Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Knitting It All Together

Over the past few weeks I have been working on knitting a scarf. This sounds simple enough and, indeed, the pattern said that it was "easy." I cast on and then knitted the pattern -- but then the number of stitches was off. Ripped it out and started again -- same result. Ripped it out and started again. Ah, got to the third row this time -- success! But then the fifth row brought unexpected results. Time after time I started and undid and restarted. And finally, I was so stumped that I put the project aside until I could get some help from my friend Connie. It just so happens that her daughter Jeane, an expert knitter and yarn shop owner, was in town from North Carolina. She quickly found my mistake, knitted a good foundation of the pattern, and then handed it back to me. When I found her notes for me to correct my mistake, I thought, "Of course! Now I get it!"

Over the past several days I have realized a great deal about knitting things together. And it doesn't always result in a tidy well-fashioned scarf.

When knitting, sometimes there are changes in the color of yarn. It seems simple enough. And the end product looks like it is simple enough. But the changes in the colors must be planned for well in advance of the actual change. I am learning that I need to plan for the change of Advent well in advance of Thanksgiving. I need to consider the next yarn, its texture, its color, how it will be knit into the season that precedes it and into the festival that follows it. I need to be knitting in advance of the pattern change.

There is a rhythm of knitting. I look for patterns that let me knit nearly mindlessly. Stitch after stitch. Row after row. Just rockin' along. But then there is something that happens that turns it all upside down, results in messy dropped stitches, lost places in the pattern, a change in yarn that simply doesn't fit into the pattern. This is such a messy diversion.

Yesterday was a day of diversion for me. Many things were on track for our Advent and Christmas preparations. There was a planned schedule of getting things done that need to be done for the Season.  But then it all went topsy turvy. There was another pattern to be knitted together. Sitting with members of the family of faith, telling them bad news, bringing the box of tissues close for frequent use, figuring things out for the coming days. All of this is a wild and crazy pattern. But at the base of things, we were being knitted together because of our love and care for each other.

But, damn, this knitting together is not pain-free.

Tomorrow, I'll pick up the scarf and knit a few rows now that I have the corrected pattern and rest into the rhythm of the stitches and rows.

All is being knit together.

One gratefulchik bids

Friday, November 20, 2009

Today's Gratitude x 5

These past few days I have been traveling and wrapped up in the events and circumstances where I am staying. I have not been as intentional about thankfulness as I otherwise may have been, though it is during these times that I should be even more intentional about gratitude. Nonetheless, here are today's top 5 of things that I am grateful for:

Nurse Trudy who cares not only for her patient but for those sitting watch with her patient.
Good coffee on a cool morning
A terrific filet from Barney's Meat Market, the hands that prepared it, and the easy conversation with a good friend as this meal was shared
The gift of sadness over friendships lost; this sadness reminds me of how valued these friends were in times past.
The gift of a home to head home to.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Today's Gratitude x 5

I am grateful for more than one friend for whom I will fly across the country
I am grateful for lotion to smooth on to hands that spent (too) much time in water and detergent today.
I am grateful for Swiffer  :-)
I am grateful for the ability to dream about what might be.
I am grateful for groceries on sale.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Today's Gratitude x 5

This is a condensed version of the last two days:

A Super 8 that really was super
A borrowed GPS named "Hazel"
A repeat of "Drops Like Stars" by Rob Bell
Walking blocks and blocks of sidewalks new to me
Knitting a prayer shawl while praying for my dear dying friend.

Thanks be to God,

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Today's Gratitude x 5

Open windows and breeze through the house
Friends across the miles
Vacation time
Beautiful art
Coffee every morning

peace friends,

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


She is one of "those" friends -- you know the type. We can spend time together everyday with nearly non-stop talk and laughter as well as very easy silences. And after weeks, and occasionally months, of not talking, we pick right up where we left off, not missing a beat. She is twenty years older than I am and has always freely shared her wisdom, questions, opinions and youthfulness. And, now, she is going through another passage in her three year battle with Stage 4 bone cancer.

This dear friend and I have shared with each other many of the passages in our lives -- even the difficult ones -- over the thirty years we have known each other. She and her husband provided safe harbor for my partner-in-life (PIL) and me as we were in a very antagonistic setting during a time of deep mourning.  She is one of those persistent personal cheerleaders encouraging me at the many shiftings and changings in my life. She is one who  wouldn't settle for only a manicure when adding a pedicure took just a little bit more. She teaches me the importance of persistence and commitment and perseverance through these many passages.

My PIL and I are planning a trip to see her in the weeks ahead. I pray it won't be the last visit, though it well may be. Please pray for her and her husband, her children and her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren during this next time of passage.


photo from

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Today's gratitude x 5

In this time approaching Thanksgiving, postings by friends have encouraged me to return to a basic spiritual discipline -- that of gratitude. The practice is to recognize 5 things each day for which we may be thankful.  Focus on the small graces.

My mom who loved giving us Waterford
Learning to say, "Oh well."
Rain on dry land
Seeing the foolishness of size 6
Knitting soft yarn

I wanted to post some images for these things that I am grateful for but I'm not quite technically equipped to do this yet. All things in due time.


Monday, November 9, 2009

Stained Glass

Dr. Havens reminded our Lutheran Confessions class that churches and cathedrals of the Middle Ages used stained glass as a means of telling the stories of Jesus, the good news of the Gospel. Folks of that time couldn't read Scripture and needed the "picture version" of the stories of Jesus. So we were each required to share a "stained glass" from our lives. Over the semester we as a class saw paintings and photos, we heard poetry and remembrances, there were dances and stagings. Some of these we understood and some we didn't and these understandings varied among us. Yet, we each have a way of reflecting and expressing Jesus living in us and Jesus living in our worlds.

