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."

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Jesus Story - Our Story

There is a story found in a native society describing how one tribe learned to find its way on long journeys.  These travelers navigated by singing a song as they journeyed, a song that was a roadmap by which they could remember changes in direction and key landmarks.  This song would change as the hunting ground changes with the season.  Their song charted a course for the season.  How do we chart our course?  Do we need a story to sing as we go?  One of the ways we can read the Gospel of Mark is as the song to sing that guides us through our life story and journey with God.  When we see how Jesus interacts with the lives of people he encounters, we see people’s lives being transformed and their stories changing.  The story of people being renewed and healed makes it possible to envision our renewal.
We are going to begin this New Year with Chapter 1 of the Gospel of Mark.  The story opens with “The beginning of the good news about Jesus, the anointed one, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).  The beginning, a word we’ve heard before, at the very start: “The beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).  This is the new beginning, the new story that God is going to share with us.  As we enter Mark’s story we enter “a world of conflict and suspense, a world of surprising reversals and strange ironies, a world of riddle and hidden meanings, a world of subversive actions and political intrigues.  And the protagonist — Jesus — is most surprising of all” (David Rhoads, Mark as Story, 1).  To enter Mark’s story is to enter a world where you are to join the story and become a means to help bring about God’s kingdom.  This story challenges us to see the world differently and invites you to act to make the story of God real. 
We will begin Our Story - Mark’s Story with John the Baptist, preparing the way and hearing the words spoken over Jesus “you are my beloved, I delighted in choosing you.”  This leads to Jesus’ time in the wilderness. He comes out of the wilderness preaching “The right time is fulfilled, and the rule of God has arrived.  Turn around and put faith in the Good News. “Jesus then calls the first disciples, heals a man with unclean spirit, heals Simon/Peter’s mother-in-law, spends time in pray, and heals a leper.  In each of these encounters with people in the first chapter of Mark, Jesus takes the story of the Holy One of Israel and returns salvation to God’s people.  As Ched Myers says, scripture is once again the story of God’s liberating love and call to live according to it (Binding the Strong Man).
We are called to be prepared, to accept the risks that come from allowing our story to become part of God’s story.  To chart our course, we need a story that we sing as we go, will we allow that song to be Jesus’ song?  Will we sing of a life transformed by the Holy One of Israel?  As Bell teaches us come walk and sleep; come savor and sit; come eat and discover; come share and give; come close and find; come stand and loose; come leave and come welcome.  Come find that love which never ends and opens your heart wide. 
Come join me in this story,
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 savor 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, December 24, 2011

Christmas for the Outcasts

      A couple of weeks ago I was ringing the bell for the Salvation Army.   While I was there with my son and a girl from church, we rang with our broken bell that kept losing all its parts and watched the people go in and out of Walmart.  It's interesting to watch as people tried to avoid you at all cost.  My sons favorite was the baby block where the mother held up her baby so that it blocked us from eye contact.  What I noticed was who gave and who didn't.  I can understand not giving, if there like me I never have cash in my wallet.  But I know how much this money helps the people of our community with rent, utilities, a tank of gas or groceries.  So when someone who looks like they didn't have much managed to give you could feel the power of hope in the kettle.  
     One of may favorite Christmas songs in Father Christmas by the Kinks.  Here is someone wanting to share the spirit of Christmas who is being mugged.  Christmas is so hard that the muggers want the money for they know its the rich kids that get the toys.  This song asks us to remember those who have nothing at Christmas. 
     A state that breaks the heart of those who this week in our community met with people who had little for Christmas.  One particular girl had nothing for her baby at Christmas: crashing on the floor of friends, paying them back with money from babysitting by getting toiletries, with the father of her baby in jail for beating the baby.  She came seeking help and hope.  As she broke open the heart of those who met with her.  They tried to find the organizations that could give her a hand up.  They help her with toiletries presents for those she crashed with because one of the church's had collected tins, grabbing gifts that had been donated.  These people who gather monthly  to help those without much in our community experienced what Christmas can be about.  That a baby came into the world among the lowly and poor, a baby whose mother upon meeting the shepherds. These shepherds were rough, dirty, not even considered good enough to be counted.  Yet God's Angel's appeared to them bringing good news of peace, about a baby come to save us all.  Jesus the baby came to the outcast and marginal.  As Mary pondered in her heart the presence of these shepherd she probably heard her song again.  Her song that shares how God lifts up the lowly, is with the poor, and wants the hungry to eat.  

