God has place this wonderful creation in our hands. As U2 sings, "It's a beautiful day, don't let it slip away." We have this one life to live on this beautiful planet so enjoy these reflections on God, faith, life, and music. "After the flood all of the colors came out. It's a beautiful day."

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Spend the Year with Matthew

At the end of the year and the beginning of a new year, we take time to stop and reflect on where we have been and where we are going. In the church calendar, we enter a season of Epiphany: a time where we reflect on the light of the world stepping down into the darkness. Jesus moves from being a child to being a man who experiences God’s touch in baptism, takes time away in retreat (temptation in the wilderness) in order to get ready for ministry. When he has dealt with all of the challenges to following God, Jesus begins his ministry by saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand (Matthew 4:17).” At that point, Jesus begins collecting people, he invites the first disciples to follow him and begins to experience crowds who want teaching and healing from him. Epiphany is when we take time to be inspired yet again to walk with Jesus into the light of the Kingdom of Heaven.
This year when we turn to a gospel, our church follows the Gospel of Matthew. We use Matthew as the guide for how we tell Jesus’ story. In Matthew’s Gospel, we are assured from beginning to end that Jesus is Emmanuel – God-with-us. Why not make 2011 a year spent with the Gospel of Matthew. Take an afternoon and sit down and read the gospel from chapter 1 the origins of Jesus, the son of David, the son of Abraham to chapter 28 where Jesus promises to be with us forever and asks us to go and make disciples. And in between those points Jesus teaches and heals, is rejected by opponents, heads toward Jerusalem, gives his final teachings in the temple, and is tried, executed, and begins life anew. The story shows us how to live as disciples.
After you have read it through and have a feel for the story, take a chapter a week to spend time with the Jesus. Begin to read Matthew prayerfully and slowly, and Matthew will begin to speak to you this year. So when you are making your New Year’s resolution, commit to listening to the Gospel of Matthew and waiting for God to lead us on a journey of change, renewal, and growth.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Pray with Boldness

29 And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus." 31 When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness. 32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need (Acts 4: 29-35). 
The disciples have been called to task before the Jerusalem leadership. What are you doing? In your grief what are you saying? Do you truly want to do this to your people? We are asking you to stop. give up this nonsense. This isn't what religion in about.  So faced with the displeasure of the religious leaders what would you do?  Would you cave and continue to practice religion as it has always been?  Would you cave and just start steaming inside, becoming resentful and angry?  Would you leave and never say another word about faith? 


Would you stop before entering and pray to God to speak boldly?  Then after being reamed by the elders would you again pray to God to allow you to speak the word boldly.  Would you then share a meal, share your resources, and live together knowing the kingdom of God is near and you will be a living part of the Kingdom now. 

Would you have the courage to start praying boldly.  As part of the church would you be willing to hear God speaking boldly calling us as a community and as individuals to be bold.  I ask you to pray for boldness,  Boldness to allow you to be open to the movement of the spirit in our midst and allow God to use you to speak the Gospel with boldness to those you don;t know yet.  This may be a bit scary, and its ok to feel nervous.  "Be bold.  Be Strong.  For the Lour Our God is With Us." 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Prayer

Every Christmas I pull out old much loved movies and be moved by them once again. One of my favorites is The Bishop’s Wife. In this movie, one of the main characters Bishop Henry is leading a very busy stressful life. He is trying to build a magnificent cathedral to glorify God. Trying to build this temple is causing all sorts of trouble, for the woman who has promised to donate a large sum of money wants a temple to her late husband who she didn’t love in life and is trying to make up for after his death. So Henry is at the end of his rope with her demands and cries out to God,

O God what am I to do: can’t you help me, can’t you tell me. God please help me.

Henry says this prayer and right a way we hear a door open, but no one is there. Henry turns around and there is Dudley an answer to the prayer.

Henry’s answer was on the way even before the prayer was spoken. For Dudley had been walking through town helping people in need – a blind man crossing the street, a baby about to be killed. He is meeting all those in Henry’s life who can restore the happiness he once knew. The answer to Henry’s prayer was already on the way even before the prayer had been spoken. The answer to the prayer isn’t what is expected or even what Henry thought he wanted. The prayer was a groaning of his spirit calling to God in words too deep to be spoken. The answer was what he needed and not what he wanted. For part of the prayer, was spoken by Julia, Henry’s wife, that life could be as it was before when, “We used to be happy and make other people happy.”

The Christmas story is the story of prayers and longing: the longing for a savior, a messiah who will come and lead the people out of darkness. One of the prayers spoken is by Mary knowing that she will be the mother of an incredible child, a child meant to save Israel.

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for You have looked with favor on the lowliness of your servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is your name.
Your mercy is for those who fear you from generation to generation. You have shown strength with your arm; You have scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
You have brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
You have filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
You have helped your servant Israel, in remembrance of your mercy.

Mary must have been scared when she prayed this prayer, for she stays at her cousin’s house for three more months. Yes, she knows that God has a plan, but that plan seems to have wrecked havoc on her life. And, yet, everyone she meets speaks of the wonder that will come with this child.

May God guide your feet this Christmas and may you pray the prayer of your soul knowing the answer is coming in unexpected ways.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas Lights

This advent season I have been thinking a lot about what it means to experience the light of God.  How do we in a world that seems to be full of darkness find the light of God?  You watch the news and see a world that seems out of control, lost in the darkness.

Here are just the current headlines on my local news:
  • Milwaukee Hospital Does CT Scan On Hungarian Mummy
  • Suspect In Credit Union Kidnapping Has Died
  • Search For Missing Mich. Boys Hits Home
  • Flags To Fly At Half-Staff Thursday For Wisconsin Soldier
  • Police: Man Killed Over Stolen Cigarettes
  • Mourners Remember Crash Victim At Visitation
The National news isn't much better.
  • Even One Puff Can Kill You
  • Authorities Set fire to Explosive-Laden CA House
  • Unhappy Democrats Say Tax Bill Likely to Pass
  • Protests, Cyber-Skirmishes Rage over WikiLeaks
  • FBI: Md. Bomb Plot Suspect Knew About Oregon Sting
  • Police:  Man Claims He's a Vampire, Burns V on Teen
  • SOcial Worker:  Dad Blamed Devil in Tot's Death
  • Parrot Echoed Pleas Of Dying Mother
  • Authorities: Mont. Man Staged Own Kidnap Hoax
  • Paris Slowly Returning To Normal After Snow
  • Ritzy Boutiques Cater To Ultra-Spoiled Pets
 "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined."  Isaiah in chapter 9, is speaking of a people lost in the dark, a people who have been conquered and find their cities in rubble.  Into that rubble, God sends Isaiah to spread the light, to spread the news that there is more, God is there with them. God will not leave them alone.  God will shine a light into those places where there is hurt, hunger, homelessness.  When we think the world is dark God gives us that spark, that glimpse of the light to make even the darkest night bright.  

As I was searching for what to write in my sermon this week I came upon this Coldplay son "Christmas Lights."   

