Thursday, April 28, 2011

Big Questions

Questions?photo © 2008 Valerie Everett | more info (via: Wylio)
The ecumenical youth ministry our congregation is a part of is having an "Ask A Pastor" night at its meetings next week. I've signed up to be the pastor for the senior high group. The 20-something male youth leader is the other "pastor" fielding questions. He's non-ordained from an evangelical, non-denominational (I think) background. The youth come from Episcopal, ELCA Lutheran, American Baptist, and un-churched backgrounds. My own PC(USA) church has no high schoolers right now, so there aren't any of us in the mix.

We tried this in the fall and the kids didn't ask too many questions on the spot so it was different. The questions they did ask were "surface" questions. This time they have been submitting them in written form, and things are getting more interesting.

Just thought I'd share what's on the kids' minds and definitely get any input on answering any of them!!!

1. What is your favorite verse?

2. Was Jesus a Caucasian?

3. How old was Jesus when he died?

4. Why don’t the people in the Bible have last names?

5. How can I know I have a soul?

6. How long are people in heaven?

7. How can I know my faith is real?

8. What is your favorite part of a church service?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Thomas...Again!

I say that somewhat jokingly because even though Thomas shows up in the lectionary every. single. year. on the second Sunday of Easter. I believe I have preached from his story exactly once. Even as an associate pastor I think I dodged this one most of the time. Our annual youth Sunday was usually the week after Easter, and after we moved that it turned into Confirmation Sunday. I usually let the kids pick my text for that one, or at least give me a few suggestions.

Anyway! So here we are at Thomas Sunday AGAIN, and I'm looking for God's word for us this time around. I looked up my last one, and I still like it which is not that helpful. It's only been two years, and although I'm certain no one else will remember it, I would feel bad pulling from the bag again already. So, here it goes.

Right now I'm thinking about the role of the church in a world of Thomases, not so much doubting Thomases, but questioning Thomases, Thomases who just haven't seen any proof yet. We can't blame Thomas for wanting the good fortune of the same experience the others had of Jesus. I bet any one of them would have asked for the same proof, the same evidence of Jesus' resurrection that he asked for. I mean, it was a pretty unbelievable thing.

The book review and discussion of UnChristian at RevGals yesterday and my own reading around in some of John Shelby Spong's and Marcus Borg's stuff (surprising all three of these have led me to a united thought) have got me thinking about all the folks who question the church, who are looking for some proof about the claims we make, the things we say are true.

I think that's where I'm going with Thomas this year. So he's asking his questions, so good. He should ask them. People all around us are asking their questions, too. If Christians are the body of Christ, where is the proof? What are we doing that shows our love for Jesus, his love for the world? What do our hands look like? I'm not looking for marks of crucifixion here, but marks or signs that we're doing what he did, working for the peace he says he brings.

Watch out, folks, this could get preachy, especially with less time than usual (communion and ordination/installation of officers), but I like the general track I'm on. Maybe I'm even far enough along that I'll be able to write on my writing day tomorrow!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Set back

A couple of weeks ago I had my first set back since starting Couch to 5K. One week before Palm Sunday I went for my second ever outside run. The weather has NOT been cooperating with me this so-called spring, so most of my runs have been on the treadmill. Two days before this second outside run, I had also tried one on the indoor track at the Y. It's a short one (mind-numbingly short 17 laps=1 mile), but it was better than the treadmill after I had experienced my first "free range" run outside.

Well, Monday morning I woke up, but could barely move. My back was a mess. A huge mess. It was extremely difficult to get myself out of bed, showered, dressed, not to mention getting 3 kids dressed and out the door to school and daycare. It was a horribly painful day. The next day was even worse, and I called my doctor to see if there was anything to do.

I had a sciatic nerve problems with each of my three pregnancies, and had a real bad flare up about 6 months after my second child was born. This was that bad. Last time it was 2 weeks before we were moving from Lincoln, Nebraska to Hudson, Wisconsin, so I did some intense physical therapy to get it good enough to survive the packing, the moving, and the 7 hour drive. It worked and all was well. I have had a few twinges here and there since, but nothing that knocked me off me feet again until this month.

I saw my doctor, got some steroids, decided to hold off on stronger pain meds if I could, and heard about options for longer term treatment if another flare up comes back. Mostly, though, I was discouraged. I felt defeated. Here I was FINALLY trying to take care of myself, FINALLY trying to get in shape, FINALLY trying to do something new and good for me and I was benched with this miserable back. I was particularly upset that it was disrupting my Couch to 5K program. Just days before I had signed up for my first ever 5K that falls just a week after I am planning to finish the 9 week program. Time off me feet and out of my running shoes means potentially missing that goal.

Back Painphoto © 2008 Andreanna Moya | more info (via: Wylio)
My the third day or so of the steroid treatment I started to feel better, but I was scared to get started again. I was also scared that not starting again would set me a week or two back in the program. I have let myself lapse in exercise before. In fact that is usually when I have quit. Coming back after a break was so discouraging that I haven't wanted to continue.

On about day 5 of the prescription I went back to the gym. I decided I would repeat the week I had to put on hold, all three runs. I decided to hop on the (booooooor-ring) treadmill instead of the track since I heard that may have been part of my problem. Our track is notoriously hard and painful for runners. I did so with great fear and trembling.

You know what, though? It went alright. I didn't lose much time or endurance at all really. I kept my old pace, if not increased it. I did it without sliding backwards, losing my energy, or quitting because it was easy to quit. The on-line community at #runrevrun and RunRevRun were a huge part of that success. I knew people were watching for me. I knew people were on a similar slow and steady path toward healthier living. I felt the companionship and encouragement of the community, and that made me want to push on. Week 5 worked well as a re-run and even really seemed to be a turning point for me and my attitude.

I feel like there may be parallels here for my spiritual discipline, or lack there of. I have that same tendency to quit when I lapse in prayer or reading Scripture for something OTHER than preaching or teaching. I have tried books and reading schedules and the daily office and devotionals, but nothing has quite held my attention in recent days (OK years). I have had short spurts of discipline usually during an Advent or Lent season, but when I have reached my "goal" I lose my commitment.

