Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Show It Off!

       I love the Confession and Forgiveness for this summer season found in Sundays and Seasons.  After our confession that we have come together for healing and life, and for the sins that diminish us, then come the words of absolution, the declaration of forgiveness is given.  And that ends with these words: "Be at peace, and tell everyone how much God has done for you."
       I don't remember that being included before, but I really love the way it ties the assurance of God's love and forgiveness with our response to tell everyone how much God has done for us.  After everything we have just been promised and given to us, it seems like a natural thing to tell people how wonderful it is!
      It seems so easy to tell people when other good things happen to us, whet her it is our latest diet, a good place to eat lunch, or passing on the latest video gone viral.  We "like" things on Facebook, "retweet" sayings from Twitter, and pass on links to the cutest kitten video.  
       And here, God meets us face-to-face, knowing all that we've admitted to and even the things we cannot name, and gives you and gives me complete love and forgiveness.  God holds nothing back in welcoming and loving us just as we are, and gives us healing and life in spite of all of our questions, uncertainties, and weaknesses.  
       God does more for us than we can expect or ask from anyone.  And what is our response?  Tell someone else (even just one person) what God has done for us?  Are you nuts?  
       We all have our reasons for not sharing from we are too shy, we don't know how to explain things, to 'faith is too personal, let's leave it at that'.  And yet as someone who has done a lot of flying around the country when I worked for disaster response, I can vouch for the fact that there is not much we think is too personal these days.
        I have sat at in an airport and heard what people share when talking (loudly and in close proximity) on their cell phones.  I have heard about everything from the details of someone's sex life to their deepest joys and griefs.  And that's not getting into all the details shared on the net, complete with pictures.  
        But to share what God has done for me?  That would be admitting that God is in my life and my life is in God.  Do we really have to get particular about it?  
        After all, what has God done?
       The amazing gift of knowing that God knows me better than I know myself, all the deepest and darkest secrets and still loves me is the foundation that makes life possible in the face of what has happened in my life.  The gift that knowing that when I am most afraid for those I love and that even when they face death, there is someone I can turn to who has the power to bring hope even then.  The strength of knowing that I am never alone, even when I am most afraid or most ashamed.  And the depths of love that has been given to me that has taught me how to reach out to others instead of running away in distrust or hate.
       God gives me the joy that I see in each new life; the peace of the wind and sun in the trees and the song of the birds; and the gratitude I have for being saved from the darkness that nearly overwhelmed me and my life.  It can be as deep as that, or the simple pleasure of melting chocolate on a marshmallow.
       In the telling of what God has done for us, even just the smallest gesture, in admitting that we are people of faith, we set our lights to shine in the world.  The very words used in the baptismal service: "Let your light so shine before others..."  When we do this, we point the way to God, and the Gospel is heard.  We don't have to be great at it, just open and honest about God.  
       A friend shared these words with me the other day in spending time in the Word: "A foghorn lets you know there is something out there, but the lighthouse tells you where it is".  There are a lot of foghorns in the world, telling us to be afraid, but faith is the lighthouse that brings us safely home.
       "You are the light of the world.  A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven."  Matthew 5:14-16

