Monthly Archives: November 2014

Advent- what is it anyway?

Dear Hope-fuls,

Yesterday, our church year concluded with Christ the King Sunday.  You can breathe a sigh of relief because the parables of Matthew will subside for a few years 😉 This coming Sunday we begin the new year.  The new year is a time to make room for what is most important in our lives- God’s presence.  In Advent we make room for God’s coming.  We anticipate celebrating Christmas, we acknowledge the ways that God is present in our midst everyday, and we look to the day when God fully comes to restore this world.

To give you a great sneak peak into the meaning of Advent, check out this busted halo video, Advent in 2 Minutes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S02KOlw7dlA

<a href="/channel/UCKYZOHnWG_5lVhke0NxsljA" class=" yt-uix-sessionlink     spf-link  g-hovercard" data-name="" data-ytid="UCKYZOHnWG_5lVhke0NxsljA" data-sessionlink="ei=gEVzVPGCMNT8rgaK9ICgDA">bustedhalovideo</a>

Advent is about:

expecting, waiting, hoping, & praying

Advent is NOT about frenzied Christmas shopping, and buying more stuff that we don’t need.  Consider this as you prepare for Christmas this year.  What giving brings me joy?  Keep doing that giving.  What giving stresses me out?  Consider talking with family, friends, and co-workers about ending these Christmas exchanges or opting out for the year.  Instead, use some of the money for a better cause.  For you, that cause may be paying down your debt and trying to get off hamster wheel of consumerism.  Or it may be finding a family truly in need this Christmas.  Or donating to Good Gifts from the ELCA…  https://community.elca.org/ELCAGoodGifts  Whatever you do, do it in the spirit of Advent & Christmas!

While watching CNN yesterday, a commentator kept referring to Black Friday as Good Friday.  (And I kept puking in my mouth...)  Let me set the record straight.

Black Friday– the day of shopping after thanksgiving (the black in the name refers to the true spirit of the day)*

Good Friday– the day we commemorate the death of Jesus (which is truly a good thing because through his death on the cross comes the resurrection of God and all of us as well!)

But now we are getting way ahead of ourselves on the church year!  So let’s get back to Advent, shall we?  Advent: hope, joy, peace, love.  NOT Advent: buying, stressing, only singing songs in minor keys.

Here’s to hoping we may all find a bit more peace and joy in this season of Advent!

prayers around the cross candles color

*I say that tongue in cheek, please don’t email me! 🙂 

Why read the Bible???

Why Read the Bible:

A Response to A Year Without God

empty chair

Some of you may have heard the story of the former Christian Pastor Ryan Bell.  His story lit up the blogosphere at the beginning of 2014, when he announced he would try atheism for a year.  His blog, “A Year Without God” shared his journey.  At the beginning of this experiment, he had already come to see that he lived his Christian life like a functional atheist.  He claims that most American Christians do too.

So what do you think? Do most American Christians live their lives as if God is real and active in the world? Do people of faith pray? Do American Christians read the Bible?  And if not, why should they?

As we have learned through post-modernity, humans are narrative beings.  Our existence and meaning is shaped by the stories around us.  Think of the narrative of the American dream.  It is the storythat tells us we can achieve our dreams if only we work hard enough for it.  And the story of the American melting pot tells us that people from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities become united in America. Other stories of our American culture are not so rosy.  Think of the message that we get from consumerism: You are not enough- UNLESS you buy this product!  You are not beautiful- UNLESS you look like this!  You will not be happy- UNLESS you achieve a certain amount of wealth and status!  Some of these stories may not be true in their essence, and yet they all have a real impact on our lives.

Yet there is another option rather than the story of consumerism.  The Judeo-Christian heritage has a rich biblical story that tells a different story. This story is tells us of a God who created the world and saw that it was good.  This God created humankind in the divine image.  This God speaks of love and justice and faithfulness even in the midst of human suffering, violence, and war.  And through this God we see the picture of love in the person of Jesus, born to show the world God’s love.  In this story we can find our true identity as beloved children of God.  In this story we can find hope.