"My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."  Luke 1

Have Yourself a Merry, Merry Christmas
Have yourself a really good time
But remember the Kids who got nothing
                The Kinks

Monday, December 19, 2011

Rise Up Shepherd and Follow

There's a star in the East on Christmas morn,
Rise up shepherd and follow.
It will lead to the place where the Saviour's born,
Rise up shepherd and follow.

Follow, follow,
Rise up shepherd and follow.
Follow the star of Bethlehem.
Rise up shepherd and follow.

Who will you be following this Christmas?  Will you take time these season to seek the Christ child?  

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Christmas Hope

I love Christmas movies.  I could watch them all day long from Thanksgiving to Christmas, from the Hallmark Channel to black and white classics.  My son who is 16 is not quite the fan of Christmas movies that I am, so as I was trying to find a good movie to write about for this letter I came across a dystopian Sci-Fi film for Reed to watch with me, “Children of Men.”   This is a movie about moving from despair to hope.  The movie begins with a drunken Theo almost being blown up trying to get coffee.  He has just been drifting through life after the death of his son and all of the children of earth.  As Theo says, “I can't really remember when I last had any hope, and I certainly can't remember when anyone else did either. Because really, since women stopped being able to have babies, what's left to hope for?”  Theo is paid to save an African refugee because of his political connections.  He learns that Kee is pregnant.  His mission is to get them sanctuary with a group called the Human Project.  This is no easy task as the government and rebels are fighting each other.   But in the midst of a refugee camp this baby is born, a baby who will change the world.  This movie shows us how very sad a world without children will be.  When this baby is born, even though there are bombs and bullets flying, as Theo guides Kee and the baby out of ground zero, everyone who hears the child cry stops and listens, falling to their knees and making the sign of the cross, offer a blessing, or just for a moment feeling wonder and hope.  As Jasper says, “Your baby is the miracle the whole world has been waiting for.” 
Christmas is that time of year when we get to stop and take a moment to believe in and practice hope.   This time of year we wait for a baby to come into the world bringing hope and salvation.  My prayer this Christmas is that you will allow yourself to discover the hope of Christmas.  That even in the midst of darkness, trouble, despair, we are taught to hope:
"Hope in the Lord! Be strong! Let your heart take courage! Hope in the Lord!" Psalm 27:14
But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint, Isaiah 40:31 
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit, Romans 15:13 
Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick, warning them not to tell who he was.  This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:  "Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. …  In his name the nations will put their hope."  Matthew 12:15-18, 21

May you discover the hope you need this Christmas.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Mary's Song

     What would you do if you were a teenager and pregnant?  If you knew that God had a plan for you and your baby, yet still you think about what to do?  How can I care for a baby when I haven't even started to care for myself?  How would you respond to the looks that said you had done the unthinkable?  How would you deal with your boyfriend who isn't the father?  So you run.  You head to a place where you hope you will be welcomed or at least not rejected.  
     Then you arrive at your cousins house and her first words to you are you are blessed.  She wraps you in a hug and for that moment you feel safe, you feel comforted, you think that maybe everything will be ok. And you start to sing.  
"My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me-- holy is his name. 50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers."
     With the arrogance of youth she says now everyone will call me blessed, because God has done great things for me.  Deep within me I feel God's presence, my soul and my spirit glow.  And then there is a moment when her own experience gets transformed into a song of revolution, a song to change the world.  The last, the lost, and the lowly will be the first, the found, and exalted.  The world will be turned upside down by this baby you have allowed to enter my life.  
     Who would believe that a teenage girl could birth something so beautiful?  Could sing of revolution and inspire us all?  But God does work through us when we are open to the calls of our spirit.  We can change the world.  
     A story that came to mind was of Lovette Conto.  As a baby her father fled the war in Liberia to a refugee camp in Ghana.  At this camp, she fought for her friend who needed a place to go to school but was blind.  Her fight led her to be noticed by someone who could offer her a scholarship to make her dream of being a designer.  She came to the US where she was inspired.  She saw a leaf with life printed on it and then she thought to take bullets from the war in Liberia and turn them into jewlery.  She took something of war and created something of love.  Akawelle is her jewelry which means aka (also known as) wel'le (love).  She knew this was possible for:  In Africa,everywhere you turn you are told, “It ain’t gonna happen”. But my dad would always say "Keep walking. Press on. It's going to happen."  He was right.   
     Like Mary, Lovette sings a song that is different from the world.  She sings of hope and beauty in a world that can be full of pain.  Will you sing with Mary this Christmas?  Will you create love?   