May the Christmas Lights, the Light of God, light up your street so that the darkness is a little bit brighter.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Remembering World AIDs Day

O God, to day I remember:
I remember that every 9 1/2 minutes someone in the US in newly infected with AIDs;
I remember the 33.3 million people infected with AIDs;
I remember those who didn't receive life saving medicine today because they are poor;
I remember those who are unable to say no and practice safe sex;
I remember the high school student  who was so passionate about AIDs that I was able to help her bring AIDs awareness and activism to our town.
I remember my fellow seminarian who had been living with AIDs for years and taught me so much and brought home that AIDs affects so many people including Black Women.
I remember the men of the AIDs caravan who made their way across the country, who taught me hospitality and hope as they shared awareness as education about AIDs.
I remember the AIDs coordinator who shared her passion with all of us.
I remember all my friends in Casper, WY who lost loved ones to AIDs.
I remember Africa today,
We remember God that tears are cleanse us as well as hurt us;
We remember, Holy One, because telling and sharing our stories renews our hope;
We remember, Gracious One, because in holding one another we help quilt the world with Your stitches of sacred joy;
We remember now, this moment all who died of AIDs

Holy One, be with us as we remember so that we never forget.  Amen.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Leading People Out of Darkness

Every Christmas I pull out old much loved movies and am moved by them once again. One of my favorites is It’s a Wonderful Life. The opening scene of the movie begins with a chorus of prayer being offered on behalf of George Bailey, who is facing the crisis of his life.

I owe everything to George Bailey, help him Dear Father.
Joseph, Jesus, and Mary, help my friend Mr. Bailey.
Help, my son George tonight.
He never thinks about himself God, that’s why he’s in trouble.
George is a good guy. Give him a break God.
I know him, dear Lord, watch over him tonight.
Please, God, something’s the matter with Daddy.

In one of the darkest sections of the film, George wanders out - on Christmas Eve - into the dark night, heading for Martini's Italian restaurant and bar. Seated at the bar, he drinks heavily and utters a prayer for help that is heard up above:

Lord, I’m not a praying man, but if You're up there
and You can hear me, show me the way.
I'm at the end of my rope; show me the way, O God.

The bartender Nick and Mr. Martini are worried about his heavy drinking. Near him at the bar is Mr. Welch, husband of Zuzu's school teacher. He angrily punches George in the mouth, and explains how his wife cried for an hour after George screamed at her on the phone. In defense of George, Martini throws Mr. Welch out of the bar. Sporting a bloody lip, George mumbles cynically: "That's what you get for praying." He interprets the sock in the mouth as the only answer to his prayer. He reaches for his insurance policy in his coat pocket, convinced that his suicide will be the best solution for everyone.

How many of us have felt as if the prayer of the heart we have prayed has been answered by a slap in the face. And yet, George isn’t the only one praying. The town is pouring out their prayers for him. And George is sent a very special answer, in the unexpected form of Clarence. A bumbling first time angle who shows George how loved he is and what a wonderful life he had.

What is your prayer this Christmas? The Christmas story is the story of prayers, and longing: the longing for a savior, a messiah who will come and lead the people out of darkness. One of the prayers spoken is by the priest Zechariah who has been silenced because he didn’t believe that God would send the answer to his prayer for a child. When God sends the answer he refuses to hear and see what is before him and is silenced by God until the birth of his son John. On John’s birth Zechariah sings this prayer:
By tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace. Luke 1:78-79
May God guide your feet this Christmas and may you pray the prayer of your soul knowing the answer is already on the way in an unexpected, surprising way,

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Plenty to be Thankful For

(I've Got) Plenty to Be Thankful For
Irving Berlin
I've got plenty to be thankful for
I haven't got a great big yacht
To sail from shore to shore
Still I've got plenty to be thankful for
I've got plenty to be thankful for
No private car, no caviar
No carpet on my floor
Still I've got plenty to be thankful for
I've got eyes to see with
Ears to hear with
Arms to hug with
Lips to kiss with
Someone to adore
How could anybody ask for more?
My needs are small, I buy them all
At the five and ten cent store
Oh, I've got plenty to be thankful for

One of my favorite movies is HOLIDAY INN. In this movie Jim (Bing Crosby) decides to open an inn that will only be open on the holidays and on those holidays he will put on a musical show and dinner. So He buys an Inn in Connecticut and finds a beautiful girl, Linda to be the female lead. He begins creating shows for the holidays. During this year, Jim fall in love with Linda, but Jim’s old partner Ted (Fred Astaire) comes along and steals Linda away. So Jim is down in the dumps, feeling blue and has to write the Thanksgiving song. He writes a song (I’VE GOT) PLENTY TO BE THANKFUL FOR. Jim plays this song as he is being giving his Thanksgiving dinner. As a song about not having a lot of material rewards is sang, Jim interspersed comments about his true feelings: I’ve got plenty to be thankful for, (are you kidding); I’ve got eyes to see, (you need glasses); ears to hear, (a little flat to)... Jim is not really in the mood to give thanks. Life looks lonely for him. There are some of us in a similar boat this year. We are not looking forward to the holidays, because we will be alone with either no family close or unhealthy family dynamics that we hate getting caught up in. We aren’t feeling very thankful because we have lost a job, might be losing a job, are just barely hanging on from paycheck to paycheck. We are having trouble giving thanks because illness has struck ourselves or those we love. So how can we sing praise, be thankful when the world doesn’t always feel like a safe place.

One of the places I turn to when I am not sure I want to be thankful or am not feeling very thankful is the Psalms. They express every emotion you may be going through. When you are feeling down, like the world is against you the psalms of lament speak to you heart. The psalmists poor out their hearts about their illness, grief, enemies and cry to God for action. They cry to God to do something, to change the circumstances. Their hearts are poured out, wide open. You hear and feel all of the pain, hurt, anguish, and anger. And then there is a pause a break, a space in which God has time to work. In that space, the psalmist goes from pain to hope, from despair to possibility. In the movie, there is Jim in the pit; yet in comes his housekeeper, who tells him to pick himself up. The girl really loves you, go and get her.

At thanksgiving time we are meant to pause and look around, and find those places where we can be hopeful. We can stop for a moment and remember what there is to be thankful for. We can remember that God is there waiting to be with us in the midst of our trial. That today even, for just a moment we have plenty to be thankful for.

Psalm 40
11 Do not, O Lord, withhold your mercy from me;
let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe forever.
12 For evils have encompassed me without number;
my iniquities have overtaken me, until I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails me.
13 Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me;
O Lord, make haste to help me.
14 Let all those be put to shame and confusion who seek to snatch away my life;
let those be turned back and brought to dishonor who desire my hurt.
15 Let those be appalled because of their shame who say to me, "Aha, Aha!"
16 But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation say continually,
"Great is the Lord!"
17 As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
do not delay, O my God.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

More Light and Truth this Thanksgiving

We limit not the truth of God
To our poor reach of mind,
By notions of our day and sect,
Crude, partial, and confined.
No, let a new and better hope
Within our hearts be stirred:

The Lord hath yet more light and truth
To break forth from His Word.

