Sunday, August 31, 2008

One for All

Exodus 3:1-12

I think one of the greatest internet inventions is the Google image search. For those of you not familiar with what I am talking about, Google, the popular internet search engine has a way to look for pictures that appear on websites. Basically you put in a word or phrase of what you are looking for, and then it shows you what it thinks might be relevant pictures based on how the images are described on the page. If your desired words appear in the picture’s description, you are given the link to that site and that picture. Google image is how I often find pictures for worship and backgrounds of slides.

For today’s worship I did an image search for the burning bush. I was looking for a particular bush. One I had seen in Egypt on a trip there in 2001. Unfortunately the picture I took was with a film camera, not a digital one, so it was hard to share. I figured as a frequent stop on tourist and pilgrimage travels, the burning bush in St. Catherine’s Monastery on the Sinai Peninsula would not be a hard find.

I was right. There is no shortage of pictures of this famous bush. It is alive and growing to this day, exactly where it has been since sometime before the monastery was built in the 4th century. Whether you believe this is truly THE burning bush or not, it’s still pretty amazing to see a living plant whose age is well over 1700 years old. That part is highly possible. And whether or not it is THE burning bush, it has been regarded as so for long enough that the trip to see it, whether you believe it or not, can still take on the feeling of faithful pilgrimage full of awe and wonder.

Anyway, while sifting through the numerous pictures I found, I discovered a few that were posted with somewhat tongue-in-cheek commentary. One picture included a pilgrim standing in front of the bush, and off to the side, sort of in the background, for usual safety reasons, I'm sure, was a fire extinguisher.

If I had had the option, I would have taken this shot, too. The idea of a fire extinguisher at the burning bush is, in my opinion, priceless.

What do you think Moses would have paid for a fire extinguisher that day? He was scared to death by what was happening! I’d guess, first it was because of the actual flaming plant, but secondly because of the vocation that was set before him. The call of God. You want me to go where and do what?

We have made a leap in our story about the life and ministry of Moses. Last week we left him as a weaned child, and now he is an adult, apparently married, and presumably living away from the princess who took him in as a child. The part of the story we have missed is in the second half of chapter two. After Moses had grown up (in the palace, the home of royalty and privilege), one day he decided to go take a walk and see his own people. We don’t know how and why Moses knows these are his people. We don’t know if he was raised as equal to the Egyptians in his adopted family or set apart from them. It’s an interesting question, but one with no answer.

We know that he knows he is different, and he goes to see his people. He struggles internally with what he sees, with the enslaved condition of his people. And acting out of what – anger, guilt, indignation – he kills one of the Egyptian taskmasters who was beating a Hebrew. When news of his action rises to Pharaoh, Moses fled from Egypt and settled in the land of Midian. Here he finds a wife at the usual Old Testament singles’ bar – the village well – and he settles down caring for the flocks of his father-in-law, Jethro.

The situation of his people was bad while Moses was in Egypt, but in chapter two it is written that things seem to have gone from bad to worse while he was gone. The Israelites seem to no longer enjoy a slavery that is more mutually beneficial and relatively free. When the first Pharaoh dies and power is handed down to his successor the slavery worsens and the groaning intensifies. The Israelites cried out to God for help, for faithfulness to the covenant, for even just the attention of God in their suffering.

And God notices. God heard their groaning, and God remembered the covenant, the covenant with Abraham, and with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God steps into action.

Basically God says that this is not OK. This life, this existence, this slavery and oppression is not what I desire, and it can’t continue any longer. This suffering, this misery, it is intolerable, and somebody’s got to do something about it. I’VE got to do something about, but I don’t work alone.

I know Exodus is only the second book into this huge story of God’s relationship with creation, but already the pattern has been established that when there’s a big job to do, when a change needs to take place in the way humans are living and working together or NOT together as the case may be, God doesn’t work alone. God recruits God’s people to help out.

There doesn’t yet seem to be a consistent pattern for those whom God chooses. There isn’t a cookie cutter outline for who will fit the job. In the case of Noah it is someone extremely faithful, and hardly questioning, but in Jacob we have a man who wrestles with God and is set against his brother. The women of the covenant struggle with barrenness, but some work impatiently and tirelessly to try to take control of the challenge while others sit back in silence. Joseph is a dreamer, maybe a little arrogant, and he capitalizes on his situation, but doesn’t seem to be what we’d consider a superhero of strength. Most of these are just people who are obedient to the call wherever they find themselves and God uses their unique positions to make it work.

And now we have Moses. Moses had an extraordinary beginning, that’s for sure. But as he has settled into adulthood he seems to be leading a relatively ordinary life. He’s not an activist. Not a dreamer. Not someone tortured by angels in the middle of the night. He’s not even prone to hear a voice calling, commanding him to leave home and family, everything he knows and loves to move worlds away. Instead he has left his familiar place as a fear-filled outlaw. No, Moses is just a guy watching his father-in-law’s flocks. He may have had a curious start, but now he’s just another shepherd in the desert.

But God had an extraordinary plan for an ordinary man. God heard the people cry. God knew something had to be done, and God knew Moses was the one to do it. Moses, who was raised in the palace by Pharaoh’s daughter, MAYBE even like a brother to the Pharaoh now in power. In theory, Moses, the common shepherd in Midian, is also Moses, a direct link to the ruler of the Egyptians.

Now, we all aren’t Moses. We all weren’t raised in the palace by the princess. We all weren’t given early, intimate access to royalty or immense political power on that kind of scale, but by virtue of our nationality and citizenship, we have been given a different kind of political power, or better yet a different kind of political responsibility.

It’s hard to escape the bombardment of political information and news or semi-news this weekend in particular. Running mates have been chosen. One nominating convention has just ended and the other is just beginning. While attempting to drive around downtown this week I had the difficult challenge of trying to explain to my 3 year old, why we couldn’t make our way to the Children’s Museum from where we were in the city. “The streets are blocked off for a big meeting.” That wasn’t enough. “What is the meeting for?”, she wanted to know. I didn’t think the finer points of a two party political system were going to translate well for a three year old, so instead I tried to put it in her language. “The people at the meeting are going to pick a new line leader.” Amazingly it worked!

