is to exclaim the Great Work, to point out the joy of the Real Story of Jesus. That happens here in this hour, but because we are a spiritual house – we take our mission with us wherever we go – we are commissioned to be the house of the LORD everywhere, every day, every encounter.

What happens when a brick isn’t there? There will be a gap, an absence, a missing support. Something will not be right. Now, tomorrow, you might say – I don’t matter here – it does not matter if I come to church or not – it does not matter if I keep my promises to this project, this person, to church, to God. Now only God can really answer that.

But the scripture here and in the Gospel makes a promise about promises – Our God promises that mercy and hope and honor will come to those who keep their promise. “once you were not a people – now you are God’s people. Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

That’s what this is all about today – WE are called to be God’s Living stones, his Temple, his priesthood, his nation, his voice, because we have all received mercy, not because we finished some years of education, not because we’ve done the right thing, not because we were born a Lutheran or American or anything.

The mercy is that We have been introduced to Jesus and through him know the Father. Come to him, a living stone – and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.


Good fences make good neighbors - is that the quote?

Our neighbor behind half the back yard put up a fence last year. They put it inside the property line and put the side with the supports outward. Black mark #1 - I was always taught it was neighborly to put the supports on the inside, so other people had the 'front' of the fence facing them.

#2 - then they did not mow outside the fence.

#3 - during the first big wind storm - one panel fell down - they put it back up - then it fell down again in the last windstorm. It's been at least two weeks, they haven't put it back up.

#4 - they aren't mowing.

I don't think anyone is living there. The garbage bin is surrounded by two-foot high grass (I can see it through the fallen down fence panel). There is no 'for sale sign' up. They are in the town - not the city. Not mowing the grass seems to be pretty common on the town side of things - I can see at least two other houses like that on that street.

Hmmm- maybe a call to the town offices might be in order.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

the good gate

Something different to post today. This is a partial sermon that I do not know how to end.


Psalm 23, John 10:1-10 – True shepherd/gate/ abundant life – it’s not about death –it’s about living now. It is polemical – it is part of an argument with ‘them’ – so it is compare and contrast. Jesus=true shepherd/true gate/true way. ‘Pharisees/false teachers = death/slaughter/restrictions/destruction.’ Abundant life is not – destruction, but excellent, superior, great in measure.


I bless and love this Sunday and all the songs and sheepy imagery – but guess what – we aren’t sheep. We are a little smarter, and probably more confused than sheep. Our lives are probably more conflicted and noisy than Jesus makes the existence of sheep out to be. Our lives are full of life things, much more than eating and sleeping and growing wool. Our lives – oh my goodness – our lives are full of worry, and questions and gray areas. At some time, we fear death, and poverty and loneliness, we feel empty and angry and stuck. And we have times of joy and fulfillment as well. We are so much more complex than sheep.

That’s okay, because the point of all these ovine metaphors in the Bible isn’t sheep. The point is that we are in need of something – our existence, our human core, our best selves need to be connected to the bigger picture, to meaning, to the divine. We live, and we suffer, and we need to understand our lives and our suffering in a big picture. We need a way, a gate and a guide, a shepherd.

You see, the whole Good Shepherd discourse begins in the midst of miracle and separation. Maybe we forget that, or never knew it, because we see the Good Shepherd so naturally as the one who keeps us from pain, the hero, the fairy tale comforter. The image does appeal to children. But these passages are really for adults, for those of us who find ourselves lost in the middle of our lives, and for those who find ourselves full of grace and joy and miracle.

Yes, it’s both the loss of community and new beginnings. All these great words about the Good, True, Noble shepherd and his path, gate, way – this great promise of abundant life – begin with the consequences of miracle.

These words follow the great story of the man born blind, who discovers not only his physical sight, but his spiritual vision in Jesus. The man worships Jesus – because of that is separated from his family and community. Jesus is speaking to that man, and to his disciples, and to also all those who have opposed him. The man without community is beginning a new life – coming into a new community – and these words are intended to guide and warn him. And we are like him – now alive in Christ through his death and resurrection.

So Jesus says: I am the gate – the right way. I am the one to listen to.

