Saturday, July 25, 2015

Wisdom

This week’s narrative reading is: Ecclesiastes 1:1-11; 3:1-17

1:1 The words of the Teacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. 2 Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. 3 What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun? 4 A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. 5 The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises. 6 The wind blows to the south, and goes around to the north; round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. 7 All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they continue to flow. 8 All things are wearisome; more than one can express; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, or the ear filled with hearing. 9 What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there a thing of which it is said, "See, this is new"? It has already been, in the ages before us. 11 The people of long ago are not remembered, nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them.
3:1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 2 a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6 a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 7 a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8 a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. 9 What gain have the workers from their toil? 10 I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. 11 He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; 13 moreover, it is God's gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil. 14 I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him. 15 That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by. 16 Moreover I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, wickedness was there, and in the place of righteousness, wickedness was there as well. 17 I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for he has appointed a time for every matter, and for every work.

Some thoughts on the Scripture lesson:

Oh, Qohelet! Oh, Teacher of Ecclesiastes. You say what we don’t want to hear. You point to the folly of our expectation that we are different (and, hence, better) than any people who have come before. Your words reveal to us that our children and our children’s children will marvel at what we did not know, but they will not perceive that which they do not yet comprehend. Your words, inspired by the Spirit, are of God and yet we do not wish to hear them.

Oh, Qohelet! Oh, Teacher of Ecclesiastes! Would that we would heed your wisdom. Would that we should learn that God’s plan for our hope and future is intertwined with that of our neighbors. Would that we would hear and comprehend the truth that God’s vocational plan for us involves finding joy in work and peace in recreation. Would that we would realize that God’s plan for the earth may diverge from what our minds could conceive and that we might listen and hear.

Oh, Qohelet! Oh, Teacher of Ecclesiastes! The times of all things are held in the innermost being of our God, yet we believe that we make these things happen. The bringing of redemption pours forth from the very nature of the Lord, yet we think that it depends on us. The shaping and sanctifying of all things comes from the work of the Spirit, yet we think our creativity and our designs are the pinnacle of creation.

Oh, Qohelet! Oh, Teacher of Ecclesiastes! Help us to perceive the height and depth of the love of God. Reveal to us the wisdom and folly of being human. Help us to find joy in work and play and to give all the glory to our Creator. Remind us that our very lives are part of God’s own plan and work and that all that we are and have is but dust in the light of eternity, yet we are blessed.


Oh, Qohelet! Oh, Teacher of Ecclesiastes! We thank you for your wisdom and we ask God for the grace to perceive it.

Friday, July 24, 2015

God's Work, Our Work


This week’s Gospel reading is: John 6:1-21
1 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, 9 "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?" 10 Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost." 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world." 15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. 16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20 But he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

Some thoughts on the gospel lesson:

I cannot think of this story without remembering the first time my son, at the time four years old, recounted it to me after Vacation Bible School. He called it: “Jesus feeding the fifty hundred”. He told me that there were a lot of people gathered to hear Jesus talk. They got hungry. Only one little boy had food, but he brought it to Jesus. Jesus broke it with his two hands- here my son demonstrates and holds his hands up like he is celebrating communion- and passed out the fishes and bread. Everyone had enough to eat and there were lots of leftovers. The end.

What a story! It makes an impression on even a four-year-old. My son didn’t seem fazed by the idea of a small amount of food feeding so many or even think it was that miraculous that Jesus was able to use the lunch of a child. In my son’s young mind, sharing is what we do and making it all work is what Jesus does. When everyone does what they are supposed to, everyone will have enough.

What a concept! As adults, we get caught up in the hows of this story. How did the disciples find a boy with a lunch? How was there really enough for everyone to share? How were there leftovers? Many times I have heard it said that maybe everyone brought a little food with them. As the baskets went around, they actually put into the baskets some of what they brought. Hence, everyone ate and there were leftovers.