It worked for a three year old, but we all know this election is about so much more than picking a line leader. There are difficult things going on in our country and around the world, to say the very least. There are wars and rumors of wars. There is poverty here and abroad. There is anxiety and slavery and instability and a host of other concerns facing the people of this world. And as people of faith we can’t ignore them, and we can’t go into the voting booth uninformed.

I am not and will never advocate that one candidate or another is THE faithful choice in this election or any election. I don’t think God is owned or represented by the Democratic, Republican, Green, Constitution, Reform, or any other parties or nations. I don’t think Independents have a direct link to the divine. But I do believe that the way we Christians live our lives in the public sphere, including the way we vote or make decisions about our votes, is as much about living as disciples of Jesus as our private prayer and devotional lives or another aspect of our faith as it is lived out.

God cares about the concerns of nations. The Lord observed the misery of his people. God heard the cries of the Israelites. Their cries brought God down in the flame of fire out of a bush to put Moses into action. Indeed, God knew their sufferings, and God knows the sufferings of people all over this world today. And in the face of suffering, even ordinary people of faith are called to action.

We are called to the local task of fighting hunger in our local school feeding program. We are called to a ministry of hospitality, welcome, and sanctuary in hosting youth with disabilities during the week. We are called to regional tasks of feeding and sheltering the homeless at the shelter. And we are called to the national and international tasks of freeing captives, relieving suffering, and bringing those in bondage out of oppression through the leaders we choose and the policies we support.

God grieves over the injustices in the world and calls people of faith to be involved. Our outlook in all areas of our lives can’t be so short-sighted that we don’t see and act upon what is happening across the globe. Our vision can’t ignore the suffering that happens beyond our door and our community, the cries that come from across deserts and seas.

The call of the faithful is the call to advocate for many, not just for ourselves. The earth is the Lord’s and ALL that is in it. God’s concern is for all, and God’s call to be the hands and feet of that concern is to us. We can’t ignore the things God doesn’t ignore, and while our call to action doesn’t come out of the flames of a blazing bush, it comes just as urgently. There is suffering in the world. God’s people who can be found anywhere and everywhere, are suffering. We have the power and the responsibility to respond to their misery. With God’s blessing and the promise of God’s presence, answer the call.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Ripple Effect

The ripples of the water lapped the shore unevenly, out of rhythm with the steady flow of the river. Looking at the river’s edge she noticed a disturbance somewhere past her was causing miniscule waves to break all along the shore beside her. Movement elsewhere in the water was bringing the small breakers to shore swifter than they had been coming before, and the new waves were bumping into the others irregularly. Something, somewhere was moving toward her from up the river. The ripples of the water betrayed its presence or announced its arrival. I guess it depends on how the story is to turn out.

The disturbance turned out to be just that – a 3 month old baby, still dependent on a woman, someone’s mother for food and comfort and care; soon to be a boy with energy and awkwardness and rough edges and a competitive spirit; someday a young man with a call, a mission, a persistence that could drive you crazy or wear you down; then in middle age and growing old always coming back with yet another request or commandment or rule or guideline or instruction, something to change the way things are always done. A disturbance in the water was all it seemed to be that day. A disturbance in the world was what was coming down the river.

The ripples started upstream where an older girl, the baby’s older sister, was watching silently, stealthily through the reeds, waiting anxiously to see what would happen. Would this scheme of the last resort bring the baby to safety or would it just usher in the devastation the family had been blessed to avoid at least this long? Would the baby be pulled adoringly out of the water, or would he be deemed a nuisance and a threat, and subjected to the same watery death as all the rest of the newborn Hebrew boys? Miriam watched with her heart in her throat and her fists clenched in tight balls of prayer and demanding.

Ripples of protection helped guard Moses as his basket was carried down the river. Watching his destiny unfold his sister stayed close enough to see who would find the basket, ready to step in at a moment’s notice if needed. In anticipation and curiosity at least her toes must have dipped in the water as she craned her neck to see what was happening down the river.

His mother’s ripples of deliberate action saved his life in a when desperate times called for desperate measures. She was the one who hid her baby, who plastered the papyrus basket, ensuring it would be water proof and safe for her precious baby whose short life was already a unique testimony to the mysterious intersection of preparedness and providence. She was the one who pushed the child’s makeshift boat gently out from behind the reeds in the meandering river where it could drift off in the stream. Her motions and calm strength were the source of the ripples that danced at the shoreline.

Ripples of determination and holy disobedience were put into motion by the midwives’ refusal to harm, possibly the first recorded case of civil disobedience. Without their subversive spirit, the baby would never have lived this long. Fearing God and dismissing Pharaoh’s command to murder the Hebrew baby boys, the midwives kept this child from dying even before he was living in their arms.

Every person who touched the current of his life, left behind ripples of evidence of his or her presence. Some only dipped their toe in for a minute, others were there daily for years or decades. Some were faithful Hebrews, fearing Yahweh, God of the Israelites, others were Egyptians, devoted to their local gods and customs. Young and old, male and female, relationships long lasting and those that were gone in a splash – people of all kinds touched Moses’ life and sent ripples radiating out as he followed God’s call into the world.

Ripples forever change the face of still waters. They forever disrupt and reorganize the water they move through. Ripples and relationships, no matter how long the touch, can change us, do change us, and are the handiwork of God who guides and guards our lives.

This morning in the ripples of baptismal waters we forever changed B's life. In our understanding we didn’t in this one moment save her from some specific evil or hell. We didn’t throw her a spiritual life-preserver or give her a get-out-of-jail-free card. But we changed her life forever. With every ripple of the water in the font we made public the loving secret God already whispered in her tiny newborn ears. God loves you. God welcomes you. God is with you forever.

