Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Christmas Program Prelude

For some reason, lately I have been thinking about the Christmas program in my first parish.  It was on Sunday morning on the third or fourth Sunday of Advent.  Sometimes the Sunday School teachers would ask me for advice about the program;  was there a theme or a script that I knew about?  Sometimes they had their own idea, and I had very little input, except to open and close with prayer.

What I am remembering right now, though, is not the program itself, but the prelude.  No one asked me about this either.  The Christmas program prelude was a tradition that had begun long before I arrived, and it would continue whether I approved of it or not.  No one was asking permission.

The regular organist did not play the prelude on that particular Sunday.  Instead, the prelude was played by any chidden who were taking music lessons and wanted to play.  They ranged in age from four to twelve, and were all ability levels.  Some children played Silent Night with one finger.  Some children played a recital piece.  They were mostly piano students, but there was occasionally a flute, or a violin.

I keep thinking about the Christmas Program Prelude, and contrasting it with the impressive music at some of the larger churches around.   But I wonder if there is room for the Christmas program prelude.

Every church has different strengths and different faults.  But some churches have a particular strength:  the ability to recognize the gifts of all ages, and even welcome them.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Searching for Christmas

"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas," was one of my songs, growing up.  My dad and I would sing it in the car, while we were going to get the Christmas tree.  We would drive along the snowy roads of suburban Minnesota, past twinkling lights and shopping malls, and we would sing "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas" with all of the gusto we gave to the sacred songs.

Back then, I thought I knew what Christmas looked like.  It looked like the creche in our living room, with the figures I loved to move around, so that I could tell the story.  It also looked like the snowflakes on the window, the ribbon candy and peanuts they gave us in Sunday School, the angel wings and haloes, the tinsel on the tree.  It looked like the eighth floor of the department store downtown where we bought each other presents.  It looked like the whole extended family gathered around the table, a tree full of presents.  It looked like the new clothes we wore to the Christmas eve service.  It looked like snow.  I was dreaming of a White Christmas, even while I was singing "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing."

This year I am serving a congregation in a different region of the country.  It doesn't look much like my conception of Christmas here.  Most of my Christmas decorations are still in Minnesota.  There is not room for a tree in my apartment.   I will not be surrounded by extended family this year; there will be no snow.  And I have caught myself wondering:  what does Christmas look like?

I would like to know it when I see it.

It is still Advent here, but not for long.  Soon people will be gathering to sing the carols and to hear the story, snow or not.  Some of them will be coming with extended family, reunited for the holiday.  Some will come alone.  Others may not come at all, will stay at home, wondering what Christmas looks like.  If the children aren't coming home, if there is no snow, if you don't have a festive meal with family, if you don't have a tree, if your Christmas this year doesn't look like the Christmases you remember:  What does Christmas look like?

I would like to know it when I see it.

So I am searching for Christmas right now, which is to say I am searching for a light in the darkness, the door that is open, the hand that will not let go.  I am searching for a pure note in the silence, tears of joy and grief, an unexpected gift, the word 'yes.'  I am searching for Christmas, by which I mean the smell of fresh hay, new babies and night air, the sound of whispers, the sight of snow, or a star, or a lightning bug.  The Word made flesh.  Where I am.  Not just memories.

I am searching for Christmas right now.  The Word made flesh.  Where I am.  Where you are.


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Advent Four

Today we lit all four advent candles, a complete circle.  At each service we had a family group come up and light the candles together, children and teens and parents taking turns, everyone making sure that everyone else had a chance.

We are getting near to Christmas Eve, but as for me, I somehow wish we could just keep on lighting candles every week, more and more.

Maybe we could make a wider circle, or maybe a long line of candles, lighting another one each week, each one taking a turn, making sure everyone got a chance.

That's one of the things that struck me this year.  In the groups that were lighting candles, they were careful that everyone would get a chance.  It wasn't a small thing.  It was a Big Deal.  A family came to light the candles and asked if their cousin who was visiting could help.  A mother and son asked if a disabled member of the congregation could help.  They wanted to make sure everyone who wanted a turn could take a turn.

There should be more candles, every week.  We should still go on lighting them, until everyone gets a chance.  After all, it is always Advent, in some ways; there are things we never stop waiting for.

At the first service today, when we lit all four candles, we had some trouble.  They were real candles, and the wicks had burned low, and we could not get all of the candles to light.  We tried and tried and tried, until the song was ended and there was this silence while we kept trying to pass the flame to the last two candles.

In the silence the congregation was standing and waiting.  We had finished singing the verse of O Come O Come Emmanuel.  Someone brilliant had lifted of the metal pieces off of the top of the last two candles, so that we could see the wick and light them.  And in the silence I thought that everyone let out a collective breath.

It was all right.  The circle was complete, for today.  Everyone got a chance.

But still we wait.  Even after Christmas, there will be waiting.  There will be waiting for peace.  There will be waiting for love.  There will be waiting for an answer, for healing, for the footsteps of someone coming home.  There will be waiting for your chance, for someone to hand you the fire, so that you can light the candle.

Someday everyone will have a chance.  Everyone will get their turn.  Everyone will be recognized for their created beauty.

In the meantime, make the circle wider, and let us keep lighting candles in the dark.

And the word became flesh, and dwelt among us.
Full of grace and truth.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Rain, Mud, Light

Sometimes I have to remind myself that rain is just rain.  I got here not long after the Great Rains which flooded Houston and made me rethink my plans to move several states away.  There have been some serious rains since then, the kind where you have permission to stay home and read books and watch old movies.  But sometimes, it's just rain.

So I was invited to the 80th birthday party of a member of my congregation yesterday.  It was in an area of town I am not familiar with yet.  But, I have GPS, right?  No problem.  I also noticed that it was supposed to rain.  Actually, it was supposed to rain quite a lot.  But, it was just rain.

So I went to the birthday party, where I was greeted very warmly by the family and introduced as the new pastor, and given appetizers.  Several other members of the congregation were also there.  It was quite a celebration, and quite a crowd, although a bit soggier than they had hoped.  There was a tent in back yard, and we were out there when it was dripping, and then turned into a downpour, and just kept on raining.

We all crammed into the house for the main course and dessert, for a birthday toast and for more conversations.  And it just kept on raining.  But, it was just rain.

