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Ordinary People- Extraordinary God (Sermon 12/21)

2 SAMUEL 7:1-11, 16; LUKE 1:46B-55; ROMANS 16:25-27; LUKE 1:26-38 Do you ever think much about David and Mary having anything in common? David is that king of Israel, whose story we know so well, better than, say, Zerubbal and Jehosophat. Mary is the woman who bears the Son of God. Many years separate them and, technically, they are not related since Joseph is the descendant of David, not Mary. But in today’s readings, chosen by the lectionary elves for this last Sunday before Christmas, are combined to highlight David and Mary together. The goal of the readings, however, isn’t to shine the light on these two as examples of faith. The goal is that the light of God’s promise of Christ and in Christ would shine through them, through them and onto us. At the beginning of his life, David was a shepherd. He had, perhaps, an enviable life of watching sheep, fighting clear enemies and composing praise songs to God. Until Samuel appeared and anointed him, David’s life was ordin

Essential Passage #8 (Romans 5:1-5)

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5) I've been thinking recently about Blue Christmas services. I wish I had early enough to have held on at my church- a service for people who want to, or need to, acknowledge the pain in their lives, losses they've experienced, their struggle to find or feel joy. A Blue Christmas service is one where the cross shines all the more brightly through the straw of the manger. A Blue Christmas service is a reminder, in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that

Friday Five: The Eyes have it

The Friday Five questions come from here . 1. What color are your beautiful eyes? Did you inherit them from or pass them on to anyone in your family? Due to my maternal-side Eastern European heritage and a genetic tendency on my paternal side, I have abnormally dark brown eyes for my complexion. When I was an infant, people consistently asked my parents if I had been adopted [from Asia] because of my dark eyes. Because they are deep-set (another genetic trait), they aren't as obvious now. 2. What color eyes would you choose if you could change them? I always like green eyes and if I had to change, I might go to that bright color. However, I'm partial to my own eyes (at least their color, if not their level of sightedness). 3. Do you wear glasses or contacts? What kind? Like 'em or hate 'em? I wear glasses. I've worn glasses since I was five and it became obvious that I could not see the school bus headed up the street toward my house... until it was

Essential Passage #7- Genesis 1:1-2

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Genesis 1:1-2 (NRSV) This is an essential passage of Scripture for me because of the nature of God that is revealed here. In contrast to what we are able to do, God is able to bring about creation out of nothing, in fact, out of a void. The Hebrew word for that void stirs my imagination. Hebrew: tohu wabohu (TOE-hoo vah-VOE-hoo or wah- BOE-hoo) Tohu - root word (unused) meaning to lie waste - “formlessness, confusion, unreality, emptiness”, “place of chaos”, “vanity” - Reference: Job 26:7 Bohu - “from unused root meaning to be empty” - emptiness, void, waste ____ Though other citations point to the use of the words empty or void, the passages do not convey the same absolute emptiness that seems to be implied by the writer of Gen. 1. Tohu wabohu , used specifically here from typically unuse

Preparing for a Visit (Sermon 12/7)

Isaiah 40:1-11; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. There are no shepherds, no angels, no manger, no silent night and no verbs. Yes, verbs- action words. In this first sentence of Mark, there are no verbs. So, where is the action? Is this the start of the story of the ministry of Jesus the Christ, starting with the proclamation of John the Baptizer? Or does the story begin with the prophesy in Isaiah, when Israel is still in exile in Babylon and God says, “Well, they are just not getting my message. I’m going to have to try something different.” In the Isaiah text, we hear the call to prepare a way in the wilderness, a way for the Lord. So, through Isaiah’s words, the people were called to get ready for a royal visit. What comes with a royal visit? Well, what comes with having guests over to your house? Countertops are suddenly exposed to daylight, bathrooms get fresh towels, corners are vacuumed, minor repairs

