Wednesday, December 28, 2016

What Children Need

After Christmas Eve services this year, I found a note in my box from one of our young worshippers. It was inside an offering envelope that contained a five dollar bill.  The note had hearts on it and also the words, "Best Church Ever."

"Best Church Ever."  At least on Christmas Eve, that's what one seven year old thought.  I wonder what it was that made her write those words.  I wonder what it was she loved so much.

"Best Church Ever."
It's the kind of note a pastor wants to save, and possibly even frame.  Especially it's the kind of note the pastor of a small congregation, with more retired people than children, wants to save.   Our small congregation is tempted to look around and wonder what we have to offer families:  after all, there are many large (some mega) congregations around us.  They have large and busy children's ministries.  They have separate churches for children while parents go to "adult" worship.  They have age-specific ministries.  How can we compete with that?  We can't.

Even more amazing to me was that this note was from our 7:00 candlelight service, not our 4:00 "especially for families with children" service.  Now I happen to think that the 4:00 service was pretty great.  There were a lot of children there.  The service was engaging and interactive and we still got to sing a lot of Christmas carols.  Children got to pretend they were angels and adults got to wave canes and umbrellas and pretend they were shepherds.  A four year old boy stood out in the narthex and handed out candy canes to everyone who came.

At 7:00 there was no children's message, just singing and a sermon and of course, candles and darkness at the end.  It was not tailored specifically for families with children, although extended families attended:  grandparents and parents and grandchildren took entire rows.  Maybe that was part of why it was great.  Maybe children actually sometimes like to sit with their grandparents and their parents in worship and sing the songs together.  Maybe they even need to do it.

Or perhaps it was the candles.  There is something about receiving the light, and then sharing it with the next person, and then seeing everyone together in the light of the candle.  Maybe the seven year old who both receives the light and then passes it to the person next to him feels important, as if he is a part of something great and wonderful.

It is great to have programs for children.  Large churches can offer a lot.  But every church can offer what children need:  a place to worship with people older and younger than themselves, learning to sing and pray and know Jesus.  Every church can be what children need:  a place where children both receive the light, and can pass it along to someone else, a place where children learn that they are valuable and worthy, a part of the mission of God.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Introduction to Matthew

For those who follow the Revised Common Lectionary, this is the year of Matthew's gospel.  It was the first Gospel I studied as a student preacher, when I was on pastoral internship.  For the first time I paid attention all year, every single week.  I noticed the words and the themes and the images that recurred in Matthew's gospel:  how often there were mountains, how much time Jesus spent teaching, the friction with the religious leaders.

Even so, I have to admit, Matthew is not my "favorite" gospel.  Is it even right to say we have favorites?  Mark is the short, and breathless gospel.  Jesus is a man of action.  He is always going somewhere, doing something, healing people, casting out demons.  When I think of Mark, I think of the word "immediately."  I also think of the words "Son of Man" and "Son of God."  I think of Mark's abrupt beginning, without a story of Jesus' birth, and his abrupt ending, with a resurrection announcement but no appearance.  Sometimes I think that Mark is my favorite gospel.

Luke is the gospel of the poor, and women, and children.  Luke includes people that other gospel writers leave out.  Luke remembers the prodigal son, the lost sheep, the poor man Lazarus, the widow of Nain.  Instead of a sermon on the Mount, Jesus preaches on the plain.  Luke tells us of Mary and Elizabeth, and Mary sings about a God who lifts up the poor and brings down the mighty.  Sometimes I think that Luke is my favorite gospel.

John is the philosophical gospel.  Jesus speaks in metaphors and performs signs.  There is a depth that we cannot get to the bottom of, a mystery that cannot be solved:  the incarnate Word.  Jesus is the resurrection and the life, the light of the world, the Lamb of God, the bread of life.  Sometimes I think that John is my favorite gospel.

But Matthew?  Matthew makes me think that God is strict.  Jesus is a teacher concerned with righteousness.  "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribe and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven",  he says.  "You have heard it said," Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount.  "But I say to you..." he continues.  And every single time what Jesus says is even harder to do.  Matthew wants me to know that being a disciple is hard.  It is not all sweetness and light.  There is a cost to discipleship.

When Jesus teaches a parable about forgiveness in Matthew 18, he begins with a story about a king who forgives a servant an enormous debt.  It is a story of amazing, unbelievable grace.  But then the servant shakes down a fellow servant for a few bucks, and at the end of the story that forgiven servant is not only thrown in jail, but tortured as well -- until he pay the full amount.  O Matthew, do you really have to include the bit about torture?

I have mixed feelings about Matthew, sometimes.

But if it weren't for Matthew, there would be no wise men from the east, bearing exotic gifts.  Joseph would not have dreamed, and we would not know the promise of "Emmanuel," "God is with us."  If it weren't for Matthew,  we would never know the promise that he would be with us always, "to the end of the age."  If  it weren't for Matthew, we would never know that Peter tried to walk on water, once.

If it weren't for Matthew, we would not have these words, "where two or three are gathered in my name, I will be there."

If it weren't for Matthew, we would not know that most difficult of math problems, that we are required to forgive our brother, not just seven times, but seventy times seven.  If it weren't for Matthew, we would not know that the higher righteousness, the impossible righteousness to which we have been called, is forgiveness.  We are called to Mercy.

At the beginning and in the middle and at the end of Matthew, Jesus promises that he will be with us always.  Emmanuel.  Where two or three are gathered.  To the end of the age.  When we try to walk on water, and fail miserably.  When we can't count to seven and struggle to forgive.

I have mixed feelings about Matthew, sometimes.  He tells hard truths.  But he also tells me:  Emmanuel.  God is with us.  In the beginning and in the middle and in the end.

And it is enough.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Advent Baptism

Sunday is the 4th Sunday of Advent.  We will baptize two children that morning.

I'm tempted sometimes, when there is a baptism, to say, "there will be no sermon.  The baptism IS the sermon this morning."  And I mean REALLY tempted.  Compared to the parents and the children and the sponsors standing there, compared to the water being poured, compared to the prayer remembering God's mighty acts, and the words, "Alice, Michael, Emily, Matthew.... I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" -- compared to this, what are all of my words?  Compared to the cross traced in oil and the candle given, "Let your light so shine before others." compared to all of this, the words of my sermon often seem tame.

