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Steady

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Frazzled. Indecisive. Second-guessing. These are not words I often use to describe myself. But, here I am. Do I order groceries online or go in to the store to make sure I get what I need? My parents are pretty isolated in the Midwest. Do we risk a trip up there to make sure they’re alright? Is it wise to continue outdoor worship at St. Tim’s even in socially-distanced, mask-wearing small groups when thousands of people are testing positive for COVID? Depending upon who I ask, I get very different, strong opinions. Having to make these difficult decisions for months while following the election fallout, I admit, my nerves are a little frayed.

Do you feel that? Perhaps you’re experiencing more peace-filled clarity in your daily walk. If so, thanks be to God! If not, our Bible reading this week offers grace upon grace.

This Sunday we hear Isaiah 6:1-8 and Isaiah’s vision of God. In it, God invites Isaiah to serve as God’s prophet. It’s an unsettling time for God’s people. Their king, Uzziah, who reigned for five decades has just died. With the succession of kings, there is always an opportunity for violence and chaos. No one knows what will happen next. But as Isaiah stands before this vision of God, one thing is very clear: The world around Isaiah may be in confusion, but God is seated on the throne. God’s reign is secure. And God’s not going anywhere.

No matter how frazzled you feel, and how often you second-guess yourself, God’s presence is unwavering. God’s love for you and this whole creation is unshakable. God’s holding you in God’s hand and that hand is steady. What if we let go and rested in God’s loving presence this week?

See you Sunday…

God’s Peace,

Pr. Rachael

Beautiful Saints.

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Vincent van Gogh was not a likable guy. He would explode in anger at his family and lash out at acquaintances. He wasn’t able to sustain any real friendships until the last months of his life, after he had already been suffering with mental illness, isolation, and physical deterioration for years. Without his brother, Theo, Vincent would have undoubtedly been unsheltered and completely alone. Maybe that’s why I’m thinking of him today – this isolated, wounded, beautiful saint.

It’s snowing and windy. The “feels like” temperature this morning was 17 degrees. Even so, we’ve had a few of our unsheltered neighbors stop by the church, completely alone. Each of them has their own struggles with mental illness, addiction and trauma. Sometimes they lash out. But, more often than not, they’re kind, courteous, and share God’s blessing with me. These neighbors are isolated, wounded, beautiful saints.

This Sunday is “All Saints Day,” a day to think about the saints who surround us. Van Gogh was a difficult man – but now, when I see his paintings, I won’t only see his bold colors and frenetic brush strokes. I’ll also see the man who desperately wanted to experience the loving beauty of God in other people as much as he experienced it in an iris, cypress, and wheat field. He was a difficult man AND he was a saint – a child of God made holy by the mercy, love and grace of God.

Who are the saints around you? They may be very difficult to get along with. But each and every one of us is God’s beloved child, made holy by God’s mercy, love and grace. Will the saints around you and me experience the beauty of God’s love pouring out from us?

See you Sunday…

God’s Peace,

Pr. Rachael

Belonging.

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You can just hear Patsy Cline, can’t you?

Fly the ocean in a silver plane

See the jungle when it’s wet with rain

Just remember ’til you’re home again

You belong to me

When my son was born, I was ill-prepared for how strong my protective instinct would be. I have the distinct memory of taking him to the doctor for his two-week-old check-up in Wisconsin in winter. To get to the car, I had to carry him down five steps covered in newly-formed ice. I was terrified that I would fall and drop him. So, I sat down and scooted, on the seat of my pants, down the five steps – just to be sure he’d be safe.

In my mind, my son “belonged” to me. I was responsible for him, and I wasn’t going to shirk my responsibilities! But, as Hannah reminds me this week in the book of 1 Samuel, he doesn’t “belong” to me now and he never did. By God’s grace, from before he was born, my son belonged to God.

Hannah’s son, Samuel, had an extraordinary mom. She prayed and prayed for him, and she knew he was a gift from God. She understood her gift in and responsibility for raising Samuel and she knew he never belonged to her. Samuel, from before he was born, belonged to God. By God’s grace, God would care for him every moment of every day.

Child of God, God knew you before you were born. God created you out of perfect love. God is with you every moment of every day. By God’s grace, you belong to God now; you always have and you always will. Whatever you are enduring in this moment, hear God’s loving words for you, “You belong to me.”

See you Sunday…

God’s Peace,

Pr. Rachael

God’s Up to Something…

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By now, we know every square inch of our homes – intimately. We’ve seen every imaginable movie and television show, played every board game and completed every puzzle. We’ve cleaned cupboards, painted walls, and weeded yards. We don’t know what day it is most of the time because the days all feel the same.

But today, God roared in to St. Tim’s with a beautiful reminder: God is always up to something!