I may not have mentioned that people were parked all over in the yard.  There was not enough room in the driveway.

At some point, I thought it might be good if I went home.  I still had a couple of things to do to get ready for the Sunday services.  I heard some mumbling about some people being stuck.  I got worried.

There was a crowd of people outside.  They had flashlights.  There were cars stuck in more than one place in the yard and the driveway.  They were together working on strategies to get the cars out of the mud.  Some of the strategies were wet, and muddy.  But people were working together, to get each other out of the mud, to get unstuck, to get home.

It was still raining.

I noticed that I was parked on the grass.  So I checked to see if I was stuck and found out that I could get my car off the grass.  There was a little issue of where I would go after that.  The party's hostess volunteered that her son could lead me with his flashlight, so I would know where I could drive and where I could not drive.

That's what he did, standing in the rain, getting sopping wet.  He walked right in front of my car, showing me just where to go and where to avoid, where the narrow path was that I needed to drive on, and where I would be on solid ground.

It is Advent, and suddenly I think about the promise that God will come.  I don't know why it is that I think it.  Maybe it's the dark night, or the figure with the light, walking ahead of me.  Maybe it's the mud, and all of the people getting stuck, that makes me think of God's humanity, the incarnation.  God came here to share all of it:  the mud, the rain, the icy cold, the darkness and the danger.  God came here to share all of it:  the fear of being lost, the pain of loneliness, of sorrow, of death:  and to redeem it.

It is Advent, and in the dark, muddy, rainy night all I can think of is Emmanuel.

God is with us.

Monday, December 7, 2015

A Culture of Grace

Names are important, I believe.  When I first learned, in junior high Latin class, that my name was also that of a Roman goddess (the goddess of the moon and the hunt, I was told), it had a positive effect on my self-esteem.  At least temporarily.  Some people are named on purpose, after parents and beloved grandparents, after screen stars and presidents.  Perhaps there are hopes involved.  Perhaps this child will be like grandpa Joe, or grandma Ellen; perhaps this child will be President someday, or swing a bat, or sing arias.

Names are important, I believe.  I love the name of my church:  Grace.  In fact, I think it is fair to say that I came here, at least in part, because they were a church named "Grace."   There were other reasons, of course:  they have an amazing pre-school, for one thing.  They love to study and said that they were hungry to learn more about God and faith.  They worship in different varieties.  They actually began a homeless ministry in their county.

And their name is "Grace".  Names are important.  When they were doing strategic planning, they had the name of their church listed as one of their strengths.  Because I believe that grace is the heart and the root of our faith, it is the one thing that we most have to share with the world, but it is somehow notoriously difficult to get ahold of.

What is grace?  What does it look like?  What would it be like to actually practice grace, the grace of God?

I have been thinking about this lately, because I am thinking about culture and strategy, strategy and culture.  Pretty soon, we will start developing a strategy:  where do we want to go, and how do we want to get there?  What will be the steps along the way?  And I can't shake the idea that the name of my congregation is "Grace", and that this name is a strength.  But what does it look like?  And what does it tell us?

Maybe the question before strategy is this one:  who are we, and who do we  WANT to be?  Are we gracious?  Do we want to grow in grace, and in graciousness?  What does that even look like?  Is it just 'being nice'?  Is it biting your tongue and remaining silent?

What does grace look like, in a community of faith?

I can't help thinking about something Nadia Bolz-Weber said, about her church, "House of All Sinners and Saints."  She says to every group who wants to join, that there will be a point where the church, or someone in the church, will hurt them, or disappoint them.  Or, there will be a point when you will be the one who hurts or disappoints someone else.  At that point, she says, please do not walk away and leave.  Because if you do, you will miss the grace of God, the power of forgiveness and reconciliation.

That's what she said, or something like it.  And I thought -- this is true, but it is so hard.  There are times when it is true, we need to walk away.  But there are other times, times when someone has disappointed us, or we have disappointed someone else.  There are times when we have hurt one another, but instead of turning away, we have said:  "I'm sorry."  "I forgive you."

And that is Grace.

It is:  I don't agree with you, but you are my sister, and I love you.
It is:  You have hurt me, but I forgive you, and I still want to serve God together.
It is:  I have screwed up and failed and crashed and burned, and you have given me another chance.

Is that who we are?  Is that who we want to be?

Names are important.

I believe.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Watching, At Advent, and at Other Times

Today is the second day of Advent.  It is also my day off, so I slept in a little bit and waited until the dog was good and ready before we went out for our walk together.

It wasn't raining, but it seemed a bit gloomy.  It was cloudy and cold and wet on the ground.  The sun wasn't even trying, I thought.    The dog wanted to go in a different direction than she usually does.  Without thinking, I went that way too.

Back home, it's snowing like crazy.  That's what I heard.  But it is not snowing here.  It does not snow here.  But truthfully, I wasn't thinking about that.  I wasn't really thinking about anything really.  I was just going where the dog was leading me, letting her stop and sniff and go where she wanted to go, within reason.

At some point the dog looked back behind us.  There was a woman standing on the sidewalk, looking toward the other side of the road, to a spot where there was some open land.  She had her phone out, and smiled when I glanced at her.  We both stopped for a moment and then kept walking.  I didn't think much about it.  We were on a mission, and that mission was to keep going and then turn around and walk back in the other direction.

We did that.  We walked a bit farther and then turned around, and walked back.  But, for some reason, when I got to the place where the woman had stopped, I stopped for a moment, and I looked across the road, where she had been looking.

It was then that I saw them.  At least four large deer, off in the distance, on the other side of the road.   One of them actually stood up on its hind legs for a moment.

The dog and I crossed the street, so we could get a better look.  I stood there for a moment, watching them and counting them.  I wondered if one of them would stand on his hind legs again.

After a few minutes we went back home.

I don't know what it is about seeing these unexpected living beings, almost in my back yard.  They are not rare, really.  I used to see them more often, but I have not lately.  I always used to see them in the same place, so that's where I looked.  Until I stopped looking.

Today I was reminded to be vigilant.  It was a stranger who reminded me, simply by her presence, by the fact that she was watching, that she noticed something that I did not see.

Today I was reminded that life is not always in the place we are looking, not always where we expect.  The Angel Gabriel will come to the old man in the temple, to the barren woman, to the unsuspecting virgin.  The conqueror will be a baby, and will be found in a manger.

