Sermon – Where Do You Find Your Peace? (10/8/17)

 

When I was reading the scripture for today from Philippians and how Paul writes that he counts all his accomplishments and credentials as nothing next to the beauty of knowing Christ, I was reminded of the story of Saint Francis of Assissi.

Saint Francis was the son of wealthy parents. In fact, his father named him Francis in honor of the country of France where he had gained great wealth as a cloth merchant.

Francis was intelligent and eventually became a merchant like his father. However, he liked to have a good time more than he liked to work. He like to be with his friends, party and dance. His biggest dreams when he was young were to become even richer and to be admired by all. When wartime came, Francis went to war with dreams of military glory.

However, he was captured and spent a year in prison and when he returned home, he was sick for a very long time. After that, Francis was changed. It troubled him that he was no longer happy with all the things that used to make him happy – the dancing, the partying, his things – nothing was bringing him joy.

So he began to listen closely for God’s direction and prayed often. He spent a great deal of time alone asking for God’s guidance.

Eventually he received direction from God – first, to rebuild an old church that was falling apart. As he was doing this work, his parents thought he had lost his mind and tried to get him to come back to the family business but he said, “I’ve realized that from now on only our father in Heaven is my father.”  He gave back to his parents everything they had ever given him and left to wander in the woods, singing, praying, and preaching now and then. He took to heart Jesus’ message to the apostles to “take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals.” He just existed with only what he had on his back, preached, prayed, fixed up old churches, and sang praises to God.

Eventually, others saw light in Francis and in the simple work he was doing. Others began to follow him. They learned from Francis and then he sent them out to preach and pray and teach more people about Jesus.

Francis saw poverty as a holy thing. When his followers met someone poorer than they, they would rip off their habit to give to the person. They wouldn’t accept money from anyone. They treated coins as if they were pebbles in the road. Francis said, “If we had any possessions we should need weapons and laws to defend them.” Possessing something was the death of love for Francis. Also, Francis reasoned, what could you do to a man who owns nothing? You can’t starve someone who is fasting, you can’t steal from someone who is penniless, you can’t ruin someone who doesn’t care about status. They were truly free.

In time, there were so many following Francis that he decided to go write down a few simple lines that described their way of life and went to the Pope to get his approval for their way of life based on poverty as it is found in the gospels.

The pope gave his blessing to Francis and his followers and they continued their work – helping others, and especially preaching. He left behind no opportunity to preach – in fact, one of the most infamous stories about him is that he preached a sermon to a group of birds once. He believed all of God’s creatures benefited from the good news of Jesus Christ. There are other stories of him being able to communicate with animals in extraordinary ways and this is one of the reasons the Catholic church recognizes him as the patron saint of animals.

Throughout his life he chose to live in poverty. He saw it as perfect joy, salvation, and virtue to endure suffering with patience and calm. At the end of his life he experienced great suffering – and it was in the midst of that he wrote the Canticle of the Sun – which we read part of as our opening litany today.

He died on October 3rd of 1226 at 45 years of age.

Like Paul, Francis found his joy in Christ Jesus. He found his identity in Jesus. He found his meaning, life, purpose, his peace in Jesus. The prayer of Saint Francis that is on the front of our bulletin today wasn’t written by him, but it was written to share the spirit of the peace he found only through Jesus Christ.

Where do we find our peace?

It’s a good question – maybe especially these days when it seems there is so little peace. When we hear news reports yet again of mass shootings. Yet again. Again and again. The shootings at Columbine High School happened the same spring I graduated from seminary – I was ordained a few months later. I remember how horrified we all were, what a strange and unheard-of thing it was. I had no idea that in the years to come we would hear again and again and again of people dying in mass shootings – in high schools, in elementary schools, at concerts, at nightclubs, at malls, at workplaces, at churches…you name it – wherever people gather, violence has found a way in.

And it seems like as soon as another incident happens, people start fighting with each other about why it has happened. Oh, we all have our opinions: Too many guns. Not enough God. God is punishing us for our sins. And whatever your opinion is, you get to have that opinion, but no opinion can take away the pain that countless families are feeling today.

The feelings that swirl around us and in us at times like this are overwhelming. Anger, utter disbelief, the sinking feeling of inevitability that we have heard this story so many times and we are sure now we will hear it again soon. More lives lost. Worry, worry, worry – for our children, for our friends, for ourselves.

It isn’t easy to preach on weeks like this. Because we need to hear a word of hope and sometimes hope seems so slim. Sometimes God seems all too silent. Sometimes I don’t want to look for the silver lining, tell stories about the heroes, the rescuers, all the good that happened even in the midst of the tragedy – I just want to mourn the unspeakable loss.  This was a hurricane of brokenness and we can’t begin to understand it. But you can’t end a sermon there.

So what can we do?

Well, gathering together here is a good start. At times when God seems silent, coming together for worship can feel like we are just going through the motions – and yet we trust that somehow, when God’s faithful people gather, healing happens. Here we are reminded of God’s word and God’s direction for our lives. Here we think of people like Saint Paul and Saint Francis – people who found meaning and purpose in serving Jesus Christ. We think of ways to follow in their footsteps and let go of things that are shallow and meaningless – excess of possessions, worries about status and popularity, anything that can cause harm to others or ourselves.

