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.