Friday, October 31, 2008

A Reformation Day Sermon

....from a couple of years ago. I'm not preaching, so I thought I'd put up former sermons on Reformation and on All Saints.


Lately the word "Free!" Has been going through my mind, in exactly this way: "Free! Free!" And here’s why: It all has to do with training our dog, in this case, to walk nicely on a leash. The first week of "leash training" class, we were told that the key words for nice leash-walking were "Let’s walk," and told exactly how to hold the leash and what to do if your dog tries to get ahead of you. When the dog hears "Let’s walk", she has to learn to obey: no sniffing, no checking out the squirrels, no pulling. The idea is that the dog goes where you want to go, NOT where the dog wants to go. Inevitably, someone at that first class asked, "So what do you say when you WANT your dog to be more relaxed? – you know, not have to follow all of those rules?" – not obey you?
You guessed it! You say, "Free! Free!" Then the dog can sniff and wander and generally speaking, act like a dog.

"So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed," Jesus says to his disciples in our Gospel on this Reformation Sunday. "Free indeed!" It sounds like it should have an exclamation point at the end of it, like this is something really important, and really exciting. And it’s also no accident that this is one of the Scriptures lessons always chosen for Reformation day, for the issue of freedom was very important to Martin Luther. He desperately wanted the people of his day to know that, in Christ, they were "Free! Free!" And this issue of freedom was behind the 95 theses he posted on that church door in Wittenburg back in 1517. He posted those 95 theses primarily because he had questions about the practice of selling something called "indulgences" – basically a piece of paper you could buy that assured you or a loved one of eternal life. Luther felt that a Christian who knew that he or she was really free wouldn’t need to buy an indulgence in order to be sure about it.

Also, the same issue, the issue of freedom was behind a little tract that Luther wrote just three years later, called "The Freedom of a Christian." (For those of you in confirmation who just saw the Luther movie, this was one of the writings that Luther was asked to renounce... but he wouldn’t) Outside of the small catechism, this is probably Luther’s clearest and most important statement of what the Christian faith is all about: and he says that it is all about being free, free in Christ. In this tract, Luther asks and answers the question: What does it mean to be free?
What do you think? Does it mean that in Christ we are free to do whatever we want to ... like the dog who is "free" to wander away from her master, to sniff the ground and go wherever she wants to go? Does it mean that we don’t have to pay attention to the law any more? Does it mean that we don’t even really "have to" do acts of piety, prayer and Bible reading and worship? Luther’s answer, surprisingly, was "yes... and "no."

Luther begins this little book with two provocative statements. First he says "A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none."Think about how that must have sounded to the people of his time.Very few people thought of themselves as "free." Not a democratic society. So. This was a radical statement. And: "A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all." How can both statements be true? But Luther claims that they are, and goes on to explain – first of all that we are truly free. In other words, we don’t have to do anything ... to earn God’s love.
We don’t have to buy an indulgence to be assured a place in heaven. We don’t have to say a certain prayer, or climb a certain number of church steps in order to be forgiven, because God has already forgiven us through Jesus’ death and resurrection. That is the truth that sets us free.

It’s like the story I heard about a teacher who said to her students, on the first day of class,"First of all, I’d like you all to know that you all get ‘A’s. Now, here is the syllabus. Any questions?" That wold be a really radical thing to do – kind of dangerous – probably why you have never heard of a teacher actually saying that ... and why many people shy away from the truth of the gospel .. The truth that in Christ you are really free, in Christ each of us has already earned an ‘A’. It’s easy to become a Christian, as easy as being carried to the font as a baby. But it’s dangerous too, and that gets us to the 2nd statement that Luther made, the second truth about Christian freedom."A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all." So it’s true... we don’t have to do anything ... but we do, as servants of Christ. We serve ... we give... we love...

Luther used many analogies in his little book to describe what it means to be free and at the same time a servant. One of the illustrations that Luther uses is that of a tree, with deep roots and strong branches. If a tree is planted in good soil, it will grow strong and it will bear good fruit.No one comes up to the tree and orders it to bear good fruit. In fact, that won’t work.
We can’t make an apple tree give us good apples by demanding them. And an apple tree doesn’t Have to make apples, it just does, because it’s planted in a good place, and nurtured and fed. It’s the same with us. If our roots are in the good soil of Jesus, and faith in him, we will bear fruit, we will be servants, but not because we have to. It will be part of who we are ... not something to be proud of, or that makes us better than anyone else. But something that happens naturally.

