Monday, November 14, 2011

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Like One Who Lifts an Infant to the Cheek

A Sermon on Hosea 6:1-6, 11:1-9

Who knows anything about Hosea (the book or the prophet)?

Hosea is a prophet in the Northern Kingdom, probably just a little more than seven hundred years before Jesus is born. The Northern Kingdom of Israel, remember, has more money, more tribes and more power, but it doesn’t have the Davidic line (the line of kings descending from David). During the time of Hosea’s prophecies, the Assyrians will come and conquer the Northern Kingdom and carry them off into exile.

One of the reasons we don’t get a whole lot of Hosea is because the book can cause a lot of indigestion. There are two main metaphors in the book: a husband/wife metaphor and a parent/child metaphor.

In that first one, the husband/wife metaphor, God is the faithful husband and Israel is the unfaithful wife, deserving of punishment- possibly death. While we can understand a metaphor of idolatry as adultery, we don’t always think about the fact that in ancient Israel, there wasn’t really any such thing as an unfaithful husband. Men controlled money, land, power and women’s lives. When we try to bring the metaphor forward into modern times, the language of faithfulness and unfaithfulness stands, but not the husband and wife language, which can get in the way of what prophet is using the metaphor to express.

How were the Israelites unfaithful? They didn’t honor their covenant with God, the God who had brought them out of Egypt and sustained them. By the time of Hosea, Israel had little religious cults that worshipped the Caananite ba’als. A significant portion of this worship involved fertility ceremonies- sacrifices, worship and sexual activity to ensure the fertility of the land, especially rain, safe planting and plentiful harvest.

We know that the Israelites should have trusted God to provide these things, but in an arid, desert climate- we can have a little sympathy for people who tried to hedge their bets so that they could have enough food.

After all, how many of us have ever said, “Knock on wood” or thrown some salt over our shoulder? Did we really think that would do anything? Then why do we do it? It’s something we’ve heard about and we think it can’t hurt to do it. Technically, if we trust God for and in all things, we don’t need little rituals like that. Furthermore, we shouldn’t perform little rituals like that. Same for the Israelites, but on a bigger scale.

Before I talk about the parent/child metaphor, I’d like to ask how many of you are afraid of God? I know we talk a strong and long line about God’s grace and mercy, but in the end how many of us still worry about God’s anger?

Here’s the thing, though. If we were going to be afraid of God, we shouldn’t be afraid of God because of who God is. We should be afraid because of who we are. We are to fear, love and trust God, but all of those emotions stem from knowledge that goes two ways… knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves.

Lots of times, children get grouchy about the punishment their parents dole out, but there is a way to avoid punishment. What would that be? (Don’t do it in the first place.) This is the heart of the parent/child metaphor of Hosea. Israel deserves punishment for violating, for forgetting, for abandoning the rules of the covenant between them and God. God is tempted to wipe them off the map.

What stops God from doing this? Not a sense that the punishment would be too harsh, but the love that God has for them. Listen to those verses again:  

1 “When Israel was a child, I loved him,
   and out of Egypt I called my son.
2 But the more they were called,
   the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals
   and they burned incense to images.
3 It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
   taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
   it was I who healed them.
4 I led them with cords of human kindness,
   with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts
   a little child to the cheek,
   and I bent down to feed them.
 5 “Will they not return to Egypt and will not Assyria rule over them because they refuse to repent? 
6 A sword will flash in their cities; it will devour their false prophets 
and put an end to their plans. 
7 My people are determined to turn from me. Even though they call me God Most High, I will by no means exalt them.
 8 “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? 
How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboyim? 
My heart is changed within me; 
all my compassion is aroused. 
9 I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again. 
For I am God, and not a man— 
the Holy One among you. 
I will not come against their cities.

I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.

What did I say before? If we were going to be afraid of God, we shouldn’t be afraid of God because of who God is. We should be afraid because of who we are. We are to fear, love and trust God, but all of those emotions stem from knowledge that goes two ways… knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves.

Even though we don’t like to admit it, we know ourselves. We, like sheep, have gone astray and we will again. We could knock wood after each confession and assurance of forgiveness, to hope that we won’t need it again, but we know we will.