Strange and new

I've been reading many conversations lately among church leaders (clergy and lay) and scholars centered around the questions, "Why does church matter?" and "How does church matter?" In a world that constantly harps on "change" (with very little seeming to actually do so), how can a two-thousand year old institution still offer something that people need? To answer this question for myself, I have been looking for something to read to stir my imagination. Granted, God's word does this for me all the time. But part of encountering the Living Word, for me, involves going into the Bible with a guide (the Holy Spirit) and a partner (some other theologian- living or dead, clergy or lay). My newest hunting partner is G.K. Chesterton . While I would not say that G.K. and I will become best buddies- he's a good hunting partner with sharp spiritual eyes, stirring me to looking for new signs and shapes of God's work in the world. So I have b

December Newsletter Article

“Comfort, oh comfort my people, says your God… A voice cries out: “In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Isaiah 40:1, 3 “Of one hundred men, one will read the Bible; the [other] ninety-nine will read the Christian.” Dwight Moody, American evangelist and theologian It’s the most wonderful time of the year, unless you’re on a budget, you’ve lost your job, you’re lonely, your diet is restricted, you’re over-obligated…How is it that in October- a simple Christmas sounds wonderful, but comes November 1st, we’re in a race to “survive” the season? The thing is, even though we all know the story of Christmas, we forget the feeling of Christmas. Somewhere in the shopping, the hurrying, the traditions… we lose sight God’s call to us. We are not called, at this time of the year, to point to the manger and say, “Hey, that’s what this is really all about.” We’re called to stop at the manger and linger. Think of the sh

Waiting (Sermon- Advent 1)

Advent is certainly a season of waiting. Waiting in lines, waiting online, waiting on hold, waiting to go to the airport, waiting at the airport, waiting to start eating, waiting to see if someone else will volunteer, waiting to really sing Christmas carols (instead of humming them under your breath because you know it’s really Advent and we have 23 days before Christmas carols are appropriate). All this anticipation, build-up and then… Easter has a nice big finish, an empty cross, an echoing tomb and Jesus in the garden, speaking to Mary Magdalene. Advent winds us up and then drops us, gently, but drops us… into the soft light of the manger, where we crowd in with shepherds, animals and everyone else who wants to see what the fuss is about. We wait. We wait. We wait. When people ask me what it is like to be a pastor, I usually figure out some way to relate it to work they understand- it’s teaching, public speaking, counseling, things like that. I was ordained to the min

Monday, Monday....

My spirit, apparently, was so excited about my sabbath day today that it woke me up at 4:30 am. I tried my usual middle of the night routine, praying for people I know and trying to relax tight muscles. While it was good to pray for people, I've now been awake for nearly 3.5 hours. So now I'm sitting in a coffee shop. I have six letters to write, a journal to write in, this book and this book to start reading and thousand of blog ideas in my mind. It IS my day off... so I try to diminish the level of work-related things I deal with or think about, but sometimes it's unavoidable. Mondays, in general, tend to be a day of active prayer and contemplation for me. So, I have some hot apple cider now and a toasted bagel. Monday, Monday... here I go...!

Thanksgiving

Thursday, 27 November, was Thanksgiving. I had two friends over to my house, plus my husband and I. It was the year of the slow-cooking turkey. We discovered our oven was about 50 degrees off, so the turkey took about 5 hours to cook. We ended up eating all the side dishes and then playing a game and then having turkey and dessert. It was good time. In place of my usual Friday Five, I'm making a list of things that I am thankful for this year. It's not a definitive list, but a list of the top things for which I feel extremely grateful. 1. I'm grateful for my husband, Rob. He's such an amazing person, caring, smart and fun to be with all the time. This year is our first whole year together ever. Between school and Iraq, we've spent a lot of time apart, but we've finished 12 consecutive months (what would be the first months together in our marriage). There were some adjustments, but I'm so glad to have him in my life and I'm grateful for every day

Essential Passage #6 (Psalm 137)

Psalm 137 (NRSV) By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. 2 On the willows * there we hung up our harps. 3 For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ 4 How could we sing the Lord ’s song in a foreign land? 5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! 6 Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy. 7 Remember, O Lord , against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem’s fall, how they said, ‘Tear it down! Tear it down! Down to its foundations!’ 8 O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us! 9 Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock! Oh, Psalm 137... so long neglected, so terrifying, so full of (real) human emotions. In the midst of the psalms of pr