I don’t think so. If this is the same Jesus who will walk on water out to the disciples and will later be raised from the dead by the power of God, what’s a little miraculous food distribution to him? It’s not magic. It’s a miracle. That means we don’t have to know how it happened, but to trust that God was at work and is willing to do the same thing again.

The child inside each adult must be willing to grasp what the children hear when this story is told. The little boy shared his lunch- sharing is our work. Jesus multiplied it and made it so all had enough- that is God’s work in Christ and through the Spirit. We have a task and God has a task. Are we doing our part so that we might be participants in how God’s part is being accomplished?


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Ammunition

Ruger Redhawks next to bear paw print, 2008
"Mommy, somebody has a gun."

My five-year-old called these words out to me before we'd even been at the playground for 2 minutes. 

My head snapped up and my eyes darted. I saw a furtive figure dart away from my son and across the playground, diving under the other set of equipment. 

My two-year-old was already on a a swing, calling for me to push her. 
There were three pre-teen girls laughing and playing some game out in the ball field. 

We had passed a woman walking her dogs when we came in, but there were no other adults. 

"Mommy, somebody has a gun." 

My dad instilled intense respect for guns into his children. I never had a toy gun, in part, because we were taught and able to use real guns for target practice and/or hunting. Guns are tools, not toys. 

My husband has deeper feelings about guns, if possible, than my dad did. Two large safes guard the weaponry of our house. Always. 

I've never been afraid of guns (other than the kickback of some calibers.)

Today I was frightened by someone with a gun. 

"Mommy, somebody has a gun." 

Gripping my phone, I edged to where I could see a baby-faced, nine or ten-year-old boy hiding from me. I glimpsed the orange caps of his toy rifle and pistol. I saw the curved edges of two fake daggers stuck, blades down, in the pea gravel. He obviously didn't want me to see him or his arsenal. He watched me out of the corner of his eye while he moved the gravel around to create a high wall between him and me. Yes, today I watched a white child build a bunker to hide in with his weaponry. 

We only stayed a few minutes at the playground before I told the kids we just had to go. 

All I could think was: 

1. Kid, you have no idea how privileged you are. No one is calling the cops about you, running around with toy guns (God rest Tamir Rice) and with no parent in sight (God bless Debra Harrell). 

2. Who taught you to hide with guns? To stockpile an arsenal and eye those around you. I think a nine-year-old is a little young for the hardcore "in case of government overthrow". 

3. What will you grow up to think you are owed? Is anyone, anywhere talking to you about the black and brown bodies in your very city- their worth, their dreams, their realities? 

4. What game are you playing with these guns? You're not pretending to hunt. You're not playing war. You're not pretending to skeet shoot or be at the fair. And why are you hiding? 

5. What would I have done if I had been armed, as I often am (literally, loaded for bear)? Would I have approached this child, with a hand on my .357? I can imagine many people I know (and love) saying, "What if it hadn't been a child? Wouldn't it have been better to have your gun with you and stopped something?" 

Sure, but that's not approaching from positive gun control. That's reactive gun control. 

I want the adults in this child's life to say, "These are tools, not toys. Here's what we use guns for." 

I want them to say, "Find a friend and go to the playground together." 

I want them to say, "This city is full of black, brown, tan, and white bodies. They matter as much as we do. Here are the stories of our family and stories of their families." 


I recently told my pastoral intern that I'd be glad to take her to the range to show her how to shoot. I am and I will. We'll do the same, eventually, for our children. We'll always have a sidearm at the river or on camping trips. All of this goes hand-in-hand with the messages above- over and over and over. 

That's the only way to change the automatic reaction that comes locked and loaded with "Mommy, somebody has a gun." 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Sabbath Famine


This week’s Gospel reading is: Mark 6:30–34, 53–56

30The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31He said to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while." For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. 53When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

Some thoughts on the gospel lesson:

Our modern, Western society is in the midst of a famine. This is not about having enough to eat or drink. We don’t have enough of one very critical item, necessary for a strong, and well-balanced life. We are living in a terrible, terrible time famine. There is never enough time for all we need to do, all we want to do, all we feel we must do.