So we need the knowledge of God to bring us comfort. We are afraid because we know the judgment we deserve, but we trust in God’s goodness and mercy because of who God is and because of God’s compassion toward all creation. In the Hebrew Bible, knowledge isn’t only intellectual- head stuff. It’s in your gut, in your heart, in your body. Knowledge is knowing AND doing. Acting on knowledge brings relationship. God acts on God’s knowledge of creation and keeps God in relationship with all creation, because God will not break his end of the covenant.

We have to act on our knowledge of God. And this is what Hosea tries to impart to the Israelites (and to us) through his metaphors. God is the Holy Parent, bringing people into the world to share in creative love. As a parent teaches, so God gives us the Spirit to instruct us, shape us and help us become the people God means for us to be. God is a patient parent, who will allow mistakes, forgives them and knows there will be more. God’s love is unconditional, more so than even the best parents among us.  God’s love heals us, bringing wholeness and peace.

I led them with cords of human kindness,
   with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts
   a little child to the cheek,
   and I bent down to feed them.

God’s parental love always leaves the light of faith shining for us, drawing us back home. Amen. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

One Minute Writer: Teach Edition

If you were to teach as a career, what would you teach?

One of the reasons I haven't considered hospital chaplaincy more seriously is because I love to teach. I think I would enjoy teaching religion- world religions, church and culture, Jesus (and Jesus figures) in film, modern religious movements.

Above is all I could write in one minute, but it caused me to think back on some of the classes of my Religion degree (undergraduate) and remember how much I really enjoyed them. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Prayer for a New Day

Psalm 19 - Contemporary English Version

The heavens keep telling the wonders of God, and the skies declare what he has done.

Each day informs the following day; each night announce to the next.
They don't speak a word and there is never the sound of a voice.
Yet their message reaches all the earth, and it travels around the world.

In the heavens a tent is set up for the sun.
It rises like a bridegroom and gets ready like a hero eager to run a race.
It travels all the way across the sky.
Nothing hides from its heat.

The Law of the LORD is perfect; it gives us new life.
His teachings last forever, and they give wisdom to ordinary people.

The LORD's instruction is right; it makes our hearts glad.
His commands shine brightly, and they give us light.

Worshiping the LORD is sacred; he will always be worshiped.
All of his decisions are correct and fair.
They are worth more than the finest gold and are sweeter than honey from a honeycomb.

By your teachings, Lord, I am warned; by obeying them, I am greatly rewarded.
None of us know our faults.
Forgive me when I sin without knowing it.
Don't let me do wrong on purpose, Lord, or let sin have control over my life.
Then I will be innocent, and not guilty of some terrible fault.
Let my words and my thoughts be pleasing to you, LORD, because you are my mighty rock and my protector.

(This new translation could definitely grow on me.) 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


I'm at a continuing education conference that is turning out to be really excellent. One of the things that happens when you get a bunch of people in the same profession together is that they will get on each other's nerves. In clergy circles (of the same denomination), there can be little tweaks in verbage or theology that can cause eye-rolling and snarky comments like you wouldn't believe.

(What? You thought we were all sitting around singing Kum-Ba- Yah?)

In reality, there is always truth to what is pointed out to you, it is just that it can be hard to hear it.

Two phrases that have been pointed out by people I know well (and like) are:

1) "We worship # on Sunday." A phrase that I never use in my daily life comes up immediately with other clergy because one is quickly asked, "How many do you worship on Sunday"- meaning "How many people attend worship on Sunday?" The great pastor from Sitka Lutheran in Sitka, Alaska says, "We worship God with about this many people."

It's such an awesome point to make. Too often pastors and lay leaders are put in the position of being made to worship (or bow down to) statistics like attendance, activities and output. I don't worship 50 people on Sunday. I worship God with about 50 others and we have a pretty good time.

2) The other phrase is a sneaky pronoun. "My congregation" "My building" "My people" It's easy to become proprietary about one's call, location and congregation. I very consciously refer to the church's administrative assistant as just that- working for the congregation (with me), not for me. Occasionally, I know I've said "my building", not because I have any designs on it, but it simply happened. I think (!) I most frequently say "our/ours". Nevertheless, I do hear people talking about "my people".

I think this is problematic in that we forget that we all belong to God, first and foremost. This language use first came to my attention in October through the pastor at Shishmaref Lutheran in Shishmaref, Alaska. For whom are we working? With whom are we working? The words we use matter.

Words have power.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Where Have All the Reading Materials Gone?

The NaBloPoMo prompt for today is: When was the first time you realized that your home was not like other peoples' homes?