Baptism is wild.  Something is happening.  We can see and hear and touch it, or at least some of it.  Underneath the things we see, something more is happening.

God is with us.

I met with the parents on Monday and we remembered all of the things that God promises in baptism:  safe passage as on the ark, death and resurrection, a new birth, adoption into God's family.  God promises that we will be clothed with God's righteousness, that we will be a part of God's new creation, that we will be grafted into the living vine, which is Jesus.

All of these things are happening.  When we see the water poured, when we feel the oil on our heads, when we hear the words, we catch a glimpse, but only a glimpse.

This is the 4th Sunday of Advent.  Something is happening.  Mary is going to have a baby.  It is a surprise to Joseph, and not a good surprise.  I always think that the promise of a baby is good news, but that is not always the case.  Sometimes the baby is bad news.  Sometimes the news is mixed.  Joseph knows that this baby is trouble.

It's true.  Jesus is trouble.  He is also Emmanuel -- God with us.  He will save us from our sins.  And he will get us into trouble, for his sake.

Sometimes when I have a baptism on Sunday I am tempted to say, "There will be no sermon this morning.  The baptism is the sermon."  But I never do.

Maybe what I should say is this:  Here's what the baptism means.  God is with us.  God is with us and this baptism means that God will never let go of us.  That's how good his promises are.

But that's not all.  God is with us and he gives us this mission -- and that mission will get us into trouble.  Sharing the love of Jesus is not for the faint-of-heart.

The angel says to Joseph, "Don't be afraid."  There is going to be trouble, but God is in it.  Maybe that's what we should say before baptisms too:  don't be afraid.

Baptism is wild.

Christmas is wild, too.  Because Jesus is coming.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Knitting in Advent

I have started knitting again.

I haven't been knitting that much, since moving to Texas last year.  For one thing, I felt overwhelmed at first.  For another thing, people kept telling me that I would never need those warm socks and footies that I loved knitting.  And when it's 100 degrees out, and it plummets to about 85 at night -- well, it just doesn't seem like knitting weather.

But, the temperature has been dipping down a little lower lately.  Also, it is Advent now, just barely.  So I got out my trusty knitting needles and threw caution to the wind.  I started knitting a pair of footies.

It is not a bad way to spend Advent.

One of the first words we hear in Advent is "Wait."  Wait, because it is God who is coming to us, and not the other way around.  And we can pray for God to come quickly (and sometimes we even do), but there is not one thing we can do to MAKE God come.  This one is on God.  Salvation is on God, not us.

I don't know about you, but waiting drives me crazy.  And that waiting when it is clear that what you are waiting for is on the other person -- that drives me the craziest.  Waiting in the doctor's office, so that the doctor can tell me what is wrong and how to fix it, and then give the right medicine -- waiting for the electrician to come and re-wire the basement -- waiting for the plumber to come and fix the leak -- that is the hardest thing.

So I think that waiting in Advent may be in part to remind us about the things that we can do, and the things we can't do.  As it turns out, only God can save us.  Only God can heal what is ultimately wrong.   Only God can bring the kind of light we need, and place that light within our hearts.  Only God can bring the living water, so that we will never be thirsty.  Only God can knit our hearts back together, only God can knit us together with him, so that we are joined unbreakably to love and to life   and to hope and to peace.

Only God can do it.  And he has.  And he does.  And he will, again.

But in the meantime, we wait.  But while we wait, we are reminded that there are things we can do.  They won't make Jesus come more quickly.  But they are things that testify to our hope.

So many of us light the candles.  One a week.  And as the light of the candle grows, we remember that he is coming to us, he is coming to us -- that he walks among us, inhabits our world, our lives, and even our bodies.  Our hands.

So we light the candles.  There are so many ways to light the candles:  by giving away bread, by sharing a cup of water, by holding the hands of the dying, by standing up for the vulnerable, by welcoming the stranger.

As for me, today I will knit.  And I will consider the one who, by his grace, inhabits even my hands, even our hands, and who has knit us all together by his love.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

What Makes Us Great

It is Thanksgiving Day.  It is a couple of weeks after a bitter national election.  I have been thinking about both of these things.  I can't avoid the sight of the red caps which read, "Make America Great Again."  It may be an occupational hazard, but it can't help thinking about them, and wondering about it.  What makes us great?  How do we define it?  how do we know when we get there?  Is it a place we stay or do we just catch a glimpse of it?  What makes us great?

For my former congregation, formed just after World War II, one of the things that made us great was winning World War II.  After that, America was a undisputed superpower.  We also had nuclear weapons, with all of the power and responsibility that they carried.  We had prosperity (we also had very, very high taxes, because we had to pay for the war, but that is beside the point).  We had new, labor-saving devices.  We had all of these women who had gone to work during the war, leaving the work force.  We had all of these soldiers, coming back to their families.

But I learned another narrative of greatness from some of my World War II parish members; I learned about the Marshall Plan, and how the United States and the allies had helped restore their enemies' countries, after the war.  I don't know why we did that.  After World War I, the world had punished the losers, rather than helping them rebuild.  But after World War II, we bound up wounds.  I don't know why.  Maybe the Depression made people more aware of suffering.  Bread lines.  Hunger.

What makes us great?

When I think of my own work as a pastor, and the work of my congregation, I ask the same question: What makes us great?  I want something that I can point to, perhaps a point of pride.  What makes us great?

Since the election, I have been spending more time than usual visiting people.  It is not because of the election.  It has just happened that way.  One woman and her daughter have returned to our congregation after being away for awhile.  We are planning a congregational celebration of her daughter's 15th birthday, and also beginning confirmation instruction.  A new member of the congregation wants to start a mens' group.  Another new member is passionate about prayer.

I have also been visiting with communion, more than usual, or so it seems.   One to one, with people in the hospital, at home, who come to church.  I open the Bible, the communion kit, search around for the right words.  Yesterday, I took my communion kit again to a woman who had just returned from the hospital.  After the service, she said that the only thing missing was a song.  I promised we would sing, next time.

There is something about sitting down with a Bible, bread and wine, and words of prayer that brings ministry down to its most basic level.  This is who I am:  a servant, sharing bread, reminding people or their common hunger.

What makes us great?

Bread and wine, the words of promise.  Water poured, the water of life.  A song at the right time.  Acts of compassion, even for enemies.

