Thursday, July 26, 2012

Loaves and Fishes and the Little Clown Car

I'll admit it, when I first read the gospel reading for this weekend, one of the first images that came to my mind was one of those little clown cars.  It's been a long time since I've been to a circus, but I still have a pretty vivid picture in my mind:  the tiny little cars, driving around in circles in the three-ring circus.  Then when the car stops, you know what happens:  the clowns start getting out, and they just keep getting out, and keep getting out, and keep getting out, and you start to wonder:  how could they all get crammed into that tiny little car?

So when I think of this familiar Bible story -- very familiar Bible story -- after all, it's in all four gospels, I think that way:  the bread and the fishes just keep coming out and being distributed, and where will it all end?  How could all of those loaves and fishes get into that one lunch bag?

Now I think this way because I have a picture, only in John, of the source of the loaves and the fishes.  Matthew Mark and Luke don't say anything about where the loaves and fishes come from, but John does:  Andrew comes to Jesus and says, there is a boy who has five barley loaves and two fishes.  So I imagine, for good or for ill, the boy with his bag lunch.  He's been carrying it around all day, which I really don't want to think about too hard.  But it's this boy -- I don't know his age -- it's this boy who comes forward with his bag lunch and like the clown car, the loaves and the fishes just keep coming out, and there were twelve baskets left over.

There was a boy ... just a small, but amazing detail in this story about the amazing abundance of God.  There was a boy... who offered up his crummy lunch and the loaves and the fishes just kept coming out.  Like the clown car.

But, there was more than one amazing thing that happened that day. It wasn't just the miracle of abundance, but it was the miracle of the boy, the boy who offered up his lunch.  Because there's so much that gets in the way of that in our lives.  When we look into the bag lunches we have, the bag lunches of our lives, it's easy to look into them and see five crummy loaves and two fishes and think, it's not much, it's not good enough, and I'm embarrassed to share it.  In fact, I want to keep it shut so people don't see what it is.  It's also easy to look at the small lunch and  the big need and say, 'it won't do any good, so I won't share it.'  During the school year I host a "bag lunch Bible study" here on Wednesdays.  We get together and eat lunch and we read the scripture lessons for the next Sunday.  And it has sometimes happened that I have forgotten my lunch for the "bag lunch Bible study", and I always find some generous soul who is willing to share his or her sandwich with me.  But to look out at 5,000 people and open your bag lunch and say, I would like to share this with you -- it takes a different kind of generosity, or imagination, or even foolishness, does it?  And then there's that niggling question that we can't help but ask, will there be anything left for me?  When you are looking out at 5,000 people, it's a natural question to ask.  There are so many things to keep that boy back from opening his bag lunch.

And yet, he did.  That's sort of a miracle, maybe a miracle of innocence or imagination, or foolishness.  But he opened the lunch bag.

But for us, maybe none of these things is the problem really.  Maybe what happens is that we look in our lunch bag and see  that there is nothing in there.  It looks totally empty to us.  and you can't multiply nothing.  it's just dark in there.

But you know, it's not true, because Jesus has given himself for us and the life of Jesus is in us.  The life of Jesus is in us, in us, even when we are empty.  especially when we are empty.  The life of Jesus is in there.  Looking for all the world like five barley loaves and two fish, or something else just as unassuming.

We sent the youth out on their mission trip early in the morning, very early, actually.  "Lord, make us instruments of your peace," we prayed.  And he will.  It may seem incredible, and it may seem foolish, but the love and grace and mercy, the bread of life will just keep coming out, will just keep coming out.

Like the little clown car, and by the grace of God, our lives are crammed full of God.  And the bread of life just keeps coming out, just keeps coming out, to show the world, to feed the world, with the abundance, the abundance of God.

Monday, July 23, 2012

"Blessed Saints" -- a funeral sermon for Harriet Wrolstad

I meant to post this back in April

I thought I knew Harriet Wrolstad pretty well:  she was one of the first people I met when I arrived here several years ago, and she didn't waste much time having me over to her house for coffee.  Perhaps it was because at the time, we were both single women; perhaps it was the fact that I had lived in Japan for a while.  Whatever it was, I thought I knew Harriet pretty well, but in these last few months I discovered something I hadn't known before, a devotional practice that she had:  every day she would always take the time, usually before she went to bed, to recite ten blessings.  I discovered this because Cathie made sure that I knew, so that I could do this with her when she was at the Augustana Home and at Mount Olivet Care Center.  Perhaps some of you who visited her also took the time to name ten blessings of the day.  I remember that she often named her friends and family -- and her birthday -- and her home -- among her chief blessings, although there was one time in December we had to give thanks for a Christmas present, a nice box of chocolates.

