Monday, March 31, 2008
Today, it is snowing. Big wet heavy snowflakes. (sigh.) Welcome to Minnesota.
Re: the sermon about "sharing the peace" -- one person asked, half-joking: "Would Jesus sneeze into his hand and then pass the peace? Do you think Jesus is contagious?" ....my answer: "Yes, but in a good way."
Just wondering: If there were a warm-up act for a poetry reading, what would it be?
We saw Mary Oliver last night at the Historic State Theatre. She was wonderful, funny, profound, and warm. She read three poems about her dog, Percy (who, it turns out, is a bichon rescue). She says that he asks her when she gets back: "What's my cut?" She talked a little about her love for nature: "Nature is holy and wonderful in itself, and not just because we need it."
However, the whole time I was fighting a migraine, and not winning. I'm hoping now that it is on the way out, but it's too soon to tell.
Have a nice day...or, more appropriately, Peace be with you.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Saturday, March 29, 2008
1. A Soldier's Heart, by Elizabeth Mamet. Sounds like a really interesting memoir from the pespective of an English teacher who works as West Point.
2. Bliss, Eric Weiner. A foreign correspondent and grump goes out in search of the happiest places on earth. Can you believe: Iceland? (gotta let local author Bill Holm know about this!)
3. The God of Animals, Aryn Kyle. Just looked intriguing. Such a young novelist.
4. Mudbound, Hillary Jordan. Won Barbara Kingsolver's Bellwether award for social justice. Also heard word of mouth review: "I haven't read a book in years, but this one converted me."
5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. I heard him on the radio talking about his book, and his life. He was charming, humorous, poignant. The book won the National Book Award.
6. I Don't Believe in Atheists, by Chris Hedges. Part of this book has been floating around the internet, as a speech, I believe. After all the evangelical atheists, it seems like a good idea.
*7. Sundays in America, by Suzanne Strempek Shea. It got incredibly good reviews. She was interviewed on NPR. I read the first chapter at the local Large Chain Bookstore, and was hooked.
This is RIDICULOUS, partly because I don't just want to read these books, I want to OWN them. Please, tell me, remind me about the rewards of library cards Help me before I buy too many books!
Also, I do have a large backlog of partially read books, all of them similarly worthwhile. Some of these titles: Breathing Space, by Pastor Heidi Neumark, The Tipping Point (we all recognize that one, don't we?), Reading the Bible with the Damned (I read the last chapter first, called "Jesus as the Good Coyote"; it was brilliant, but I never worked all the way backward).
*I bought this one.
Friday, March 28, 2008
3. Remodel house.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
2. High Cholesterol. When I first told my aunt, she gasped and said, "At your young age!" But you see -- I fooled her. I suddenly got old.
3. Blurred vision. After I work on the computer for a long time, all of a sudden all of the letters turn blurry! And I can't focus them any more. I have heard that this is a sign of old age.
4. Ugly toenails. Granted, one of them is ugly because I dropped something on it. But still, ugly, old toenails run in my family.
I was young until -- what? -- two days ago or something. I've been young for the longest time. Even the gray streak -- cute (or so I was told). I'm not sure I know how to be old yet. I only know how to be young.
Anybody have any tips?
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Sunday, March 23, 2008
The senior pastor told about the Sunday School teacher who was telling the story of Jesus to her class, about his crucifixion, and death, how they sealed him in the tomb, and three days later he rose up. To create some excitement, she asked her students: "What do you think was the first thing Jesus said when he rose from the grave?" One little girl practically jumped out of her chair, raising her hand. "I know, I know", she cried. "What was it?" the teacher asked. The girl replied, "TA-DA!"
Highlights of the weekend:
Chanting the preface at all three services this morning. My stepson said that when I chanted, "with Mary Magdalen and Peter, with all the witnesses of the resurrection, with earth and sea and all their creatures, with angels and archangels...." I should have included the dogs.
There were several small but important things that our intern usually did during Holy Week: Acolyte during Good Friday Tenebrae, Reader and Candle Bearer during Easter Vigil, Book Bearer for Festival Services. However, a few of our high school students got the opportunity to do some of these things this year.