It seems that this is something congregations need to learn, again and again.  I know it is something that I need to learn -- to learn to look in unexpected places, to to believe that God is leading us, and that we will be surprised.  To be vigilant.

It is the second day of Advent.  I went for a walk with the dog, and saw the deer, even up on its hind legs, rejoicing.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The First Day of Advent

It was the first day of Advent today, in my new congregation.  There were shades of blue everywhere, some deep, some aqua, and there were pink and blue candles, and I chanted the liturgy.  In some ways, the sense that it is advent again is comforting for me.  It is advent, and there is a deep resonance of familiarity, like opening the door and seeing an old friend.

So much is different this year.  I am in a different state.  It is raining, not snowing.  I am in a different sanctuary, one with a balcony up to the choir.  The rhythms of the contemporary service are different as well, with some songs I know well and some that are new to me.  We are all learning, including me.

It was the first day of Advent today, in my new congregation.   It still feels new, to me, and perhaps, to them, as well.

For some reason it seemed like a good idea to use the stories of Luke, chapter 1, for the preaching texts this month.  It's not what the lectionary says that I should do, and I know that the lectionary is wise.  But I have always loved the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, and how Zechariah was struck dumb when he didn't believe the Angel Gabriel's message.  All of Luke 1 is about being pregnant -- being pregnant with hope, bearing God into the world.

I want my congregation to be pregnant with hope, to believe that they are bearers of God to a weary world.

I tried something new today:  well, two things, really.  They were not my ideas, actually.  We gave out crocus bulbs to everyone in church today.  I told them to plant them in a pot, or in the ground, and wait, and watch, and hope.  Besides lighting candles, it is something we can do at Advent.

The other thing we did was make a bookmark.  The bookmark had a word on it:  Expecting.  On one side of the bookmark was a definition of the word "Expecting."  On the other side of the bookmark was a short prayer.

Next week's word is "Trusting".  In case you are curious.

It was the first day of Advent today, in my new congregation.  And I am so busy doing things, and I heard the message that it is God who is doing a new thing -- in us, and in me.  I am so busy trying to figure out what the next right thing might be, and I heard that it is God who is bringing new life to us, and in us.

There was a baptism this morning.  A little boy was splashed with water and the word, received the burning candle.  "Let your light shine," we told him.

Light your candle.  Bury the crocus bulbs.  Walk in the rain, or the snow, and pray, and do the next thing, and find out if it is right, or not.

Ask for forgiveness.  Start again.  Open your hands.  Rest.  Play.  Sing.

God is making all things new.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

What to Pray For

For snow, rain or sunshine.
travelers, pilgrims, wanderers.
For the smallest blade of grass,
the widest canyon's chasm
and the river that cuts it.
The spaces between people.
For peace.


For the breath you hold.
For breath.
For the silence when you yearn to hear your name.
Your name.
For the flower, that it not be crushed.
The bruised reed, that it not be broken.

For the song not to end
the last pure note to go on and on
until the last outcast hears it
and arrives for the feast.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Using your Weaknesses

I went to a workshop for women in leadership last week, driving to another new area of town for the opportunity to receive encouragement, support and the opportunity for growth.  I will admit to feeling isolated at times in this new state.  It was healing to be together and to meet new people.

In preparation for the workshop, we all had to take an inventory that would help us to be aware of our particular leadership strengths and weaknesses.  (Some people call weaknesses, 'growing edges', I suppose in order to avoid using the word 'weakness.')  I was fascinated to learn in what categories I am strong, and a little disheartening to see that one of my particular 'growing edges' was in "Risk-Taking."

But I knew that.

Maybe it's even in my DNA.  I remember being terrified to get on my first bicycle.  It seemed way too tall for me, and there were no training wheels.  So it sat there, in our garage, until my sister finally learned how to ride it.  It took a long time, but I finally got up the courage to confess to a friend of mine that I didn't know how to ride a bicycle, and to ask for her help.  She had a little bike, and we took secret practice rides every day for a week, until I finally got up the courage to try the big one again.

I have never secretly yearned to jump out of an airplane, never gone hang-gliding, and have not gone wilderness camping.  I do not jump into new experiences eagerly.  I have perfectionist tendencies and I fear failure, even though I know it is necessary.  It's a bad combination, I know.

So, I looked at the results of the inventory and my heart sort-of sank, but I also was not surprised.  I am risk-averse.  I like to be safe.  I don't like driving unknown places (something I have been doing a lot, during the past few months).  I don't like it when the 'check engine' light comes on in the car.  I don't like it when I am unsure of the outcome of my endeavors, which is more of the time than I want to admit.  I don't like being very far out of my comfort zone.

I confessed to one of my colleagues my risk-averse nature.  She laughed and said "risk-taking" was her highest score.  I tried to think of some small risks that I could practice taking, so that I could get better at it.

And then I thought this:  I'll bet my congregation is sort of risk-averse too.  It's possible.

One strategy is to get a really courageous, risk-taking pastor in here to jump out ahead of them and show them how it's done.  That could work.

But another strategy could be to use my weakness:  to say, "I'm not very good at this either.  So let's start practicing together."  I'm thinking about this possibility, that there might be times when it is actually a good thing to use your weakness, that it could even be a strategy.

Sometimes.

It's funny.  When I think back again, to my risk-averse childhood, there is one place where I was not risk-averse:  in the water.  I'm not a great swimmer, but I have always loved the water, ever since I was little and I first learned to float.  Every year at church camp, I pushed myself to swim the maximum number of laps so that I could be allowed to swim out to the middle of the lake.  I learned to jump in and make a splash, to do a simple dive, and loved to play in the water.   For some reason, I was not afraid, like I was in so much of the rest of my life.

So, as of today, I have two strategies:

Use my weaknesses.
And get a bigger baptismal font.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Only One

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to breakfast with a few other pastors from my community.  It was an ecumenical group, although no one said the word "ecumenical."  I was invited by one of the parents at my congregation's pre-school, a Catholic who love our school and thinks it is awesome.  He has been the instigator of a community "Faith Fest" for the last few years.  There is music and other Texas-style entertainment.  Our school has been responsible for "children's activities."  All of the proceeds of the "Faith Fest" go to support local ministries and charities.