On this Thanksgiving Day:  I am thankful for bread, and the hands that receive it.  I am thankful for prayer, given and received.  I am thankful for people who listen, who serve, and who are ready for the greatness God is calling us to, which is love.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Reading the Bible in Church

Today was All Saints Sunday in Church.  We did many things in church.  We sang, we prayed, I preached.  We opened our hands and received communion.  We even said, "Christ is risen!"  We lit candles to remember those in our lives who had been saints to us, who had reflected the light of Christ to us.

And, we read from the Bible.

We read from the Bible every Sunday at church.

But today it felt different.

I felt the weight of the appointed Gospel, from Jesus' Sermon on the Plain.  It is appointed for All Saints Sunday, but this year I didn't preach on the gospel.  I preached on being a saint, and I preached on being a witness, but I didn't preach on these particular words.

But I read them, because they were the words of the appointed gospel for today.

Two days before our National Election, I read the blessings and the woes.  Blessed are you who are poor.  Woe to you who are rich.  Blessed are you when you are reviled, and people speak ill of you.

And then, three little words:

Love your enemies

I don't know what my congregation heard when I said these words.  I felt time slow down while I said them.  "Love your enemies,  and do good to those who persecute you."

I felt like Jesus was speaking them directly to me.

They were words not just for the election, but for how to live afterwards.  I am not sure that it is possible, but I am certain that it is necessary.   Love your enemies.  I don't think that means, "Let your enemies walk all over you."  It also doesn't mean, "Let your enemies get away with evil."  It also doesn't mean "Show contempt for your enemies."

"Love your enemies."

I opened the Bible and the words of Jesus exploded in my face.

They made me consider again what it will mean, and what it might cost to be a follower of Jesus, in such a time as this.

Saturday, November 5, 2016


Tomorrow is All Saints Sunday in my congregation.  I love this Sunday, for many reasons.  I love lighting the candles.  I love remembering.  I love saying the names and knowing some of the stories of the particular saints in my own congregation.

I don't know why it has never occurred to me before how close All Saints is to Election Day.  But on Sunday I will be naming names and lighting candles and talking about the hope and witness of the saints.  On Tuesday it will be Election Day.  Many have already cast their vote, or will cast their vote.      

To be perfectly honest, this election feels different for me.  There have always been negative ads.  There has always been passion.  There have always been both hope and fear.  But it feels different this time.  Fear seems to have the edge over hope.  We are witnesses, but what are we witnessing?

Maybe a better question is this:  What do we hope for?

Tomorrow is All Saints Sunday, and as I light the candles, I will think of the hope of the saints.  I will consider the hope of the saints as the hope for a better city, a place of abundance, where the table is set, where all will be fed, where all will recognize the beauty and value of the children of God.

But the hope of the saints is not limited to that better city.  That hope lights my way right now, even when fear grips me.  The hope means that whatever happens on Tuesday, I will live hoping for a world where the poor are blessed, where the weak are protected, where there is enough for the hungry.  I will live looking for ways to provide shelter for the homeless and for the refugee.

Tomorrow I will light the candles.  And remember that I am a witness too:  I am a witness not to any particular political candidate, but to the love of God.  Every candle is a witness:  against fear, but mostly -- for the victory of God.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

This Little Light

Every Wednesday I arrive early, so that I can be ready to lead the pre-school chapel that morning.  I come early because in the summer I need to make sure the air conditioning is functioning.  Sometimes I need to make sure I have my soft globe, or a stuffed animal, or some smooth stones (that David used to kill Goliath), a baby doll or construction paper hearts.

Sometimes I don't want to get up early.  There are weeks when I am not sure what I should do for chapel, with the fifty or so children who gather.  What should we sing?  How should I tell the story?

There are some routines that we have settled into every week, though.  Every week I begin with the same song, an old song that I may have learned in my pre-school Sunday School Days.  "Into My Heart, Into my Heart, Come into my Heart, Lord Jesus," I sing.  They sing along.  We sing two or three more songs and then I ask them what we do next.

"Light the candles!"  They all shout.  So I light the candles on the altar, and tell them the same thing every week, that we light the candles to remind us that God is here, that Jesus is alive, that Jesus is the light of the world.  And then I tell them that that light shines in them, too, and we sing, "This little light of mine."

After that, I ask them what we do next, and they all shout, "Pray!"  And so we pray a simple prayer.

After that we sing a couple more songs (with or without hand motions).  I tell a story.  I sometimes ask them who or what they want to pray for.  They all have prayer requests.  We pray and then say the Lord's prayer together.

And we often sing once more.

This is our simple liturgy, although I don't use the word.  But that is what it is.  It is the same thing, week after week, and they don't seem to mind.  In fact, when I ask them what we do next, they shout it out, "Light the candles!"  they say.  There are times that remembering their voices, saying those words, comforts me.

"Light the candles!" I hear them say, and I remember that Jesus is the light of the world, again, which is something I admit I need to remember more often than not.  Sometimes it is this election season, falling to new lows, that does it.  It is the way we are treating one another.  It is the way fears and hatreds are being stirred up.  Sometimes it is other news of the world, local and world tragedies, that cause me to lose heart.  And then I hear the children shout, "Light the candles!", and I remember again the promise of Jesus to be with us always.

That's a promise, but it's a challenge too.  There are some days I don't remember that I am called to be a bearer of the light.  There are some days that I don't remember that Jesus is here not just to make me feel safe, but to walk through danger with me.  And then I hear the children say their simple liturgy, "Light the candles!"  and I remember.

That's what liturgy is for, after all.  The things we hear and the things we say in liturgy are not supposed to be mindless repetition.  They are supposed to be the children's shouts, "Light the Candles!"  They are supposed to be words getting so deep down inside us that we become what they are:  "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit."   They are supposed to make us light, bursting into flames.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Not Your Average Reformation Sermon

This Sunday is Reformation Sunday.  I am preaching.  We are also in the middle of Stewardship season here, and coincidentally, it is the Sunday that we will receive our congregation's Estimates of Giving.

My first thought upon considering this was to have receive our congregation's Estimates of Giving on Another Sunday.

But, I did the math, looked at the calendar, and Reformation Sunday it was.  I could do not other.

My second thought was a sort of perverse one:  that financial stewardship and the Reformation are like oil and water, the Reformation being kicked off by a sort-of fund-raising event of sorts.  Those indulgences were sold in order to renovate the Cathedral of St. Peter in Rome.  So yeah.  It feels weird to talk about financial stewardship on Reformation Sunday, the Sunday on which you make sure that everyone knows that God's love is a FREE GIFT.