The point of the Good Gate is the identity of Jesus and the relationship of Jesus to his followers. To say ‘I am the Gate’ is like saying “I am the way, the truth and the life’ – Jesus is making a claim that he, and he alone, opens the door to the Father, provides the living water, secures the abundant life. His voice is the One Voice of Life.

Jesus uses the image of the shepherd calling out his sheep as a model for the believer who will walk in the way of the Light of God – not turning right or left, not straying, but attending to the voice, on the right path.

We live a world full of static: Some time ago (May 28, 2009), USA Today reported the findings of a 2009 survey by Qwest Communications in which respondents were asked how long they could last before feeling “antsy” about checking E-mail, instant messaging, or other social networking sites. Of those surveyed, 47% said they couldn’t last more than an hour…46% said they could only make it one day…and the remaining 7% said they could probably go a week without checking in.

We live in a world full of competing voices. There is a whole industry devoted to making you and me loyal consumers of one brand or another. This industry – media consultants – takes aim at our need to belong, our confusion about the meaning of life, our intrinsic spiritual orientation and attempts to use that to develop ‘loyalty beyond reason’ (Frontline) and ‘brand communities’.

We live in a world where huge stakes rest on our loyality, our choices. My struggle – I want a Dyson Vacuum cleaner. I want the DC25 Animal Ball to be exact. I really want this. It’s not rational. Consumer Report has plenty of vacuum cleaners that perform better and are cheaper on their list. But I want the $550 Dyson, not the Kenmore, not the Hoover, and not the 150 dollar Eureka! Why is this? Branding. I’ve been brand-marked. I’ve been brand-influenced. This is a small and funny example, of course, but it’s real.

That’s how it works – it’s subtle, it’s subliminal, and it’s real. Other voices call to us, other voices obscure or contradict the voice of the Master. I can name many versions of this: the call to self-love that tells us that being happy is everything – the call to anxious security that warns us that generosity is foolish. You can name these voices as well – we once called them sin.

Jesus knows that – he says: Don’t listen to them! Don’t listen to the false shepherds, the hawkers of rules and fear – don’t listen to the siren songs of self-fulfillment and self-love. That’s what Jesus is saying – listen to my voice. There is the good life of the brand identity – and there is the True Good Life of abundance that Jesus is promising.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

a very short Passion Sunday meditation


The story was read in chucks, with different voices reading each chunk. Everyone could be a story-teller.


Why do we do this? Why do we insist on reading and hearing the whole, long story from beginning to end in one long service? I would say we do this so that we can know the truth.
The truth of the story of who Jesus is for us, the truth of his love for us, the truth that he stepped into the way of death, for us – is the story we need to hear. What happens between Palm Sunday and Easter morning is a tale often referred to, but not often experienced. This is the day, more than any other day in the calendar, when our emotions should be called up, when our imaginations fired up, our hearts touched.

Jesus did this for us. He entered the capital city at the center of a crowd. Yes, that crowd was foolish, that crowd was shallow and fickle. But look at Jesus – what would you say about him? I would say he was brave – for he understood this was the beginning of his death. Coming into the city, in this way, with hosannas and palms and shouts – was to assure his death. Jesus was brave for us.

And out of love he sat with his closest companions and offered a spiritual meal like no other. He offered himself in love. Jesus gave himself away for us. And yes, those disciples were shallow and fickle, and would run away – but look at Jesus – what would you say about him? I would say he was in love with each and every one of them – in love with them as they were.

And so it goes, with all the scenes of that terrible night and day. Jesus, in loving courage, steps up to take our place – ‘not my will, but thine be done,’ He says to God his Father. And so he goes through humiliation, pain, denial, desertion, torture – to die.

This is the truth – that the best one in the world – the most human Human, the most divine Divinity – went with courage and love through the some of worst human beings could do to each other – for the sake of all humanity – for all of us.

We tell this story because we need to hear the truth once more. The truth is = you are loved. Jesus is in love with you – and even if, we prove to be shallow and fickle – he waits for us to come back. He did all this for us – come and believe.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

sorry no tooth fairy

there is no tooth fairy.
or fix a flat fairy.
or put the dishes away fairy
or wash the dishes fairy

And it's not me.