What can we do?

We can pray. Please don’t think that is a small thing. We do it for the world, but we do it for ourselves, too. We need to pray because that is one of the surest ways to give God’s peace a chance at penetrating our hearts.

What can we do?

Well, lamenting, crying is important. Be angry about events like this but don’t stop there – let those emotions fuel your behavior. What will you do now to be the change the world needs to see? Write letters to your congress people? Practice more random acts of kindness?  How can each of us do our small part to promote peace?

By last Tuesday, I was pretty much angry at the whole world. Not only had Las Vegas happened, but Tom Petty had died. And I still had to come up with some kind of hopeful message by the end of the week.

Fortunately, God gave that message of hope to me. Because on Tuesday afternoon I went in to meet Travis and Heather’s brand new baby, Archer. As I held him, I remembered that in spite of all the bad that can and does happen, in spite of how desperately weary I get of it, in spite of everything else, hope still breaks in. God’s goodness…and peace…and promise…is still all around, even in the darkest times.

So what can we do?  I recommend holding babies, too.

Sisters and brothers, take the time you need to mourn and lament – and then remember God is with you and find ways to contribute to the good, stand up to the darkness, don’t back down. As Tom Petty would say,

“No, I’ll stand my ground, won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
Gonna stand my ground and I won’t back down.”

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Betty’s Diner

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

Betty’s Diner

By Carrie Newcomer

During seminary, I was a bartender for a few months in a tiny northern town bar. My mother needed some major surgery and so I decided to take a few months off from classes to live back at home and help out – although I’m not sure how much help I was. My dad and I couldn’t get along and so I spent much of that autumn smoking and reading in my makeshift office I had set up in the garage, and working at my jobs.

First, I worked as a telemarketer, which was horrible and easily the worst job I ever had. If you would like to steal someone’s spirit and their will to live quickly and efficiently, make them be a telemarketer. I was only there a few weeks when I just stopped going back.

Then, I tried to be a cook at a nursing home. I like cooking but since I am not a picky eater, I am not a picky cook.  Who cares if the toast is a little dark, the eggs a little crisp around the edges, the soup not piping hot – food is food, right? Well, turns out others care much more than I do about these little details. I quit before I could be fired.

Finally, I got the job as a bartender – I liked making and pouring the drinks. I liked talking to the regulars who came in, giving free drinks to friends and relatives who showed up – heck, if it was up to me, I would have given everyone free drinks. I liked the sense of community, the music, and how when the night was done, you cleaned up and went home and it was over. It was carefree for me, I didn’t have to figure out the books or wonder which rotten bartender was giving away all the free drinks and costing the bar big money. Luckily for the bar, I was only there a couple months before I went back to school.

While I may not have been a grade A bartender, that experience was a great one for me.  I still often say that people were much more honest with me about their lives when I was their bartender than they are with me as their pastor. People would come in after a hard day needing a place to sit and decompress or just be with friends and they knew they could do that at the bar. The bar was always open, warm, and waiting. If it wasn’t too busy, you could depend on the bartender to listen or just shoot the breeze.

It seems to me from what I know of Jesus, he would have probably much rather been a bartender than a modern-day pastor. He probably wouldn’t have cared a bit about church budgets or if the confirmation kids could recite the parts of the Small Catechism and their meanings. But I bet he would have liked being in a place where people felt welcomed at any hour, to listen to their stories and share some of his, to serve a hot meal and fill some stomachs, to warm some hearts in the process.

There’s a bar a quarter mile from our church – the last time it was up for sale I thought about how perfect it would be if our church could buy it and run it. A place to hang out, eat, listen to music and listen to each other without all the baggage that the church seems to bring with it for so many people.

The church’s baggage has never bothered me and I’ve always felt at home in a church. I grew up there and felt welcome. I see the steeple with a cross on top and it represents love and grace to me, a place I can completely be myself.

However, I know this isn’t the case for so many and when we invite people to church, we are inviting them into our experience of what church is even though they may see the church very differently.

So, I’m thinking about the middle ground between a bar and a church. How to create a space like that? We do Beer and Hymns. We have done Pub Theology. What’s possible now? How can we blend the best of what church and a bar/restaurant are? Here – in rural Minnesota. A place where people stop in after deer hunting or while out snowmobiling – come as they are and know they are welcome. Real community, real welcome – plus spiritual and physical nourishment.  Now, that is a place I would like to see…to serve…to hang out.