All of the pastors invited are involved in some way or another in upcoming Faith Fest.  There were two from Baptist churches, two from a couple of non denominational churches, and the priest from the large local Catholic parish.  And me.

Did I mention as well that I was the only woman in the group?

For some reason, I was a little nervous about going to the breakfast.  I am not sure why.  I have been doing this pastoring gig for a fair number of years now.  In my defense, I will say that I am new to this particular state, Texas.  There are a few things that are different here.  For example, there are no Cowboy Churches in Minnesota.

The man who organized this event said that the year he started it, he was sitting at a table with a Baptist pastor, a Lutheran pastor and his priest, and he realized that in many different circumstances these Christians would not be sitting at a table with one another.  They probably disagreed about many things, if you got right down to it.  But they were coming together for something greater than the things they disagreed with.

This year, he wanted to make sure I would come.  I would be the Only Woman Pastor at the table.

So I showed up, Minnesota accent and all.  We talked about what was going well in our ministries.  One of the churches was in transition, waiting for a new senior pastor.  Another one was embarking on a building project.  We all talked a little bit about wanting to have a positive impact on people's lives.   That's what it's all about, right?  It's about Jesus, and loving people.  I said I might want to visit a Cowboy Church sometime on a Monday night, just to see what it was like.

A couple of weeks ago I was sitting around a table with some pastors from other faith traditions.  We probably disagree about a lot of things, some of them important.  I am not so naive that I believe that every one of those men thinks my calling is legitimate.  But, for that hour, we didn't talk about those things.   We just prayed, and talked about Jesus, and loving people.

Maybe, for the first breakfast, that was enough.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Song You Are Teaching Me

Every week, on Sunday morning, I lead two worship services.  And every week, on Wednesday morning, I also lead a worship service -- for about 100 pre-school students, who line up and walk over from the building next door.

I'll admit, when I first considered this responsibility, I paused.  I was excited to be interacting with the children, but I thought I could only remember one children's song, "Jesus Loves Me."  What was I going to do with 100 pre-school students?

A little later, I remembered that I knew a couple of other children's songs.  We could also sing, "This LIttle Light of Mine" and "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands."  And I realized that we could pray.  We pray together every week.  And we tell Bible stories, and sometimes we try to acts things out, although that is, frankly, a work in progress.

One night, I was wishing I knew or remembered a few more children's songs, and I googled a verse I thought I had heard the children singing.  I listened to it a couple of times, determined to add it to my repertoire.

On Wednesday we tried it.  I told them I had heard this song, and I hoped they would help me learn it.  As soon as I started to sing, they sang out loudly -- and they knew hand motions, too.

So now, when we sing it, I refer to it as "The Song You are Teaching Me."  I am getting pretty good at it now, although I sometimes still mess up the hand motions.  I can't help wondering if there are a couple more songs that they could teach me, songs that they know, but I don't, songs that aren't "Jesus Loves Me" or "Deep and Wide" or "I've Got Peace Like a River."  I have discovered that I know more songs than I thought I did, but they probably know some songs that I don't know.

It's true in more ways than one, I suppose.  I stand up in church on Sunday, and I lead the singing, and I think that is what I am called to do.  I am the leader.  I am called to lead the singing, and to teach some new songs, too.  I am called to help my congregation sing new songs and see new possibilities, and discover what God is doing among us and in us.   That's what I think, most of the time.

But then, for a moment, I think of the children, and I wonder -- what is the new song they are teaching me?  They know songs that I have never heard of, or learned.

Every week, on Sunday morning, and also during the week, I am now training my ears to listen:  for a new song, for possibilities, for the things I never knew, for melodies and harmonies.  Every week, I am asking the question, "What is the song they are teaching me?"

I am convinced that is why God called me here.  To learn a new song.

With hand motions.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Another Word for Stewardship

Sometimes I think there should be another word for "Stewardship".  It's always been the word we have used to describe the annual emphasis (usually in the fall) on giving financially usually to your local congregation.  Of course, in seminary, we learned that "stewardship" means something else -- it means taking care of something that belongs to Someone Else.  But still…..

We had the stewardship emphasis this past month, and we we did emphasize stewardship as taking care of the things that belong to God.  We did not emphasize our budget, but we prayed and we talked about giving and generosity, and how everything we have -- including our money -- really belongs to God.  We talked about giving as a spiritual discipline, like prayer.  And we planned a special Sunday -- today -- where we would have great music with the organ and the piano and guitar and choir, where we would receive our intentions and then celebrate with a special wonderful luncheon together.  But still…

I was talking with someone at the church during the week, about how we were planning this great event, with great music and great preaching and great food, and how I hoped a lot of people were able to come, and the person turned to me with great honesty and said, "Well, and then there are those who will intentionally stay away."

And even though I felt sad, I understood.  Part of it is that no one wants to talk about money, and there's nothing you can do about that.  And the word "stewardship" has this meaning that has connotations about being guilted and shaken down and provoked to "give more" to this institution that pays salaries and has to fix its building.  And then we get some money but it never seems like enough, so a feeling of failure pervades us.  But still….

Maybe we need a different word, one that somehow brings to our imagination all of the things we can do together, when we pool the resources that God has entrusted us with.  Maybe we need a different word, a word that brings to our imaginations the mission of God and all of the resources that God has given us, so that we can share it.  Maybe we need a different word, a word that makes us excited for the feast that we will share and the songs that we will sing, and the gifts that we will open -- gifts that we have given to one another.

Maybe we need another word, but what would it be?

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

"Holding on, Loosely" -- a sermon on Generosity, for All Saints Day

John 11/Psalm 24


            Today is All Saints Day – and I can’t help thinking that every one of us has at least one person we are remembering today 
            -- at least one person for whom we will light a candle, at least one person for whom we give thanks because they were ‘saints'  for us
            – they let the light of God’s love shine through them in some way or another. 
            Today is All Saints Day – a day when it has become our custom to name those who have died in the past year – and also to light candles for others who we remember, who we call saints. 

            Saints.  No matter how many times I say it, it still seems odd, at least I some ways. 
            Because we associate the word ‘saint’ with those extraordinary heroes of the faith.  “I’m not a saint!”  Are you a saint?
             It can be a problem, this word.  What is a saint, anyway?  

