Monday, March 31, 2008

Potpourri

Yesterday we took Scout on a walk around the lake for the first time this year. It was in the 50s. Lots of people. Lots of dogs.

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

2 Easter Sunday Sermon


Sharing The Peace


Lately, I've been thinking about the part of worship we call "sharing the peace." You know what I'm talking about, even though it's a relatively new element of our liturgy. Only since 1978, the year the GREEN hymnal came out (that's the one BEFORE the one we use now) have we been "sharing the peace" every Sunday. It happens right after the prayers, but before we begin our communion liturgy. One of the pastors usually greets the congregation, saying, "The peace of Christ be with you always," and the congregation responds, "And also with you, " and then -- and here's the controversial part -- people in the congregation turn to their neighbors and SHAKE HANDS with them and say something like "peace be with you." I think it's still controversial for some people and in some places because it seems jarring, perhaps, to be praying and thinking about God, as we are supposed to be doing in worship, and then suddenly to shift our focus and greet one another. Also, there is nothing int he Bioble really about "shaking hands." It's not a Biblical gesture, at least not that I kow of.


But the words, "Peace Be With You" of course, ARE Biblical. In fact, they are from today's Gospel lesson. They are the first words spoken by Jesus to his disciples when he meets them on Easter evening. they are huddled together in a locked room -- they have heard Mary Marydalene's testimony, "I have seen the Lord," but they don't know yet what to make of it. So they are still afraid and hiding out when Jesus walks right through that locked door, and greets them with, "Peace be with you." Then, instead of shaking hands with them, he shows them his wounds: his hands and his side. And he tells them, "As the Father has sent me, so I sent you."


"Peace be with you" is a greeting, in fact, but it's more than a greeting. To greet someone with "Peace" is not just the same as telling them to "Have a nice day." It's more than that. Because it's not just any peace that we are bringing to one another -- it's Christ's peace. When we share the peace, whenever we say "Peace be with you" -- at the right time -- we are sharing the peace Chrit promised when he told his disciples, earlier in John's gospel, "Peace I give to you. My peace I leave with you. I do ot give you as the world gives." He also tells them, "do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. It's a message the disciples needed to hear again: remember they were locked in that room. And it's a message that we need to hear again today, "Peace be with you." Christ peace be with you...


So what does Christ's peace -- the peace we share with one another -- look like? That's a fair question. And the first clue to answering it is in the next sentence. "He showed them his hands and his side." Jesus shares peace -- and shows his disciples the marks of his crucifixion -- as if to say, "here is the cost of my peace." And "Here is what my peace looks like." Jesus' resurrection didn't magically erase all of the scars he received on the cross. They remained, for all of the disciples fo see, and they remind us that the peace Christ shares with us is a peace won through love and sacrifice, a peace won not through fighting but through dying, a peace that champions the poor and the weak and the vulnerable. And when Jesus shows his disciples his scars, he reminds them that they will be sounded as well sometimes. To share Christ's peace is to risk sharing our weakness, our poverty, our scars, with others.


Sara Miles is a woman who grew up as an atheist. Her grandparents had been missionaries, but her parents rejected religion, and taught her to reject it too. At some point in her 40s she starts attending a church, sharing Holy Communion, even though she's not quite sure why she is drawn to it. She only knows that she is hungry -- hungry for bread, and for something else, too. She has written ab out her experience of becoming a Christian as an adult in a book, Take This Bread. And she says in her book, "the Christianity that called to me, through the stories I read in the Bible, scattered the rpoud and rebuked the powerful. It was a religion in which divinity was revealed by scars on flesh. It was an upside-down world in which treasure, as the prophet said, was found in darkness...." That is the kind of peace Christ share with us.... treasure in the darkness... scars on flesh... not "believe in Jesus and you will be successful", but "God will be with you in the struggle.... and bring you out resurrected, but with scars." "Peace be with you," Jesus says. And it's a strange kind of peace, "not as the world gives," and not as the world promises. -- not absence of conflict but peace in the midst of conflict -- not a peace that keeps us sequestered and locked away, but a peace that sends us out to be with others.


