Friday, November 30, 2007

Rejoicing and Weeping

On Saturday, I wracked my brain for a children's message idea and finally went up to the church attic, where I found a crown, a scepter and a cape. I had the children come up at the right time and asked them about kings. Why did they look like? What did they have? Then I had one child put on the crown, hold the scepter and wear the cape. I also said that people follow kings, so I had all of the children line up in back of the dressed-up child. But then I said, "Jesus was a king. Did he have a crown?" (No!) Did he have a scepter? (No!) Did he have a cape? (No!) what did he have?

Love, someone answered.

I was going to say a cross. I liked their answer better.

On Wednesday morning, I had a nursing home service. I was preaching on my go-to text, Matthew 14:22-33, where Peter walks on water -- kind of. At one point, I was telling about Peter stepping out of the boat and how incredible it must have felt when he was walking on the water. Then, I said, he noticed the wind and the waves, and looked down. Then what happened?

From the back of the room a voice: "He got baptized!"


Yesterday, I got a call from a hospice chaplain. She is also visiting a couple from our congregation. I also have been visiting them for three years, ever since he was diagnosed with ALS. He's a tall, humble Swede, who always seemed to have his head tilted a little to the side, as if he were listening intently to everything you said. He was quick to smile, and to cry a little, too. For about two years I came every month and gave them communion. Now he cannot take communion any more. I give him a blessing instead. He has had a feeding tube.

The hospice chaplain called to tell me that yesterday his feeding tube fell out. When he was asked whether he wanted it back in, he blinked once. That meant, "No."

They said that it will be seven to ten days until he dies.

Today, I went to visit him.

I gave him a blessing.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Friday Five: Grumpy Holiday Edition

Will Smama over at Revgals writes:
Parishioners pushing for carols before you digested your turkey?
Organist refusing to play Advent hymns because he/she already has them planned for Lessons & Carols?
Find yourself reading Luke and thinking of a variety of ways to tell Linus where to stick it? (Lights please.)
Then this quick and easy Friday Five is for you! And for those of you with a more positive attitude, have no fear. I am sure more sacred and reverent Friday Fives will follow.
Please tell us your least favorite/most annoying seasonal....

1) dessert/cookie/family food
lutfisk. Although you can't really call it a family food any more. We only eat it at church suppers.

2) beverage (seasonal beer, eggnog w/ way too much egg and not enough nog, etc...)
Eggnog, if it doesn't have rum in it. I mean, really, what's the point?

3) tradition (church, family, other)
Taking turns opening gifts, one at a time. Takes forever.
Also, the tradition of spending more than you can afford, and the tradition of believing that everything should be "perfect" on Christmas

4) decoration
Any decorative candle in the shape of i.e. a Christmas tree, church, choirboy, etc. once it is half-burned down.
Also, the little church with the electric light inside it.

5) gift (received or given)
I refuse to answer on the grounds that it may tend to incriminate me.

BONUS: SONG/CD that makes you want to tell the elves where to stick it.
John Lennon's Merry Christmas (War is Over). Sorry all of you John Lennon fans out there.

Ok, I'm a grump, but I'm going to put up a short list of favorites too:

1. Dessert
lefse. Deserves a post all its own.

2. Beverage
We don't really have a special beverage for Christmas, but I certainly like spiced cider.

3. Tradition
Listening to Bing Crosby's White Christmas Album while decorating the Christmas tree.
Also, I really like the tradition where some churches give their pastor presents (just kidding!)

4. Decoration
the cardboard angel we always put on the top of the tree

5. Gift (received or given)
The year I gave my mom a scarf which exactly matched her coat! It maybe cost $1.50, but I knew she would really like it. (It was the first year I picked out gifts myself.)

BONUS: You haven't lived until you have heard Bing and the Andrews sisters sing Jingle Bells and Santa Claus is coming to town. Really.
Right, Janet?

Advent/Christmas reading...

I stopped into one of my favorite stores yesterday (on the way home from a hospital visit) and came out with a couple of new books for the Advent season -- and into Christmas. It's always difficult for me to find good Advent material. A few years ago I got the Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter collections: Watch for the Light and Bread and Wine, and still enjoy those many readings.

However, this year, I found a new book called God with us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas. It's beautifully illustrated, with readings for every day in Advent. It's published by Paraclete Press, an ecumenical publishing house. Some of the writers include: Scott Cairns, Emilie Griffin, Kathleen Norris, Eugene Peterson. I also found A Seasonal Book of Hours, by William Storey, published by Liturgy Training Publications. This is not a book of readings. It is a morning and evening prayer book for Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter. It is very simple and liturgical.

Last year I discovered a great picture book for children called An Advent Storybook. Little Bear and his mother are opening a door on their advent calendar each night, and telling a story. The first story is about a star with a tail. They end up at the manger in Bethlehem.

This year local author Kate DiCamillo (author of Because of Winn-Dixie, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane) has a picture book out for Christmas, called Great Joy. It's about a little girl who is preparing for a Christmas pageant (perhaps in the 1930s?) but is very concerned about an organ grinder and his monkey, who sleep on the street.

And there are two books I am recommending even though I'm not sure they are still in print: two short story collections by Katherine Paterson. One is Angels and Other Strangers, and the other is A Midnight Clear. They have been favorites of mine for a long time. I discovered a few years ago that she began writing the stories for her husband, a Presbyterian minister, to read on Christmas eve.

What are you reading this Advent?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Global Warming

At Thanksgiving, my mother-in-law mentioned that she heard a program at church recently about Global Warming. She didn't know what to think, she said. The man said it was such a political issue, she said. It didn't take long to figure out that the speaker she heard doesn't believe that global warming is real.

It wasn't more than a month ago that our synod invited Will Steger to come and speak to us. His presentation was "Eyewitness to Global Warming", and one of the things he said was, "this is not a matter of politics." Not for him, at least. He doesn't have a political axe to grind. He's been there, seen things, and just wants to tell people what he has seen, as a person who loves the earth, and the creatures who dwell on it. It's possible that he thinks of himself as a kind of prophet, although I don't know if he would use those words.

One small story that struck me that day: there is a small Inuit village that has been in the same spot for centuries. But, they will have to move their village due to the change in climate. The village is Shismaref. When Will Steger said this name, I sat up, because a friend of mine was a Lutheran pastor in Shismaref.

Here's the problem I have with the Global Warming nay-sayers: They are telling us exactly what we want to hear. We don't have to change the way we do anything. Everything can stay just the same as it is. We can continue to live our comfortable existence. Don't worry. There is nothing to repent about.

Kind of like the false prophets -- the ones who would say, "Peace, peace," when there was no peace.

Now I don't know for 100% sure if global warming is real, although I do think that Will Steger has some credibility. I would be the first person to rejoice if I found out absolutely that there was no such thing.

But the whole thing does remind me of our gospel reading for Sunday: not the part we are always curious about, the part where some are "taken up" and some are "left behind." But the first part of the reading, when Jesus says that "as in those days before the flood, marrying and giving in marriage..." In other words, they were not paying attention, even though an ark was being built right in front of them.

We are not to be alarmists, trying to figure out the day that Jesus is coming back (we will never know), or even what day the earth will give out. But God does want us to pay attention -- to what is going on with our neighbors, the stranger, the earth -- and to live our lives as good stewards of the earth and of one another.

The basic instructions for Christians remain: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself." -- and keep in mind that our neighbor includes the earth and its creatures.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Rest of New York

Saturday, November 17....

Our friends actually got their car out of storage, because they wanted to go and see The Cloisters with us. The Cloisters is a part of the Metropolitan Museum which was build to resemble a medieval monastery (some of the architecture, including doors, etc. are actually from monasteries in Europe). Lots of medieval paintings, tapestries, and sculptures, all pre-reformation. At one point our friends turned to me and said, "So what did Martin Luther do that was so great?"... which prompted a mini-Reformation history lesson.