At about 9:30 this morning, someone came into the building (a rarity in itself). I was on the phone and couldn’t see who it was, but soon my office began to fill with the most delicious aroma – basil. There’s no smell quite like it. It’s earthy, sharp and decadent all at the same time. It cries out to be sprinkled on rustic bread with tomatoes, olive oil and fresh mozzarella.  I digress…

The fresh smell of basil was a gift in itself but God’s just getting started. Soon the building will have two more people in it: a Lutheran Family Services staff member and a skilled cook who happens to be a refugee. They’ll take this precious herb and turn it into vegan pesto. It will be sold at the co-op down the street. This project creates jobs, generates income for refugee families, and uses God’s gifts from the earth.

It strikes me, God had all of this in mind as the basil was slowly growing, as the farm workers were diligently weeding, and as shelf space was opening up at the co-op. God took all of these elements: fruit of the earth, willing hands, imagination, skill, and hard work and brought them together for new life.

I wonder what else God’s up to right now? Amen?!

See you Sunday…

God’s Peace,

Pr. Rachael

Let’s Talk Politics.

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Still with me? We’re in dangerous territory. Should politics be a topic of conversation introduced by the pastor? It’s a valid question, but I can’t help it.

You see, in our reading for this Sunday from Luke 11, we hear three words I just can’t shake: Your kingdom come. The “Your” in this statement is none other than the creator God, Source of all life. Each week when we gather for worship we pray and ask that God’s kingdom comes. It’s a bold ask, a daring ask, and one to which God invites us. The question that chases me: Do I trust in God’s kingdom more than any other?

Just a few days separate us from the political conventions. Both parties cast a vision for what the country would be under their “power.” Both claimed we’d be more prosperous and safer under their authority. Each also described terrifying realities that would come to pass if the opposing party clawed their way into power. As one headline stated, “[Nominees] Tussle Over Whose America is Dangerous” (ABC News, August 29, 2020). ‘Trust me’ and ‘Be afraid’ were shared mantras.

But, the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11 says two things boldly: Trust God. Do not be afraid.

God’s kingdom is here in Christ and on the way in the Spirit. It is marked by the power of the crucified and resurrected Messiah, power made known in Christ’s self-giving love. God is at work in us and in the world to feed the hungry, lift up the lowly and set the captive free. God’s kingdom comes. That is our hope!

So, beloved children of God, research your options, get out there and vote. AND Trust God. Do not be afraid. God’s kingdom come! Amen?!

See you Sunday…

God’s Peace,

Pr. Rachael

What God Can Do.

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Hours of school at the kitchen table, alone. Separation from grandparents, friends, church community and other loved ones so they’re not at greater risk. Oppressive systems exposed. The impoverished enduring the most hardship…again.

There is some solace in knowing we’re not the only ones to endure sadness and powerlessness, and witness disproportionate suffering for the vulnerable. History has documented these human experiences since history began. As the saying goes, misery loves company. However, frustration can’t help but follow this fact as time and again we can’t seem to come together when catastrophe strikes. Some profit by devastation while many others lose and lose big. It’s enough to get you down so you stay down.

And yet, something quite different arises when we stand alongside the Biblical witness to these facts of human existence. As we make our way through the book of 2 Corinthians, we hear the testimony of people who have been beaten, persecuted, rejected, and have despaired of life itself. They know the pain of separation and the power of unjust human systems. AND, in these sufferings, they also know the power in the love of God.

It is in catastrophes that God’s presence, God’s love, God’s persistence to create and sustain pour forth from the Source of all life. Ask the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, Hannah at Samuel’s birth or Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones. Paul and Timothy write, “since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart (2 Cor 4:1)… God who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on God we have set our hope (1:10).”

Don’t give up! Hold on to hope! God’s powerful love is here! Amen?!

See you Sunday…

In Christ,

Pr. Rachael

Love and a Lawn Chair.

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Is it possible that the world has gotten more accessible and less accessible all at the same time? It may just be my slowly unraveling rope, but that’s the way I feel. As a globe, we’re closer than ever, facing both an illness and deeply entrenched systemic racism that know no boundaries. At the same time, I’ve seen A LOT of my house, neighborhood park, and office. The world ‘out there’ is big, wild, and completely out of my reach.

So, what if we tried to make the overwhelming global struggles a little smaller and our daily experience of the world a little bigger? We’ve been making our way through Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians and, in a small way, I think that’s what he was trying to do. The letter is written to one specific church, the church at Corinth. However, Paul opens by including “all the saints throughout Achaia” (2 Cor 1:1). Achaia isn’t the whole world but it’s certainly more of the world than some Corinthians would ever experience. By the power of the Spirit, Paul calls the small church at Corinth, and all Achaia, to one act: decide in favor of loving one another (2:8).