So that's just what Jesus does next. He sends his disciples out into the world: "As the Father has snet me, so I send you," he tells them. So the peace that we share here in this room is not for us alone. No -- what we do here today is practice -- we practice reaching out for one another here, so that for the rest of the week, we can continue to reach out to others with the gift of peace. What we do here is just the first step -- beforewe share Holy Communion we reach out as brothers and sisters and say that we are connected and reconciled to each other through Christ's gift of peace. But it doesn't end here, or with us. It ends out in our community, and in the world. Jesus wants ut to get up and get out of our locked rooms and share his strange and wonderful peace with the world...


I heard a story recently about a family that was touring Europe. They had been warned all along their journey by their tour guides to watch out for the gypsies, to guard their purses, and to leave their hands at the sides. They had been warned not to trust people along the way, to watch out for themselves. One day they were touring a cathedral. It just so happened that during the tour there was also a Mass going on. But the tourists were being led around the outside of the sanctuary, looking at the art and the architecture while the people were worshiping. all of a sudden one of the family members was accosted by someone, speaking as trange language, and sticking out her hand. She remembered all of her warnings, and kept her hands at her side, and even back away. She was a little afriaad, I think. It wasn't until a little later, and upon reflection, that she realized that the woman she had encountered was trying to share the peace with her. "la paz de Dios," she was saying in Spanish. She had left the safety of the sanctuary, and was trying to share the peace with the tourists who were visiting. It was a courageous gesture.


That's what Jesus is telling his disciples, when he says to them, "As the father has sent me, so I send you." He's telling them to get out of the safety of their locked room, to put aside their fears, and toshare the peace of Christ with their neighbors. This is not a safe activity -- sometimes they would be rebuffed, sometimes rejected, sometimes ridiculed. But still he calls them -- as he calls us "As the father has sent me, so I send you." He sends us out with his resurrected life, but still with scars. He sends us out to bring peace -- his strange peace -- to the world -- where there are many different languages and people and circumstances and where we might even learn to recognisze and receive Christ's peace from a stranger.


But what does that peace look like? What does Christ's peace look like to YOU? When you reach out your hand to your neighbor today, and when you reach out this coming week, it's not a bad question to ask yourself. What does Christ's peace look like -- to you? What kind of peace does someone with nail-scarred hands have to offer us? When Sara Miles -- the atheist turned Christian -- asked that question, she realized that Christ's peace looked like bread to you. She realized that she was hungry -- for bread, and for Jesus -- and so she developed a passion for feeding people. She set up a food pantry in her neighborhood -- and others in many other poor neighborhoods in her city. And she met so many other people who were hungry -- whether they were rich or poor, young or old -- people were hungry.


What does Christ's peace look like to you? Perhaps it's paying attention to the sick and the weak, the oldest and the youngest among us. Perhaps it's a community where people trust each other and reach out to learn each other's languages and look out for one another. Perhaps Christ's peace looks like -- or osunds like "la paz de dios" to you. Or perhaps it's protecting children, taking communion to shut-ins, advocating for health care. Whatever Christ's peace looks like, it's meant to share.


So, turn to your neighbor right now -- and perhaps not just your neighbor, but someone you don't know very well -- and share "the peace of God' with them....


And know that as you reach out, just a little beyond your comfort zone, that the peace of God that passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds united in Christ Jesus. Amen

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Cry for Help

Here are some of the books I am interested in now:

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

A Million Dollar Friday Five


Singing Owl From Revgalblogpals writes:

Lingering effects of a cold have me watching more television than usual. There appears to be a resurgence of the old daytime staple--the quiz show. Except they are on during prime time, and a great many of them offer the chance of winning one million dollars.I think it started with Regis Philbin and "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" but now we have a half dozen or so.My husband and I started musing (after watching "Deal or No Deal") about what we could do with a million dollars. I thought I'd just bring that discussion into the Friday Five this week. It's simple. What are five things you would want to do with a million dollar deposit in your bank account?

First of all, my creativity is failing me! I am used to thinking about what I would do with an extra $200 or even $2000, but $1,000,000? How far would it go? Would it be tax-free? So, my answers might reflect some middle-class mundaneness, but here goes...