The Cloisters is on the tip of upper Manhattan, in a wooded area you can't even imagine exists until you get there. I wish we had pictures to show the fall beauty all around the area. We spent all morning roaming around, until suddenly we realized we needed to get back to meet a pastor friend of my husband's. So we rushed back, and caught a subway down to Greenwich Village, where we met another friend -- this time under the Washington Square Arch.

He took us to a little noodle restaurant in the area, and learned a little about how he was doing. He had been a pastor in NewJersey at the time of 9/11, and several people from his congregation were missing after that day, their cars abandoned at the train station. It was a hard time for the small congregation, and a few years ago, he had a severe stroke. He now is able to work 10 hours a week. At one point, he confessed to not being able to follow part of our conversation. I was tempted to feel sorry for him, but he went on to say that he thought he was doing pretty well. "After all," he said, "I'm alive." I'll remember that short sentence for a long time. He also invited us to come back to New York, and stay with his family.

Later, we took the 1 train (our friend!) back to Upper Manhattan. We were a little alarmed when the train skipped several stops before 34th street. We weren't sure what was going on, but there was some kind of work going on, and some of the stops were closed -- just going north. Our friends D and A had invited us over to their house for supper at 7:00 -- homemade lasagne, created by D, salad and ice cream for dessert. Afterwards A had gotten reservations at an Uptown Jazz Club called Smoke, where we heard a be-bop group, featuring drummer Louis Hayes. It was a great atmosphere -- made us wish, though, that we hadn't had dessert! When the show started at 10:00, the first words from the small stage were: "It's Saturday night, and this is New York City!"

The club was cozy, with small tables and sofas in the back, and plush red curtains hanging throughout. D thought that the set was a little too short, but at 11:15, we were sadly up past our bedtime already.

(A word about our building: large, old building -- the rooms had been redecorated and the bathrooms new. Our blow dryer didn't work, and all of the hotel phone went out on Friday night for awhile. Also, one of the hotel elevators was kind of scary-looking, really small with gang markings on it. There was another, newer elevator, but we didn't find it until we were almost ready to leave.)

Sunday, November 18...
we ate breakfast at another wonderful little New York diner called Key West, where they know how to keep the coffee coming, and keep people moving through!

At 11:00 we met our friends again at a church they attend, Advent Lutheran. Pastor Elise Brown preached that morning, and there was a baptism: quite an event when a baby is not just sprinkled, but dipped naked into the font and then clothed in a towel and shown around to the cheering congregation. This was the tradition of the family's culture, we were told. I was impressed by the diversity, and openness. I really enjoyed worshiping with them, but again we had to rush off after worship to meet with a friend of my husband's, who lived down in Soho.

We ate at a cosmopolitan little place where there was a duo playing guitar and bass, and an international crew talking about world issues. Then took a short tour of the neighborhood, and learned a creative way to get back uptown for our luggage since we discovered that our beloved number 1 train did not stop at this station!

We were sad to leave New York, to get on a plane which would leave at 6:00 p.m., and sadder still when we discovered that our flight would be delayed! I would have loved one more hour to walk around in Central Park, to shop at Macy's, stop in at Rockefeller Center. In fact, I'm already planning out next itinerary, which includes:

A show at Radio City Music Hall
Rockefeller Center
Central Park
more Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Ellis Island Immigration Museum

Monday, November 26, 2007

I have a migraine...

... and a funeral tomorrow. Please pray for me.

I spent the afternoon in Urgent Care.

Now I am beginning to write my sermon.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sunday Sermon: Christ the King

Gifts of a King
Text: Luke 23:33-43

Friday morning my husband got up early, and went down to one of his favorite stores, because he had seen an ad in the paper for a special after-Thanksgiving sale. It seemed too good to be true, a big one-time-only discount for one special item. So he went down to check it out. Now, I have to tell you, we aren’t the biggest “black Friday” – day after Thanksgiving – shoppers. We’re not usually found standing in line at 6:00 a.m. at Kohl’s or Target or where-ever they are practically giving things away. But this seemed like an opportunity, so he went down. A little later I got an update call. The too-good-to-be-true sale? Really was too good to be true. It seems when he got there, the store was open, but there was still a line of people waiting outside the door. The store was full, really full, and they were letting people in, just one or two at a time, whenever someone left the store. That’s how crowded it was – and he just decided that no sale was THAT so good to justify waiting out in the cold that long.

Not far away from that store, not far away from the Christmas-crowded malls, full of people standing in lines for bargains and dreams come true, there is a quieter place. It looks for all the world just like someone’s house. On the inside it’s quiet, and if you go there near a mealtime, there are wonderful smells always from the kitchen, and invitations to stay and eat. Not far away from the crowded shopping centers and malls, there is a small hospice care center, where people are dying, and where those who care for them treat them as if they were kings and queens, each one important, each one precious. In this place there are not long lines, but gifts are being given out: the gifts that matter most. In this place, families watch over their loved ones, and people pray, and read promises from the Scriptures:
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want… even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I know you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
“I lift up my eyes to the hills; from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
In this place, we see and we receive different kinds of gifts of the season: promises of life, and gifts of forgiveness and reconciliation.

No two scenes could be more different: the crowded and noisy malls, with their long lines of people with packages, and the quiet house with steaming soup and praying people. And on this Sunday we call “Christ the King” we also find ourselves facing some contrasts, even some contradictions. For perhaps you came here today expecting it to be Advent already. After all, in the malls and in the shopping centers, we’re already celebrating Christmas, or at least preparing for it. And here we are on this Sunday called “Christ the King,” a day when we worship Christ as our King and bow down before him as his subjects. Here we are instead on the last Sunday in the church year, calling Jesus our Lord and our King. And what does that even mean, to call Jesus our king and to say that we live under his reign? Those are strange words to say.

And they are even stranger to say when we consider our gospel story today. Why, on the last Sunday in November, do we have a gospel reading that seems more appropriate to Holy Week? Why do we have a reading about Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion between two thieves? Sure, he is called a King: but only by people who are making fun of him, insulting him, spitting on him. Kings are powerful: on the cross, Jesus does not seem powerful. Kings have wealth: on the cross, Jesus gives up everything, even his life. It’s a study in contrasts: Christ the King Sunday, and Jesus on the cross. What does it mean? What does it mean for us who would be his followers?

In ancient times, one of the responsibilities of kings was to protect and defend the people in their care. That’s why the kings of Israel were sometimes called “shepherds.” They were powerful, but they were supposed to use their power to help the people, and to defend them. Sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes they led them astray instead. Sometimes they used their power only for themselves. But throughout his life and in his ministry, Jesus acted like a king because he offered healing and guidance, because he fed and forgave the people who followed him. So what is he doing on a cross? What is the king doing on a cross?

Even on the cross, Jesus is acting like a king: even though people are reviling him, insulting him, dividing his clothing, he offers them gifts. He offers first to his enemies – the soldiers, the religious leaders, the bystanders, the gift of forgiveness. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” he says. They weren’t standing in line to hear it; they probably weren’t even paying attention. But even so, Jesus is offering a gift from a king. And to a thief on a cross who simply asks Jesus to remember him, Jesus promises, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus promises life to the dying, and forgiveness to enemies. They are gifts from a king: different from the gifts we stand in long lines to buy, but no less essential for our dying and our living. They are gifts from the true King, who reigns from a cross. And we follow him.
We live in his kingdom, and under his reign. But what does it mean for us to follow a king who reigns from a cross? – in ordinary and in extraordinary times.

It was the time of World War II. Lately we have been hearing many stories about the time of World II, and of the heroism of ordinary people during that extraordinary time. But this story is a little different, because it is about a Japanese man. His name was Kiyoshi Watanabe,* and he was a Lutheran pastor. He had served in Hiroshima, but he was serving as a pastor at a Christian high school in southern Japan when he got a letter from his government. This letter requested him to go to Hong Kong and serve as an interpreter for prisoners of war there. You see, he had studied in the United States several years before, so he had a valuable skill. He could speak and write English. So, both as a loyal Japanese and a Christian – he went.