Maybe there's something to learn from the new care for my physical self in my need to care for my spiritual self, too. Accountability and community seems to be an important part. Pushing through when I just feel tired is probably key, too. Mostly, though, I think I need to recover the sense that THIS IS IMPORTANT. This is something God created me to do and to be - - a physically and spiritually healthy child of God. Connecting to the Spirit is something I need to rediscover so that just like with my running, I can continue to develop into the mother, wife, and pastor God is calling me to be.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Living the Resurrection - Easter sermon

beach shadows in touch on isla canela, spainphoto © 2007 fester_franz | more info (via: Wylio)
Matthew 28:1-10
Jeremiah 31:1-6
Colossians 3:1-3

Last Sunday when we were leaving church K, my 5 year old daughter, was walking in front of me, a little too close in front of me. She has this habit of walking right in front of me, and it's sort of cute and sort of annoying. I try to remember it's cute when I'm feeling mostly annoyed by it. It's like she wants to be independent and walk not right next to me, but at the same time there's some kind of tether that pulls her to walk closer because she also doesn't want to get too far. She ends up walking right in front of me, criss-crossing across my path really just about 3/4 of a step in front of me. See the annoying part?

Well, she was doing it last Sunday as we were walking across the parking lot of the church to our car, but not only was she walking annoying closely in front of me, she was also bopping her head up and down, starting and stopping, and generally just driving me nuts with it. With the baby in my arms and simply trying not to fall over her, the cute part had definitely left a while ago. I begged her to stop and just walk when she told me, "But we have two heads! I want us to just have one head!”

Uhhhhh…what? I didn’t get it. “We have one body, but two heads!!!” she insisted, pointing to the parking lot pavement in front of us. She was right. On our combined shadow in front of us we had one body, as my shadow engulfed hers, but we had two heads. “I want to hide my shadow in yours,” she said.

I wonder if that’s what the women were trying to do when they went to the tomb early in the morning on the day after the Sabbath. It wouldn’t have been right for them to go any earlier. They couldn’t travel, especially not to the place where the dead are buried, on the Sabbath. But as soon as there was light on the next day, they made their way to the tomb, not in Matthew’s gospel to take care of his body, but just to see, to know with their own eyes, their own minds, their own experiences where Jesus’ body lay, just to lose themselves in him.

But on the way there, the earth shook, the stone rolled, and everything in the world, everything they had ever known or believed or trusted was changed. “He is not here; for he has been raised,” they were told by the angel they saw instead of Jesus. “He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” Go, the angel told the women. Go and tell the rest of the disciples. Go, all of you, to Galilee and be with him. Hide your shadow in his.

Eugene Peterson, a Presbyterian pastor and author of the Bible version called The Message, likes to tell how this passage, these words from the angel, helped him get over his anxiety whenever he was thrust into a difficult situation. It reminded him that no matter how fast he could get to the hospital when word came that a church member was ill, Christ was already there. When I worked as a chaplain in an Atlanta hospital we talked about how even as ministers it wasn’t up to us to bring God into a patient’s room. God was already there. Our job was just to seek where God was already working in the room and join God in the ministry taking place.

Jesus went ahead of them to Galilee. He was alive and already there. They just had to join him. They just had to find him, what he was doing, and hide themselves in him.

This is what Easter is about. Or at least this is what the resurrection is about according to Paul’s letter to the Colossians, and the resurrection is what Easter is about. We all know it’s not about bunnies and eggs and chocolate and jelly beans, although, who was sad to get any of those this morning? We know that Easter isn’t about all of those things, and we probably even know it’s about the resurrection, but then that’s where we get tripped up sometimes.

We get caught up in thinking that the resurrection is a story to believe (or even disbelieve). We get caught up in trying to work out the historical details, so that we can know what really did (or didn’t) happen. We debate whether it was physical or spiritual, whether it was literal or metaphorical. We get stuck in the details of the resurrection event itself, of Easter day itself, and completely forget or never even realize that even more than one event on one day, the resurrection is about life.

It is about a life-altering, transformative way of life. It’s not just something that happened to Jesus. According to Matthew’s telling, according to Paul’s letter, it’s a whole new way of being, a way of being with Jesus who is alive and in the world and calling us to join him. Resurrection is for us even today!

When we gathered for worship with First Baptist Church on Good Friday the scriptures we heard and the word I was called to preach reminded us that in Jesus of Nazareth God became human. Willingly and loving, Jesus emptied himself, gave up some of what it meant to be God to also be human. He submitted himself to the limitations of our life even to the point of death, death on a cross. By joining us on earth, by taking on our flesh and living our bodily life, Jesus joined himself to us.

What Paul tells the Colossians and even tells us is that just as Jesus joined himself to us, made himself more like us and brought us closer to him, by dying like we will die, at the same time he also lifted us up with him when he was raised again to new life. Our lives are tied to his life, so as he died we will die and as he lives again, so do we. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, Jesus’ new life after the grave is our assurance that death does not win, that hope is not lost, that God’s promises are not forgotten. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the fulfillment of the promise that God is still active. God is still here. God will not abandon us, not in the life to come and not in the life we live today.

Yet it doesn’t always seem that way. It’s no secret, and it’s not unfaithful to talk about it. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like God is still here. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like God is transforming life. Sometimes it feels like we have been abandoned. The earth that quaked when Jesus rose from the dead, quakes again, bringing death, distruction, and fear. Bodies that have been well cared for and healthy for years are suddenly stuck with disease and illness. Nations are at odds with nations; innocent people are caught in the middle. Health care is unattainable and those on the margins are left suffering. Human beings are caught in the bondage of slavery, and God’s creation is at the mercy of irresponsible and devastating hands. No, it doesn’t always feel like the resurrection has made any bit of a difference. It doesn’t always feel like anything has changed at all.

And it probably didn’t for the women at the tomb either, or the disciples when they first heard the news. Simply hearing about what had happened wasn’t what they all needed; simply believing it is true doesn’t change the world. They had to step out and do something about what they heard. They had to go and see Jesus, meet him where he was waiting for them in the world. They had to go out and get involved in his resurrection life.

The resurrection becomes real when we set our minds on the things from above, the things that are from God. The resurrection becomes real when look for the signs of new life where God is active in the world and then we join God in that resurrection life. Resurrection life is happening wherever the old is being made new again, wherever people are rebuilding what had been knocked down, wherever vineyards that had been trampled are being replanted. Resurrection life is happening wherever God is bringing life out of death, and THERE we must join in and be a part of Christ’s new life in the world.

Seek the things that are above, Paul writes, where Christ is. Seek out what God desires, what Christ is already doing, where Christ is already going ahead of us. Seek out the places in this world where God is already active, waiting like Jesus waited in Galilee for the disciples to come and join him. Seek out the places in our community where Jesus is blessing others, serving the poor, tending to the sick, bringing comfort to the lonely, and go, hide your life in his. Join his resurrection life bringing hope into a world over-shadowed by death. Join him in revealing God’s glory!