Darkling our great forefathers went
The first steps of the way;
’Twas but the dawning yet to grow
Into the perfect day.
And grow it shall, our glorious sun
More fervid rays afford:

The valleys passed, ascending still,
Our souls would higher climb,
And look down from supernal heights
On all the bygone time.
Upward we press, the air is clear,
And the sphere-music heard:

O Father, Son, and Spirit, send
Us increase from above;
Enlarge, expand all Christian souls
To comprehend Thy love,
And make us to go on, to know
With nobler powers conferred:
                   George Rawson (ellacombe)

Every summer my family gets together and sings this hymn as we remember where we come from and who we come from.  We are ancestors (many greats removed granddaughter) of John Robinson.  This song is a song I always want my congregations to sing at Thanksgiving.  A time of the year when we remember that God even in our darkest hour can provide a ray of hope and allow us to be thankful that we were blessed with a great harvest, that we have family and friends around to share food and fellowship.  The words of this hymn have always spoke to me; partly because of family memories and pride and being related to the Pilgrim Pastor who sent the Pilgrims to America, partly as they speak of a longing we have to know that God is always present, always revealing something more to us; partly as a hope that the light shines and  to be as rea­dy to re­ceive it as any truth; partly to remind me that when ever I think that I know it all, have it all understood, God is their waiting to teach me something new, something more.  May you take time this Thanksgiving to let the light of God's word pour onto you.

The Lord hath yet more light and truth To break forth from His Word.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Wonder of Snow and the Silence of Pastors

In Wyoming and Colorado during late October there is something that happens in the animal kingdom that makes people stop what they were doing. Bull elks start playing with each other and ramming heads. One late October Reed and I were two feet away from them (through a picture window). They looked like they were having fun. They weren’t trying to hurt each other but they kept butting heads. It was amazing to watch. But even more amazing was the sense of wonder that filled us. There was no noise as everyone (pastor's and their families) stared out the windows watching. The wonder and joy in the air was electric.

You get that same feeling if you have ever been around a child or a group of children the day it snows? There is an excitement that cannot be contained. The kids are so bouncy; they cannot be still even if they wanted to. They jump and laugh and stare out the window watching it fall. They are waiting for that moment when they can get out in the snow and play. There is such joy and excitement that it’s contagious.

Now think about how most of us adults respond to the snow. There is anxiety about what this means. Will it snow so much that school will be canceled and we have to figure out what to do with the kids. We think about the shoveling we will have to do that lead to sore backs and muscles. We wonder where the scraper is, where the boots, gloves, and hats are. We wonder whether there is any salt and how bad will the roads be. Snow seems like a lot of work. There is so much more to do. The wonder and beauty of the snow sometimes seems lost on us.

In Matthew Jesus talks about the attitude we can have. If "your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light (Matt 6:22).” But if we have an attitude of obligation, duty, worry about where our next pay check is coming from, where we will get clothes, food, a job our eyes will be closed to the experience of God’s presence. Our eyes reflect what we are filled with. Right now it is easy to be filled with worry. Every time we turn on the tv or read the newspaper we are given anxiety about the future. So how do we choose to let our eyes reflect the hope Jesus gives us that a new day is possible. Jesus suggests an answer: when we have lost the capacity to wonder, we need to become like children again. We need to be with children and learn from them. We can then experience the joy of wonder.
Think about the excitement of falling in love with Jesus the very first time. There is nothing that can compare to the sense of wonder and awe. You want to get out and build the kingdom. You want to learn all that you can about Jesus’ life, the bible. You want to grow closer and closer to God through prayer and meditation. Life is suddenly so full and exciting. When you begin then to experience God’s presence in the people and world around us we become like the crowds who gathered around Jesus as he healed, taught, and welcomed the world into a life with God. “They all shook their heads in wonder, astonished at God's greatness, God's majestic greatness (Luke 9:43).” If we change the way we approach other people and the world around us, we may be astonished by what God has waiting for us. If you are willing, you will be open to the movement of God in your life and the life around you. “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well (Psalm 119:14).”

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Muslims and Christians the extremes

I have been preparing for the class I am teaching tonight on Islam.  I thought this video on the Changing the Story website was really powerful.  It poses an interesting question.  If we view all Muslims as terrorists why shouldn't they view all Christians as members of the KKK and ends with the statement you can't let  a few radicals shape your perspective.  What an important point.  If we let the few extreme define who we are we never get to truly learn and respect each other. 

I thought this was a similar point my son wanted me to learn while watching the Rally to Restore Sanity and or Fear.  He really likes John Stewart and wanted to go but Wisconsin is a little far from Washington.  The main point I took away is that we spend so much time in fear mode, crisis mode, everything we hear puts us in a camp of fear or crisis that we have a hard time looking at the world through the eyes of calmness. 

Do we as Christians want to be defined by the extremes?  For me this extreme is the branch of Christianity that says there is only one way to practice the faith, only one way to speak of God, only one way to interpret the Bible.  The problem is that it is not the way I would choose.  My walk as a Christian causes me to remember that I follow a homeless Guy, an itinerant preacher, radical teacher who met people where they were.  If you need a lesson about being tolerant that is what you got.  If you were hurt you received healing.  If you were lost he helped you become found. 

So why do we have such are a hard time meeting Muslims as Jesus would with an open heart, an open mind and a welcoming embrace? 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ruth, a woman of valor

10 A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. 11 The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. 12 She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. 13 She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. 14 She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from far away. 15 She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant-girls. 16 She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. 17 She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong. 18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. 19 She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. 20 She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy. 21 She is not afraid for her household when it snows, for all her household are clothed in crimson. 22 She makes herself coverings; her clothing is fine linen and purple. 23 Her husband is known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land. 24 She makes linen garments and sells them; she supplies the merchant with sashes. 25 Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. 26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. 27 She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. 28 Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her: 29 "Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all." 30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. 31 Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates. Proverbs 31
I am nearing the end of my study of the book of Ruth. I think I have more appreciation for the book than I did when I began this preaching series. One of the interesting tidbits I learned about Ruth has to do with it’s historical context. Ruth, in the Septuagint comes right after Proverbs. The idea is that the designated author of Proverbs (Solomon) wrote the last chapter about his great, great grandmother Ruth. Who is the only woman actually called Eishet Hayil, a capable wife, a woman of valor. a warrior. I think it is an interesting story for in 1 Kings 3:16-28 we are told that “Ruth the Moabitess, did not die until she witnessed Solomon, the son of her son, sitting in judgment over the case of the two prostitutes.” Whether real or apocryphal (a story to explain a history or make sense of what is written), this gives a different impression of Ruth based on where you read it in the cannon. When it comes before David as it does in the current ordering of the books of the Hebrew Scripture by history first, the story is a nice introduction to how King David’s line came to be. When it placed after Proverbs, we experience an example of a real woman of valor, a woman who takes the law and challenges people to live beyond common practice, to live as God intended not as it is written. Ruth is a woman who pushes us to believe that the world can be different and then set out to see that it happens. Ruth is a woman who comes to believe in God and then challenges others to be better in their faith. “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all (Proverbs 31:29).”

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Does you heart break?

Does your heart break when you hear that yet another young person has killed themselves because they were bullied for being gay? Does your heart break when you hear about the vicious and cruel beating of two teens and a thirty year old man in New York by a gang because they thought them gay? Does your heart break? My heart hurts for anyone who is purposely discriminated against and targeted for abuse because of who they are or who they are perceived to be. I have never understood bullying, what brief transitory power does it give you to make someone else’s life hard, at times even, impossible.