            Whatever you think, today is a day to remember people in our lives that have been gifts to us, in one way or another. 
            We call them ‘saints.’ 
            But what is it about them that makes them a saint…. I have been thinking about that this week, and I have been thinking about my dad.             
He is one of my saints, even though he would also be someone who would claim, “I’m not a saint!” 
            He is one of my saints, because his life is a gift for which I give thanks, because he taught me so much:  about faith, about love, about holding on, loosely.   
            He loved to laugh, to tell jokes, and to sing, even though he didn’t know all of the words. 
            His favorite Bible passage, he liked to tell me, was from John 11:  “Jesus wept.”
             He said it with a twinkle in his eye. 
            Not only did this verse say a lot about Jesus – but it also was short and easy to remember.  My dad.
             He used to stand next to me in church, singing with strong baritone, helping me find my place so that I could sing along.  My dad.      He and my mom told us Bible stories, and taught how to pray.        Except that my dad had a special way of teaching us. 
            He would sit down at the edge of our beds, and he would talk to us in this creaky old voice, and say, “I am Methusalah, the world’s oldest man.” 
            He would claim to know Abraham and Moses and David.
             But he was sooo old that he would forget or fall asleep during the Lord’s prayer, so that we had to supply the missing words.  My dad. 
            “I’m not a saint,” he would probably say.  He belonged to God, and the light of God shined through him.

            You might wonder, on this day, why we are reading Psalm 24.        John 11 makes sense.
             It is about the hope we have as Christians, what makes us saints.  But why are we reading from Psalm 24 as well? 
            Probably it is assigned for All Saints Day because of the verse about having clean hands and pure hearts, but I can’t help noticing the verse first verses today. 
            They are good verses for All Saints Day too.
             “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it.” 
            Everything belongs to God – and we belong to God too. 
            We come from God, and we go back from God.
             In the middle – is the gift.  We are gifts to one another. 
            We are gifts to God, too.  Hold your life, loosely.
             My dad did that.  He took Jesus very seriously.  Himself – not so much. 

            When I first learned that we would be in the middle of our stewardship campaign on All Saints Day, I worried. 
            I didn’t’ want something like “Stewardship” to get in the way of remembering the saints and giving thanks for their lives.
             I didn’t want something like money getting in the way of talking about saints as those who trust Jesus and hold their lives loosely. 
            But the more I thought about it, the more I had to wonder why.     What is it about money that makes me want to avoid the subject?            Is it because I have to admit that there are times when I have been good at giving – but there have also been times when I have been bad at giving?
             Is it because I know that money is a touchy subject for all of us, including me?
             I almost have an easier time confessing when I haven’t been so good at prayer – than I do my failures in financial stewardship.

            But you see -- giving – whether money or time or talent – but we are talking about money right now – is a spiritual discipline, like prayer.  We don’t do it so that God will love us more – God couldn’t possibly love us more than God already does. 
            We don’t do it because we have to – but we do it – we give – because God already holds our lives so tightly, because God weeps with us, and rejoices over us, and when we give – we are able to hold our lives a little more loosely. 
             And the two things – that are important in the spiritual discipline called giving are that we give regularly,  and that we give proportionately. 
            We give regularly so that it becomes a habit.  We just get used to it. 
            We get used to it in the same way as we get used to opening our hands and receiving the bread and wine for communion:  Jesus’ life and forgiveness, for us. 
            We get used to it in the same way we get used to folding our hands and bowing  our heads in prayer.   And when we get used to it… it gets down into us, so that, when a young man who grew up in this church got a bonus from his company recently, the first thing he thought of was to share a portion of it with his faith community.

            The second discipline involved in giving is that it be proportional – that is we give according to what we have, not what we don’t have.
             I know a woman who was very intentional about giving more – because she knew her congregation – her church family – well enough – and loved them well know -- to know that she could do it while others  – could not. 
            She gave proportionately, according to what she had.

            And the third discipline – did I say there were only two? 
            The third is joy.  Give joyfully. 
            Because your names are written in the book of life. 
            Because God holds your life so tightly.
             Because the whole world, and everything in it, belongs to God.  Because life, in all its terror and all its beauty, is a gift. 
            Because you get to hold babies, to wade in oceans, to break bread, to sing, to hear the stories of your parents, your children, your grandchildren.
            Because this is your church family – because we belong to one another --
             Because the sign of the cross is marked on your forehead.    Because Jesus wept, and rose from the dead. 
            And because God promises – that God will take your life – your whole life – every single part of you, including your finances – and used it to proclaim the glory of God. 
            And the light of Christ will shine through you – through us – as a congregation. 

            Give regularly.  Give proportionately.  Give joyfully.  Joyfully.

            I can’t help thinking today as I am remembering – there was this time I was a young adult, and I was just out of the nest.  And this terrible (I thought it was terrible) thing happened one night.
             It was dark, and I was trying to lock my car out on the street, and the key got stuck in the lock. 
            And I pulled and I pulled and I pulled and the key broke in there.  I went up to my apartment and I called my dad.
             What else could I do?  I explained my dilemma and said I didn’t know if I could afford a locksmith. 
            And he said, ‘Oh, don’t worry.  I’ll give you money.”  And I said, ‘Dad, you don’t have any money.” 
            And he laughed and said, “Oh yeah, that’s right.” 
            I was so depressed.  And I thought it was the end of the world.
            And my dad made me laugh.   

            He was willing to give me what he had – and what he didn’t have.  And he would do it joyfully – -- and sacrificially --because he loved me.     He held his life loosely. 
            But he held mine tightly. 
            Who do you love – that much?

            Hold your life, loosely.
            It’s the only way you can ever hold it, anyway.
            That’s what so many of the saints have taught me -- by the way the lived, by the way they died – by how they gave.
            Their lives belong to God.
            And the light of Christ still shines in them.

            AMEN

           
                            

Monday, October 26, 2015

Why I Have A Clergy Coach

I am just a few months into a new call (my third, but who's counting).  I have also moved to a new community in a new state.  In the location to which I have been called, I learned that it is possible to apply for a clergy coach, so I did.

I do have a number of years in ministry under my belt, and a fair amount of experience.  So, why get a coach?  Why would I need a clergy coach?  Isn't it a sign of weakness, admitting that I might possibly need help?