Mix and Stir Friday Five

Songbird from Revgalblogpals writes, "In a minor domestic crisis, my food processor, or more precisely the part you use for almost everything for which I use a food processor, picked the eve of the festive season of the year to give up the ghost. A crack in the lid expanded such that a batch of squash soup had to be liberated via that column shaped thing that sticks up on top." Can you tell this is not my area of strength? Next week, I'm hosting Thanksgiving. I need your help. Please answer the following kitchen-related questions: 1) Do you have a food processor? Can you recommend it? Which is to say, do you actually use it? I do own a Kitchenaid mixer with food processing attachments, similar to the one below, but in white. My now- husband got it for me the very first Christmas that we were dating. We lived in Nome and he had to make a trip into Anchorage for his job. He had heard me coveting (!) another woman's and so he thoughtfully bought one for me and broug

Essential Passage #5 (Mark 9:14-29)

This basis for the Essential Passages series is here . (Click the red word) Mark 9: 14- 29 (New King James Version) And when He came to the disciples, He saw a great multitude around them, and scribes disputing with them. Immediately, when they saw Him, all the people were greatly amazed, and running to Him, greeted Him. And He asked the scribes, “What are you discussing with them?” Then one of the crowd answered and said, “Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a mute spirit. And wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid. So I spoke to Your disciples, that they should cast it out, but they could not.” He answered him and said, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me.” Then they brought him to Him. And when he saw Him, immediately the spirit convulsed him, and he fell on the ground and wallowed, foaming at the mouth. So He asked his father, “How lo

Use Your Talents (Sermon 11/16)

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30 History and church tradition tells us that Matthew, the writer of today’s gospel, was a tax collector. It’s hard not to wonder if he didn’t receive some kind of kickback or bonus from the 1st-century equivalent of the dental industry. Matthew’s phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” appears six times in the gospel, usually combined with someone being thrown into the outer darkness. When this phrase occurs, it seems to overshadow everything else. We no longer hear the phrase “enter into the joy of your Master”. We forget Paul’s comfort to the Thessalonians, “God has destined us not for wrath, but for obtaining salvation…” With the story of the wedding feast, the bridesmaids and the talents, everyone immediately asks, like the disciples on the night of the Last Supper, “Is it me? Lord, is it me?” Am I the one without the robe? Would I be a foolish bridesmaid, out of oil and out of luck? Am I the servant who bu

Friday Five- Remembrance Day

The Friday Five prompts come from this website. Earlier this week the U.S. celebrated Veterans' Day (11/11), known in many other countries as Remembrance Day. At this time last year I was commuting to a postdoc in Canada, and I was moved by the many red poppies that showed up there on people's lapels in honor of the observance. The poppies simply honor the sacrifice and dedication of those who have followed their consciences by serving--sometimes dying--in the military. This week's Friday Five invites reflection on the theme of remembrance, which is also present in the feasts of All Saints, celebrated in many liturgical churches on November 1, and All Souls--known in Latin@ cultures as the Day of the Dead--celebrated in some the following day. 1. Did your church have any special celebrations for All Saints/All Soul's Day? My congregation had a special liturgy for All Saints and we lit candles in the front of the sanctuary, remembering those who have died.

Don't mind if I do

I just got back from a clergy retreat in this peaceful location. It was a very short retreat (or it felt that way), but I got some much needed rest and refreshment. I allowed my mind to wander and travel some paths it usually misses in my hurried daily mental jogging down the same roads most of the time. A few weeks ago, a woman in my congregation with some developmental difficulties gave a great response when the bread was offered to her during Holy Communion. As I extended the Body of Christ to her and said, "The body of Christ, given for you." She smiled and took the piece and said, "Don't mind if I do." This response made me smile at the time, but it brings ever more joy to my heart when I think about it. As hard as I might work (as do those around me), there are times for holy rest. Not just the occasional retreat, but also in our day to day lives- Christ waits for us to come out of the pig pens (see the Prodigal Son story) of our stress and hurry and ru

Essential Passage #4 (Genesis 32:22-32)

Genesis 32:22-32 (NRSV) The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’ So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ Then the man said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel,* for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.’ Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel,* saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’ The

Essential Passage #3 (John 20:19-31)