1. Pay off debts.
Actually, except for the house we are doing pretty well. My car will be paid for in a few days (yay!). But it would be great to be debt-free. So, I think we would have a fair amount left even after paying off debts.

2. Travel.
Our must-see places include London, Europe, Sweden and Japan (and that's just on first reflection). I lived in Japan for three years a long time ago, but Husband would like to see it. Tokyo, Kyoto (the old capital). Sadly, I think most of my missionary friends are retired by now, and I'm not sure where any of my Japanese friends might be. Still it would be fun. I have wanted also to see Sweden since I was a teenager, even before. My grandparents emigrated from Sweden. My grandma Judy talked about taking me there on a trip, but we never went. Only my oldest cousin Judy (her namesake) got to go to Sweden with grandma when she was a little girl, and she traveled by ship. Actually, we do plan to go to at least some of these places, but I think the difference would be 1) I wouldn't worry about the money we were spending, 2) perhaps we would stay longer, 3) we wouldn't have to choose which places to go.

3. Remodel house.
When we bought this house, I saw that we had a pretty big yard, room in the back to expand if we wanted to. If we had the million, I'd want to put a great big room on the back. I suppose we could just move, but I'm not really interested in having a mansion. Just a little-bigger house.

4. Books and children.
I would like to adopt a child from another country: go to Central America, or China, or Africa, and come home with a son or daughter. Husband does not share this dream, so it doesn't matter how much money we would have. But it's my dream today, isn't it? I would also self-publish a book of reflections, etc. With illustrations by my sister.

5. I would also use my million to support my favorite charity, which is Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services. As well, I feel strongly about Literacy and Education, both here in the United States and world-wide.
Other ideas: Start a church/bookstore ministry; take a writing sabbatical; build a cabin on the North Shore.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Four Signs That I Am Getting Old

1. Sore neck -- I had one all day. It hurt whenever I moved it.
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

Hassler's Night


Minnesota novelist Jon Hassler died last week. His funeral will be tomorrow at the Basilica of St. Mary here in Minneapolis. I found out that a member of my parish, raised Catholic but married to a Lutheran, will be singing at his funeral. It seems that her aunt was married to Mr. Hassler.


The first book I read by Jon Hassler was Grand Opening. I read it in my mid-twenties, I think, and was instantly enchanted. It's the story of a family that moves back to the father's small home town to open a grocery story. So they will have two grocery stores -- the "Catholic" one and the "Lutheran" one. I found Grand Opening to be a kinder, gentler Main Street. There were plenty of critiques of small town small-mindedness and prejudice, but there was an underlying affection that made those critiques much easier to take.


After Grand Opening, I moved backward to Hassler's first novel, Staggerford: one week in the life of a high school teacher. Then I read the novel that I think is still my favorite: Simon's Night, about an old man who checks himself into a nursing home after he makes some unfortunate mistakes in his kitchen. Simon's Night is both poignantly sad and funny, at the same time. I remember that the small Lyric Theatre here in my hometown adapted it for the stage.


The summer I married, I went to a 2-day writing workshop at Mount Carmel Lutheran Camp near Alexandria. Our workshop leader was Jon Hassler. Besides spending a lot of time journaling that weekend, I remember him talking about his Parkinson's disease, his gratitude for his wife, and making jokes about the Catholic at a Lutheran camp. (Why don't you get Garrison Keillor? he asked. We like you better, was the answer.)


I read a review of his life recently that said he was a "middle-brow" author. Probably correct. Also, they noted a book I haven't read, North of Hope, as his best. Now, that goes on my reading list.


He was a lovely example of an artist working out his faith in stories. His themes are universal: love, sin, redemption, sacrifice, loss. He made me wonder again, as I have off and on throughout my life, whether I too can work out my faith in stories.


Maybe, in the end, it is the only way we can work out our faith.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Church and State/Law and Gospel


Someone said to me a while ago something about the United States being a "Christian Nation." I respectfully disagreed, but granted that "We're a country with a lot of Christians."