I’d like to think about that classroom again, the classroom where all the students get ‘A’s. Now they are free – they are free from staying up all night studying and worrying about whether they will "make the grade." And now they are also free ... free to study simply because they want to learn all about astronomy, or history or biology. Now that they don’t have to worry about the score, they can study for the love of the subject. That’s being "free indeed."

Just last Friday there was a funeral here at Woodlake for a man who had served his community in a lot of ways. And one of the stories that was told about this man was this incredible story about how he had actually saved a woman from being hit by a train several years ago. He said it was one of the proudest moments of his life. And what struck me was that he didn’t think he did anything particularly heroic. He was pretty sure that anyone else would have done the same thing in his place. And he was grateful that he had the opportunity to do something like that in his life. Can you imagine? He didn’t think it was something he "had to" do? It was an opportunity he had been given. In Christ we are perfectly free, lords of all.. We don’t have to do anything. And in Christ we are perfectly dutiful, servants of all.

There’s another way to think about all this. It’s true, we don’t have to do anything. But we "get to" do things, instead. Remember when we were children and we were excited because we "got to" go skating, or help grandma with gardening, or go to visit someone. In Christ, we are children, serving our father not because we have to, but out of pure joy.Writer Gerhard Frost tells about the day his two children decided to serve his wife and him ... breakfast in bed.
They were two and four at the time, and when they proudly brought the trays in to serve their parents, the breakfast consisted of chilled burnt toast, with peanut butter; eggs, fried, and chilled, too; soggy cereal (the milk had been added too soon) and tepid tea! When the children left the room to get something they forgot, his wife whispered "you’re going to have to eat this! I can’t." And you know what. He did. He didn’t eat it as a gourmet. It wasn’t gourmet cooking.
He didn’t eat it because he was hungry. He wasn’t. He ate it because he was a father and because it was made for him; he ate it because his children had faith in him; he didn’t want to let them down. He ate it because he saw how eagerly his children served him. That’s the way it is with us as well ... with joy in our hearts we serve...And sometimes what we come up with is soggy cereal and tepid tea.But our father takes our service and makes it into something wonderful.

Friends, that’s being free indeed ... subject to none.... and servant of all.
Let’s walk.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Friday Five: Positive Potpourri Edition

Will Smama from over at Revgalblogpals writes:

Greetings friends! It's been awhile since I've contributed to the posts here at the revgalblogpals website, but I agreed to step into the Fifth Friday of the Month Friday Five slot.So here I be.

As I zip around the webring it is quite clear that we are getting BUSY. "Tis the season" when clergy and laypeople alike walk the highwire from Fall programming to Christmas carrying their balancing pole with family/rest on the one side and turkey shelters/advent wreaths on the other.

And so I offer this Friday Five with 5 quick hit questions... and a bonus:

1) Your work day is done and the brain is fried, what do you do? I check facebook, play a little Scramble, and give my very spoiled dog some ear scritches and tummy rubs.

2) Your work week is done and the brain is fried (for some Friday, others Sunday afternoon), what do you do? After church on Sunday I always stop at the grocery story and get soup and/or sandwiches for lunch, go home and share them with my husband, and take a nice nap. Afterwards I get up and read the Sunday paper, mostly doing the crossword and reading the book reviews.

3) Like most of us, I often keep myself busy even while programs are on the tv. I stop to watch The Office and 30 Rock on Thursday nights. Do you have 'stop everything' tv programming or books or events or projects that are totally 'for you' moments? We always watch Antique Roadshow. The Office is going on our list of must-sees starting next week.

4) When was the last time you laughed, really laughed? What was so funny? The last time I really really laughed hard was this last summer when we got home from vacation and got the dog from the dog sitters. When I went in for my regular naptime, I called Scout to come into the room. She came trotting in and promptly jumped in the bed with us (all 60 pounds of her)! We laughed so hard!! I think those dog sitters were spoiling her even worse than we do!

5) What is a fairly common item that some people are willing to go cheap on, but you are not. Shampoo. I'm vain about my hair. I cheap out on makeup, and lotion, etc. but I use expensive shampoo.

Bonus: It's become trite but is also true that we often benefit the most when we give. Go ahead, toot your own horn. When was the last time you gave until it felt good? The meals I took over to my next door neighbor when she was pregnant and on bed rest....of course, she and her husband have done nice things for us, too. The truth is, I often feel that I receive much more than I give. It's embarrassing, but it's true.