So, we don't want to sell indulgences for financial stewardship.  We don't want to manipulate people into giving.  We also don't want people to give to "the church's budget."  We want people to give freely, understanding that everything they have has first been given freely to them.   Everything you have is on loan from God anyway.  That's the stewardship message.  The tithe is not a requirement, but it is a discipline, like daily exercise, and although it hurts sometimes, in the end, it is good for you.  You loosen your grip on material things and find the place where true life begins.  That's the way it is supposed to work.

But sometimes, even though it's true, it still feels manipulative to me.  Give!  It's good for you!  I say. It's true.  Everything you have is on loan from God anyway.

But since this Sunday is Reformation Sunday, and I'm thinking about Martin Luther, I started thinking about it another way.  One of Luther's most famous essays is called "The Freedom of a Christian".  Its simple premise is that because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are free.  We are free from the requirements of 'the law.'  There is nothing that we have to earn.  Salvation has been given to us.  There is NOTHING that we have to do.  There is nothing that we HAVE to do.

Luther applied this thinking to 'good works', those things that medieval Christians were compelled to do.  He said that God doesn't need your good works.  But then he said something else.

He said, Your neighbor does.

I think that this applies to giving as well.  God doesn't need our offerings.   But our neighbor does.  The church does.  Not for itself, but for sharing the mission of God with our neighbors.  And some of our neighbors are sitting right next to us in church, and some of our neighbors are down the street, and some of our neighbors are around the world.

Make no mistake, God loves it when we give.  Not just because he loves us, and knows that when we give, our money will lose some of its power over us.  But just also because God loves our neighbor, and wants them to be fed, and sheltered, and know they are loved.  

And when we offer up our tithes and our offerings to God in worship, what we are really doing is offering ourselves, and what we are really saying is this:  God -- use these gifts -- use us -- to make your love known -- to shine light in the darkness -- to be instruments of peace.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Why Read the Bible

I am reading a book right now about faith practices, and it is making me think about my faith practices.  The book is about deepening faith commitment, and it makes the case for 'stepping up' with greater resolve in several areas of our lives, including, prayer, Bible reading, worship and witness.

But even though I believe in deepening our faith commitments, and even though I think it is positive to resolve to spend more time in the prayer, Bible reading, worship and witness, I do, on occasion, find myself talking back to this book.

Take, for example, reading the Bible.  I am all for reading the Bible more often, just as the the author of this book commends.  There is a wonderful opening story in this book about a successful mountain climber who happens to be blind.  He is successful because he has learn to listen.

So, listening.  Reading the Bible is listening to God.  So far, so good.

But, when we listen to the Bible, what do we hear?  What do we expect to hear?  That's my question.

The writer of the book sounds as if he believes that by reading the Bible, he will find wisdom to help him live a Better Life.  He will find commandments to obey, he will find Good Advice.  And it's true, he will find these things.  He can read the Ten Commandments and the Book of Proverbs and James, and find what he is looking for.

But I have to say:  that's not the main reason that I read the Bible.

Why read the Bible?  I mean, really:  it's a huge book with small print, and many kinds of writing.  There are stories and laws and advice and genealogies.  There is history and there is prophecy.  Some of it is exciting and some of it is puzzling and some of it is downright troubling, if you are honest.  Reading the Bible is all kinds of comforting sometimes, but it also opens you up to all kinds of questions.

I have heard the Bible in church since I was a little girl.  I also learned wonderful stories in Sunday School:  David and Goliath, Abraham and Sarah, Noah's ark.  I learned how Jesus fed 5,000 people, how Moses led the people out of slavery, how Jesus healed those who were blind or deaf or lame.  I heard the stories of the prodigal son and the good shepherd.

The first time I tried to read the Bible without help, I was in high school.  Church camp had made of me an enthusiastic believer, so I cracked open my Bible and resolved to read the whole thing, starting with Genesis.  By the middle of Leviticus I had given up, disappointed in myself.

Why read the Bible?  It's a huge book with small print, and if you are honest at all, it is going to raise as many questions as it answers.  You are going to find out about the Walls of Jericho, and how they came tumbling down, but you are also going to find out about how the armies went in and killed every single person after that.  You are going to learn about how Jesus fed 5,000 people, but somewhere along the line you might wonder about all of the people who are hungry now.  You are going to hear words like:  "For God so loved the world that he gave his only son," (John 3:16), and you are going to hear words like "Love your enemy, and do good to those who persecute you."

Why read the Bible?  Why listen to these words, these stories, even this advice?

It's not a self-improvement project, at least not for me.

The Bible is this great big book, and it's about God, and it's about us.   It's about a God so in love with us, God's people, that he is willing to do anything -- including, in the end, to come and be among us.

Inside the Word, this complicated, messy, confusing book -- is the Word, Jesus.  The heart of God.   The one who tells us who we are.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Effective Ministry

I got an email last week from a woman whose wedding I officiated almost ten years ago.  I hear from her or husband occasionally.  We have kept in touch, even though they moved to New York (where he lived) right after their wedding.

I had known the bride for a few years before she got married.  She was a regular at our Saturday night chapel service.  The service was small, and filled mostly with retired people, so I couldn't help noticing her when she first started attending.  One of her best friends from church was an eighty year old woman who still volunteered regularly in the church office.   She also participated in a couple of Bible studies and went to a community organizing meeting with me, once.

At some point this young man started attending the Saturday night service with her.  All of the widows who attended our chapel service had a front row seat for their courtship.  Of course, they got married in the chapel, right before the Saturday evening service.

They invited us to come and visit us in New York sometime.  My husband and I took them up on it.  We went to a jazz club, Central Park, The Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and then, on Sunday, to church.

When their son was born, I sent them a piece of art with a scripture passage from Isaiah,  "I have called you by name... you are mine."

The email I got last week said they would be in Texas because they were adopting a little girl.  How far away was I?  Actually, as it turned out, I was pretty far away from where they were, but they wanted to get together, if possible.

So, on Thursday night, they drove all the way over to where I am to meet me at my church, with their new daughter.  We had a tour of our fellowship hall, sanctuary and pre-school.   In the sanctuary, they walked into our chancel and asked if I would say a prayer for their daughter.

We did.

