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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.

Monday, January 21, 2019

January 20, 2019

John 2:1-11         
Isaiah 62:1-5       
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
                Dear King of Kings, I am overwhelmed by your love.  I have spent 1/3 of my life ministering with you.  It is time for me to go.  I have so many feelings about that.  I feel sad.  I feel grouchy.  And I feel grateful, joyful, hopeful, and even happy.  I have to go.  It is time.
                You ready for some good news? 
                You are full of gifts!  It wasn’t just the church in Corinth that had gifts.  This is a beautiful, healthy, congregation.  Through all its turbulent history, you have worked through the trials, set limits about what you’d put up with, held each other close, laughed, cried, and prayed, prayed, prayed.  And you worked hard!  Together!  No one can take your history away from you, what’s made you who you are as a congregation.  What a gift that history has been and now this ministry becomes part of that history.  Some of it has been great.  Some of it has been painful.  Some of it has been messy.  You’ve tried to learn everything you could, so that you didn’t repeat our mistakes too many times, but there’s plenty of grace to go around.  That’s another gift, grace.  You’ve got God’s grace, forgiving, loving, freeing.  You’ve got grace for each other, to call each other on what needs to be said, but to remember we’re all human and fallible, so let’s try again. 
                Not only does the congregation have gifts, but all you individuals have gifts.  You have gifts of teaching, of truth-telling, of time, of listening, of quiet support, of prayer, of openness.  I’ve seen you use them hundreds of thousands of times.  Let your gifts bring you together and compliment one another.  Keep on sharing those gifts with the body of Christ, the larger community, and everywhere.
Keep those gifts flowing.  Keep your financial gifts flowing.  They don’t belong to you, anyway.  They are God’s.  Don’t withhold your giving out of protest of something that’s not going your way.  Keep on volunteering and showing up and praying.  Keep sharing your gifts, because that’s what God gave them to you for.  They are for times of discomfort and uncertainty at least as much as for times of joy and ease. 
                Put aside your humility for a second and listen.  It isn’t just my skewed view of things.  You are beautiful.  You are beloved.  You have a lot to offer another pastor and visitors and this neighborhood.  Stand up tall.  I have been saying to everyone else, but maybe I haven’t said to you until now, how spoiled I’ve been to be here because of God’s gifts and blessings through you.  I’m not saying it has been a total walk in the park, but where it matters, you show up, you face your challenges with courage, and you have everything you need, with God’s help, to go where God is leading you.
Which brings me to the next gift.  God is with you.  My favorite psalm is 139.  “If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast.”  There is nowhere we can go that God isn’t with us.  God’s been the faithful one, yes working through me, working through you, but it is God who is ultimate good and never abandons us.  That’s not going to change.  God is with you and will continue to be.  God is with me and will continue to be.  God’s work continues in a different way.
How can I thank God enough for all God’s gifts to me through you?  You were there for me when my child was born and walked with me through 7 years of motherhood.  You had faith enough to send me on a sabbatical.  You honored my days off.  You poured yourself into the ministry here.  You took leaps of faith.  You visited each other.  You offered me so much forgiveness.  You stuck it out.  Keep up the good work!  I will watch you from afar and pray for you and cheer you on.
So here we are at the wedding at Cana.  Jesus’ first miracle.  He doesn’t heal anyone.  He doesn’t even provide something necessary for life.  He keeps the party going.  This time is difficult for me, for us.  But Jesus saves the best wine for when there is only water left.  We’ve had lots of wine together, over the years.  Now it feels a little more like water, like the chaos, like a death or many little deaths.  But Jesus is here.  And Jesus is turning our water into wine.  This worship is a party, a celebration of all that God has been doing.  We sing a little, we eat a little, we communicate, we smile, we are gathered with our host Jesus.  And I hope you’ll stay for the after party in a little while and celebrate, because we are resurrection people.  We can go through the tough stuff, knowing that we’re not alone, that the community gathered is the body of Christ risen for the world, that there will be celebrations and Jesus never misses a party.  It’s a mixed feeling when he turns the water into wine.  Not that many people witness it.  Probably most of the people who drank it, didn’t even know it was miracle wine.  But then to think of Jesus at the last supper and in communion offering wine as his blood poured out for us.  All the emotions are mixed up together, kind of like they are today.  Gratefulness, sadness, grief, fear, hope, joy, love.  Jesus’ first miracle shows us what kind of a Savior he’s going to be.  He’s going to give his life that we might have life, and not so we can stay in sadness or fear or guilt forever, but so that we might have joy and celebration and hope.
