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."

Saturday, December 21, 2013

This is My Christmas Prayer

I have to admit that this Christmas it has been harder to get into the season.  I love a good cheesy holiday movie and they have lost their sparkle this year.  So it has made me think about what is the message I want from Christmas this year. I want the light to com back, for prays to be answered.  I know is the year of Matthew, but I am partial to Luke's  Christmas Story.  So I sat down to read through the beginning.  

Luke’s Gospel opens with an answered prayer, the account of Elizabeth’s late-in-life pregnancy. Immediately after his introductory dedication to Theophilus, Luke introduces Zechariah and Elizabeth, who are childless in their old age. While Zechariah is at prayer, carrying out his priestly duties by offering incense in the sanctuary, he is visited by an angel who says, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John” (1:13). Now this news is not taken easily for Zechariah says you know I am old and well my wife is getting on in years.  The angel gets a little perturbed after all he is standing right in front of Zechariah and so he takes his voice until they come true.

The scene shifts to Mary who is also visited by an angel and is told she will bear a son.  While she too questions the angel, she accepts the news.  With this news literally in her, she visits her cousin Elizabeth.  And Elizabeth says:
‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’                                                                                  Luke 1:42-45
Elizabeth prayers over Mary.  She blesses Mary for having heard the word and believed.  At that point something inside Mary broke free.  She sings forth her own prayer:
‘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 has 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, 
according to the promise you made to our ancestors,
   to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’  Luke 1:46-55
Mary's prayer is one of praise for God and what God has done and will do.  Her prayer is acknowledge meant of what God is doing for Mary and also for the world.  For she praises the God who lifts the lowly, fills the hungry and helped your servants at the same time you challenge the powerful.  Mary's pray take us beyond ourselves and back into an understanding of where God is at work.

We return to Zechariah and learn of the birth of his son, John.  At the birth, Zechariah prays:
‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
   for you have looked favorably on your people and redeemed them.
You have raised up a mighty savior for us
   in the house of your servant David,
as You spoke through the mouth of your holy prophets from of old,
   that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus you have shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
   and has remembered your holy covenant,
the oath that you swore to our ancestor Abraham,
   to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve You without fear, in holiness and righteousness
   before You all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
   for you will go before the Lord to prepare God's ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to God's people
   by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the 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 1:68-79
Zechariah, like Mary, praise God for the actions God has taken in the world, showing mercy and saving the people.  He then blesses his child to be the one who prepares the way for God's dawn to break.

Mary's baby is born and his birth is announced to Shepherds who hear the angels sing this prayer:
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’  Luke 2:14
The shepherds after meeting the baby return hoe praising God.
When the Jesus was to be presented in the table we hear the prayers of two elders.  First Simeon says:
'Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
   according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
  which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
   and for glory to your people Israel.’                                                    Luke 29-32
This prayer of Zechariah's has become the final words at the end of worship.  Simeon sends us out in peace after having received the word of God and experienced the light.  Simeon's prayer is followed by Anna who on seeing the baby praises God.

The story of Christmas is a story of prayer, prayers of longing that are answered, prayers of praise, and prayers of challenge.  The story is filled with the longing for God to bring forth the light.  And this is exactly what I need to hear this Christmas.  I need to be reminded to surround my life and the life of those I love with prayer.  That we need to pray our longings and the answer may come long after we have believed it will be answer.  We pray remembering that God is seeking great changes and bringing mercy to God's people.  So this Christmas, this is my prayer.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Cats and Dogs in the Peaceable Kingdom

Rocket and RiverSong
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.  The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.  The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.  On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.                                                                                                                                   Isaiah 11:1-10
Ziggy and Rocket
Rocket and Ziggy were best friends.  We brought them home the first of January 2003.  They slept together and cuddled each other and when one left the house the other looked lonely.  Ziggy got cancer and died.  Rocket was very sad.  She would meow and cry.  She would follow me everywhere and was always by my side.  The whole house missed Ziggy.  
River Song 
... A month went by and I started trolling the animal shelter websites looking at pictures of puppies.  I wanted to stop moping and I wanted Rocket to feel a little less lonely.  So one day I came across a picture of a puppy I just couldn't get out of my head.  I even started naming her.  RiverSong for Dr. Who's wife.  Her picture just spoke to me.  I looked up her breeds cattle dog and lab and thought she'll be great.  I'll have to get more exercise and she will do ok with kids and cats.  I just need to teacher her a task so she feels like she has a job.  So I made and appointment and met the puppy.  She was twirling and spinning and had the cutest speckles.  When she came into the house Rocket disappeared.  She only came out for food.  I learned that RiverSong was a CoonHound mixed with cattle dog.  After reading about Heelers I was a little worried about Rocket.  This breed hunts and sees anything as fair game outside the pack. 