We spent some time catching up after that.  They told me about their community and congregation, and asked questions about my move and the congregation I serve now.  They are now attending a large congregation of another denomination but they would be Lutheran again, in a heartbeat -- if they could find a place to worship nearer them.

What is it that you miss?  I asked.

The liturgy, they said.  They love the liturgy.

I asked about their daughter.  They said she was a miracle -- the agency calling and asking them if they could get on a plane the next day, the flight being available, that they were here, right now.   We talked some more about their lives,  taking our time.

We finally said goodbye, grateful for the conversation, grateful for the prayers.  They returned home with their new daughter.

They are not members of my church any more.  They haven't been for many years.  They have another pastor.  But once in awhile, we share these small fragments of each others' lives, and we are grateful for it.  I know I am.  I'm grateful to see how they are a blessing in the place where they live:  in their congregation, in their community.  I am grateful to know that they are growing in faith, and in love.

One of my friends says that this relationship is a sign of my effective ministry.  I will tell you honestly that I am not sure exactly what that means.  I keep thinking that effective ministry is about big and flashy things:  transformative community and social ministries, starting new organizations, things like that.  But I also know that effective ministry is about relationships.  It's about our relationship with God, and our relationships with one another, and how they change us.  From one degree of glory into another.  In ways that we often cannot see.

But for a moment, this week, the veil was pulled back, and I caught a glimpse of it.  It was the kingdom of heaven, while were were sitting on the steps of the chancel, surrounding a tiny girl with prayer.

A miracle.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

High Expectations, No Judgment

In about a week, my congregation is embarking on a journey.

We are going through a program called "Committed to Christ".  We'll be journeying together on Sunday mornings, but some of us as well will be studying together in small groups, and some perhaps will be doing daily devotions with their families.

In the interest of full disclosure, I need to confess that when I first looked at "Committed to Christ", I did not realize that it was a certain kind of Stewardship program.  I only knew that it was dealing with  some of the faith practises of discipleship, and that it fostered participation in small groups.  I was really interested in getting some small groups activated this fall.

Each week, people in my congregation are going to be encouraged to make a deeper commitment to Christ in some area or another of discipleship:  one week it might be prayer, another week reading the Bible more frequently, and still week, on increasing our commitment to serving others.

As I was studying the materials, I was also struck by a particular terminology used:  the book talks about being a "high expectation" congregation.

Now, I know what this means.  This means we want to be a congregation that expects people to do more than just come to worship on Sunday morning.  We want to be a congregation that expects people to live out their commitment to Christ every day of the week, and in more than one way.  We want to be a congregation that is hungry for God, to know and follow Jesus more nearly.

What could possibly be wrong with that?

Nothing, really.

Except.... well, I'll be honest.  I worry a little about the possibility of creeping judgmentalism in a high expectation congregation.  While I love for us to have higher expectations of ourselves as Christians, and I want people to want to worship more,  pray more, serve more, and learn more, I worry a little about our predilection to measure ourselves or others according to these high expectations.  And there is so much we don't know.

When someone doesn't come to church every single Sunday (and by the way, perfect attendance has become increasingly rare), we don't know if it is because they have had to take a second or third job, or because their child had a meltdown right before church, or because they were worshipping somewhere else this week.  When someone doesn't want to sit on a particular committee that is near and dear to our heart, we don't know if it is because they are already overloaded at work or home, or because there is another cause that is nearer and dearer to their hearts, or for some other reason.

Then I worry too that we give the impression that, for the most part, discipleship is about hanging around church a lot.  I wonder if this study will make us ponder what it means to be disciples in our daily lives, in our families, at work, in our community?   Our high expectations for ourselves might be different than someone else's.

And then there's grace -- my favorite thing.  I love grace even more than I love high expectations, and being a high expectation church.  Maybe for me, a high expectation church would have these high expectations -- we would worship more, pray more, serve more, give more -- and we would expect that we would fall down on the job.  We would expect that sometimes we would be bad at it, despite our best efforts.  We would develop high expectations for mercy, and forgiveness, and develop a deeper trust in God who loves us when our prayers fall flat, when our well runs dry, when we fail to show up, when we have nothing to give.  We would develop high expectations for mercy, and forgiveness, and perhaps even learn to extend that mercy and forgiveness to others.

That is the kind of high expectation church I want to be -- starting with myself.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Voice of God

On Thursday morning, I got an email from a member of my congregation, telling me that she was transferring her membership to another congregation.  She had prayed long and hard, she said, but she wanted to go "where her gifts were appreciated."

It was not the best beginning to the morning.  I emailed her back saying that I understood, and that I did appreciate her gifts.  Still, the content of the email followed me around for awhile, whispering doubts in my ears.

Later on, I called the daughter-in-law of a woman who was in hospice.  The hospice care facility had called the day before, saying that the family requested a pastoral visit.  They said I should get in touch with the woman's daughter-in-law first, which I did.  So I called and got directions to their house.

I've been here about a year now, but I still don't know all parts of the community where I live.  This was in an area of town where I had not been before, so I used both verbal directions and my car's GPS and found the cottage where this elderly woman and her husband lived.

I went in, and introduced myself to the man and his wife, explaining that his daughter-in-law had called me.  I found out that the wife was from Germany.  "I found her and I brought her back to Texas," he told me.  He had been Baptist, but she made a Lutheran out of him.  After that, he said he had held every leadership position in the church, except for pastor.  He always wanted to be a pastor.  I sat by the bed of his wife, and we talked a little bit about their lives.  They had lived in Texas for a long time, but were new to this community.  Their daughter-in-law came over, and joined the conversation.  I could tell that this was a family who looked out for one another.  I asked if the husband and daughter-in-law also wanted communion.  They both said yes.

We talked a little bit about the church where I serve.  The daughter-in-law was familiar with it, in fact had attended for awhile.  They were members when it was a larger and livelier place, about the time when her children were small and the day care was just opening.  I said it was smaller now, and that it was my job to build it up again.

She said, "Well, you have the right personality for that."

I don't know why she said that.  We had known each other for about 20 minutes.  I immediately felt a small voice, a tiny piece of hope, for no reason.   I felt for a moment that perhaps I could do the work to which I had been called, in this place far from my home.

We began the communion service.  The daughter-in-law knew the words of the confession by heart.  I read from John 10, about the gate, and the shepherd, and the one who knows our names, and whose voice we know, and who leads us out, and in, to find pasture.