When I became a United Church of Christ pastor at my first Open and Affirming Congregation I had a huge learning curve. While I was proud of my tradition and was glad to be part of a community that said everyone was welcomed and then worked to make that welcome real, I had truly not had a lot of experience practicing being open and affirming. So there was a lot I needed to learn and for the first time make my words align with my actions. During my first month at this congregation the church decided to be came a safe place within their community by providing PFlag (Parents, Family and Friends of Gay, Lesbian, Transgendered, Bisexual people) with a place to gather once of month. As I attended these meetings and becoming friends with all who attended, my life and understanding began to change. My heart began to open to a group of people that before had been an objective yes of course they are welcome, can be pastors, will be married by me. Now I saw children of God wherever I turned, real people, with real, needs and issues. I learned about the heartbreak and heartache of growing up gay in America. My heart grew and expanded. I met and encountered so many amazing people there at my first congregation who taught me so much.

In my position as the United Church of Christ pastor, I was given into my charge people who had questions about their sexuality but where scared they were going to hell because of the religion they had grown up with. I got to walk with them as they found their way. I remember an encounter with a young person who knew they would be kicked out of their house if they came out, a young person with a strong faith that was against these feelings inside toward the same gender. I got to walk with the gay person who brought his friend to church for pray when she was in crisis for an illness because he knew we were safe. I heard the stories of leaving home and being without family.  I worked with gay and straight teens pasionate about educating people about aids and suicide.  I saw the hope of a new family, a community of people that took care of each other and were the church in ways that the church never was.

So when these latest news stories occur, my heart breaks. Because in a different place someone could have been there providing hope, but there was no hope. Life had become too unbearable, without hope. How many more young people do we have to let die before we say enough, before we stand up and say to every LGBT person you are a child of God and you are welcome, wanted, and loved here.  I will stand beside you and with you through whatever you are going through.  I will be there for you always.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Going Home

I'm staring out into the night, trying to hide the pain
I'm going to the place where love
And feeling good don't ever cost a thing
And the pain you feel's a different kind of pain
Well, I'm going home, back to the place where I belong
And where your love has always been enough for me
I'm not running from, no, I think you got me all wrong
I don't regret this life I chose for me
But these places and these faces are getting old
So I'm going home, well I'm going home
                               Daughtry, Home

I was watching Chuck on Monday Night. In this episode Chuck and Sarah are living together, but Sarah being a spy constantly sent out on missions has not unpacked her stuff she keeps it in the suitcase ready to leave. Chuck, through the concern of his best friend saying this lack of unpacking is the disaster that will break Sarah and Chuck up begins to worry that there is something wrong. Sarah has never had a home. After all of the drama at the end of the episode Sarah declares that Chuck is her home. He is the place where she belongs.

Because I have been spending the last few weeks absorbed in Ruth, I was struck but this imagery of being someone’s home. When Naomi leaves Moab after the death of her family, she tries to send her daughter-in-laws home. Orpah follows her advice and heads back to her mother. But Ruth says, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!" (Ruth 1:16-17). In essence like Sarah, Ruth is saying to Naomi you are my home. Wherever you are, wherever you go, wherever you die, I will be with you. She is pledging to always be there. Even when times are looking especially bleak, Naomi doesn’t express the same sentiment. She is still searching for home, “So they went until they were come to Bethlehem” (Ruth 1:19). Maybe she hoped that being among her people there would be a healing that occurred. But what she doesn’t realize is that God is working through the lives of those around her to help her finally feel as if she belongs. After having fled home for fear of hunger and starvation, Naomi returns empty hoping that but not expecting something better. Yet her steps lead her back to God and to her people. Her steps lead her back home, to a place where she will once again have family and be filled.
I've spent 20 years tryin to get out of this place
I was looking for something I couldn't replace
I was runnin' away from the only thing I've ever known
and like a blind dog without a bone
I was a gypsy lost in the twilight zone
I hijacked a rainbow and crashed into a pot of gold

I went as far as I could try'in to find a new face
There isn't one of these lines that I would erase
I left a million miles of memories on that road
and every step I take I know that I'm not alone
You take the home from the boy but not the boy from his home
these are my streets the only life I've ever known
Who says you can't go home

who says you can't go home
there's only one place they call me one of their own
just a hometown boy born a rolling stone
who says you can't go home
                                                        Bon Jovi, Sugarland, Who Says You can’t go Home

Friday, September 24, 2010

Wherever You Go I Will Go

Have you ever wondered why some of us have amazing stories of call or can dramatically speak of the point when God has stopped us in the midst of what we are doing and sets us on a new path that we didn’t imagine was possible. In The Gospel of Ruth by Carolyn Curtis James argues that the spot where Ruth, Orpah and Naomi stop on the way from Moab to Bethlehem is a place where just such a call happens, a life is changed forever. Ruth is told she must make a choice, she must choose to return to her family and not follow Naomi into an unknown and what looks like a doomed future. Their prospects together would be grim with both of them being widows and Ruth being a foreigner on top of this.

But in that moment on that path Ruth makes this pledge: "Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you! (Ruth 1:16-17)”. Ruth chooses the harder path, for in that moment her life is changed. She chooses to follow not only God Almighty, El Shaddai; she chooses to become part of God’ people; she chooses to follow the mother of her heart and not her birth.

I was on the outside when you said
You needed me
I was looking at myself
I was blind, I could not see.
A boy tries hard to be a man
His mother takes him by the hand
If he stops to think, he starts to cry
Oh why?
…I was looking through the window
I was lost, I am found.
…If you walk away, walk away
I walk away, walk away
I will follow.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Book of Ruth - The Romance

When I was in graduate school getting ready to take my doctoral exams in political science, my feminist studies professor gave me books of suggested reading. One of the books she wanted me to read was READING THE ROMANCE by Janice Radway. This was an academic study of romance literature. A professor wanted to learn why women read romance novels. What was being satisfied by the reading of these books. I don’t remember much of the book, I always wondered why my prof wanted me to read this book. Granted I had said I was thinking about writing my dissertation on Feminist Utopian Literature as a way to say that feminists had come up with a theory of state, but feminist utopias and romance novel are very different literature. The one thing I remember about the book is she argued that the Romance stories the woman found the most satisfying where the ones where a reconciliation took place with a mother. In many of these stories mothers are absent from the picture and a good story was when in the process of falling in love they also found either a caretaker (the male lead acting like this) or they female lead finds the mother she lost.

One of the reasons given for why people love the book of Ruth is that it is the great romance of the bible. In this story, other wives, sisters, or slaves don’t play a role. Ruth is a romance, a love story, where a failed relationship in a foreign land with a first husband who is both barren and sickly is replaced by a love story of a poor foreign widow with a prominent landowner Boaz. So what makes Ruth a great love story, is it the fact that a poor foreign widow is saved from poverty by a wealthy landowner. While this is one of the stories running through the book, I wonder if part of what makes this story so satisfying is the same thing that makes a romance novel powerful – the relationship with the mother figure.

In Ruth, we have a powerful romance but we also have a powerful love story between Ruth and Naomi. Naomi, the foreign mother-in-law who loses her sons and husband, tries to get rid of her daughter-in-laws. Naomi who describes herself as bitter and empty, through the actions and steadfast love of Ruth once again becomes full. Does Ruth as a story move us because everything that was lost is reborn, renewed, found, filled.

