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Sunday, April 7, 2019

April 7, 2019

John 12:1-8                 
Isaiah 43:16-21           
Philippians 3:4b-14

            "The LORD makes a way in the sea, a path in the might waters," we hear in Isaiah this morning.
Paul thought he knew the way, the law.  He fulfilled every part of it, better than anyone, but he discovered he wasn’t really living.  His life was going nowhere.
The Israelites thought they knew the way—serve the Egyptians obediently.  Make bricks, stay put.  It was all they knew.  But they were not really living.
            The Disciples thought they knew the way.  They dropped their nets and followed Jesus at his first invitation.  The followed him for three years before we get to today’s Gospel.  They healed the sick, prayed with him, and witnessed his miracles.  They passed out the bread he multiplied.  But they were blind to God right in front of them.  They were so busy arguing about who was his favorite and correcting Jesus for talking to the wrong people, they were missing the new life that was right in front of them.
            Jesus gives us the gift of new life, through his abundant grace and forgiveness.  Most of the time we’re like Judas and the other disciples, focused on the practical, being reasonable, weighing our actions and the actions of others, and trying to look good in front of other people.  Judas is right!  He’s right about the poor—that they could really use that money to ease their suffering.  He’s right about the excessiveness of the gift.  It was rather wasteful to pour out all that perfume.
            But Jesus praises Mary, arguably the 13th Disciple.  She is praised for her act of devotion, her expression of love and gratefulness.  She was grateful that Jesus had raised her brother from the dead and restored him to her family.  She was devoted to Jesus.  Remember, she sat at his feet, learning from him, while her sister prepared all the food and served the guests.  Here, she further expresses her devotion through this lavish gift. 
            I wonder: Would Jesus have praised her however she had expressed her devotion, thanks, and love?  Would he have also praised her if she had sold the expensive perfume and given the money to the poor?  Would he have also praised her if she had brought some other gift for him?  I think he would have. 
But she chose this way.  What does this tell us?  Mary chose a gift that involved the 5 senses, especially touch and smell.  She touched Jesus’ body.  Six days before his body would be beaten, pierced, pushed, she touched and anointed that body.  She cared for that body.  Six days before he will be dehumanized, humiliated, she honors him and although she is completely unaware, establishes herself as the priest, anointing the Christ, which means “anointed one.”  She anoints the Christ for his ascension to the throne, to be lifted up on the cross.  She also establishes herself as his teacher.  Five nights before he will wash the disciples feet, he learns from her the gift of touch and intimacy, a beautiful act of farewell, and an apt illustration of how they are to treat each other.
            So today, Jesus touches us.  We put his body to our lips in Holy Communion, and we take his blood into our bodies.  In holy communion we are close to one we trust so much and love so much, just like Mary.
            We are taught to be reserved, as Lutherans.  Don’t show emotion.  Don’t embarrass yourself by making a scene.  Mary is our role model today.  She doesn’t hold back. 
            We know from this story not to discount our bodies or our emotions.  Sometimes we associate them with “the flesh” from the Bible, distractions, temptations of our bodies.  But here we see that bodies aren’t bad or to be neglected or denied.  It is a matter of balance.  Jesus was criticized for eating and drinking and partying a little more than people thought he should.  But that’s not all he did.  He had a balanced life that included celebration, prayer, and healing and teaching, his work.  This story is telling us that our bodies are a gift from God and we can enjoy God’s good gifts in this world.  
            Mary’s gift was affirmed by Jesus because it was an expression of love.  It was so appropriate because of what was about to happen to Jesus’ body.  How many times that week did Jesus recall that time with Mary?  How many times did he call on that memory for strength?  How many times did the scent of the perfume come back into his awareness?  How long did it linger?  That was a lot of perfume.  The smell of it might even have lasted to the cross.
            Mary’s gift is also an illustration of what Christ does for us.  He give us all he has in his healing and teaching, in the life he lives, in his death and resurrection and forgiveness, and by making us his brothers and sisters.  Some say his outpouring was a waste.  He wasted his blood, his life, on sinners, on rejects, on people who would never appreciate what he did.
            But we respond in faith.  We respond with joy.  When we are down and out, hurting, feeling all alone, Jesus sits at our feet and washes them with his tears, begging us to come home, to change our life.  He throws us a dinner, he pours out all his precious perfume, all his loveliness, all his grace.  We respond by celebrating that gift, with praise, by placing our confidence in him and his love and grace.
            Jesus gave all he had.  Mary got that, and she went all out and gave all she had.  However we respond, God’s free gift of grace is for us.  It is for Mary.  It is for Judas.  It is for the clueless disciples.  It is for you and me—distracted, ungrateful, blind, hopeful, sleepy, bumbling you and me.  He poured himself out, but it wasn’t a waste because new life comes forth, restoration, forgiveness, a new way.
            We thought we knew the way, money, a good job, respectability, good works, but it turns out that Christ is the way, love is the way, faith is the way.  It is the way to the cross.  We will go there, too.  We will pour out all we have.  We will die.  We will be humiliated.  We will suffer.  The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years and no who departed Egypt crossed into the promised land.  Saul stood blind in the hands of those who he’d oppressed and feared for his life.  Mary wept 3 days at the tomb of her brother.  They suffered.  But that’s not the end of the story and it isn’t for us either.  There’s more!  That’s not the end of the story, because Jesus has wept over us and has bathed us in his baptismal tears, he’s fed us with himself and isn’t about to let us go now.  So we rise to new life, with him.  This new life is different than our former life.  We have new focus, new eyes, new appreciation, and we rise to praise, to celebrate, and to truly live. 