We prayed together.  We shared the bread and the wine.  We shared words of blessing.

The husband told me again that he had held every job in the church, except the pastor.  I told him that all of those others jobs were important ones.  They were callings from God.

I told them if they needed anything, they could call.

And the words of the conversation followed me around for a while, whispering in my ear, reminding me about the shepherd whose voice I follow, even though I do not know exactly where He will take me, and who has brought me here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

More of That

On Sunday, September 11, I went to church.

It was a regular Sunday morning communion service, although, because it was 9/11, I had more time for praying and singing, and slightly less time for preaching than usual.  The children's message featured a cloth globe that I passed around to the children, so that we could all hold the world in our hands, and pray for the world.   As well, each bulletin had a colorful cardboard hand.  During the prayers, everyone was encouraged to write their name on a hand, to think about how they could be an instrument of God's peace, and then put the hand in the offering plate.

We are still thinking about what to do with those hands.   Should we make a collage?  Should we fasten them all on a ribbon and hang them up around the church?  More creative minds than mine could think of many more ideas.

The choir sang for the first time on Sunday, a gospel song called, "Lord, Have Mercy."  I always run up to the balcony to sing with the choir, and then back down to preside at communion.  The ushers usually follow me with the offering plates.  Today they were filled with these colorful hands.

But on Sunday something else happened.  One of the ushers decided to give the offering plates to her two year old great-nephew.  They walked together down the center aisle, just behind me.  When I turned around there he was, standing there gravely.  I stooped down to take the two plates from him.

I turned to the usher and said, "Thank you. that was wonderful.   I want more of that."

More of that.  I don't just want to see the children in church; I want them to know that they belong in church, that they are an important part of the body of Christ, that we are poorer if they are absent.  I want them to light the candles, read the lessons, share the peace, carry the offering baskets, help with communion,  do things I haven't imagined.

I want more of that.  I am not exactly sure why I said it, or said it like that.  Maybe it was just seeing him get to do something I never got to do, when I was small, even though I was there every. single. Sunday.  Maybe it is because I believe that children learn not just from sitting around tables in Sunday School, but from sitting next to their parents in worship, carrying offering plates, packing socks for homeless people.  Learning to be Christian is not just head knowledge, but whole body knowledge, and we learn it from one another, not just listening but doing and being.  Or maybe it was this, even:  a flash of a vision.  A little child shall lead them.  The lion shall lie down with the lamb.  This is what the kingdom of Heaven looks like.   All of us together.  All of us playing a part.

I know that's not the current wisdom.  The current wisdom says to separate us into different learning groups, different worship styles, different ages.  Have Children's Church and the Hip Service for teenagers and the Baby Boomer Service, and the one that the Greatest Generation goes to.  We are all different, after all.  We speak different languages.  We need different things.

But the truth is, that what we need more than anything else is one another.  We need one another to grow up into Christ, and we need one another to do the mission to which he has called us:  to love and heal the world.  

People ask me what my vision for the church is.  It is a two year old carrying the offering plates.  It is the 4 year old who closes his eyes whenever I give him a blessing.  It is the two 5th graders who sing the songs during Lent at the top of their lungs.  It is all of these colorful hands, each of them pledging to be instruments of God's peace.  And knowing that we can't do it alone.  We need each other, not just for that hour on Sunday morning, but we need each other to share the peace of God in the world.

 Because we all need more of THAT.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Homily for September 11, 2016

Anniversary of 9/11 – Luke 15:1-10

            Dear people of Grace – Grace to you and peace from God our creator, and from our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  AMEN

            I could not help thinking about it  this morning, and all week, actually: 
            today is the 15th anniversary of 9/11. 
            Fifteen years ago today, I remember – it was a Tuesday morning, and I was on my way to church. 
            We had just gotten done with our congregation’s Rally Sunday.  The theme was “Follow Jesus”, and for my sermon I had brought along a bag full of shoes, imagining which would be the best pair to wear, if I was going to Follow Jesus.
             Then it was Tuesday morning, and I was on my way to church, and on the radio there were these strange reports about a plane hitting one of the World Trade Center buildings.
            I imagined it was a small plane.  I imagined it was a mistake.

            It was not a small plane.  It was not a mistake.

            So many images have been seared into our brains from that day,  things we never wanted to see, things we could not have imagined.  
            But I’ll tell you what has stayed with me all these years, which images I most remember, the ones I carry with me – they are images of police officers and fire fighters and other first responders. 
            While everyone else was trying desperately to escape, running down stairs and out of the buildings, they were going in the opposite direction, running into the buildings and up the stairs. 

            All of their training prepared them for this moment – for this work – to reach out and try to rescue the lost.   
            And whether they knew it or not, they were following Jesus. 
            At the very least, they remind me of Jesus, because he ran toward the danger, he went to Jerusalem and to the cross, rather than away from it. 

            Today is the anniversary of 9/11. 
            But, on our calendar it is also a day called “God’s Work, Our Hands” Sunday.
             It is a day that we have given to serving our neighbors. 
            For us, today, it is fun work – we get to make packages for people who are homeless. 
            We get to use our hands to pack food and socks and gloves for people who can’t live without them. 
            We get to stand with one another while we do that, and also pray and read scripture and eat pizza too. 
            Today, serving our neighbor is fun.

            God’s work, our hands,  our feet – and our voices. 

            The gospel reading today tells a parable about a sheep who was lost, and the shepherd who went to find it. 
            There were 99 sheep who were okay, but the shepherd left everything to go and look for the lost one – because who knew what could happen to it! 
            And of course the shepherd is Jesus, and the feet that go in search of the sheep belong to him, and the hands that bring that lost one home are his. 
            Make no mistake about this.   
            Ultimately, our lives are in his hands. 
            All of us.  Children, and the parents who tuck them in.    Students, and the teachers who guide them.
             Homeless people, and those who find shelter for them, and give them warm socks. 
            First responders, and those they are searching for.    Ultimately, our lives are in the hands of Jesus.

            But sometimes – Jesus uses our feet, our hands, our lives – to show the mercy of God, to show the grace of God, to show the amazing, awesome, unimaginable love of God. 
            Sometimes – more often than not – our ordinary feet and our ordinary hands are call to be there--- to go to Louisiana and help muck out houses, to go to school and read to children, to go to places where people are lost, and to show them the truth: 
            that they are beloved, so beloved of God that he is willing to walk among us, to heal us, to feed us, to die for us. 
            We are called to use our hands for this healing mission, in so many ways.