Betty’s Diner

Miranda works the late night counter
In a joint called Betty’s Diner
Chrome and checkered tablecloths
One steamy windowpane

She got the job that shaky fall
And after hours she’ll write till dawn
With a nod and smile she serves them all

Here we are all in one place
The wants and wounds of the human race
Despair and hope sit face to face
When you come in from the cold

Let her fill your cup with something kind
Eggs and toast like bread and wine
She’s heard it all so she don’t mind

Arthur lets his earl gray steep
Since April it’s been hard to sleep
You know they tried most everything
Yet it took her in the end

Kevin tests new saxophones
But swears he’s leaving quality control
For the Chicago scene, or New Orleans
Where they still play righteous horns

Here we are all in one place
The wants and wounds of the human race
Despair and hope sit face to face
When you come in from the cold

Let her fill your cup with something kind
Eggs and toast like bread and wine
She’s heard it all so she don’t mind

Jack studies here after work
To get past high school he’s the first
And his large hands seem just as comfortable
With a hammer or a pen

Emma leaned and kissed his cheek
And when she did his knees got weak
Miranda smiles at ’em and winks

Here we are all in one place
The wants and wounds of the human race
Despair and hope sit face to face
When you come in from the cold

Let her fill your cup with something kind
Eggs and toast like bread and wine
She’s heard it all so she don’t mind

You never know who’ll be your witness
You never know who grants forgiveness
Look to heaven or sit with us

Deidra bites her lip and frowns
She works the stop and go downtown
She’s pretty good at the crossword page
And she paints her eyes blue black

Tristan comes along sometimes
Small for his age and he’s barely five
But she loves him like a mama lion

Veda used to drink a lot
Almost lost it all before she stopped
Comes in at night with her friend Mike
Who runs the crisis line

Michael toured Saigon and back
Hair the color of smoke and ash
Their heads are bowed and hands are clasped
One more storm has passed

Here we are all in one place
The wants and wounds of the human race
Despair and hope sit face to face
When you come in from the cold

Let her fill your cup with something kind
Eggs and toast like bread and wine
She’s heard it all so she don’t mind

 

Running With the Wolves

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

Running With the Wolves – Cloud Cult

The nights were so quiet there. Seven miles from one town, eight from another – our closest neighbors were cows, coyotes, and wild hogs. The Texas sun nearly melted our Minnesota bones many times over – so when I wanted to run, I ran at night. It was cooler, and I could run undisturbed along the long, thin driveway that snaked along the back of the church property – back and forth – from the church sign to the parsonage driveway. It was nearly a half mile from one end to the other and I never minded the repetition of winding back and forth beside that red brick church with its’ steeple stretching toward the sky, under the cover of the cedars and live oaks. If the moon was bright enough, I ran around the perimeter of the cemetery – round and round. Reverently so. One time around that old cemetery was nearly a mile and I ran there often – I wonder if there is still a path worn in the grass from my five years’ worth of miles?  The rock fence, the moonlight shining on the gravestones, the scent of wild honeysuckle, the Texas sky so big and the stars so bright – they must have all been made of dreams. Sometimes I felt so completely content there, enchanted with everything: the white limestone gravel, the charming balcony in the church, the stillness, the silence, warm winter days, my children so little, my congregation so beloved – I would just whisper “thank you” into the night air.

But the stillness and silence began to get deafening. I didn’t want it to be so. I wanted the enchantment to thrive, but bit by bit, day by day, I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay there. I knew the Spirit, my Self, my family, my goals were pushing me elsewhere, onward. Someone else would get to be the pastor there – and even as I resigned, I knew part of me would miss it forever. Even as I knew in my bones I needed to go, I never doubted a sliver of my heart would stay right there.

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“The Escape – Running With The Wolves”
We went running with the wolves. It’s time for us to go.
Left all our clothes with the car back by the road.
We were running for a reason- for the burning in our veins.
We were running for a reason.
I just need to get away.

We’re running with the wolves. We’re screaming at the stars.
We left all we own in a hole in our backyard.
We were running for a reason, left our cubicles in little flaming piles.
We were running for a reason.
I need to feel something different for just a little while.

I’m not coming home, I’m staying with the wolves.
You can burn all my mail and disconnect the phone.
Tell Mom I’m sorry- sorry for leaving, but I’m staying where I’m at.
We’re running to find meaning.
We’re gone, and we’re never coming back.

Raise Your Glass

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

Raise Your Glass

By Pink

I hardly ever drink alcohol anymore. This isn’t a religious decision – if you know anything about Lutherans, you know that we don’t mind drinking now and then. However, I have come to a point in life where I am able to clearly see how alcohol mostly just makes me sad and slow. When I do drink, I too easily have too much and then it messes with how much I eat and it is a downward spiral I don’t want or need.

I easily fall into addictions: food, cigarettes, alcohol – each of them have had their way with me at different times in life. I used cigarettes to eat less food. I used alcohol to numb my sadness about weight I had gained. I ate food because, well, I just loved food.  When I was a kid in a house with too much yelling and sadness, food was a quiet friend I could turn to. Food was always present, and I hoped it could fill up the empty spaces.

But it never did. Addictions never will. In forty-seven years I have learned this over and over and over again.

Right now I am at a relatively healthy place in life….I suppose that is why I can write about it openly. I have stepped far enough back from any addictions to really see them for what they are. Alcohol, cigarettes, and junk food each masquerade as happy, fun things, but they are so very sad. They pretend to be friends, but they are such fake friends. They promise fun and carefree – but what they deliver is muddled thoughts and diminished days.