Rocket walking past RiverSong to lie down.

So I made sure she was in her cage at night and didn't leave her and the cat alone in the same room while I was at work.  For RiverSong just loved to chase and catch Rocket.  
Every time she spotted her she bit her and trapped her.  Even though the internet and the vet said they should be ok together alone (they won't hunt their own pack, but neighbor kitties beware).  So gradually she started to sleep on the bed with Rocket and me, but I still was locking her in a room when we left the house.  One day I accidentally locked Rocket and River together in her room.  Rocket must have been hiding under the couch when I left for work.  Both of them were exhausted but alive and there were no piles of fur floating around.  I thought we are making progress, but RiverSong couldn't help but bite Rocket every time she went by.  But one day when I was reading, RiverSong was busy chasing Rocket and Rocket was crying like normal, but then she jumped up on the chair turned around and swatted RiverSong with her claws and the puppy cried and ran away to hide.  So I tried leaving them out together since the chewing phase was over.  There is still a lot of chasing and warning cries, but I have been known to catch Rocket licking RiverSong and RiverSong gently nibbling on Rocket's ears.  
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 
Woody Allen said, “Sure the leopard will lie down with lamb, but the lamb won’t get much sleep.”  I think Rocket probably felt that way for a long six months, when the puppy was growing into herself.  I'll keep one eye open in case that mouth with teeth comes close.  So why does Isaiah present this picture of the wolf and the lamb together, the calf and the lion, the cow and the bear, the child and the asp.  

The world is not a safe place.  Isaiah's vision is a vision of peace in the midst of hardship.  Life is not easy in Isaiah's world.  In Chapter 10 Isaiah tells us about Jerusalem being brought low.  The city is devastated.  Assyria has brought war and hardship to the people.  The promise of the David's dynasty has been brought low.  The kingship that the people had demanded has not succeeded.  We are left with a stump, an ending.  Hope seems far off and long ago.  Yet with this stump, a branch is growing, a new shoot will come to life.  Isaiah envisions a world with a new rule.  Someone is coming who is blessed by God and surrounded by God.  
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 
Isaiah dreams a dream of a new world.  As Walter Brueggemann says,"this is a poem about the impossible possibility of a new creation."  There will be a new beginning with a leader who is clothed in righteousness and will decide and judge for the poor and meek of the earth.  And all creation will be renewed. This vision, God's vision is of a radical new order where we will have "no hunger for injury, no need to devour, no yearning for brutal control, no passion for domination."  (Brueggemann, Isaiah 1-39, pp.98-101).  

One of the songs that I have been singing all week is "I heard the bells on Christmas Day."  This song comes from the poem Christmas Bells by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  I love the song and hear Harry Bellafonte sing it in my head, but what I love about the song is it's angst.  How do we celebrate Christmas when in the world hate is strong and mocks the images of peace found at Christmas.  This sense of discord is even stronger in the poem.
Then from each black, accursed mouth

The cannon thundered in the South,
     And with the sound
     The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
     And made forlorn
     The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said:
     "For hate is strong,
     And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"   
                                        Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Longfellow was writing at a time when it was hard to celebrate Christmas.  His wife had been tragically killed in a fire a few years before and one of his son's ran off to join the union army and fight the civil war. Longfellow twice went to care for his son once for an illness and once for wounds.  Those Christmas words of peace and good will seem hollow.  

This week as I heard the stories of stage four breast cancer, unexpected deaths in a car accident.  For some this is the first holiday without a loved one and so Christmas just brings up the pain.  I know of people struggling to find work and unable to experience the joy and hope of Christmas when they are unsure of the future.  For many of us this Christmas may be hard.  Peace and good will seem hard to come by.  