What he found in the camps shocked him, and filled him with fear. Prisoners were treated terribly – not like human beings. He found himself praying – not only for the prisoners, but also for the souls of his fellow-Japanese, who were mistreating people. And he discovered that there was no medicine to treat all the sickness that was in the camp. So he decided to do something very risky. He decided to help smuggle medicine and food into the camp, to help the prisoners who were also supposed to be his enemies. He did this with much fear, for he knew if he had been discovered, the penalty for his actions would be death. But he did it anywhere, because he lived – first and foremost – as a subject in God’s kingdom, and under his reign. He followed the one who forgave his enemies, and promised paradise to a thief on a cross. At great cost to himself, he gave to others God’s best gifts, even as he had received them: forgiveness, and life.

It was an extraordinary time, and Pastor Watanabe did an extraordinary thing. After the war, he was interviewed on British television.The day after the interview, several people came up to
him and thanked him, and shook his hand, including a waitress who told him that until that day, she had hated all Japanese, because the Japanese had tortured her brother. His story had softened her heart. His story – and his actions – had turned her from hate to love. And the story of his actions had turned an enemy into a friend.

The truth is – each of us lives in two world – each of us lives in two kingdoms. One is the kingdom where we stand in lines to wait for things that seem too good to be true, where we look out for number one, where there is not enough to go around, where we arm ourselves against our neighbors and our enemies. And the other is the kingdom where the invitation is open to come and eat, where the sick and the dying, the poor and the old are treated with as much respect as the rich and the powerful. That is the kingdom where the Jesus reigns from a cross, turning enemies into friends, turning hate into love, turning death into life. That is the kingdom where loaves are multiplied, and the bread of life is put into our hands.

On this Christ the King Sunday, as we stand in line to purchase gifts, we also begin to wait for the arrival of the child who promises peace. And we confess today that first and foremost we follow a king who reigns from a cross, who from that cross gives us what we need for our living and for our dying. And then we turn around to share those gifts – those most important gifts – with the sick and the dying, with the poor and the vulnerable – with the young and the old – and even with our enemies. In ordinary times, and in extraordinary times. We share God’s abundant and suffering love with others. AMEN

* I learned Pastor Watanabe's story when I lived in Japan, but it was reported in a book called Small Man of Nanataki, written by Liam Nolan. Unfortunately, it has long been out of print. Another part of the story, which I did not tell in my sermon this morning, is that his wife and one of his daughters were killed when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Why I am Crabby and Stressed-Out

... a short post which may be lengthened a little later.

Our seminary intern quit. I found out when I got back from New York.

I knew he had a couple of problems when I left, but I assumed that he would take a little break and be back. But he needs a big break. He won't be back.

I hope he will become a pastor. He has many gifts for ministry. I feel bad for him. I hope you will keep him in your prayers. But (and I hate to say this, but I will) I feel bad for us, too.

This church has had an internship program for a number of years. That means, that there are a number of things that have begun to fall to the intern regularly, both as a matter of his or her training, and also for the working of the congregation.

The most immediate thing I thought of is our Wednesday Advent Service. Our intern is responsible for creating and leading 3 evening services during Advent. Now, the Senior Pastor and I are responsible for them.

That's just the beginning, though. That's just the first thing I thought of.

I'm trying hard not to think of the other things -- yet.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

..... and lots of Turkey to you.

update with 7 random things I'm thankful for...(as random as I can possibly be)... (this is for redheadrev, who tagged me some time ago)

1. I'm thankful for words. I'm thankful for the words of poetry, like Mary Oliver, and George Herbert, and everything in between. I'm thankful for words to say how I'm thinking and feeling, words to ask for what I need, words to hear other people's stories, and see into others' hearts. And, I'm thankful for the Word, who expresses God's love so completely.

2. I'm thankful for soft cuddly dog fur to pet, and plush blankets to cuddle in, and fluffy slippers on my feet.

3. I'm thankful for a wide world full of places to see and people to meet.

4. I'm thankful for snow... right now, anyway... it's beautiful and snowing today, and it's crisp and crunchy on top of the grass.

5. I'm thankful for friends-in-person and friends-in-blog.

6. I'm thankful for the gift of music: reggae, ragtime, jazz and blues, gospel, classical, baroque and romantic, piano, guitar, organ, and flute.

7. I'm thankful for my husband, on on this quiet night, after all the family had left, went out to rent for us the movie, "The Twelve Chairs." Sometimes I am crabby and stressed out (more on that tomorrow), and he knows just what to do.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving Sermon

Day (and Eve) of Thanksgiving 2007
Text: Phil 4:4-9

One of my father’s favorite movies is the old Disney classic "Pollyanna." You know, the one about the little girl who was played the "Glad Game" and thought of something to be glad about in every situation. If you recall the movie, she eventually turns a whole town around with her sunny attitude and ability to find something glad everywhere she went. If you read the book upon which the movie is based, it turns out that Pollyanna’s father, a traveling minister, taught her this game. They were a family of no means, and Pollyanna had been expecting a doll for
Christmas. However, when they went down to the mission where they were giving away gifts, she got a pair of crutches instead. That’s when her father taught her the "glad game", saying that "at least they could be glad — because they didn’t need the crutches." However, the word "Pollyanna" has also come to have a somewhat negative meaning – it has come to refer to a person who looks at the world through rose-colored glasses, a "bright-eyed optimist,’ and an unrealistic one, as well.

"Rejoice in the Lord, always, and again I will say, Rejoice!" are Paul’s instructions to the people of Philippi -- and to us -- on this Thanksgiving Day. "In everything give thanks..." he also advises them, and finally, "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just...if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." He seems unrelentingly cheery in these verses, and it is tempting to stamp him with the "Pollyanna" stamp – the starry-eyed optimist, who has no concept of the trials of the real world. It’s tempting to imagine him advising the Philippians to minimize the sorrows and tragedies of the real world by playing a kind of "glad game" with one another. Except for one thing. Paul is writing this letter from prison. And he’s not in prison for stealing anything or injuring someone. He is in prison for preaching the gospel, for sharing the Good News of God’s forgiveness and love for the whole world. I’m sure if he could help it, he would have been anywhere else. It’s not where he chose to be. And if he chose to, he could think about it as the end of his ministry, a sign from God that he should quit this business and give up. But he didn’t. "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice." "In everything give thanks," he said. And "If there is anything worthy of praise....think about these things."

I remember standing in front of a small country congregation one cold Thanksgiving Eve. I had gotten used to not going home for Thanksgiving, but it still seemed odd to me, not to be with my family at this time of the year. Growing up, I associated Thanksgiving with the pilgrims, of course: but also with impossibly large family meals, television specials, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. I associated Thanksgiving with family and leisure and abundance. And of course I associated Thanksgiving with the anticipation of Christmas: just as it was planned back in the 1940s when Thanksgiving came to be celebrated regularly on the 4th Thursday in November. The beginning of the Christmas shopping season! That is how I thought of Thanksgiving Day. It was a marker between the fall and the Christmas shopping season.

However, standing in front of the congregation that evening, I understood for the first time that Thanksgiving was really about two things: it was about the harvest, that end-of-the-year time in our almost-forgotten rural past, and looking back on a year filled with both tragedy and blessing. And it was about a particular way of looking at life: a way that Paul knew and a way that the people in that small farming community knew. They lived a thankful life. And I am not talking about optimism. I am not talking about looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. Both the apostle Paul and my farmers knew that there were many things in life that were beyond their control. Paul preached the gospel in a time when he could be thrown in prison for what he said. But he said it anyway, giving thanks to God for giving him work, a message, that is life-giving. My farmers worked hard planting and harvesting and doing everything in between, but knowing that they depended on God for everything that was important: from good weather to life itself. And they knew that they did not get everything they wanted. The year before, winter had come early and they had not been able to get their crops in, no matter how hard they worked. Some of them had been hailed out the summer before. At least one family had lost their farm. And there had been other sadness as well. Many of the older saints of their community had died in the past year. A young husband and his three sons were killed on icy roads the January before. There was much to grieve, sorrows they did not deserve.