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Winds of Spring

       The sudden abundance of spring is always a surprise to me.  I am always amazed at the quantity and quality of change happening all around us; there is so much new life, new possibilities, and new growth.  We have waited so long for it this year and it has come so suddenly that it is almost overwhelming.  On the last Friday of April, we were astonished at the amount of snowmelt from the beginning of Bible study until we were finished. 
        Spring changes everything; even the air smells different and it is so delightful those first times you get to open up the windows.  The stale, dry, heated air of winter is replaced with air that feels alive with possibilities.  When the ground thaws and the snow melts and or with the first rains, the soil gets an earthy, fresh smell that almost begs to be planted.  It smells like new life.  And that’s just the air.
        Then there are all the other changes, the length of the days, the frozen ground that turns to dark mud and then gradually begins to grow again.  It always sneaks up on me, it seems as though in one day the grass has gone from dormant browns and grays to green – with bits of yellow dandelions thrown in for bright contrast!  The trees and bushes take on their green more slowly.
        The birds have been waiting just as impatiently for spring, it seems and now they are rejoicing as much as anyone else.  There must have been a migrating flock of robins the other day for there were scores of them all in one place the other day.  I have never seen so many robins at once before.  And of course, with the fields melting and the flood coming, the waterfowl have been following the rivers on their southern migration.  In the past couple of weeks, I have seen Canadian and snow geese, mallard, wood, teal, and all kinds of ducks and coots, swans, white pelicans, and loons.  I’m sure the farmers are anxious for the water and waterfowl to leave the fields so they can begin planting.  It will be late this year.
        All of this change, new life, and new possibilities are such an appropriate setting for the seasons of the church year as we finish out the 50 days of Easter celebration and celebrate the birth of the church on Pentecost Sunday, May 12th.  We will hear again the story of how the Holy Spirit blew through the temple that day and filled the disciples of Jesus Christ, changing them from a scared and timid band of grieving friends to the leaders of a movement that went on to change the world.  I wonder if the air had that same spring smell of new possibilities that is blowing outside these days.
        What of us?  Are we ready to let the fresh air of the Holy Spirit blow through our house and change our lives?  Can we make room for new life and new growth or will we hang on the brown and dormant old growth of times past?
        Change is never easy because like spring, we are not in control and we never know when and where the changes will happen and what the changes will be.  About all that can be promised is that like spring, if we let the Spirit of God blow through, we will be amazed and surprised by God’s love and abundance.
        In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (by C.S. Lewis), Lucy asks the lion Aslan (the Christ figure in the stories, The Chronicles of Narnia) why didn’t things happen they way they did before.  Aslan answers that things never happen the same way twice.  We have to learn and we have to trust in God.  The Pentecost of Spring invites us to let God blow through our lives and breathe in the promise of new life and always the abundance of God’s love.
       "What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You must be born from above.' The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."  John 3: 6-8

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Look for the Helpers


       The day after the bombing at the Boston Marathon, a quote from Mr. Rogers spread like wildfire around the web.  "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping."
       It is a wonderful response to children and adults alike in the face of such tragedy and obviously, many, many people found it comforting in the hours and days during that week.
       The quote became even more poignant as I watched the video of the bombs going off and watched as people (including Boston police and those working the marathon) ran toward the site of the blasts even as others ran away seeking safety.  Then on that Thursday, volunteer firefighters in the small town of West, Texas ran to the fertilizer plant to take on that fire.  They were joined by professional firefighters from surrounding communities but 14 people were killed, hundreds were injured and many homes were destroyed in the explosion.  I am in awe and humble thanksgiving for helpers in such times and places as these.
       I have been seeing other helpers around where I live these days.   As winter finally gave way to spring and snow melted, people all around the Red River Valley prepared for what was forecasted as a record flood.  Preparations began a few weeks ago with the call for volunteers to come to "sandbag central" in Fargo to make over a million sandbags.  Controversy hit the news when radio commentator Ed Schultz spoke of the use of student volunteers as "slave labor".  Obviously, he's not from around here.
       Here, students must get permission slips signed, dress for work, and volunteer for the job.  Last week, when my own confirmation students came into class sweaty and exhausted, they were proud of their blisters and aches.  It is one of the few enough times and places when their participation is valued and needed as equally as any adults.  And, they have all seen and experienced fighting floodwaters; the Red River has flooded 4 times in the last five years.  (Last year's drought has been the only recent time out.)  
       As it looks now, the impact of this year's flood will be small because thanks to the snail's pace of the weather change, much of the snow melt was slow and seems to have soaked in. This doesn't lessen the need for preparedness or the work that was done.  Any change in the weather or precipitation and things could have been very different.
       Today, I got to experience the work of other helpers.  I took time out from working in the office to join the women quilting in the fellowship hall.  They were busy trying to get the last quilts finished for the season, tying the last of over 200 quilts that will go to Lutheran World Relief and other ministries.  From under 60 to over 90, those hands have been busy through the winter, sewing, pinning and tying quilts that become visible signs of God's love.
         When I shared Mr. Rogers' words in conversation, someone made the comment, that it was too bad that "the Church" couldn't have spoken with as much impact in the days that followed the marathon.  
       It did.  Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister who studied and was ordained with the charge to continue his ministry with children.  His quiet faith surely showed.  I can't think of a better assurance of the love and peace of God. 
        But if people don't know that about him, does it still count as witness?  As we heard again this last week, the world will know that we belong to God not by the jewelry we wear or  the words we say but by how we love one another.  Whether named or not, when those in need, pain, and fear look to the helpers, they will see God's love.  
       "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."  John 13:34-35