Yet...As with Isaiah, the despair turns toward hope.  The bells begin to sing of God and of right prevailing.  Those word and sense of peace now bring hope.  God wants to bring into our hardship, our sorrow, our loneliness and share a vision, a hope of peace.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sing a New Song: A sermon on Psalm 98

O sing to the Holy One a new song,
for God has done marvelous things.
God's right hand and God's holy arm have gotten the victory.
2The Holy One has made known the victory;
God has revealed God's vindication in the sight of the nations.
3 God has remembered God's steadfast love
and faithfulness to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
4Make a joyful noise to the Holy One, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
5Sing praises to the Holy One with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody.
6With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Holy One.
7Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who live in it.
8Let the floods clap their hands;
let the hills sing together for joy
9at the presence of the Holy One,
for God is coming to judge the earth.
God will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.
      As I was reading blogs online this week, one of the pastors wrote about a conversation he had with his colleague about  a way to see is a person was growing in their faith, was to ask the, "What was the last song that they had learned on their faith and how long ago was that?"
      This got me thinking about music and how it impacts our life of faith.  Do the songs we sing and the one's that are planted on our hearts tell about our relationship to God? So I started thinking about my faith journey in terms of song.  
       My first memory of church is Christmas Eve.  I remember the candles being lit and holding it so carefully and listening to everyone singing Silent Night. The magic of that moment is a magic I have experience every year since.  To hear those words of stillness, and quiet, of a mother's love and a child's new birth.  This is Christmas for me the list of the world coming back to earth again and again.  

     My next step on my musical faith journey happens when I am in grade school.  As the PK (preacher's kid), I was always called on to be the kind one.  So in the kid choir at church there was a kid with down's syndrome and no one wanted to be near him.  But he taught me something very important about singing. He sang loudly and exuberantly off key, seriously off key.  And it was tough to sing next to him because you had to find the music inside in order to sing the melody.  Eric taught me a lot, lessons I didn't always want to learn, but he showed me how to make a joyful noise to the Holy One.
     When I was in high school I went to NYE or RYE (Youth Events).  At one of the them the song that was being sung was 
This was 30 years ago, when I learned that we as a church stand up for justice, made up of all people: young and old, gay and straight, many colored.  This really impacted how I experienced the church.  The United Church of Christ showed me that God's diverse world is full of amazing people who are called to sing and march, be angry and love the world into God's reign.  
     My next growth in faith happened in College.  I went to Loyola University in Chicago.  They changed the way I thought about worship music.  I gew up in churches that played worship music exclusively on the organ.  I have heard good organ music, slow organ music - so slow you think that 4 verses is twenty, fast organ music - where you can't get the words our, soaring organ music, and circus organ music.  And so when I went to worship, I was struck by the beauty of the chapel and what I heard.  There was no organ!!!  Guitars, drums, flute, cello, violin, tambourines.  Music came a love for me.  I experienced as beautiful.  Ironically, one of the songs I saved from those worship service contained some of the lyrics of Psalm 98.
I experienced worship music and beautiful and powerful.  
     My next stop is graduate school at the University of Connecticut.  I attended worship with my Grandmother, sitting in Uncle Bill's pew behind Grandpas pew.  But what spoke to me of this time with my extended family was our family reunion.  Every August the family gathered and sang "We Limit Not the Truth of God."   
These Manning Robinson ancestors of John Robinson the Pilgrim Pastor gather in an old Congregational Church to sing this tune.  There is Yet more Truth and Light to Break Forth From God's Word.  These words speak to my family, to me, that when we walk with God there is more light we need to find, more truth we need to discover.  God's word is alive and present to teach us today and always.  
    Then picture me a new mom with a collicky baby.  He cried a lot.  He cried an awful lot.  I thought I would be a cool mom and sing him the Beatles, but do you know how short Golden Slumbers is.  So the one song I found that soothed his souls was Amazing Grace.  Screaming his lungs out, five verses later of Amazing Grace and calm has entered the house.  Screaming his lungs out on a plane trip to see grandma and grandpa and singing Amazing grace calms him and the people around me.  I wonder what that does for a child to be bathed in that song multiple times a day for a couple of years.  To hear of God's love, God's grace.  To hear that God will always be there for you and with you.  