On Thursday, August 27th at 6:00 p.m., you are invited to try an experiment answering that same call by sitting out on the east lawn at St. Tim’s. Bring your lawn chair! We’ll talk some theology, invite prayer requests, and trust our masks won’t cover our desire to share God’s love for all. If you’re in an at-risk group, no problem! Set up a lawn chair in your own front yard and pray for your neighbors! We’ll see if our world gets a little more loving in the name of Christ Jesus!

See you Sunday…

In Christ,

Pr. Rachael 

All Aboard!

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If it were completely safe to fly, cruise, or take the train right now, where would you go? To see family or friends? Halfway around the world for a glorious change of scenery? So many of us have uttered the words, “We had planned to go…” followed by a tale of cancellation and disappointment. For the people of St. Tim’s Portugal, Italy, Israel, Australia and that Alaskan cruise are now on hold indefinitely. Fortunately, we can live vicariously through Job.

You’ve earned it, people of God! You’ve been through 38 chapters of the book of Job with all of Job’s suffering, his fickle friends, and his angry, accusatory wife. It’s time to take a deep breath and dive into the beauty of all that remains.

As God shows up in Job 38, mercifully responding to Job’s demands, we discover God has a plan for Job. To draw Job out of his anger and intense focus on what he has endured, God takes Job on a guided tour of God’s beloved, expansive Creation. God introduces Job to storehouses of snow, a lion on the prowl, calving deer, eagles, horses and the wild ox. Job glimpses mountain ranges, steppes and the flapping wings of an ostrich. God is quite the tour guide! But instead of a tip, God’s desire from this whirlwind adventure with Job is a renewed relationship. God wills that Job would re-enter his life with hope, with purpose and with a clear understanding of his beloved creatureliness in God’s wild world.

As you feel the sadness descend from your latest cancellation, grab the book of Job. Read chapters 38-41 with gusto! Imagine YOU are on that whirlwind trip with God. Might God be calling you to renewed relationship as well?

See you Sunday…

God’s Peace,

Pr. Rachael

אֲיַחֵ֑ל

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What are you waiting for right now? A job interview? The opportunity to see your grandkids? The final verdict on APS’ fall plan? Of course, there’s also the small stuff: Going to a movie at the theatre,to Popejoy for a show, or to play skee-ball at Hinkle Family Fun Center.

It’s hard to wait. But Job gives us some help.

Job has suffered so much by the 14th chapter of the book that bears his name. It’s almost unimaginable. Yet this week, he turns a corner and a signal for this turning is one Hebrew word: אֲיַחֵ֑ל.

In English, it sounds like “ayahel” and appears three times in Job – 6:11; 13:15; and in a verse we will hear this week, 14:14. After Job wonders aloud if he could wait out his suffering in Sheol, the place of the dead, he says, “All the days of my service I would ‘ayahel’ until my release should come” (14:14). The NRSV Bible team has determined this should be translated ‘wait.’ But the same word, when it appears in 6:11 and 13:15, is translated as… wait for it… HOPE! Fascinating, isn’t it? In Hebrew, one word can mean both wait and hope. What wisdom! The way I hear it, to use this Hebrew word is to suggest one cannot wait without hoping and or hope without waiting.  The two must come together!

I’ll be the first to admit, not all of my waiting has been overly hopeful. You? And yet, if there was ever a time for hope, it’s right now in the midst of our waiting! God is at work! The Spirit is alive! Christ has risen!

If God can give hope to Job, there’s got to be hope for you and me!  Amen?!

See you Sunday…

God’s Peace,

Pr. Rachael

Naked.

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person kneeling with head on the ground and palms up

It’s one of those words that makes middle-schoolers giggle, especially when it’s said in church. It’s one we tend to go past quickly in polite company. But, right now, it feels like we need something deeper than polite conversation, so we’re going to risk naming it and talking about it freely. The word? Naked.

This Sunday, in the first chapter of Job, we’ll hear about a man who has lost almost everything. He loses his possessions, his home, and his children. His loss and grief are beyond what many of us can fathom. And in his grief, Job cries out to the Lord, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there” (1:21). He has plummeted to the depths of the human experience. He is exposed, raw, and knows his ultimate vulnerability before God. This is the place from which Job’s journey through suffering begins.

What extraordinary wisdom.

I wonder, if for too long, we have covered up what needs to be exposed. We cover our fear of others by surrounding ourselves with people who will help us remain comfortable. We cover our feelings of powerlessness to meet the needs of those suffering around us by blaming the sufferer, claiming to be without responsibility for the sufferer, or avoiding them altogether. We cover our own suffering with facades of strength and cheerfulness.

What if we joined Job in his nakedness? What if we spoke of our fears, our powerlessness and our own suffering? What if God moved us to this raw, vulnerable, exposed place with others we trust? Could we begin to love ourselves and love one another from that place of vulnerability? Where might God take our relationship with God and one another if we risked it together?

See you Sunday…

God’s Peace,

Pr. Rachael