That seems to me to be how the Church is today. During a recent Bible Study we considered the stained glass of the Church today. Through what method or medium do we as the Church depict and proclaim the good news. Picnic tables sharing food and laughs, face-to-face and eye-to-eye contacts, all of this built on relationships.

Companions. Those who share bread.

Thanks be to God for the holy bread of Christ.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

All Saints Sunday, November 1, 2009

Please pray with me – May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen.
The text for this morning’s meditation is found in the twelfth chapter of Hebrews  – Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.
Have you been in a situation where you were cheered on by folks on the side lines? One of my experiences with this was in 1987 when I ran the Bay to Bay race in St. Petersburg. It’s about 10k, maybe 7 miles straight across the peninsula that is Pinellas County. The race that year was on Memorial Day weekend. My cousin Kathy came down from Minneapolis to run it with me.  This was a hard race for me. But along the sidelines, on the south side of the street were Earl and our youngest son Matt, who was about 10 at the time. They would be there waiting for me to get to their spot. I would look for them all along the way. I didn’t know where they would be – we hadn’t worked all that out. But they made their presence known as they saw me – and then I saw them.  It was a long hot run, but there they were, cheering me on. I would pass them and then they would move on to the next spot they had selected. I would run. They would wait. I would look. They would cheer. And that’s how it all went that Sunday morning.
Today is All Saints Day and we remember those who have gone before us.  We each have a cloud of witnesses – those people who have helped shape our faith, those who have urged us on. Who are the “saints” in your life who are part of this cloud of witnesses now cheering you on?  These witnesses need not have passed to the Church Triumphant – they may still be alive. Please take a moment and think of their names. Besides my beloved family, three of mine are Mr. Treblehorn, my 3rd grade Sunday School teacher; Katie Grover, a woman of faith who led a neighborhood Bible study that opened Scripture to me in a whole new way 30 years ago; Pr. John Johnson who instilled in me a love of Greek and encouraged me in so very many ways along this path; and Prs. Amy, Lance and Mark who are dear colleagues from seminary.  Well that may be six, but you get my drift. OK, get your three in mind. Plant them firmly there. They are cheering you on along this race.
(PAUSE) Last week we spoke about stewardship in the life of the disciple – we each are disciples and we are called to use the gifts that God has given us to further the Kingdom of God. We recognized that we are each radically gifted and we saw that we each are called to be radically generous.
Now, let’s make a bit of a switch. Let’s not think about stewardship as only an individual responsibility. Let’s think about this family of faith, this community of believers here at Grace Lutheran Church.  This family of faith has been given time, talent, and treasure. This family of faith has been radically gifted.
The gift of time – how do we use this gift here at Grace? Do we as a family “tithe” of our time here? Do we spend 10% of our time in ministry to others? Of the time that we spend in ministry to others, how much of that is spent with others who are not members?
And this family of faith has received gifts and skills and abilities. How do we as a family use these gifts and skills and abilities – these “talents”? Can it be said that we as a family tithe with regard to our talents? How many of our gifts are used here at Grace and how many are used in ministries outside of the family?
And of course, we have been given the gift of treasure. On what do we use these financial resources? Are we tithing? Do we give generously to ministries outside of our family?
Brothers and sisters, this is very important – I am not saying we are not doing these things. The point is not “Are we giving 10%.” The point is “Are we engaged in radical generosity in light of the radical gifts we have received?” The gifts that have been placed into our hands are placed there for the simple purpose of furthering the Kingdom of God.
Now, my friends, we as individuals and we as a family of faith do not give SO THAT we can stay in good-standing with God. Rather, since we are in good-standing with God because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and THEREFORE we give.
Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.
Please look back in your mind’s eye.
What is the race that is set before us? What is the challenge that we are drawn to? What is the deepest need of those around us?
Who do you see along the sidelines cheering us on here at Grace?  Who is in our great cloud of witnesses? There are pastors of times past. There are council members of times past. There are Gophers and volunteers of all sorts.  There is Brother Martin, St. Paul, St. Teresa, St. John and more than we can name here.
All of these hands joining together to cheer, assist, encourage, support us in the race that is set before us.  Lace up your running shoes! God’s work. Our hands.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Sermon 10/25/09 -- Stewardship in the Life of the Disciple #1