And now, what is my new song to God.  For the last ten years the songs that have meant the most to me are not Germon Beer Songs, but Scottish Tunes.  My thought of singing the faith and how to sing have been the songs of John Bell and the Iona Community.  These songs speak to me of a the Gospel where Jesus welcomes the poor, finds the lost, welcomes the outcast and invited you to participate.  The latest song to be part of my prayer walk has been "Come Bring Your Burdens to God."   
As my dog and I go on our prayer walk, this song has been my guide and inspiration.  As I have been working through jobs questions this song has been with me.  And while I am not sure that Jesus will never say no, for I feel like I get an awful lot of nos.  This song centers me.  
    So what song are you singing on your faith journey.  What new song are you singing together to God.  For singing in church is both beautiful, powerful, and a landmind.  For one person's favorite song is not moving to the other person in the pew.  But God calls us to make a joyful noise, to sing a new song.  And what is noise and what is beauty is different for each of us.  As Marva Dawn writes, "a congregation has to love each othere enough to sing each other's songs."   Will you find your neighbors song, the one who is here and the one not yet here.  Will you find the song to guide you.  As a church we are invited to sing a new song, a song of this wonderful God who invited to bring light into the dark places, to bring hope where life seems hopeless, to bring justice where there is oppression.  So Sing a New Song Unto the Lord.
Preached 11/17/13 at First Congregational UCC in Elkhorn, WI.  

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Psalm of Lament

                                     where can I find you?
                          I have searched and called.
             You do not answer me.
I fear I will never hear your voice.

Are you there in the birds singing
                      in the flowers blooming?
                      in the breeze blowing
                      in the rain falling?
                      in the sunlight through the clouds?

Can I find you in the stream flowing by?
                      in the winding forest path?
                      in the rugged mountain slope?
                      in the laughter of a child?
                      in the tender kisses of my lover?

Is there anywhere I can go that you won't be?
                      in the depths of my despair?
                      in the birth of my child?
                      in the loneliest of nights?
                      in the joy of fresh falling snow?

O God, where can I go that You are not with me?
             Eternal Spirit, Creator of heaven and earth
                                   Let all creation sing forth Your praise
                                              for You are Here!
written for a course on the Psalms at McCormick Seminary

Saturday, September 28, 2013

We Lift Our Voice

We lift up our voice to worship You, our God.
We lift up our voice, crying Alleluia.

Eternal Spirit
              dwell in us and beyond us,
              renew and strengthen us,
              comfort us in times of joys and sorrows,
              inspire in us creative acts,
              show us You Way.
We lift up our voice to worship You, our God.

Jesus our Savior,
              living and dying with us,
              calling forth Your Reign,
              showing us how to build communities of faith,
              teaching us to welcome everyone to the table,
              setting at liberty those who are oppressed.
We lift up our voice to worship You, our God.

The Heavens and Earth declare the glory of Your name.
              the flowers whine forth their love for You
                           spilling their fragrance throughout the land,
              the trees reach out above and below to You
                           breathing out new life,
              the plants burst forth with fruit and seed
                           filling all the earth with Your life,
              the morning sun brings the singing of Your praises
                           as a symphony of song bursts joyfully from the birds of the air,
              the midnight rays of the stars and moon proclaim You are God
                           as the night creatures hurry forth.
We lift up our voice to worship You, our God.
We lift up our voice, crying Alleluia.
All praise to the God of all creation,
Eternal Spirit, our Great God.
                               Statement of Faith 
           written for a theology course at McCormick Seminary