1.  Ministry is hard.  I think that every single one of us needs all the help we can get.  Though I have a church full of people who are pretty invested in my success, it is great to have people outside my parish who are also praying for me, and who care about me as a person and a pastor.  Ministry can also be painful.  Besides the thrill of new experiences and successes, there is also the loneliness of being in a new place, and the pain of experiments that crash and burn.  At these times, it is good to have outside resources who will give a different perspective, and who will help me get back up and do it all again.

2.  It is a Defense against Isolation.  Ministry can be a lonely profession.  There are not many people that it is appropriate to confide in, to test perceptions, and with whom I can process what I am thinking about.  I also think that pastors sometimes get caught in the trap of thinking they are supposed to be "the resident expert."  No one is an expert on everything, and I hope that my coach will help me remember that, be another source of wisdom, and also remind me that i have other sources of wisdom and experience around me, if I can be humble enough and curious enough to ask.

3.  Good leaders are not just born; they are made.  You can be the most awesome natural musician and still have to put in 8 hours a day of practice in order to hone your craft.  You can have natural gifts for writing or cooking or gymnastics, but still have to study, to try different recipes, to stretch your legs and your skills.

4.  I Want to Build on My Strengths.  One thing I have learned:  I'm always tempted to try to improve in the areas of my weakness rather than recognize and build on the places where I am strong.  A good leader plays to her strengths.  My coach knows this.

5.  I Don't Want to Stop Growing.  I want to invest in my own leadership.  I love learning, and I want to be intentional about adding new tools and growing in leadership skills, not thinking that I know it all or have learned everything I need to know.  A clergy coach will help me to learn by practice and encouraging me to stretch myself, to develop new habits instead of staying safe.

What are some other reasons a seasoned pastor can benefit from a clergy coach?  What would you add?

Friday, October 23, 2015

Stopping in at the Pre-School

I stopped in at the pre-school this afternoon.  It is right across from my church, and 'relating to the pre-school' was actually in my letter of call.  So, once a week, I lead a brief chapel service for one hundred or so pre-schoolers, and, lately, I have been stopping by for a half an hour or an hour, just dropping in on a couple of classes to see what they are doing.

At first, when I tried to stop over, I discovered it was nap-time, so I resolved to try a different time.  Today I stopped in late in the day, late in the week.  Everything was winding down for the weekend.

When I peeked in one classroom, the children were singing.  Their song was vaguely familiar.

As it turned out, they were learned to sing "Silent Night" in Spanish.  I stayed and listened, and resolved that I should learn Silent Night in Spanish too.  It seemed like a good idea.

After the singing was over, a small group of boys asked me to stay and play with them.  They got out a box of interlocking tubes, a toy that didn't exist when I was growing up.  The point is to put the tubes together in intricate designs and send marbles down along the tubes.  None of us was that good at putting together the tubes together, and at the end, we were just playing with the marbles.

I learned the boys' names, and that they were all four (although one of them claimed to be ten).

After awhile I ventured down to the kindergarten classroom.  That class looked pretty laid-back.  They were resting, and there was some down time to talk.  In a little while they were going to start watching a movie, but for a few minutes, we got to hang out.  They all wanted me to know when their birthdays were.  One little girl said she intended to invite me to her party.  I also learned their names and a few things they liked, especially their favorite colors.

I am not sure exactly what I am doing, stopping in at the pre-school.  It is not writing a sermon, or visiting a shut-in, or planning a worship service.  It is not visiting the superintendent of schools, or the mayor, or the chamber of commerce.  It is not strategic planning for the future.  It is just learning names and birthdays, and favorite colors, and building a tube.  I do not know what good I am doing, just that I am getting down on the floor, and then being all creaky when I stand up.

But "relating to the pre-school" is in my letter of call, so I have permission to do it.  I have permission to put down the heavy burdens of ministry for awhile, and play.  I have permission to take a break from dealing with grief and sorrow, to take a break from deep thoughts and difficult situations and the Future of the Church.  I have permission to sit on the floor, and sing songs and play with toys, and enter the Kingdom of God, where the Holy Spirit plays, and helps me remember who I am.

There are many things to do, but there is just one thing to be:  child of God.  There are many things to do, but one identity to nurture, and one name to become.  In everything we do, in every life we touch, in every mission of service or love or justice, there is just one strategy:  to learn the names.  To tell the names.  To tell them they are beloved.  To set them free to play.

Monday, October 19, 2015

What Makes Worship Good?

I don't know if it is just my particular neurosis, or if others share it, but I spend at least some part of every Saturday feeling unsettled.  I am thinking about Sunday worship, not only my words,  but the flow of the liturgy, how it all goes together, how it will be when we come together.  I pray over what I have prepared, but wonder about it.  Even if my sermon is all finished on Friday and my Saturday is relatively free, I still feel a little unsettled, thinking about it.

So, Sunday after church, and after the new member class, I thought:

Worship was good.

Just three words, nothing earth-shaking, no angel-choirs or trumpets, no big surprises.  But it made me wonder why I thought so.  What makes worship good?

It may be different for you, but here is what it was for me:

1.  There were generations present in church.  There was the college student and her mom, the two young girls in the front row.  There was a grandfather and his two grandchildren (and their parents too).    There was the matriarch of the church and one of our pre-school students.   There was an engaged couple, single parents, empty-nesters.  There were prospective members and visitors, too.  To me, it is not how many people are in church, but whether there are generations present that makes a difference.  It was enough.  It was good.

2.  I heard people singing together.  It might have been a hymn, or maybe it was a song, but I could hear the people singing out, and that made worship good.  It was a hymn they knew, believed, a song that made them want to sing at the top of their lungs.   Singing is at the heart of communal worship for me.  Sometimes, I will confess, it seems like we are losing the ability to sing together.  We don't know the same songs any more.  We don't all know the beat.  On Sunday, I heard my community singing.  And it was very good.

3.  I heard someone speak from the heart.  It was the beginning of our stewardship emphasis, and one of our members spoke at both services about her commitment to her congregation, and, more than that, about her love for her Lord.  She spoke her own words.  No one gave them to her.  She spoke about the places she services, and why.  She spoke about the grace that makes her open her hands to give.  And it was good.

4.  The Holy Spirit was there.  Every week, this is true, whether I feel it or not.  The Holy Spirit comes with each Spirit-filled child of God present.  I have an old CD by the Blind Boys of Alabama.  The title is "I Brought Him With Me."  In other words, I didn't come here to find God -- I brought God here with me, and because of that, this place is filled with the spirit of God.  The church is holy because God's holy people, saints and sinners, are present.