I don’t say I will never have these things again – that would be pointless. Sometimes, I will and do indulge. Sometimes a glass of wine with my friends, or a cigarette alone on the church steps, or a bag of Doritos in front of the television will be just the perfect thing. But I have too many books I want to read and miles I want to run and thoughts I want to write about to set aside much time for these empty things anymore.

So, I raise my glass (of iced tea) and toast to experiencing these years in as healthy a way as I can. I raise my glass to the simple but lasting joys of living without the need for anesthetics, numbing. I raise my glass to wholeness, peace of mind, and experiencing the fullness of this good life. Here’s to temperance and tenacity. Cheers.

 

“Raise Your Glass”
Right, right, turn off the lights
We’re gonna lose our minds tonight
What’s the deal, yo?
I love when it’s all too much
5 a.m. turn the radio up
Where’s the rock ‘n roll?

Party crasher, panty snatcher
Call me up if you’re a gangsta
Don’t be fancy, just get dancy
Why so serious?

So raise your glass if you are wrong
In all the right ways, all my underdogs
We will never be, never be anything but loud
And nitty, gritty, dirty, little freaks
Won’t you come on and come on and
Raise your glass!
Just come on and come on and
Raise your glass!

Slam, slam, oh hot damn
What part of a party don’t you understand?
Wish you’d just freak out
Can’t stop, coming in hot
I should be locked up right on the spot
It’s so on right now

Party crasher, panty snatcher
Call me up if you’re a gangsta
Don’t be fancy, just get dancy
Why so serious?

So raise your glass if you are wrong
In all the right ways, all my underdogs
We will never be, never be anything but loud
And nitty, gritty, dirty, little freaks
Won’t you come on and come on and
Raise your glass!
Just come on and come on and
Raise your glass!
Won’t you come on and come on and
Raise your glass!
Just come on and come on and
Raise your glass!

So if you’re too school for cool
And you’re treated like a fool
You can choose to let it go
We can always, we can always party on our own

So raise your glass if you are wrong
In all the right ways, all my underdogs
We will never be, never be anything but loud
And nitty, gritty, dirty, little freaks
Won’t you come on and come on and
Raise your glass!
Just come on and come on and
Raise your glass!
Won’t you come on and come on and
Raise your glass for me!
Just come on and come on and
Raise your glass for me!
For me

 

 

Still Be Around

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

Still be Around – Uncle Tupelo

This was the song playing in my mind when I woke up this morning. It is important to pay attention to the songs running through your mind – particularly if they come to you in your dreams. I’m not sure why this one visited me, but I’ve always loved it ever since it was released on Uncle Tupelo’s second album, “Still Feel Gone” in 1991.

The tune is happy and melancholy at the same time. It’s like when you are living in the happiest times and you hardly want to sleep because you know that one of these days it will be different – the bad news will come, or the lights won’t shine so bright, or it will be cloudy and rainy a few too many days. So, you soak in all the goodness while you can, every moment, even as you live into whatever comes next.

Maybe that is how autumn feels. Right now some of the trees here are brilliant red, yellow, and orange and some are still green. While there are some leaves on the ground, the weather is still warm enough that the windows in my office are open. It’s the best of everything – but so soon the winter will be here and one too many icy and snowy and cold day after another. It’s okay. Around here we know that winter has to happen before spring can come around again. We know how to make it through the cold…but it doesn’t make these gorgeous fall days any less bittersweet.

Still be Around – Uncle Tupelo

I don’t see you through the windshield
I don’t see you in faces looking back at me
Alcohol doesn’t have much that matters to say
Can’t imagine where you and time to kill will stay

When the Bible is a bottle and the hardwood floor is home
When morning comes twice a day or not at all
If I break in two, will you put me back together?
When this puzzle’s figured out, will you still be around?
To say, you’ve just been there walking the line upside down

Walked and breathed many a cancerous mile
Where the bat of an eye is too slow to beat the coffin
And they won’t tell it on the TV, they can’t say it on the radio
They pay to move it off the shelf and into our minds
Till you can’t tell the truth when it’s right in front of your eyes

When the Bible is a bottle, the hardwood floor is home
When morning comes twice a day or not at all
If I break in two, will you put me back together?
When this puzzle’s figured out, will you still be around?
To say, just been there walking the line upside down

Writer(s): Jay Farrar, Mike Heidorn, Jeffrey Scot Tweedy

What to do When You Just Can’t Get Along… (sermon – 9/10/17)

For the better part of two years, she didn’t speak to me. When I saw her at church or downtown, she pretended not to see me. She skipped the line to shake my hand after worship.

I suppose I’m normal in that I hate conflict – I loathe it with the fire of a thousand suns. Yet, I knew I needed to do something. I tried to reach out to her by brightly saying “hello” when I would see her; then, by calling and leaving her messages to call me back. She responded with more silence – for months and months and months – until one day she the phone rang and it was her.

“You ignored me,” she said. I asked her when and she said that one day, shortly after I arrived at that church, I had walked up to a group of people where she was standing. “You said ‘hello’ to everyone in that circle of people except me.”