The resurrection isn’t an incident to be remembered, it’s a life to be lived.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Cross Promises

The Old Rugged Crossphoto © 2008 abcdz2000 | more info (via: Wylio)
Matthew 27:31-50
Philippians 2:5-11

As I was talking to my older children, who are 3 and 5 years old, about the things we do to get ready for Easter, Palm Sunday, Passion narratives, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, I ended up with a lot of explaining to do. Palm Sunday is pretty obvious from the story and tradition, but words like passion and maundy aren’t as intuitive. And then we have Good Friday. I told them we would have Good Friday worship, and they immediately got excited. “Yea! Good Friday!” Just the name got them happy and excited, but when I told them what happened on Good Friday their joy slipped away.

“Well, that’s not a good Friday,” my 3 year old said to me. And he’s right. It’s not. It's not a good day at all. Good Friday is the day that the corruption of the human spirit seems to win. Good Friday is the day when innocence is punished, when blamelessness is struck, when holiness is knocked over, to the ground, and even spat upon. Good Friday is the day when evil seemed to overshadow good and God ended up on a cross. What’s so good about Good Friday?

I’ve heard different answers, different explanations about why we call this day “good.” Most popular is the understanding that good just doesn't mean what we usually think it does. It means pious or holy. Others say that the day is good because although what happened is terrible, horrific even, it is ultimately good because of what was accomplished. Sure Jesus was beaten, tortured, mocked, and killed, but ultimately that's all good because by all of that our sinful lives were redeemed (hint of sarcasm, anyone?). Taking that understanding too far can be on the one hand dismissive of the very real experience of Jesus and on the other self-centered.

While they aren't in and of themselves bad explanations, I have never been completely satisfied with the answers I have heard, until this year. I heard a new one that helps to round the others out. It doesn't replace them, but adds to them, and at least for me, speaks a truth that is extremely relevant today. The explanation is a linguistic one, similar to the reason we use the word "maundy" for Maundy Thursday; it's an older Anglicized word that relates back to the word mandatum, commandment in Latin. The Good in Good Friday, according to this reasoning, may have come about in modern English from an older name for this holy day, "God's Friday."

God's Friday. Even this can seem a little counter-intuitive because if anything it seems like God hardly shows up on Friday. We hear that accusation in the voices of the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders, "If HE is God he could just get himself right down from that cross. If he really is the Son of God, where is God now? Where is the God he trusts so much? God sure isn't showing up for Jesus who hangs on a cross." God's Friday? But where is God?

Where is God when Jesus appears before councils and governors who accuse him out of fear? Where is God when Jesus hears the crowds shout for the release of Barrabbas and chant for his crucifixion? Where is God when Jesus is bound and marched up the hill to the place of his crucifixion? Where is God when Jesus is nailed to the cross and in his agony challenged and mocked and taunted?

Where is God when the doctor says cancer? Where is God when the boss hands over a pink slip? Where is God when a phone call comes in the middle of the night? Where is God when our children are hurting? Where is God when depression descends like a heavy fog? Where is God when the bully comes around the corner again? When the bank account is close to empty? When our faith is challenged by those who question, who mock, "Where is your God now? Why won't your God deliver?"

The people who surrounded Jesus while he was hanging on the cross, the religious authorities who made sure the execution was carried out, the centurions who hammered the nails and raised the cross, even the other bandits hanging on crosses next to him, all of them expected some kind of superhero God. All of them were looking for some mighty sign of God's presence in an act of power and dominion. They looked for a dynamic miracle, a flash of angels' wings, a supernatural intervention, to prove that God was present, that God could save Jesus from this very human, very tragic death. They thought, we think, that God's power only comes in dramatic flashes and epic rescues.

But this day, God's Friday, begs us to ask not that tempting question, that taunting and sneering challenge, "Where is God?" but it begs us to ask "Who is this God?" It's the question we asked in our congregation's worship on Palm Sunday - - Who is this Jesus? Who is this king who comes riding in on a humble donkey? Who is this master who washes the feet of his disciples? Who is this one who says he is this Son of God, yet he hangs on a cross? If this is Good Friday, GOD'S Friday, who is this God?

Jesus wasn't what the people expected. They expected a great and glorious king. They expected a powerful and dominating warrior. They expected someone who would stand up to evil and fight with might and force to win the battle for the chosen ones of God. But that's not w what they got.

They got a slave. They got a humble servant. They got a man who had emptied himself of the divine majesty and submitted himself to the human experience, willingly and obediently choosing every bit of the human experience, even to the point of death, even to the point of death on a cross. They got, no WE got this Jesus whom we call Christ the Lord, whose authority and love and credibility comes not from superhero antics, but from his compassion, literally from his willingness to suffer with us.

Good Friday, God's Friday, is so utterly crucial because it singularly reveals how far God is willing to go for us. It alone reveals how deep Jesus' love is for us. It on its own illumines the path which Jesus took to walk right next to us, right into our hearts and our lives, so that we would know exactly how perfectly he knows our experience. Good Friday, God's Friday reveals the heart of God. It reveals the radical humility of Jesus who goes to the depths of pain to align himself with the very humanity that betrayed him and mocked him, denied him and flogged him, crucified him and taunted him, watched it all from a distance.

He didn't jump down from the cross when obedience got difficult. He didn't call for angels to carry him away. Because God knows, really God knows, he could have. The Son of God who made the blind to see, who healed the sick, who cast our demons, who called Lazarus out of the tomb, out of death three days later, COULD have saved himself from the cross, but he didn't. He could have left this world and missed the agony of the cross altogether, but for some reason he didn't. "Nails were not enough enough to hold God-and-man nailed and fastened on the Cross, had not love held Him there," Catherine of Siena wrote.

Out of love Jesus didn't save himself. Out of love Jesus didn't abandon us. Out of love Jesus remained faithful to his call, faithful to us even to the point of death on a cross. Jesus didn't abandon us in his time of suffering which means he won't abandon us in ours. This is the promise of the cross. It is the promise that Jesus goes with us into our deepest despair. It is the promise that when we are brought to our knees in all manner of suffering the question is not are we strong enough to bear it? Because that answer is easy - - we aren't. No, the promise of the cross is that in the midst of our suffering we can ask with confidence "Who will bear this with us?"

Jesus. Jesus bears our pain with us. Jesus knows our hurts and sorrows. Jesus humbled himself to be one of us. Jesus limited his own divine power to strengthen us, emptying himself that we might have full lives. And in doing so he and the very cross on which he hung announce God's promise to us, "I know you. I love you. And I will carry you through."