The text for this morning’s meditation is found in Matthew 25: 21 – “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”
We are going to consider discipleship in light of what we have heard from the Gospel of Mark over the past few weeks as well as stewardship in the life of the disciple.
This Fall the focus has been on interactions between Jesus and the crowds and the disciples. Let’s take a look back.
Jesus told his disciples that they should set their mind not on human things but on divine things. He said that we should deny ourselves – that we should actually renounce any claim to our SELF.
Jesus told his disciples that they were to be servants, not seeking the highest position but claiming the lowest.
Jesus showed his disciples that they were to welcome those whom society forgot.
Jesus healed the people in the crowds who were pressing in on him.
Jesus called his disciples to radical generosity as he told the rich man to sell all that he had, give it to the poor and come and follow.
Jesus described a very radical kingdom. A kingdom where the most important are the least and the least important are the greatest, a kingdom where the disciples sit down at a Round Table after they have put their mops and dish rags down.
God’s work. Our hands. We’ve been speaking of this for some time now. It’s been the subject of a church-wide video contest.  It’s the tagline for the ELCA. And it could even be thought of as the tagline for the life of a disciple of Jesus. God’s work. Our hands.
One of the parables that Jesus told is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. It is the Parable of the Master and the Master’s servants and the talents. A master was preparing to go on a journey and he gathered three of his servants around him. To one he gave 5 talents – now a talent is a unit of currency in ancient times, but today we think of it as a gift or skill. Both apply for our purposes. So, to the first servant the Master gave 5 talents, to the second he gave 2 talents and to the third he gave 1 talent.  The first two servants took what was given them and used those talents and multiplied them and earned a profit for their Master so that they could return a surplus to him. The third took the 1 talent and buried it in the ground so that he didn’t lose it and could safeguard it for the Master’s return.
To the first two the Master said, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master.” But the third received the judgment and condemnation of his Master.
This is not a parable about investment strategies. This is a parable about what we, as disciples of Jesus and as stewards of what he has given us, do with what we have been given.
How do we live into: “God’s work – Our hands” as “good and faithful servants?” There are many aspects of our life together as disciples and servants and followers of Jesus. Some of these apply to our life as a community and some apply to how live our individual lives.  As a community we worship together, we serve together. Individually, we each pray daily, we each read our Bibles regularly to learn new things and apply familiar things to the way that we live our life. And after the first of the year we may look more closely at some of these things
But right now, we want to focus on stewardship and giving as one of the marks of a disciple. Remember that Jesus has called us to “radical generosity.” Now, I have to tell you, the part of me that loves lattes, wants a netbook, and hopes for clothes shopping weekend while on vacation rebels against this notion of radical generosity. That’s because I think that what I have is mine, I earned it, I’m entitled to it, thank you very much, and, yes, I will give some of it to God.
But from the Parable that is our text today, I learn that what I have – whether time or talent or treasure – is NOT my own and I cannot use it in whatever way I want. But in the same way that Paul asks the church in Corinth, so must we ask ourselves – what do we have that we have not received?   I have college and graduate degrees. Are these my own? No, I have received these because of tuition paid by parents, courses taught by professors, scholarships received from donors, textbooks written by scholars.
Some years ago, I knit Earl a sweater. My own creation, right? Well, no. I followed a pattern written by others, used yarn prepared by others and needles manufactured by others.
We remodeled our home – our own? Well, no.  The ideas that we used came from things that we had seen elsewhere. The materials we used were manufactured by others.  Some of the labor was performed by us but other more specialized work was done by others. What do I have that I have not received? The answer is, “Nothing.”
As a follower of Jesus, I am to step out boldly to put what God has given me to work for God’s kingdom, not my own self-interest. That is what a steward or a caretaker does.
“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”
 Giving radically of what God has given us is what we do in response to God’s grace.  It is an expression of faith.  But who's faith does it reveal?  I believe that when we give of our time, when we share our talent, when we offer our treasure, we are responding to faith, in faith.  We are responding to the faith our Master has shown us, the faith that we can be his caretakers here on earth.  And we are responding in faith that he will continue to care for us, and that we will live in the joy of the one we claim as Lord. 
We will be talking more about this over the coming weeks.  What would it look like if we regularly gave a chunk of our time to an agency or organization or family who needed it? What would it look like if we regularly gave generously of our skills and talents for the work of the Kingdom? What would it look like if we regularly gave generously of our treasure? Please consider these things over the coming weeks.
“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” 
See with new eyes what God has given each of us. See with new eyes how he may want us to use this to further the Kingdom. See with new eyes God’s work and our hands, his good and faithful servants.
Amen. May it be so.

Paul Otto Manz 1919-2009

The death of Paul Manz did not really surprise me -- the man was 90 years old! What has surprised me is my reaction to it. I have felt melancholy and sadness that some may say is out of proportion to the event. So, I've spent a little bit of time thinking about this.

I attended Minneapolis Lutheran High School with three of Dr. Manz' children. Dr. Manz brought some of them to school each morning because Mt. Olive, the church he served, was close by. During Advent and Lent our choir would travel to a number of congregations to sing during evening mid-week services. It was during one of those mid-week services that I first heard Dr. Manz at the keyboard. I was spell-bound. A year or two later, our choir director added the motet "E'en So Lord Jesus, Quickly Come," a simply elegant and exquisite composition. Again, during one of the mid-week seasonal services, we were at Mt. Olive. Dr. Manz was the organist and then as a surprise to us became the choir director for this favorite anthem the choir sang. I have never forgotten this experience of music and worship.

I remember the first time that dear husband (DH) worshiped at Mt. Olive and heard him play. I can still see his eyes wide open amazed at the wonder and beauty of what he was hearing. I think of Peter, Anne and Sara who where high school friends. In the late 80's or early 90's, Dr. Manz came to St. Petersburg where we lived and did a Sunday afternoon recital and hymn sing. And the artistry was so familiar and fresh at the same time. 

Yes, sad and melancholy. Lots of chords struck.


photo from

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Reflection on Ego

So many weeks have passed since I wrote anything other than a sermon, a lesson plan or a Facebook status update. And during these weeks so many pieces of paper, so many words, so many ideas have passed through my fingers or fingertips, few of which were original. Today, I finally had to shout "Enough!" at my desk and move on page after page, word after word, sheet after sheet.

A few articles were held out for further consideration but mostly I am enjoying a cleared work space. Tissues close at hand, a clock face I can actually see, a phone I can actually find without moving anything. And, as tidy as this is, it reminds me of how much reflection I have not engaged in over these past weeks as I wrote sermons and lesson plans. Reflection is messy, seldom tidy.