The ripples of the water poured (lovingly and excitedly) into the baptismal font share the excitement of this welcoming day. The ripples left behind as I scooped water out “three times with the word that made her new” (Walter Wangerin in Water Come Down) were a testimony to the overflowing love of God. The ripples that spread with each hand the reached in to grab a keepsake told the story again and again, “We will love you. We will nurture you. We will share our faith.”

In her baptism we made ripples in her life that will be a part of the stream of life and love that carries her forward. The Bs are moving to California this week. That makes the sacrament that we shared this morning a bit unique in its meaning for us and for them. A big part of baptismal understanding in our Presbyterian tradition is the promises we all make, B’s family, her sponsors, AND the entire congregation, to nurture her in the faith, to teach her what we know and what we believe, to be the church family to which they turn in times of great happiness and in times of struggle. Suddenly, those promises seem difficult to act upon when we realize that soon they will no longer be with us every week.

But the ever-widening circles in the waters of baptism speak to a different reality in the sacrament given to us by God. Every touch in her life – every adoring look from family, friend, and congregation, every soft kiss on her forehead, every stroke of her toe, even every prayer that is offered for her, and every blessing that is given to her – every touch in her life will send ripples of faith and love that will be a part of her life forever.

Likely this congregation, this exact gathering of the people of God will not be with B when she begins to roll over, to sit up, to crawl around the floor and get into everything, but that doesn’t not mean the God won’t be with her. That does not mean that the Body of Christ, wherever the Ms live, will not be a part of her life. The vows we took, the promises we made to God and to B and to her family, we made not just for ourselves, but for the whole church, in every time and in every place. We may not be the ones who are blessed to carry them out on a regular basis, but that does not make them any less true.

The ripples have been set in motions, and someone somewhere, in a church filled with faith and love and hope, will someday add their own ripples in the life of BGB. And likewise, today, next week or the week after that, somewhere in this country or around the world, another baby will be baptized. A congregation will make promises and a pastor will wash her in water from the font. God’s love will be celebrated, and the child will be welcomed. But, someday that family will have to leave the place they love and call home. And someday they may find themselves carried by the ripples of God’s love through our doors looking for a new faith home.

The promises we made today will be good even then, for we don’t make them just for M or just for our own children. We make them for every child of God, those we know and those we don’t, those we have seen, those will see someday, and those whose rivers of life will never be in our sight. When we promised our love and our nurture and our faith we gave the promise of the church universal, of the Body of Christ, and that church has no walls.

The midwives, the princess’ handmaids, their presence in Moses’ life seems fleeting in the story we heard. But without their unique touch, the story would not have continued. Without their lives, used by God in God’s relationship with the world, the story could have unfolded in a very different way.

Open yourself to the ripples of love God sends in the water of your own life. Open yourself to the opportunities to make ripples for others. Even just in a moment, even just in 3 weeks of a new baby’s life, our love and our faith and the love of God from which they come can make a difference in the world.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Early Ripples

I'm (probably sinfully) proud of my opening paragraphs, so here there are:

The ripples of the water lapped the shore unevenly, out of rhythm with the steady flow of the river. Looking at the river’s edge she noticed a disturbance somewhere past her was causing miniscule waves to break all along the shore beside her. Movement elsewhere in the water was bringing the small breakers to shore swifter than they had been coming before, and the new waves were bumping into the other irregularly. Something, somewhere was moving toward her from up the river. The ripples of the water betrayed its presence or announced its arrival. I guess it depends on how the story is to turn out.

The disturbance turned out to be just that – a 3 month old baby, still dependent on a woman, someone’s mother for food and comfort and care; soon to be a boy with energy and awkwardness and rough edges and a competitive spirit; someday a young man with a call, a mission, a persistence that could drive you crazy or wear you down; then in middle age and growing old always coming back with yet another commandment or rule or guideline or instruction, something to change the way things are always done. A disturbance in the water was all it seemed to be that day. A disturbance in the world was what was coming down the line.

The ripples started upstream where an older girl, the baby’s older sister, was watching silently, stealthily through the reeds, waiting anxiously to see what would happen. Would this scheme of the last resort bring the baby to safety or would it just usher in the devastation the family had been blessed to avoid at least this long? Would the baby be pulled adoringly out of the water, or would he be deemed a nuisance and a threat, and subjected to the same watery death as all the rest of the newborn Hebrew boys? Miriam watched with her heart in her throat and her fists clenched in tight balls of prayer and demanding.

You might say the ripples started with her. She was the one who was watching Moses’ destiny unfold. She was the one who stayed close enough to see who would find the basket.

The ripples began earlier than that, though, didn’t they? Sure, the baby’s mother was the one who plastered the papyrus basket, ensuring it would be water proof and safe for her precious baby whose short life was already a unique testimony to the mystical intersection of preparedness and providence. His mother was surely the source of the ripples that now found their way to the shoreline.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Friday Five

Songbird asked us these questions about dates:

1) Datebooks--how do you keep track of your appointments? Electronically? On paper? Month at a glance? Week at a glance?
I'm a paper girl. I just carry around a regular, spiral-bound (denominationally-produced) calendar. My husband and I tried to go to cheap-o Palm Pilots when I was in my last church. It worked there. But once I went on maternity leave and then changed churches we never went back to them. They are sitting plugged in on the kitchen counter in case we are so moved, but they've been there for 8 months, so I doubt we'll grab them any time soon. Our life was simplified when we moved here, so really I'm the only one with a regularly checked calendar.
2) When was the last time you forgot an important date?
A few weeks ago the secretary and I decided to go out to lunch, and I completely forgot I had a meeting with a family to plan a funeral. The death was several months before and the appointment had been on my calendar forever. I flat out didn't check my calendar that morning and too my sweet time at lunch. I was like 45 minutes late. Horrendously embarrassing!

