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It’s Lent. During a pandemic. Could it get any harder? The season of Lent calls for fasting, sacrificial giving, and repentance. The restrictions from the pandemic call for no travel, no nights out with friends, no leisurely afternoons in a movie theater. Seriously, must we squeeze every last drop of joy out of life? Jesus says no.
In our extended reading from Luke 15 this week, we hear three parables. Each begins with something we all understand: loss. A shepherd loses a sheep. A woman loses a coin. A father loses a son. Yet, we are not left there. In each story, one after the other, the lost is found, mourning turns to laughter, and sadness gives way to joy! What happens to create this glorious change? Jesus happens.
A sheep is lost until Jesus seeks it out. A coin is lost until Jesus lights the way. A son is lost until a father’s heart is opened wide with Jesus’s unconditional love. And when all of that seeking, lighting and loving lets loose, a party is not far behind!
I can’t wait to swing the doors of the church wide open again. Sit in the sanctuary again. Have coffee in the Community Room again. It will happen! But until that time, Jesus proclaims that the source of the party is always with us! Jesus’s power and will to seek us out, light our path, and love us completely will never be taken from us!
This Sunday, wherever you are – do it! Celebrate! Call a friend, Face Time with a relative, hang some streamers or make a cake. Whatever you do, celebrate Jesus the Christ – the source of life, love, hope, and joy – who will never let you go!
See you Sunday…
The disciples give me a great deal of comfort. Like me, they are never able to keep up with Jesus and his Way in the world. Walking in Jesus’s dust, I imagine questions like these are whispered among them: What did Jesus mean when he said that? Were we supposed to do something different back there? Does anyone have any idea where we’re going?
In our Ash Wednesday reading from Luke 9, the disciples were at it again. A Samaritan village refused to welcome Jesus, and disciples James and John begged Jesus to let them light the village on fire. Um, really? Light it on fire? I get the desire for revenge, but c’mon guys, even I knew Jesus would put the kibosh on that. Still, Jesus keeps them around. He never kicks them to the curb. He loves them. He refuses to do his work without them. Jesus needs his community. And right now, we need each other.
It’s the season of Lent – a season of hope and new life, but also a season of acknowledging the ways in which we are not living God’s love for the sake of the world. We cannot do this alone under “normal” circumstances. We absolutely cannot do it alone this year.
As you do the Lenten work of self-reflection, DO NOT GO IT ALONE! Seek out now, today, at least two other people who will walk with you in it – who will support you and remind you that you are loved even and especially as you reflect on all of the ways you stand in need of God’s forgiveness. And never forget: God’s forgiveness is given to us before we even know to ask. We are in this together! Amen?!
See you Sunday…
I wonder, how many people are seeking out the news right now? Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, Fox, PBS – after the violence at the Capitol, the Inauguration, and the ‘winter surge’ of COVID, how many clicks are these news sites getting every minute? I’ve certainly looked at the news, more than a few times daily. Fresh off my latest news dive, Luke chapter 5 brought me up short.
The story we have for this Sunday is the calling of the first disciples. Luke 5 gives us the story of Jesus telling Simon to get back out on the water after Simon’s night of commercial fishing has failed. This story has innumerable points of entry for followers of Christ Jesus. Most often, we focus on the fishermen’s willingness to leave everything and follow Jesus. But I’m stuck at the first verse:
Once while Jesuswas standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God… (Luke 5:1)
The crowd that showed up to hear Jesus teach and preach wasn’t just there on their lunch break. They had come from all over. They walked and wondered. What would Jesus say and do? The crowd had heard about the miraculous things Jesus was doing but also about the power of his words. They needed inspiration, hope, and purpose, and what they heard was an outpouring of God’s love, mercy and healing. They were fiercely engaged and they began to press forward.
I’ve been awfully eager to press any number of news links. You? If we press in on Jesus to hear God’s word with as much frequency and curiosity, I wonder to what necessary inspiration, hope, and purpose Jesus might lead us?