Someone told me last week, “Sorry to tell you this, but we had a really great meeting without you.”  I was not sorry and you shouldn’t be either.  This is the work we’ve been doing together.  You are equipped.  If you’re not, you have what you need to get equipped.  You’re going to be fine.  Don’t think I need you to fail so that I know I am important.  When you soar, I soar.  When you have a great meeting or learn something new or connect with someone, that is the building up of the body of Christ.  God has done a good work in you.  I got to come over here and play for a while.  I brought everything I had and what I didn’t have you helped me bumble through.  But God did this, not me.  I accept your love and your thanks and I offer it right back to you, but don’t try to give me the credit.  We danced together with God as our leader and you will dance and drink wine again and so will I, maybe even soon.
I thank all of you and I thank God for giving you to me for a little while to teach me how to be a pastor. 

Monday, January 14, 2019

January 13, 2019

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 
Isaiah 43:1-9 
Acts 8:14-17
      I don’t know about you, but I feel like the wheat and the chaff thrown up into the air by the winnowing fork, and I feel just about midair right now. I’m not feeling like I’m flying, I just feel tossed, and the uncertainty is, where will I land? Maybe you feel the same way—where will you land, as a congregation, as an individual with the things you’re always dealing with, health, parents, grandchildren, marriage, politics. We’re often in a state of being tossed by the forces of this world. Maybe we have the illusion that we’re more settled than we are. But sometimes it is just too obvious and we have to admit we’re tossed, rattled, in free-fall, living in the chaos.
As we fall, we feel we could go in a million different directions. That’s what happens when I drop my bowl of cereal or break a glass on the kitchen floor. It goes everywhere and no matter how well I sweep, I find more of it even a month or two later! Our scriptures today, understand that. The people in Isaiah have been in free fall. Israel is in decline and the Assyrian empire is expanding. They could go a lot of different directions. The apostles in Jerusalem could go a lot of directions after learning that the Samarians, of all people, had accepted the word of God—foreigners were getting it! It’s disorienting! It isn’t what anyone would have expected! What direction will the teachings of Jesus be taken? Where is this thing going to land?
      The two main directions are that they will be chaff and blow away to destruction, or they will find they are wheat and land where they are supposed to. What if we aren’t the good wheat we thought we were? I feel very disoriented in my midair chaos. Am I going to be able to convince someone to rent to me? We got that taken care of, now. Now will I be able to convince someone to hire me? Will I be found to be good wheat? Will I get to use my skills? Will someone want to rent my house? Will they see wheat or chaff when they consider living there? Will you get an interim who likes your quirks and scrappiness? Will you find fellow parishioners who stay despite some discomfort and uncertainty to see where this good wheat finally falls? Will the work go on and in what way?
In this uncertainty, there is a lot we can’t control. For what we can’t control or have a say about, we can only choose how we respond. We can respond with fear, or maybe that’s the default—more of a reaction. That’s an easy one to do, and we all go there. We fear the worst or even the second worst. We act out of our fears of people who are different from us. We panic. Our brain shuts down. We say things we don’t mean. We do things that aren’t us. We complain and drive people away from us. Sometimes in our fear we even hurt those around us. And sometimes we respond to our fear by clinging to easy answers and quick solutions. We build bigger barns. We try to take over. We strut around like we’re more important than other people. We buy a fancier car or house. We rush into a relationship. We take too much on because we want to be nice and say yes. There are lots of ways that we respond to fear that aren’t helpful.
The scriptures give us a lot of negative examples of people who react with fear. King Ahab in the Old Testament, Pharisees, Herod, Pontius Pilate, even Peter. Fear is one way to go and we will go there sometimes.
The scriptures remind us that fear isn’t the only possible response. The reading from Isaiah says, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.” And it goes on to name all the things God is doing: God has called God’s people by name. God is with God’s people. God created us. God demands our return. God commands our oppressors to release us. When we feel fear, it can be helpful to remember God who is powerful and knows us, loves us, and sees the whole picture.
