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Man, Do We Need Easter!

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There I was, face down in the parking lot. Hole in the knee of my pants and the elbow of my shirt, the Albuquerque spring winds blowing my sermon sketches all over the parking lot. Falling as a grown-up is traumatic. It’s also humbling. But this fall, on the Tuesday of Holy Week, brought home just how hard this year has been for so many of us.

I was running to my car because I was going to be late getting home. My wonderful husband needed to get to work and was waiting for me to do the parenting hand-off. I hadn’t been able to connect with as many people as I had hoped that day. We’ve lost so many beloved siblings in Christ this year, and I couldn’t even support their loved ones with a phone call. Never enough time, so much sadness, worn out – I bit the dust.

But as I sat up to assess the damage, a gigantic pick-up truck pulled up beside me. The driver exuded kindness. With one look, she said, “I know you’re hurt and embarrassed, but I’m here.” She asked if I was alright and offered to help me gather my things. She waited for me to hobble to my car and, only after I pulled out, went on her way. That act of kindness and love was an absolute God-send.

This Holy Week, we continue to struggle. We all have fallen, in one way or another this year. We’re all dealing with our own sadness and weariness. AND Easter is coming! On Easter we celebrate the God who is with us as we’re face-down on the pavement, and the one whose love lifts us up. Even more, Christ’s resurrection has revealed what the forces of destruction and death cannot do. They will not prevail! Love has triumphed, it’s unstoppable, and will always pick us up and give us a new beginning.

May God’s unending, perfect love be yours this Easter and always!

See you Sunday…

God’s Peace,

Pr. Rachael

Hi there, neighbor.

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We never had a “quick trip to the store.” Some folks run in and out of spots like grocery stores, gas stations, and post offices. But not my family. Not my Dad.

When I was little, we’d go for a walk and my Dad would wave to every car that passed. Almost without exception, the driver and/or passenger would wave back. I’d ask him, “Who was that, Dad?” He’d say, “A neighbor.” People would light up in the hardware store when they saw my Dad come in. He was certainly a good customer, but they wouldn’t just talk about the merchandise. They’d share what was going on with their families, their business, and their opinions about politics. When we left, I’d ask, “Who was that, Dad?” He’d say, “A neighbor.” I came to see that Dad encountered neighbors absolutely everywhere. Church, school, work, sporting events, even taking the garbage out to the curb, my Dad would meet neighbors along the way. I couldn’t help but think of him when I heard Luke 18:31-19:10.

Since Luke 9, Jesus has been on his way to Jerusalem. That’s a pretty long walk. And all along the way, Jesus greets and takes time with people. In our reading for this Sunday, the divine equivalent to a friendly wave from Jesus is his gift of miraculous healing and a life restored. Each and every person Jesus greets is a neighbor.

We started this Lenten season with a reminder that we were called to love God and love our neighbor. Jesus has been showing us what that looks like throughout his life and ministry. And in this season of new life it seems all the more necessary that we remember Jesus considers each of us his neighbor, too.

See you Sunday…

God’s Peace,

Pr. Rachael

It’s party time!

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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…

God’s Peace,

Pr. Rachael

In it together.

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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…

God’s Peace,

Pr. Rachael

Click. Click. Click. Click.

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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…

God’s Peace,

Pr. Rachael

Future Tense.

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Erland Sibuea, Nativity, 2008.

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?!

Merry Christmas!

Pr. Rachael

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

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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…

God’s Peace,

Pr. Rachael

Thanks?

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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…

In Christ,

Pr. Rachael

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