3) When was the last time you went OUT on a date?
Actually, my husband and I went on a bruch river cruise and to the local theater production of Grease just about 3 weeks ago. Before that???? Literally almost a year. We're not so good at that making time for us thing.

4) Name one accessory or item of clothing you love even though it is dated.
A scrunchy for my hair. They just feel better around a ponytail at the gym and don't break my hair. My older sister the fashionista totally shamed me about still owning some the last time I visited her. Now they're all hidden in the dark recesses of my bathroom drawers.

5) Dates--the fruit--can't live with 'em? Or can't live without 'em?
No desire to live with 'em whatsoever.

Monday, August 18, 2008

It takes all kinds!

I have quite a congregation this coming Sunday. I'm not quite sure where to start with my sermon thinking. First of all, there's a baptism which I love. The baby being baptized is a 2 1/2 week old (or will be by then) whose family is moving halfway across the country the next day. Her parents are not members of the church. Her mom has been very active here for about 18 months, but by the time I was installed and she knew she wanted to join, she also found out that they were moving, so she didn't bother to join officially. I can understand that. Her husband is what I call an "evangelical" atheist. An atheist and proud of it, and one who really wants others to be atheists, too. I know he tolerates his wife's faith, but is less than thrilled by it, and certainly doesn't like the kids coming to church. The new baby is child #3.

So, we've got the faithful non-member mom, maybe some of her Lutheran-based family, the atheist dad (who tried to refuse to come to the service), the atheist's atheist family, friends and others from their circles and families who are also using this to say goodbye to the family as they move.

So that's on one hand. On the other we have the VERY (Christian) evangelical, believers' baptism-based worship band from the ecumenical youth ministry in town. My guess is that many of these youth have never seen an infant baptism.

Oi! What a mix!

I feel like I've got a lot of "splaining" to do to all these various parties and to my congregation itself! Not sure how to do this, but my initial thoughts are sort of like this - - -

I'm starting with the Exodus string of readings for the next several weeks/months. If I remember correctly my plan has me sticking with it through the 10 commandments on the first Sunday in October. So this week is the birth of Moses and his "rescue" by the Egyptian princess. By my count it took at least 6 people to get Moses on the right track for the start of his life and his ministry (2 named midwives - maybe a stretch, but the idea is there; his mom; his sister; the princess; the princesses maid). That's a lot of named or noted people in one Bible baby's story! Anyway, my basic thought is that it takes a lot of people from a lot of varied places to get Moses started on the life God is preparing for him.

The same is true for babies we baptize. It takes a whole community (Do I sound like Hillary Clinton? I'm going to try to avoid that.) to carry each one of our children forward in their God-blessed lives - a diverse community of people of faith, different faith, maybe no faith. It doesn't matter. God uses diverse means to get the job done!

Eh - - a late night thought last night. I think I might run with it.

Friday, August 15, 2008

In the Boat

Matthew 14:22-33

Peter. Oh Peter! You gotta love him, right? What would the gospels be like if we didn’t have Peter there to spice things up a little? To put a human face on the sometimes anonymous group of disciples? To make these men and women who followed Jesus at the drop of a hat seem a little more normal? I love Peter’s stories because I can at the same time marvel at his commitment and chuckle at his impulsive nature.

Peter gets a lot of attention, a lot of “good lines”, and is present at a lot of key moments. He seems to be a favorite disciple, but, at the same time, he tends to rush into things. He speaks before he thinks. He says what many are thinking, but no one else has the guts to voice. He asks the questions, and when questions are asked, he gives the answers. And one thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of the answers Peter gives and his memorable one-liners aren’t necessarily the “right” things to say.

Think about Peter up on the mountain with Jesus at the time of the Transfiguration. Peter and James watched as Jesus was transfigured, changed, right before their very eyes. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared with them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. It was a glorious moment, and Peter, the excited, impulsive disciple blurts out, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish I will make three dwellings here, one of you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah!”

It sounded good in the moment didn’t it? Sort of a dream-like divine mountain-top spa reunion. Jesus got a facial, and a new wardrobe; he was there with two close friends, and then like a flash there’s a blast from the past and two more he hasn’t seen in ages show up! We’ve all had those kinds of vacations that we never want to end. Peter’s idea doesn’t sound too foreign. Why not build a place to stay and never go back to the real world? It sounded good in the moment.

Or how about the time just before that when Peter blew it? RIGHT AFTER he quickly and correctly exclaimed to Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Hardly any time at all after he made this perfect statement of faith and theology, he showed how little he really got it, contradicting Jesus’ report that soon he would undergo great suffering, be killed, and then be raised from the dead. Just as understandably as before, but just as incorrectly, Peter pulled Jesus aside, saying “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”

There’s also his denial of Jesus after his arrest. At their last supper together Jesus told Peter that he would deny his Lord not one, not two, but three times that very day. Peter couldn’t believe it, saying, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” Within a few hours his impulsive story has changed, “Woman, I do not know him.”

Poor Peter. I mean, he definitely has his shining moments, but there’s no hiding that he’s human and that even when he seems to be tracking right along with Jesus, he also has the tendency to really…miss the boat. (SO SORRY!)

Today when we meet the disciples they have been put in a boat by Jesus. He was unsuccessful at getting away by himself earlier that day, but now that the crowds have dispersed Jesus seizes the opportunity to go up the mountain and pray. He very deliberately and purposefully puts the disciples into a boat and sends them on ahead with no explanation of how he plans to catch up with them.

As their boat starts moving across the sea a storm begins to stir the waters, and before long the disciples and their boat are being tossed this way and that. All of the disciples, Peter included, are scared out of their wits. By early morning the storm has been battering the boat, or torturing it, an even more descriptive translation, for HOURS. And while several of these men are not unfamiliar with boats nor the Sea of Galilee, familiarity doesn’t make them any more comfortable with the violent storm.