And yet, on that Thanksgiving Eve, as I looked out over my congregation in that little church – which has, by the way, since closed its doors – I saw the faces of people who were both tired and grateful. They were tired from their hard work of bringing in the harvest, but they were grateful because they saw clearly that during the past year were not only sorrows they did not deserve, but also blessings – big and small. "In everything give thanks." "If anything is worthy of praise, think about these things." So that is what we did. We gave thanks. We gave thanks for the babies baptized, although there were just a few, and we gave thanks for the saints who had died during the past year. We gave thanks for the anniversary of one of the congregations, which had turned 100. We gave thanks for the youth of the congregation, though few in number, they were active and growing in faith. We gave thanks for the gifts and talents that kept the congregations going, from cooking and cleaning, to making banners and playing instruments, to praying and visiting. I suppose, if we had wanted to, we could have lamented instead. We could have lamented that fact that we were few, and dwindling in number. We could have worried about our futures, so uncertain, and grieved the loss of the small towns. But instead, we each took little pieces of paper, and wrote down what we were thankful for. During the offering the ushers picked up the little pieces of paper and during the prayers the pastor read each one. Because we were small, I could do this. And I have kept these little pieces of paper until today. The thanksgivings written there are mostly simple ones, but I’d like to read just a few for you:

-I’m thankful for this church my ancestors helped organize and build – giving me a strong faith in our Lord
-I’m thankful for the bountiful garden our neighbors shared with us
-I’m thankful for family and their good health. Also for good fall weather to get the harvest done this year
-I am thankful for health, and a good crop
-I’m thankful for my six children and their families.
-I’m thankful for all the good farming years God gave to my husband and me when we were raising our family.
-for beautiful sunrises and sunsets
-I’m thankful for staying warm last winter when the power went out in the blizzard
and finally
-I am thankful that we have a God who comes to us to share in every aspect of our lives.

"Rejoice in the Lord always." Paul advises us on this Thanksgiving Day. "In everything give thanks...." And finally, "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Think about these things. For, as Paul also writes, "The Lord is near." We have a God who comes to us to share in every aspect of our lives – our joys and our sorrows, our tragedies and blessings. We have a God who comes to us in Jesus, and in his death and resurrection will never let us go.Thanksgiving is not about looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, just as joy is not the same as optimism. Thanksgiving is about looking at the world as it really is: with all of its sorrows and all of its joys, and realizing that in the midst of all of it, The Lord is near. Whether you are in prison or free, in plenty or in want, in loneliness or community: The Lord is near. Whether you get the doll you wanted for Christmas, or a pair of crutches instead. Or even if you need the crutches. The Lord is near.
Think about these things.

And we have the privilege of serving him, of seeing his face, as we care for the needy, as we celebrate with family and friends, as we work and as we share the harvest of our lives with one another. The Lord is near. Happy Thanksgiving.

I want to credit the apostle Paul and also Songbird for helping me think of the words "think about these things" as a refrain.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

We interrupt this vacation memoir with an update regarding Scout

Scout's been a little ill since we got back.

First of all, she's tired. This is normal, since she plays nonstop with other dogs while she is boarded. That makes her pretty easy to handle for a couple of days.

But, she also has had (ahem) a little problem with food. She got me up in the middle of the night Sunday and last night as well.

This is what she does when she gets me up in the night: she puts her nose on my side of the bed. And sighs. Loudly. Then she goes to the bedroom door. Then she repeats if necessary. But I am a light sleeper, and I usually get it by the second time.

We're not sure, but we think she got into some other dog's kibble.

We're praying this resolves soon, for Scout's sake and for ours.

All went well today, and I learned four things:

*In Certain Circumstances, green jello tastes delicious!
*The nurse who prepped me for my "procedure" came to our Animal Blessing Service
*Good Earth hot tea is the best thing to have at the end of a fast.
*I have a lot to be thankful for.

Short update: I emailed the place Scout boarded, and she did indeed get into someone else's food. It wasn't discovered until after she left. She's improving slowly....

Monday, November 19, 2007

New York, New York, What A Wonderful Town

We got into Laguardia airport in New York City about 1 and 1/2 hours behind schedule. So at 10:30 on Thursday night, we were standing in line waiting for a cab, along with (it seemed) half of New York City. It was a beautiful evening, the wind had died down, and before we knew it we were at the small Manhattan apartment of my friends and former parish members. (I officiated at their wedding back in April, and then she moved to New York, where he lived.)

We met their two cats, Digger (15) and Little (3) and got the grand tour of their small but stylish apartment (actually near the Hudson River, but we couldn't see it in the dark). I loved the hardwood floors, the alcoves, the kitchen (narrow, but long, with pretty good counter space for an apartment). When we had trouble finding a hotel for Thursday, they offered to let us camp out for the night. We planned to head over to a nearby hotel first thing in the morning to store our luggage for the next two nights.

My husband had created a three-ring notebook with all of our plans (and pictures!) of the things we wanted to see and do for three days. A. looked at the notebook and decided he should have her prized compact New York street and subway map for the weekend. ("He has the manual," she explained.) They answered our questions about how to get to the places we planned (hoped?) to see on Friday and how to get to the dinner location, as well. (They actually made dinner plans for us for both Friday and Saturday nights.)

The next morning we got up as soon as D and A left for work, and hurriedly got our things together to walk down to the Days Hotel, just a convenient few blocks away. It's in a great area on the Upper West Side, and Husband mentioned as soon as we walked in how friendly the staff were! Someone greeted us warmly right away.

Turns out it was my blog friend Fran, who planned to meet us that morning. After checking our luggage we walked up to a great cafe called the Metro Diner. We spent an hour eating and talking about everything under the sun! I've now met three blog friends: Fran, HotCup Lutheran and her husband, and RevDrKate of Prairie Light. Fran gave a great first impression of New York and New Yorkers.

After breakfast, we bought Metro Passes and took the 1 train (and a bus) over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I admit it: I am a museum geek. I love museums! We spent all morning and part of the afternoon there, which didn't seem like a bad idea at all, until we got down to 34th street at midtown and realized how much there still was to see, and how little time we had.

We took in the Egyptian Exhibit, the special exhibit on Rembrandt and other Dutch painters, as well as some American and medieval art. My husband had to find some El Grecos (they have a few) and I especially wanted to remember The Penitent Magdalen (Georges de La Tour) and Mezzetin, by Watteau. (the de la Tour painting I remember as the cover of a book I own called The Poetry of Meditation). At one point I opened a door into a darkened room and discovered that this was their antique instruments collections, with strange and ornately decorated instruments from cultures around the world. Some of Sevogia's guitars are on display here. However, I was most fascinated by the harpsichord lushly decorated with scenes of David out in the field.

Our next stop (on the 1 train, of course) was the Empire State Building. On the way from the station to the building, I noticed Macy's, Herald Square (Give My Regards to Broadway) and 5th Avenue. I wanted to explore everything, but our goal was to go to the observation deck of the Empire State Building, which ended up taking us about the rest of the afternoon. It was a long wait up to the top, but a clear day so we could see in all directions. And, while sometimes the waiting made us crabby, we struck up a conversation with a nice young couple who turned out to be from Colombia! They were visiting the United States for 2 weeks and had been to Chicago and Vancouver.

I was beginning to realize that we were not going to be able to see the Rockefeller Center or peek at The New York Public Library. However, we did get to stop at the Macy's windows, which were decorated, appropriately, with scenes from Miracle on Thirty-Fourth Street. We took the 1 train back up to our hotel to change (discovering, briefly, that there were many other numbers and letters!), and rode back down to meet our friends at the Cornelia Street Cafe.