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Cross

25Now large crowds were travelling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. Luke 14:25-33
I am at my ecclesiastical council.  My dad, son and I have come in from Illinois to our home church in Willimantic Connecticut.  My cousins, aunts and uncles, grandmother, and church members have joined members of the Windham Association to ask me questions about my faith and my ordination paper.  I am nervous, this is one of the final steps on my way to becoming a pastor in the United Church of Christ.  So the soft ball questions have been asked, my call story has been shared, and now comes the hard questions.  One of the ministers asks:  I have heard you talk positively about the ministry, about faith but I want you to talk about what does it mean to take up your cross or in the UCC statement of faith says what are the costs of discipleship.  I admit I wasn't ready for this question, because on my good days I am hopeful and optimistic about the church and faith.  I don't want to believe in the churches described in Clergy Killers and use my conflict training.  I want people to catch the vision, to see the gospel story of hope, inclusion, and justice.  But he wants to know how I feel about the cross, the costs of discipleship.  So I start with my story.  I knew I should become a pastor when I was young, although I never said anything to anyone.  Partly because I was not going to say yes, as a PK (preacher's kid), the ministry was not for me.  I remember the cars that never failed to breakdown on vacation, the clothes Mom made us to save money, the large garden with the harvesting a and freezing for winter food.  I remember the long days and nights of my father gone.  I remember the whispered conversations between my parents and the pain on my dad's face.  I remember the hard choice do you baptize this baby against the wishes of the church because the mother is unwed.I know about the paychecks that never made it to my mom when dad was away and what ta meant for us.  I remember moving, not being able to answer the question where are you from.  I said no for a very long time.  I said no as I fell in love with teaching 1st and second graders.  I said no when I was moved by a new form of worship.  I said no when people in grad school would pick on the out Christian when I was a closet Christian and new my passion for justice was because of my faith.  I said no a lot.  I said no until no no longer mattered.  I had hit rock bottom.  I was a single mom, living with family, unemployed with a degree in Political Science that wasn't worth the paper it was written on.  And as I sat there by my grandmother, surrounded by family 0 the minister started preaching about being called.  It must have been the year of Mark during a long Epiphany Season.  The stories where about following Jesus, about taking the risk and following.  Each week, it was like he was speaking directly to my heart,  I was squirming uncomfortable in the pew.  But I was ready.  I took a leap of faith and set up a meeting with the Pastor Dick and said I think I should be a pastor...

This gospel story today asks us to take up our cross, to calculate the cost of discipleship.  Jesus had shared with us the story of the banquet of God being filled with people - he lost, the crippled, the blind, the lame, and those strangers wandering by.  The Kingdom is open to those left out and not normally invited.   Today, Jesus shares that the invitation to follow is hard and you need to calculate the cost.  When you take up your cross, it may put you at odds with family and friends.  When you take up the cross, it will mean that wealth and power are no longer the goal.  When you take up the cross, you will be placed in positions where you will be confronting authority.  For to hear the word take up the cross is a reminder to those listening of the crosses lining the way to Jerusalem, of the revolutionaries, the rebels who are fighting the government.  Are you willing to calculate that cost.  Like a king who is facing down an army twice the size of his, will he go to battle or will he sue for peace.  Or a man ready to build who got the foundation ready but didn't calculate the walls and roof.  There are only some of you who will be willing to accept the cost.  Who willing be willing to step out in faith into a world where you may be separated from you family of birth, where the money you have could be holding you back.  Where you passion for the Gospel will put you at odds with your neighbors, politicians, and friends.  You will be asked to sacrifice in ways you can not even imagine.  In the face of that will you "accept the costs and joys of discipleship."  Will you take up your cross and follow me.

With this scripture running through my head, I was in the card listening to NPR and heard the story of Viola Luizza.  She was the only white woman martyred during the civil rights movement.  Story began with her daughter visiting the broken and neglected park in Detroit named after her mother.  She tells about her mother who was active in the NAACP hearing about the March from Selma to Montgomery.  She packed a bag, kissed us goodbye and said "It is every one's fight."  I remember that I had just learned to write in cursive.  When she called to check on us I told her about it and she said to write my name on a piece of paper and put on her dresser so when could see when she got home.  Viola marched those 54 miles.  She was with the crowds that heard King say, "How Long, Not Long.  How Long,  Not Long.  A Lie cannot be believed forever.  How long, not long!"  Afterwards she began shuttling the marchers back home with her car.  People tried to run her off the run.  One car full of clansman pulled up along side of her and shot her in the head, killing her.  