Mother...am I still your son
You know I've waited for so long to hear you say so
Mother...you left and made me someone
Now I'm still a child, no one tells me no
Looking for a sound that's going to drown out the world
(Been around the back...been around the front)
Looking for the father of my two little girls
(Been around the back...been around the front)
Got the swing got the sway got my straw in lemonade
(Been around the back...been around the front)
Still looking for the face I had before the world was made
(Been around the back...been around the front)
Bubble popping sugar dropping rock and roll (Mother...)
Soothe me mother
Move me father
Fool me brother
Woo me sister
Soothe me mother
Rule me father
Show me mother
      MOFO by U2

Friday, September 17, 2010

Redemption in the Book of Ruth

"Blessed Redeemer! Precious Redeemer!
Seems now I see Him on Calvary’s tree;
Wounded and bleeding, for sinners pleading,
Blind and unheeding—dying for me!"
Avis Marguerite Burgeson Christiansen

I greet Thee, who my sure Redeemer art,
My only trust and Savior of my heart,
Who pain didst undergo for my poor sake;
I pray Thee from our hearts all cares to take.
John Calvin

Guide me, O thou great redeemer,
Pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art mighty,
Hold me with thy powerful hand;
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven
Feed me till I want no more;
Feed me till I want no more.
Peter Willkims

My Redeemer Lives
You Lift my burdens
I'll rise with You
I'm dancing on this mountain top to see your kingdom come
My Redeemer Lives
Reuben Morgan

Redeemer. A word that has come to be important in our hymns. Redeemer. What does it mean?

There was a movie that was on TV when I was little about Ruth. It was one of my favorite movies of the time. I loved that there was this bible story that was actually starred a girl and it was a love story. Who knew the bible could have a love story. When asked what story I want told before bed I would often ask my dad to tell me the story of Ruth. It was a story that struck a chord in me. This next six weeks I will be preaching on the book of Ruth. This will be my first time studying this book as a pastor and figuring out how it applies to my life and the life of the people I minister to.
One of the themes of this book is about Redemption. A word I have to admit I am not hat comfortable with. I haven’t spent much time thinking about it. I have that initial gut reaction that ties redemption to salvation and salvation takes me back to painful high school times of being treated poorly because I didn’t by a theology of salvation and didn’t believe I was going to hell because I had a different understanding of God. I didn’t have this belief in Jesus coming to redeem the sins of the world. I knew that was a way to speak about Jesus acts and presence but it wasn’t a meaningful interpretation of Jesus’ life and ministry for me.
So here is a book about redemption. What does it mean to be redeemed?
I decided to look up the word in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, way more information than I wanted, but it says that redemption means that something alienated or made captive is recovered. The version of redemption found in Ruth is go-al which is a kinsman purchasing or procuring the freedom of kinsman who has fallen into slavery. So Ruth is a book about a kinsman saving Ruth and Naomi. I guess the question for us is who is the kinsman redeemer? Is it Boaz, the one who bring food, marriage and children? Is it Ruth who brings Naomi from emptiness to fullness? Or is the redeemer God, the God who believes that we are kinsman, that God is our next of kin and delivers us from trouble? I think a case can be made for all of these answers. That God works through this family to bring them through famine to food, from barrenness to children, from widowhood to marriage, from exile to home. Each of these actor, Ruth, Boaz, and God play a role in bringing redemption in this book.

God, my redeemer, help me to hear your voice as I study Ruth, may teh book show me your redemptive acts.  Amen

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Then whoever invokes a blessing in the land shall bless by the God of faithfulness,
and whoever takes an oath in the land shall swear by the God of faithfulness;
because the former troubles are forgotten and are hidden from my sight. Isaiah 65:16

God of faithfulness – a God who is steadfast, a God who keeps promises, a God who believes in us. This God of faithfulness is a God who is part of the land and the land is part of what god promises to us and on which we are to make promises and bless. The Land, God, and people are tied together in oaths.

What does it mean to invoke blessing in the land? God’s usual blessings are of children in the bible that is why we have those stories of women doing anything to have children. But then why does God not deliverer children to all those who want and pray for children? So is there a different part of this oath giving that makes sense? Are we meant to become a part of the land we live in? Are we to know the land as more than a road, a house, a scene to look at? Are we to feel and hear the land? Can blessing and oaths take place without being part of the land we are in? To know the land is one part of beginning to know God.

God of faithfulness help us to be faithful in and with the land. Amen.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Place at the Table

This week in worship I am preaching on Luke 14:1-24, a story about the feast of the Lord or the great banquet. The invitations to this banquet have been sent and we are waiting to see who will be at the feast.

In movie Chocolat, the outcasts are being faced with being run out of town and losing their place. Food plays a central role in this movie. A chocolaterie opens during lent in a catholic town. This shop has become a place of healing for the town where people come with their problems and leave feeling a little bit better. Yet the count, feels threatened by this new locus of healing. So he decides to run the riffraff out of town. He has told everyone without explicitly saying so to stopping coming to the shop. So they try to run this healer out of town. She is in crisis because her daughter wants a normal life. But they will always be the outsiders, the stranger, the aliens in this town. And now they are actively be encouraged to leave. What is she to do? She is crying to one of her closest friend a grouchy old lady who she rents the shop from. This gruff woman says throw me a party. She replies no one will come if they know I am throwing the party. The old woman says, “Who has to know.” So they send invitations to the people she has helped to come to this party.

Jesus in this passage says it is better when issuing invitations, not to invite your friends and relations; for you will just receive a similar invitation in return; instead invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. They may appear to have nothing to offer. Being welcoming to them is to embody the welcome of God. Jesus tells a story. The invitations have been sent but no one can come. They are two concerned with wealth and the new circumstances of life. They brush off the invitation. So the man throwing the party sends his servant out into the street to invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. Even when all of these are at the party there is still room for more. So the servant goes back out and compels those left to come. This parable conveys the story of Jesus mission. The kingdom of God in not about power but about gifting and honoring others. Jesus is inviting us to come to the celebration, to enter the kingdom. But most of us are help back from responding. Those with the least are most open to the invitation because they have an emptiness that God can help them fill.

When the party takes place in Chocolat, look at who is at the table. There is a couple who has drifted apart and was just living in the same house, but who now through the healing of this outcast are happy again. There is the grandmother with diabetes who has been estranged from her daughter who only wanted to help her but they couldn’t speak to each other. This kept the grandmother away from the grand son and this outcast brought them back together. At this table is a boat person, despised by the entire community because they are immoral, cheaters, liars, and thieves. At this table is a widow whose husband died forty years ago and through the outcast found new companionship. At this table is the outcast, the wanderer who goes from place to place and her child, a child without a father. Here at this party all are welcome. Who will you invite to your party?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Turn Back to God

Turn back to God.  The message heard on the Washington Mall this weekend from Glen Beck.  I'll say right off the bat I cannot listen to Beck he makes me mad.  I didn't listen to the entire rally, I went for the crib notes on the news websites.  But the theme that everyone kept raising was how religion played a role in the proceedings and that Beck called us to turn back to God.  So how can I disagree with this.  I guess our disagreement would come in how we experience God and what we believe God is calling us to do when we turn back. 

One of my favorite sermon series is to preach the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark as an example of the ministry that Jesus inaugurates and calls us to practice.  "Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news'" Mark 1:14-15.  Jesus dramatically arrives on the scene and tells us the time is now, the Kingdom of God is no longer off in a distant it is here, repent (turn around, turn back to God), and believe the good news.  Jesus asks us to repent, to turn around, to turn back to God.  To repent is to move from those things that have separated you from God and the good news and to turn back.  Then Jesus sets out to show us how the kingdom has come near.  He begins by calling his first followers, fishermen who immediately drop their nets and follow him.  Then he began healing the sick and freeing people from their demons.  He prayed, he preached, he journeyed throughout the land.  He visited churches and met a man with leprosy who asked Jesus to make him clean.  Jesus tells him of course I choose to make you well. 