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Elizabeth's Song (Ave Maria)

When I was doing my CPE unit, one of the patients who was in for a couple of weeks made it her mission to teach me the Hail Mary.  The first time I had stopped in her room and talked with her and finished by asking people if they wanted me to pray with them something I was only becoming comfortable with.  Now I was faced with having to say a prayer I had never learned.  So I told her I didn’t know it but I would pray with her while she said it.  That night I looked up the prayer so when I saw her the next day we could say it together.  She wasn’t content that I read it she wanted me to be able to say it from my heart.  So that night I set about memorizing it. 
Hail Mary, Full of Grace, The Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.  Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of death. Amen.
I felt a little odd saying this prayer, it just wasn’t part of my experience or tradition.  Then I took a class on the Gospel of Luke and wrote a paper on Mary.  I wanted to find out why Jesus would reject her when she is outside the place he is teaching.  While studying all the reference to Mary I learned about Elizabeth’s Song, otherwise know as the Ave Maria or Hail Mary in Luke 1.
"Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."
The first song given to us in Luke’s gospel begins with a shout of joy.  Elizabeth a woman who never expected to be having a baby has been blessed by God with a baby.  This gift allows her the ability to see the divine, the holy when it appears before her.  So when she opens the door to a pregnant Mary, she is able to see God at work and pours out a blessing upon Mary.  She declares her blessed and her baby blessed.  She then shares how her own baby leaped for joy.  Elizabeth than says you are blessed Mary, not just because of this baby but because you heard what God was saying to you and believed.  You are blessed because you believe. 
This first song of Christmas is asking us to bless.  To greet those we meet with God’s blessing.  To greet those we meet with joy.  To share what it means to live a blessed life.  To share God’s blessing with those you meet. 
So this first Sunday of Christmas, let us pray for blessings.
Bless you, O God, father of all and gentle caring mother, do not forget your children.
Bless you, O God, who has given us the great gifts of creation and scripture. 
And you bless us, with love, with forgiveness, with vision.
Bless us this day so we may share our hopes to you:
            Hope  for those caught up in war…
            Hope for those who are homeless…
            Hope for those who are ill…
            Hope for those struggling in relationships during this family time…
            And for the deepest hope of our hearts…
God is with us and our hope is reborn.  Amen.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What is Christmas about?

I was sitting with a group of kids getting ready for the Christmas play in worship one Christmas.  While we were waiting for everyone to arrive, I asked them what they wanted Santa to bring them for Christmas.  One of them told me a DSI, one said a special Barbie.  I said I wanted an ice cream maker.  A 3 year old little girl, in her Cindi Lou who costume with red cheeks, pigtails, and twirly dress, looked at me very solemnly and said, "Santa only brings toys."  Santa only brings toys.   

I remember one Christmas morning

A winters light and a distant choir

And the peal of a bell and that Christmas Tree smell

And their eyes full of tinsel and fire

They sold me a dream of Christmas

They sold me a Silent Night and they sold me a fairy story
These little ones were a quiver of excitement that Santa was coming to bring them a dream.  The dream for Christmas was of packages and the bearded man with his toys.  This story came back to me this year as I thought about our Christmas dilemma.  Where will we be Sunday Christmas Morning?  Some churches are canceling services.  So when we make a choice about Christmas day and spending it with family will we take time during the day to remember the reason for the celebration?
In the song, I Believe in Father Christmas, the author contrasts the belief in Father Christmas with the belief in the Israelites, the rain with the virgin’s tears.  On Sunday December 25th will we remember the magic of Christmas is a story of the coming birth of babies who will grow up to change the world?  The Gospel of Luke begins with the stories of two coming babies, the struggles the families go through to have these babies and the hope these babies represent.   
This Christmas we will sing Zechariah’s Song from Luke 1:68-79, about his new baby John, the Baptist.  In this song / prayer, the baby will help to usher in the dawn from on high.  He will be great in the sight of the Lord and filled with God's Spirit.  He will turn people to the Lord.  He will prepare the people for the One who is coming to bring salvation.  
68 "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.  76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.  78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."