As a child and teenager I sailed quite often on a small boat with my father, but I took a several YEAR hiatus after a particularly FRIGHTFUL experience on the water. A storm stirred up on the day we had to move our sailboat from one marina to another. Until that day I was very comfortable and pretty fearless on the boat, but I had never before had I experienced anything like the storm through which we sailed that day.

The skies were almost pitch black, and the clouds were swirling threatenly. Thunder clapped and lightning snapped. The rain came down in torrents. As the wind whipped around us we tipped well past the 45 degree mark on my dad’s gauge. The sails were dangling in the water until we could finally get them down so that they wouldn’t rip. The rudder and motor couldn’t even stay in the water because we were being tossed so violently. Previously confident on the water, I was scared to death that day.

Remembering that day now it’s not hard for me to understand why, in ancient times, the seas were a symbol of chaos, the unknown, and even demonic forces. Think of the way they often represent uncertainty, evil, and disorder in biblical literature as in the creation account in the first chapter of Genesis. In the beginning there was nothing but a formless voice, the chaotic watery deep over which the breath of God swept in order for creation and life to begin. Later it is water that is used to destroy the whole earth, to send corrupted creation back into chaos, so that God could start over gain with one righteous family.

The tossing and churning of rough unpredictable open water also seems to be a fitting metaphor for the tumultuous times and situations in life that seem to just batter our boats and our families. I know there are anxious men and women among us as jobs are on the line, health conditions are uncertain, and relationships are in distress. We worry about the heath and well-being of family and friends. Financial stability seems difficult to sustain. Difficult decisions weigh on our hearts and minds. The chaos of life, the storm of our responsibilities, the waves of our circumstances can be terrifying, menacing, and can leave us doubting the existence, the presence, and the nature of God, this same God we have heard and believed is with us in everything.

And when that happens, when doubt starts creeping in and blurring our vision, things can go from bad to worse. The problem is that when we we’re not sure we believe that God is even there any more, all too often we try to do what we think God isn’t. We try to save ourselves. We do what Sarah tried to do when she got impatient waiting for God to follow through with the promise of a child and a great nation of blessings. We try to take things into our own hands. We try to do what Peter did when he was scared in the boat and apparently doubted Jesus’ faithfulness to his disciples. We try to do the things only God can, and take on the power of chaos by our own will and stubbornness.

This isn’t how we usually read this passage is it? Usually Peter is praised and lauded for his enormous courage and faith in Jesus, even if a little doubt creeps in and throws off his concentration. Keep your eyes upon Jesus, that’s what I usually hear when I read this passage. This time though, maybe we can hear something different.

I mean, was this really the best time for a magic trick? A storm was all around them, and Peter’s interested in getting out of the boat to walk on water like Jesus. What about the eleven men he left in the boat? Was he thinking about them when he asked to get out of the boat? Why not ask Jesus for some proof that’s a little more relevant to the whole group. Instead of “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water,” wouldn’t the more compassionate test have been, “Lord, if it is you, stop this storm?” Jesus had calmed seas before. Certainly he could do it again. If Peter needed proof, and I’m not so sure he really did, why didn’t he ask him to replicate a miracle from the past?

So what if instead of Peter’s place of little faith being the moment he started sinking, it was actually when he asked to come out of the boat? Maybe this is one of those times when Peter’s impulsive speech is necessarily his most faithful speech? What if his time of weakness was in thinking that he can dominate over the chaos, that he should carry himself out of the battered boat, out of the storm, out of the turmoil he was facing? What if his lack of faith was in doubting that Jesus would come to stop the storm or at the very least be present with the disciples in the midst of it? What then does this miracle tell us?

It is sort one of the greatest human flaws, is it not? To think we can do the things God can do? It goes back to the garden. The serpent tempts Adam and Eve with the ability to think like God, to know good and evil. It goes back to Sarah trying to solve the problem God already promised to get her out of. And here it is again. Peter, thinking he should be able to do the things only God can do, steps out of the boat. Wanting to rule over the thrashing sea, the churning waves, the stormy chaos, HE asks for the power to step out of the boat.

You know, when I immersed myself in this text the week I was somewhat surprised by that. When I retell this story to myself, without reading the actual words, as I remember hearing it, I tell how Jesus commanded Peter to come out of the boat onto the water. It doesn’t quite happen that way. Getting out of the boat is Peter’s idea, not Jesus’. Yes, Jesus goes along with it, but doesn’t he often let us teach ourselves a lesson? He is always there with us in the lesson, and he is often even willing to reach out and lift us up when the lesson becomes overwhelming, but I’d dare say that he NEVER asks us to do the things only God can do. He doesn’t ask us to do the things that are possible only for the Creator, not the creation. I don’t think Jesus asked Peter to get out of the boat.

But Peter did, and so do we. When it feels like Jesus is taking a little too long to show up in the midst of our crisis, when his face is obscured by the storm clouds that have gathered, when the sheets of rain and the tossing waves make it next to impossible to see who or what it is that walks toward us, we, too, try to take matters into our own hands. We distance ourselves from family who frustrate us. We abandon our companions in the church or our friends who have pledged to walk with us in our trials. We hoard wealth to make ourselves feel more secure. We ignore those in need around us because we think it’s OK to just look out for number one. We begin to sink deeper and deeper into the disorder as we try to make order out of what we see in front of us.

But we can’t do it. At least we can’t do it for long. We can’t gather together the chaos and mold it and shape it and breathe life into it that is blessed and called good. We can’t walk on water. Eventually we will start to sink.

We can’t do, but thankfully, miraculously, Jesus can. In the middle of the storm, when we’re being battered and tossed and turned every which way, Jesus is the one who walks to us on the water. Jesus is the one with the power to find strong footing on the tenuous surface. Jesus is the one who has dominion over all the forces that torment our lives, and Jesus in his time, and in his way, can calm the storms that threaten us.