Good Friday is God's Friday. It reveals to us the very heart of God who isn't above and removed from the pains and realities of this life we live, but who has joined with us right in the thick of it. Good Friday is God's Friday, and it begs us join every knee that bends and every tongue that confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord.

To the glory of God. Amen.As I was talking to my older children, who are 3 and 5 years old, about the things we do to get ready for Easter, Palm Sunday, Passion narratives, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, I ended up with a lot of explaining to do. Palm Sunday is pretty obvious from the story and tradition, but words like passion and maundy aren’t as intuitive. And then we have Good Friday. I told them we would have Good Friday worship, and they immediately got excited. “Yea! Good Friday!” Just the name got them happy and excited, but when I told them what happened on Good Friday their joy slipped away.

“Well, that’s not a good Friday,” my 3 year old said to me. And he’s right. It’s not. It's not a good day at all. Good Friday is the day that the corruption of the human spirit seems to win. Good Friday is the day when innocence is punished, when blamelessness is struck, when holiness is knocked over, to the ground, and even spat upon. Good Friday is the day when evil seemed to overshadow good and God ended up on a cross. What’s so good about Good Friday?

I’ve heard different answers, different explanations about why we call this day “good.” Most popular is the understanding that good just doesn't mean what we usually think it does. It means pious or holy. Others say that the day is good because although what happened is terrible, horrific even, it is ultimately good because of what was accomplished. Sure Jesus was beaten, tortured, mocked, and killed, but ultimately that's all good because by all of that our sinful lives were redeemed (hint of sarcasm, anyone?). Taking that understanding too far can be on the one hand dismissive of the very real experience of Jesus and on the other self-centered.

While they aren't in and of themselves bad explanations, I have never been completely satisfied with the answers I have heard, until this year. I heard a new one that helps to round the others out. It doesn't replace them, but adds to them, and at least for me, speaks a truth that is extremely relevant today. The explanation is a linguistic one, similar to the reason we use the word "maundy" for Maundy Thursday; it's an older Anglicized word that relates back to the word mandatum, commandment in Latin. The Good in Good Friday, according to this reasoning, may have come about in modern English from an older name for this holy day, "God's Friday."

God's Friday. Even this can seem a little counter-intuitive because if anything it seems like God hardly shows up on Friday. We hear that accusation in the voices of the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders, "If HE is God he could just get himself right down from that cross. If he really is the Son of God, where is God now? Where is the God he trusts so much? God sure isn't showing up for Jesus who hangs on a cross." God's Friday? But where is God?

Where is God when Jesus appears before councils and governors who accuse him out of fear? Where is God when Jesus hears the crowds shout for the release of Barrabbas and chant for his crucifixion? Where is God when Jesus is bound and marched up the hill to the place of his crucifixion? Where is God when Jesus is nailed to the cross and in his agony challenged and mocked and taunted?

Where is God when the doctor says cancer? Where is God when the boss hands over a pink slip? Where is God when a phone call comes in the middle of the night? Where is God when our children are hurting? Where is God when depression descends like a heavy fog? Where is God when the bully comes around the corner again? When the bank account is close to empty? When our faith is challenged by those who question, who mock, "Where is your God now? Why won't your God deliver?"

The people who surrounded Jesus while he was hanging on the cross, the religious authorities who made sure the execution was carried out, the centurions who hammered the nails and raised the cross, even the other bandits hanging on crosses next to him, all of them expected some kind of superhero God. All of them were looking for some mighty sign of God's presence in an act of power and dominion. They looked for a dynamic miracle, a flash of angels' wings, a supernatural intervention, to prove that God was present, that God could save Jesus from this very human, very tragic death. They thought, we think, that God's power only comes in dramatic flashes and epic rescues.

But this day, God's Friday, begs us to ask not that tempting question, that taunting and sneering challenge, "Where is God?" but it begs us to ask "Who is this God?" It's the question we asked in our congregation's worship on Palm Sunday - - Who is this Jesus? Who is this king who comes riding in on a humble donkey? Who is this master who washes the feet of his disciples? Who is this one who says he is this Son of God, yet he hangs on a cross? If this is Good Friday, GOD'S Friday, who is this God?

Jesus wasn't what the people expected. They expected a great and glorious king. They expected a powerful and dominating warrior. They expected someone who would stand up to evil and fight with might and force to win the battle for the chosen ones of God. But that's not w what they got.

They got a slave. They got a humble servant. They got a man who had emptied himself of the divine majesty and submitted himself to the human experience, willingly and obediently choosing every bit of the human experience, even to the point of death, even to the point of death on a cross. They got, no WE got this Jesus whom we call Christ the Lord, whose authority and love and credibility comes not from superhero antics, but from his compassion, literally from his willingness to suffer with us.

Good Friday, God's Friday, is so utterly crucial because it singularly reveals how far God is willing to go for us. It alone reveals how deep Jesus' love is for us. It on its own illumines the path which Jesus took to walk right next to us, right into our hearts and our lives, so that we would know exactly how perfectly he knows our experience. Good Friday, God's Friday reveals the heart of God. It reveals the radical humility of Jesus who goes to the depths of pain to align himself with the very humanity that betrayed him and mocked him, denied him and flogged him, crucified him and taunted him, watched it all from a distance.

He didn't jump down from the cross when obedience got difficult. He didn't call for angels to carry him away. Because God knows, really God knows, he could have. The Son of God who made the blind to see, who healed the sick, who cast our demons, who called Lazarus out of the tomb, out of death three days later, COULD have saved himself from the cross, but he didn't. He could have left this world and missed the agony of the cross altogether, but for some reason he didn't. "Nails were not enough enough to hold God-and-man nailed and fastened on the Cross, had not love held Him there," Catherine of Siena wrote.

Out of love Jesus didn't save himself. Out of love Jesus didn't abandon us. Out of love Jesus remained faithful to his call, faithful to us even to the point of death on a cross. Jesus didn't abandon us in his time of suffering which means he won't abandon us in ours. This is the promise of the cross. It is the promise that Jesus goes with us into our deepest despair. It is the promise that when we are brought to our knees in all manner of suffering the question is not are we strong enough to bear it? Because that answer is easy - - we aren't. No, the promise of the cross is that in the midst of our suffering we can ask with confidence "Who will bear this with us?"

Jesus. Jesus bears our pain with us. Jesus knows our hurts and sorrows. Jesus humbled himself to be one of us. Jesus limited his own divine power to strengthen us, emptying himself that we might have full lives. And in doing so he and the very cross on which he hung announce God's promise to us, "I know you. I love you. And I will carry you through."