I was supposed to write a post for the Blog Against Theocracy this weekend. But it was Easter weekend as well, and I was sick the weekend before, and I ended up being totally consumed with Holy Week, the stories, the worship, the people: Jesus. I couldn't bring myself to write one more thing, and the truth is, my friend Fran said it so much better than I could have.

And yet....

There are two small things I want to say.

1. The European nations are all "Christian nations," in a sense, in that they have State Religions. If we were to be a Christian nation, which version of Christianity would we choose? Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist? And what would happen to the not-chosen? Not to mention those of other faiths, or of no faith. And if we chose some ecumenical vaguely Jesus-y civil religion, to me, as a devout Christian, this would be a pale imitation of the real thing, religion robbed of its power. It would not be religion that transforms lives, but religion that keeps the peace, religion devoted to upholding the state. This might be comforting, but it is not the radical religion of Jesus and his followers. And many people consider the State Churches in Europe to be, mostly, dead. This is not for me to judge. But for me, the separation of church and state has made a lively, healthier faith.

2. Another model for a religious state is something like Iran, which is an Islamic State. I'm pretty sure most of us don't want to be a Christian Nation in the way that Iran is an Islamic State. Law and gospel are not the same as Church and State, but it's worth noting that Martin Luther noted that You cannot create faith through the Law. Only the gospel, God's radical good news, creates faith.

I treasure the freedoms given in our democracy, including the freedom to worship. I also note that our democratic ideals are imperfectly realized, and oppression needs to be exposed. A church too tethered to the state loses its ability to speak out against oppression. It also becomes a less vibrant voice for the truth of the freedom of the gospel.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter


Picture from a former "Easter Bonnet" Easter. Coats were hand-made by my mom.
The best story from today:

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

I'm Dreaming of a White Easter

It's been snowing this morning, and snowing all day yesterday too. Somehow, it doesn't feel right; doesn't feel like Easter. Where's my Easter bonnet and my new spring outfit?

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

Maundy Thursday Sermon



"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.

AMEN

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Fumie


When the Japanese government was trying to eradicate Christianity, they made those suspected step on a picture of Christ or the virgin Mary. If they refused, they were arrested and tortured, and often killed.


The picture was called a "fumie." This is one example.
Today, I'm thinking about Judas, and Peter: and us.
I'm also thinking: what a simple act, to step on a picture. We would probably think: why would it be so terrible to step on a picture? But for those Christians it was denying their faith and betraying their Lord. They thought that anything that bore Christ's image was holy.
I'm also wondering: what or who else we might carelessly step on, without noticing that they too were holy?
Genesis 1:26

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Poem by Mary Oliver

... from her new collection, Red Bird.
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

...As we come up to Holy Week

  • 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

Sunday Sermon: Monologue

Bystander

(Based on the gospel of Matthew)
There were really two parades that Sunday: did you know that? There were two parades coming into Jerusalem – and one of them was this prophet from Nazareth, Jesus. That’s the one you all probably know about. The other parade was Pontius Pilate: you’ve heard of him, I suppose — we can’t HELP but hear of him. He’s here even when he isn’t here – telling us what we can and cannot do, telling who we are, telling who we belong to. He always comes to town right before the Passover. He wants to make sure the celebrations didn’t get out of hand, you know. Everybody remembering when we were slaves in Egypt, and how God set us free: it might be dangerous you know. You never know what might happen when we start telling those old stories from the Scriptures. So he or someone like him always came to Jerusalem right before the Passover. They came with soldiers and with weapons and with great display of power and might. It sends a message doesn’t it? It’s supposed to: just like all of the crosses that are always lined up along the roads. They send a message, too.


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

...in case you were wondering

....I got up at 4:30 in the morning, and ate one half of a banana and took Tylenol. I felt somewhat better, so I did go to church (though a little later than usual). I kept to myself all morning and started writing my sermon for Sunday, which will be a monologue called "Bystander." I do think it was one of those 24 hour things, but I am going to bed pretty soon.