After dinner, they suggested we take the train up to Times Square to look around before heading back uptown. By New York standards, it was a quiet night (no shows due to the strike) but there were lights and people everywhere. Our friend A pointed out the M & M store; behind it a whole store devoted to Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, I believe. And I was just thrilled to turn around and see the lights that flashed Radio City Music Hall!

That was our first day in New York: we saw a lot, and we missed a lot. We often didn't know exactly where we were going, but we found friendly people everywhere, and especially the subway workers, who went out of their way to explain the city to us. be continued

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to New York

I thought I had put film in the camera. Really, I was pretty sure about it. I had just taken in one roll of film, and I thought I had put a new roll in a few days before the trip.

I know, I was pretty busy. Also, I'm getting old. Last January, I thought it was funny when we visited my parents in Arizona and my mom took a whole bunch of pictures of my neice in a Japanese yukata I brought out for her. Later on, she discovered that she didn't have any film in the camera.

The same thing happened to me.

No film in the camera.

There has been something wrong with the camera recently. We can't make out the numbers on the top of the film any more, so can't tell what number picture we are on. Also, just on this trip, I put in a new battery. But the battery read that it was half used.

So we thought we were taking pictures. But we weren't. Good thing I met my blogfriend Fran and she took a picture.


I'll try to paint some word pictures.

and... I guess we'll have to go back to New York sometime .... right?

I'm trying to make the best of it and not feel too stupid.

But I really wanted to have pictures from this trip, because I never had pictures from the last one.

And I'm a little down today as well because tomorrow I get to have the Procedure That Everyone Is Supposed To Have When They Turn Fifty. So, only clear liquids for me today. I'm glad I ate well this weekend.

I'll be back later with stories.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

We Walk on Water

This is from a book called Bless My Growing, by Gerhard Frost, who was a pastor and teacher in the Lutheran Church. It was published in 1974, and has been out of print for a long time. I still find myself coming back to this and other books by one of my favorite authors, a man of faith and simplicity. The subtitle of the book is, by the way, for parents, teachers and others who learn.

"But I never feel prepared!"
It was at a winter retreat
that a student said it,
and he spoke with the anguish of deep sincerity.
I was pleased when a counselor replied,
"But we walk on water all the time."

It is well to be prepared,
but we dare not forget that we are never fully prepared
for the tasks that are most worth doing.
The tasks that are worthy of us, as persons,
are often beyond us.
This is true of the challenge
of teaching.

Perhaps there is no effort
which is as total,
or which makes one so vulnerable
as teaching.
He who attempts it reaches beyond himself
and senses that his best is not good enough.
Humbling as it is, this work must not
discourage us.

As Christians, we who teach
truly walk on water all the time.
It is frightening until one remembers --
remembers and listens --
for across the broad waters comes the Voice, saying,
"Fear not, it is I."

What about you? Do you ever feel unprepared? If so, when?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Yes, We're Going

...and I'm feeling a little bit stressed out because I have several things to get done before we leave.

1) call my brother to figure out Thanksgiving plans (I think done)
2) pick up prescription for appointment next Tuesday (done)
3) newsletter column (done)
4) funeral on Wednesday (Ecclesiastes 3 and John 14)
5) confirmation lesson on Wednesday (feeding of the 5,000)
6) pack
7) reschedule a Thursday appointment (called and left message)
8) write annual report to congregation
9) choose songs for worship for Sunday, November 25 (Christ the King)
10) write worship materials for Sunday, November 18
11) mix up 3 and 1/2 days food for Scout
12) call daughter of woman in hospice care
13) start thinking about Thanksgiving Eve sermon

I'm praying that it will all be worth it when we get to New York.

I wanted to: buy a new suitcase, one with wheels. oh, well.

Monday, November 12, 2007

New York Story, Part II

February, 1981.

Last December, I had met with an official from the mission board of my denomination. It seems that my pastor had told him that I might be interested in serving as a missionary in Japan, so he called and asked to meet me for breakfast.

The truth was, I had never thought of being a missionary, in Japan or anywhere else. I had some friends in college who were "missionary kids," and I thought they were very interesting people. The first time I met one young woman, she was, I kid you not, peeling a grapefruit. It took all I had not to say, "that's not how you eat it." Another of my friends talked about taking an extended trip to Japan in the summer, and wanted to know if I would go with her. I was considering quitting my exciting secretarial job and going to graduate school, so I said "yes." I was ready for an adventure. More than ready. And I told my pastor, "I'm thinking of going to Japan, but I don't want to be a tourist." That's why he called the official from the mission board.

I had a great conversation with the official. No one had ever taken me out for breakfast before. He seemed to think I had some promise, because he asked me, "How would you like to come to New York and interview for a three year position as a teacher?"

Well, that could be an adventure, couldn't it?

It would be my second trip on an airplane. The first was when I was 21, and I spent January in Phoenix, Arizona. This time I was flying into LaGuardia, a place I had sent my bosses on occasion. I had several interviews, one with a psychologist in Brooklyn, with the mission board in midtown Manhattan, and a full physical somewhere or other. I had extensive directions, including subway maps, in a large manila envelope that I kept with me. And I would be staying at a place called the Seafarer's and International House.

I was most worried about getting from the airport to my hotel. I had heard stories, you see, about New York, and how cab drivers might take people like me to New Jersey and back on the way to their hotel. Friends delighted in telling me scary stories. Then I had directions to the psychologist in Brooklyn that involved getting up at 6:30 in the morning and taking two subways, to get to an 8:00 appointment. Ok, I was a little worried about that, too. I had never taken a subway before.

At Laguardia, I discovered a thing called "cab sharing." You took a little longer, but the cab fare was a set rate. One of the people I rode with was, I remember, a professor at Columbia (one of the graduate schools I had applied to).

The Seafarer's House was an unusual place because, for one thing, there were seafarers there. I was so nervous about missing my 8:00 appointment that I kept waking up every hour or so during the night. At 6:30 I was ready to board a subway for the first time.

Someone (maybe a seafarer, I don't remember) followed me to the train station to make sure I got on the right train going in the right direction. They kept telling me, don't worry, it's easy, you can't get lost.

And they were right. I didn't get lost.

On the train, a nice woman sitting next to me touched my arm and said, "You're from the Midwest, aren't you?" Then I felt really conspicuous. "Be careful of your purse," she advised.

The psychologist and I got along great. They don't want to send crazy people overseas, I guess. I don't know what I expected, but it was a very laid-back conversation, after which he gave me a relatively clean bill of mental health. Then he directed me back to the subway, and to midtown Manhattan, where the mission offices were.

I had a lot of time before my next appointment, and said I might like to have breakfast. He said he thought I could find someplace to eat. And he said, again, it's very easy to get to midtown from here. It's very easy. You can't get lost.

So I got back on the subway, for the second time in my entire life, and carefully noted each stop, to make sure I would get off at the right one.

And he was right, it didn't take any time at all, in that great big city, to get from his office to midtown Manhattan. I remember getting off the train, and going through the turnstile, and up the stairs.

Suddenly I discovered, I was in the Empire State Building.

It was magic.

I'm from the Midwest, you know. My mother grew up on a farm. My father's parents were immigrants from Sweden. They probably came through Ellis Island, although we never asked them about it.

New York was a movie set to me. It was Miracle on 34th Street, with the Macys Santa. It was King Kong and the Empire State Building.

And New York was a song. It was Easter Parade, with Judy Garland and Fred Astaire singing: "On the Avenue/5th Avenue/the photographers will snap us/and you'll find that you're/in the rotogravure"

And I was there.


Introducing the book

I thought this was funny. I am technologically challenged, but at least I get books.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Remains of my Day

Yesterday at the Bible class with third graders, I was teaching about the four gospels. "There are four stories of Jesus in the Bible," I said, while writing on the white board. "There's Matthew's story, and Mark's story, Luke's story and John's story." A little girl raised her hand with a question. "Why aren't there any girls?" she asked.