Saturday, March 30, 2019


Sterling has been adjusting well to Tacoma.  He's always been enthusiastic about the move, from the day we told him the news.  It is a big adventure to him. 

We started right away trying to get him into Spanish-Immersion.  The website said they were full.  When I talked to the Tacoma Schools main office they said they were full.  But I applied anyway and after a couple of more phone calls found he got in.  He was hoping to go to school in English only.  He's been complaining about Spanish-Immersion.  But as soon as I found out, I started telling everyone and of course everyone was very excited for him, and he started to feel better about taking Spanish.  His Portland Spanish-Immersion was 80% Spanish.  Tacoma Immersion is 50%, which he likes much better.

We took him on February 1 to sign him up.  His school is beautiful!  It is only 16 years old, with a nice library and updated classrooms.  The school even got a grant and is hatching salmon in a tank in the hallway.  There are 250 salmon to check in on every day.  School was not in session that day, which we didn't realize, but we were able to sign him up to start Monday.  His teacher was there with her classroom assistant, and Sterling was able to have a tour and get to know them a little bit.

Sterling made a new best friend his first week at his school.  There is a child in his classroom whose best friend moved away a few weeks before and he and Sterling hit it off, immediately.  They play Spider Man and other super heroes.  Sterling will correct me if I say they "play."  He tells me they do serious business like fight crime and time travel, etc. 

Sterling has two other friends.  The first we met in Portland, and his family moved a year before we did.  So when it snowed the first two weeks we were here, Sterling played twice with his friend that he had met 2 other times in Portland. 

The next friend we met at the library.  We've been going to events at the library, because they are free and fun.  There are crafts or science activities or games.  Sterling really wanted to make a clock, so we went and did that.  As we were leaving another family was arriving, with a child about his age.  We saw them and waved and they were friendly.  We exchanged phone numbers and set up a time to meet.  It turns out this friend was home-schooled in English and Spanish and it wasn't going as well as hoped.  His mom asked about Sterling's school and 2 weeks later he is in Sterling's class.  So now the 3 boys are inseparable! 

I signed Sterling up with the Boys and Girls Club because they have drop-in days and I got a job where I would be filling in--a substitute activity director at a nursing home.  He loved the one day he went--they have snacks and crafts!  During orientation for that job, I got a call from another place I applied.  When I finally got through the next day, they were offering me a full-time job 8-4:30, m-f, coordinating hospice volunteers.  Of all the jobs I applied for, this was the one I really wanted.  So now I start on the 8th of April.  Sterling will do before care through the YMCA, which is right there at his school, and go to Boys and Girls Club after school on the school bus.  We are all very excited for the next step!

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Ash Wednesday 2019

"Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return."  We hear these words tonight.  Are they are warning?  Are they encouragement?  

These words come from the book of Genesis (3:19).  They are God's words, "By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return."  Here they are a description of a consequence because Adam and Eve gave into temptation.  And actually, these words are only spoken to Adam, although we know that the same happens to women, too.

Here in the Bible they are stated as a consequence, but probably it went more like this.  Someone asked, "Why do we have to work so hard and why is giving birth so painful and why does everything turn to dust and why am I always having to dust these shelves and tables?"  And people thought about it and talked about it and they said maybe things weren't always that way, because it doesn't seem like they should be.  And they thought of human nature and how it might contribute to the dustiness of our lives and the way things fall apart.  And I think in a lot of ways they were right.

Sometimes all the things we do, don't add up to much, all the work we put in gets undone.  Sometimes life is going so well and we undermine it with our fears that we aren't enough.  Sometimes we've built something wonderful and someone else or even just life, knocks it down again.  Cities rise but also fall.  Eventually everything becomes ruins.  Everything on this earth returns to dust, except maybe styrofoam, but that's a topic for another time. 