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Looking for Hope

       It is after seven in the evening as I write this.  Even though the snow piled around my house is still so high that I can't see over it when I'm backing out, It is April; spring is here. 
       How can I tell that spring is here?  Well, the calendar tells me so.  And it is a bit warmer these days.  It was actually in the twenties this morning when I came to work - which is a big change for the better.  We celebrated Easter on Sunday with special music and festive worship.  But that is not how I know Spring is here.  As my son said, so far we've been having a pretty good winter this spring.
       But the sun is still strong coming in through the window.  The days are really growing longer and even though the temperatures aren't great, the sun's rays are stronger and have melted the snow off of roads and sidewalks, and the piles are getting smaller.  So even though it still looks like a lot of winter out there to my son from Kansas City, it is beginning to look and feel like spring.
       I think in some ways, that is how the first Easter must have felt to the followers of Jesus.  The signs of resurrection and new life were at first so small, it was easy to miss them - and to dismiss them.
       When the women first came back from the tomb to tell the good news that Jesus was risen, their news was dismissed as idle women's gossip. (Luke 24:11)  The two men at the tomb couldn't have been that different looking, even for angels.  The tomb itself hadn't changed, it was just empty.  The stone across the entrance was moved away and the cloths used to wrap Jesus were still laying on the rock.  But early that day, that's all there was.
       In their grief, fear, and uncertain faith, the disciples still did not understand that Jesus had meant for this to happen all along.  Although Jesus had predicted this more than once, it had never really sunk into their consciousness.  
       We might think that Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene and then the other disciples would have fixed all that - surely then they all believed.  But after more than once or twice of spending time with the risen Jesus, even after Thomas touched where the nails and spear had been, the disciples continued to have problems believing the resurrection.  
       40 days after the resurrection, on the top of the mountain, just before Jesus ascends into heaven, we are told that some of the disciples STILL didn't believe.  It is not until the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that they are empowered with the faith and courage to go and tell the good news!
        I ponder this because I think there are a lot of us in this story.  Just like it would be too easy to miss the spring for the winter that is still all around us, like the disciples, it is hard for us to believe so certainly.  That Jesus is risen from the dead is still hard for us to grasp.  
       So how can we be expected to go and tell this good news when we are unsure ourselves?  Right?
       Wrong question.  Mary and the other women who go to the tomb, the travelers on the way to Emmaus, the disciples even on the mountain that last time, they are given the task to go and tell the good news.  We are not supposed to wait until the moment when our faith is strong and perfect.  
       We have the good news now that death doesn't win.  We have the good news right now God loves and accepts us just the way we are.  This broken, weary world that we live in needs that message right now and our uncertainty and our brokenness is part of the message.  Just as God loves and accepts us just the way we are, so also God loves and accepts the world.  Our imperfection is witness to the truth of God's love and is certainly not an excuse to keep quiet.
       Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”   Matthew 28:16-20

Friday, February 8, 2013

Spring Is Coming?