In the pages of the Bible all people can find a source of meaning and love in their lives.  In the pages of the Bible are stories that inspire, delight, and intrigue.  In the pages of the Bible are the stories of people who love with boldness, dare to defy the religious and political authorities, and rise above human limitations to connect with the divine.  And in the stories of the Bible we can find our own story, our own identity and our purpose in life.

But anything with a reward so deep and worthwhile requires commitment.  The pages of the Bible also include many stories that leave us outraged, offended, and just plain bewildered.  The Bible invites us into a story with people that are selfish and cruel.  The Bible invites us into a story that exists in a different time and place that has different cultural values.  The Bible invites us into a story that took place in a time where patriarchy was the norm.  So how do we deal with the difficult passages of the Bible and still make sense of it?

To do this, we need to read the Bible for its overarching narrative and central themes.  As people of faith we need to stop using the Bible as a weapon.  We cannot simply take one verse from the Bible and use it to prove our point.  The Bible is meant to share the story of God and God’s people.  It is not meant to be a pointing finger or a source of condemnation or shame.

When we read the Bible as a long and winding narrative from Genesis to Revelation (the first book to the last book), we begin to see the story of God in a big way.  In this story God has created a good world and yet this world is often separated from God.  So God works to show the world how loved and cherished it truly is.  God goes to extraordinary lengths to do this.  And then the Bible paints an incredible picture of what restoration and reconciliation truly looks like!  In the end, when we are reunited with God all of creation will be restored and all people will be drawn together in love.

The overarching themes of the Bible paint a vision of justice.  The prophets of the Bible call for the rich to take care of the poor and accountability in leadership.  Jesus teaches us to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves and models a way of non-violence.  These themes can help us in our personal ethics and also help us to create a world where justice and peace are the central standards for living in community.

So people ask, “Why read the Bible?”  And yet when we get to the heart of it we may start asking, “How can we NOT read the Bible?”  I do not know how blogger Ryan Bell’s year of atheism will end.  Yet, even without a religious faith, he will still have stories that shape his lives.  He will still find his identity in these stories.  The question will be- will these other stories give him a sense of meaning and purpose in life?  Will these other stories ring true to his experiences?  Will they inspire, encourage, and challenge him to live the life he desires?  And if not, he may want to consider taking another journey for a year- a journey through the biblical story.  He may find coming back to this very old story was just what he needed to rediscover his identity and his view of God and the world.

chair with bible

Sermon for Sunday, November 2nd

Matthew 5:1-12

1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Blessing

Blessed- it’s a word we use a lot in our church, and a word that is used a lot around Thanksgiving.  And it appears in our gospel reading today in some peculiar phrases.  I want to take a moment to think about what this word truly means and to examine what it means in the context of this scripture and in our lives today.  The word blessed in this passage comes from the Greek word Makarios.  This word is translated as blessed, but it can also mean happy or fortunate.  This is not only a superficial happiness- but a deep-seated contentment and fulfillment.  Blessed implies that God’s favor or benefits have been extended to someone.

The word blessed is found in the psalms many times.  And this Hebrew word (ashrei) can also be translated as blessed OR happy or enriched.  Like psalm 1:

Psalm 1

The Two Ways

Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

Like Trees planted by streams of living water….   Yielding fruit and prospering.Blessed and happy.

There is a song  by Casting Crowns I have been inspired by lately that uses an image from psalm 1.

Song

Thrive by Casting Crowns

Here in this worn and weary land
Where many a dream has died
Like a tree planted by the water
We never will run dry

So living water flowing through
God, we thirst for more of You
Fill our hearts and flood our souls with one desire

Just to know You and to make You known
We lift Your name on high
Shine like the sun, make darkness run and hide
We know we were made for so much more than ordinary lives
Its time for us to more than just survive
We were made to thrive

Into Your word, were digging deep
To know our Fathers heart
Into the world, were reaching out
To show them who You are

Joy unspeakable, faith unsinkable
Love unstoppable, anything is possible

The songs speaks of thriving instead of merely surviving.  What an important contrast.  We may ask ourselves,“are we thriving in our lives- or simply surviving?”  I think we have all been at points in our lives when we are in survival mode: overly stressed with work or school, or simply trying to pay the bills each month.  And on this All Saints Sunday we are reminded that many are surviving losses- losses of loved ones, the loss and grief of losing a job or going through a divorce, dealing with addiction, the overwhelming work of beginning a new job, or moving to a new place, or staring a new school.  In survival mode, we can hardly focus on the blessings around us because we are just trying to make it through the day.  Maybe you are in survival mode right now.