Far isn’t the only possible response. That’s part of what I think prayer is. Prayer is about sorting out what we can’t control and giving it to God, and prayer is about motivating us to act on what we can act on from a centered place of love and hope, and grounded in the scriptures, the stories of God’s people and their reactions to being tossed, over and over and over. That’s really what life is, a constant tossing from a winnowing fork!
The scriptures offer many examples of people who don’t respond with fear, or start out scared, but find their way to hope and faithfulness. So often it is someone that you wouldn’t expect—an outsider, a woman, a child, a leper, a foreigner, a Gentile.
The truth is, we can’t control where we’ll land, and we can’t control what parts of us are wheat and chaff. But God is faithful. God loves us. We can’t control that either, but that’s a good thing! No matter where we fall, we belong to God. No matter who the next pastor is, we belong to God. No matter what troubles come our way, we belong to God. No matter what joys come our way, we belong to God. No matter where my next job is, we belong to God. No matter who our president is, we belong to God. God is the one who sees the big picture. God cares about us and is working to save us. God is working through us to bring God’s saving power to all those who are struggling and in pain. No matter where we land, God is our creator, redeemer, and sustainer. God loves all of us and nothing will ever change that. Will we be the same as before we were thrown into the air? No! But God will be with us.
Do you know what else is up in the air this morning? The dove. The Holy Spirit descends on Jesus as he is praying after his baptism, in bodily form, like a dove. Every great leader had a bird that represented him. Caesar had an eagle. Herod had a hawk. Jesus has a dove. This is the dove that Noah sent out to see if the land was dried up enough to be habitable again after the flood. The dove is gentle and humble and peaceful. The dove is tender and innocent. This dove at Jesus’ baptism says what kind of leader Jesus will be. But that it is in the air shows how he will handle gusts of winds and chaotic times. He will not respond with attacks, but with humility and tenderness. He will not seek to destroy, but to build up.
Sometimes when we are in chaos, all we want to do is get to the part where we land. We want to rush through or deny the time when we are up in the air. However, it is in the air where we learn to have faith that wherever we fall, God is with us, and even when we are up in the air we find God with us. In times of chaos and uncertainty, which is always really, we can stop panicking, look around us at others who have been there far more often and make connections, we can look to God instead of our own power and remember who is really in charge, and we are more open to becoming the beloved children of God that we are. Times when we are in the air, we practice trust in God. We exercise our trust muscle.
The process is a pain in the neck: Whether you’re standing in line at the DMV or waiting to hear back from a job or a possible pastor, or whether you’re taking another survey or having another congregational meeting. It’s irritating, but that chaos is a beautiful in-between place of becoming, where you don’t know the answers and you can ask the questions and be creative. This in-between place is a place where God can transform you and transform the church more into God’s image, when you stay calm and centered and prayerful.
Don’t rush through. Don’t miss God with you while you’re up in the air. Don’t neglect the learning and growing that takes place there. Those are holy moments, up in the air with the Holy Spirit, with everyone who’s ever walked in chaos and found God by their side. And when it comes time to land, do it. Don’t fight it.
Today we remember our baptism, whether we can remember it or not. We went through the waters of chaos and admitted we couldn’t do it by ourselves, that we had no control, that we belong to God and the community of believers. It happened once, to most of us. But everyday we renew that promise, when we wash our face or hands, when we pray, when we breathe. We admit our sins, our shortcomings, our brokenness, our chaos, our lack of power, and we place ourselves in God’s hands for healing, hope, grace, and love, not only that we would receive it, but that we would give it away in this chaotic toss-up we call life.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

December 24, 2018

Luke 2:1-20         
Isaiah 9:2-7         
Titus 2:11-14
                In those days a decree went out that there was room in royal coffers for more coins, that there was room in the Empire for more roads, that there was room in the closets of the Generals for more fancy clothes, and room in the stables for more horses and chariots, so the people were expected to make room for a census.  They were to make room, put aside their work and travel to their ancestral lands to be counted.  They were being counted so they could make room in their own purses and pocket books by paying taxes to Caesar to fund his war machine and their own oppression.