I remembered the day she was talking about. It had been a beautiful, warm fall day. I saw the group standing outside as I was on my way into the church from the parsonage. A friend of mine from home was visiting and I wanted to introduce her to the group – so as we walked over I was going over everyone’s names in my head. I remember being proud of myself because I could remember each name. When we got to the group I introduced her to each person by name…or so I had thought. In my nervousness I forgot her, or maybe because I had been practicing all the names in my head I thought I introduced her but I didn’t – and anyway, in the end, I had apparently overlooked this lady. And she had never forgotten it.

I did the only thing there was to do – I apologized to her. I admitted I can be so scatter-brained sometimes and to please forgive me. I was sorry I had hurt her, so deeply sorry. (Even though to tell you the truth – inside I was feeling hurt and angry, too – because of getting the silent treatment for so very long.) But I said, “I’m sorry”. And She said, “I forgive you.”

Saint Matthew writes in the Gospel today about how we as Christian people are to deal with conflict. In fact, in our own church constitution and in the constitution of the entire Evangelical Lutheran Church in America it has this as our method for dealing with any conflict in the church. First, you talk face to face. Then, if it isn’t worked out, you talk about it in the presence of one or two others, and try again. Then, finally, in the presence of the church. Now keep in mind that “the church” here was often groups of people who met in homes, so it wasn’t like bringing it up at a huge congregational meeting – rather it was like discussing it with a living room full of people and trying to work it out.

What’s interesting is that in the New Revised Standard Version, verse 17 reads, “If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Often when we hear that we might think the scripture is saying it’s time to cast that person out, put them outside the community – but then we stop and remember how Jesus treated the outsiders, the tax collectors, that Saint Matthew himself was a tax collector – and we remember that Jesus was always, always, always still trying to draw everyone into community over and over again. That’s why I like how this version of scripture puts verse 17, “If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.”

So we understand this scripture not so much as a quick and easy recipe for conflict resolution – but an unending process. It’s like when we soon come to the text about when Jesus is asked how many times are we expected to forgive and he says seventy times seven. He wasn’t telling them to do some mental math and then forgive others exactly 490 times. Rather, those numbers signified an infinite amount – that’s the way to forgive. And in turn, when we look to heal hurting relationships we keep trying.

This is never to say that an abusive relationship should be allowed to continue. There has to be mutual love, mutual forgiveness, mutual humility, mutual grace. Sometimes that never comes and we must entrust that person to God and move on.

But sometimes reconciliation happens – even in the most surprising ways. Even when we never thought it could. By God’s grace.

Once upon a time, two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 40 years of farming side by side, sharing machinery, and trading labor and goods as needed without a hitch. Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference, and finally it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.

One morning there was a knock on the older brother’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. “I’m looking for a few days work” he said. “Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there?” “Yes,” said the older brother. “I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my neighbor, in fact, it’s my younger brother. Last week there was a meadow between us and he took his bulldozer to the river levee and now there is a creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I’ll go him one better. See that pile of lumber by the barn? I want you to build me a fence — an 8-foot fence — so I won’t need to see his place anymore.” The carpenter said, “I think I understand the situation. I’ll be able to do a job that pleases you.”

The older brother had to go to town, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day. The carpenter worked hard all that day measuring, sawing, nailing. About sunset when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job.

The farmer’s eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped. There was no fence there at all. It was a bridge — a bridge stretching from one side of the creek to the other! A fine piece of work — handrails and all — and the neighbor, his younger brother, was coming across, his hand outstretched. “You are quite a fellow to build this bridge after all I’ve said and done.” The two brothers stood at each end of the bridge, and then they met in the middle, taking each other’s hand.

Do you have a relationship that you think can never heal? Has so much time and hurt happened that it is just impossible for things to mend? Maybe you have no idea what to do anymore. Don’t give up. Because you never know what God can do. And because there is always something you can do, something healing.

My apology to the woman from my church was either too little or too late because our relationship didn’t improve. We had said the I’m sorry’s and the I forgive you’s – but something had been damaged permanently it seemed. Maybe I continued to be scatter-brained and forgot something else. Maybe she just realized she wanted a different pastor. Anyway, she slowly drifted away and began to worship elsewhere. I moved away…and nearly fifteen years have passed since I last saw her.

But I still think about her. I think about how she clung to her hurt, and I did, too. I think about what I might have said or done differently. I may never see her again in this life. I may not ever be able to have understanding about why we were like oil and water – but I can pray for her – and I do. I pray for her joy, for her family, that her life is good and peaceful. And that brings a healing of its’ own.

So there is something we can do when relationships seem broken beyond fixing – we can pray for that person. And it is quite something the peace that can bring.

God doesn’t call us to be best of friends with everyone – God made us too unique for that to be possible all the time. But God did create us to seek peace, to work toward understanding, to, as Paul says in Romans, “love other people as well as you do yourself.”

Let’s do that with our words. Let’s do that with our actions. Let’s do that with our prayers. In Jesus’ name.

Amen.

 

What Matters

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

What Matters by Matthew Sweet

My children go back to school tomorrow. After a long, beautiful summer filled with lazy days, sleeping in, camp, movies, one tonsillectomy, one trip to Norway, sleepovers, too many video games and TV shows, it is time to start a different routine. Right now, it’s hard to be too sentimental about them not being around every day as they are yelling at each other in the next room. Even so, I always get a little sad when it is time for the school year to start. I love the summers and the long, uninterrupted days with them. Sure, I still have to go to work, but they are old enough now that they are fine to be left alone for a few hours. We have always been spoiled, too, since the church where I work is right next door so if they needed me, in 200 paces they could be at my office door.