I saw a tenth-grade boy all dressed up before the Tenebrae Service, and an older woman asked him, "Are you interested in the ministry?" To my surprise, he answered, "Yes."
I heard the mother of the tenth grade girl who assisted at our Easter Vigil, tell her, "You got to light the Holy Candle!" And I heard her older brother tell her what a good job she did, as she read from Isaiah 55.
I saw a 13 year old confirmation student dressed up as an acolyte for the first time, part of the processional. I've known her since she was three.
This more than makes up for the snow, and the absence of Easter bonnets this year.
Christ is risen indeed!
Saturday, March 22, 2008
In my heart of hearts I know this is wrong; Easter isn't about flowers and birds and buds on the trees and the inevitable but long-awaited coming of Spring. (lovely as that is) Easter is about the resurrection of the dead, about graves being opened, about freedom where there was slavery, about reconciliation where there was only estrangement, about life where there was death and decay.
It's not the dormancy of winter, something that only seemed dead. It's about something entirely natural being reversed by the power of the love of God.
Can these bones live?
O Lord, you know.
Friday, March 21, 2008
"Why wash feet?"
Why wash feet? It’s a fair question, especially since, in a little while, we are going to wash feet right here at (XXXX) Church, and not in the fellowship hall either, but right here during this worship service. But why? And if I detect a look of worry flitting across your face right now, please be assured that this is totally voluntary. Nobody will be forced to come forward and take off their shoes and expose their feet if they don’t want to. There, now you can relax again, and we can think seriously about the question: why wash feet?
For the past few years we have been washing feet as a part of a dinner we have had before this service on Thursday evening. Every year Pastor W. and I call around to people to see if they will come and have their feet washed. And every year it is not so easy to persuade 2 or 3 people to let their feet be washed. People have a lot of feelings about their feet, it seems, and not all of them are positive. So every year, while I am calling people and asking them politely, if I may wash their feet, I’m also thinking: "Why wash feet? Why are we doing this?" It’s hard to persuade people to let me do it. It’s embarrassing for some people. It’s inconvenient. And frankly, it might seem a little strange, because it’s so uncommon. There are two things that we remember on this Maundy Thursday: One of them is the Lord’s Supper. "Do this in remembrance of me," Jesus commanded, and we do it every week. The other one is foot-washing. We do it once a year, if that. So: why wash feet?
It was a common, everyday occurrence in Jesus’ time. In those days, if you can imagine, feet got pretty tired and dirty and achy every day from walking around. And it was considered common courtesy for a host to provide water and perhaps a servant, even, for guests to wash their feet before a meal. Not so today. When was the last time you visited friends for dinner and were treated at the door with a bucket of soap and water, and invited to take your shoes and socks off? There are other signs of hospitality and service for us. There are other things we do to make our guests feel welcome, and at home. That’s probably one reason not to do it. Our feet don’t get so tired and dirty every day as they used to. It’s not necessary in the same way as it used to be. And yet..... Jesus said to his disciples, gathered around, that we ought to wash one another’s feet. "If I , your lord and teacher, have washed your feet," he told us, " then you also ought to wash one another’s feet." Do you know that there are some Christians groups who consider foot-washing right up there with holy communion? The Seventh-Day Adventists who meet here wash each other’s feet. Men wash men’s feet and women wash women’s feet, but they do it: because Jesus said so.
Why wash feet? Why have our feet washed? Perhaps the only way to answer that question is to do it, to practice it, and see what we learn. So now, we would like to invite the children who are here to come forward, and Pastor Wegener and I will wash your feet.