Other things make worship good for me as well, I'll admit:  when a line of a song moves me to tears, when I see someone I haven't seen in a long time, when we take a risk together, do something new, learn a new gesture, ask a question.  These things make worship good for me.  They make me think:  we are learning to trust God more, and trust each other.

What makes worship 'good' for you?


Monday, October 12, 2015

Changing Directions

This morning I opened my door expecting a fresh breeze.  Instead it felt a little muggier than usual.  Still, it was time to walk my dog, so we went for a walk.

It is fall here, so they say.  It is hard for me to notice the signs, because where I am from, the leaves are turning and the evenings have become chilly.  I am used to these signs, even when I grumble that fall arrives too soon and foretells a deep and dark and long snowy winter.

Here, the signs are subtler.  I can still wear my shorts, if I want to, even though it is fall.

I am not sure I want to, some days.

So, this morning, I took my dog out for a walk.  It was warm and still and the dog (who is a good sport, even at 10 years old) bounced around and sniffed everything.

And then, we turned around.

It was not my idea, actually, this 'turning around' thing, but I went along with it, and when I did, I felt it right away.

It was a breeze:  a lovely cool breeze that I never noticed until we turned, until we changed directions.  It was always there, but we needed to change directions to find it, to feel it.

The breeze was a small thing, but that is the way it is sometimes.  There are big changes, like turning around, and there are small things, like feeling the breeze, the wind of the Holy Spirit, who has always been with us, although we don't often notice.

I was at a conference most of last week.  The geography was so much different than here, and so much different than my home state as well.  We were up in the mountains, where the air is thin and you have to take deep gulps and slow down, where you can feel your heart beat and see the beauty all around.

We were talking about worship and faith formation, about the children in our churches, but not just the children.  We were talking about how to faithfully minister to all ages in a way that only the church can do:  by being together, by using the gifts of all the generations.   This does not sound like a big thing, but it represents a change in direction for us.  The church has gotten into the habit of segregating people by age much of the time.  Even in worship.  So we are thinking about how we might really honor the gifts and needs of all generations in worship, use our imaginations and our dreams, our bodies and our souls.

Today, I felt a breeze, a small reminder that the seasons change, that the Holy Spirit is among, and within us, to keep me on my course, changing my direction.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

My faith, in community

Sometimes I do wonder why I am still here:  in the church, hoping wildly and unreasonably still in Jesus.  It is a mystery of faith, of the working of the Holy Spirit.  Somehow Martin Luther's words ring true:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. 

But just how has the Holy Spirit called me?

My parents brought me to church.  Every week.  My father sang the liturgy, and helped me find my place in the book, so that I could do it too. 

My parents prayed with us before we went to bed.  My father also read us Bible stories, from a book called "The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes."  He also pretended he was Methusalah, the world's oldest man, who knew all of the Bible characters.

My parents' friends were all active in their churches and talked about their faith.  One of their best friends went overseas to be missionaries in Papua New Guinea.

I went to church camp, sang "Pass it On", and learned to put little candles in my Bible next to verses that meant a lot to me.  A camp counselor once confessed to me that she sometimes had doubts about what she believed, but she was comforted by the fact that God knew more than she did, and knew that she was going through a time of doubt.

I went through times when I wasn't sure about what I believed about God or faith.

I had some intense religious experiences as a young adult.

I had great conversations with friends of other religions traditions, which really made me think about my own.

At my church, I taught Sunday School, sang in the choir, and went out to brunch with a group of widows.  I knew pre-school children, confirmation students, parents and retired people.

My parents brought me to the baptismal font, where I was joined to Christ, and to Christ's people:  so many people, so many ages, from so many places.  Love, incarnate.  The mystery of Holy Spirit, calling.


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

I Have Loved Sunday School

I grew up in Sunday School.  From the time I was three years old and we were going to church at Augustana Lutheran, the church where my father grew up, I went to Sunday school every Sunday.  Even when we visited my grandparents in southwestern Minnesota, I went to Sunday School.  I didn't especially enjoy going to Sunday School when we visited a strange church, but I went.  They sent a postcard back to my Sunday School letting them know that I had attended.

I loved Sunday School, mostly.  I loved my teachers, who were not my parents, and who taught me that other adults in the church cared about me.  I loved learning the stories and playing the games with the other students, some of whom were my friends.  I liked when we drew pictures of churches, but then our teacher told us that the church wasn't the Building, it was the People inside who were the church.  I remember learning about the Old Testament and the New Testament, and about the parts of the liturgy, too:  Collect, Kyrie, Agnus Dei.

One week we had a Bible story about forgiveness, about how Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive.  Seven times?  When Jesus told him, "70 X 7", our teacher told us to try to figure the problem out.  But since we hadn't learned long division yet, all we could come up with was that it must be A Very Large Number.

Another time I was in 6th grade Sunday School and we were giving our teacher a bad time.  I think we were already thinking that this was boring and we didn't want to study the lesson.  Our teacher was a new member of the church, a young dad with three little girls.  We were giving him a tough time, so he decided that he would just share a little of his faith story with us.  He told us that they had had one other daughter, who had died of leukemia, and how that affected his faith.  I still remember that.

So, I grew up in Sunday School, and I learned some things.  I learned some things about relationships.  I learned some things about the church.  I learned some things about the Bible, although there were some gaps. For example,  I did not have a very good idea about how the stories went together, for one thing.  This was true even though I went both to church and to Sunday School every single week.

So I have to admit that Sunday School was not perfect, and it is even less perfect now.  Perfect attendance is rare now, for one thing.  It is hard to find enough teachers, and even if you find enough teachers, it is hard to find enough students who really want to go.  There are plenty of other options on Sunday morning.  Every parent can teach their child about Jesus, but not every parent can be a good Sunday School teacher.

I have loved Sunday School, but I have to admit that, for a lot of churches, and a lot of children, it isn't working.  They are not learning the stories of the Bible, but most of all, they aren't learning that other adults in the church care about them.

But one of the gifts of the church is still relationships.  It is a place where we can meet each other and know each other across generations, where we will realize that Forgiveness Is a Really Big Number, and where we can share stories and songs and pray and catch faith from one another.