Later on I met with a woman who lost her husband after sixty-one years of marriage. She remembered what a handsome man he was. When they first started dating, she would take off her glasses in hopes of impressing him. He used to sing, in a deep resonant voice, "Let me call you sweetheart." He was a gentleman, she told me. Her father really liked him, after some initial reservations. (Their first date was at a New Year's Eve Party, and her car wouldn't start, so she couldn't come home that night. Her father said, "this will come to no good end!")

Today, at church, we gave fourteen third graders their Bibles, the ones they had already been underlining in. One of the girls immediately zipped hers in a carrying-case, with charms dangling from it. One little girl we didn't know came up. She and her family are from India. They have been coming to the church for a little while, but we didn't have an address or a name for her. So we wrote down her name and address, and we promised to give her a Bible with her name in it, just like all the others.

We also honored veterans, had them stand around the baptismal font. At both services, the people stood and clapped at that time in the service.

The opening song today:

Jesus loves me

The closing song:

America the Beautiful

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Prayer at the Close of the Day

It is good to give thanks to the Lord
to sing praise to your name, O Most High
to herald your love in the morning,
your truth at the close of the day.

Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit
Into your hands I commend my spirit
You have redeemed me, O Lord, God of truth
Into your hands I commend my spirit
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
Into your hands I commend my spirit.

Hear my prayer, O Lord;
listen to my cry.
Keep me as the apple of your eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings.
In righteousness I shall see you;
when I awake, your presence will give me joy.

Be present, merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of life may find our rest in you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping, that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.

Excerpts from the very old service of Compline.
May you rest this evening in peace.
Blessed sabbath.

Friday, November 9, 2007

You Be The Judge

Yesterday I attended a small group meeting of pastors and other lay professionals. We all meet once a month to encourage one another and to hold each other accountable for growing and developing as leaders in our congregation and in our communities.

I'm not sure how this came up, but right at the beginning of the meeting, one of the other members (a Franciscan brother, by the way) looked at me and said, "If you dyed your hair, you could pass for a teenager."

I have a really nice streak of gray in front. I'm actually a little proud of it.

I'm not planning on dying my hair any time soon.

I must have had a funny look on my face after that comment, because he (and others) assured me, "You should take it as a compliment."

Now, I don't think this was an insult, but really: is this what a woman who desires to be a more effective leader really needs? To be told she could pass for a teenager?

Here's what I think: Maturity in men is attractive. Maturity in women is... what? Yet, as a leader, I want to project an image of substance, force, depth with grace. Somehow the word "teenager" doesn't really do that for me.

Friday Five: Extragavent Unbusyness

I wasn't going to do the Friday Five today, but the title captivated me. I have been extremely busy lately, and maybe a little grumpy too. So here, straight from Sally at Revgalblogpals, is the Friday 5:

I am writing in my official capacity of grump!!! No seriously, with the shops and stores around us filling with Christmas gifts and decorations, the holiday season moving up on us quickly for many the time from Thanksgiving onwards will be spent in a headlong rush towards Christmas with hardly a time to breathe.... I am looking at the possibility of finding little gaps in the day or the week to spend in extravagant unbusyness ( a wonderful phrase coined by a fellow revgal)...So given those little gaps, name 5 things you would do to; care for your body
bundle up and take more walks with the dog; get back into my stretching exercises to care for my back; learn some yoga; learn a couple new "healthy" recipes; go to Good Earth Restaurant for good food and tea.

2. to care for your spirit
Light a candle; breath more deeply; practice receiving a gift and not just giving all the time (see picture above); focus on strenghs and not just "what I need to work on" all the time; think of "what I need to work on" in the light of my strengths. .
And, finally, sing. Loudly. With or without accompaniment.

3. to care for your mind
take time for deep conversations; use my voice; give myself permission to be right -- and to be wrong; finish reading a book which intrigues me, like Reading the Bible with the Damned; write the essay "Theological Themes in Children's Literature".

4. to bring a sparkle to your eye
Listen to a joke; tell a joke; laugh; watch children playing; play with them; jump in the leaves (without hurting back). Tear open a present instead of opening it daintily.

5. to place a spring in your step
play with the dog. Throw the ball, play "tug", teach her tricks, chase her around the house. anything playful and not goal-oriented. take a short trip to someplace beautiful and/or exciting.
make sure the place has a whirlpool for relaxing.
And finally, to repeat the most important ones: Sing. Loudly. With or without accompaniment. Play. with dog. with children. with friends. with husband. And Laugh. at self.
"Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." --G.K. Chesterton

.... and then for a bonus which one on the list are you determined to put into action?
the short trip to someplace beautiful and/or relaxing is on my mind right now.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The kitty

The truth is, we haven't seen the kitty for a long time. I kept hoping she would stick around. I didn't want to admit it, but I kind of wanted the problem of another mouth to feed, and another warm fuzzy creature to worry about. But she stopped hanging out in our garage and meowing not long after I wrote about her.

Either she was adoped by another family, or she got into some trouble. Of course, I hope it was the former. She seemed like a cat with some fine qualities, even though she was not interested in making friends with Scout.

It took a long time before Scout stopped peeking into the garage every time we walked by. I think she really wanted to have a little sister. Although I could be mistaken. She might have been merely interested in a little Snack.

As some of you know, I am a reformed cat person. I had a cat for eighteen years, and after a pretty wild and crazy kittenhood, she turned out to be the kind of cat who loved to sit in my lap while I would read a book. You have to love that in an animal.

Scout is not as big into reading, but she does keep me walking. For that I am grateful. She is much more time-consuming (read: high maintenance), but that means that I am much more attached to her than I ever thought I would be.

A family in my parish got a black lab last year. The mom said to me recently: I never thought that it was possible to love an animal this much.

Personally, I think loving an animal this much is good for us, if sometimes painful.

Even a little kitty who was only around for a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

New York Story

I'm still not sure whether we will be able to go to New York. The hotel prices are making my hair stand on end. And, I'm finding that there is not much availability for Thursday night. Tomorrow night we find out if we have a chance at flying standby.

Last night we had all but given up. I'm embarrassed to say that I came home after a long day at church and cried. I don't know why this is so important to me. We can go other places. My husband mentioned Galena, Illinois, a lovely little town we have talked about visiting. We talked about going to Des Moines, or Boston, or back to Philadelphia, where I complained about all the things we didn't get to see.

Last night, after my good cry, my friend from New York called. She was pretty upbeat in the midst of it all, reading off hotel names, and promising us they would show us a good time. She said she had heard of an inexpensive place where we might be able to stay, and she would email me the information today.

Today she sent an email about the Seafarer's and International House. It's not a luxurious place by any means. Actually, I stayed there way back in 1981, and it's a little... well... different. But it's safe, and it's clean and it's cheap! The note said: make sure you make reservations early. And her email said, "this isn't early, but maybe God wants you to come to New York, and they will have an opening."

That made me smile.

They didn't have an opening, though. Do you suppose that means God doesn't want us to come to New York?

Maybe there will be a time when our financial situation will be better. Right now, I'm looking into a hotel call the Milburn Hotel. It's expensive too, and there isn't a room for Thursday, but maybe...

Or maybe, I should just tell dear husband that we can go to Galena...

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

10 Random things about Me

I have been tagged by Wyldth1ng, and need to share ten random things about myself. Here they are, as random as I can be:

1. I really like pop-up books, both new and old. My prized possession is a book called "The Jolly Jump-ups Vacation Trip". It was written in the 1940s and includes a pop-up of the Grand Canyon. I just saw a pop up version of Moby Dick, in the bookstore. Obviously, an abridged edition.

2. While in college I attended a teeny weeny Four Square Gospel church on occasion. Once their pianist was sick, and they asked me to play the piano. That may have been about the time I saw the light and went back to the Lutheran faith.