                Joseph had made room for an inconvenient occurrence, a fiancĂ© unexpectedly pregnant, and he wasn’t the father.  Joseph was making room for a strange explanation of where this child came from.  Now that he had accepted Mary as his betrothed, he made room for her to travel with him to Bethlehem, even though she slowed him down a great deal.  He made room because he needed to be present when the child was born to claim him as his own and to name him.  He needed to make it clear to all those who mocked him and might hurt Mary and the child or throw them out of town, that he took responsibility for them. 
                The time came, that there was no more room within Mary for the growing baby, so her body prepared itself for the birth.  She had brought along strips of cloth to wrap him in.  The strips of cloth had room for the baby or whatever body needed to be wrapped. 
But the inn didn’t have room.  The homes didn’t have room.  They might have found room if Joseph had some gold coins, or nice clothes, or an important position, but he didn’t.  The animals did have room.  There was room in the hay, in the manger, in the barn, so that’s where the little guy lay for his first night on earth, a fitting place for the one that would have nowhere to lay his head as he crisscrossed the countryside as an adult, in the lowliest of places among the lowliest of people, sharing the good news of who and what matters in the Kingdom of God and who and what the Kingdom has room for.
                The fields had room for shepherds and sheep.  The sheep could eat healthy grass and drink clean water.  The shepherds would move them from place to place so that the fields could recover—that’s how much room they had.  The shepherds had room for the songs.  All was quiet on that night.  They would have heard the faintest cry, it was so quiet.  How overwhelming those angel songs must have been!  The sky had room for an angel and it’s glory shining in the sky.  There was nothing else to look at but a few twinkling stars that night, no distractions there in the fields.  And not only one angel, but there was room for a whole multitude of heavenly hosts, breaking through the night sky to sing their praises at the birth of the Messiah. 
                The hearts of the shepherds had plenty of room for fear.  They were ready for wolves.  They were ready for bad weather.  They were ready for anything out there that might threaten their flocks, but they were not ready for a full-on angel choir but they made room anyway.  They had room in their ears for a song, praising God and declaring peace and favor on earth.
                It turns out, the shepherds had room in their sleep schedule, in their sheep-watching schedule for some good news, for a baby shower, a very strange miracle—a baby sleeping in an animal trough.  They had room for haste!  They did not have room for dilly-dallying.  They hurried to his side to witness this miracle taking place, the first visitors of the in
                They made room in their limited view, from their lowly position to see something wondrous taking place.  They had room to see the Messiah come to earth for them—not in a palace, not in a maternity ward, not among luxuries, not among the high-society types.  Here he lay among the animals, asleep on the hay, wrapped in rags, coming into the world whether there was room for him or not.
                Our hearts are full of songs.  Our bellies are full of cookies and coffee.  Our minds are full of Christmas plans.  We have room for presents and trees and lights and food and lots and lots of sugar.  But do we have room for the lowliest infant child, the pregnant teenager, the out-of-towners out of gas by the side of the road, injured animal, loneliest person, hungry neighbor?  Do we have room for Jesus?  Do we have room to truly see the humanity in other people?   Do we have room to allow ourselves to be moved by the song?  Do we have room to hear the song, not just a song of comfort, but a song of challenge about who is powerful and who matters to God?  It’s the nobodies that God made a place with, a home with, because they had room for him.  Will we place ourselves among them?  Do we find ourselves in their midst?
                The shepherds had room for one more thing—that was a story.  They talked of nothing else for ages after that.  They had been so astounded, so honored, so amazed by this gift.  Now, everywhere they went, herding sheep, the told the story of the newborn in Bethlehem, to every new person they came across, how they found him among the animals, the Messiah, a helpless, tiny babe, come to the likes of them, to the likes of us, poor sinners, nobodies, and yet he is born in our midst, right in front of our noses if we have room for him.
                The powers of this world did not have room for Jesus, born that night.  No sooner was he born than Herod was trying to get rid of him.  His family fled to Egypt because there was no room for him in his own country.  When he came in his ministry, he found room among the ill, the imprisoned, the blind, the hungry, the women and children, the discounted.  But he didn’t find room among the priests, the important, the kings, the elite, the landowners, the comfortable.  He so offended those who were full of themselves, that they turned him over to be tortured and killed. 
                But death had no room for him who is the living one, and after three days in the belly of that whale, it spat him upon the shore and he went walking again among those who had room for him and were prepared to tell his story as the shepherds once had along their hills and paths.  The disciples told the story until it was passed on to us this night, all of us who made room in our celebrations to come and hear again the story of God’s love.  But being here doesn’t tell us if we have truly made room for Jesus.  Our actions reveal what we make room for and what we don’t.