(After foot washing, Part II)
So.... why wash feet? And why have our feet washed? What do you think, now that we have washed feet, now that the children have let us wash their feet? One thing I notice whenever I wash feet (that is, once a year) is that I have to bend over. And, especially now that I am older, that means that my back hurts, or my knees hurt, or my shoulders hurt, a little. That might seem like a small thing to notice, but I think that’s part of why we wash feet, and it is part of the meaning of being a servant. Being a servant means bending over, stooping down, going out of our way, standing all day. Being a servant means sometimes an aching back, or feet, or knees, or hands. There is no way to be a servant without some pain, sometimes. And we are called to be a community of servants, a community that bends down for each other, that stands up for each other, that walks with each other. Sometimes we will have aching backs and necks and knees, because the work of a servant is not easy, or glamorous. It’s like being a waitress at a diner, or the cashier who works a twelve hour shift, or the person who scrubs floors for a living. I was always taught that scrubbing floors with a mop was for wimps. If you want to do it right, you have to get down on your hands and knees and really scrub. That’s the only way to get the floors really clean. And I was proudly telling this one day to a shut-in, an older woman friend of mine, and she replied, "Yes, but you might find that eventually you will need a new set of knees."
In other words, the work of a servant is hard, and painful, and might even wear us out. That’s what Jesus asks when he commands us to be a servant, to wash one another’s feet. But that’s not all he asks. He not only commands us to wash feet, but to let our feet be washed. And I’m not always sure which is harder. It’s hard, and humbling to wash feet, to be a servant. But I think it’s equally hard, and sometimes even harder, to let our feet be washed. We can make the excuse that it’s because it’s so strange and uncommon: and of course that’s part of it. But I don’t think that tells the whole story. I think that it is also humbling to let our feet be washed.
For some people it is the simple act of taking off our shoes and socks, and showing our feet, exposing something we don’t want anyone else to see. For others it might feel too much like being a child again, not being an adult. We want to do things ourselves, not to let someone else do it for us. We would much rather be the giver than the receiver. I remember a friend from work long ago (I have mentioned this before) who saw a bag of clothes in the back seat of my car and asked about them. When I said they were for the needy, she said, "Oh Diane! Show them to me! I’m the needy!" How many of us would cheerfully call ourselves "needy" as she did? I think one of the reasons it’s hard for us to have our feet washed is that we are used to being the givers. It’s hard to us to admit that "we’re the needy", hard for us to take a hand-out, hard for us to admit that we might need a new set of knees, even.
I remember once in college, in the community I was part of, once a member came to us and said he would like to gather a group together and wash everybody’s feet. He came to us in humility, and we agreed, and so a circle of us had our feet washed. And I remember thinking all the time, "I do NOT want him to wash my feet. I do NOT want him to wash my feet." I felt a little like Peter, I think, repulsed by his Lord’s action. And I think a little of my feeling was the thought of being served instead of serving, of being a child and not an adult, of feeling needy and not wanting to have needs.
And yet, our Lord whom we serve, and in whom we live, is in the business of making all things new. He is in the business of filling our empty hands with good things, of healing those who are sick, of making dry bones live. Our Lord, whom we serve stoops down to serve us, and knows our sins, our griefs, our aching feet, no matter how we try to hide. Our Lord stoops down this evening, to give us new knees, a new heart, and new lives, and says to us: "If I, your lord and teacher, have washed your feet, so you ought to wash each other’s feet." "Love one another," he says, "as I have loved you."
As he has loved us, and bent down to the cross, for us.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Monday, March 17, 2008
It just seemed right for Holy Week. See if you agree.
Of The Empire
We will be known as a culture that feared death
and adored power, that tried to vanquish insecurity
for the few and cared little for the penury of the
many. We will be known as a culture that taught
and rewarded the amassing of things, that spoke
little if at all about the quality of life for
people (other people), for dogs, for rivers. All
the world, in our eyes, they will say, was a
commodity. And they will say that this structure
was held together politically, which it was, and
they will say also that our politics was no more
than an apparatus to accommodate the feelings of
the heart, and that the heart, in those days,
was small, and hard, and full of meanness.
Ride on, King Jesus, we say, and we pray. No one can hinder you. Ride on, and keep going, and don't stop here. Don't stop at my house, on my block, in my neighborhood. Leave well enough alone. Ride on, King Jesus.
(But he stops. He always stops, bends over, stoops down, stumbles, dies. He stops to walk with us, to soften hard hearts that will not walk with him on his way to the cross.)