We will also sing Mary’s love song to God and her child in Luke 1:46-55.  She sings of our God who looks on us with mercy, our God is on the side of the poor and hungry, and fulfills the promises made to our ancestors.  
"My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

So this Christmas will we believe in this dream and hope for a Christmas of salvation and peace.  As Bono sings "I wish ... at Christmas we get what we deserve."  May we meet this season the God of the Israelites, the God behind the plan of salvation who turns the world upside down and inside out.  As Mary and Zechariah sing, even when we experience anguish, pain and sorrow, will we remember the God of Mercy who sends babies to change the world.
I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave New Year
All anguish pain and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Kitten for Mission 1

On Monday night, I came to church and was going around the building opening it up for the Ecclesiastical Council ( the UCC  final step for ordination where the association votes to affirm the persons call  on the condition of receiving a job offer) we were having for our recent seminary graduate.  So I am turning on the lights and unlocking the doors and I get to the outside door where people come into the building for the food pantry.  As I got to the door, I saw a box and thought someone brought food for our Mission 1 collection.  The United Church of Christ is on a mission together to collect food for the hungry, dollars for neighbors in need, an offering of letters to congress and money for African famine relief.   We had begun to fill up the windowsill in the sanctuary; I was really hoping for more food.  So then I bent down to pick up the box and it meowed at me.  Which caused me to actually read  the writing on the box which told a story of a person seeking on home for the kitten.  The weather was turning cold and while wanting to care for the kitten the person knew that wasn’t possible.  The note asked us to please find the kitten a home.

I was torn, knowing I couldn’t afford another pet with two of my own that we had rescued I asked the people to call around and find where we could take the kitten.  But while celebrating this beautiful moment for our seminarian whose call from God is to grow a church devoted to earth care many of us were worried about this kitten.  I knew myself and didn’t go look or pet it because I would take it home. 
We found a place to take the kitten but it got me thinking about hunger and poverty.  When food for people becomes hard to attain then those companion animals also suffer.  There is less food and less money for medical care.  Here we were as a church confronted with this economic crisis in the form of a kitten.  What are you supposed to do with a abandoned animal?  Experts recommend that people struggling financially to support their pets take the following steps:
·         Contact local shelters or rescue groups to locate pet food pantries or to find pet-friendly apartments if you have to move. They can link you with programs that can help with necessary vet care, medications or low-cost spay/neuter. In an increasing number of cities, groups are forming to provide short-term foster care for pets whose owners need a little time to get stable again.
·         Go to the home page of the Humane Society of the United States (hsus.org) and click on Pet Tip, which offers a state-by-state, ever-growing list of groups offering free or discounted pet food, medical care or temporary foster care.
·         Barter a short-term living arrangement for your pets. You provide free dog-walking or housekeeping or landscaping services for someone who gives your animal a home until your finances improve.
·         If you conclude you must give up your pet:  See whether responsible pet-loving friends or family can take it. If it's a purebred, contact the breed rescue group in your region. A few will also consider mixed-breed dogs that are primarily a particular breed. Contact no-kill shelters or rescue groups first.
But…What are our obligations as a church to this lost kitten and the other companion animals who are being hurt during times of economic turmoil?  When our seminarian was asked what her favorite scripture passage was, she said “The earth is the Lord’s and all that’s in it.”  So when we as the United Church of Christ are thinking about confronting food related injustice during this 11 days, one of those injustices that never even crossed my mind until a lost kitten appeared on our church doorstep, was how will we help all the earth that is suffering.  Will we add petfood to our list of healthy food donated to the local food pantries?  When we say all are welcome will we welcome the lost kitten on our doorstep?  Who will we include when we pray “that they may all be one”?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Spirit Lake or Devil's Lake