            Sometimes it is fun.  Sometimes it is scary. 

            But our hands are the shepherd’s hands, because of his calling, his mark, on our lives.  
            And our feet are the shepherd’s feet, because he has called us his beloved children, because he has first loved us.

            God’s work.  Our hands.  It’s true, every day, by the grace of God.

            And the work of God is the work of sharing grace – the work of loving and feeding and lifting up sheep. 
            It is the work of tying quilts. 
            It is the work of pouring water over the heads of babies. 
            It is the work of making food and welcoming homeless people into our church.
            It is the work of holding hands when we cross the street. 
            It is the work of praying together. 
            It is the work of running into burning buildings.

            God’s grace.  Our hands.  Our feet.  Our lives.  Follow Jesus.

            To the glory of God.


Saturday, September 10, 2016

Sunday Morning Bible Study

One of the things that drew me to this congregation was that they had an active and lively Sunday morning Bible study.  Though attendance varied, I heard that it was not uncommon to have forty or fifty people stay after the first service for the study time.  My former congregation, a much larger one, had a hard time generating half that many.

I looked forward to leading the Sunday morning Bible study as well, although (I will admit it now), I started to find the schedule intimidating.  Every single week, there was worship at 9:00, Adult Bible Study at 10:00 and another worship service at 11:00.  I looked around for different kinds of Adult Studies we could do.  This church does NOT take a break in the summer, so I jumped right in with a study of worship, and began the year with a 10 week video and Bible study of Grace.  We also studied hymns for Advent and Faith Practices during Lent and Easter.

I'll tell you what, it was challenging to do the preparation every week and also to find good study resources.

And then summer came.  We decided to have one worship service during the summer.  We decided to have Bible study before worship, instead of after worship.  And someone suggested that instead of a series, as we had been doing, perhaps we could do something different every week.    That seemed like a good idea, but again, a lot of preparation.

I considered.

Someone ordered a couple of pamphlets:  one, on the life of Paul, and another one, on favorite Bible passages.  After a couple of false starts, I decided that we would use the Pamphlet on the life of Paul, and use selected portions of Acts, until we ran out of time.

There were no video supplements.  There were no workbooks.  There was no "Leader's Guide."  There was just this pamphlet with some of the exciting things that happened to Paul in it.  Every week, I looked at the pamphlet, chose a couple of Bible passages, and on Sunday morning, those of us who happened to be in attendance read the Bible, asked questions and had a conversation.

On Saturday night I spent a little time studying the Scripture passages I had chosen.  Not a LOT of time.  I wasn't trying to study so much that I would impress everyone with my superior Bible knowledge.  Just a review of the narrative, a little bit of commentary.  There were still times I ended up saying, "I don't know.  I'll check that out by next week."

There were no bells, no whistles.  It was just us, and the Bible, and our questions.

And you know what?  I had a good time.  I felt energized by our conversation together, by what we were discovering as we studied the Bible together.  We discovered that when we studied the book of Acts, all kinds of contemporary issues also arose:  persecution, immigration, evangelism, other religions, whatever was happening in the world.

As much as I enjoyed the ten week study of Grace, and the study of worship, and Faith Practices, this was the most fun I had had all year.  It is the thing I love to do the best:  reading the Bible with other people.  It is not Standing Up and Lecturing People About the Bible (which has its place, and I can do that, too, but it is not my favorite thing).

It is just this simple conversation, where I ask people:  what did you notice in this passage of Scripture?  What questions do you have?  What stuck out for you?  What do you think God is saying/doing here?  We all wrestle with the questions, and their meaning for our lives, together.

Together.  Deep down inside, I think this is how the Bible is meant to be read:  together.  Maybe it's just two, or maybe three or four, or maybe a whole congregation, listening together.  Somehow it happens though, when we read and ponder, wonder and wrestle together, that our lives are enriched and transformed, again and again.

Just us, the Bible, and our questions.  That's how God changes us.  That's how God is changing me.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Wednesday Chapel

After a week up north visiting family, I flew back home to Texas on Tuesday.  Up in Minnesota everyone is getting ready for Rally Sunday and children were getting their backpacks blessed for the first day of school.  Down here in Texas we have already sent everyone back to school, including the children from our pre-school.

I missed chapel last week.  I did not want to miss seeing the children for two weeks in a row.  But my flight was delayed because of severe weather, and by the time I got back home, it was late.  I did not know what I would do for chapel the next day.  I couldn't remember what their Bible lesson was.

"Well, maybe we'll just sing and pray,"  I decided.  That is what we did.

I have a very old book about prayer that I like a lot.  I brought it with me, just a few of the pages marked.  I wrote down a few of the songs we like to sing (If you're happy and you know it... hug a friend!).  I will admit, that when Wednesday morning rolled around, I wished for just a moment that I had decided to sleep in.

But then we were all sitting on the chancel steps, and I was asking them, "When do you pray?  Where is a good place to pray?"

They prayed before bedtime, and they prayed in the morning with their friends.  They prayed when they ate, but they also prayed in the car and when they had a sleepover at their friends' house.  They could pray at their grandma's, and they could pray when they were afraid, too.

Right before chapel, I suddenly remembered what their Bible lesson for the week was.  I remembered that I had a mirror in the pulpit (long story), and grabbed it.  One little boy said, "What is that for?"  I said, "for later."

We continued to talk about prayer, and pray.  I showed a few pages of my old prayer book, with things they could pray for, or about:  water and fun and friends.  My favorite page was about sounds.  We gave thanks for sounds!  "What are your favorite sounds?"  I said.  "boing boing!"  "ding dong"  "Honk honk".  "Meow!"  and then..... "our voices."

Yes, I said.  "Our voices.  We are a sweet sweet sound in God's ear."

We said the Lord's prayer and sang again.  And then I took out the mirror, because I remembered that their Bible lesson this week was from Genesis, chapter one.  "Made in the image of God."   I took out the mirror and said that each of them was made in God's image.  And then I stood at the back of the chapel as they went back to their classes, and gave them a peek at the image of God, in their faces.

It was fun to show the mirror, one by one, and watch them look at themselves, and say the words, "You are made in the image of God".