Each time we feel that we are catching up, we realize what has yet to be done. Additionally, we never seem to have enough time with the people and places that we truly love. The things that give us the most life seem to be the most rationed items in our lives. Is this famine a real thing or is it a manufactured shortage, a false peak in the on-going hike of faith?

Jesus knew that the work of carrying the gospel would wear on his disciples. The more they ministered to those in need, the more needs that would become visible to them. Their dedication to his work and to what they were seeing happen in God’s name meant that it was hard for them to stop, to listen, to rest. Jesus specifically sent them away to rest and to recover. Spiritual energy is exactly like physical and emotional energy. It waxes and wanes depending on use and rest. Jesus wanted the disciples to recharge themselves in the Spirit, so they would be renewed.

God has the same desire for we who are disciples today. We cannot take on task after task, strive toward goal after goal, work on project after project with no rest. We cannot be strong prayer warriors or immerse ourselves in the most difficult of scripture without varying our routine, taking a break, reading or praying something familiar, comforting, and nourishing for our souls.


The time famine is not real. There is not less time than there ever was. What is important now has always been important- loving God, loving ourselves, loving our neighbors. Each branch of that love is critical. One cannot shrivel at the expense of the other two. They are all work to which Jesus pointed the disciples and to which we are called. Rest and rejuvenation are expressions of service and love. Amen.

What Do We Learn from Proverbs?


This week’s narrative reading is: Proverbs 8:1-11, 22-36

1 Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? 2 On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; 3 beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: 4 "To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live. 5 O simple ones, learn prudence; acquire intelligence, you who lack it. 6 Hear, for I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right; 7 for my mouth will utter truth; wickedness is an abomination to my lips. 8 All the words of my mouth are righteous; there is nothing twisted or crooked in them. 9 They are all straight to one who understands and right to those who find knowledge. 10 Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold; 11 for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.
22 The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. 23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. 24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. 25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth— 26 when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world's first bits of soil. 27 When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, 28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, 29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, 30 then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, 31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race. 32 "And now, my children, listen to me: happy are those who keep my ways. 33 Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. 34 Happy is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. 35 For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord; 36 but those who miss me injure themselves; all who hate me love death."

Some thoughts on the Scripture lesson:

We don’t give too much thought to wisdom these days. The majority of western culture values what we call “street smarts”- ability to move quickly, decisively, and based on cultural expectations. That last one is the biggest difference between the behavior that is valued by the world, so to speak, and the behavior that comes from wisdom.

Wisdom, having witnessed God’s shaping of creation, knows what lasts and what does not. Wisdom, having witnessed God’s grief over creation, knows the value in relationships, when to speak the truth, and how to live in love, even in times of disagreement. Wisdom, having witnessed God’s sacrifices for creation, is willing to imitate Christ in self-giving and hope for the sake of others.

St. Augustine is often quoted as having prayed, “Lord, give me chastity and continence, but not yet.” Modern disciples might have the same thought about wisdom. We want it, but not just yet. Not when it might mean speaking up against injustice, articulating a less-popular opinion, standing with our enemies for their safety, or witnessing for Christ in word and deed. All of these things seem wise and desirable, but not yet.

Woman Wisdom, though, in Proverbs warns against those who refuse to let her enter. When the chance to welcome wisdom is missed, it is considered equivalent to loving death. Joy, lasting happiness, is what comes from welcoming wisdom now, learning her lessons, and asking God for the courage and strength to live them.


Wisdom might not always be our favorite houseguest or bring the most fun with her. However, she brings life and integrity in her luggage. So we must work to invite her in and welcome her to stay.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Tragedy and Truth

Today, I saw the worst thing that I ever hope to see.

A tiny coffin with a three-month old little boy inside. 

I heard the grieving of a mother who barely lived a trimester with her son outside her womb. 

I touched a smooth, cold, small forehead and marked it with the cross of Christ. 

I tasted the mucus that came with the tears I tried not to shed as I prayed and preached. 