O stop today King Jesus. Even when we turn our backs, even when we do not want you, come and stoop to us, and soften our hearts, that we might care what happens to the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, the rivers, the hungry children with their open hands. Stop for us, and teach us to stop for one another. AMEN
P.S. the part in italics is by me.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
- I was sick on Thursday. I felt better on Friday. On Saturday I woke up feeling worse again. The prognosis did not improve throughout the day. I ended up missing worship today. (The Senior Pastor actually said: don't come.) I missed the palms, the parade, the songs, the live donkey. The senior pastor read my sermon (see below).
- We have a leaky pipe under our kitchen sink. I discovered it this morning. Tomorrow we must Call The Plumber.
- Husband thinks he doesn't feel awfully well.
- Our former governor Jesse Ventura has a new book out, Don't Start the Revolution Without Me. I told husband, and he said, "What? He does have time to bleed now?" (Title of a former book.) Say what you will about our flamboyant, eccentric, ex-wrestler ex-governor: at least our state elected a Third Party Candidate, at least once.
- I'm almost 51, and I was actually in a store called The Electric Fetus today. Groovy.
- The dog ate my address book.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
(Based on the gospel of Matthew)
But I didn’t go to Pilate’s parade. I went to see Jesus, that prophet from Nazareth. I had heard stories about him – never met the man, you understand – but I was curious, and – I’ll admit – a little hopeful, too. Now, I just want to be clear about one thing: I’m not one of his followers, not one of those disciples form Galilee who came to Jerusalem with him. They’re a little too – oh – enthusiastic for me, a little too radical, if that’s the right word. They really believe in him, and perhaps if I had seen the things they have seen, I’d feel the way they do. Perhaps if I had really seen the healings that they talk about, heard the sermons that they talk about, if I had really sat down to eat and drink with him, I’d feel differently. But I had just heard stories, and, like I said, I was curious. Anyway, that’s more in my nature: observer, not follower. I don’t like to get too involved. But I did go to the parade, and I saw him: Jesus of Nazareth, riding in on a colt, just like the prophet said the Messiah would. And even though I am an observer by nature, a bystander, some might say, I found myself shouting along with everyone else, "Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes in the Name of the Lord!" Hosanna! Hosanna!" I’m sure you know how I feel. The excitement, the hope, it was contagious. We were all waving palm branches. People were putting their coats on the ground. There was shouting, and a buzz of excitement, people asking, "Who is this? Who is this?" Somehow I found myself just – lifted up – by the hope, the possibilities: could it really be? Could it be our time again? Could Jerusalem be great again? That’s what I was thinking – and perhaps other people too. Here we are – we are occupied people – we’re small, and insignificant, and we’re ruled by others. But maybe – maybe – we can be great again. That’s what I was thinking. I’ll bet that’s what a lot of people were thinking.
It was sort of a shock then when Jesus went right into the temple, and drove out the money changers, and turned over the tables. We were shouting and singing and feeling good, and then – then came crashing and shouting. Jesus was saying, "My house will be called a house of prayer – but you have made it a den of thieves!" I could tell the religious leaders were very upset then. I had stopped shouting myself, and I was back to being a bystander, an observer. I was watching, again. And I had an ominous feeling then, that this would come to no good end. Something bad is going to happen. Maybe not right away, but soon. Something bad is going to happen.
For several days then Jesus stayed in Jerusalem, and I was a bystander, an observer then. I listened to stories that – I’ll be honest with you – I didn’t understand – stories about banquet tables and unfaithful servants and a wedding banquet where some of the guests were prepared and some weren’t. He told terrible stories about times of tribulation and how people might suffer, and how we should be prepared. He told a story about the sheep and the goats, and how the King, the real king, would be found with the poor and the hungry and the suffering, and those in prison. I have to admit, that one got me, especially after the two parades on Sunday. I had to think about that. Well, I hung around in the distance all week, watching and listening and mostly not understanding. I leaned against the corners of buildings, so I could walk away if I had to. I’m a bystander, like I said. But I was curious.