                On the longest night about 80 people gathered in a cold church parking lot for a vigil for those who lost their lives on the streets of Portland this year, the houseless, the forgotten.  We were blessed by Pastor Elizabeth before we walked to the site a shelter that is under construction.  She told us that a vigil is when people keep awake when they usually would be sleeping, and that now was the time to wake up to the suffering of God’s children.  As we walked we were invited to keep silence and reflect on the holy that we encountered.  I looked as I walked for where I would try to find shelter if I was out in this cold.  Where would Joseph and Mary stop to deliver her baby?  There was room for a taxidermy shop, a beauty parlour, a brew pub, but there was no room for the Son of God.  But God’s son was born that night and every night since then into this cold world.  God’s son is being born tonight out in the cold.
                We get to decide everyday what to make room for.  Do we only make room for those who are just like us or who have something to offer us, to make us feel important?  Do we only make room for work and making money and being entertained?  Or do we look within ourselves and clear out the things that aren’t serving us or anyone else to make room for the prince of peace that is coming into the world?  Do we make room for nobodies and prisoners and aliens?  Do we make room for the sick and suffering and the poor? 
                Jesus came to show us that the Kingdom of God has room for us, even us lowly sinners.  Jesus came to be born among us.  We are being called this night to hear the angels praise him and join our own praises with theirs.  We are invited to run to his barn and welcome him.  We are invited to tell the story of how he gave us new life.  Open yourselves to God’s love.  Let our hearts and our lives prepare him room.  Open your eyes.  Open your ears.  Open your life.  Our Savior is among us now.  Go out and see him, receive him, love him, serve him. 

December 23, 2018

Luke 1:39-55                       
Micah 5:2-5a                      
Hebrews 10:5-10
                It was a song that has been sung through the generations, a song of hope in the midst of suffering, a song of God’s victory when it seemed all was lost, “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.”
                This song filled the air when the people crossed through the Red Sea and the Egyptians were prevented from following them, when they looked out into the wide desert and wondered what was next for them.  They stood on dry land and a cheer went up and Miriam began to sing, “Horse and rider are thrown into the sea, The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil, I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.’ You blew with your wind the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters.”  It looked so bleak.  They thought they would always live under oppression.  Yet, in this moment, they let go of what they had been and began to hope in new life and they raised their voices in song about how God works in seemingly hopeless situations to turn things around and bring hope to people who are hurting.
                The song was raised by Hannah who had been barren.  But she went to pray to God.  She vowed that if she bore a son, she would bring him to serve God as a little boy.  In time she did bear a son and when he was weaned, she brought him to serve God.  Her voice lifted in song to God in praise, out of the heartache of being barren, to leaving her little child in God’s service, she sang the song of hope of her people, the song of the great reversal, the song of God’s faithfulness.  She sang, “My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in my God.  My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory.  The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength.  Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.”  She found a song of hope through her faith that sustained her through her darkest hour.
                The song was raised by King David, in the Psalms.  He walked those dark nights when he was faced with his own sin and greed, when he held his stillborn son in his arms, when he was confronted by a member of his own royal court about how he had sent the husband of Bathsheba to the front lines to be killed so that he could take his wife.  He wandered far from God at times, knew terrible losses and pain.  And in those dark hours, he composed Psalms, some of which drew on this song of the ages, of hope in the darkness.  “The LORD raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap. He makes them sit with princes. He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.” And “You deliver a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.”  In his suffering and pain, he still looked to God with hope and lifted his voice in the ancient song of his people.
                Elizabeth and Mary found themselves in the midst of darkness and pain.  Elizabeth had been barren.  Now she was an old woman.  She had longed for new life to grow within her.  She had longed for justice and peace.  She had longed for the Messiah to come and save.  She had been mocked by other women and looked down upon.  She had been blamed for what her body would not or could not do.  And now in her old age, she finds herself in the company of Sarah and Hannah, old women who find new life within, growing little ones that will grow into big ones who will make their mark, and give hope to the people.