Excuse me while I grieve.....

As of today, Northwest Airlines is a wholly owned subsidiary of Delta. It is the end of a long and proud tradition here in the upper-midwest. I suppose it's always seemed like a stretch to some that a city like Minneapolis (a pretty parochial place and always a big small town in some peoples' minds) could also be a major airline hub.

In recent years, I have not always been a fan of Northwest, or its management (or should I say, at least at times, mis-management.)

And of course, let's all remember that it wasn't long ago that Northwest requested a bailout from our legislature, promising that they would never move their headquarters.

Still, I will miss them.

I took my first flights, as a young adult, on Northwest Airlines. Northwest was once called "Northwest Orient" because it offered flights to Japan. One member of our congregation worked for Northwest for many years, and often flew to Japan.

Good bye, Northwest.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

At the Risk of Sounding Redundant.....

In this prolonged, and many times dreary, negative election season, this brings a smile, and reminds me of the gift of our basic freedoms.

I first saw this over at Andrew Sullivan's blog.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

One of the Temptations

I remember a conversation I had several years ago.

I was talking to my boyfriend at the time (not the one who would later become my husband.... ). I related a story I had heard about my grandfather. My aunt had told me that he used to shake his head and say, "I just don't know how anyone can be a Christian and a Democrat."

My boyfriend chuckled and said, "And we think just the opposite."

Just as if someone had hit my knee with one of those little hammers, I shot back a little, "No."

But he was just being honest.

And that's the temptation, always.

How can a good person think differently than we do? I am passionate about justice, about ending poverty, about creating opportunity, about ending racism, about advocating for children, about caring for the environment, about treating all people with respect. And those passions come from my faith values.

How can a good person come to a different conclusion about how to strive for these values politically?

In my congregation we have different political affiliations. In some quarters that is considered a liability. You know, now you have to be a "progressive" congregation or a "conservative" congregation. We're more united by our politics than by our denominations. But what if instead of Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, liberals, middle-class, upper-class, German, Polish, Catholic, or Pentecostal, we could see ourselves in the one way that would unite us: sinners. Forgiven sinners.

We are acting passionately based on our faith values. We are also making mistakes and getting it wrong.

We are open-minded and we are racist. We are cocky and we are humble. We are solving the problems of the world, and we are making them worse.

What do you think? Just wondering....

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Winds of Change

As I type this, I can hear the wind howling outside our door. If I didn't know better, I would think we were in the midst of a blizzard. That's how high and strong the wind is tonight. There even were a few snowflakes floating outside after church. A small child greeted me after the second service with the words, "Happy Snow Day!" I wasn't sure what she was talking about until I looked outside.

This morning we celebrated Reformation Sunday like every other good Lutheran congregation. Our intern preached; we've never let our interns preach on Reformation before, and I must say, she did an awfully good job. She's a second-career student whose first career was teaching college. She had an easy over-view of Luther's movement, and also highlighted The Luther Decade and its emphasis on Repentance (the first of the 95 theses was about repentance).

Predictably, we sang "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." I wonder if anyone else sings that song like Lutherans do. Instead of singing the third verse, the organ played an instrumental interlude that made it sound like the organ, if not the world, was filled with devils.

Since it was the last Sunday of the month, we offered prayers and anointing for healing after all the services. I am always surprised by the people who line up, for themselves or on behalf of others. We have just been doing this since the end of May, and the last of the month always sneaks up on me. I feel somehow not prepared; then, as I speak words of prayer for each person, I am struck by the holiness between us in these moments.

After church, I spied a bald one-year-old toddle down the hall, her mother following after her. The mother paused to relay her daughter's first word: "Amen." She prays and lays her hand on her daughter each night at bed-time, and just the other night, her daughter has begun to repeat "Amen amen amen".

It is so cold today; yesterday it was warm and sixty-two. The world is filled with devils, and with the goodness of God. The bright red leaves and the biting wind both take my breath away.
"I'm afraid," someone whispers to me. "I'm afraid of what the future will bring."
"I'm hopeful," I hear someone else say, with tears glistening. It takes my breath away.

It is autumn, time of beauty and death, fear and hope. Amen amen amen.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

My Mysterious Dog

This happens fairly often, according to my husband.