In previous posts I have spoken about M, a homeless member of our congregation, who has very serious health concerns and who left our midst rather suddenly a few weeks ago to head to places unknown to us by means unknown to us. I was a tad irritated that M didn't hang out at our parish for the last of his days (however many of them there may be) and chagrined that I didn't fully understand his parting words to me because I was certain that there was no parting to come.

Oh my, M was miles ahead of me. Yes, his friend came from distant places to pick up M and bring M back to his home so that M could live out the last of his days, however many of them there may be, in places that are familiar and pleasurable.

So, at breakfast after church yesterday, another who has cared for M very much, observed that every single thing that we have prayed that M may experience has come about. And he just isn't here in this particular family of faith any longer. But thanks be to God that M is in a safe place, a loved place, and a familiar place where he is doing the things that he always wanted to do and hasn't been able to for the past many many years.

The old hymn, "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name" bids us spread our trophies at Jesus' feet. At Jesus' feet we raise all to the glory of God.


Radical Ranking -- Proper 24

Some years ago, well, many years ago, when I was in law school, someone told this joke: Due to an emergency among the secretarial staff of a family law firm, one of the junior members of the firm found himself handling the phones one day. The more senior members of the firm included his father, his uncle and his older brother. This phone answerer had done pretty well and it was coming on the lunch hour. Another call came in. He answered it again: Jackson, Jackson, Jackson and Jackson. To whom may I direct your call?
I would like to speak with Mr. Jackson.
I’m sorry, Mr. Jackson is at a lunch meeting and is not expected back until 3:00.
Well then, I would like to speak with Mr. Jackson.
Unfortunately, Mr. Jackson is in court at this time.
Oh. Perhaps then, I could talk with Mr. Jackson.
Mr. Jackson is not available as he is out of town taking depositions.
I see. Well, then. Would you please put me through to Mr. Jackson.
This is he. How can I help you?

Pecking order. This Mr. Jackson knew his place. He was the lowest on the totem pole of the firm of Jackson, Jackson, Jackson and Jackson. Where does one fit in the overall scheme of things? Where is our rightful place? How do we secure our rightful place?
So, today as we read this story about James and John, don’t we just kind of shake our heads at their presumptuousness? Who do they think they are!!?? Who indeed.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus speaks with his disciples of his coming arrest, trial, suffering and death three separate times as they are traveling toward Jerusalem where all of this will happen. Each time, Jesus’ words are very simple – the time is coming when the Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of the authorities and he will be rejected and will be tried and will suffer and will be put to death and will rise again.
After he said this the first time, Peter was outraged – “No Lord! It will not be.” Jesus listened to Peter’s tirade and then taught the disciples saying, “If you want to save your life you will lose it.”
Then after he told them this again some weeks later, they didn’t say anything to Jesus about it because they were afraid. But among themselves they were debating who it was among them who was the greatest. They ‘fessed up to Jesus who said to them, “Whoever is to be first, must be the last and must serve all.”
And today we hear of the third time in much more detail and directness – we can almost hear him say, “Listen to me! We’re headed to Jerusalem. When we get there, the church leaders are going to pass judgment on me and hand me over to the civil authorities who will sentence me to death and they will make it so bad for me that I might even wish that I would die. And three days after dying, I will rise.”
So, what is the response this time? James and John are brothers and they, along with Peter, are two of the closest of Jesus’ friends. They hear these words of Jesus again and then have a conversation among themselves and a proposition for Jesus.
At my house over the years, I have become known for my “deals.” One night, it might be like this: “Earl, I’ll make you a deal – I got dishes tonight.” Another used in earlier years might have been this: “Matt, I’ll make you a deal – you take out the garbage.” Now, I think that Earl will agree with me that my “deals” were not always self-serving. But we hear today James and John approaching Jesus with “a deal.” They say, “Let the two of us sit at your right and left hands when you come into your glory.”
Pecking order. James and John were staking out their turf.
And Jesus’ response is nearly identical to the other responses he made to the disciples as they tried to figure out what to do or say in light of Jesus telling them what was awaiting him in Jerusalem. Jesus said, “You don’t get it yet. But let me tell you again – things in the kingdom of God are radically different from how things are in our society. You want to be great, do you?? Well, pick up a mop! You want to be first in the Kingdom? Well, go wash the dishes.”
But see, the point isn’t about scoring points by doing menial chores so that we can gain a higher position on the totem pole. The point is that as disciples we don’t care about the totem pole at all. One writer said about Mother Teresa that, if we could monitor her thoughts, we probably wouldn’t hear this monologue: AH, that Peace Prize, now that would be a great thing to have. So I think I’ll go and serve the poorest of the poor and the sickest of the sick. That should clinch it for me. That would be great.
The reason that Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize is that it was the last thing on her mind.
We are not servants and slaves SO THAT we may gain entrance into the Kingdom. We are servants and slaves BECAUSE we have been brought into the Kingdom – not by any of our own actions but purely because of the grace of God.
One of my favorite all time movies is Camelot. And one of my all-time favorite scenes is when King Arthur comes up with a whole new way of thinking about being a knight, about being a king, about organizing a kingdom. King Arthur decides that there will not be an ordinary rectangular table for the knights of Camelot to meet at – a table with a clearly established head and chairs to the right and left of the head of the table. A table that clearly reflects rankings in the kingdom. No, King Arthur says that the knights and king of this kingdom will meet at a Round Table! Imagine that! One without a head, one without a ranking, one at which each knight has equal rank and equal say. One where Mr. Jackson would answer the phone and say, “This is he” the first time.
Well, the Church is like that. No human occupies the position at the head of the table. Rather, we are a round table with Christ at our center. There is not a pecking order. We each have the honorable role of being a servant.
May it be so.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Posting Sermons

When I post my sermons, I post the manuscript that I have prepared for Sunday; and the manuscript was prepared with a view toward preaching the manuscript rather than having it read by others on a webpage. While I could edit it into a written product rather than one that would be listened to, frankly, spending the time to do so isn't something that I can do right now. So please read them with this caveat in mind.