The third passage in my "50 essential passages" is John 20:19-31. This is the first Bible passage I ever preached on, but there are so many treasures here... possibly a thousand sermons could be written about this and enough would not have been said. Here's the passage from The Message translation: 19-20 Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, "Peace to you." Then he showed them his hands and side. 20-21 The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were exuberant. Jesus repeated his greeting: "Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you." 22-23 Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. "Receive the Holy Spirit," he said. "If you forgive someone's sins, they're gone for good. If you don't forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?" 24-25 But Thomas, someti

Essential Passage #2 (Judges 9:7-15)

In my post on 11/3, I speculated on what I might choose as the 50 most essential passages of the Bible. I'm going to attempt to choose my 50. Today's passage is Judges 9:7-15 (NRSV) 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 When it was told to Jotham, he went and stood on the top of Mount Gerizim, and cried aloud and said to them, “Listen to me, you lords of Shechem, so that God may listen to you. The trees once went out to anoint a king over themselves. So they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’ The olive tree answered them, ‘Shall I stop producing my rich oil by which gods and mortals are honored, and go to sway over the trees?’ Then the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us.’ But the fig tree answered them, ‘Shall I stop producing my sweetness and my delicious fruit, and go to sway over the trees?’ Then the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us.’ But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I stop producing my wine that cheers gods and mortals, and go to sway ov

All Saints Sermon (11/2)

One of the most difficult things about coming in as a new pastor is realizing all the people that I did not get to meet. I hear great stories about the people who were in this congregation, how they shaped the life of this church, how they shaped your lives. Now they have gone on to their great reward and I do not get to meet them. The people who come to Hope now do not get to meet them. But their stories are here and their work lives on, the work of Nina Morris, Robert Jester, Bernice Means, Audrey Stafford, Mae Peterson, Dave Bristol, Sarah Pennewell and Frank Wince continues in the efforts we make to become the church God calls us to be. We hear God’s call not only through the Word, but also through the people who taught us about the Word, through whom the Word was revealed to us. However All Saints Day is not only a memorial day, a day in which we recall the beloved of God who are no longer physically in our midst. This is also a day when we are challenged to continue in

50 Most Essential Bible Passages

I recently purchased an album called "The 50 Most Essential Pieces of Classical Music". While I'm sure there are many who would argue what makes the cut in that list, I began to think (while listening to some essential classical) about the 50 most Essential Bible passages. Of course, that's a highly subjective list. And what makes a Bible "passage"? A verse? More than one verse, but less than a chapter? What makes a passage essential? A mention of Christ? Law and gospel? And 50? Is that limiting or too expansive? In the coming weeks, I think I will try to list what are my 50 essential Bible passages and give some details. I encourage you to try to do the same, even if you don't write them down- ponder them in your heart. 1. Romans 8:31-39 (All of Romans 8 is fantastic, rhetorically, theologically, fantastic. Seriously, I read it and weep!) 32 33 34 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not

Friday Five- The "Fried" Edition

(The Friday Five source is here - a webring of bloggers to which I belong.) As I zip around the webring it is quite clear that we are getting BUSY. " Tis the season" when clergy and laypeople alike walk the highwire from Fall programming to Christmas carrying their balancing pole with family/rest on the one side and turkey shelters/advent wreaths on the other. And so I offer this Friday Five with 5 quick hit questions... and a bonus: 1) Your work day is done and the brain is fried, what do you do? When my brain is fried, I like to do what my friend Anne would call "cook it out". I usuall y will go home and bake something or make a large pot of some kind of soup, even if I'm not hungry. I can always freeze it or give it away and the mindless chopping, stirring and tasting uses new sections of my brain. I also am an avid penpaller - so I almost always have letters to write. If I'm too tired to write letters, I will decorate envelopes or write some post

Beatitudes (The Message-Style)

Eugene Peterson's Message Translation usually can give me something to think about, even if I continue to prefer the NRSV or another translation. In working with Matthew 5 for this coming Sunday (All Saints'), I read Peterson's version of these well-known verses for the first time. As always... there's plenty to consider in here. Matthew 5 You're Blessed 1-2 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said: 3 "You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. 4 "You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. 5 "You're blessed when you're content with just who you are—no more, no less. That's the momen