The truth of the matter is, Jesus knows what he is doing when he sends us out in these boats, in these lives and these communities. He knows that the situation will not always be calm and serene. He knows that the conditions will not always be favorable for smooth sailing. He knows this, but he sends us out in the boat together anyway, because he knows he will always be with us. He knows, even when we doubt it, that he will come to us, that he will pull us up when we are drowning even under our own arrogance and false sense of self-sufficiency. He knows that the wind can be calmed, and the storms will come to an end.

For this we can worship him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

photo credit: Eric Kilby via photopin cc

Early sermon

I am going to bed on a Friday night at a relatively decent hour with a sermon written. This is unheard of for me. I mean NEVER in my ministry that I can recall has a sermon been done on a Friday. ONCE I got one finished before midnight on Saturday, but never on a Friday.

I have to say that this weekday writing takes MUCH more time than Saturday night/Sunday morning writing. I don't know that I like the result very much either. It was a lot harder to accomplish, and I don't know that the quality was worth the attempt. I don't know how I feel about the whole thing and especially my tone. I sure do write different in daylight hours. I don't know if I like the result yet. I don't think I'm very objective. It's definitely different, but I'm not going to scrap it. I worked too hard to make this happen!

I guess I'll still have the opportunity to tweak it tomorrow as needed, but for the most part it's done.


That part does feel good, but if I'm sacrificing my comfort in what is written for the feeling of being done early, I don't know if it's worth it. We'll see. I still need to finish (OK start) learning the Scripture for the story telling portion of worship. This is going to be a fun one since I'm on the Peter walking on water, Jesus calming the sea story. It's a good one for storytelling.

Friday Five - Fall Transformations

Mary Beth prompts: For this Friday's Five, share with us five transformations that the coming fall will bring your way.

Bonus: Give us your favorite activity that is made possible by the arrival of fall.

Mine are mostly vocational, I think, and mostly hopeful:
1. Transformation of attitude - Mine is sort of stinky when it comes to some intra-staff stuff at the church I with God's help it is mine to change.

2. Transformation of time management - I'm farting around too much on the internet and I'm neglecting pastoral care. I am frustrated with myself for it, but have not yet put in place the accountability checks I need to fix that.

3. Transformation of habits - I'm stressed out at home by the state of our disaster area/house. I just need to get in the habit of putting things away when I'm done. Cleaning up right after this meal, and not waiting until later. Picking up toys at the end of each day instead of once a month. I also need to find a non-threatening, non-blaming way to bring my husband in to this project.

4. Transformatin of blog - Maybe? I'm considering editing a few of my previous posts and going public. I'm not sure yet. I see value in both ways, and I realize I could keep two, but I know I wouldn't.

5. Transformation of health - This is a continuation of something started in the last few months. I've hit sort of a doldrums in the process, but I need to kick it back into gear to get active and get healthy with my eating habits.

Bonus: Wow. Those were heavy. The big thing fall brings that I can wait for? FOOTBALL!!!!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The show went on!

The show mentioned below ("One Step Back") was last night. It was BEAUTIFUL to watch all that uninhibited passion and excitement both for the youth/young adults performing and the adults and siblings and others in the audience. Some of these parents have never had the "normal" experience of watching their child on stage, waving at them in the middle of a song or shouting out during a break in song - - and we celebrated the 20th birthday of one of the performers during the show. It must have been a long wait for many of these families to experience this. It was a fantastic event.

I was SO PROUD of how many from our congregation turned out for the musical. I'd guess that we were easily 1/3 of the audience, and we have just one family with a youth with a disability who was performing. A couple of congregation members have volunteered in this organization in the past, but for the most part our partnership has just been in space sharing. I think I hear God calling us to more, and I hope we will move toward discerning that in the future. Last night may have been a first step. It was wonderful to see so many experiencing this musical.

Sometimes we able-bodied grown-ups and families are intimidated by people in wheelchairs, or those who talk different, or move different, or express themselves loudly, or look different, or are silent, or who just have developed the same way we have. Seeing this performance was a great non-threatening way to be introduced to the community. I can't wait for more!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Jesus is my boyfriend

I just led worship at the nursing home. It was pretty uneventful in a good way (you never know with nursing home worship) until the very end of my sermon/meditation. One gentlemen who had been sitting quietly until now starting asking (a little on the loud side), "Who is she talking about? Who? Hey! Who are you talking about? Your boyfriend?"

Shhhhhh....don't tell my husband. Jesus is my boyfriend.

One step back

I'm feeling sort of sad. I am probably also feeling sort of angry, but I'm really trying HARD not to feel judgemental.

Our congregation partners with a very special non-profit organization in our community that works with youth and young adults with disabilities. Most of their clients have developmental delays combined with various physical and medical challenges. It is a fantastic organization, and although there are growing pains as our partnership continually evolves we love having them in our building, and, in fact, they probably use "our" building more than "we" do. It is a purely "secular" organization in that other than our arrangement of space-sharing, there are no religious programs or ties. (I do hope to someday help provide a spiritual enrichment ministry to these families, but that's another post for another day.)

The group runs a summer day camp, and all summer long they have been working diligently with two daughters of the church (one a new special ed teacher and the other a choral instructor, both of them sisters to each other and a high school brother with autism) to prepare for a summer's-end musical. The performance is here in our sanctuary Wednesday night, and I couldn't be more thrilled!!!

The mother of the daughters and son just mentioned came to me after the youth had all been picked up yesterday and asked, "What do Jehovah's Witnesses believe?" I was caught off-guard and had to admit that I didn't know too much about them. My grandfather's third wife (again, another post for another day - - or maybe not!) was a sort-of Jehovah's Witness. I mean, she didn't practice much, but she did go to Ohio to be with her family, or more correctly, away from ours and our celebrations at Christmas. That was about all I knew.