So if we are to turn back to God, which I don't disagree with aren't we to Repent in the way Jesus calls us to turn around.  We are to believe the good news and then help the Kingdom of God to continue to draw near.
Come with me, come wander,
Come welcome the world,
Where strangers might smile
Or where stones may be hurled;
Come leave what you cling to,
Lay down what you clutch
And find, with hands empty,
That hearts can hold much.

Sing Hey for the carpenter
Leaving his tools!
Sing Hey for the Pharisees
Leaving their rules!
Sing Hey for the fishermen
Leaving their nets!
Sing Hey for the people
Who leave their regrets!

Come walk in my company,
Come sleep by my side,
Come savour a lifestyle
With nothing to hide;
Come sit at my table
And eat with my friends,
Discovering that love
Which the world never ends.

Come share in my laughter,
Come close to my fears,
Come find yourself washed
With the kiss of my tears;
Come stand close at hand
While I suffer and die,
And find in three days
How I never will lie.

Come leave your possessions,
Come share out your treasure,
Come give and receive
Without method or measure;
Come loose every bond
That's restraining the spirit,
Enabling the earth
To be yours to inherit.
                        John L. Bell

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Crumbs From Your Table

“Where you live should not decide / Whether you live or whether you die.” My heart cracks open a bit every time I hear these words as Bono sings them in “Crumbs from Your Table.” I have been singing them in my head as I watch the few images from Pakistan. “You speak of signs and wonders / I need something other / I would believe if I was able / But I'm waiting on the crumbs from your table.”

More than 17 million Pakistanis - about the population of the Netherlands - have been affected by the monsoon floods that began a month ago. In the past few days, at least 1 million people have been displaced in Pakistan's Sindh province, the United Nations said.   Contributions from the international community for that relief effort pail in comparison to those given toward Haiti's earthquake relief efforts. One-fifth of Pakistan is under water, but international aid has been slow in coming. The sluggish response has underscored how difficult it is to mobilize international relief for slow-building natural disasters that, unlike tsunamis or earthquakes, don't instantly kill tens of thousands of people. As I have watched the coverage or lack of coverage about Pakistan I wonder is there is both a problem of publicity meaning people just have not seen enough heart rending pictures because it is hard to help people who are instantly killed but are going to be daily killed because of water borne illness and living in tent cities without sanitation in the same space as livestock. The cases of malaria will rise because off all the standing water left behind as the flood waters recede.   Is it compassion fatigue, to many disaster at once? Is it the economy being in bad shape? Is it our fear of terrorism and Muslims? Do we fear these people who are so other from us and have been linked with the terrorists we are really afraid of? “Would you deny for others / What you demand for yourself? You speak of signs and wonders / I need something other / I would believe if I was able / But I'm waiting on the crumbs from your table.”

You Can Help Now
1. Pray for the people of Pakistan, their leaders, and all emergency response workers.
2. Please help the people of Pakistan by sending gifts payable to your congregation marked for "Pakistan Flood Relief" with the request they be sent through your Conference office on to Wider Church Ministries. OR Send gifts, made out to Wider Church Ministries and marked in the memo portion "Pakistan Flood Relief" to Wider Church Ministries; 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Let's Cross Over

   So far, though, my favorite thing to say in Italian is a simple, common word: 
   It means, “Let’s cross over.” Friends say it to each other constantly when they’re walking down the sidewalk and have decided it’s time to switch to the other side of the street. Which is to say, this is literally a pedestrian word. Nothing special about it. Still, for some reason, it goes right through me. The first time Giovanni said it to me, we were walking near the Coliseum. I suddenly heard him speak that beautiful word, and I stopped dead, demanding, “What does this mean? What did you just say?”
  He couldn’t understand why I liked it so much. Let’s cross the street? But to my ear, it’s the perfect combination of Italian sounds. The wistful ah of introduction, the rolling trill, the soothing s, that lingering “ee-ah-moh” combo at the end. I love this word. I say it all the time now. I invent any excuse to say it. It’s making Sofie nuts. Let’s cross over! Let’s cross over! I’m constantly dragging her back and forth across the crazy traffic of Rome. I’m going to get us both killed with this word.
Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love, pp. 71-72.

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side.” Mark 4:35

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Mark 5:21

And he left them, and getting into the boat again, he went across to the other side. Mark 8:13

When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. Mark 6:53
Jesus is Mark’s Gospel also likes the phrase “let us cross over.” Jesus makes six sea voyages (4:35, 6:47, 5:21, and 8:13 and the return 6:32, 8:10). The common destination of the crossing is to the other side – the passage to gentile territory, the journey to the unknown, the crossing to the other side of humanity. The first two crossings are fraught with danger. The disciples are in peril from wicked storms which Jesus stills, but wonders “do you have faith?” These crossings show how for those who follow Jesus the journey can be scary and difficult, but the reward is bringing the stranger into community. The disciples are scared by this prospect. To invite the stranger in is going to necessitate change and we aren’t always comfortable with change. Each crossing that Jesus makes ends with a feeding. Jesus opens the table first to the Jewish community and then to the hungry gentiles crowds. This task of forging the new community is dangerous but there is enough bread for the journey (Myers, Binding the Strongman, pp. 194-197).

In this new age where the world is interconnected we are in contact with individuals and communities, who dress, speak, think, and act differently. Sometimes we find the differences appealing and are enriched by the encounter. Other times we are scared by the encounter with differences because we have made assumptions about those who are different and hold people at arm’s length (Myers, Say to this Mountain, pp. 93-94). Jesus says to us in those times, “let us cross over.” When Jesus says, let us cross over where do you see him inviting you to go? Where is Jesus asking us to cross to the other side in Lake Geneva? What do you think the journey will look like? Will we remember there everyone will be fed? May we have the courage to say yes when we are asked, let us cross over.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Speaking the Prayer of Your Heart

Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done, on Earth, as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive out debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
When I began seminary at McCormick in Chicago I would attend the chapel service on Wednesday, I would have this weird experience of the Lord’s Prayer. At first the practice really annoyed me. They would invite us to say the Lord’s Prayer in the language of our birth. So there you are worshiping and the person next to you is saying sins, trespasses, debts so you would have to pause at that point. But it went farther. There were people saying the Lord’s Prayer in an African Language, Korean, Spanish, Hindi, etc. There were so many languages spoken and the first few times I experienced this it felt awkward and messy. I was easily distracted and couldn’t decide what do I wanted to say debts and debtors. I would wonder where the people speaking another language were. So I was distracted the whole time and didn’t know what the moment was supposed to be.

하늘에 계신 우리 아버지

아버지의 이름이 거룩히 빛나시며

아버지의 나라가 오시며

아버지의 뜻이 하늘에서와 같이 땅에서도 이루어지소서.

오늘 저희에게 일용할 양식을 주시고

저희에게 잘못한 이를 저희가 용서하오니

저희 죄를 용서하시고

저희를 유혹에 빠지지 않게 하시고

악에서 구하소서.

(주님께 나라와 권능과 영광이 영원히 있나이다.)