Devil's Lake State Park, WI
Devil's Lake State Park, WI
Devil's Lake State Park

This weekend while I was on Halloween Break as my son and I like to call the vacation days he gets the last weekend in October.  We decided to take a trip to the Wisconsin Dells.  On the way, we stopped at Devil's Lake State Park.  A number of people had told me how beautiful it was, so we decided to hike along the lake.  
At one point on the hike above the bluff my Brother-in-law remarked about how still and quiet it was at the peak.  How he had being hearing birds and forest noises for the whole trip up but when he reached the peak it was still and quiet.  I said that maybe this was a sacred site, a spot where earth and heaven touch and you can just sense God’s presence.  We then began talking about how there are thin places in the world and how in the United States some of these thin places have been renamed Devil’s Lake.  Our ancestors believed there was one way to God and the Native American practices deemed not from God. 
Devil's Lake State Park, WI
When we got home, I wanted to check and see if my guess about the name of Devil’s Lake was accurate.  Diane Pillsbury on the park website writes: “Native Americans have been at the park since the glaciers receded over 10,000 years ago. The Ho-Chunk name for the lake is Tawacunchukdah or Sacred Lake, which may have been mistaken for an evil connotation and translated as Devil's Lake. The Ho-Chunks maintain that the bluffs were created during a fierce battle between the thunderbirds and the water spirits. Mound locations seem to confirm this belief. A 150-foot bird mound on the southeastern shore of the lake represents the upper world. Bear and panther mounds on the north end of the lake, represent the opposing lower world.”
Devil's Lake State Park, WI
So we took a lake called Spirit Lake or Sacred Lake and turned it into Devil’s Lake.  Yet the energy of this spot still speaks to people of the sacredness of the earth.  This lake and trails still remind people of the beauty of creation.  Even those who are not religious notice a beauty and stillness to this park that once was used as a sacred space.  It’s at moments like these when I stop to say a psalm like 104 
10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills, 11 giving drink to every wild animal; the wild asses quench their thirst. 12 By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation; they sing among the branches. 13 From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work. 14 You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use, to bring forth food from the earth, 15 and wine to gladden the human heart, oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen the human heart.16 The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. 17 In them the birds build their nests; the stork has its home in the fir trees. 18 The high mountains are for the wild goats; the rocks are a refuge for the coneys. 19 You have made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting. 20 You make darkness, and it is night, when all the animals of the forest come creeping out. 21 The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God. 22 When the sun rises, they withdraw and lie down in their dens. 23 People go out to their work and to their labor until the evening. 24 O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Mission 1

When I was little, one of the nights we gathered around the TV was to watch "Mission Impossible."  It was on the only station we got, but it was a show all of us loved.  The show always began the same way.  Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) would receive a tape recorded message which said, "Jim, your mission, if you choose to accept it is..." and then it began.  Jim was then given an impossible mission to save the world.  He always accepted the mission and set about choosing agents, with the right skills to complete the mission. As you might guess, the super secret agents of Mission Impossible were always able to complete their mission and save the US or the world from catastrophe. 

Well this is your tape recorded mission, should you choose to accept it.  From 11-1-11 to 11-11-11, the United Church of Christ and our congregation will be focusing on hunger in the United States and around the world. The goals for the campaign from the United Church of Christ are:
  •         Collect more than 1 MILLION ITEMS OF HEALTHY FOOD and other household items for local food banks
  •          to gather more than $111,111 DOLLARS for Neighbors in Need
  •          to gather $100,000 for African famine relief
  •          Offer more than 11,111 LETTERS to Congress asking our government to reform U.S. foreign assistance in a way that more effectively benefits hungry and poor people worldwide

As part of this focus, our Mission will begin on November 1, 2011 with an All Saints Day Prayer Service focused on hunger.  During the service we will read scripture, sing songs, and focus on raising awareness about hunger and poverty and turning that awareness into action.  You are invited to bring food for the Lake Geneva Food Pantry and/or make a donation for hunger relief in Africa.  On Sunday, November 6 we will continue our focus on hunger with Each One Bring One Sunday.  The motto of the United Church of Christ is Jesus’ prayer “that they may all be one.”  On this Sunday, as we celebrate being one together as Christ’s body on Earth, you are invited to:  Bring 1+ Can(s) of Food for the Food Pantry; Bring 1+ Dollar(s) for Neighbors in Need; Bring 1+ Friend(s) to Worship; Bring 1+ Offering of Letters to Worship ( a sample can be found at: http://www.bread.org/ol/2011/sample-letter.html).  After worship the adult education class in the pastor’s office will focus on hunger. 

Each of us in the Church, like Mission Impossible agents, have been given special talents to help accomplish the mission. Who among us have the resources necessary to help others?  Who among us are willing to sharing our faith with others and inviting them to participate in our worship and mission?  Who among us will write letters to congress?  Who among us will teach others about hunger?  Each of us can bring our gifts to this mission and then the goals for the United Church of Christ can become a living possibility expressing our belief that they may all be one. 