Today we are gathered to say goodbye to our sister in Christ, Harriet.  We are here to celebrate her life and to mourn her death, to name the blessings that came our way because she was in our life.  We are here to remember the promises of God for her, to give thanks for her presence with us, and to grieve her absence from us.  One of my favorite writers, Gerhard Frost, once said that to mourn for someone is to pay them a great compliment; it is to give meaning and significance to their life.  So, today, we say about Harriet, "You were an important person in my life.  I'm different because I knew you."

So today we give thanks:  of the pastor's daughter from Granite Falls who ended up traveling all over the world.  We give thanks for a sister, daughter, aunt godmother and friend respected businesswoman and volunteer. We give thanks for Harriet's work with the Ebenezer Auxiliary, where she insisted that they sing "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing," because of the line in verse 2 -- "Here I Raise My Ebenezer".  By the way, the word "Ebenezer", which always causes many people to wonder, means "stone of help," and is a story from the 1st book of Samuel.  It is a story of how the Israelites returned to God after a period of wandering, and how God gave them victory over their enemies, the Philistines.  To remember this victory, and God's help, the judge Samuel had the people set up a stone -- called Ebenezer -- to remind them of God's victory, God's faithfulness to them.   (There was a stone for each person who came to the luncheon.)

Today we give thanks for Harriet -- who would think to have a stone for each of us to carry back home with s today so that we can remember that God is faithful to us.  That was the teacher in her, I suppose, I didn't know this, but she did teach English for a few years before she started her long career at Northwest Airlines.  We give thanks for Harriet -- who valued education and wisdom, faith and learning, Norwegian and Lutheran heritage, family, friends, colleagues.  We give thanks for Harriet, who was generous, loyal and opinionated, and who let me know more than once that she valued smartness in a pastor more than she valued niceness.  We gives thanks for Harriet, who was faithful here in worship on Sunday morning and for Wednesday matins, and who counted her blessings.  We give thanks for Harriet -- who was proud of the fact that she was the only employee of Northwest Airlines to have stayed overnight in every city to which the airline flew.

She was part of the communion of saints throughout the world, but, unlike many of us, she got to experience a little bit of it, and she LOVED to tell stories about it.  And I think Harriet would say that she was blessed, not just blessed by world travel and opportunities, but blessed by friends and family -- and faith.  She was blessed to be able to I've in Granite FAlls and in Tokyo, she was blessed in large ways and in small ways.

***

To be blessed -- to be a saint -- it's the same thing:  did you know that?  So if you are ever at a loss to describe what a saint is, here's the absolute truth:  A saint is someone who is blessed.  It's why we tea the Beatitudes on All Saints Sunday.  Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are the merciful.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  Blessed... when Jesus first spoke these words, at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, some of them might have been a great shock to the people who heard them.  They would be thinking that you could tell those who were blessed by their material abundance, by the ease of their lives, by their success in worldly terms.  But Jesus spoke and began ty lifting up the poor in spirit.  I like how another translation puts it:  "Blessed are those who know they need God."  They are the saints.

Saints are the ones who knows they need God, who know they need the word of God, who know they need the promises of God in their lives.  Saints are the ones whose stomachs are growling for a good word from God, and who are thirsty for the water only God can give.

A long while ago I visited with an old woman from my congregation.  She was dying, and I came to give her communion.  This woman was mostly past speaking at this point.  She would fall asleep, and we would wake her up again.  We read scripture and said prayers.  And after communion, I raised my arms and I said the benediction,  "May the Lord bless you and keep you/ May the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you/ May the Lord look upon you with favor/And give you peace."  And this woman looked up at me with a twinkle in her eye, and she said, "he did!"  The Lord DID bless me and keep me all these years, she said.  The Lord had blessed her through the hard years of the depression, and even in the time of the death of one of her children.  The Lord had blessed her in times through times of scarcity and times of abundance.  The Lord had blessed her.

She was a saint.

She was part of the communion of saints -- and so was Harriet and so are you and me.  We are blessed. We are blessed not because of anything we have done and not because of anything we have accomplished, but because of God's goodness to us in Christ Jesus.  We are blessed whether we have traveled around the world or spent most of our lives in Granite Falls, because of Christ's victory over death for us.  We are blessed whether we are wise or foolish, in our grieving and in our joy.  We are blessed because Jesus came here, and walked among us, healing and forgiving and feeding us.  We are blessed because Jesus gave his body and blood for us.  We are blessed because he is our "Eben-ezer", or stone of help, forgiving us and giving us new life again and again.