One of things I had to learn while becoming a pastor was to accept and learn to celebrate the diversity and messiness of living in community with people who are very different from me. So during that time were exposed to and expected to learn how to live with diversity. We attended this seminar for a couple of days on diversity. During which they intentionally placed us in groups where we would be with people from different classes, races, and nationalities. Eric Law a Chinese American Episcopal priest was invited to teach us how to interact with and respect these cultural differences. He helped us learn to be quiet if we tended to jump in with an answer, how to hear what someone else was trying to say and really listened to them. During this workshop he shared with us the Pentecost story of the spirit coming down and the disciples speaking of Jesus in different languages and argued that this is a story about listening. That this was a miracle of the ear because those different cultures could for the first time hear each other. I learned a lot during that week that Eric Law was with us. I learned to appreciate the messiness and disorder of the Lord’s Prayer because for me it became the act that represented the coming of the Holy Spirit into every worship service. When each person spoke this prayer from their heart in the language of their heart I could see the Pentecost spirit moving through us opening pathways of welcome. I learned to appreciate the pause I had to leave so that others could say their words and we could finish together.

Padre nuestro que estás en los cielos, Santificado sea Tu Nombre. Venga Tu reino. Hágase Tu voluntad así en la tierra como en el cielo. Danos hoy nuestro pan de cada día. Perdona nuestras ofensas, así como también nosotros perdonamos a los que nos ofenden. No nos dejes caer en la tentación y líbranos del mal. Tuyos son el reino, el poder y la gloria por los siglos de los siglos. Amen.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Miracle Drug or Stranger's Eyes

Freedom has a scent Like the top of a new born baby's head

My Zune has been stuck on the U2 song Miracle Drug. Each time I set out for my walk this week the song would play. It was the song you remember from the set your heard. It has been stuck in my head all week. I would wake up singing a phrase. My brain was hearing something is this song that I needed to look at. So I have to admit I couldn’t figure out why I was singing this song, because I wasn’t sure I understood what was being said. I am not the kind of person who looked for a drug to change anything. I hate being out of control and leery about the promise of any drug. So searching for a miracle drug wouldn’t be something I did. But when I was hearing this I wasn’t thinking about God or Jesus being my drug of choice. I always thought that was kind of hokey. The songs are in your eyes / I see them when you smile / I've had enough of romantic love / I'd give it up, yeah, I'd give it up / For a miracle, a miracle drug, a miracle drug.

So what was this song about? One of the stories Bono tells about the song is about someone in their school when they were growing up who had a disease that left him unable to move or communicate. He had a mother who wouldn’t give up on him and he had a drug that was invented and helped him. While he didn’t become cured his life changed and he became a poet through the use of technology and hard work. He inspired Bono and he knew he wanted to speak about this drug. So Bono sang about I want to trip inside your head / Spend the day there... / To hear the things you haven't said / And see what you might see

But the song is so much more. You don’t know this story. So I went where I am often drawn in a U2 song where is God. God I need your help tonight / Beneath the noise / Below the din / I hear your voice / It's whispering / In science and in medicine / ‘I was a stranger You took me in.’ I was hearing these words in the song. When looking into the eyes of another was I able to see and experience the presence of God? Can you imagine what the world would be like if we truly believed that Jesus was going to meet us in the strangers we encounter.  Would you actually speak and interact with the bagger at the grocery store?  Would you see the person alone on the street?  Would you wonder each day when you get up who will Jesus be today?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mountains sing

For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off. Isaiah 55:12-13

Have you ever heard the mountains sing? Sing of eternity, sing of solidness, sing of abundant life, sing of boundless wealth, sing of beauty, and sing of stillness?

The mountains are continually bursting with their song. Singing joyfully of what the Holy One has done. There is great beauty in this passage. The entire created order sings, rejoices, and changes because we humans have changed. We are guided by joy as we leave behind empire. As we leave behind the old ways of separation, exploitation, alienation. With the step out of the old, joy is present and boundless in our lives.
With the step we are led back to the peace that is our when we are in harmony with all that is around us. When we know we are part of a great and glorious whole. When we know that we are and have always been precious to the Holy One. God has never forgotten us, will never forget us. God’s promises are eternal like the mountains we can now hear singing. What was once the weed, the stumbling block is now transformed into the symbol of health and prosperity.

O God, continue to provide us with times when we hear the music of creation and join all the earth in praise to your eternal promises. Amen.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Making Room: Living the Hospitality of God

"Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much." Then Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost." Luke 19:8-10

There is a book that I have on the Gospel of Luke called The Hospitality of God by Brendan Byrne. The theme of this book has stuck with me for a long time. The story from Luke’s perspective is a story of hospitality, of making room at the table and welcoming the stranger. Luke’s Jesus wants to teach us what it means to be hospitable in a world where hospitality sometimes seems like a distant dream. The poet Dante gave Luke the title “scriba mansuetudinis Christi” narrator of the winning gentleness of Christ. The Gospel of Luke tells the story of Jesus moving through his life gently, sharing the love and grace of God with all those he touched. In Luke’s gospel, it amazing how many of the important events of the story take place over a meal or at a house where Jesus has been invited. It reminds us that Jesus came to earth as a visitor from God and we read this gospel story seeing who welcomes and receives Jesus as a guest. When people do welcome Jesus as a guest those people find that they have now entered the hospitality of God and have now gone from serving to being served. But not everyone welcomes Jesus. Luke wrestles with the human response to Jesus. Why do some people welcome and invite God in and why do some people grumble and question and reject the coming of salvation? As Byrne says, “the Gospel‘s essential purpose is to bring home to people a sense of the extravagance of God’s love in their regard.” We are invited to the banquet of life, are we willing to accept the invitation?

We are going to learn more about Jesus invitation to practice hospitality and learn how to become a people that welcome God in and by welcoming God welcome in God’s kingdom. Making Room: Living the Hospitality of God begins on August 8 with Luke 7: 36-51 this is the story of Jesus being invited to dinner by a Pharisee and while there a woman washes Jesus’ feet. We are going to look at the practice of hospitality of listening. Without the woman even saying a word Jesus knows what she needs. He heard what she needed and filled her need. On August 15 with Luke 8:1-3, which shows the hospitality of Serving in this passage we learn that the woman who followed Jesus provided for his need. On August 22 with Luke 13:10-17, we will explore what it means to be a Companion through the Hurt. In this story, Jesus meets a woman who has been bent over for eighteen years and yet until Jesus who was with her through the pain? We will explore what it means for the church to be a companion to a hurting world. On August 29 with Luke 9:46-48 we will explore what it means to Welcome the Other. On September 5 with Luke 14:15-24 where Jesus tells of the great banquest and how we should go out into the streets to invite the lost to the Table. The sermon series will end on Loyalty Sunday September 12 with Luke 19:1-10 where Jesus’ extravagant transforming love changes the life of Zacchaeus for Jesus came to seek out and save the lost. My hope is that this series will help us begin a conversation about making room in our church by learning to practice the hospitality.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Light and Dark

 The God of creation is a God of motion who takes the stuff of creation and orders it.  God shapes what was into something new.  God speaks and the new comes into being. This is a text that can be used for good or bad.   For light and dark have been associated with people and places rather than oppression and freedom, control and being, separation and connection, order and complexity.  We want to gravitate to a word that is ordered, that has been separated out from what is dark and dangerous.  The problem is when we place ourselves in the position of orderer and separator; God's words may be and are very different from the order we seek.  All of what God has created is good; why than do we attempt to label it as bad and keep the bad in a tight confined box.  But a box that is waiting to break out.  The moving God of creation help us to hear your word of goodness.  To know that all that you made is good, that all that you made has  a purpose even if we cannot see it.
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. Genesis 1:1-5

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Take Refuge

But whoever takes refuge in me
shall possess the land
and inherit my Holy Mountain.  Isaiah 57:23c

When I was in high school I attended the General Synod of the United Church of Christ in Iowa.  At that synod the youth were introduced to political refuges.  They were fleeing Central America because of all of the violence and upheaval taking place.  As we (the USA) fought and tried to keep in power many dictators.  There were people seeking asylum in the United States but being denied because they were fleeing the forces being backed by the US military.  So at this meeting we met one of these refugees who had sought asylum in the USA and was being provided sanctuary by a UCC church.  Until that moment I think maybe I knew that people sought the US for refuge, but I didn't really understand what it meant and what my role was to play in that.  I didn't know that churches often became places where people went for asylum and sanctuary.