Good Friday is God's Friday. It reveals to us the very heart of God who isn't above and removed from the pains and realities of this life we live, but who has joined with us right in the thick of it. Good Friday is God's Friday, and it begs us join every knee that bends and every tongue that confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord.

To the glory of God. Amen.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

I know I can!

It's my second of two rest days in the Couch to 5K program. I just finished up a re-run of week 5 (of 9). A few days ago I finally believed that I really can do this. I don't think I ever really believed it, even though I was putting a pretty nice front about it. I have only once run a mile before. And I don't mean once as in at one period in my life, or even one period in my adult life. I mean, once. Ever. I was in seminary and trying to get a little slimmer for my sister's up-coming wedding. There was a treadmill in the "workout room" upstairs from my own dorm room. I worked at it for a while, little by little, and finally ran for one mile straight. I was thrilled, ecstatic. I went down to my room and called my best friend who lived in Pennsylvania. I asked her how her days was, bursting with pride at my news, but wanting to be polite first. Before I got to share she told me hers. She had just returned from a 20 mile run. She was training for her first marathon. ((Whooosh)) Did you hear that? It was the wind rushing out of my sails. I didn't get back on the treadmill before that wedding a couple of weeks later.

So, other than that one time (I swear, even in elementary and junior high school, I walked the mile instead of running it), I had never run even just one mile straight and this program thinks it can get me to 3.1? I think it is!

This last week I decided to re-run most of Week 5 (3 runs building up to the 3rd which included 20 minutes of continuous running). I previously had to quit it after day two because my back went completely crazy. I have had sciatic nerve issues from my pregnancies, but this was insane pain and discomfort. After the 2nd day I went to the doctor who put me on some steroids and offered other pain meds. I turned the others down, and started my 6 day course of steroids. It was about 4 days before I was feeling a lot better, and I didn't bother to finish the rest of the week.

I started again with the mid-level run of the week on what was supposed to be the start of week 6. I did the 20 minute run the last two days to get me all caught up. The first one was actually easier than the second, partly I think because I was a little excited to even be trying it, partly also because I liked The Moth stories on my iPod better than my entertainment the second time, partly ALSO because I pushed my speed even harder on the second run. Anyway, the point is that when I finished the first one I suddenly felt like I could do it. I suddenly believed that I really will be running a 5K in just 4 more weeks, and I suddenly believed that I will be able to finish it, running the whole way.

It's exciting. I feel like I'm eating a whole lot of my words from years and years gone by when I talked about how horrible running must be. Here I am now, not only doing it, but maybe even enjoying it? It's crazy. It's absolutely crazy.

On the #runrevrun Twitter feed this afternoon a post titled "What's Your Motivation?" showed up. For some reason the link to the actual post isn't working, but I thought I'd do a short list to answer that question anyway:

1. Proving myself wrong - - I really can move my body.
2. Showing my daughter I'm healthy and I'm worth it.
3. Fitting into some new article of clothing that makes people say, "Wow! That looks great, but should a minister really wear something that sexy?"
4. More than anything - - eating dessert!

I'm sure the post is more thought provoking than that, but just thought I'd play a little!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Shadow Games

On Sunday when we were leaving church K was walking in front of me, a little too close in front of me. She has this habit, and it's sort of cute and sort of annoying. I try to remember it's cute when I'm feeling mostly annoyed by it. It's like she wants to be independent and walk not right next to me, but at the same time there's some kind of tether that pulls her to walk right in front of me because she also doesn't want to get too far. She ends up walking right in front of me, criss-crossing across my path really just about 3/4 of a step in front of me. See the annoying part?

Well, she was doing it this Sunday as we were walking across the parking lot of the church to our car, but not only was she walking annoying closely in front of me, she was also bopping her head up and down, starting and stopping, and generally just driving me nuts with it. With the baby in my arms and trying simply not to fall over her, the cute part had definitely left a while ago.

I begged her to stop and just walk when she told me, "But we have two heads! I'm trying to hide my head in yours."

Uhh.....? Come again?

She pointed to the pavement. "We have two heads!"

Our shadows! She was looking at our shadows and trying to hide her smaller shadow inside my larger shadow so you could only see one on the pavement.


I thought of this incident immediately when I read the Easter epistle. Here are the last two verses of that lesson, Colossians 3:1-4:

"3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory."

My Good Friday sermon is going to be about our Jesus DIDN'T save himself. He didn't come down off the cross when he was tempted to. He didn't use some superhero powers to skip the hardest part of human life. He joined himself to us by going through what we go through, even to the point of death on a cross.

I think my Easter sermon will be the flip side of that Good Friday sermon. Sort of Paul's word to the Romans, but using the Colossians hiding images - "If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his." (Romans 6:5) We hide ourselves in Christ by participating in resurrection actions, by living resurrection lives, not just forgiven and blessed and graced for ourselves, but hiding our actions in the resurrections actions of the Triune God, actions that bring death to life - - rebuilding what has been destroyed, planting what has been trampled, calling those who have been scattered back to God (Jeremiah 31:1-6).

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Who is this?

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Matthew 21:1-11

It was just before the beginning of the festival of Passover. Travelers from all over were beginning to arrive in the city, preparing for celebrations and observances with friends and loved ones, acquaintances and strangers, all under the watchful eye of the Roman soldiers. They gathered to celebrate and remember the ancient miracle when their God, Yahweh, freed them from captivity, released them from slavery, led them out from under the smothering thumb of the oppressive Egyptians, and led them to freedom in the Promised Land. They gathered to worship their God, Yahweh, in the temple even as they lived under the threatening thumb of the oppressive Romans.

Needless to say the atmosphere was charged with excitement and even danger. More than anything it was laden with anticipation. Anticipation of the worship that would take place, anticipation of the sacrifices they would offer, anticipation of hearing the story read, chanted, sung, retold from the scrolls, from memory, from the heart with longing that this miracle of God that happened once before might one day happen again, here, now.

Jesus and the crowd that had been following him at least since Jericho, about 15 miles away, were finally just outside THIS Jerusalem. They each had their own hopes and expectations for the coming festival week and by their actions they showed what they were looking for. They showed what they wanted, what they hoped for, what they expected from this man, Jesus, who could heal the blind, who could teach with unexpected authority, who could cast out demons, sit with sinners, eat with tax collectors, and preach in ways they had never heard.