And on Friday... well, I have to admit, though I am ashamed to now, that I was there as well on Friday. I was a bystander on that terrible Friday, when he walked through the streets on the way to the cross. I was there. And I’ll tell you: there were no followers then, no one waving palms, no one helping him. There were a few women, but all those followers? Where were they? They were gone. Instead there were soldiers, mockers – and bystanders. Me. You know what a bystander is, don’t you? It’s someone who doesn’t want to get involved. Well, there was that one man – Simon, I think his name was – they made him carry Jesus’ cross for a little while – but they made him do it. He didn’t volunteer. By Friday, all the followers had turned into bystanders. Some of us had even shouted, "Let him be crucified!" with the same enthusiasm that we had shouted "Hosanna!" earlier. We did. I don’t know exactly why. Except that maybe we were scared. Thinking about him throwing people out of the temple, and thinking about the stories that I didn’t understand, and thinking about how angry he made certain people, powerful people: I got scared. So I was there. As a bystander.
I wasn’t one of the religious leaders, I want you to know that. I wasn’t one of the mockers. And I wasn’t one of the soldiers either. I thought: maybe Elijah will rescue him. Maybe at the last minute an angel will come, like it did in the Scriptures when Abraham was supposed to sacrifice his son Isaac. You know the story? Abraham takes his son up to the mountain, and he is just about to raise a knife to him, when suddenly an angel says: "Stop!" I thought there might be an angel – but there wasn’t. Just that terrible cry, and then he died. That’s what I saw, and that’s what I heard. And I heard the earthquake, and I felt the ground shaking beneath my feet, and I got a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. And I couldn’t help thinking: What have we done? What have we done?
But that’s not the only question I ask myself, since that Friday. I also ask myself, and wonder: What has God done? I wonder about that, having heard the cry from the cross, and having felt the earth move beneath my feet. What has God done? For somehow I know that God was there that Friday, in some strange way – and not in the earthquake, even though that seems the likeliest place. No, it wasn’t in the earthquake, or in the darkness that covered the earth, that I felt God’s presence. It was in the man – that prophet Jesus from Nazareth – the one who died – the one who told those stories I didn’t understand, who got so angry in the temple. It was in the man who died. Didn’t he say once that the true King would be found among the poor and the homeless, the sick and the prisoners, in the least likely places? Could the true King even be on the cross?
I am just a bystander. But I am wondering about these things. What do you think? Are you bystanders too? Or are you his followers? Was he the true King? Is he still? And if that's so: What did God do? What did God do -- for us? And what do we do -- now?
Friday, March 14, 2008
I'm feeling bad about losing the day, because there are shut ins I need to see. Not that they want to see me if I'm sick. I know that.
I am trying to remember what Paul said, about God bringing Easter. It's true.
I did a little Jazz Preaching this afternoon, at a small church service I lead once a month. There was a new person at the service today, a little African American lady named Margie, who nodded at everything I said, and even said, "Amen" a couple of times. It made me want to go on and on. I talked about the two parades on Palm Sunday, Jesus' and Pilate's, and which one are you going to be in? Which kingdom do you want to be a part of? And when you think about the first parade, don't forget the one on Friday, the lonely one. That's the one where the only followers were soldiers, and bystanders, and mockers. But that's the one that brings us life.
After the service, I stayed a little longer than usual, talking to Margie, who has been a missionary to Africa and China. She plans to go again. She says that God always provides the money somehow.
Thank you for your prayers.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Yesterday I also committed a daring act: I bought 2 tickets to a poetry reading by Mary Oliver. She is coming to my town the week after Easter. She was here last summer, and the event was sold out. So I am very excited to be going. Even though Husband is not a poetry fan, he says he will go with me.
And I signed up for the Festival of Homiletics in May. It will take place right here in my town, and at a very pretty time of the year. I hope that some of my blog friends will be coming, for I would like to show them a little of the city: perhaps a walk around one of our lakes, or a meal at a nice restaurant. I remember reading about others' experiences last year when I was quite new to the blog community.