Sometimes this feels like bad news.  Everything falls apart.  Everything dies.  Everything gets dusty. 

But what is the alternative?  Everything stays the same forever--that's scary, as the styrofoam example will tell you.  That rocks would stay rocks and ocean would stay ocean and people would live forever in these bodies.  That's the illusion we live under.  It doesn't seem like things are changing and then all of a sudden I say to myself, "How did that kid get so tall?" or "What is this new thing going on with me?  Am I mellowing out a little bit?  Maybe I am capable of finding moments of peace!"  We sing songs about God never changing, like "How Great Thou Art" "Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not, as thou hast been thou forever will be."  or "No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock I'm clinging!"  We like to think of God as our unchanging rock, but if there is anything we know about God it is that God never stands still for a second.  In Genesis God's spirit us moving over the waters, creating the heavens and the earth and all their creatures, the sun and moon and stars and plants, and on and on.  When the Israelites wander in the wilderness, God is in the moveable tent, the tabernacle, among them, sometimes going up the mountain with Moses, but always on the move, with the people.  And not just physically moving, but shaping the people into God's people, creating and re-creating them.  In the promised land, people try to stop God moving by building a temple, but God never asked for a house to live in.  When the Israelites are kidnapped into exile, and wondering how to be in God's presence if the temple is back home, God appears in the dreams of the prophets, with the people, moving them, changing their hearts, re-creating them, moving and changing.  For God to be still and unchanging, like a rock is limiting, confining.  But for God to be present in ever-changing wind and fire, always creating and re-creating us in relationship to God and each other, that's the miracle and that makes the dust.  Wind, water, flame: They are always changing, moving, powerful, and they make dust.  They grind away at mountain sides, they burn and turn to ash, they transform.  And transformation isn't always comfortable.

Part of our problem is our demonization of dust.  Dust is trash.  Dust is rubbish, worthless.  We are always trying to eradicate it and it always comes back.  It is a battle we are in.

But dust can be fascinating if you let it.  It is bits of other things.  It is bits of skin and hair, bits of you and me, bits of food, wood, clothing, rocks, dirt.  That is not worthless!  That dust used to be part of something else.  That broke down and has the potential to become something else.  That broke down and became something else.  Then that became part of us or our house or our food or our bodies and broke down again.  Now I will sweep it up and throw it out, but it will then become part of something else.  God took that dust, that dirt and formed the first human, dirt-person, earthling, Adam, Eve.  Isn’t amazing that you and I are also made from the dust and particles of other creatures and buildings and even the dust of the stars.  We humans have such a limited view.  What would it take to see like God sees the beauty, the life, the potential in a pile of dust?  So God spits in that dust and starts to shape it and create and even create such a fearfully and wonderfully made creature as you and me and your neighbor and your enemy and your pets and so on.  That we are dust, means we are connected to all other life and even all things not living, in that we share pieces.  We are a mosaic of all that God has made.

Remember the first time you saw the dust floating in a shaft of light?  Do you remember that wonder and awe and hope you felt as you watched all that sparkling dust?  Reclaim that wonder.  Go home and the next time the sun is out, open a window and sit and pray in thanksgiving for this wonderful world God has made and this dust that once was part of you and me and now is sent out into the world to be part of other realities.

It sounds like good news to me that we will fall apart and become part of everything once again.  That is death and resurrection.  That is creation and re-creation.  And we don't have to die to do it.  It is always going on, the shifting of dust.

The other part that I don't mind about the dust stuff, is that this world is so broken, I need God to recreate it.  I need to know that there will be a time when this body won't walk this earth, that I'll live in a different way, whether that is in heaven, or in unity with all creation.  I don't care, but the pains and failings of this life cause me to long for a time when I will be fully embraced by God and all my failings will be dust.  There are plenty of people in this world I can't bear the thought that they will one day be dust, but I can bear my own dustiness, and I can bear it when I think of God's plans for new life and resurrection.

One part of us that will truly be dust is our temptation to try to impress each other and our hypocrisy.  We know its dust and God knows its dust.  When we are trying to impress someone with our prayers or piety or clothing or perfect words, it will all fall apart, sooner or later, because there is always someone we can't please.  And the older I get, the more I say, "Who cares what they think!"  I do care at some level, but I am learning to let go of other people's opinions of me.  We will never please everyone.  But God gives us a more excellent way and it feels more honest, it can bring us moments of peace and true joy, and that is to do something good in secret.  To have a secret between me and God, someone helped, someone's life made easier, is so fun!  That is treasure stored up in heaven, not that we store up points to get us into heaven, but that we create heaven on earth for people who are struggling and in need, or that God creates heaven, the Kingdom of God through us, right here, right now.  We don't have to wait.