On evenings when I am working and he is home, Scout will continually make howling and yowling noises throughout the evening, and appear restless. He lets her out; she barks and wants back in. She comes back in; she yowls and paces and bothers him.

Basically, according to him, she makes a lot of noise and won't leave him alone. Just the other night he pointed to her and said, "I think the problem is that she doesn't like me! Because for three hours she has been pestering me, and now .... when you get home.... look!"

She was chewing contentedly on a nylabone. She looked very peaceful.

I have no idea what is going on. Does anyone else have any ideas?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Smell of Fresh Basil and other unexpected surprises..

This morning it was 31 degrees, just a light frosting, but a little chilly for dog walking. I'm not acclimated yet, so it seems cold instead of bracing. But that will change.

I was warned about the frost, and so took all the remaining basil out of the garden last night. That fresh, deep smell filled the kitchen while I worked cutting it and putting it into little bags. Tonight I believe I will do some pesto making.

I'm not much of a gardener. It's something I believe in more "in theory" than in practice. But I did manage to plant some basil this summer, and now I have some good scents, and good flavors to bring indoors. It's one of the things I like about fall: all of the smells of ripeness.

Around here, it's also the season to get things done before winter sets in. A couple of weeks ago, we had someone out to fix our chimney. A good surprise: the foreman brought his dog along in his truck. A ten month-old puppy. We decided it would be good to let Scout have an impromptu "play date." It has taken this long to get pictures up.

Scout still lights up my life. She and the puppy got along famously.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Jesus for President

.... this is just the closing paragraphs of my Sunday Sermon.
just didn't feel like posting the whole thing.
We also had our first "Children's Sabbath" today at the 10:00 o clock service. I talked about Children's Advocacy for part of the sermon, as well.

"Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's."

That is a religious statement -- and a political statement -- Because God cares about our whole lives, not just our souls -- and because Jesus is Lord of our whole lives, and not just our souls.

Jesus is not running for president -- but he is the Messiah. The truth is, if he were running for president, he would not be elected. None of us would vote for him -- from the most conservative among us to the most liberal, and everyone in between. We would not vote for Jesus for President. His policies would be too impractical -- loving your enemy, doing good to those who persecute you, turning the other cheek..... And he wouldn't always tell you just what we wanted to hear, whether about lowering your taxes or raising your taxes or anything else. But he would tell us what we needed to hear -- about who we are, and who be belong to, and where to find true life, and health. He would throw us on our own initiative just when we wanted his help -- and he would give himself for us at just the time we wanted to pull ourselves up by our own boostraps. He's not interested in the worthy, but the unworthy; he's not interested just in the rich, but the poor; he's not just interested in your soul, but in your whole life. And we would never vote for him.

But we don't vote for him. He votes for us. He votes for you. He votes with his feet, with his heart, with his life: riding into Jerusalem, not to get your vote, but to save your life.

That's why we do everything: feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, protecting the children -- in his name. And that's why we come together in his name, week after week, despite our differences, to worship the one who takes children in his arms, and calls them his own -- including you and me. AMEN

Saturday, October 18, 2008

If I Ran the World....

  • Presidential Candidates would only be allowed to campaign for three months.
  • They would be fined for the lies found in their ads.
  • Pundits would not be allowed to comment after debates.
  • There would be NO POLLS. The only poll that counts is on November 4. It doesn't matter who you say you are going to vote for until you actually cast your vote!!!
  • Christians would realize that Not All Christians are Republicans, and Not All Christians Are Democrats.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

"Life or Health of the Mother"

Two stories:

Shortly after I came to this church, I met a young woman. She was one of our confirmation guides. She was married and had a young child. At almost the same time that year, she discovered she was pregnant and that she had cancer. She got the best opinions from her doctors, and then made the difficult decision to delay her treatment until after her baby was born. She and her husband knew that they were taking a risk, but they decided it was worth it. She was able to begin treatment shortly afterwards, and her family is still doing well today. They are so grateful for their two healthy children.

A few years ago, I learned a story from a friend. A woman who has at least two children learns that she is pregnant, and shortly afterwards, learns that she has cancer. After discussing her options with her physician, she decides to delay her treatment until after her baby is born. She knows that there are risks, but she is adamantly pro-life. Unfortunately, in her case, her cancer advances rapidly and she dies when her baby is young, leaving her husband a widower with three small children.

Both of these women chose life. I respect their choices. They risked their lives for the sake of their babies.