I felt a sharp, damp breeze as I walked behind the casket- carried by the mother of the baby, his grandfather, grandmother, and great-grandfather. 


I offered no words of welcome in introducing myself. A funeral for a three-month old is not a celebration of life. It is a cacophony in the attempt of death to win a battle in a war it already lost. 

Child, family, friends, all gathered were all unknown to me, but not to God. 

I lit a baptismal candle and said, with a steady voice, "Baptism is never about us or what we do. It is about, all about, God's grace and love. In life, T--- was baptized by kisses and in death, he has been baptized by tears. From the beginning, though, and through forever, he has been cradled in God's hands." 

I need this to be true. 

I believe it is true. 

Believing doesn't always answer need. Need does not always create belief. 


I've heard cynics all my life who discuss religion as a panacea to help people who are afraid of death.  
The hope of reunion with one whose life was far too short is not a denial of death. The trust in resurrection today didn't mean not acknowledging the real horribleness of what was real and tangible in a small, white box in that room. 

Speaking for God today, being the representative for faith, daring to step forward for the church of Christ and by his authority, wasn't about false comfort, but about underscoring the reality that God's love is greater. 

Greater than the forces that oppose it. Greater than the brokenness of the world. Greater than whatever tragedies converge that result in the death of a life only just begun. 


In the light of a sputtering, melting baptismal candle, there is no such thing as false comfort. Such a thing is quickly exposed for what it is. It cannot stand the heat of such painful tempering.

"Baptism is never about us or what we do. It is about, all about, God's grace and love. In life, T--- was baptized by kisses and in death, he has been baptized by tears. From the beginning, though, and through forever, he has been cradled in God's hands." 

God is Love. Only Love. 


Monday, June 29, 2015

Praying for Pastor

How to Pray for Your Pastor…

1. When you’re in a hurry: “Lord, Pastor ­­_________________!” God knows the needs of your pastor. Even a quick intervention deepens your spiritual commitment to your pastor’s well-being and your relationship with God.

2. When the pastor seems stressed: “Dear God, I’m not sure what’s happening with Pastor _________. I ask for your peace to surround him/her and for your presence to be felt and perceived. May amazing grace be evident to him/her in the week ahead.” Pastors often have lots on their minds- some things that are public and some things that are not. Families, plumbing, health issues, money, neighbors- pastors are people, too, and they need the prayers that they often pray for you!

3. When you are in disagreement: “Ruler of the universe, I give you thanks for your Holy Spirit who brings discernment and guidance to all people. I am grieved at the division in your church. I seek clarity from your written word and inspiration from the Living Word. Help Pastor _______ to be open to how you revealing yourself in truth. Help me to open to new learning and wisdom as well. I ask this, trusting in your faithfulness to all involved in this conversation.” Dissention in the church brings grief to pastors. No person wants to fight with loved ones. Yet, even the most conflict-avoidant people eventually have disagreements. Your pastor is praying for you in this situation and for how to be a good pastor. It is good for you to return the effort. It will not go unnoticed.

4. When something doesn’t seem right: “Dear God, I renounce the forces that oppose you in the world. I especially reject any attempts these forces may be making in the life of my pastor or in the life of his/her family. I ask for the strengthening of your Holy Spirit in protection and aid and that your enemy would find no quarter here! Amen!” Your pastor is on the front lines of spiritual life- for you and for others. Being in front means being at the first line of attack. Unfortunately, there are spiritual (and material) forces that oppose God’s desire for wholeness and healing in the world. Your pastor is not immune to these oppositions. When you pray for God’s protection for a pastor or anyone else in these situations, you are forming what is called a “prayer covering”. The more people who join in this type of prayer, with sincerity of heart, the better for the pastor and for the congregation.