Her daughter tells of going to school with her saddle shoes polished by her sister.  It was raining and the white was running off.  I thought this was why those people where yelling obscenities and  hurling rocks at us.  Life was hard for us.  People started making up stories about my mom  We learned later the FBI fed a story about my mom going south to sleep with black men.  We had the polls not about racism and klan violence but about whether my mother was a good mother.  55% thought no.  We left there, my dad lost himself to drink.  But I came back to Detroit to carry on my mother's fight. 

When Jesus asks us to pick up the cross, to count the cost:  He is telling us that This is everbody's fight.  We are to build the kingdom where the sick are healed, the hungry are fed, the prisoners are set free.  We are o be there for the lost in life.  It's everybody's fight.  Will you take up your cross and follow me.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Don't Give Up

One of the themes of this week's scripture is persistence or perseverance in prayer.
5 And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7 And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
9 “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  Luke 11:5-13
The suggestion of the passage seems to be annoy God by bothering him constantly.  If you prayer your concern again and again eventually you will wear God down with your prayer and  the prayer will be answered.  So if this worked every teen girl in the country would be married to their celebrity crush from their teens.  We all know that didn't happen.
So what do we do with this passage.  What does being persistent in prayer mean?  When we are in the midst of hard times : divorce, illness, job loss, death... We start praying,  We pray for the pain to go away.  We pray for a good outcome:  the job we want, the perfect spouse, a cure... We prayer over and over again that where we are won't be where we will be.  We ask and ask, knock and knock, and yet in the moment it seems like the prayer was not answered, the door is not opened.
So what if persistence and perseverance is not about wearing God down and giving you the answer you want?  What if this passage instead is about not giving up?  When in the midst of grief, pain, loss our desire is for the feeling to go away, for a change to come.  And in that pain can we hear this persistence as don't give up, seek God, search for God.  Don't give up.  I am with you. I will be with you. I will help you get to the other side. I was struck by this, as RiverSong and I took my morning walk.  For the second song that came on the shuffle was Don't Give Up as sung by Bono and Alicia Keys.  I usually listen to Peter Gabriel singing this.  But this morning Bono showed up and sang
Don't give up 'cause you have friends Don't give up, you're not beaten yet Don't give up, I know you can make it goodDon't give up, you still have us Don't give up, we don't need much of anything Don't give up 'cause somewhere there's a place where we belongRest your head, you worry too much It's going to be all right When times get rough you can fall back on us Don't give up, please don't give up
Don't give up.  Persevere.  And in your prayer, God will be there seeking you, listening to you, answering the door.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Wilderness: A Time of Waiting

I kept running into the same story this week, a story that I will admit I’m not all that familiar with:  the story of Jephthah from the book of judges.  I knew more about his daughter than him and what I know of what he did to his daughter did not make me very sympathetic to his story.  But two preachers saw this story as talking about the fallow times, the times when you are in the wilderness, when you are waiting and longing.

So how many of you are familiar with your Judges 11:1-12:7.  Jephthah was the son of a prostitute.  His brother drove him out into the wilderness.  They wanted him gone so they wouldn’t have to share his inheritance.  Fleeing into the wilderness he gathered around him a gang of men, outlaws.  This gang was full of powerful warriors.  They spent time preparing and honing their skills.  Jephthah was preparing and getting ready.  When his former people, the ones who kicked out, who had treated him badly because his mother was a prostitute - the elders, the leaders of this community come to him and ask him to defeat their enemies. That time away allowed him to become the leader that Israel needed.  
RiverSong in  Lake Geneva, WI

As I was walking this morning with RiverSong to the lake, my IPod decided to play a prayer from the Wild Resource Group about this wilderness times, this waiting time.  “On God alone I wait silently.” from There is One Among Us.

The wilderness time.  You have been to the doctors, the tests have been run.  The first prognosis was not good.  You’ve done the treatment and now you wait.  The answers will come, the results will be known.  But right now.  In this moment you wait.  You stay in the wilderness between health and fear.  But where you are heading you do not know.  Not yet.
Estes Park, Colorado

The wilderness time.  You are starting a new adventure.  You have packed your stuff and bought the tickets.  You have said all the important goodbyes, but it is not yet time to leave to start anew.  You wait.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming

The wilderness time.  You have lost your job.  You have cleared your office and search and search but what is next is still ahead.  Still unknown.  What you do and how you will support your family is unknown.  It’s a wilderness time.  A time to reevaluate and rediscover who you are.  It’s a time of anxiety and fear and hope for what’s next.  It’s a time of waiting and preparation. 