But, nobody told them they had to risk their lives. They got to choose.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

It's the Little Things....

Last Wednesday morning, after our Matins service, a woman came up to me and said, "I would like to give you a little present. It's a book.... I just got done reading it and I wanted you to have a copy too. I couldn't put it down." Of course, this made me curious: what kind of book could elicit this kind of reaction? I didn't have long to wait before I discovered: later that day a copy of The Faith Club was in my mail box at the church office. She said, "I've never known a Jewish person or a Muslim before. It was just fascinating." Here is an interesting sideline: Last spring, Keith Ellison came and spoke at our church. He is the representative of our district, and the first Muslim member of the House of Representatives.


Lately, I've noticed that I am beginning to have more trouble with my eyes. I especially notice this when I am trying to do the weekly puzzle in the New York Times Magazine. I have a hard time reading the letters and numbers on the acrostics, and the shiny paper, I think, makes it worse. This is cutting into my puzzle enjoyment. Even when I wear my progressive lenses, the letters and numbers are still hard to read. I did finally get an eye appointment for next week.


Thinking about the economy lately, I have declared an informal moratorium on buying anything. We are at that age where retirement is closer than we might like to admit. We still have time, but it is worrying. So I decided: no more books (go to the library), no more new clothes, no more bric and no more brac. And that shiny red coffee pot that I have been coveting? I don't need it. But -- funny thing -- I just saw the coziest sweater, in autumn colors, and suddenly I have this insatiable desire for new pajamas.


Did you know that October is Clergy Appreciation Month? Neither did I. But I got a card from a woman in the congregation just last week, with a small amount of money in it. I bought this wonderful book

Monday, October 13, 2008

Almost Famous

Our Animal Blessing Service got in the local community newspaper last week. No picture of Scout in there, but nonetheless, somewhat satisfying:

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Shared Sacrifice

At least once or twice in my life I've talked to people in business who knew other business leaders who had to lay off or reduce the wages of their workers. I've wondered aloud whether it might not be a good idea for those business leaders to take pay cuts themselves, or at least freeze their pay wages while their workers were making sacrifices. On both occasions, it was patiently explained to me (as if I were a two year old) that "it wouldn't do any good." They meant, I suppose, that as big as their salaries seemed to be, if they cut their own wages, they could not save enough money to save any of those jobs, or to help their workers.

Of course, that is an explanation based on "the bottom line," profits and losses, and quarterly income statements. I get that explanation. I'm not stupid.

But I don't buy it.

The bottom line is not the only consideration in business, or in life. There is also a concept which has become almost (not quite) unknown in our culture: Shared Sacrifice.

It is a concept for people who are living in community, who know that they are members of one another, who know that their actions have ripple effects beyond their personal, individual lives and their family lives. When there is pain to be borne, we suffer together, and together we can make it through the dark night and back into the light. In a therapeutic sort of way, I suppose this is one of the benefits of grief groups and other support organizations.

As I have been reading the economic news these past few days, I've been wondering just what is in store for us as individuals, as families, as a nation. Some people have used the word "Depression" to describe what could happen. We are a much more prosperous nation now than we were in 1929: more of us have bigger houses, with more amenities, more things we consider necessities. For example, grandparents did not have a VCR, DVD Player, or a CD player. They did not have cell phones or computers. And they did not have anywhere near the books that I have. They went to the library.

But they did have more of one thing than we have: community.

I remember reading Russell Baker's book Growing Up several years ago. He poignantly describes what it was like growing up during the depression. One of the things that struck me about the book was the sense he had that everyone he knew was in the same boat, everyone was suffering together, everyone was struggling together. If there were executives with large salaries somewhere having parties, he didn't know about it.

Some have speculated that in these New Hard Times that we will rediscover what it means to live in community: to rejoice with those who rejoice, to weep with those who weep, to make sacrifices for the common good. Perhaps we will discover there is power in working together, serving together, maybe even worshiping together.

Or, maybe we won't.

What do you think?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Last night we had a meeting of our worship coordinators. They are the few people who organize and make sure each service runs smoothly: communion table set, processional well-paced, assistants trained and ready to go. They also clean up after each service, and take the linens home to launder. At the end of each meeting, one of the pastors gives a brief "liturgical moment." We talked about baptism and Holy Communion, hymnody and the order of worship.