Today is my Dad's birthday, too! He's 79 today, and he won't be reading the blogs (he has macular degeneration), so I'll call him later.
My dad used to sing Bing Crosby songs to us when we were little. He also liked to make up stupid puns (still does, but he doesn't hear so well, so he can't hear us groaning), and play silly games with us. At bedtime, he used to pretend he was Methuselah, the world's oldest man, who knew all the Bible characters. But, because he was so old, he would fall asleep during the prayers, and we would have to kick him to keep waking him up.
Monday, March 10, 2008
1. I wore our house key around my neck on a string starting when I was in the 4th grade, because my mom went back to work part-time. When my mom had a job, I was in charge of letting my sister and me in after school. Sometimes I forgot though, and my sister and I had to break in through a bedroom window. My sister did most of the breaking and entering though. Just recently it has occurred to me that my 4th grade teacher felt sorry for me. I knew this in the 4th grade, but I didn't know why. I still wonder what she thought my life was like.
2. There was a little girl in our community in South Dakota who used to come to church and Sunday school by herself. Everyone called her "the church girl" because she liked church. I sometimes wonder what happened to her.
3. Scout does not have a middle name, although we still did the meme. However, the dog and cat we had growing up did: Fluffy Gray and Charlie Brown. Fluffy was first and she never did get to be great friends with Charlie.
4. My first "date" was in 8th grade. A classmate and I went to an old amusement park (which has since closed). It had a rickety old roller coaster. His mother drove us.
5. I talk in my sleep sometimes, according to others. Once, at church camp, we were sleeping outside, and they were asking me questions, and I was answering them, I guess. I have also been told that I have answered the phone in my sleep once or twice.
6. They did not allow girls to be acolytes in my church growing up. Or anything else.
I'm not sure who to tag. I'll start with Pastor David, and come back with more later.
Sunday, March 9, 2008
Saturday, March 8, 2008
I'm feeling a little bereft this morning, since Husband is going up North to hear Talented Stepson's Jazz Concert this afternoon. I would love to go: I love jazz and love hearing Stepson play, but I have a pre-baptism meeting at an inconvenient time and I can't change it (we just heard about the concert yesterday). So I have morning meetings and he'll leave about noon, and I'll be wondering what to do with myself the rest of the day. Here are some ideas:
- Laundry. At least two loads.
- Take Scout on a middle-of-the-day walk for a change. Might be more fun than those early morning ones. (I see that she appears to be voting for the walk.)
- Dishes. (we are the only middle-class family in the U.S. currently without a dishwasher, as far as I know.)
- Visit someone. (a pastor's work is never done).
- Go to a movie by myself (I know it sounds sad, but I'd go to one of the ones Husband ISN'T interested in.)
- Work on knitting.
- Write. Something. Creative. (perhaps about the girl with the key hanging around her neck on a piece of string...?)
- Read Sara's Gruen's book Water for Elephants.
- Try not to mope.
- Start another blog.
any other suggestions? Perhaps something more exciting than what I have suggested? (and I wonder why I don't write short stories any more! .... maybe because I am boring.)
Thursday, March 6, 2008
Also, this song:
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
1. You have to post the rules before you give your answers.
2. You must list one fact about yourself beginning with each letter of your middle name. (If you don't have a middle name, use your maiden name or your mother's maiden name).
3. At the end of your blog post, you need to tag one person for each letter of your middle name. (Be sure to leave them a comment telling them they've been tagged.)
M Mary was the name of one of my great-grandmothers. I remember visiting her in the nursing home down in Jackson when I was very small. She was always sitting in a wheelchair, and her hair was done up in a little gray bun. She always gave me a little someting from her room when I came, a little stuffed toy, or a handkerchief, or something crocheted. I never knew anyone else who lived in a little room like that.
A ADHD. I have wondered, on occasion, if I don't suffer from a form of Attention Deficit Disorder. Exhibit A: all the unfinished scarves, skirts, cross-stitch samplers, etc., and even books I have. Exhibit B: I have a hard time concentrating, at times. I do better if I can change tasks frequently.