We are blessed because we are here today, singing together and praying together (and later on, eating together) and because God has given us to one another.  And we are blessed because we will see one another again, when we gather at the throne of the Lamb, where our tears will be wiped away, where the table will be set, where God's arms will be open wide to us as they are open wide today to our sister Harriet.

Today, each day, we name ten blessings, the ones we can see:  a box of chocolate, Swedish meatballs, Norwegian coffee, faithful friends, a smooth stone, water.  Today we name ten blessings:  our homes, our families, our faith, the mercy of God.  But those are only the ones we can see with our eyes.  With the eyes of the heart, we can see many more, as the old Norwegian song so well expresses:

O Blessed saints, now take your rest;
a thousand times may you be blest.
For keeping faith firm unto death and scorning worldly trust
For now you live at home with God
and harvest seeds once cast abroad
in tears and sighs, See with new eyes
the pattern in the seed.
The myriad angels raise their song,
O saints, sing with that happy throng.
Lift up one voice, let heaven rejoice
to our redeemer's song.

Go with God Harriet Sophia.  May God's light ever surround you.

AMEN


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Just Sitting

This short piece will possibly be printed in our church newsletter

Thursday early in the evening found me sitting in the narthex, with some unexpected time on my hands.

It’s been a busy summer, and it was a busy day: after a great meeting with our stewardship committee, and lunch with our incoming Senior Pastor, Fred Hanson, I had a pretty productive afternoon, connecting with a few people, and getting both a wedding service and a funeral sermon completed. I headed out to my car to run home for a quick supper before I was to be back at the church.

Except, my car wouldn’t start.

I called my husband, who said, "Call AAA." So I did.

And I waited.

It seemed like a long time that I just sat there. I considered going back into my office, but decided not to. I decided to just sit for a little while.

Sometimes it’s what we need to do.

It’s a busy life, for all of us, actually. There are many things we can do, many things we need to do. But there are some things that we cannot do, that we cannot fix. There are some things that God is doing in our lives: forgiving us, guiding us, lifting us up, giving us new life. When we are busy, and when we are not busy, God is doing these things in us and all around us: forgiving, guiding, raising us up.

In the end, these are the most important things in life.

Watch for them.  Wait for them.  Give thanks for them.

And, once in awhile, just sit. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Some Haiku Prayers

I just started writing a few haiku prayers and posting them on Facebook.  My friend Lindy inspired me because she is having her students write haiku.

Tell me which one you like best.

God in the heavens
You are not in the heavens
You are in our hands.

***

Have mercy on us, Lord
Cup your hands around our pain
Breathe life in our clay

Raise us. We are dead.
Fix our wings. They are broken.
Make us walk, run, fly.

***

unravel me, God
then knit me back together
weave in thread of flame

***

I confess to you, Lord
my failure to see robins
hear their quiet song.

***

Lord, open my hands
Pour out streams of mercy
Let water run through

***

God of compassion
heal forgive, help, guide, raise up
Read between the lines

***

Cover me tonight
Sing soft songs of Your mercy
Sighs too deep for words.

Not enough for a book yet....

Friday, July 13, 2012

"Shall We Have a Prayer?"

It was a hard time.  I was not sure of a direction, and felt like my movement was blocked at every turn.  I felt like I had made many mistakes, and was not sure yet if they were fatal mistakes.  I wasn't sure if my gifts were valued, or even if my gifts were worth valuing.

It was a hard time.  I poured out my heart to a colleague.  I choked back tears.  He affirmed my doubts, but I felt his words of assurance were weak.  He couldn't tell me it would be all right.  Of course he couldn't.

After an awkward silence, when we both sense that the conversation was dangling, but over, for now, he ventured, "Shall we have a prayer?"

I was surprised by the vehemence of my response.

"No," I said, or, more accurately, choked it out.

No.

The thing is, I am all for prayer.  I usually suspect that we do not pray enough, rather than too much.  I think it would help a lot if we all (and not just pastors) got better at prayer, not necessarily more eloquent, just better.  I believe that prayer is powerful, more powerful than we know, that it can cause explosions, and that, even when it salves, perhaps it stings.  I am all for prayer.

So, I'm not exactly sure what it was.  It had something to do with my tears, I think, my own inability to speak.  For some reason I didn't want someone else putting words in my mouth, and perhaps saying a different prayer than I would say.  My own prayer was a lament, the Spirit's sighs too deep for words.

Perhaps I sensed that the prayer was an attempt to tie up the awkward loose ends in the conversation, to tie up the loose ends in my life then.  I knew I didn't want to hear some pious words about how everything would work out.