                Mary knew the pain of Roman occupation and oppression.  She knew a woman’s place.  She was just finding her voice.  But someone had passed down the stories, someone has passed down the song of her people.  She was sent away by her parents to the home of her older cousin Elizabeth, uncertain of Joseph’s next move, alone in the world, stared at, whispered about.  I can hear her humming this song to herself on the journey.  And when she bursts in, she is truly seen by her cousin, who shares the hope that is in her heart, her song.  The two rejoice.  The two understand each other.  The two bless each other.  Mary bursts into song.  She sings the song her of her people, the song of faith and hope.  It is a song of strength and power, a song of the proper place of all things in the Kingdom of God, an in-your-face, big middle finger to powers that defy God.  This is a song of resistance, of protest.
                She sings of what her soul magnifies, focuses on, makes larger—what is on her heart—The Lord.  God has seen her and honored her, and God will put all things right, that we have all these divisions between us, that we hoard our food and our power and think we deserve to be in charge.  But Mary’s song points out that God is in charge and God is good and God is faithful and God will make all things right. 
                Through Mary’s son we are adopted into God’s family.  So the song of Mary’s people, Hannah’s people, David’s people is our song, too.  Our sign today is, “Objects in this mirror are closer than they appear.”  Music has a way of closing the gaps between us.  Music has a way of connecting us with the past and the future.  We look into the mirror—what do we see?  Do we see ourselves far away, strong and independent and alone or do we see how close we are to all those waiting expectantly for God’s justice.
 Mary’s song points out the pregnant-waiting that we all do.  There is darkness everywhere we look.  Our world is a mess.  Our country is a mess.  Our schools are a mess.  Even religion is a mess.  There is a lot that is out of our hands, that we have no say over, that we can’t control.  In Mary’s song, she places all those things in God’s hands.  She lets them go, knowing, trusting that God will fulfill God’s promises.  Instead, she raises her voice in hope, recalling the history of her people, of her faithful God, knowing that her hopes, in line with God’s hopes, will ultimately be fulfilled.  She has reason to hope.  Her song connects her to those who have gone before and to that promise which is ahead.  The one to be born is the one of peace.  It’s not just about barren women being pregnant, but what God has already started to gestate who will fulfill the promise of peace.
                How many times did Mary sing that song to Jesus?  Certainly, as she carried him within herself, he began to hear the song of God’s people, of liberation, of hope.  How long until Jesus would begin singing this song himself, and it become his theme song, the Mission statement of his life?  He was focused on God, magnifying God with every action.  He saw people no one else saw, people who were sick, who were suffering, who were blind, who were blamed, who were foreigners and aliens, who were hungry, who were small, who were divorced, who were hopeless.  He taught them a song about God’s Kingdom, God’s priorities.  And as they raised their voices, they didn’t feel so small and helpless anymore, they felt powerful and hopeful.
                Can we sing this song, too, we who are rich and full and proud?  I believe we can.  This is liberation for us, too.  Do we trust in that strength of wealth, or do we allow ourselves to give thanks to the one who gives us all good things?  Do we take the credit and live lives of wasteful excess to hurt people around us?  Or do we remember our humble beginnings, the way we once went hungry, the way we squirrelled away coins to save for something special?  Do we keep everything for ourselves, or do we give it away?  Sometimes our wealth can be our God, and so this song is for us, because that wealth can’t help us at our last hour or be a friend to us when we are hurting.  Only God will be there, faithful in new life.  So we sing, show us hunger, if that will bring peace.  Take away any pride we have and put our trust in you.  Take away our power, we never really had any in the first place.  Let this song be a song of hope for us who have too much that we would take our part in the Kingdom, that we would truly follow Jesus and find new life.
                Did Mary sing that song at the foot of the cross?  Did Jesus sing it with her?  Did they find strength and hope, even up to his last breath that God would fulfill the promises to bring new life to the people?
                We walk in deep darkness, but still our song of hope goes up.  Our voices join with those of the angels, those of the people, those of our God.  It is a song of hope, of our world overturned, of justice and peace.
                Our sign today is, “Objects in this mirror are closer than they appear.”  Music has a way of melting away our distance and division.  Music is the language of the soul, of our deepest longings, of our faith.  It is a source of strength and a power to be reckoned with, a communication of our values, connections, and hopes.  Let us join the song of Hannah, David, Miriam, Mary, and Jesus, and let the song transform us and liberate us all to be God’s people of love and peace.