3. I took Latin in the 9th grade, Swedish and Greek in college, and Japanese -- in Japan.

4. My brother used to collect crayfish and keep them in jars in the backyard.

5. I have taken the Bright Angel trail in the Grand Canyon, but not all the way to the bottom!

6. I love to read, but lately, have been having trouble finishing books. I have a lot of half-finished books lying around. (lie? lay?)

7. I like doing crossword puzzles and acrostics, but my husband is addicted to the most difficult puzzles of all: Cryptic Crosswords. This style originated in England and is ridiculously difficult.

8. I have never been to Europe.

9. When I was 23 years old, I visited New York City for the first time, because I was interviewing for a position as a missionary in Japan. While there, I visited the U.N., the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and saw a Broadway Play (42nd Street). My proudest accomplishment? Hailing a cab after the show.

10. I know many of the words to satiric songs (some of them in poor taste) by Allan Sherman and Tom Lehrer.

I would like to tag: RevDrKate, PS, Pastor Eric, Rowan the Dog, and FranIAm.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Some small things...

It looks like we really might be able to go to New York City after all. The only thing is: we aren't sure we can still find a hotel at this late date. We have someone who will take Scout, which is not a minor feat. Our friends have still left their calendar open for showing us around. We know almost nothing about airline tickets or how to get from respective airports to where we might be staying. Still, I'm optimistic.

I had a little post earlier today, but I deleted it. Brain fatigue made it less than illuminating, I thought.

I had been thinking so heavily about saints lately, and living a holy life. So at the same time I've been thinking about the Reformation emphasis on salvation by faith. The reformers became fairly adamant about not trusting any of our own "good works" for salvation, but simply trusting Jesus' work for us.

This gives rise to the story of the Lutheran clergyman who, on his deathbed, was certain that he was going to heaven, because he couldn't remember ever having done a good work!

I guess if you never do a good work, you will never been tempted to "trust in them."

I'm not sure if this is any more illuminating.

Sigh. I'm still tired.

It's cold and windy here. SNOW FLURRIES.

Scout and I are going for a walk. Afterwards, maybe I'll delete this post again and start over.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Sunday Sermon

All Saints Year C /Luke 6:20-31

Note: at the 10:00 service, our intern gave the children's message. He showed them (mostly 3 year olds) a picture of a famous saint, and then asked them if they thought they were saints. One child shouted out "No kids are saints!" which brought a big laugh.

"Our Lives With the Saints"

There’s a book I’ve been looking at over at the bookstore for quite some time, which I finally broke down and bought. It has an unusual title. My Life with the Saints, it’s called, and it’s by a man names James Martin, a Jesuit priest. It’s sort of a spiritual autobiography, where he connects his own life with some of the well-known saints in the Catholic tradition: people like Joan of Arc, for example, or Mother Teresa, or St. Francis of Assisi. One unusual thing about Father Martin: he started out in the corporate world, working for General Electric, before he decided to enter the priesthood. You have to like someone good-natured enough also to have written a book called In Good Company: The Fast Track from the Corporate World to Poverty, Chastity and Obedience – even if you don’t share all of his understanding of who is a "saint". In the very beginning of the book, he tells about the very first saint he ever got to know: St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes. He writes that he, like many children of his era, loved to send away for things. Mostly he sent away for things he saw on the backs of cereal boxes. But he remembered sending away for this plastic statue once, of St. Jude. Its appeal was not anything personal about the saint, but simply that he was the patron saint of lost causes. That appealed to him, having someone who would be on hand to help with his lost, his hopeless causes.

As a child, that’s how Father Martin thought about saints: someone to pray to, someone who could perhaps help him out in a difficult time. As he grew, he began to see and appreciate saints more as examples of holy living, with lives different and fascinating to him. When he writes about "his life with the saints" he is writing about people (for the most part) who have long been dead, but whose lives have been an inspiration to him, in one way or another. But what about us? One of the reasons his book attracted me is that I think each of us could write a book as well: "My life with the saints," – however, instead of writing about St. Francis or Nicholas or St. Teresa, we would write perhaps about our mother or our grandfather or a Sunday School teacher or an aunt. We might write about someone we sat next to in worship, or someone we knew from a Bible study, or someone who served funeral lunches with us. We might write about someone who visited us in the hospital, or someone we visited. The truth is, each of us could write a book "My life with the saints", because, whether we know it or not, we know a lot of saints.

What is a saint, anyway? That’s not a bad question to ask on this, all saints Sunday. What is a saint? Who are your saints? Some people think of a "saint" as an especially holy person, someone who, while not quite living a perfect life, lived a much better life than you or I.
Mother Teresa is in the process of being canonized right now. Many people thought of her as being a "living saint" because of the work she did among the poor in Calcutta. She served Christ in the poor, hungry and homeless – she became poor herself in order to serve the poor. So many have been awed by the work she did, and have said to themselves, "I could never do that" – so because of that, they assume she is a saint. Also, we assume that a "saint" is someone who is especially close to God, has a special relationship, a special closeness to God. We perhaps assume that a "saint" feels God’s presence in their lives in a way that we might not, has a certainty about faith that not all of us have. So perhaps it has come as a bit of a shock to lately learn that Mother Teresa struggled with deep doubts and felt the absence of God from her life, for much of the time she was doing her ministry. I’m relieved to discover that these doubts and struggles, no matter how deep, will not prevent her from becoming an "official" saint. And perhaps it’s a relief to know that a saint can be both a person of deep faith, but also a person of deep doubts and struggles.

What is a saint? Who are the saints, who have been the saints in your life? It’s tempting to look at our gospel reading today from Luke, his words to the people gathered on the plain, and to think of them (because of the day) as criteria for saints. Blessed are you poor, Jesus says, for the kingdom of God belongs to you.. Blessed are you who are hungry, and blessed are you who weep. And blessed are you who have been kicked around by life, who’ve been excluded, talked down to, pushed aside, laughed at for believing. Blessed are you, Jesus says. And then his harsh words to others, Woe to you who are rich, and full and laughing. Woe to you who are well-regarded by others, admired and sought after. Is that it? Should we look around for poor and hungry people, and call them saints? Should we strive to be poorer ourselves? But not all the poor are saints, and not all the rich are wicked, someone said recently. And it’s true.

Let’s look at these words of Jesus from another angle. Let’s imagine that we are out there on the plain as Jesus is speaking to the people. Who is it that is gathering to hear his words? And why do you supposed they are drawn to him? Blessed are you poor, Jesus says to the people. He’s talking TO people, he’s talking people who are poor. The people who gather to hear Jesus are people who don’t have anywhere else to go. They are people who have nothing, not even hope. They are desperate. They are clinging to Jesus’ words as a man would cling to a life raft in a storm. He’s all they’ve got. He’s all they’ve got. That’s why they gather to hear him. He’s their life raft, their anchor, their rock. Their whole lives are a lost cause. And what he’s telling them is: "You have something. You have me and my words to you. You have my life, and my promise to you." And they trusted his words. And Jesus’ harsh words of "woe" – well, don’t they, for the most part, describe reality? Especially the second and third one, where Jesus says "Woe to you who laugh, for you will weep and mourn?" Won’t all of us experience both times of celebration and times of weeping? Jesus is describing reality. The problem is when we look around in times of celebration and think, "This is IT. I’ve arrived."

The problem is when we look at our bank balance, or our retirement and think, "Now I don’t have to worry about anything any more." The problem is trust. Where do you put your trust?
What is a saint? It’s true, that we can describe a saint as an especially holy person. But please do not read "holy" as perfect. To be "holy" really means to be set aside for a particular purpose. God’s name is holy because it is set apart to be used for prayer, praise and thanksgiving.
The people of God are described as "holy" because they have been set apart for a particular purpose: to serve our neighbor and to worship God. The book of Ephesians describes it this way: Our purpose is "To live for the praise of God’s glory." Each of us is called to "holy living", to praise God’s glory, and each of us does it in different ways.