How about you? Are you willing to accept your mission?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

My Grandmother's Generosity

When I moved in with my grandmother while attending graduate school at the University of Connecticut, one of the things that frustrated me, exasperated me, that I can now look back at and chuckle and appreciate is the thriftiness of my grandmother.  She knew that there was a second use for many items from bread loaf bags to cottage cheese containers.  One of my fondest memories of her is of this little, and I mean tiny, pink suitcase she would pack to set off on her trip to visit family.  She knew that all you really needed was a day dress, a Sunday morning dress, underwear, stockings, and a nightgown.  Everything she needed fit in this little case.  She would then set out to visit my parents in Illinois or my aunt’s family in California.  On the way, she would stop and stay at every relative that had settled from shore to shore.  She knew there was someone who would put her and my great aunt or grandpa up for the night.  She expected to receive generosity, but it also helped her to be a generous person.  She gave of herself and her wealth.  What she had was never much, but there was always enough to feed my 26 cousins and 14 aunts and uncles when they dropped by.  There was always enough to help the nursing students she adopted knowing how tough it was to get through school with a family.  Generosity was a way of life, a part of who she was and what she expected of us, her family.  Grandma never had material wealth but she was blessed with the gift of generosity.  As Jesus says, “Give and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap, for the measure you give will be the measure you get back (Luke 6:38).”  Jesus is telling us to live lives of blessing.  The more generous we are the more blessed the world will appear to be.  Our life will be full of giving and receiving.
When we give to our faith communities, we are experiencing part of what it means to live a blessed life.  When we give, we provide food for those who hunger spiritually, emotionally and physically.  We give so that as we celebrate the Lord's Supper and share coffee after worship so as we eat together we become the body of Christ.  We give so that our building is ready to host the Lake Geneva Food Pantry which serves over 500 adults and children a month; Side by Side which provides assistance (rent, utilities, medical) to over 200 families a year.  We give so that our children may be fed the stories of our faith.  We give so that our spirits may be fed by music that moves our souls.  We give so that 75 young children can come to our building to grow and learn in United Child Care Center.  We give to OCWM (Our Church’s Wider Mission) to assist our church in the work of Jesus Christ throughout the world.  We give so that when a hurting neighbor calls, we are able to listen to what is happening in their lives, pray for them, and offer our support. 
"Give and it will be Given to You."

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What Comes from the Heart

1 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat." 3 He answered them, "And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?4 For God said, "Honor your father and your mother,' and, "Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.' 5 But you say that whoever tells father or mother, "Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God,' then that person need not honor the father. 6 So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said: 8 "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; 9 in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.' "  10 Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, "Listen and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles." 12 Then the disciples approached and said to him, "Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?" 13 He answered, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit." 15 But Peter said to him, "Explain this parable to us." 16 Then he said, "Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile."   Matthew 15:1-20

When I entered my first parish fresh out of seminary, I was excited to be heading to a church where I would not have to worry about my theology for they were an Open and Affirming Congregation in the United Church of Christ who shared a building with Unitarians.  I was excited that I would be able to preach the good news and not have to worry about my politics.  So imagine my shock when I started receiving hate mail, hate emails, treatise, and telephone calls telling me that I was going to hell.  Granted I was used to being told I was going to hell as a UCC'er growing up in the bible belt because I hadn't said the magic words making me a Christian.  It didn't mater that my father was a pastor, I never missed church or Sunday school, had been baptized and could proof text with the best of you.  But I wasn't a "Christian."  But here in my first parish it was a whole new level of disagreement.  Growing up I was just shunned.  There in my first parish I was to be the voice of hope.  I was to share the good news of Jesus with a hurting world.  There in Casper, WY, the hometown of Matthew Shepherd, I was to lead a congregation that had been picketed by Fred Phelps and had had these quiet strong elderly woman called names that were unthinkable just because they voted to be a congregation that said we will not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

So the first time I received a phone call at home telling me I was going to hell and threatening my life, I tried to argue back with them.  As they told me that homosexuality was against biblical law, I shared my interpretation of scripture pointing to every time and outsider or sinner was welcomed.  After a while, when up on the mountain hiking and I would get one of these calls I wanted it to stop.  I would never enter their private life and threaten them.  I wouldn't begin to think they were going to hell ( being UCC have many questions about the entire concept).   But what are we to do?