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.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What A Difference A Day Makes

Yesterday it crept up above freezing here, and today, it feels like spring! The water is running along the streets during the day, the snow is melting, and my dog gets really dirty when she goes out for walks! A friend told me she heard a cardinal sing yesterday. Can it really be possible? I know it is only March 11, but I feel hopeful.

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

Six (More) Random Things

I was tagged for this somewhat familiar meme over at Law and Gospel. I think I did a somewhat similar meme recently (although, to be fair, I think it was six quirky things). So, here I go again, as random as I can possibly be, and with a twist: 6 random things that might be grist for a story (or not).

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

Worship-Full


This morning was 5th Sunday in Lent and also the liturgical day called "Spring Ahead" (a low church day in the midst of a high church season). Our contemporary choir, the Spirit Singers, sang a great song whose title I cannot now remember. People kind of straggled in, looking a little bleary-eyed. However, most of the members of the Adult Choir were up and sitting in the sanctuary, instead of their regular choir loft. We have instilled excellent worship habits in them (or, maybe they just like any excuse to sing!).

This morning was 1st communion for 16 fifth graders, so the 10:00 service was hopping and lively, even in the midst of Lenten restraint. Not only that, though: there was also a baptism, and loads of special music. The Spirit singers sang again, the Alleluia and Joyful Noise sang "I Can Only Imagine", and three junior high girls sang "On Eagle's Wings" during communion.

I always get misty-eyed when I see the 5th graders put their hands out to receive for the first time. Most choose the individual classes for wine, but one curly-haired red-head chose the common cup. A few parents held back tears as they saw their children as young men and women for the first time, so young. One of the mothers serves as a communion assistant, and got to give her son his first communion.

Afterwards we had a cake reception in the Fireside Room. Briefly popular, I was asked to have my picture taken with several 5th graders. I was wearing the purple chasuble.

Long ago, my first communion was in 9th grade, and was connected to my confirmation, as it always was back in those days. I remember how nervous, not simply because it was the sacrament, but because I was a earnest girl and I wanted to do everything right. Back then, we received Holy Communion by intinction, and the pastor put the wafer right in our mouths. No wonder I was nervous. Now we put the bread into open and trusting hands. I like this little ritual we teach our children. Sometimes small rituals form us in great ways: not just our open hands, but our hearts open in joyful singing, even on bleary-eyed Sundays.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Lonely Day

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

Friday Five: Signs


This is a Friday Five from Sally over at Revgals:


She writes about a difficult week in Dowham Market, and yet in the sadness there have been signs of real hope. And so she asks us if we have seen signs of hope... signs of spring... in our lives or in our communities.

What have you seen/ heard this week that was a :

1. Sign of hope?

Two babies, both two months old, who were in church on Sunday. One was German American, and named "Ami." The other was Indian (From Delhi, I believe) and named Nathanael. A small sign of the more integrated future of our congregation? I hope.
Oh, also, and seeing the eagles in Red Wing.

2. An unexpected word of light in a dark place?

I have had 3 funerals in the last 2 weeks, and the senior pastor has had about the same. I walked into our Fireside Room last week, where our Prayer Shawl Knitters gather. As we sat and talked and knitted, one of them said they enjoyed my newsletter column that had just come out (it was all about signs of spring and signs of resurrection.) another one added that she enjoyed singing Holden Evening Prayer for Lent, and a third person said they had appreciated my last sermon. Then someone else said, "Aren't you glad you came in here?" I was. Receiving words of affirmation and appreciation when you are not expecting them or even needing them is very hopeful.



3. A sign of spring?

I heard birds start singing this week, even though the temperatures have again fallen to just about 0 degrees.



4. Challenging/ surprising?
Our church based community organizing group is really taking on Racial Justice as a goal and an issue this year. We are mostly a group of mostly white religious leaders, and I believe that this will be a challenge for us. One of our African American women leaders spoke to us about what it was like to be an African American in the United States. She told us that as people of privilege we can never really know what it is like for her. I believe her. Another leader (from South Africa) challenged us to consider what was really in it for us to work for racial justice.



5. Share a hope for the coming week/month/year....
I Hope to be able to get my own laptop computer sometime this year (I know, it's mundane). And I have a hope (or is it just wishful thinking?) to write creatively again: poetry, stories, etc. Perhaps in the next year?