I never planned to be a mom. I was never one to exclaim over babies or to dream about raising a child. I can’t explain our decision to become parents except that one day when I was 35 my husband and I talked about how if we were going to become parents, we would have to start trying soon. We were so casual about it – completely content to let nature take its course. If we became pregnant – great. If we didn’t, it wasn’t meant to be. Our sense of eagerness would likely have increased if it had taken us longer – but as it was, the first time we tried to get pregnant, we did. It happened in exactly the same way a year later when we got pregnant with our second child. I was well aware of how different the experience was for many of my friends who tried for years to get pregnant and suffered miscarriages, so I never took my ease for granted. I was thankful.

But still, before my eldest finally arrived, I was scared. What if I hated being a mom? What if my child didn’t like me? I worried my way into motherhood, gaining 60 pounds and yet nauseous the whole time. My anxiety ramped up to a furious level as I thought about all the new things there were to worry about now when I not only had my own cares and concerns, but this whole other little person, too.

Then, he was born on a June afternoon. I didn’t get to hold him until the middle of the night because he had to be on oxygen in the NICU for a while. My husband had gone home to get a few hours of sleep and the nurse brought him to me and placed him in my arms. With the sounds of the city just beginning to wake up outside, I held my first-born and looked at his little face. So serene. So peaceful. All he needed in the whole wide world was for me to be his mom, and I realized that was what I needed, too.

And so, I became a mom – and I could write books about this – but the greatest surprise has been how it has been the loveliest part of life so far. My children have changed everything. They have made me less selfish. They have made me realize what matters. While I am prone to get too worked up about things at work, they remind me I am more than my job.

So, anyway, it’s back to school time. God bless my dear boys and all the children heading back to the routine of classrooms and extracurriculars. God bless all the parents as we let them go to keep on with their becoming.

sausalito boys

 

What Matters

In my mind I can’t imagine
How the world has come to me
And in my heart I can’t detach
The feeling that it couldn’t be

And no, I don’t want to kiss you
Don’t want to miss you if you go away
I’ll fake it don’t want to make it
Don’t want to feel another way

Once you had a love and you let it go
Now you know what matters
Once you had a dream that you realized
But do you know what matters

‘Cause you’re alone in the sense that I am
But you know we’re not alone
And we aren’t perfect nothing is
But try to understand
The moment leaves you without a vision
Can’t see decisions being made
I can describe the picture I’m painting
It’s not amazing when you know

Once you had a love and you let it go
Now you know what matters
Once you had a dream that you realized
But do you know what matters

To leave your feelings in the past
Part of it is you know you can’t go back for free

And no, I don’t want to kiss you
Don’t want to miss you if you go away
I’ll fake it don’t want to make it
Don’t want to feel another way

Once you had a love and you let it go
Now you know what matters
Once you had a dream that you realized
But do you know what matters

To leave your feelings in the past
Part of it is you know you can’t go back for free

What matters

Songwriters: Matthew Sweet

 

Everything You Want

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

Everything You Want – Vertical Horizon

Jealousy sucks. I’ve been struggling with it so much lately, too, and I can recognize how it poisons me. I agree with the writer of Proverbs who wrote that “envy rots the bones.” (14:30)

I wonder what the root of jealousy is? Elizabeth Bowen wrote, “Jealousy is no more than feeling alone against smiling enemies.” This describes well what jealousy feels like: others are happy, overly joyful or secretly mocking, while we are left alone to look like a fool.

I’ve discovered the best cure for jealousy is to spend less time thinking about what others are up to and more time thinking about my own actions and ambitions. I don’t mean in a selfish way, ignoring the needs of others. Rather, I mean it in a “get off of Facebook” kind of way. The pretty pictures people post only display the very best of what is going on for them. The reality is much less perfect. We all have struggles, trials, bad days. We all have victories and joys. Not long ago, I had the opportunity to see a friend I hadn’t seen for a long time. She is one of those friends who has always seemed to so easily get the things I had to scratch and claw to get. In many ways, I dreaded seeing her because I felt like it would be painful – another reminder of all the ways I fall short and she is succeeding in her perfect life. However, what happened was that when we finally got together and spoke face to face, all I saw was a fellow human being and friend with her own quirks and gifts. We laughed and shared stories – honest stories about the good and bad the last years had held. Simply being together and seeing her in real life instead of imagining her life was all I needed to let go of all my visions that her world was so much better than mine.

Another elixir for envy is simply remembering to speak kindly to myself. When my mind starts ramping up with negative thoughts about myself and my abilities, it is time to stop, breathe and pray – and speak to myself like a friend. It’s usually easy for me to be kind to others, to point out their good qualities, to tell them the ways I notice they bless me and others…but when I look at myself, my attention immediately darts to my flaws. Treating myself with kindness includes making sure I have some fun each day, too, and to not let my life completely revolve around caring for my congregation and caring for my family. An old episode of Mad Men, a movie with my boys, lunch with a friend, going to bed early and reading, any of these things help me feel cared for and a tiny bit spoiled and reminds me of how much good there is in my life, just as it is.