Last night I told them a little about "The Liturgy of the Hours." I have been trying to discipline myself lately according to Phyllis Tickle's books, "The Divine Hours." So I told them a little bit about where the tradition of "fixed-hour prayer" comes from.

I come from a tradition where it has often been deemed superior to "make your own prayer," otherwise known as (aka) "praying from the heart." Yet, I am not myself an either/or type of pray-er, and I have discovered both "making my own prayers," and traditional collects to be helpful at different times. I also offered a testimony of sorts: there are times when it is difficult to pray from the heart, and I have discovered that an old prayer, one that has stood the test of time, is exactly the prayer I need to say.

We closed with this prayer:

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, sooth the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen.


Sunday was our 2nd Annual Animal Blessing service. It dawned cold and rainy. Loud thunderstorms punctuated Sunday worship. It dried off by 2:00 p.m., but our crowd was much smaller than last year, and it was cold.

Our Scout was not a very good dog this year. She was very interested in the cats who had come, and tried my husband's patience mightily. We did not get any good pictures of her.

However, it was worth it because we blessed Harriet.

Harriet is a ten-year-old boxer. An 11-year old boy and his mom brought her to the service in the afternoon. They said they had never been to anything like this before. They are members of our church, but had not been to our service the year before.

Between March and May of this year, Harriet's guardians discovered that she was bumping into things. By May she had become completely blind. They took her to the vet, and discovered that she had a tumor. It is cancer.

"Bless O Lord, your servant Harriet, and fill our hearts with gratitude for her life."


I have been thinking a lot about the economy lately. I suppose that everybody has. I remember studying the Depression, seeing the pictures of bread lines and hoboes. I don't think we are going to have a depression like that one, but I do wonder what the future will bring for us. I also think: the one thing that they had in larger supply than we do: community.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sunday Sermon

"The Center for Changing Lives"

Just a few days ago, I joined a tour group for part of an afternoon. It was not a tour to a museum or to a historical site or to a cultural center. And I did not go away to an exotic place, but in fact went to the heart of the city to join this tour. The building we toured together was even still under construction, so those of us who entered were required to wear hard hats, orange vests – and sign a waiver absolving our tour guides in case anything fell on us during the tour. So, in many ways, it was sort of an unusual tour experience. As we walked through the not yet completed building, we learned about a vision – a vision shared by different members of a neighborhood, and a vision shared by a congregation. We heard a vision for a place of worship and a place of service and a place of empowerment: a place where people could find help with housing, and with finances, where children could learn to read and play, where people could get food and clothing, where refugees could come as they learned their way around a strange new country.

This building will be called "The Center for Changing Lives." It is located in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis, and when finished, it will host a whole array of services as well as serve as the worship space for XXX Lutheran Church. It’s a partnership with Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota and a whole host of community organizations that work and serve in this neighborhood. They have been meeting for a number of years, dreaming and planning for what this center could be and do – not just for themselves, but for the families who live here, the children who play and learn here, the people who work here. As I wandered through the building, listening to our tour guide, I must admit that I also remembered the years I spent working and studying as a part of the Messiah congregation, learning from their members and the people who lived in their neighborhood. I wondered how it would be for the people of that congregation to finally move from their building on XXX Avenue – where they have been for about 100 years – to their new location inside this Center. The tour guide kept saying that she was "proud of them", but I imagine it was a difficult decision, and probably not without some controversy, either.

"The Center for Changing Lives." Think of it as a kind of a vineyard, a field for planting and for tending and for harvesting. This building I talked about, all the bricks and mortar and beams and support – is really a field, where seeds are sown, where people are fed and nourished and sent out to bless the world. And if we think of this center that way, I think this will give us some insight into the beginning of this parable from Matthew: there is a landlord, and there are tenants, and in the middle of all this, there is a vineyard. And the vineyard is supposed to be "a center for changing lives." The tenants are busy growing vines and nurturing fruit to share with the world, to bless the world, to make a positive impact on people around them. But somehow that purpose got lost, and the tenants thought that they were in this vineyard business for some other purpose than blessing the world, and they rejected every emissary from the landowner who came – even his Son.