Bonus play... a piece of music/ poem guaranteed to cheer you?

Dvorak's New World Symphony always cheers me up. I like to listen to it during Easter.


Also, this song:

Book Reviews #2, #3 and #4: Reading Challenge

I have more books that I've read that I'd like to tell you about:

1. God's Echo, by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, is a lovely and profound little book all about the ancient practice of interpreting scripture with midrash. Sasso shows us some of the rabbi's stories about some of the most famous stories in the Bible, interspersed with more contemporary stories, and some examples of how she has used midrash in her own life and in her congregation.

One of the stories in this book is the story of the binding of Isaac, and is called "What if the angels should come too late?" She writes:

Abraham Joshua Heschel, the renowned twentieth-century philosopher and rabbi, remembered being taught the story of Isaac's binding when he was a child. Upon hearing the angel tell Abraham not to lay a hand upon Isaac, Heschel began to weep. despite his teacher's reassurance that Isaac was saved, the young Heschel was not consoled. He asked, "But rabbi, supposing the angel had come a secon too late?" The rabbi explained that an angel can never come late. But Heschel concluded, "An angel cannot be late, but man, made of flesh and blood, may be."

She concludes the chapter with a meditation on the difference between wishing and hoping: "Wishing leaves the work up to someone else; it is passive; it asks nothing of us. Hoping demands that we make a commitment to work toward whateer it is we hope for." (p. 93).

2. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate Dicamillo, is an adventure story about a proud and hard-hearted china rabbit (Edward) who is thrown overboard during a sea voyage, and is found and loved by many people: an old woman and her husband, a hobo and his dog, a little boy and his sick sister. It's an exciting adventure story for children; but it has enough depth to please many adults. And of course, I couldn't help noticing the baptismal imagery involved in Edward's involuntary drowning.


3. A Three Dog Life, a memoir by Abigail Thomas. This is not a dog book, although it has dogs in it. It's a book by a woman whose husband was hit by a car and suffered a traumatic brain injury, about how she lived learned to live with this new reality, trying bring him home to live, visiting him in the nursing home, and dealing with his loss of memory and ability. She's a wonderful writer. One section of the book tells about how she became fascinated with "outsider art", which is art drawn by prisoners, patients, the mentally ill, illiterate: generally anyone not considered an "artist" by the arts community.


From the book: "...I was never consumed with a passion for any one thing until two years after my husband's accident when I walked through the halls of the Northeast Center for the first time and saw all those amazing painting. The art was made by the residents of the facility, and one painting in particular knocked me out. It was red houses and blue sky and orange hills and green grass and white clouds. In the upper right-hand corner, a yellow sun with a smiley face. I used to stand in front of this painting before I went upstairs to see my husband and then again before I went home because it cheered me up. After a couple of weeks I got up the nerve to ask if the artwork was for sale, and if so, could I please buy the painting above the drinking fountain." pp 141-42.
Again, full credit to Besomami for this idea.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Middle Name Meme -- at long last

Jiff and Katharine both tagged me for this meme quite some time ago. Now that the wedding the funeral, and Sunday and today's Lenten sermons are done, I have time...(a few minutes)

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

Top Ten Moments in the Race for "Pastor In Chief"



This is a little outside my regular kinds of postings, but I thought it was too important not to post. I found it on a site called Faith in Public Life.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Today is Scout's Birthday


If you have a chance, go over and wish her a Happy Birthday today.
This was taken the day we brought her home.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Sunday Sermon: A Visionary Man


John 9:1-41

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?
AMEN


The picture is from The Birders' Webring (thought someone might be interested)


P.S. At the 10:00 service, a couple from India worshiped with their two-month old son. They are not sure whether they will have his baptism here or in India. I asked his name. "Nathaniel," they said.
P.S.S. At the small 11:00 service, a couple worshipped with their two-month old son. They said his name was "Ami" (I think that I am remembering right.) An unusual name, I asked what did it mean? Eagle, they replied.

Saturday, March 1, 2008