5. When church was great: “Blessed are you, Creator of the Universe, who has drawn us together this day to praise your name. Thank you for the songs and the musicians. Thank you for the readers and the assistants. Thank you for the good news of Jesus Christ, which brings me hope and confidence again and again. Thank you for our pastor and his/her sensitivity to your word and will. Praise be to you forever! Amen.” Or something like that. A prayer of thanksgiving is not nothing and you’ll remember the 30 seconds you sat in your car, thanking God for church, longer than you will remember the service.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Litany for Internal Grief (Based on Psalm 51)

Have mercy on me, O God
Great is your faithfulness in mercy and love.

Mop up the overflow of my self-centeredness.
Remove the stains of my irritations and desire for control.

The definition of sin, beyond brokenness, eludes me,
But I feel its real effects in my life.

I know that I am not perfect
My reach exceeds my grasp in recognizing the truth of my own humanness.

Even when I know I have hurt family, friends, neighbors, and strangers
Ultimately, I have sinned against you, O Lord, in what has been done and left undone.

The grace that I dare to trust you to extend to me is nothing that I deserve.
I could not earn it in fifty lifetimes.

You desire truth and understanding.
Any wisdom I may gain flows forth from your Spirit.

Cleanse me by your own works and I shall be clean, indeed.
Wash me with your own created elements and I shall be restored to wholeness.

Create in me a clean heart- a renewed connection with the Source of All Good
Open me to receive a rejuvenated spirit- a sense of joy and peace in you.

Grant me the peace of my baptism and the consolation of your table,
Keep me moving in your ways on this day and all that follow.

When frustration is my offering to you,
Turn my energy into the work of peacemaking.

When deep grief is my offering to you,
Turn my hopelessness into a perception of your Presence.

When a closed mind in my offering to you,
Turn my rigidity into pliability for your kingdom.

When revenge is my offering to you,

Turn my indignation to humility for Christ’s sake in the world.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Words Fail Me (But I Keep Talking)

This was my Facebook update today. It doesn't exactly apply to this space, which is less about my kids and more focused on specific truth-telling. Nevertheless, the sentiments apply.

I wrote it out after prayerfully deciding to scrap the service plan and write laments and prayers and hymns for Sunday.

-----

What to say, what to say. 
I try to keep this space uplifting and hopeful. I keep it a space for truth telling. If it is going to be a space where I put up the pictures of my children, then it also has to be a space where I name the realities of the world in which they live. I want it to be better for them, for their friends, for the parents of their friends, for the people they'll never meet. 
Frankly, my dears, it is exhausting. 
I was told "turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace".
I did. They haven't. 
I can't sing, "It is well with my soul" without somehow acknowledging that Satan is buffeting and I don't feel as consoled by blest assurance as I'm supposed to. 
I can't even rejoice in the hour I spent months ago talking to my one confirmation student about how Jesus was brown-skinned because she is too and she probably would have figured this out eventually. 
I don't feel like God has forsaken me because I do not believe that is in God's nature. God doesn't contradict God's self. 
So the reality, then, is that too many of the people who said they were on God's side turned out not to be on the side of God's people. Too many people sang, "Jesus loves the little children" and mentally added a chorus, "But I don't have to". Too many people are willing to make excuses for racism, inequity, inequality, and persistent divisions. 
I want to swear right here because even Yale didn't provide me with enough adjectives to cover this situation. 
Why do I still give a damn? Why did I spend the day re-writing Sunday's service? Why have I prayed for guidance? Why do I think that anything I say or do will matter in the slightest?
Because Ruth the Moabite was faithful to Naomi the Israelite. Ruth's faithfulness to her mother-in-law of a different race was the conclusion (generations later) to the inhospitality of Sodom and Gomorrah. Ruth's patience, openness, and dedication gave way to the lineage that would lead to Jesus, by way of David.
Maybe I could be like Ruth. Or maybe this is a generation of inhospitality and, please God, I am among those who are struggling against that tide. 
Nevertheless, God does bring good. If I have come to receive grace, and not in vain, then I am not able to leave the work of reconciliation. 
-- Sigh --
Because it's not about me, it is about Christ- I continue on. Yes, and I ask God to help and guide me.