In the scripture lesson today, Jesus is asked why don't your disciples follow the rules.  Why don't they wash their hands before eating.  Aren't they going to be religious.  Aren't they going to show what it means to be a good Jew.  Jesus responds back to them first by asking about a different law.  You say follow the commandment such as honor your parents but then make an exception saying if you give the money to the temple you have done the greater good.  Is that really what was intended in the law.

Jesus goes on to talk to first the crowd and then the disciples sharing with them that it is not what goes in a body that is the problem.  They problem is what comes out of the mouth, what the heart speaks that we should be concerned about.  And for Jesus what is at the heart of the law and the prophets.  When asked for the greatest commandment he says, "Love the Lord you God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all you mind.  And the second of these is love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-38)."  So when faced with a conflict, when threatened with hell; can we remember to think with the heart of God.  For how we respond to our enemies says more about ourselves and our hearts, then any words they direct at us.

Monday, September 19, 2011

First Born of Mary

In worship this month we have been singing First Born of Mary as an response to a drama we are doing.  This song has been stuck in my head for a while.  I love to listen to the prayer that is found on the "There is One Among Us " Cd written by John Bell and the Wild Goose Worship Group from Iona.  So this is my take on their prayer.  

Firstborn of Mary, provocative preacher, itinerant teacher, outsider’s choice;
Jesus inspires and disarms and confuses whoever he chooses to hear his voice.
John L. Bell                
He was walking beside the lake when he saw brothers.  These working class folk he stopped and talked with and invited to come and journey with him. He asked them to follow him.  He asked them to leave all that they had and enter a new life.  A life of catching people for God (Matthew 4:18-22).  “He lived and lives to comfort and disturb, to pacify and provoke, all this is part of God’s blessing” (The Wild Goose Worship Group).    

Firstborn of Mary, provocative preacher, itinerant teacher, outsider’s choice;
Jesus inspires and disarms and confuses whoever he chooses to hear his voice.
He sat down on a mountain and began to speak.  He said blessed are the poor, the mourning, the meek, the merciful, the pure, the peacemakers, those who hunger and thirst.  He pushed and provoked people to move beyond the law.  So you heard don’t murder others but if you are angry or insult another, you have gone too far.  Give to anyone who begs from you (Matthew, Sermon on the Mount).  “He lived and lives to comfort and disturb, to pacify and provoke, all this is part of God’s blessing.”

Firstborn of Mary, provocative preacher, itinerant teacher, outsider’s choice;
Jesus inspires and disarms and confuses whoever he chooses to hear his voice.
He had just finished preaching, and was returning from the mountain when a leper, an outsider, a despised man, fell at his feet.  The man said, ‘Lord, if you choose you can make me well?’  For him there was never a question.  He stretched out his hand and he was healed.  He sent the man to testify before others (Matthew 8:1-4).  “He lived and lives to comfort and disturb, to pacify and provoke, all this is part of God’s blessing.”  
Firstborn of Mary, provocative preacher, itinerant teacher, outsider’s choice;
Jesus inspires and disarms and confuses whoever he chooses to hear his voice.
He was walking through town when an occupying soldier stopped and asked him to heal his servant.  He said I will come and cure him.  As they walked, he spoke with this man, this enemy, about faith (Matthew 8:5-13).  “He lived and lives to comfort and disturb, to pacify and provoke, all this is part of God’s blessing.”  

Firstborn of Mary, provocative preacher, itinerant teacher, outsider’s choice;
Jesus inspires and disarms and confuses whoever he chooses to hear his voice.
He was in alien territory.  When a woman, an outsider, shouted heal my daughter.  The disciples begged him to send her away.  She knelt at his feet and argued theology and faith.  She won him to her side and the demon left her daughter (Matthew 15:21-28).  “He lived and lives to comfort and disturb, to pacify and provoke, all this is part of God’s blessing.”  

  Firstborn of Mary, provocative preacher, itinerant teacher, outsider’s choice;
Jesus inspires and disarms and confuses whoever he chooses to hear his voice.
He once said, Woe to you religious and church going folk.  For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven.  For you do not go in yourself, and when others are going in you stop them. (Matthew 23:13)  “He lived and lives to comfort and disturb, to pacify and provoke, all this is part of God’s blessing.”  