       It is 25 degrees out, not cold by recent standards (below zero) but still winter weather.  We are on the watch for our own winter storm tomorrow night even as a huge winter storm is threatening the East coast with feet of snow.  And yet, there are signs that spring is coming (as hard as it is to believe when my feet are cold).
       For one thing as I look at my calendar, the church season of Lent begins next week with Ash Wednesday, moving us toward Easter.  The days are getting longer and the angle of the sun is changing; I can tell by the quality of the sun coming in my window.  I got a seed catalogue in the mail a couple of weeks ago.  
       My husband, the pastor/farmer, took it gleefully and hungrily, spending the evening practically drooling over the pages, coveting the vegetables and fruits that were pictured.  His comment?  "I'm going to have to get a bigger garden."
       I know that a lot of winter can still be coming at us both in terms of cold and blustery days and in the amount of snow.  In fact, I've been praying for snow.  We actually need it so that there is a good amount to melt slowly into the water table and help restore the land from the drought conditions that have hit all over the Great Plains.  This is northern Minnesota after all, winter usually lasts for a couple of months more.  Up here, if the ground hog saw its' shadow and there were six more weeks of winter, that would be an early spring!
       So with so much winter yet on the way, why am I looking toward spring?
       It is about the power of looking forward with hope.
       If we only look at yesterday and today, we can get caught by how cold it has been, how dark the days have been, the ice, the snow, the bad days and hard times and how much effort it takes to even get dressed to go outside.  Like my husband said the other day, he wants to be able to go outside without having to put on boots, zipped up coat, hat, scarf, and gloves.  How easy it would be to just throw on jeans and a t-shirt and wiggle into some flip-flops and go out the door!
       But being aware of the small changes gives me hope and points me forward.  In fact, this has become part of my spiritual discipline.  I find that when I am not aware of the changes in weather, the length of the days, and the cycles of growth around me, I am also running on empty spiritually.  It often means that I have become so busy or caught up in myself and my worries, that hope and joy are very far away.
       A friend sent me a quote this week: "Do not be afraid of tomorrow, for God is already there."
       Living in faith is living in hope and leaning forward.  As a child of God, grace has already been given to us.  We - you - are already forgiven.  What we have done in the past, what has been done to us, is already taken care of and while it may still cast a shadow over today, now and then, faithful living proclaims that victory, new life, is already ours.
       "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... But God proves God's love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us."  Romans 5:3-5,8

God Made a Farmer

Check out this great video from Lutheran World Relief!  I thought myself while watching the original, where are the women?  LWR got it right on.  Women feed most of the world's population...

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Seeing Through the Camels



       I had a really unique view on Sunday morning at the service in town.  
       Knowing that we were going to be celebrating Epiphany day and reading about the magi, I had asked if we could please use the camels from the Christmas program.  They are the best hand-made camels I have seen and have a great deal of personality.  I thought it would be good atmosphere and add some fun and imagination to the celebration.  What I didn't count on was the placement of the camels.
       I was running a little later than normal so I didn't have time to check the sanctuary before worship and was glad to see the manger and the gifts and those wonderful camels under the star.  I didn't think about it until it came time for me to sit in my chair when I realized it was back behind the camels.
       During different parts of the service, when it came time for me to sit, I had to look out from behind and around the camels to see the manger and to see the congregation.  It was a totally different perspective. 
       Usually as I preside over worship, I see everyone and everything; but Sunday was different.  Unless I moved away from the manger and stood in front, I could only get a partial glimpse of the manger and what was happening in front of me.  As I looked, I realized that I have only looked at manger scenes from the front, like watching a performance but Sunday, I saw a view I've never seen before.
       I have had that same kind of feeling sometimes when I am studying scripture and I come across a very familiar story that I think I know so well.  I think I know the story and the characters and often even the meaning but as I study them, I come across details and ideas that I have not seen before.  The story of the Magi is a good example of a story we think we know so well until we really read it.  Then we find out that Matthew never tells us how many magi there were or whether or not there were camels.  In fact, many of the details we think we know aren't in the Bible!
       Both of the experiences are reminders that we need to allow ourselves to be open see and hear the Gospel from a new point of view not only on the page, but also in the people around us.  When we think we already know what is coming and what it means, we rob ourselves of new insights, new gifts, and renewed relationships.  
       In the ninth chapter of John, Jesus heals a man who had been born blind.  There are a lot of people that do not understand and question what Jesus has done.  At one point, they do not believe that he is the same man until they confront his parents.  They are not able to see or believe the truth of Jesus. Finally, they drive out the man whom Jesus healed.  
       He comes to Jesus and Jesus talks to him and reveals his identity.  The man confesses his faith and worships Jesus.  He is able to see and believe in Jesus but the Pharisees are not.  Jesus warns them (and us) of the peril of refusing to see the truth of Jesus.  
       Jesus opens our eyes to see with the eyes of faith.  Try seeing things in new ways, opening your heart and eyes to the new possibilities of God's love and grace.
        "Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he had found  him, he said, 'Do you believe in the Son of Man?'  He answered, 'And who is he, sir?  Tell me, so that I may believe in him.'  Jesus said to him, 'You have sen him, and the one speaking with you is he.'  He said, 'Lord, I believe.'  And he worshiped him.  Jesus said, I came into this world for judgment so that whose who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.'"  John 9:35-40