Well, it turns out that the leading lady in the musical is a Jehovah's Witness. Her mother decided to pull her from the production when she found out it was being performed in our sanctuary. She was LIVID to find out that her daughter had been practicing there for the last couple of weeks. Apparently it had taken her a few years to finally become comfortable enough with the location of the day camp inside our church building to even let her daughter come participate. In years past she wouldn't even enroll her because they would have to step through our doors.

The daughter was heart-broken to find out she wouldn't be performing. You could just hear her crying throughout the building. It was so sad.

Again, I'm trying to be understanding. I'm trying not to be judgemental. I read a little about Jehovah's Witnesses yesterday and found though that they don't want their children to be "corrupted" by other false religions and this prevents them from even walking into churches of other faiths. I'm impressed that the mom let her daughter come this far after reading what I did, but I'm still extremely puzzled, a little offended, and deeply saddened that this is the state of ecumenical affairs with this particular tradition. Have we not come further than this?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Bathtub communion

Only the pastor's kid right?

Last night I was needing a bit of a mommy break and so I set LadyPrincess up with one of her favorite pasttimes a "good bath". The quality of the baths in our house is directly proportional to the amount of water allowed in the tub. The more water, the better the bath. Last night's bath for the 3 year old was just shy of divine.

In more way than one.

Don't berate me for leaving my kid somewhat unattended in the tub. I won't listen to you anyway. LP was taking her (very full) bath and I was in the living room on the couch reading my latest Christian Century. Her singing and chattering (and splashing - ugh) was evidence enough for me that she was not drowning. I wasn't really paying attention to what she was saying, just tuning in enough to know that she was saying something (and, therefore, not drowning).

As a finished one article, though, and was turning the page to start on the next. I heard her talking about pizza crust. It's been a while since we've had pizza so I wondered what brought that on. I listened a little closer. I realized I misheard her. She was really saying "Peace of Christ". That alone cracked me up. Not too many kids pass the peace to floating dolphin toys I suspect.

Well, next I heard her saying "Peace of Christ cup". At this point I couldn't sit by any longer. I had to go investigate.

When I looked into the tub there on every available ledge were various plastic cups (usual bathtub toys at our house) each with a plastic dolphin sitting happily inside. I asked LadyPrincess what she was doing. She said, "I'm doing the Peace of Christ cup." (Duh, Mom, is how I really interpreted that.)

Then I asked what exactly one does with a Peace of Christ Cup.

She demonstrated. "You take your pretend bread" (a smiling purple plastic Flipper) "And dip it in the Peace of Christ Cup, then you eat it, then you go back to your seat quietly." (Apparently my husband was having a hard time keeping her quiet in worship that morning, so I bet he'd be happy to find out at least one lesson stuck!)

As I write about it today I wonder if she knows the difference in her mind between "piece" and "peace". I mean, this is the same little girl who calls the drawbridge the coloring bridge. Piece of Christ Cup has a whole new (or really ancient), not so Reformed meaning.

Anyway, at the time I thought about using this "teachable moment" to talk about the Peace of Christ Cup and what it means, but sometimes a cup and a dolphin just have to be a cup and a dolphin, or a Peace of Christ Cup and pretend bread. Either way, it seemed too much of a stretch to make something out of it, so I just enjoyed watching her relive and recreate the communion celebration of the morning worship.

May the Peace of Christ be with you!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

My First Story

I tried out my new story-telling in worship this morning. I gave a little introduction to what it was all about and why I was doing it. I said that part of my reason was for myself. It's true. I am needing something to help me dig into the Scriptures even more, and storytelling seems to be it. It's a challenge. It's rooted in the Bible. It's creative. And I think it's something I will be good at.

What's strange about this morning's story is that I can't really even remember it. I don't think I made any glaring mistakes. I didn't have the story blocked out as well as I did for the Acts story I did at Synod School, but I think that's OK. I moved around the chancel area in a way that felt like it made sense. One of the only things I can remember thinking during the whole thing was that a few of my gestures may have been cheesy and appeared too rehearsed since they weren't very natural or flowing.

I was also very aware of my preaching after the story-telling in a new way. It was interesting to hear myself as it was going on. I loved my delivery.

Next week is Peter in the boat. We'll see how that goes.

Give Them Something

It makes sense that Jesus is trying to get away for just a little bit after hearing the news of the death of his cousin, his partner really in ministry. I love how the opening sentence stresses how hard Jesus tried to get away. He withdrew, to a deserted place, by himself. This is a man who needed some alone time. He did what he could to lose the crowds for a little, get into a boat, and just go away.

But, it didn’t work. The crowds couldn’t just let him go. They heard the same news, but still they wanted to see Jesus. It would be nice to think that maybe they followed him in sympathy, wanting to be companions to him in his grief. However, it sounds like they followed him instead worried about their own needs at least as much as Jesus’, and probably more. When Jesus saw the crowds he had compassion for them. It doesn’t say that he was touched by their love or felt lifted up by their understanding of his grief and need to be a lone for a little while. It says he saw the crowds and had compassion for them. He saw their suffering and was drawn so far into it, he could do nothing else, but try to stop it.

Had he been a seminary student, probably a student pastor working part-time in a parish, or more likely a mission field, while studying part time in school, Jesus would have immediately failed the “clergy self-care” portion of the curriculum. “You need to set clearer boundaries,” the professor would have written. “You can not effectively care for others while you yourself are so newly experiencing profound grief.” He would have be reprimanded for immediately jumping back into ministry when the crowds came calling instead of carefully and pastorally explaining that in order to care for the congregation to the best of his ability he had to first care for himself.

I guess it’s a good thing Jesus wasn’t in seminary! Because while his reaction may not have been the popular decision among ancient world grief counselors, it was the perfect decision for the Son of God. Looking at the crowds that have followed him on foot from the surrounding towns, he had compassion on them. People had been hearing about this prophet and teacher and miracle worker. He could cure the sickest of the sick. He could heal those who had spent a lifetime doubled over in pain. He could cast out demons, and make the paralyzed walk. If he could do all of this and more, certainly he could heal meal, too. Grief or no grief, I just have this one quick need, and he’s so powerful, he can just take care of it quickly.