Blessings and peace,

Radical Generosity, Prosperity and Grace

Sermon Sunday October 11, 2009

“If I were a rich man…” (sung) What WOULD it be like if I were a rich man?
The Telegraph, a major London newspaper, reported this in 2007:

A brain scan study has shown that no matter how wealthy you are, money is most rewarding if you have relatively poor friends, peers and colleagues.
Several studies by sociologists have looked at whether the effect of money on happiness results largely from the things money can buy or from comparing one's income to the income of others and concluded the latter is most important.
As if to underline this difference, one economist even referred to the "shocking fact" that people in the West have become no happier in the last 50 years, despite being healthier, wealthier and better traveled.

I have to wonder who put this lectionary together – last week was divorce and this week it’s money! Just as I struggled last week so I struggled this week. Look, we all agree that in common social situations we don’t talk about religion or politics. And even among our close friends we tend to talk about income or money in only very general terms like, “my retirement plan took a big hit with this recession.” No one would ever ask, “Oh really? What is it down to?” We would simply nod our head understandingly and voice our agreement.

But in today’s Gospel, Jesus tackles money and possessions head on. And, let’s face it; some of the things that he says are surprising if not shocking.

Often when we read this text, we shake our heads condescendingly at the foolishness of this young man who walked away from Jesus because he couldn’t follow Jesus’ instruction. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Does he not know what he is doing???

One commentator said that this story is “untamable!” But you see, I want to take it and shape it and tidy it up and make it into something that I can live with.
But I think that Jesus is saying to us, “Dear children of mine – don’t you GET it!!”
What is it that we don’t get?

There are three things that this text addresses pretty clearly. First, we are called to radical generosity. Second, what we own is a huge stumbling block to our life in the Kingdom of God. Third, with God, all things are possible.

First, radical generosity. Earl and I often speculate about what we would do if we won the lottery – if we won millions we would have a terrific time giving millions away! If only… But Jesus said to this sincere, humble, faithful, follower of the law – this is what you need to do. You need to GO, SELL, GIVE, COME, FOLLOW. Sell all your possessions, sell all that burdens you, sell all that gets in the way of your coming and following me. But don’t just sell it and put the proceeds in the bank for your retirement – give the proceeds to the poor. Radical generosity. I don’t know exactly what that means for me and I resist it, truth be told. But Jesus’ words are clear.

This is not a call to slim down, to simplify, to do with less. Jesus’ words are a call to radical generosity. This is not a call to a simpler lifestyle – it is a call to a whole different lifestyle. One in which the poor benefit from our surplus, one in which those in need can rest knowing that they are cared for, one in which we are relieved of the burden of our possessions so that we can serve.

That is a segue to the second part of this text – what we own or cling to can be a huge stumbling block to our life in the Kingdom. Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God. Now, I know that some folks have tried to understand this teaching by watering it down, by trying to explain it away in any number of ways. Friends, none of these are persuasive. Jesus said what Jesus said. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle – it is easier for a huge animal to pass through a very tiny space – than for a rich one to enter into the kingdom of God.

But doesn’t this beg the question of who it is who is “rich’? I don’t feel rich. I would certainly know if I were rich, wouldn’t I? I don’t know that I am rich. And then I come across comparisons of our life in the United States of America with those in developing countries and I read this:

If you have a bank account, money in your purse or change in your pocket, you are among the wealthiest 8% in this world.

Let there be no confusion, we in the United States of America are benefactors of radical prosperity. We may feel that our security is uncertain, that our future is unknown, that we will never have the health care that we need. Yet, my friends, we are far more rich, far more abundant in possessions than millions of people around the world. As we struggle to simplify, to have lives that are less encumbered by physical possessions, our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world are in deep need. They do not have clean water to drink, do not have mosquito nets to protect them from malaria, and do not have food. We live in radical prosperity while they live in radical poverty and need. We need to hear Jesus words of Go and Sell and Give. These words of Jesus are imperatives, directions, mandates.

Finally, we are drawn into the family of God through God’s radical grace. “With God, all things are possible.” This rich young ruler thought that it all depended on what he did. But Jesus spoke across this. Jesus said, it is not what you do. In your human perspective, the camel can’t get through the needle’s eye. Instead I want you to know that I do what you can’t.

Who needs the touch of the people of Grace the most? Radical generosity
What do we cling to too tenaciously ? Radical prosperity
Who do we depend upon most? Radical grace
Radical grace, experienced every Sunday, day after day, meal after meal , prayer after prayer.
All of us gathered together around this Table. All of us mindful of our brothers and sisters around the world.