Like they were welcoming a king, they laid their cloaks on the road. Like they were heralding royalty they waved branches and put them down before his parade so that even the feet of his animals didn’t have to touch the dirty ground. They lined the streets with hope and anticipations shouting, “Hosanna! Hosanna to the Son of David! Save us! Hosanna!” They knew exactly what they were looking for, a king, a warrior, one sent by God to free them from captivity, release them from slavery, lead them out from under the smothering thumb of the oppressive Romans, and let them live unencumbered and united in their land, the Promised Land. They knew who they were looking for. They knew who they wanted this Jesus to be, a strong and mighty king, one who would lead them in overthrowing the masters, the occupiers of their nation. “Who is this?” the crowds asked, but their hearts, their actions revealed their deepest desires. This is our king, our savior.

Who is this that we come looking for? Who is this whose story we tell and retell from memory and from Scripture as we gather at the start of a festival, the Christian Passover it is sometimes called? Who is this whose entry into Jerusalem we sing about with pomp and circumstance, waving branches and celebrating with triumph and strains of “Hosanna!” in the air? Are we looking for a King? Are we looking for someone to free us from captivity, to release us from slavery, to save us from oppressive armies and rulers?

Let’s be real, probably not. Soldiers don’t stand at every street corner all around Hudson. They weren’t watching our every move as we made our way to worship this morning, ready at a moment’s notice to squash our religious and political revolution. We don’t feel the squeeze of foreign occupation threatening our freedom, threatening our lives if we dare to hold allegiance to our own king, our own God.

No, if we get real, the one we come to sing about, the one we come looking for is very, very different. Sometimes the one we come looking for is what a friend of mine calls “deity as divine concierge.” Sometimes the one we come looking for, f we are honeest, is one who will fix the things around us, give us what we need to be comfortable, smooth out the rough spots on an otherwise bumpy road. Please, Creator of Heaven and Earth, make this winter go away. Please, Dear Savior, find me the up-front parking space so I don’t waste time walking. Please, Holy Jesus, just let the day go my way.

We come looking for Jesus who will make life easier. We come looking for Jesus who will relieve our worries. We come looking for Jesus who will conquer the things that seem to be in our way, who will show us that we are right, and more importantly show the rest of the world that we are right, too. We come looking on Palm Sunday for Jesus who will meet our expectations, who will fit our mold, who will calm things down, set our lives back in order, and bless us with the easy way forward. That’s a King we whose arrival we can celebrate. That’s the Jesus we like to worship and honor and praise!

But is this the Jesus who comes riding into Jerusalem in Matthew’s gospel story? Who is this who comes riding into town not just on a donkey as we think we are used to hearing, but on a donkey AND a colt? Did you hear that when we read it this morning? The story as Matthew tells it begins almost comically. We’re used to the pictures of Jesus riding on a donkey, of course, but Matthew puts Jesus on both a donkey AND a colt.

He does it to be sure we get who he is talking about. Matthew wants to make sure his readers know exactly who this Jesus is, exactly who is coming into Jerusalem. His understanding comes from the prophet Zechariah, whose poetic prophesy said the king would come in mounted “on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” What Zechariah meant as poetic parallelism, Matthew took literally so that no one would misunderstand that THIS Jesus, this man, is the one Zechariah was talking about. THIS Jesus, this man, is the Zechariah’s king who had arrived in Jerusalem.

But a king? Arriving on a donkey? What about the regal horses pulling gilded chariots? What about the legions of soldiers, the entourage of servants and advisors? Where were all the signs of a king, a REAL king, who can make a difference, who can deliver what we expect, who can make this life turn out the way want? If this is a king, he certainly doesn’t look like a very helpful king. Riding in on a humble donkey, or two, instead of a strong and powerful horse, accompanied by a bunch of fishermen and others he had picked up along the way from the countryside instead of a trained soldiers in armor with weapons, stirring up the on-lookers who came hoping for salvation, REAL salvation, from REAL oppressors. “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “O save us, Son of David!” They shout the words of a psalm of their faith, a song of thanksgiving for victory and deliverance. They expect that the one who has come to the city is the one who can give them victory and deliverance from the suffering and separation they face.

All of this proclamation and acclamation causes fervor among the crowds. Matthew tells us that it isn’t just the crowds of pilgrims who are stirred up by this procession, but actually, the whole city was in turmoil over Jesus’ entry into the city. Turmoil - - a word reserved for earthquakes and tsunamis. A word that describes the aftermath of seismic destruction, but turmoil isn’t how we usually picture it. A city buzzing with excitement is what we want to be a part of. A city celebrating and cheering, worshiping the triumphant arrival of a king is where we want to go, where we want to imagine ourselves on Palm Sunday.

Yet turmoil is how it is described. Exuberance is what they expected; fanfare and festivities is what we hope for, but turmoil is what we get. Turmoil is what comes when the expectations of the people don’t quite match up with the reality of God. Turmoil is what comes when the divine concierge, the parking space saving, fast line moving, green light extending “savior” fails to show up and instead we are faced with Jesus in Holy Week – Jesus who turns over the tables of unjust money changers, Jesus who sits down at the holy table with those who will betray him and deny him, Jesus who refuses to argue the charges against him, Jesus who is mocked, stripped, and beaten unjustly, Jesus who is humbled and humiliated by death on a cross.

Turmoil is what we get when Jesus isn’t what we expected, but is exactly what we need. Tumoil is what we find when we intend to stand beside our God and King, but find that harder and harder when he doesn’t act like the King we want him to be. Turmoil is what we experience when we want to shout with joy and confidence “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” but instead we are silenced by the way our Lord chooses to come, humble, meek, and in peace. Turmoil is what we feel when reality sets in and our expectations don’t match up with the savior we receive.

What then? Who is this that comes in the name of the Lord? Who is this that is called Jesus, the prophet, Lord, and king? How will we receive him, the one who comes to us and for us even then, even in the midst of our turmoil, with grace and mercy, new life and salvation?

Hosanna to the Son of David! Save us! Hosanna in the highest heaven!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Palm v. Passion 2011

Someone please, PLEASE remind me that I need to take a vacation between Christmas and Easter. I even had last Sunday off from preaching, and I still feel too drained to face Holy Week. I don't feel like my treatment of Lent was really leading us anywhere logical which is interesting to me. I didn't really do a comprehensive, thematic Lent which is part of the reason. I also don't feel like I brought us anywhere together. My preaching was a little more to individuals than to the church, which is how I usually preach. That just makes it feel different to me. I don't know if I can articulate why.

I think I'm going to make a little break with the way I was trained in seminary with this Palm/Passion Sunday and go a little old school. They really pushed us to make sure we did the Palms and Passion the week before Easter to make sure our congregations weren't all triumphalistic. I remember being told that not many people will come to other Holy Week services so we better get the cross part of the story told when they were all there. I've gone along with that and probably for the most part it's at least somewhat true.