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

O the thinks You Can Think

"O the Thinks You can Think" by Dr. Seuss is one of my favorite story partly because I was a dreamer as a kid and here is a story that encouraged you to think about imaginative and creative thinks.  "O the thinks that you can think if only you try...if  you think you can think up..."  When I took my first philosophy course at Loyola in Chicago the professor asked us if we had ever look up at the stars at night and wonder what was up there.  "Think! Think and wonder. Wonder and think.  How much water can fifty-five elephants drink? "  It was exciting for me a kid, who was living in the middle of farm country who didn't fit with the culture and wanted to learn anything and everything, to land in place where the words I first heard were encouraging about what I had always done, to think and wonder.

The question in the scripture this week from 2 Samuel 7 is what to do when the thinks you are thinking, the dreams you are dreaming are not the dreams that God have you.  King David is finally king over the north and south and the tribes have been brought together.  "After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him" vs. 1.  David was in a time of peace,  He finally had time to stop, relax, and think.  In that time of prosperity and peace, he looks around and sees that he has this great palace and God is living in a tent.  Shouldn't God have a grand church, a magnificent temple with all the best the kingdom can afford.  Well God tells David no.  I do not want a temple now, I promise you that I will be with your family forever and your family will rule my people.  A temple will be built but not by you.

Have you ever been at a point like that in you life?  Have you had a dream of who you would marry?  Have you had a dream of a perfect job?  Have you dreamed of the ministry that God is calling you to?  When I was in seminary my dream for ministry to to start an environmental center where people could come to experience God and learn how to care for creation while also traveling around the world with my people leading great revivals with preaching on creation care and protection and having the band rocking with me.  But God had a different dream for me.  God sent me a message saying I was being called to welcome the outsiders, to help people choose God and choose the light.  My dream was not God's dream for me at that moment.

David's response to this no is an inspiration to all of us.  David on receiving this no sits down and begins to pray.  He begin by saying Who am I that you would choose me and my family for your work.  Thank you for what you have done for me and my people.  Thank you for the promise you have made to us.  And David praises God.  When faced with a no we don't necessarily start with prayer especially a prayer of praise.  I know I would want to yell at God and ask why not.  Why can't my dream come true?  But that is where David's prayer helps to give us a model.  We begin by asking who we are in relationship to God.  We then remember and give thanks for what God had done in our lives so that we can move into a state of gratitude.

All week as I worked on this I could help but sing "Who am I" by Casting Crowns.  "You ask me who I am.  I am yours."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Unexpected Moments

My son and I were pulling into the bank and talking about driver's ed (yes- I'm terrified) when right before us was this Heron.  It was absolutely beautiful with gray and red. The heron made us stop there for a moment to watch this amazing creation.  This is a spot it would not normally land because we weren't near the lake but because of all of the rain we have had there was a boggy spot where it was resting.  We sat there watching this bird.  That moment knocked us out of the busyness of life with depositing checks to pay the bills and being excited about learning to drive.  For a moment we just breathed and watched the bird.

1 Bless Yahweh, my soul, Yahweh, my God, how great you are!
10 In the ravines you opened up springs, running down between the mountains,
11 supplying water for all the wild beasts; the wild asses quench their thirst,
12 on their banks the birds of the air make their nests, they sing among the leaves.
13 From your high halls you water the mountains, satisfying the earth with the fruit of your works:
14 for cattle you make the grass grow, and for people the plants they need, to bring forth food from the earth,
15 and wine to cheer people's hearts, oil to make their faces glow, food to make them sturdy of heart.
16 The trees of Yahweh drink their fill, the cedars of Lebanon which he sowed;
17 there the birds build their nests, on the highest branches the stork makes its home;
18 for the wild goats there are the mountains, in the crags the coneys find refuge.
24 How countless are your works, Yahweh, all of them made so wisely! The earth is full of your creatures.
25 Then there is the sea, with its vast expanses teeming with countless creatures, creatures both great and small;
27 They all depend upon you, to feed them when they need it.
28 You provide the food they gather, your open hand gives them their fill.
29 Turn away your face and they panic; take back their breath and they die and revert to dust.
30 Send out your breath and life begins; you renew the face of the earth.
31 Glory to Yahweh for ever! May Yahweh find joy in his creatures!
32 At his glance the earth trembles, at his touch the mountains pour forth smoke.
33 I shall sing to Yahweh all my life, make music for my God as long as I live.
34 May my musings be pleasing to him, for Yahweh gives me joy.
35 May sinners vanish from the earth, and the wicked exist no more! Bless Yahweh, my soul.
                        New Jerusalem Bible