May it be so.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Radical Need Mark 10:2-16

The story is told of Sam, a young man, who was contemplating his future. He had an older friend, Harry, who was single and so Sam asked Harry why he hadn’t married. Harry said that he wanted the perfect woman – spiritually deep, intelligent, kind, and beautiful. He went on to say that he had traveled the world looking for her. And finally he found her. Sam asked – yes? You married her? Harry said that no he hadn’t married her. Sam asked, “But why not?” “Ahh,” replied Harry. “It seems that she was looking for the perfect man.”
Yes, today’s Gospel reading is one of Jesus’ teachings – this one on marriage and divorce. And I have to tell you that I really wrestled with this one this week for what I hope are obvious reasons. I am married to a man who is divorced and have seen firsthand the pain of that in his life, our life together, and in our family’s life.
Some experts estimate that as many as 45% of marriages will end in divorce within 15 years. A study out of Rutgers University in 2005 found that only 63% of American children grow up with both biological parents -- the lowest figure in the Western world. And, perhaps most curiously, the divorce rate of Christians is nearly identical to that of non-Christians. What do we make of this? And what do we make of Jesus’ words today?
Jesus is clearly speaking of marriage and divorce. The Pharisees correctly observe that should the husband decide to divorce his wife, the law of Moses said that he could by giving her a certificate of divorce and sending her packing. And various rabbis interpreted this to permit a divorce for as simple a reason as the husband didn’t like his wife’s cooking. And we thought “no-fault” divorce was a modern invention! So, in answer to the Pharisees’ question, the answer was Yes, the Law permits a husband to divorce his wife. The Pharisees knew the Law.
But Jesus had more to say than simply to parrot what the Law said. You know, we say that we are people of grace, people who are not legalistic, people who know that we do not have a saving relationship with God because of anything WE have done. But, you know sometimes, I do believe that we get a little stuck in wanting to know precisely where the lines are – the lines that define “us” and “them”, the lines that include and thereby exclude, the lines that define who is in and who is out, the lines that show us who the law keepers are and who the law breakers are. You see if I know all those lines, then my life is just a little easier.
But, thanks be to God, Jesus looked at things so much differently. He said that this Law was given because of the hardness of heart of sinful human beings. He knew that we all want to know precisely where the lines are and he frustrated our attempts in this. He said, “Yes, the Law that came to you through Moses said that you could divorce your wife. Yes, there may well be times when that is necessary for any number of reasons. But, I want you to understand this – that is NOT at all what God intended for a husband and a wife in their life together.” And Jesus goes on to describe what God had in mind.
God had in mind a relationship of soft hearts, two people who leave their loyalties to their families behind them in order to create a union that becomes so intimate and so close and so shaped by the love of God, that these two individuals become one flesh. Please remember this – divorce is not a sin in and of itself. NO, there are often good reasons to divorce. Divorce is the result of the condition of sin. We are a broken people living broken lives in a broken world. And we are in desperate need of a Savior.
And so we come to another aspect of today’s Gospel reading. The story outside of the story. Let’s compare the people who came to Jesus – we have the Pharisees and the little children.
The Pharisees and the little children. The Pharisees came with the motive of trapping Jesus, of tripping him up because of his frequent disregard of the Law – not washing hands correctly, not observing Sabbath correctly, welcoming all sorts of unsavory people. So they try one more time. They ask their question – one that they think is sure to cause him problems. And Jesus says in essence, “You ask me this because of the hardness of your heart.”
On the other hand the little children – not just children, but “little” children – come seeking Jesus’ touch. When has Jesus touched people in the Gospel of Mark? Jesus touched people in order that they may be healed! These children coming to Jesus may well have been the children that we would see at All Children’s Hospital or in the “sick” part of any pediatrician’s waiting room. Remember what we know about children in ancient times – they weren’t even included in the census until they were 2 or 3 years old, so desperate was their plight. These children were in desperate need of a Savior, in desperate need of the touch of Jesus. In desperate need of his welcoming embrace.
One of the distant memories that I can actually feel is of a Christmas Eve perhaps 50 years ago. We had just gotten into our car to drive home from my Godparents’ home. We always spent Christmas Eve with them. It was very cold. Dad was driving. I was in the middle of the front seat. Mom was on the passenger side. (This was in the days of no seat belts, no child seats). Mom put her arm around me and I nuzzled my face into the very soft fake fur of her winter coat. I felt safe and cared for and loved.
That’s how it was for the children coming to Jesus.
My friends, the words of Gospel today are not that Jesus condemns divorce. The word of Gospel is that Jesus engages with those who challenge him, seek to trip him up, think the worst of him. The word of Gospel is that Jesus embraced snotty-nosed kids, kids with a fever, kids who were sick, kids like you and me.
Thanks be to God.

Ripping Apart Flesh

Up until Thursday last week, I hoped that I would find a way to avoid preaching about marriage and divorce. Frankly, as one with a "first husband" but who is herself a "second wife," this isn't a topic that gives me joy to enter into. But by Friday it was clear to me that there was no other "safe harbor" of preaching fodder that I could anchor in. Wrote a sermon tackling divorce, marriage, sin, Pharisees, little children. (I'll post it separately)

Then at the very early start of our Adult Class today a member asked if we couldn't talk about what is happening in the ELCA. My mind flitted around quickly and I saw that the same teaching of Jesus about divorce for the hardness of human hearts may have application to the current strugglings in the ELCA. We are indeed the very Body of Christ, one flesh. Some may think that the image of the Church as the Body of Christ is a simile -- the Church is "like" the Body of Christ. And two people married are "like" one flesh.

I rather think that two people married to each other are, in ways that we do not understand, actually one flesh. And the parting of these two people is a ripping apart of flesh that causes pain and anguish and should be done very cautiously and only when it is necessary, and there are times when it is necessary but often these times are less frequent than would initially appear.

And the members of the Church as the Body of Christ are, in ways that I do not understand, organically connected to each other. There may be a time where one of these members must rip apart from the other. But this ripping must be done cautiously and only when absolutely necessary.