However, do we not also give people a reason to miss all those Holy Week services if we cover it all on one Palm/Passion Sunday? Do we have to be so pessimistic to assume they don't care? Could there also be a little bit of arrogance in the assumption that if they aren't doing it our way they don't understand the power and the importance of the cross?

Anyway, I think this year I'm going with Palm Sunday alone. My last Palm Sunday sermon really stunk (2009), so I think I'm ready to try it again. I will certainly allude to what is coming, but I'm not going to feel obligated to do all of Holy Week in one Sunday service.

So, with Matthew's version of Jesus entering into Jerusalem right now I'm chewing on the phrase "The Lord needs them." What does the Lord need? I don't think of the Lord NEEDING much, but the Lord needs things. It stuck out at me.

Also, there's the question "Who is this?" The people say a prophet, but throughout the passage Jesus is identified as "the Lord" (referring to himself), "the king" (by the reference of the quoted prophet v.5), and the "Son of David."

Not sure what any of this will amount to, but I'm still thinking.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Out of the mouths of babes

On a whim, I asked the kids this morning, Why do we do communion?

W, "'Cause it's how God loves us."
K, "it shows us the new covenant in Jesus' blood."

Then after I picked my jaw up off the floor K asked, "What does covenant mean?"

I told her it was God's promise and said maybe I'd say it that way next time so people would understand. She said, "No that's not how you always say it, and you should say it the way you always do. Now I know what you mean, though."

This is why I don't care one bit if kids "understand" communion by any of our standards before they start receiving it. They get it so much more than we can ever really teach them anyway.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

This time it's for me

I have never been accused of being in shape. Exercise has never been my thing. I'm not very good at sports. I'm competitive, but as it has been said if you can't be an athlete, be an athletic supporter. I have always been perfectly happy cheering on others in any number of sports.

So here I am, 34 years old, picking up a pair of running shoes for the first time in my life. I have been through other exercise phases, and this current burst of energy can probably be considered part of a longer one that has been on-going for about 18 months in varying degrees of intensity. Earlier phases were deemed "successful" when I reached some date, some event toward which I was working -- my sister's wedding in 2000, my own wedding in 2003, losing the baby weight from #1 before getting pregnant with #2, losing the baby weight from #2 before getting pregnant with #3. The big difference about this current exercise phase is that I have no end date, no wedding (mine or another's), no more babies. So why am I doing it this time?

This time it's for me. It's not to fit into a bridesmaid's or wedding dress. (Although, I won't mind fitting into way cuter and sexier clothes than I have before!) It's not to get ready to carry another child for 9 months. (Although, I do feel like i never stop carrying them one way or another.) This time it's for me. It's for making me into the best and healthiest me I can be. In that way, I have also thought about this time being for God. This time it is about my calling - my calling as a disciple, as a mother, as a wife, and as a pastor. I am terrified of the state of physical health in the church and particularly in ordained ministers. I am terrified when I go to denominational gatherings and count myself among a large number of wonderful people who feel we don't have time to take care of ourselves. I want to get myself in the best shape I can to fulfill my call into all these roles. I want to be healthy and energized and awake to grow in my relationship with Christ. I want to be a role model to my children, showing them that taking care of my body and my health is important. I want to love myself so that I can love my husband. I want to demonstrate to my congregation that bodies matter, not because we can or should make them perfect, but because God created them, and if we're going to talk about taking care of creation, we need to talk about taking care of our bodies, too.

So, here I am, 34 years old, picking up a pair of running shoes for the first time in my life. Running has never been my first choice for exercise, but it's the one I have to choose for now. There's no class schedule to negotiate around child care. There's no bike to buy. There's no swimming suit to don in public. It's just my shoes, my iPod, and me. Five weeks ago I started the Couch to 5K program using the Get Running application on my iPad, running/walking on the treadmill at the Y in this late winter/early spring. Yesterday I took myself outside for my first ever run on "real ground." I can say that I actually enjoyed it. I enjoyed the first BEAUTIFUL day we have had here. I enjoyed the wind and the sun. I enjoyed the ice floating on the mostly melted river. I enjoyed the sensation of my body doing something it has never been able to do before. I enjoyed the physicality of growing in strength and nurturing my calls from God.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Picking Up the Pieces

The next reading this morning comes from the first book of Samuel, chapter 16. It is probably subtitled something like "The Anointing of David" in your pew Bible or your Bible at home. That's the part and the character of the story that an editor somewhere along the line decided to highlight as most important. And certainly David is important in the story of the faith of Israel and our own Christian faith.

However, today I want us to hear this story, the story in which David is revealed and anointed to be the king of Israel, through the experience of Samuel. David may have ended up the ideal king, but more of us are asked to be servants of God than kings. I want us to get inside the experience of Samuel in this account.

Samuel was the son of Elkanah and Hannah, who had long been barren. Even before she was finally pregnant, Hannah prayed to God and promised to dedicate her child to the Lord if she was ever able to carry a son. After giving birth to Samuel and when she had weaned him, Hannah fulfilled her promise, dedicating him to the Lord and bringing him to serve Eli the priest. As a young boy he heard the voice of Lord speaking to him, and eventually he played an important role in uniting the tribes of Israel, not yet ruled by a king, against the growing threat of the Philistines.

When the people of God, previously ruled by temporary judges when the need arose, demanded a king to rule over them all, God chose Samuel to anoint Saul as the first king of Israel. Samuel served a role somewhere between "Chief of Staff" and "Press Secretary" and "Personal Chaplain." He introduced the king to his subjects. He was a confidante to the king. He even served as a prophet, speaking the word of the Lord to the people and to the king himself.

However, things didn't go well with Saul as the king of Israel. God hadn't really wanted to give them a king like the rest of the nations had kings. God hadn't really wanted Israel to supplant their loyalty to the divine king with loyalty to a human ruler with human flaws, but hearing their pleas and prayers, God provided them with a human ruler. Saul's human flaws eventually showed. Disobeying God's order in a battle with the Philistines, Saul kept some of the spoils of war, including an opposing king, for his own sport and enjoyment.

For his disobedience, God removed Saul as king of Israel. Samuel, who spoke for God at Saul's anointing, was the one who was also called to speak for God when Saul was taken from the throne. Samuel, who had been by Saul's side throughout his reign, was the one who had to see that his reign had ended, calling out the king on his disobedience, and delivering a word of judgement to him. That chapter of Israel's history ends with Samuel grieving as he obediently followed God's command.