This cross we trace on our foreheads, is the same we received at baptism, with all the grace, and love and promises of God.  Today isn’t just about dust, but about relationship, about creativity, about what God is building in, with, and through us.

So don't be afraid of a little dust.  You're already dusty, that's ok.  By smearing it on, we're taking away the illusion that we've got it all together, that we're clean. We're not.  We're piles of dust that God formed out of chaos, breathed into and is working through.  We're imperfect, broken, incomplete, but not even that can stop God transforming, recreating this world into the Kingdom of God.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Making friends

We are here in Tacoma almost a month.  Two weeks of that we were snowed in, but thankfully the last two weeks have been better.  We did make the most of the snow days and connected twice with acquaintances we met in Portland that moved to Tacoma a year ago.  The woman gave us lots of insights about Tacoma and was just fun to visit with.  Her son is a year older than Sterling and the boys got along well.

All three of us went and cleaned our Portland home a week ago Saturday.  We didn't get a lot done, but we saw how much there was to do.  We met with a potential property manager who gave us a lot of information that helped us to picture being able to rent our house.

Over the last week, I met the sister of a local pastor, and we struck up a friendship.  She is also a pastor and was serving a congregation she loved.  That call ended mid-January and they moved the day after we did.  She and I have a lot in common--sore muscles and hands from moving, grieving our congregations, feeling a little adrift.  She got me out for a nice walk along the waterfront on a sunny day and has showed me around Tacoma a little bit.  That has been very helpful.  She's from the area, so she has a good support network, but she's taken me under her wing, which I appreciate.

After getting a picture of what was going on with the house, I made a plan to go back last weekend and spend 2 nights and knock out as much of it as I could.  I invited some friends to come help.  Sterling ended up going with his grandparents overnight on Saturday and they even helped clean and took a load to the dump.  It was amazing what all we got accomplished.  Long story short, as soon as the handyman finishes installing the back door, it is ready to rent.  That is a huge weight lifted!

This week I sat down and input all my receipts for our taxes.  I am waiting until we plug in the printer to be able to finish them.  Remember when you had to go get your tax forms from the post office?  I felt a sense of accomplishment even locating our W-2s and the receipts.  I am feeling better about how I am spending my time.  I am trying to set a bit of a schedule and accomplish little things each day.

This week I had one interview and next week I have another.  That is helping me focus and stay hopeful.  I have an appointment for coffee today with a local pastor and a meeting tomorrow at a church I get to preach at on Ash Wednesday.  I also have another pulpit supply gig set up for April.  I got out the box that has my robe and stoles.  I haven't opened it yet. 

Finally, my neighbor from Portland and her daughter are coming to stay tomorrow night.  She's bringing her cot, since we don't have a bed for the guest room yet.  I'm looking forward to showing her around and having a nice visit.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Settling in

A lot is going well after our move.  Sterling loves his new school and almost every day says it is the best day ever.  His teacher says he is a delight to have in class and he is testing very high, especially in reading.  We've been to the library several times and he's been reading every day.  He has been treating me better and we've had a lot of time to do crafts together, including sewing a pair of Miraculous Ladybug pants.  They are almost complete.

Thankfully it didn't snow while we were moving, however we were here about 3 days when it started snowing and we were stuck for almost 2 weeks.  We couldn't go much of anywhere or meet new people, or explore Tacoma.  We did make it to the gym a few times and Nick and I got the cars registered.  We got together with someone we knew from Portland who moved to Tacoma a year ago--a woman and her son who is a year older than Sterling.  That was a bright spot. 

I have been very anxious and homesick.  I applied for jobs from the computer.  I deleted my church contacts from Facebook and my phone.  I felt trapped in the house.  We had planned to go back and clean our Portland house during this time, but we couldn't get out.  I've been feeling miserable.  I've been grieving my congregation and Portland.

Sunday I was able to get to church.  Sterling wanted to go back to the one we tried first, but I talked him out of it.  We found a small congregation and attended there.  We were greeted immediately and warmly and invited into conversation.  Someone sat with us and interacted with us.  They had a guest organist and there were hiccups, but it was fine.  And ever since I've had the Glory to God in my head.  So I have my dark cloud of unhappiness, but I have this other song playing against it.  It is a strange and good combination, reminding me of God's goodness and the bigger picture while I feel sorry for myself.