Jesus tells this story on his way to the cross. And he tells it, I think, for two reasons: the first is to remind his people of what their purpose is: to be a vineyard, a place where seeds are planted and tended and harvested – a center for changing lives. He tells this parable to remind his disciples that the vineyard does not exist for itself alone, but for the sake of the world. Every single church should have under its name and as its mission: a center for changing lives. That’s what we are, isn’t it? A center for changing lives. And it’s easy for us to forget that – just as the tenants in the parable did.We forget that we exist for a larger purpose in the world.That’s what we want to be: for the people who come here to learn to speak and read English, for the people who come to find shelter, for the people who come to pray, for the people who come to be healed.

We are a center for changing lives: for ourselves, and for others. And for those of us who for some reason or another return to this particular place, week by week, I have to believe that in part it is because we know that we need to be transformed, continually, daily, moment by moment. We need to open our hands, and be reminded to open our hearts. It starts with us, fed and forgiven and raised from the dead. But it doesn’t end with us. It continues as we go out into the world – whether that is to our backyards, to our schools, to our workplaces, to the flooded cities of Iowa. It continues as we go out into the world – across the city, across the state, serving and praying with one another. It continues as we go into the world.

One of the things our tour guide said last week struck me. She was speaking again about XXX church, the little congregation down the street, that will be a part of the center.She said that the pastor there again and again has been telling the people about the need for them "to give themselves away for the sake of the community." And that’s not a bad way for all of us to think of our ministry, whether as individuals, as families, or as a congregation – we are called to "give ourselves away" for the sake of the world.

What are some ways we give ourselves away?
– one is by being in relationship with others who might be different than us, with different languages, or different points of view, or different political viewpoints.
– those of us who are involved in the partnership with our Hispanic congregation give ourselves away as we listen to them, learn from them, and learn what it means to be partners with them in sharing the Gospel.
– We give ourselves away by making time to do something that might be difficult, but important, whether that is going all the way to Iowa to help with flood relief, whether it is joining a small group for a Bible study, whether it is visiting someone in a nursing home and praying for them.
– We give ourselves away when we make time in our busy lives for prayer, in listening for God and in sharing what is on our hearts
– We give ourselves away when we take time from a busy schedule to build relationships with people in other faith communities, and of different racial backgrounds, learning what is important to them, what is hard for them.
– And sometimes these relationships can be painful for us as well, because they reveal our own brokenness.

For myself, one of the most painful moments in ministry for me came when I was still a seminary student, when I worked for this church – XXX – for their summer program. I was eager to give myself away then.I was idealistic. I wanted to change the world, or at least one little corner of it.I discovered that it was harder than I thought.I didn’t know what I was doing – in so many ways.I worked with a multi-racial team of young people, and had to deal with my own prejudices.I worked with children who were angry, who were lonely, who were hungry,and then went home exhausted, to sleep for twelve hours.To be honest, I sometimes felt like a failure.

This gets to the heart of the other reason Jesus told this story to his disciples. He knew that following him would not be easy. He knew that the call to give themselves away would sometimes be painful.He was on the way to the cross, where he himself would be rejected, and he knew that his followers would also experience rejection, failure, and suffering if they followed him.He knew that giving themselves away would be difficult – but that it was, and is still, the path to life.

Some of us are getting on a bus next Sunday afternoon to go to an event called Time to Believe. This event is billed as a time for Christians to share their commitment to transforming the world: building healthy communities, respecting all people, helping all children succeed.
But it’s also an event that will focus on the transformation of our hearts.I don’t know about you, but this is why I’m going –
– I’m going because I still want to transform the world, but I know I can’t do it alone.
– I’m going because I want to be part of something larger than myself.
– I’m going because I believe this is one way God is at work in the world
– I’m going because, just like that building I saw last week, I’m still under construction, but I know, I believe, I trust that God is building something, in me, in us.

So last week I walked around with my hard hat and my orange vest, in a building not yet finished.
And I thought about our own Center for Changing Lives, right here among us, and in us. The Center is not really a place, is it? It’s not this building, or any building– but it’s Jesus himself, the one who gave himself away, yet rose to live for us. When we follow him, we learn that our lives were never ours to begin with.We learn that we are still under construction, and yet God works in us and through us.And we trust him to change our lives, day by day, moment by moment, through the death and resurrection of his Son.

Friday, October 3, 2008

St. Francis Day Friday Five

Sally from over at Revgalblogpals writes:

Today is the day that we remember and celebrate the life of St Francis of Assisi. Here is a description of his early life:Often named the Patron Saint of Animals and the Environment, there is much more to St Francis:Saint Francis is called the little poor man of Assisi. He was born in the year 1182 in the town of Assisi in Italy. His father's name was Bernadone. Bernadone was a very wealthy merchant of Assisi. Francis was a very good-looking boy. He was merry and soft-hearted. So he had many friends. All the noble men's sons were his companions.Francis was brought up in luxury and gaiety. He spent a considerable portion of his wealth in extravagant pleasures. He used to drink with the young princes of the land.