It was almost as good as saying those other words, one by one, to each individually, "the body of Christ, given for you.  The blood of Christ, shed for you."

Made in the image of God.

A sweet sweet sound in God's ear.

I live to tell it.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Conservative and Liberal Are Both Good Words

I was visiting with a member of my first parish one day many years ago.  He was also a tall, humble man, a retired pastor who had spent all of his ministry serving churches in rural Nebraska and South Dakota.  Now he had come back home to retire.  I remember him stopping in to my office often to chat, to ask me questions about the current state of the Lutheran church.  He was a Norwegian Lutheran, and my background as a child had been with the Swedish American Churches.

"We always thought that the Swedes were more liberal," he said to me that day.  "Liberal?" I asked.  "In what way?  Liturgically?  Morally?  Theologically?  Politically?"

He didn't even bat an eye.  "All those ways," he said, with a sweep of his hand.

Liberal.  Conservative.  We bat those words around a lot these days.  Sometimes when we say them, they sound like accusations, or even like character assassination.  "We always thought that the Swedes were more ... liberal", he said.  "Watch out!  He is pretty... conservative," (as if in warning.) Liberals are permissive.  Conservatives are judgmental.

But I can't help thinking:  At their roots, Conservative and Liberal are both good words.

Think about it:  Conservative means to conserve, to recognize value, not to throw out the old in pursuit of everything new.  I love to go to antique stores, and sometimes I think that the treasures I find have more character than all of the new, cheap stuff I can find in the discount stores.  Does this mean I am conservative?

Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, started the National Parks system.  It was a conservative initiative, a movement to preserve something of value for future generations.

My conservative congregations in South Dakota did not chase after brand names with big price tags.  They weren't flashy.  They didn't go in for expensive, flavored coffee (at least not while I was living there).  They weren't caught up in the latest fad.

I knew that they didn't like "Liberals", and I heard it bandied about in a scornful way.  But what does the word "Liberal" really mean?  It means -- generous.  "Apply liberally" -- means -- Apply generously.  Use a LOT.  And whatever you think about people you CALL liberals, it would seem to me that being liberal would itself be an attractive thing.  I want to be around generous people -- people who are generous with their time, generous will their good will, generous with their resources.

So the word "liberal" really means generous and the word "conservative" really means to conserve, to save what is of value.  And maybe what those of us who call ourselves liberal or conservative need to ask ourselves is:  are we really being generous?  Are we really preserving what is valuable?  Are we who we say we are?

Liberal and conservative are both good words.

But are we who we say we are?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Back To School

Yesterday was the first day of school at the pre-school associated with my church.  It was also the first day of first grade for a small group of students, as we have decided to venture just rung up into grade school this year.

The school offers day care as well as school, so parents begin arriving early.  I had committed to be over at the school to welcome children and parents by 7:00 a.m., although after a busy Sunday morning and evening, that seemed more difficult to achieve.

I walked in a few minutes after 7:00, looking "casually pastoral".  I remembered last year being hectic, with many new students needing signatures and forms.  It seemed much more laid back yesterday morning, and I was wandering the hallways and wondering what to do when the skies outdoors opened up and it began to pour.

I watched as beleaguered parents arrived, trying to juggle children, umbrellas, diapers, mats for napping and assorted accessories for the school year.  It then became clear what my job was going to be this morning:  opening the door.

It was a simple, and as necessary, as that.  I picked up fallen items on occasion, held some hands, greeted people and held the door open.  I recognized old friends, cheered for the new first graders, pointed a few people in the direction of the school administrator, who could give directions to the right classroom.  And once (and this made my day) I got my picture taken with a new kindergarten student.  (Really, that moment was worth showing up for.)  But mostly, I just held the door open, and smiled.

It was enough.

Maybe that's what I do, after all:  hold the door open.  Maybe behind all of the fancy theology and studying, what I am called to do is to hold the door open so that people can walk in to the grace and goodness of God.  It's not me:  it's something beyond me and behind me, although I hope the Holy Spirit is also within me.  When I open the door to the pre-school, when I open my communion kit and take out the little cups, when I open up my own flawed life and share a a testimony, when I open my hands to serve -- I am holding the door open.

I'd like to say that this is uniquely part of my vocation as a pastor, but I know it isn't true.  We are all called to do it, although in different ways.  We are all called to hold the door open for one another, so that we can walk into the grace and mercy of God.  And we all need to have the door opened for us -- no one can do it on their own -- even me.

As it turns out, I never stop going back to school -- and the children are my teachers, who hold the door open for me.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Why I Go Over To the Pre-School

Because it is summer, I have not had as many chapel services at the pre-school, and I have been missing my regular dates with the children there.  I try to work in some free time visiting the classrooms, but it's hard.  We are working on so many things at the church right now:  getting people ready to visit homebound members with communion, working on a small group program for the fall, welcoming a group of new members to the congregation, planning worship and some new "All Ages Learning" for the fall.

But today, I took a break, and I went over to the pre-school for a little while.

It is in my letter of call, after all.  Right there in black and white, one of my responsibilities is "relating to the pre-school."

But that's not why I go.

It was lunch time when I walked in the door.  A couple of the classrooms were in the middle of their lunch.  As I approached their table, one little boy jumped up and ran to hug my legs.   A little girl came over and tugged on my skirt.  "I got so big!"  she said.  Two or three others said the same thing: "I got so big!"  they told me.  I agreed.   They are growing all the time.

I admired ribbons and new tennis shoes and t shirts with dinosaurs.  Students told me about baby brothers and puppies and everything they were excited about, which was everything.  When one group was done eating, another group arrived.  Their teacher asked if I would say table grace for them.

Some younger children came in as well, following their teacher like ducklings following their mama. When one little girl saw me, she waved as if I were her long-lost cousin.

I don't go over to the school as often as I should.  There are so many lists of things to do, strategies to accomplish, goals to achieve, and I forget that knowing the children is as important as any goal, task or strategy.

But today I remembered.  I remembered that my work is Grace and Grace is my work.  My work is loving the children and the shut ins, saying prayers and bringing bread and wine, and being there.  All of my lists and strategies are worthless if I forget.   I walked into the school and got hugged around the legs, and I remembered the grace of being known and loved for no particular reason, just because you are.

There are mysteries in the universe, and I am called to make them known, as they are made known to me.  It's not a strategy.  It's just love.  It's just the grace of God, which is being loved, just because you are.