I recall roller skating in a friend's garage in kindergarten. We didn't have a garage, but that's not the memory that sticks out in my mind. Nor is it when I think about playing with Barbies at other peoples' homes, but not having them at home.

When I was in eighth grade, I went to spend the night with a friend and I remember her house looked totally different than either my (parents') house or other houses I knew. There was something odd about the place that I couldn't put my finger on for a while. Finally, we were dancing in the living room and I stopped and said, "Where are all your books?"

I was used to a house that had reading material everywhere. In the living room on shelves and by chairs. In the laundry room on the "brown table" that collected everything. By my parents' bed. Both sets of grandparents had many books as well.

This pristine house had lovely shelves of knickknacks and picture frames, but no books that I could see.

For me, it's just a house until I put my books all over it. Then it's home.

If I Were A Rich Man

A couple weeks ago I went to an excellent production of Fiddler on the Roof, one of my favorite musicals. John Preece was Tevye and he was AMAZING. I was seated in the front row (a friend picked the tickets) and Preece's expressions and emotions were mesmerizing. (I can't find any videos that show Preece, but you can hear him here.)

Her characterization of Tevye was of a man who prayed without ceasing, in continuous give and take conversation with God. His wrestling and faith were evident in each sideways glance, tap of a mezuzah or fidget with his tzitzit.

One of the scenes that has stuck with me is the song "If I were a Rich Man". Preece ambled around the stage and it was as though each new verse struck him as an epiphany. My wife could have servants! I would be respected! We could live in a bigger, better house!

Then the last verse came very poignantly and I heard it in a way I've never heard before. "If I were rich, I'd have the time that I lack to sit in the synagogue and pray. Maybe have a seat by the eastern wall. I'd sit and study the holy books with the learned men- seven hours every day! And that would be the sweetest thing of all."

Preece's eyes teared up and he clasped his hands to his chest and you knew he meant it. This wasn't a promise to get something from God, but his fervent hope that he could have enough wealth to have free time to pray and study scripture.

Would I do that? Would you?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Meditation from St. Francis of Assisi

For All Saints' Day- a meditation on the Lord's Prayer from St. Francis of Assisi: 

Our Father. 
Our Creator, Redeemer, Comforter and Savior.

Who art in heaven. 

You are with the angels and the saints, bathing them in your light that they may be enlightened by your love, and dwelling within them that they may be filled with your joy. You are the supreme good, the eternal good, from whom comes all goodness, and with- out whom there is no goodness.

Hallowed be your name. 

May our knowledge of you become ever clearer, that we may know the breadth of your blessings, the length of your promises, the height of your majesty, and the depth of your judgments.

Your kingdom come. 

Rule in our hearts with your grace, that we may become fit subjects for your kingdom. We desire nothing more than to dwell in your kingdom, where we can watch you on your throne, and enjoy your perfect love.

Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 

May we love you with our whole heart by always thinking of you, with our whole soul by always desiring you, with our whole mind by directing all our intentions to you, and with our whole strength by spending all our energies in your service. And may we love our neighbors as ourselves, drawing them to your love, rejoicing in their good fortunes, and caring for them in their misfortunes.

Give us this day our daily bread. 

In memory and understanding and reverence of the love which our Lord Jesus Christ has for us, revealed by his sacrifice for us on the cross, we ask for the perfect bread of his body.
And forgive us our trespasses. 
We know that you forgive us, through the suffering and death of your beloved Son.

As we forgive those who trespass against us. 
Enable us to forgive perfectly and without reserve any wrong that has been committed against us. And strengthen our hearts truly to love our enemies, praying for them and striving to serve them.

And lead us not into temptation. 

Save us not only from obvious and persistent temptations, but also those that are hidden or come suddenly when our guard is lowered.

But deliver us from evil. 

Protect us from past evil, protect us against present evil, and free us from future evil.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Pineapples to Hockey Pucks

I love where I live, but certain comparisons should not be made:

10/18/11- Waikiki, HI

11/4/11- Anchorage, AK
10/30/11- HI sticker on AK truck 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Friday Five: Time with Friends Edition

Over at RevGalBlogPals, kathrynzj encourages us to write about five things we like to do with friends. The posts seem to take two directions- what you like to with friends in general and what you like to do with friends who visit your hometown.

In general, I like to travel, eat, read books, walk and have long, long talks with friends.