"Take refuge in me."  Can you imagine what the words must sound like to someone who is with out home or country?  To someone who has had to flee their home because they are on the wrong side of a political disagreement?  Take refuge in me.  God is the place of refuge, security, safety.  God is the shelter from all that is wrong, all that keeps us from what is right and true.  To take refuge in the Holy One calls on us to live in the shelter of God's presence, to live our lives always in God.  When we do that, when we live each moment in God we inherit the Holy, the Sacred.  We dwell on the Holy Mountain, the temple of God, the place where God lives.  Now the sacred is here and not there.  We awaken to the fact that we have been surrounded by the Holy but forgot or couldn't see. 

God show me the path to your refuge that I can be part of your Holy Presence and learn to provide refuge for others.  Amen

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Inch by Inch

For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up
 so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
 to spring up before all nations. Isaiah 61:11

There is something about sowing a seed and watching it grow. When Reed was little we lived near the edge of a forest. There was one spot in our tiny backyard that had enough light to plant seeds. I knew there wasn’t enough sun for vegetables, so I decided to try flowers. I cleared the area, pulling out the grass and small plants. I picked out stone after stone making a border around the edge. My son was two and he thought this was the best job. Being able to put your hands in the dirt, pull out the rocks and then get to keep them made my sons day. When we had soil ready, we then added bags of dark rich compost and topsoil, spreading this life-giving rich earth. I decided to plant wild flowers. So we sowed the area with seed. We watered the ground and sang the Jim Manley song “Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow, all it takes is a rake and a how and piece of fertile ground.” Green slowly began to appear. We watched, we waited, we watered, and we sang. Then one day it bloomed. There was a riot of colors with trees right behind. Our hard work and the earth’s desire to bring forth shoots led to this blooming.

God is also a patient gardener. God has created a righteous world. The holy One patiently tends the earth waiting for the soil to bring forth shoots to bloom. The blooms can do nothing less than praise the creator.

God, give us the patience and endurance it takes to sow seeds that will bring forth life, righteousness, and praise. Amen.

Monday, July 26, 2010

What is the Language of God?

This spring around Easter the United Church of Christ released a new ad on the internet. The ad is called what is the language of God. At the bottom you see the words religion with relevance. The ad shows the hope and dream of the United Church of Christ to be a church that speaks the language of God.

What is God’s language? Compassion, Community, Love, Justice, Hope, Equality, Praise. These words are interspersed within the images of the people of the United Church of Christ expressing those sentiments. It shows people marching for equality with workers, with minorities, with LGBT persons. There are pictures of pastors preaching and children laughing, creation growing, and people singing. There are people eating together, sharing communion and being baptized. This is the church on the move that is a multicultural, multiracial church. It is a vision of the church that has kept me in the United Church of Christ.

Can you imagine a church where you praise God and act for justice, where you provide compassion to a hurting world and feast at a table, where you celebrate the joy of a child first walking and a lesbian couple being married, where you march for immigrant rights and baptize in a river, where you comfort the hurt and celebrate a disabled person’s win, where you laugh, cry, pray, hope and march together! When I see this vision of the United Church of Christ I want to be part of the dream. I want to share the language of God with those around me.

So my question for us is how can we share with the Lake Geneva Area that we are speaking the language of God? In what ways do we share love? Compassion? Community? Justice? Hope? Equality? Praise? If we aren’t sharing this language what do we need to change in order to be able to share this language? How is our religion relevant? How will we embodied the God Is Still Speaking mission and message here is Lake Geneva so that people will find our church and find a home?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Word of God is Like the Rain

My word is like the snow and the rain
that come down from the sky to water the earth.
They make the crops grow and provide seed for planting and food to eat.
So also will be the word that I speak -
it will not fail to do what I plan for it;
 it will do everything I send it to do. Isaiah 55:10-11.

The word of God is like the rain. What an interesting concept? I have lived in very different climates over my life. I have lived in places when the rain blew in fast and furious and could leave in its wake destruction. I lived in a high mountain desert where it rarely rained and if it did rain it might miss your house entirely but get the next block over. I lived in places where it seemed like all it did was rain from February through May and I wished it would stop and I could see the sun.

The word of God is like the rain. When I lived in Wyoming there was no rain. There hadn’t been rain in two years. The plants struggled to grow and you had to decide whether to spend money on the precious resource water to keep life green. The drought cycle was lasting longer because of how we humans used the earth. God’s word is like the rain in a drought; sometimes it seems like it will never come, that the rain is being kept away, that we humans have created a barrier to the word.

Sometimes the rain is a slow steady rhythm that soaks the earth and grounds. The rain replenishes all that has been lost making life spring forth abundantly. God’s word is sure and steady falling constantly then we hear the word everywhere we turn.

Sometimes the rain blows in with loud thunder and flashing lightening. It is quick and powerful, drenching and destroying, terrifying in its power. Sometimes God’s word is like that entering our lives and causing us to radically change and transform from its forceful strike.

The word and rain we can’t live fully, wholly without either. The rain and word have consequences and produce results when the rain and word fall where intended. Rain comes to places where there are no humans. Places where rain is sent because of what else is there. The goat born where no one else except God is present, but has purpose and beauty to God the only one who sees.

Rain of God, pour down your life giving word upon us that we may see and appreciate what your word and your rain bring to us. Amen.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Holy All Around You

Lake Geneva
For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. Isaiah 65:17-19

Have you ever sat outside in your favorite spot and breathed deeply? Have you closed your eyes and stilled your mind in prayer and silence? When you’ve reached the point where there is an inner stillness have you opened your eyes? At that moment everything is brighter, clearer, and stiller. Everything is so alive and so full. A newness has come over you, so that what was before beautiful is now the most holy and precious sight you have ever experienced. A new heaven and a new earth has been born in that moment. What was ordinary has become extraordinary. The sights, sounds, and smell have moved you into a new heaven and a new earth. You have awakened to the Holy that is in you leading you to experience the Holy that is all around you.

One question is how to bring that experience to the seat of power. Is there a way to express this since of the Holy in the seat of power so that when decisions are made about the earth the experience is not as an object to be used and consumed but as part of the Holy to be treasured and cherished? In Isaiah’s vision God’s law can remake the seat of power and transform the old into the new. The seat of power, Jerusalem, will now be a joy and the people will be a delight. God has allowed us this ability to see the new, to dream the possible.
Delight and Joy of my heat open within me the means to see and to live the new heaven and the new earth. Amen.