I wish that I were a theological expert in these things....
But then again, I am very glad that I am not.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Oh Such Shiftings

There are times when one's day off must be shifted or sacrificed. Much of today was full of that shift and sacrifice, twistings and turnings.

Today, I spent good time with the chaplain at Hospice. She and I recently have been working together because of one of the beloved members of Grace was a patient at Hospice Woodside. Ellie spent time with me today as I reflected on what it means that M has left Florida to head back to his home state. Such a shifting, especially given the fact that he and his parents and sister worshiped with us yesterday. Such quick shiftings.

I am grateful for a time with a chaplain, Ellie, who helped me begin to process M's absence for our community. And helped fill in a couple of gaps about his leaving.

Our prayers are that he makes it to his intended destination, that he survives until then.

Ellie brought to my attention the need that I have to be in a regular schedule of meeting with a spiritual director. Thanks be to God for those who are partners through this process.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Four Pounds of Licorice

As M got settled in his new living facility, I had a few occasions to talk with him. I learned that one of his passions was black licorice. Yikes, not my first choice and probably among my last choices. But this is what M loved. I told him that I would bring him some.

The next time I visited him, he was in no condition to eat ANYTHING much less licorice! The time after that he was ever so much better. But, alas, I forgot the licorice. M suitably chastised me. ;-)

Then a series of events began to unfold very quickly through which M was in touch with members of his family from whom he had been distant for the last many many years. And a few days ago they gathered around him, bearing licorice. They knew of his passion for it (despite the lapse of many years)and they brought one pound, I was chagrined that I had forgotten the visit before and brought one pound. I learned of another of M's friends who mailed him two pounds.

A one hundred pound child of God and four pounds of licorice. Seems about right.

Grateful again!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Let a Child Lead Us

Like many congregations, over the years the acolytes at Grace typically have been middle-schoolers. But as this congregation has shifted and changed in its demographics, we now see that even adults can light candles. Imagine that. Serving in the chancel can be something that even adults do.

And today one of our grown-up acolytes, Kristie, asked me if she could have her 2+ year old son, Nicholas, walk with her as she performed this service. What a delight it was for all of us to see a mother and son participate in this simple service of lighting the candles and then extinguishing them.

I wonder about what it would look like if we were like Nicholas, eager to serve, following the example of others, and eagerly wanting to do it again!

Blessings to all!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Over the past few days, pastors, rostered leaders, bishops, and some lay leaders came together for an annual conference regularly scheduled. Together we enjoy time to rest, reflect, talk, worship, and work. Our evening worship yesterday included an opportunity for prayer with anointing and laying on of hands. Serving as one of the prayer ministers is one of the very sacred times of ministry that I have experienced.

I remember many of their names, the feel of their hands as I touched and asked them if there was something specific they would like prayers of healing for, the smoothness of the oil on my thumb and the various textures of the skin on their foreheads.

I remember the pain in some of their voices as they raised a specific need, the weariness in others where there was only a need for stamina and strength of spirit. I remember some of their eyes – those who met mine, and I remember those who did not for reasons that are all their own.

There is that moment when one approaches for prayer and the one offering prayer asks if there is a specific need. In that split second, one decides whether to speak of that which is heaviest on their heart and spirit. This is an intersection of fear and hope that PB Mark had been describing over our days together -- that place where we risk personal vulnerability because of our trust in the one with us and our hope that in this time of prayer and anointing, God will do what God promises – that he will bind up the broken-hearted, give release to the captive and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.

And most amazingly, in this time of prayer with each of these, I am humbled to realize that their expression of their need gave silent voice to my own. I was not only praying for them, but in our time together we were praying with each other.

Holy Ground.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Walking with a Wounded Hip

Such a contrast. Today the congregation I serve was preparing for Rally Day and Ministry Fair tomorrow. There was such energy and laughter and joy as this gathering of folks prepared to "pat themselves on their (collective) back" for the lives being touched, both within our family of faith and those who are within our reach. Then I returned home and saw even more emails and postings and links with angst over some of the actions of the Churchwide Assembly last month. Such a contrast.

I know that even writing this makes me subject to the justifiable criticism that our faith is not simply a matter of laughter and joy and enthusiasm. That is not what I mean to convey. Certainly, that is not the case. Rather, it becomes clear to me once again that that which is the source of our greatest joy is also the source of our greatest pain. 

Like hundreds or even thousands of Lutherans right now, I am wrestling. And I expect that, like Jacob, as the dawn comes, I will walk into it with a wounded hip. Perhaps, like Jacob, I am wrestling with God. But perhaps not. Some of my brothers and sisters in faith assert that unless I stand against the actions of the Churchwide Assembly with regard to homosexuality, I am apostate and outside the Christian faith. Others share their own wrestlings. Others continue to get ready for Rally Day.

It seems that our task now is to live in the tension of Rally Day and tornadoes.

Tonight I will finish preparations for tomorrow. Tomorrow I will teach and proclaim the Word as God equips me to do, I will worship Him as the Spirit enables me, I will celebrate the Eucharist as one called and privileged to do so. All with a most grateful heart.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Labor Day

Don't you find it funny that most Sundays, the Sabbath, the day of rest, is the day that many of us run errands, do housework, do work work; in short, we do anything but rest. Tomorrow is Labor Day and most of us will do anything but labor -- we will sleep in, putz around the grill, cook an easy meal with an easy clean-up.

Labor Day marks a transition of seasons -- from Summer to Fall. When I was very young, Labor Day was the last day before school started. At the ready were my new shoes for school, new school supplies, perhaps some new clothes. The more fashionably minded among us mark Labor Day as the end of the time for wearing white shoes, white jackets, most all things white.