At some points in our lives, we have no choice. But doesn’t God want more for us than to stay in survival mode as our norm?

The song lyrics spoke of that tree that was planted by streams of living waters.  In the same way, when we are in relationship with God we receive the living water of Christ.  This living water provides for our spiritual needs and gives us an abundance of God things in our lives like joy, peace, love, hope.  These spiritual fruits pour out of us as God’s spirit pours into us.

We thrive like the tree planted by living water.  Maybe this idea of thriving is similar to being blessed.  But of course this thriving (this blessed happiness) is not as the world often views happiness.  We can look to the witness of the saints who have gone before us for proof of this.  Some of the most famous saints are well-known and loved to us because of the sacrifices made and the difficulties they endured in life.

  • Many of Jesus’ disciples and the first followers of Jesus gave their lives as martyrs to live out and share the message of Jesus with the world
  • Mother Teresa gave her life to serve the poorest of the poor in the streets of Calcutta
  • Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated for his work to end racism and fight for the poor in America
  • During the plagues of Europe- Christians were known to care for the sick- risking their own lives. And now today Christian medical missions are volunteering to help with the Ebola crisis in Liberia.
  • These are BIG examples…. But I think if we consider the saints of our own lives we may see this thread as well.
  • My grandmother Dorothy was an inspiration to me in my life and in my walk of faith. As the mother of 9 children and 25 grandchildren- her life was not always an easy one but she always had such love and joy emanating from her spirit.  She may not be remembered by the history books but she will always be loved and remembered by her family as an example of God’s love.  And I think the same is true for many of the saints of our church and our families that we remember in love today.

These saints show us that thriving is less about being successful and prosperous in the world’ eyes.  Instead, it is about having significance in life.  Significance means that we have a purpose- that we are working within God’s mission for this world… that we are a part of something larger than ourselves.  Here is where we find true fulfillment- here is where we find ourselves thriving.  Here is where we are blessed by God.  We move beyond surviving (not because we are without hardships or struggle) but because we are living lives of significance fed by living water.

Jesus’ blessings

When Jesus walked away from the crowds and taught his disciples this Bible lesson we read in Matthew’s gospel- it would have been quite shocking to hear.  Because all of the people that Jesus spoke of- were not blessed, happy, or fortunate.  Those who were considered blessed were the rich, the powerful, those with many gifts of children, land, food, and livestock.  The exact opposite of Jesus’ words seem true…

Those who mourn are not happy or comforted

Those who are gentle do not inherit the land

Those who hunger for justice are left unfulfilled

The peacemakers are pushed aside

The persecuted suffer

And yet Jesus makes a radical pronouncement with these blessings.  Things are changing…  The kingdom of heaven- the way it is in God’s kingdom- is breaking into this world and upsetting the balance of power.  Now that Jesus, God in flesh, has arrived on the scene- things are revealed through God’s eyes.  The kingdom of heaven is breaking through in the person of Jesus.  And in this new order: the poor, meek, the mournful, peacemakers, and those hungering for justice- are blessed by God. This pronouncement comes to speak the true of the present moment.  It is not a list of things to strive for – it is simply a revelation of God’s truth- these people are blessed.  They are happy, they are fulfilled, they are thriving.  They have significance in God’s kingdom.  The wonderful gospel news brings this new reality.  This new reality is present in Jesus and it continues through the lives of Jesus’ followers and in the church and in the world and wherever the Holy Spirit works.

And God’s radical blessing breaks into our personal world too.  God reveals that when you suffer, struggle, and mourn- you are not alone.  God sees you in your pain and is with you.  God proclaims that you are blessed.  God promises to provide living waters to refresh you.  Because you too are one of the saints of God.  And together we are the saints of Hope Lutheran- supported and surrounded by the many who have gone before us.