One day Francis was joking and laughing with his friends. A beggar came along crying for alms. Francis, who was soft-hearted, gave whatever he had in his pocket to the beggar. His companions mocked at him for his charitable act. Dispassion dawned in his heart. The sight of the beggar set him thinking about the poverty and misery of mundane life. He gave much money to the poor. His father thought that Francis was wasting his money and rebuked him.

Sometime after this, Francis was laid up in bed for many months on account of some serious disease. He was about to die. But the Lord saved him as he had to carry out a definite mission in his life. The nature of Francis was entirely changed. Francis prayed to the Lord for light and guidance as to his future. He had a vision of Lord Jesus. He made a strong determination to renounce his old way of living to tread a life of purity and to dedicate his life to the service of humanity.

As soon as Francis got well, he informed his parents of his determination. They were disappointed. They became angry with Francis. Francis gave up his old ways and habits and set up to serve God. He distributed clothes, goods and money to the poor. His father was very much annoyed towards his son. He said, "Is this the gratitude you show to me ? I laboured hard and amassed wealth. You are lavishly wasting it on these miserable wretches".Francis' friends mocked at him and teased him. His father turned him out of the house. Francis lived like a beggar. His old friends even pelted him with stones and mud. He bore everything with patience. He wore a coarse dress and ate simple food.Francis went on to travel from village to village preaching the love of God. He invited people to join him in his life of service if they were willing.

Bernard, a rich man of Assisi, was very much attracted by the saintliness of Francis. He joined Francis. He was the first follower of Francis. He placed all his wealth at the altar of God. Eleven others also joined Francis. They distributed all their wealth to the poor. Francis and his followers went all over Italy preaching, teaching, healing and blessing wherever they went.The gospel of kindness and love of Francis soon spread all over Europe and earned for him the name of St. Francis. People called him the little poor man of Assisi. He lived for ever in the hearts of all men.St. Francis collected many followers and founded the Order of Mendicant Friars or Franciscans. The members of this Order have to take a vow of poverty, chastity, love and obedience.St. Francis gave up his mortal coil in 1228.I would like to dedicate this Friday Five to St Francis of Assisi.

1. Saint Francis experienced a life changing call, has anything in your journey so far challenged you to alter your lifestyle?
When I quit my job and went to seminary, I often half-joked that I was becoming downwardly mobile. Though I knew I wanted to study and become a pastor, I had to discipline myself financially in order to be able to stop working full-time. Also, though I can't quite speak about it, my first call in South Dakota meant some life-style change as well. The rural way of life is a different one. There is also the "lifestyle" of a pastor, which has meant going to a new community, one you are not used to, and dwelling there. Also, marriage is a constant life-style change for me, and a challenge sometimes.

2. Francis experienced mocking and persecution, quite often in the comfortable west this is far from our experience. If you have experienced something like this how do you deal with it, if not how does it challenge you to pray for those whose experience is daily persecution?
I don't believe I have really faced persecution. We do support missionaries in Northern India, where Christians are persecuted. I do think we need to be more intentional about remembering those who suffer for their faith.

3 .St Francis had female counterpart in St Clare, she was influenced by St Francis sermon and went on to found the Poor Clare's, like the Franciscans they depended on alms this was unheard of for women in that time, but she persisted and gained permission to found the order. How important are role models like St Clare to you? Do you have a particular female role model whose courage and dedication inspires you? If so share their story....
I have several female role models: both of my grandmothers, my mother who went back to get her college degree when she was forty, and an older woman pastor who led an inner city church. She was one of the first women to become a senior pastor in my denomination. She was also committed to working in the city, serving her community, and empowering her community.

4. Francis loved nature and animals, how important is an expressed love of the created world to the Christian message today?
We are all connected to one another. That's true about people; it's true about the body of Christ, and it's true about the created world as well. We are all connected to one another.

5. On a lighter note; have you ever led a service of blessing for animals, or a pet service, was it a success, did you enjoy it, and would you do it again?

We are having our second annual Animal Blessing Service this Sunday. It was a huge success.