Quickly wasn’t on Jesus’ mind, though. Apparently he took his time moving among the crowds with compassion for them, suffering in their suffering, and, I’m sure, rejoicing in their healing and newfound freedom from disease, evil spirits, and the society that probably shunned them. Jesus had compassion for the crowds, and could just leave them while he was suffering. The way to relieve his experience of pain and loss was to help others be rid of theirs.

I love imagining the disciples in stories like these. I am just drawn to these ordinary men who have so recently signed on for so much with so little understanding or knowledge of what it will be like. He wanted to get away, but now he’s surrounded by people. What is up with this guy??? He needed to be alone, but then the crowds showed up. He’s too nice to turn them away I imagine they think, so here he is at the end of another long day having had no time to himself. With all good intentions both for the crowd’s well-being and Jesus’, the disciples attempt to dismiss those who are gathered to nearby villages for the evening meal.

“Jesus, it’s getting late. We should let these people eat. Why don’t you let us help them move along so they can find something to eat somewhere else. You’ve given them what you can, now it’s time to send them away so we can get back to taking care of us.”

That compassion stuff is hard work! I mean, we know it is good and necessary and even fulfilling, right? But it is hard work! It is exhausting to care not just for or about someone, but suffer alongside with them until their suffering becomes our suffering and the burden is lifted. Compassion, literally suffering with, is hard work. It’s tiring and at the end of a long day of compassion-ing we tend to want to retreat back into ourselves and take some time to be rebuilt and rejuvenated.

Jesus had other ideas, though. “There’s no need to send them away. YOU give them something.” This is no time to turn our backs on these people. This is no time to lose them or their attention. They are here. They are with me. They are looking for God, in the presence of the divine, experiencing the Spirit, and joined together in community. Don’t send them away now. They are hungry! We can feed them.

But the disciples are the practical ones, and who can blame them. If food is promised and food isn’t delivered, who do you think the crowds are going to come after? The one who just healed them? Or his security detail? I’m pretty sure the healer is off the hook on this one. The disciples are the front lines and then know there is not nearly enough food and the crowd is way too large to attempt to feed with a couple of fish and a basket of bread. This just isn’t going to work they try to explain to Jesus, “We have nothing here.”

“You give them SOMETHING,” Jesus says. These people are ready to receive whatever we have to give. You give them something. These people are looking, are searching, are open to God’s love. You give them something. These people are hungry for God who cares not just for their spirits but their bodies, not just the eternal, but the present, not just their salvation, but their quality of life. You give them something.

I love that Jesus didn’t let the disciples off the hook. I love that he didn’t agree. “Oh you’re right. We’re not big enough. We don’t have enough. We can’t possibly make a difference to this crowd.” He didn’t do that! He didn’t let them use the excuse that they weren’t big enough, that they didn’t have enough. He didn’t let them turn the crowds away. He didn’t let them shirk the responsibility before them to minister to those who had encountered Christ. He didn’t let them take the easy road or delay their ministry because they were small in number and short on resources.

You give them something.

Jesus took what they had. It seemed meager to the disciples as they brought it forward. It’s just a couple fish and a few loaves of bread. It’s nothing. It’s never going to be enough to get the job done. But Jesus took what they had, ALL OF IT, nothing was held back out of fear or disbelief. He took what they had and he blessed it and he broke it and he gave it to them.

Does this sound familiar?

He took the bread, and he blessed it, and he broke it, and he gave it to them.
It’s exactly what he does for us. At this table, in our worship, he gives us this miracle - - the miracle of a small bite of bread and a tiny drink of the fruit if the vine becoming the bread of life and the cup of salvation. It’s exactly what he does for us, and exactly what he does with us.

You give them something, Jesus says. The crowds are there. They are experiencing me. They are healed by me. They are searching for me. You give them something.

Whatever we have, whatever we are, no matter what it seems to us, in Jesus’ hands, blessed by God, and inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is MORE than enough. The disciples took what Jesus gave them and used it to feed those who were gathered. The multiplication took place, the miracle happened right then and there and it’s possible that less than 1% of those present even knew it was happening. The crowds didn’t know from where the bread was coming or didn’t come. The people just knew they were being fed.

A few fed many. A little went a long way - - farther than a long way. A little went all the way there and back, for when the crowds had been fed and when the people were filled, what was left over was collected. The broken pieces, the crumbs and half eaten seconds and thirds left behind on the grass - - they all filled 12 baskets. It was more than they had to start with.

A few fed many, and many and a few were blessed because of it.

Bring what you have to the table of the Lord. Bring what you have to Jesus. It is enough It will be blessed, broken, and given to you to give to the world in his name. It is more than enough!

photo credit: hoyasmeg via photopin cc

Monday, August 4, 2008

Back at it

I'm back from Synod School and trying to focus in here today. Really. I'm trying. I'm also contemplating going public with the blog. Not sure yet. I'd have to edit some published things a bit, but there shouldn't be too much. I guess I'm just trying to decide what the purpose of this blog is, and that will help me make my decision. I don't really blog too much that's "incriminating" or whining about the church or people. If I did a lot of that I'd want to stay anonymous. I don't, though, so what's the harm in attaching a name to this? Not much that I can think of right now. It might also be a good thing to attach to the congregation's website and do some more intentional mixing of scripture, theology, family and faith stuff. We'll see. I'll keep thinking on it.

My thoughts are stemming from an archived post I read a while back on Bruce Reyes-Chow's blog.

So anyway - - off to worship prep for Sunday. I think I'm going to try starting my biblical storytelling that I learned last week. I LOVED doing it at Synod School, and think it could be a fruitful part of my ministry, or at least my own spiritual discipline and sermon prep. We'll see.