In our church of Hope Lutheran- we have a vision that we will go beyond survival mode.  We will move beyond only focusing on paying the bills.  We will move into God’s calling of mission for our church.  This calling is to a vision of significance- of making a difference in the community- of continuing of current ministries and expanding them to reach more people.  It will not be without its struggle- but we will not be alone.  We will have God’s abundant love and blessing to fuel our service.  And each of you will be a part of this big vision and this work for the kingdom.  May God bless us in our work.  Amen.

Pastoring and Mothering

IMG_4886-2

Pastoring and mothering are similar calls. They are both calls with great responsibilities. The burdens are great, and yet they are burdens of love. As a mother there are times when I would do just about anything for a little breathing room- a little space away from the babes. And then the babysitter comes and that last squeeze is so precious you can hardly leave. “I can’t leave now,” I think, “They need me! And I need them! Who am I without these little tinies attached to me?” And the same is true for my congregation. Just as I am walking out the door, someone in need calls and the love surges through me. Some may say you should not find your identity in your role as a mother or your role as pastor, but for me it is intricately woven into my identity. It is as tight as the latch of the newborn to his mother. I do exist somewhere without these roles, but many times we are too close to call the end of one and the beginning of another. And that is really the true beauty of being a mother/pastor. You can be so close to another soul. You are so close you are pretty sure your heart is toddling around playing trains and building towers rather than doing whatever unimportant things your adult body has found to do.

The birthing of a sermon is a labored process. It starts out as a seed of scripture and grows all week long, adding the fat of stories and experiences and finally brought into world through the spirit. The spirit is a strong midwife. She pushes and pulls, sometimes as tough as that coach from high school that made you run killers until you puked. Other times she is as gentle as your mother stroking your hair when you are sick. Sermon writing is indeed a labor of love. And then comes the week when you are not writing the sermon. You rejoice! You think of all of the things you may do on a Saturday night instead of agonizing over your message and waking in the wee hours of the night to pray and tend to it. And then there is the emptiness… But who will remind me of God’s promises this week? Will I tend to the scriptures seeds or let them lie fallow this week? Who will share God’s gospel news with MY little flock this week? Will they do it with the tender care and knowing that I do?

Someone asked me at church one day this week, ‘are you working today?’ “No I said. Well not officially. Well kind of I guess,” with a sheepish smile. As a pastor you are always on call. Not always because you are literally ‘on-call’ this weekend, but because pastoring work is not logged. There are times I have ‘office hours’ the whole day and feel as if I have not worked a minute. There are other ‘days off’ at home where I spend most of my energy pastoring. This is not to say one should not take Sabbath time away from pastoring. Of course this is true. One must refuel. One must rest. One must have other hobbies and interests and commitments. Of course. So when I am not pastoring, I am usually mothering.

My life is not very balanced right now, and I’m okay with that. If there is a pastoring mom out there with a perfectly balanced life, I would like to meet her. Maybe she can give me some advice. But for now I have come to peace with the fact that this is a time in my life where things are a bit out of balance. After all, I have two tiny people who are very needy right now. I also have a newborn first call that is quite needy as well. Someday there may be time for long jogs and hours of prayer or yoga, but for now there are long hours in the rocking chair. My meditation is the swaying back and forth. I think on the tiny fingers and stare in utter amazement as one tiny thumb has recently developed little rolls of fat. Wow, the splendor of God’s creation! The splendor of my own little creation! My service to the community is my nursing. My exercise is carrying a baby and chasing a toddler. My time with my husband is spent laughing at bath time and curling up together on the couch when both of the little ones are finally in bed (if I haven’t fallen asleep yet). And when I’m relaxed enough, I am actually able to find much joy in this. Joy and amazement.

I thank God every day for the calls of pastor and mom. It is something I have aspired to my entire life, and now I am living it. They are two of the most difficult things I have ever dared to do. Two labors of love worth all of the labor.

Inspirations:

Photo credit: Beth Sprotte Photography, Birthing the Sermon Edited by Rev. Dr. Jana Childers, Mamastery.com, http://lilliankeil.tumblr.com/post/99411163279/breastfeeding-and-the-eucharist