But, at bottom, a saint is simply someone who trusts God. A saint is someone who gathers to hear the words of Jesus, knowing, for some reason, that they don’t have anywhere else to go.
A saint is someone who clings to Jesus’ promises, like a man clinging to a life raft in a storm.
A saint trusts that Jesus has claimed her life, has called him "blessed", even when it looks for all the world like it is just the opposite. Saints are simply those who have been called "beloved" by Jesus, and who live trusting that name, and not any other.

What is a saint? Who are the saints in your life? In a little while, we will read the names of some of the saints among us, those who have died during the past year. And with every name read, there is a story. Some of the stories are well-known to many, and some known only to a few. There are stories of faith and doubt, struggle and peace. There’s the story of the woman who was hospitalized often over many years, and who prayed for and developed relationships with the nurses and doctors and hospital workers where-ever she stayed. She had a chronic illness, but she did not let her illness define who she was. Instead, she trusted God’s word to her: that she was a beloved child of God, a saint, with a calling and a purpose. And there are the words of another of our saints, who said of herself: "The reality of my life is that I am disabled. But the essential ‘me’ is much more than that. I want people to know me. I have interests and abilities that have nothing to do with my disability." And of course, there is the life of Mother Teresa, who although she struggled with doubt and felt the absence of God from her life, did not stop doing what God had called her to do and did not stop being what God had called her to be: a saint.

We have lived our lives surrounded by saints – and they have taught us how to trust Jesus with our lives, and in our lives. They have taught us by their faith and by their honest doubts, by their suffering, and by their joy, by living lives that bless others, even in times of adversity.
They haven’t taught us by being perfect, but by trusting that they are God’s children and God’s chosen ones. So, you see it's not true: "no kids are saints" -- is it?

On this all saints Sunday, we give thanks for those who have gone before us in faith. During this life they lived ordinary lives. Perhaps we wouldn’t call them saints. But now, in God’s presence they are revealed as the children of God they are.

And on this all saints Sunday, we claim God’s promise for ourselves too: that we are saints, that through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are called beloved children of God, blessed and sent out. Even though we might look for all the world like ordinary people, even though our lives might be "lost causes", even though we struggle and have doubts... God calls us ‘saints.’ Holy and beloved, doing acts mighty and small, and in all things, clinging to Jesus, the hope of lost causes.


Saturday, November 3, 2007

Weekend update

I'm absolutely exhausted.

When I got home tonight, we had a little birthday party for #2 Stepson. In case you are wondering, I had absolutely no responsibilities for it except to show up. And apologize to my inlaws about how messy the house still was. Interesting factoid: they are members of my church. So they knew where I was all day. Mother-in-law even went to the funeral. So they were gracious and understood. But still, I feel bad. I don't want people to know what our house really looks like when company doesn't come over. Just like I don't REALLY want people to know what my sins are, either. Just that I'm a sinner, in theory.

Anyway, afterwards, I did do the dishes. Which had stacked up all day. I didn't really want to, but I knew I would feel bad tomorrow when they got even higher (and I am even more tired) so I did them.

Everything went really well. There is a really good group of third graders learning the Bible this year. We were in a room which was really too small for us this morning, which hampered some of our activities, but otherwise, it was great. I love this age group. It's fun to take them through the basics of the Bible. Next week, we do it all again with the New Testament. And next Sunday, they get their Bibles to take home.

The funeral went well, too. The family provided some special music. I especially liked Chris Rice's Untitled Hymn. Two grandsons gave fabulous eulogies. I did all right, too. They are a talented bunch.

The couple tied the knot. The bride wore a beautiful white gown with red trim. It was a small simple ceremony: the kind I like.

I want to tweak the sermon I preached next, but I'm kind of tired (okay, really tired). I have a couple of small ideas. If I go to bed right now, I can try them in the morning.

Ever since becoming a pastor, Fall Back is my absolute favorite day of the year.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Would you like some whine with that?

Here is my day tomorrow (Saturday):

9:00 -10:30 A.M.
Intro to the Bible class with Third graders and their parents. This is usually pretty fun, although we usually start the class at 9:30 rather than 9:00. We learn a "books of the Old Testament" song, find all of the books of the Old Testament hidden around the room, practice looking up verses, and finding out something about the different kinds of writing in the Old Testament.

11:00 A.M.
Memorial service in the chapel, for one of the saints of the church. She was 97 years old. She wrote a book of her life, which I remember her proudly showing to me one day. She also played the organ by ear, and love to serve formal dinners. There is also a lunch afterward.

3:00 P.M.
Wedding in the sanctuary. They are a nice young couple. He is the grandson of a woman whose funeral I did last winter.

5:00 P.M.
Worship with communion in the chapel. My "All Saints" sermon -- "Our Lives With the Saints" with nods to James Martin's book My Life With the Saints, and to Mother Theresa, who has been in the news lately.

Also, the church happens to be full tomorrow. There is not one room left unused. There will be lots of activity in every corner of the church.

My question: Does it all really have to happen on the same day?
Answer: Apparently, yes.

P.S. Scout appears to have a form of kennel cough. She appears to have a "productive" cough, if you get my drift.

End of whine.

Now, I think I'll have a half a glass of wine, and re-read my funeral sermon, and my wedding sermon, and go to bed.

Friday Five: Interviews

Mother Laura from over at Revgals offers us this Friday Five:
Songbird just had an interview for a "vague and interesting" possibility, and More Cows than People is doing campus visits for doctoral programs. So please keep your fingers crossed and say a little prayer for everyone facing such conversations, and share your thoughts on the wonderful world of interviews:

1. What was the most memorable interview you ever had?
There are two I can remember. One was my interview for my first call. The whole church interviewed me. I stood in front of the sanctuary, and anyone who wanted to asked a question. I don't believe that most of the questions were that difficult (someone may have asked about homosexuality, but I don't remember). The question I do remember is: "How do you think you will get along, out here on the prairie?"

The other memorable interview was my battery of interviews to be a missionary. This was partly because I went to New York City, where I had a physical, was evaluated by a psychologist, talked to the East Asia Secretary and then interviewed with the entire board. At the time, I found it fun.

2. Have you ever been the interviewer rather than the interviewee? If so, are you a tiger, a creampuff, or somewhere in between?
I haven't done it for awhile, but I think I am somewhere in between. A number of years ago I interviewed youth for summer jobs for a church's children's ministry. The youth were from various ethnic/cultural backgrounds, and it was fascinating to learn their different "interviewee" styles.

3. Do phone interviews make you more or less nervous than in-person ones?
I don't think phone interviews are the most effective. They are a necessary evil, if you can't travel. So much depends on body language and facial expressions for our impressions of one another. Of course, you still have the voice inflection...

4. What was the best advice you ever got to prepare for an interview? How about the worst?
"Just be yourself." Best and worst advice.

5. Do you have any pre-interview rituals that give you confidence?
Prayer. Having a cup of coffee.

Thursday, November 1, 2007


I only ever knew one person named Beatta.

She lived with her elderly father in a small city in South Dakota. He was a tough 90 year old gentleman who needed a walker, but still drove down the street to have coffee with his buddies. She was in her 50s, I think, and suffered from seizures.

They took care of each other.

"If I ever have to go to a nursing home, I hope I croak," her father told me once, in his characteristicly blunt style. Beatta herself was quiet. She had a low, thick voice, and sometimes would fall asleep in the recliner when I came to give them both communion.

As far as I knew, she never married, never had children. She lived with her father, did some cooking and kept the house clean. I don't know if I ever learned her hopes. It seems so long ago now, that I knew her. The thing I most remember is that her name was Beatta.


She didn't fit most of our definitions of "blessed": chronically ill, single, childless. But that is what her parents named her: Beatta. Perhaps they had hopes for her, their daughter, when she was born. Perhaps they imagined what she would be and do. Or perhaps (and this is far more likely) they simply felt blessed themselves to have a daughter: Beatta.

She took care of her father, and he took care of her.

And she was blessed, because her parents called her blessed, and because Jesus called her blessed. A saint of God, holy and beloved, but her glory hidden from our view in this life.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.