See you Sunday…
When the angel Gabriel appears to Mary in Luke 1 to announce that God will come in the flesh and dwell among us, Gabriel declares: “For nothing will be impossible with God.” It’s striking that this beautiful, much quoted declaration, is in the future tense. That’s always been an important detail, but this year more than most.
2020 is the year of the COVID vaccine. Even the staunchest Scrooge was moved to joy at seeing our frontline workers receive their first dose. God has made the impossible possible through brilliant scientific minds and the thousands who have worked tirelessly in production. And yet, for the vast majority of us, the vaccine is in our future. We are patiently waiting for our number to be called, and it will certainly be many months before we’ve all had our second dose. We are beyond ready to embrace our loved ones, get back to work, and belt out God’s praises together, sans masks. In this way, Christmas meets us right where we are.
God made flesh comes in the manger this Christmas, hallelujah! We rejoice at God’s gift of unconditional love in the miracle of Christ Jesus who lives among us. And, it will be some time before Mary will see Jesus perform a miracle; some time before he tells his followers about the kingdom of God; and some time before his resurrection reveals his saving purpose to the world. On Christmas, God made the impossible a reality. God lived among us. And, thanks be to God, there was much more to come.
May God be with us this Christmas as we rejoice together at all that God has done AND as we anticipate all God will yet do. For nothing will be impossible with God! Amen?!
You know the song. Can’t you just see Andy Williams crooning it out in a red wool sweater?
There’ll be much mistletoe-ing
And hearts will be glowing
When loved ones are near
It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
I do LOVE Christmas carols but, right now, this song seems pretty tone-deaf. Lots of folks are not mistletoe-ing and their hearts are not brightly glowing. Most of us will not have loved ones near this year. We’re carrying the weight of loss, fear, grief, sadness, uncertainty, and everything else 2020 has thrown at us.
And yet, it is in this moment that God’s Word of hope, promise, and new life is proclaimed in all its beauty and fullness. Consider the reading we hear from the prophet Isaiah this week:
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me…
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. (Isaiah 61:1, 3a)
Isn’t that stunningly beautiful? This is God’s promise – we will not be left alone! We will receive the strength we need! With God’s Spirit alive in us we may even be moved to sing praise for the Way that God is providing even now!
So, maybe Andy’s song isn’t the most appropriate this year. Here’s hoping for those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings when friends come to call again next year. Until then, let’s hold onto God’s Word and God’s promises together – with both hands!
See you Sunday…
If there was ever a Thanksgiving I’d be tempted to quote Bart Simpson, this is the year. Bart’s asked to offer the table prayer one evening and says, “Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves. So, thanks for nothing.” It isn’t the “paying for stuff ourselves” that resonates right now, it’s the temptation to settle on what I think God hasn’t done: Because you haven’t stopped the virus I couldn’t be with my family for Thanksgiving, God. Thanks for nothing. My friend just lost her job and can’t afford Christmas present for her kids, God. Thanks for nothing. All sorts of families are mourning great loss this holiday season, God. Thanks for nothing. It may sound blasphemous, but I’m not the only one who’s thought these things, am I?
If you’re there, too, Thanksgiving is coming at just the right moment.
I was particularly down when a dear friend offered it may help me this Thanksgiving to think of 10 things for which I’m grateful. I was beyond irritated. Wallowing in sadness sounded like a much better idea. But, of course, she was right. By the fifth declaration of gratitude I was hooked. Thank you for my family, Lord. For my health, the health of my family and friends, a roof over our heads, food in the fridge, the generosity of St. Tim’s folks, vaccines in the works, soap to wash our hands, whiffle ball at the park, movies to stream and TAKEOUT! Thank you, God, for absolutely everything!
I dare you to give it a try! This holiday season won’t be like others and our sadness will be in it. AND, God is with us. God is working. God is providing. God’s love is without end and everywhere! Amen?!
See you Sunday…
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…
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…
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…
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…