The times when you feel rejected and yet God is preparing for you something unexpected.  God has before you something that you couldn’t have predicted or wanted.  But before you can get there you have to spend that time in the wilderness.  The time when you have prepared and said the honest prayer, the deep serious prayer.  But you don’t yet know the answer. 

Yellowstone, Wyoming
As John Bell prays:
God, keep safe all who wait,
and give them the patience and a sense of proportion;
for we  are not in charge of time. 
You are;
And we believe you have a purpose for every season,
even the waiting one. 


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Be Open

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ 35And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’  Mark 7
Be Opened.  These are words I need this morning as I think about gun violence and senseless killing and the injustice of our justice system.  Be Opened.
These words come from Jesus as he looks up to the heavens and groans deep in his soul and prays:  Be Opened.  Jesus is healing a deaf man who speech is garbled.  He prays to open him up.  To unstop his ears which he does by poking his fingers inside and unbind his tongue by spitting on it.  In this gritty scene of healing, he opens up this man who has been bound.
This man is a despised nearby neighbor.  He is part of the community that is outside the safety and comfort zone.  He is from a community seen as not us, not good enough.  But Jesus is expanding who is part of God's Dream.  He has just healed a Samaritan, an outsider.  And no with this story of the being opened, Jesus moves the ministry to the left out and rejected.  He heals this man.  Be Opened.
Be Opened.  Jesus has just preached about what makes people unclean and shared with us that it is the those things that hurt others, that comes out of us this is what makes us unclean, that defiles us.
20And he said, ‘It is what comes out of a person that defiles. 21For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’  Mark 7
 Jesus speaks to us about what makes us worthy and unworthy.  And while he is talking about food and makes all food clean, he wants us to think about what is in our hearts and minds, not our stomachs.  Jesus opens us up to people who are different, who are outsiders.  Jesus wants us to look and interact with those who are different from us and see them as God's, as part of God's mission and ministry.  Be Opened.
As we pray for justice, this prayer speaks to me so that I learn how to open myself.  Open myself to those who are different from me, who I have been told to be afraid of, who the world wants me to be scared of. Be Opened.
Be open to that child with dark skin and a hoody that you meet today.
Be open to having God work through you to see a child of God, a Holy Creation, Beloved.
Be open to the Spirit bringing you to a place a discomfort to see and experience the Holy.
Be open to challenge the unjust justice system.
Be Opened.
Jesus is ready to open you,
Jesus is ready to unstop your ears.
Jesus is ready to give you the words to share the hope and justice of God with the world.
Be Open to the light that is meant to shine in the dark places.
Be Opened.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


Do you ever have those moments when God’s word just comes in the moment you most need to hear it.  I was preparing or a book study, but my mind was on the trouble I was facing.  I was obsessing over something I couldn’t control or change.  Whether I was present or not, whether I spoke the right word or asked for forgiveness, I was not going to change the outcome and outcome that would change my life circumstances.  But that didn’t stop me from worrying and be anxious about the future. 
So I turn to the Book study and the prayer practice for the day is to practice Lectio Divina on Romans 8: 31-39.  The only bible I had near me was the Message Paraphrase by Eugene Petersen. 
31-39 So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

Nothing can get between us and the love of God.
Nothing can separate us from the Love o God in Christ Jesus.
God as hurtful things are said, shine a light. 
Whisper of hope.
Breathe peace in me when I feel threatened, attacked, defamed.
Not bullying threats, not backstabbing.
Nothing can drive a wedge between us and God’s love for us.
Nothing can separate me from you.
Nothing can separate me from God’s love.
Nothing can get between me and the love o God .

This is my prayer right now, my breathe and my hope.  God’s love is forever and eternal and with me no matter what surrounds me.  So if you are in a similar place.  Just breathe.  And pray:  Nothing can get between me and the love of God.