R Responsible. Terminally. For everything. I am an oldest child, after all, and we are the Responsible Ones.
I Introvert. Like many others, I score Introvert on the Myers-Briggs Inventory. Not a high introvert, mind you, but an introvert nonetheless. I do think this accounts for the necessity of Sunday afternoon naps.
E Enthusiastic. As in, I like to say "Wow" a lot. With exclamation points. Also, Excellent, as in I have received the Excellent Blogger award, and need to pass it along. And Enervated, as in when I'm tired, like tonight, after the funeral and all the services.
I think many people have already been tagged, so I'm going to do something a little different. I'm going to tag some of my dog friends: 5 of them, one for each letter of my name: Rowan, Cub, Amie, Rusty and Isabel! If you have a middle name, let us know what it is! If not, use your first name!
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Monday, March 3, 2008
Sunday, March 2, 2008
Last weekend my husband and I took a short trip down to Red Wing. It wasn’t our first trip there. We’ve been plenty of times, including last year during a snowstorm. It was so relaxing that we thought we’d try to go down again for a couple of days this winter. I thought I heard someone ask, before we left, if we were going to see the eagles, but I wasn’t paying very much attention. Then, after we got there, I happened to overhear someone giving directions to a couple about where to drive to see eagles. This time I got curious. I asked a couple of questions myself, and before we knew it, we were driving down along the Mississippi River, looking for eagle’s nests. On Tuesday, we stopped at a park before we went home, just to get one more look, and counted twenty-five of them, sitting on tree branches along the river. Twenty-five! They had been there all along, but I had never known to look for them. And, looking at them all, I couldn’t escape a sense of wonder – what else have I been missing? What else have I not been able to see, because I didn’t know enough to look?
It makes me wonder how the man born blind felt when he washed his eyes and saw for the first time. I’ve been told that sight is a complicated thing: it’s not just seeing, but also learning to interpret what you are seeing. I have been told that people who regain their sight after many years have to learn to recognize with their eyes things they have heard or touched or smelled before, to learn how to judge distances, things like that. So perhaps the man saw things for the first time that he had only heard of, that he had only felt. Perhaps the man saw things he hadn’t even heard of: mountains, deserts, eagles, even. How can you escape a sense of wonder when seeing things for the first time?
Perhaps there was wonder as well, at how it all had happened. There he was begging on the side of the road, probably for bread or a few coins. What else could he do? Jesus and his disciples were just walking along, and they saw him. He didn’t ask to be healed. The story doesn’t even say that he asked for anything. Jesus doesn’t ask him if he wants to be healed, either. He just makes mud, and smears it on his eyes, and tells him to "Go and wash in the pool of Siloam". And he does. And he comes back seeing. It’s a pure gift, that he received his sight. He didn’t ask for it. He didn’t pray for it. He wasn’t expecting it. But he received his sight. And you can’t escape a sense of wonder, can you, when you think about it this way: this miracle, this gift, just dropped in his lap, without him doing anything or expecting anything. Have you ever had that kind of a gift given to you? Something you were not expecting, were not asking for, but yet you received it.
A couple of years ago a Christmas, I remember receiving Christmas cards. Now that in itself was not such a big deal, but I remember receiving two Christmas cards from friends I had lost track of, as I had moved around throughout the years. Somehow they had tracked me down, found my address, and wrote to me to express an interest in renewing our friendship. The cards touched me but brought me up short as well: I had been too "busy" myself, to make the first move. That’s what I told myself. But they took the time to find me. They took the time to wish God’s blessings on me. And I saw something, when I got that unexpected gift.
We call the blind man "visionary", but just what did he see when he washed the mud off his eyes? Did he see flowers blooming or birds flying? Did he see children held in their mothers’ arms? Did he see friends and neighbors, homes and businesses? What did he see when he first washed off his eyes?
I’ll tell you what he didn’t see: he didn’t see Jesus. By the time he got back from the pool, Jesus and his disciples were gone, probably still walking along the road, on their way to the next town.He didn’t see Jesus, so he was left with the memory of that voice, and the sensation of mud on his eyes, and that sense of wonder when he opened his eyes and saw the world for the first time, so beautiful. He didn’t see Jesus, not until the end of the story. Do you think that’s strange?