If only we will only make the space.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Sin Problem

"We Don't Have a Gun Problem.  We have a Sin Problem."

I saw this on social media the other day, in reference, I am sure, to the shooting at the community college in Umqua, Oregon.

We have a Sin Problem.

Well.

 I'm a pastor.  It's hard to argue with that.  We do have a sin problem.  We also have a gun problem, which is not to say that I believe that all that we have to do is get rid of all of the guns, if we could even do that.  But yes, we have a sin problem, and yes, I also think that we have a gun problem as well, which is to say, that our sin problem has, at least in part, to do with guns.

Since sin is one of my specialties, let's talk about the sin problem.  I am not sure, but I suspect that when  some people say "we have a sin problem" (rather than a gun problem), they are talking about the individuals who do evil with guns, that the problem is not with guns themselves, but guns in the hands of evil, disturbed people.  It is a problem of individual sin.

But what do you do about that?  There have always been sinners; there will always be sinners.  The increase in these random acts of violence reveal something else about us, not just as individuals, but as a culture.

And then there is our inability to take some sort of action -- not to eliminate evil -- we can never totally eliminate evil.  But our inability to do something, anything, to take any steps, to even talk about what might work, to protect the vulnerable against acts of evil -- this also is sin.

We have a sin problem.

My fear is that somehow saying this will seem like enough, that someone will say, "we have a sin problem" and "let's pray about it", without realizing that the next step, after praying about it, might be to listen, really listen to what God wants us to do about it.  The next step is to repent, to change our mind, to change our ways, to change ANYTHING.

We have a sin problem.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

"You're So Gracious"

My former congregation had a generous policy about funerals.  There were a lot of people who were connected with us, in some way or another, and we could usually find some way to work it out if someone wanted to have their funeral in our sanctuary.  But, we have always had two or more pastors, so it was relatively easy to work that into someone's schedule.  If it didn't work out for any of the pastors, on one or two occasions we authorized another pastor to come and lead the funeral service.

So it was that one Monday our receptionist got a phone call from a family that desperately wanted their mother's funeral in our sanctuary, even though she had transferred to another congregation many years ago.  They also wanted one of the former pastors at their current congregation to preside at the service.

That sounded like a slightly strange request, but it was a funeral, and I am sympathetic with grieving people.  We said that one of the pastors of our congregation (probably me) would work with them, along with the pastor that they wanted.

The family said that this makes sense.  "After all, it's your church," they said.

We set a time for the family to meet with both pastors.  I found out the name of the other pastor.  I did not know him, but I did know one thing about him:  he came from a faith tradition which does not ordain women as pastors.  I had his number and tried to get in touch with him.  Finally I left to make another home visit.

When I returned the pastor and the other family were waiting.  I sat down with them and took out note paper and a hymnal, so that we could write down hymns and scripture readings.   We talked about the policy of the church, and how we serve the lunch.

Then the other pastor said, "I am sorry to say this, but I am not allowed to serve in public worship with you.  This is the policy of my denomination.  My hands are tired."

I was sitting there with this pastor and a grieving family.  They knew what I had told them before.

I swallowed hard, and said, "All right then.  I will help you plan the service.  I will put you in touch with the musician from our congregation.  I will help your with the luncheon.  I will make sure that the building is prepared for you.  I will pray for you."

"You're so gracious," the family said.

"You're so gracious," the other pastor said.

Is that what it was?  I had a grieving family with nowhere else to go.  I could not pull the rug out from under them now.  The most important thing was the proclamation of the resurrection that would take place at this funeral.  I knew that it was not about me.  I am not the only one who can comfort and proclaim the good news of Jesus' life.

And yet, it sort of felt like it was about me.  "You are unacceptable." That's what they were saying.  And I stood there and I took it, knowing in my heart of hearts that I was not unacceptable, but feeling slimed nonetheless.

"You're so gracious," they said.

Sometimes, grace is hard.  Really hard.

On that Friday I was not allowed to enter the sanctuary of the church where I had been called as pastor.  Other people thought it was so wonderful that we showed hospitality to a grieving family.  I am glad that we showed this hospitality to a grieving family.

And yet….

Recently I met with a young woman who wants to have her wedding here.  She is not a member of my congregation.  She is from another faith tradition, one I am only slightly familiar with.  I told her the policy of our congregation is that if the wedding is here, I need to be involved in the ceremony with that.  "Are you sure your pastor is all right with that?" I asked.

She was sure her pastor was all right with that.

I called him.  He is not sure that he is all right with that.

Sometimes, being gracious is hard.   Really hard.


Monday, September 21, 2015

Double Minded

It was a great week, or it was a horrible week.

Take your pick.

I met with the youth director of a neighboring congregation, had lunch with a bunch of other new pastors, had a great 'meet the pastor' meeting with some of my congregation members, got picked up by the Christian Century Blog network again.  I also had a fantastic dinner and conversation with parish members this Saturday evening.  A lot of good things happened.

And, I lost my billfold.

I am not sure when, and I am not sure where, but I spent the weekend trying to keep my mind on writing a sermon while making a list of every place I had been during the week.  I made phone calls and cancelled credit cards, and, alternatively, considered Jesus' words about suffering and rejection and greatness in the kingdom of God.  I looked under sofa cushions and mattresses, and I wrote paragraphs about disciples following, or not following, Jesus.

In last week's gospel, the disciples don't really understand Jesus' words about being rejected, and dying, and rising.  But they are afraid to ask.  And I attributed this silence to double-mindedness.  They didn't want to ask  Jesus because they were double-minded about following Jesus.  They wanted to follow him, but they also had their minds on greatness.

This weekend, I confess, that I wasn't single-minded either.  I was thinking of my billfold, and I was thinking of my sermon.  I was thinking of following Jesus, and I was afraid and worried and beating myself up with all kinds of words and scenarios.  It wasn't the actual process of having to cancel things and look places that was the problem.  It was the way my heart was so full of recriminations that there was barely room for good news.

The irony there is not lost on me.  Being single-minded is hard.  Maybe impossible, us being human and all.  As it turns out, I am no different than the disciples.  Jesus invites me to follow him in service, and see him in the small and the weak.  I go on looking for him in large signs and miracles.      He asks me to break the bread, and trust that it will be multiplied, in mouths I cannot see.  

I haven't found my billfold.  I'm still looking.  And following.