If out of town friends come to Anchorage, I like to:

1. Go to the Winner Creek trail and (maybe) do the hand tram!

This is not my video, but it's pretty good. You can see how far you have to go and what the gorge looks like. The hike is fairly easy- a little hilly and beautiful. The tram is optional! ;)

View from the salmon deck
2. Visit the Eagle River Nature Center (and assorted trails). I got married here on the salmon viewing deck. It's a great place- all supported by volunteers. The ERNC is only about eight miles from my house.

On a clear day in Seward, you can see forever.  
3. Drive to Seward and visit the Sealife Center. Seward is a really neat town. We could walk up to the face of Exit Glacier, eat salmon and halibut and relax at Sweet Darlings with handmade fudge and gelato! Mmm.
The face of Exit Glacier

4.  Drink a spiced ginger mojito at Simon and Seaforts- my favorite restaurant.

5. Walk a long way or a short way on the Coastal trail. We might see a moose. Maybe a bear. And we'd definitely go to Earthquake Park, where you can still see some of the devastation from the '64 Earthquake.

When are you coming?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The More Things Change

After a book discussion around science and speculative fiction, I needed a funny reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same.


L'Ultima Cena

L'ultima Cena is the name of the painting you may know as "The Last Supper". The Italian uses the phrase "ultimate" as in final, not as in awesome (though I enjoy a parsley salad and some lamb, so it may well have been awesome).

It never fails to move me to think about Jesus, gathered with those he loved, in that upper room- smoky and close- consuming their history and sanctifying their future. Powerful stuff.

On a more mundane thought, the NaBloPoMo prompt for the day is: "What would you want for your last meal?"

What would my ultimate, ultimate last meal be?

In truth, I'd prefer not to know it was my last. That would the best seasoning of all. I love food in general, so it's hard to narrow it down to one meal. Several courses?

I'd like Greek salad with lemon and oil dressing, heavy on the lemon. Then a open-faced, hot turkey sandwich, with gravy. Mashed potatoes. Cranberry sauce. Steamed broccoli. And chocolate cream pie.

Comfort food, I guess. As I am writing this, it occurs to me that I haven't eaten that meal in any form in recent memory. Maybe it's just a craving.

It's been a long time since I went more than a week without communion, but I can remember distinctly the last time I did. When I was on maternity leave, I didn't go to church. While pastors came to visit, no one brought communion and I didn't think to ask. I did start to crave it after a while. It wasn't just the bread and wine, though, it was the experience of being at the table, of hearing the words, of sharing with another or others in something basic and mysterious.

In early Christianity (and still in some places), one strove to die with the elements in one's mouth or only just there. Could there be a better last meal, a more ultimate meal? Comfort food and great company. L'ultima cena, indeed.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Death cannot destroy

For some reason, I'm thinking of both All Saints and the first law of thermodynamics today. 
Aren't you? 

Today is the Feast of All Saints, the day upon which we celebrate the lives of the faithful who have gone on to their reward. I want to be able to say that I am celebrating, but mostly I am missing people today. My grandparents, a mentor, friends, classmates... all gone too soon to my way of thinking. 

The first law of thermodynamics is that energy can be transformed, but it cannot be created or destroyed. I could talk more about heat and energy conservation- the principles of thermodynamics- but that's not what I want to say. 

Energy can be transformed, but it cannot be created or destroyed. 

There's no way to talk about this without seeming a little out there, but stick with me. Scientifically, I know that our bodies decay, but spiritually I believe death is not the end God intends for us. We are transformed in ways we don't understand after death. I can't speculate as to how or where or even when, but I have a hard time thinking that we are fearfully and wonderfully made for a span of a few short years and that's it. 

(Neither do I assume eternity is a like a long church service.) 

In thinking of the saints I have known, today I am pondering how God has transformed their energy. The work of their lives affected me and it touches people with whom I interact- sometimes daily. Their energy, in part, transfers to me and others who knew and loved them. 

And I think God is still using them- not just through the memories and works that remain, but in some way that is beyond our comprehension. 

In Revelation, the saints intercede for the believers who remain on earth. Perhaps they are praying for us. Maybe they are worshipping with us. Maybe they are doing work on a plane as yet beyond our understanding. 

However, on this day, I'm comforted by believing that their lives have been transformed, but not destroyed. That their energy is altered, but still powerful. That their lives continue to matter, even beyond our memories. 

Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them.