We call him a visionary man, but he didn’t see Jesus, not until the end of the story. So what did he see?
Well, he saw the Pharisees. He saw them, but they didn’t see him, not really. They kept asking him questions about this Jesus, and the truth is, he couldn’t answer all of their questions, because he didn’t "see" Jesus. All he could tell them was what he knew: "I was blind, but now I see. Isn’t that a great thing?" And he kept repeating this simple testimony, over and over: "I was blind, but now I see." Oh, sometimes he added some details, about the mud and the pool, but it all came back to those simple words, "I was blind, but now I see." But the Pharisees in this story for some reason can’t allow themselves to believe that something so wonderful had really happened – they can’t allow themselves to believe that Jesus can really be "from God". In the story it’s because Jesus did his healing on the sabbath, so he technically broke the sabbath. But to be truthful, that’s really an exaggeration of the Pharisee’s beliefs. I think that's really an excuse.There was something about Jesus that made them afraid, I think, the way he went around changing the status quo, shaking things up. You know how some people like surprises, and others don’t? Well, in this story I think the Pharisees represent the kind of people who don’t like surprises, who don’t want anything to change. So they are too afraid to see the blind man, or acknowledge the wonderful thing that has happened to him.
Someone has said that the seven last words of the church are: "We’ve never done it that way before." It’s funny, but sometimes it’s sadly true: just like the story I heard about the church that had a fight over whether or not to move the piano. We sometimes are like the Pharisees, who were so afraid of change that they couldn’t see the blind man, or the truth of Jesus’ words. But change is happening all around us, in us, and in our community, we can't escape it. So it could be that Jesus is calling us to see changes in our community, to see diversity in our community as a gift, a pure gift given to us, and to be filled with a sense of wonder. We have been given new opportunities to share Jesus’ love and to learn of Jesus’ love with people from different cultures and countries. We have been given the opportunity to see ourselves and our faith in a new way. We have sometimes the painful experience of seeing our own ignorance, when we misjudge or misinterpret because of cultural misunderstanding. But we also have the experience of seeing again and again Jesus’ wide and inclusive and transforming love, for us and for all people.
We call the blind man a visionary man. But he didn’t see Jesus, at least not until the end of the story. So what did he see? He saw the sky, and the people, his parents, and the road where he used to beg. He saw the water in the pool of Siloam. Maybe he saw his own reflection for the first time in that pool. But most of all, he saw the God was working in his life. I’ll say it again: he saw that God was working in his life. And he saw God working in the world around him, the beautiful world he saw. And he couldn’t escape a sense of wonder. "One thing I know, I was blind, but now I see."
A while back I read a newspaper article about an event that happens here in Minneapolis every once in awhile. It takes place at the Mpls convention Center, and it’s called Project Homeless Connect. One day all kinds of people gathered: doctors and nurses, hairstylists and dentists, and people giving meals, clothes and shoes. One woman who was cutting and styling hair said something has stuck with me: She said that she loved what she was doing, and that her work was about "making people beautiful". What a great statement! With that one sentence, she said two things: That she saw God working in her life AND in the lives of the homeless people there.
Her occupation was a holy Vocation: making people beautiful. And the homeless people there: she saw them as God’s children: hungry, and thirsty, cold and lost – but God working in their lives too -- and she wanted to serve them.
It’s a little like seeing the eagles for the first time – to look at our brothers and sisters and to look at ourselves – and to know that God is at work in our lives. Here’s what the visionary man saw: He saw that he was a beggar, but that God was at work in his life, healing him, making him see, making him beautiful. He saw that God had put this tremendous gift in his lap
And what about us?
We too have received a gift
– eagles in the trees when we least expect them,
-- a vibrant and changing community
--bread and wine in our hands,
--forgiveness of sins, and life here and for always –
And how can we escape a sense of wonder when we see all that God has given us?
How can we not want to turn and follow him?