Do you struggle with jealousy? Does envy creep into your bones more often than you would like? Don’t be too hard on yourself because jealousy is a very human emotion – it is normal to feel that way. But you get to decide what to do with that emotion.  You get to decide if you will feed those feelings or starve them. Social media, isolation, trying to undermine the efforts or speaking badly of those you envy – that will only intensify the feeling. However, if you help others celebrate their successes, wish them well, pray for them, keep working hard on what matters to you, and take good care of you, the jealousy will starve to death.

Everything You Want

Somewhere there’s speaking
It’s already coming in
Oh and it’s rising at the back of your mind
You never could get it
Unless you were fed it
Now you’re here and you don’t know why

But under skinned knees and the skid marks
Past the places where you used to learn
You howl and listen
Listen and wait for the
Echoes of angels who won’t return

He’s everything you want
He’s everything you need
He’s everything inside of you
That you wish you could be
He says all the right things
At exactly the right time
But he means nothing to you
And you don’t know why

You’re waiting for someone
To put you together
You’re waiting for someone to push you away
There’s always another wound to discover
There’s always something more you wish he’d say

He’s everything you want
He’s everything you need
He’s everything inside of you
That you wish you could be
He says all the right things
At exactly the right time
But he means nothing to you
And you don’t know why

But you’ll just sit tight
And watch it unwind
It’s only what you’re asking for
And you’ll be just fine
With all of your time
It’s only what you’re waiting for

Out of the island
Into the highway
Past the places where you might have turned
You never did notice
But you still hide away
The anger of angels who won’t return

I am everything you want
I am everything you need
I am everything inside of you
That you wish you could be
I say all the right things
At exactly the right time
But I mean nothing to you and I don’t know why
And I don’t know why
Why
I don’t know

Roll Me Away

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

Roll Me Away – Bob Seger

One of the best things about listening to music while running is how it transports my mind to a different place. Instead of thinking about my breathing or how much longer I have left to go, good music makes the miles fly by.

I have had all manner of listening devices: the transistor radio, the cassette player (I held on to the cassette player for a very long time – I loved my pile of cassette tapes I would stuff into my fanny pack on a long run. Then, one day I looked up from my treadmill at the gym and noticed no one else was balancing cassette tapes along the display board of their exercise machine – it was time to upgrade), the hand-held CD player, the ipod, and now my phone holds all the music I could ever need and more.

I am well back into running after a two-week break for a trip to Norway with my husband. This morning, the final song that came on was “Roll Me Away” by Bob Seger. I first heard this song on the radio in Minneapolis when I was in seminary (although the song itself dates back much earlier – released in 1983). I recognized Seger’s voice and when I got to my boyfriend’s house, I went down to his extensive CD collection to look for the song on his Bob Seger discs. There it was – and I listened to it nonstop for days.

Roll, roll me away,
I’m gonna roll me away tonight
Gotta keep rollin, gotta keep ridin’,
keep searchin’ till I find what’s right

Can anyone sing a song with the same earnest growl as Bob Seger? As I ran and listened, I thought of every road trip I ever took, every lonesome night I spent smoking cigarettes and dreaming of the future, the places, the people, the painful beauty of not knowing where I belonged.

I still feel that pain sometimes. I thought perhaps it would go away by the time one is married with children and a steady career, but it doesn’t.  Then, I remember the Holy Spirit itself brings a restlessness to our hearts.  It stirs us from getting too comfortable. It pushes us, grants us visions and hopes that might seem like nonsense at the start, but if we pay attention, who knows what thresholds we might be about to cross? What might we be becoming?

I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. — Joel 2:28

Listen to your longings. Listen to your dreams. They still sing to you sometimes, don’t they? Don’t squish them down or try to forget them. Listen to their song and remember you are, at every age, a work in progress.

What’s next?

Keep asking that question and listening – and be amazed at what God might still whisper in your ear.

What’s next? Keep rollin’ and keep ridin’, keep searchin’ till you find what’s right…

cassette

Be Salt and Light (sermon – 2.5.17)

Our church book group has read some really interesting books in the last couple years. Books about human trafficking, a Swedish novel, memoirs of Scandinavian settlers in the upper Midwest, a riveting commentary on end-of-life issues called “Being Mortal” – and one of my favorites was the book, “Salt, Sugar, Fat” by Michael Moss. It’s a big book full of the tireless research of a man wanting to know more about the processed food industry. Food companies have known for decades that salt, sugar and fat are not good for us in the quantities Americans consume them. But every year, people are swayed to ingest about twice the recommended amount of salt and fat — and an estimated 70 pounds of sugar. 

I read an interview with the author who was talking about some of his findings about salt – he talked about how dependent the food companies are on salt, because it’s a miracle ingredient for them. It lets them avoid using costly ingredients like spices and herbs, and of course has this thing they called “flavor bursts,” which just gets you so excited about eating snack foods, especially.