I am thinking about the fact that I said, "No," and what that might mean.   I pray for people fairly often.  I think that prayer is an act of courage, actually.  It takes a fair amount of courage to ask the question, "Shall we have a prayer?"  It takes courage to pray for someone, to pray with someone, to believe we can.  It takes courage, a combination of boldness and humility and listening.  A good prayer is weeping, and a good prayer can raise the dead.

But there are times, I think, we we want to pray to cover up our own fear, because there is an awkward silence and we don't know what to say.   And there are times our prayer of assurance might silence someone else's lament, because we don't want to hear it.  So how do we know which is which?

The one who prays tells the truth, the hard truth, the truth with frayed edges, the Truth that sometimes comes with sighs and silence.  

"Jesus wept."

"Lazarus, come out!"

"Shall we have a prayer?"




Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Journey, The Destination and the Journey

Yesterday we drove back from Waterton (but that's another story).  We are back in the place where we don't have to put our luggage in the car every day (which I like).

Yesterday morning, before we left, we took a scenic drive through winding roads and up into the mountains.  While I was looking around at scenery and remarking that it was pretty, but not what I expected, my husband said, "I  think this road goes to something.  We are not there yet."

(The night before we had just taken a little road into the mountains to try to see wildlife.  We drove a little while, and then turned around and went back.  We were not sure where that road led, if anywhere.)

So we kept driving for awhile, and sure enough, the road led to a clearing where there was a large parking area, and a beautiful canyon:  our destination.  We walked over to the top of the canyon, with jutting red rocks and a clear stream rushing over rocks below.  There were bridges and walking paths and a sign which read:  "Now that you are here, you are not at your destination yet.  There are several opportunities to experience the canyon."

Now we walked until we reached a waterfall, into the woods, along steep cliffs.  We passed people coming the other direction, including a couple from Germany.  The waterfall was not the largest i have ever seen, but up close, you could see the clear water running in crooked directions, and over rocks.  It looked a little like a twisty waterslide.

There is the journey, the destination, and the journey again.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now,
and ever shall be
world without end.  Amen.

The journey:  World without end.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Prayers from Vacation

Lord,
teach me to play.
I know how to work
to keep my head down
and make everything a duty
looking only straight ahead
like a horse with blinders on.
Teach me to play, to look around,
to veer off the path, to see mountains,
to imagine streams laughing,
to walk and leap and praise God
for you have made me free.
Teach me not just duty but delight
in all my life
Teach me to play
and that prayer and play
are not that far apart.
Amen

Lord,
I am up early, packing.
I am making lists
and looking under the bed
for the lost coin
and in the bathroom for the toothbrush.
I am counting t-shirts
and wondering if I am bringing enough.
I am packing my suitcase full.
Help me to leave space
for you to surprise me, help me,
whisper in my ear, or shout.
Help me to leave space.
Amen

Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier,
you have many names.
I have many names as well.
Some of them are true,
and some are not.
Sometimes I think I am my work,
and I am only who I am when I am doing
the work you gave me.
It is good work, Lord.
I love the ministry you gave me.
But here I am, resting,
playing, traveling.
Help me to see myself as you see me
and love myself as you love me:
not for what I accomplish
but for who I am:  child of God,
sister of Jesus,
friend of the Beloved
Amen


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Pastor on Vacation

I have been told that when you go on vacation, it's really important to get out of town.  And, for the most part, I have obeyed (though there was the time we went to Paris, came home and stayed holed up in our City, watching movies which featured Paris, and sneaking out for the occasional in-town excursion).

My husband loves to plan vacations.  Even though Mesa Verde was my idea (a long-dreamt dream), he made all of the arrangements.  As for me, as much as I love going places and seeing beautiful things, what really excites me at first is this:

time.

I always bring along more books than I can possibly read.
I bring paper and think I am going to write.  (sometimes I do, sometimes I don't)
I bring knitting.
I actually had the recorder out, wondering if I should bring it along and spend a little time practicing.  (I decided against it, at the last minute.)

Yesterday I took a really nice, un-planned nap.  Wow!, was that good.

On vacations, I like to learn things (I discovered that on the StrengthsFinder inventory, I am a "Learner", so that is no surprise.)   I think about things like learning the recorder, but actually, what I love is learning about a new place, like San Francisco, or Atlanta, or  Paris, or Santa Fe.

The tricky thing for me is that while I am taking a vacation from work, I realize that I'm not taking a vacation from God.  I think that this is one of the tricky things about being a sort of religious professional, at least it is for me:  how to not make my work so close to my identity that I can't just worship God without thinking about it in terms of work.  So, it's a growing edge sometimes to practice prayer and hear scripture without thinking about the next sermon.

so, there's time.

Time to read, knit, see in a different way, with different eyes.  And time to pray.