Then I went to text study yesterday, and that really lifted my spirits.  It was nice to be with colleagues and people who understand what it means to serve a congregation and leave a congregation and be in a new place and trying to follow where God leads.  Then another colleague invited me to coffee.  She just left a call mid-January.  She also loved her congregation and is grieving heavily.  She moved to Tacoma the day after we did and can't get back to her house because of snow there.  I felt a lot better after all that.

Also, we did finally get to Portland to clean.  We didn't get a lot done, but it meant a lot that Nick came too and didn't just send me to do it all.  Also we met with a property manager that gave us hope that our place would rent and we wouldn't have to do much to it to get it ready.  We could see what all has to be done and I am going back this weekend and will spend the night and invite as many friends as possible to come help out and hopefully knock out a whole bunch of it.  So we have a plan.

Also, the Assistant to the Bishop is hopeful we can find a church for me soon.  I have one profile in my in-box and another on the way, with a third available if one of the first two doesn't work out.  I see a little light coming through the cracks.

Monday, February 11, 2019

First Sunday in Tacoma

I did my research.  Listed every ELCA church in Tacoma, average weekly attendance, address, service time, whether they were Reconciling in Christ, and gender of the pastor.  I picked one that had a band, since that interested Sterling. 

No one talked to us.  I got eye contact when the usher gave us the bulletin and "God's peace" during the sharing of the peace.  Otherwise nothing.  A woman and a child visiting, dressed fine, alert and participating. 

We went to coffee hour.  I sat down and turned to another woman at the table and asked a question about something in the bulletin.  She was a visitor, too.  We had a nice visit.

I don't need to be smothered when I visit a church, but I underestimated how disturbing it would be not to be acknowledged really or treated as worthy of a conversation or even a polite greeting.  It was frustrating and I feel sad and angry about it.  We are new, in need of connection.  We have so much to give.  But even if we didn't, we are human.  We came for community.  It was not offered to us.

This Sunday it snowed, so we didn't get a chance to find another place to visit. 

I have signed up with unfriendly church to attend Interfaith Advocacy Day.  I really don't want to go by myself.  Maybe I'll find they warm up on subsequent visits or in small groups.  Everybody deserves a second chance. 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Moving and saying goodbye

Over the past two months I have been saying goodbye to my congregation.  My husband had been making great efforts to land a job that he could explore his passions in an organization with staff who loved film and worked together as a team.

As he began to interview, I started therapy.  I wanted to prepare myself in case big changes were afoot. I had been overwhelmed by a string of deaths of beloved members of my congregation, as well as my grandmother and niece a year and a half ago.  So I got to feel my grief and listen to my emotions which were pretty much yelling at me to pay attention. 

So I said goodbye.  I am glad I took two months to do it.  There was so much to say and do.  I have a lot of love and memories with my parishioners.  Then the last two weeks the goodbyes intensified as we celebrated together with gifts and stories and then had our last annual meeting together.

We came up to the area the week between Christmas and New Years.  We looked at 6 places, 1 in Seattle and 5 in Tacoma.  Our eyes were opened to the housing market.  There were no houses in our price range that we could fit into anywhere north of Tacoma, that we could find.  Thankfully the house we all agreed on had no applications on it and after a lot of panic trying to get our rental history and paperwork together to apply, we were finally accepted.  One hope that I had was that we could spread out a little bit and have a larger space.  We got that and even have room for me to have a sewing area and for guests to stay with us.

Moving out was hectic.  We took one load up mid-January when we got the keys.  We brought all the heavy furniture and wore ourselves completely out getting them up the stairs and in.  During the following week I interviewed for a job up here, so I made the trip two more times.  Once, Nick and Sterling came, too, and we spent the night in our new house.  We were able to leave one of the cars in Tacoma.  The second time, I was up and back in one day.  But that was one day I wasn't packing or cleaning.  The job ended up not being for me.  It was frustrating because the board was split over whether to hire me and it seemed to come down to their lack of trust that I would be committed, because it would have been a long commute from Tacoma.  I felt like they were trying to parent me.  I also felt like they wanted too much from the person filling the position and didn't care very much about that person having much of a life.  They saw the job being 50 hours a week and there were no benefits.  So I am frustrated and relieved at the same time.

I finished work on the 27th, and packed up my office on the 28th.  We spent the next two days packing and cleaning the house.  Friends came and helped us, thankfully, or we'd have never got as much done as we did.

We packed the truck.  Loaded up boxes from the basement.  We ran out of time to do the deep cleaning.  We drove up here.  When we got to Tacoma, Sterling shouted excitedly, "They have Target, here!"  Through this all, he has been excited and ready for an adventure.  I'm trying to be more like him.