But the other thing is, salt masks off-notes or bad flavors that are inherent to some processed foods. In meat, it’s called “warmed-over flavor,” which happens when the fat in meat oxidizes when it reheats, and salt is one of those things that can cover up that taste.

It’s a fascinating book and I was thinking about it when I came across our Gospel for today in which Jesus said we are to be the salt of the earth. “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?”

Salt affects whatever you put it on, salt does something. Salt loses its purpose if you keep it in the salt shaker.

His next illustration is similar – that of light. What good does a candle do if you light it and then put it under a basket? No, a light is meant to shine and create a glow to help people see in the dark.

Jesus says, be salt, be light. Do something. We weren’t made to just exist, to be absorbed by all the other tastes and atmospheres around us, but to affect them.  To exist for a purpose. To season our community with the words and actions of Christ, to let his light shine through our days and deeds.

But how? Perhaps one of the finest examples of being salt and light for Christ in this world was shown to us in Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor during the time of Adolf Hitler’s rule in Germany. Many other clergy supported Hitler – Pastor Hermann Grunner said, “The time is fulfilled for the German people of Hitler. Hitler is the way of the Spirit and the will of God for the German people to enter the Church of Christ.” Another Lutheran pastor put it more succinctly: “Christ has come to us through Adolph Hitler.”

We know what history has told us: The German people had gone through the defeat of World War 1 and the economic depression afterward – and this charismatic Hitler appeared to be the nation’s answer to prayer—at least to most Germans. But not to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he was determined resist Hitler. While many, many other Lutheran churches and pastors followed in line behind Hitler, even putting the Nazi swastika on their altar cloths, Bonhoeffer and others resisted – pointing out how Hitler’s prejudice and discrimination against the Jewish people was distinctly contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wasn’t raised in a radical or particularly religious environment – he was born into an aristocratic family. His mother was the daughter of a preacher and his father was a distinguished neurologist and professor. When Dietrich announced at age 14 he was going to become a minister and theologian, his family was not encouraging.

Bonhoeffer graduated from the University of Berlin in 1927 and then spent the next years working as an assistant professor, writing his dissertation, and doing some lecturing in New York at Union Seminary.

During these same years, Hitler rose in power, becoming chancellor of Germany in January 1933, and president a year and a half later. Hitler’s speech and actions against the Jews, and other marginalized groups intensified.  Bonhoeffer became part of a movement that opposed him – they were known as the Confessing Church – which announced its allegiance first and foremost to Jesus Christ and not to earthly leaders.

In the meantime, Bonhoeffer wrote one of his most famous books, “The Cost of Discipleship” – a call to more faithful and radical obedience to Christ and a condemnation of comfortable Christianity. He had a fire within him to help Christians reject what he called “cheap grace.” Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance. Cheap grace is baptism without church discipline. Cheap grace is communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, without the cross, without Jesus Christ living and acting in our lives.  He said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” 

The government in Germany banned him from teaching so he helped teach in an underground seminary. Finally that seminary was discovered and closed. While others in the Confessing church became more reluctant and afraid to speak out against Hitler, Bonhoeffer just changed strategies. He signed up with the German secret service to serve as a double agent. He traveled to church conferences all over Europe and was supposed to be collecting information about the places he visited but instead he was helping Jews escape the Nazis.

In time, he was caught and put into prison where he remained for two years. There is a book full of the letters and papers he wrote during that time. One month before Germany surrendered, he was hanged along with six other resisters. He was 39 years old.

A camp doctor who witnessed Bonhoeffer’s hanging described the scene: “The prisoners … were taken from their cells, and the verdicts of court martial read out to them. Through the half-open door in one room of the huts, I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued in a few seconds. In the almost 50 years that I have worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

Jesus said, “be salt in the world, be light in the world.” He didn’t say it would be easy. After all, he himself was killed for sharing the truth of God’s message of love for all, why should we expect following the way of Christ should be easy? Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King Jr., Oscar Romero, the fourth archbishop of El Salvador –  who spoke out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations and torture and in 1980 was assassinated while offering mass. Countless others throughout time who have spoken up for the way of Christ have suffered and died. Maybe we think that is only required for a chosen few, and yet, perhaps the greatest challenge facing the church is if we think being part of the Christian faith only requires things like attendance at church potlucks, putting in a bit of offering now and then, being nice people. But this Christian life is just that – a life – and what we hear in this place and read in the word of God, the Bible, is meant to filter into every bit of our lives: our speech, our choices, the way we spend our money, the way we take care of our earth, the way we take care of ourselves – everything.  It reminds me of a quote I have shared before by C.S. Lewis – but it is so appropriate – He wrote,

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

Sisters and brothers, you are called to be salt and to be light. You were given your voice and your smarts and your compassion and your vision and your faith in order to bless and inspire and urge and love the world as best you can in the name of Jesus as long as you have breath. Each day, working with whatever you’ve got to help mold your little piece of the world as much as you can into something that shows the likeness of Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer used his brains and his voice, his passion, his bravery, and ultimately his life to stand up for those being persecuted. He was salt and light in this world.

How might you and I be salt and light? With what we have? Where we are?