1 Samuel 16:1-13

Samuel grieved the great change that was taking place. Dedicated to the service of the Lord and Eli at a very young age, he had always been a part of what God was doing in the world. He had been an important leader in God's relationship with the Israelites as a judge and a prophet. When the people had demanded a king, it was Samuel who was chosen to anoint Saul. He was in on the plan from the start, but now the plan had changed dramatically. It had changed drastically. And Samuel was left grieving.

He grieved the loss of a king. He grieved the loss maybe of a friend. He grieved the loss of forward momentum for his struggling people. He grieved the loss of the plan, God's plan. This great thing he had been a part of, the first king of Israel, the one he and the people, and presumably even God, thought would unite the bickering tribes, had turned out wrong. It had shattered like a dish dropped, like a glass that slipped through their fingers and smashed when it the floor. The plan he had counted on was broken, and he didn't see a way forward.

Broken plans are something we know about. Lost friends. Lost spouses. Lost children. Lost parents. Lost marriages. Lost relationships. Lost money. Lost security. Lost leadership. Lost health. Lost safety. Lost happiness. Even lost trust in God.

Things we have counted on, things into which we have invested ourselves, like Saul's reign have come to an end abruptly, painfully. We have known or been a part of marriages that have crumbled, husbands or wives lost to disease or accident. We have known parents who have buried children. Families who have lost their livelihood and their savings. We have known the health and bodies we count on to fail. We have known leaders who have let us down. We have known what it is like to have the plan we trusted, the plan for which we have begged and thanked God broken, leaving us grieving not only what we lost in the present, but we hoped for in the future.

"Where is God now?" we often ask. "Where is God?" when what we thought was God-breathed, God-inspired, God-blessed is now gone. Where is God when the plan gets broken and all that is left are the sharp jagged edges of what could have been?

Maybe about a year ago, Ann Snyder held a class here at the church about making mosaics. She gathered the materials for each of us, wooden pictures frames to use as a base, the grout that would be the cement between the colorful pieces, and an amazing array of small bits - - buttons, figures, glass, beads, rocks, coins.... You name it, if it was no bigger than about 2 inches by 2 inches, it was on that table and available for us to put in our mosaics.

I remember thinking about the pieces I sifted through as I picked out just the right pieces for my mosaic. Where did this come from? What did this go to? How did this saucer break? And where is the matching tea cup? There were all these the broken pieces, broken sets, broken plans on the tables before us. The original plan for these things was lost. Their original purpose was no longer part of the picture, yet they were before us ready to be a part of something completely new.

So it was with Samuel in his grief. "How long will you grieve over Saul?" the Lord asks. In a way it sounds callous, asking Samuel to move on from his grief, but I don't think we need to jump to that conclusion. I don't believe God is dismissing Samuel's grief, but instead is answering the kinds of questions a grieving person asks. "What now? What's the plan? How will you ever get us out of this mess now?" God answers Samuel's grief and fear over the lost plan with something completely new.

"Fill your horn with oil and set out. I have provided." God has provided. God has provided a new plan, a new king. God has picked up the broken pieces of a reign gone wrong and using Samuel to help, is putting them back together into something completely different.

In fact, that difference is highlighted even as the new king is selected. Samuel obeys God and goes to Jesse in Bethlehem, albeit nervously. The barely formed nation is in a state of turmoil. Its first king has just been removed from the throne. Enemies are pushing in from its borders. Even Samuel, a prophet of God, might be seen as dangerous since he was on the side of the now deposed king. Likewise, he worries about his own life if his former master should hear of him helping to anoint the new king.

Yet, he goes as God called with a plan to meet the one on which God has built a new plan. Samuel gets to Jesse's family and immediately begins looking for a king like the last one. He looks on Eliab, likely the oldest of the sons as he is the first presented, apparently good looking, tall, strong; he has the stature of a king, like Saul who was good looking and substantial. A king not to be reckoned with. But Eliab isn't the one. Next comes Abinadab, then Shammah, then the rest of Jesse's seven sons who have come before Samuel, right on down the line, but none of these is quite right. None of these is the king God has chosen.

Desperate to find a king, desperate to trust in God again, Samuel practically begs, "Are all your sons here???" None of the sons who fit the bill, who fit their understand of what a king should be - - tall enough, old enough, strong enough, important enough - - seemed to fit God's plan for the next king of Israel. But there was one more. David.

David who was the youngest. David who was beautiful in the eyes, but wasn't the strongest. David who was so UNLIKELY to be the king that he hadn't even been brought in from the pastures where he was with the sheep. David who no one expected to be God's king was the only one left, and was the one chosen.

The first plan didn't go as anyone had expected. God anointed a king and set him over the people, but God didn't force the plan or the divine will. Saul made choices that broke the plan and the pieces of it were left behind. Over this brokenness Samuel grieved, over the shards of glass, the broken pottery, the trinkets and buttons and memorabilia of times and events gone by Samuel mourned and cried and wondered where they would all go from here.

And one by one, God picked up the pieces. God took a rock from here, a piece of blue glass from there, a button from that place, and a tile from across the room, and put together a mosaic, a new plan, a new way forward with God's people in the world. God picks up the pieces of our brokenness, our broken dreams, our broken relationships, our broken lives, our broken bodies and does the same for us.

That's what this table is all about. Really, that's what the season of Lent is all about, but today it is most obvious here, at the table of the Lord, here in the bread that is broken for us, here in the cup that is poured out for us. Here at this table we witness again that plans are sometimes shattered, beaten, and tortured God's blessed purposes are mistreated and abused. They are disobeyed and mocked. Even God's own Son was broken and put to death, a plan to show the world God's love seemingly foiled by the very world he came to save.

While the plan was breaking into a million little pieces, the disciples gathered with Jesus in an upper room asking, "What now? What's the plan? How will you ever get us out of this mess now?"

And Jesus took the bread saying, "This is my body which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me." And he took the cup and said, "This is my blood, poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins. Drink all of it as you remember me."

The pieces were falling all around them and God stood there with grace and mercy, picking them up one by one by one, and put them together into something completely different. His body was broken, but not his love. His blood was shed, but not his power over death. God took the jagged edges of his Son on the cross and turned that brokenness, turned that death into resurrection. God turned that death into new life for us all.

Resting in our God of second chances, let's share the taste of this amazing grace.

This table is not a Presbyterian table. It is not closed to those who are not members here. It is not closed to those who worship here for the first time or the second time. It is not closed to those who are too young or too old or too forgetful or too confused to understand. This table is the table of our Lord and he invites all who want to dwell in his presence, all who want to be included in his love and grace to share the gifts he freely offers. By his grace we are forgiven of all that separates us. By his brokenness we are made whole.