I think about the labor of my parents. Arden, my dad, was a meat-cutter for all of his working life. Dad worked 6 full days a week for much of my life. Then he began taking Wednesdays off (in addition to Sunday). As I used number 2 pencils to fill in the circles in elementary school testing, I didn't know how to answer demographic questions -- is your father a blue-collar or a white collar worker? Well, my dad wore a black tie and a white shirt to work every day. But I was told that he was a blue-collar worker. This was quite confusing to this second grade daughter.

Yvette, my mom, worked behind a desk. This was most unusual for a mother of the 50's and 60's. But the elementary school testing didn't ask anything about her. In the demographic questioning, Mom's work didn't matter, didn't amount to anything, according to this survey. Yet, clearly they labored and they taught me well about laboring.

So, there was the line between the "blue-collar" and the "white-collar"; and there was the line between the work of the 'husbands" and the "wives." In my 7th grade classroom there was the line between the Christians, and Pat Moses, the one Jew. Such a very large number of lines to define us.

May we all "rest" on "Labor" Day


Friday, September 4, 2009

Fit for the Dogs

Usually at this time of night, I would be turning off the TV, closing down the screen of my laptop and noticing Sam lift his head from his little "dog nest" and look at me with those eyes that say "is this it?"  Then "it" would be moving from my office to having a little time as I perched on the hearth of our fireplace. I sat. He was petted near my feet or with my feet. Sam settled in and so did I for a time, a time of quiet and a time of peace, a time of sitting, and a time of doing not much of anything. Oh, my Sam.

When I think of "dogs," I think of the dogs we have loved and lived with and cared for -- Sheba, Molly, and Sam. The dogs in our homes have been indulged, fed lavish meals at the ending of their days, bathed in human bathtubs, and on their own and sometimes unbeknownst to us they settled into the coziest places in our homes.
They have trembled at the approaching storms and climbed into our laps for comfort. They have ignored intruders. They have run away from us (because there is such a world out there to explore!!) and then quickly jumped into Earl's truck as we went looking for them and they were looking for the next adventure.
Oh, these dogs of ours. Our life would not be the same without them.
In the gospel reading for this coming Sunday, Jesus speaks to the "dogs." The dogs are cared for and fed.
We are dogs who are fed at the Table of the Lord.
Who else shall we invite close to the Table of the Lord?

Heading to the hearth.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lost and Found

A member of the congregation I serve (I'll call him "M") was hospitalized a few weeks ago and was in the hospital, indeed, for a few weeks. This afternoon I went to visit him and he was gone, had been discharged. Normally, that would be cause for a prayer of thanksgiving. But this is not a "normal" situation. M is one of a small handful of our members who is homeless. I couldn't imagine that they would simply discharge him to the street so I assumed that he was in a facility someplace. Given privacy rules, I figured that he was lost to us until he could find a way to contact me.

Thank you God for hospital staff members who were compassionate (or, alternatively, uncaring or ignorant) and gave me discharge information for M -- in a round-a-bout way M ended up at another hospital. This raised many questions and wonderings in my mind. Fortunately, the other hospital wasn't awfully far away. I traveled a bit and found M, blessed him, and prayed with him. His discharge planner stopped in while I was there -- thank you again God!

Once lost and now found. While I had other important calls and visits to make today, I could see that M was to be the focus of my shepherding this afternoon. Those others whom I had planned on visiting had others around them who cared for them. M was alone. Not surprisingly, the parable that occurred to me was the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:3-7). Several years ago, a friend, colleague, and seminary professor told me that she met a pastor once who termed that parable the Parable of the Incomplete Flock. Lost, then found, because someone searched. And the flock was complete again.  Holy Ground.

But, of course, the flock is never really complete.

Monday, August 31, 2009

A "Play Day"

A day for sleeping late -- ohhh, the luxury of a gradual waking. A day to catch a movie matinee. A day to read one book for as long as I wanted to -- ohhh, the luxury of it all. While I try to play rather than work on my regular day off, I am seldom fully successful. Some days there is no play at all -- rather a house to clean and the errands necessitated by simply living on this planet consume most of the day. Some days there is no play but rather passive "couch potato" time. Some days there is regular work -- hospital visits, sermon preparation, Bible Study preparation, parish planning, and the list goes on.

A friend of mine recently noted that during this time in the life of a pastor in the ELCA we need especially now to play. This is most certainly true.

So, my partner-in-life and I caught a delightful movie, I am smelling the aromas of the shrimp and grits dinner he is fixing, and I will soon check email, start thinking about next Sunday's sermon, getting ready for a full day tomorrow, reviewing the last draft of the newsletter (yes, I know it's a little late). And I'll continue to have some laughs over the movie.

I am most grateful.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Blogging Newbie

Over the past weeks and months and even years, I have stumbled upon blogs and read the musings and wonderings and postings of folks I know, folks I hope to know, and yes, some who fall into neither category. Writing and words are important to me and so I set out on this blogging journey. This will not be a daily diary, for it will not be daily nor will it be a report of my activities of the day. Rather, I hope to grow in the craft of reflecting upon what I sense around me.

I don't yet understand all of the steps necessary to create a blog, but I've gotten this far. Obviously, there are more steps ahead.

Saturday evenings are times of preparation for me -- times to finish the sermon, review the plan for Sunday School, prepare the prayers. Times to connect with friends. Time to kick back. And so that's what I am doing this evening. Finishing things for tomorrow. And doing lots of wondering.