Tuesday, January 29, 2008

And We're Off!

Little Mary and I are meeting one another tomorrow at a fabulous retreat house for a week or so of study leave. Yahoo! While there, I intend to:

  • Do all my Lent bulletins (including Ash Wednesday, but not the latter part of Holy Week)
  • Start exegesis for my Lent sermons
  • Map out my Lenten series
  • Map out the 4-week Adult Study (Women of the Old Testament) I'm teaching at a local Senior Learning Center
  • Read "Antagonists in the Church" just...because
  • Walk every day
  • Play my guitar

That's not overly ambitious, is it? I set "clear desk" as my priority for today and yesterday, and that worked!

No idea if I'll have internet access. If not, toodle-oo!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Motley Crew: A Story-Sermon on Matthew 5:1-12

Man, some weeks it's a hard birth. I've been talking to friends (both online and irl), many of whom are feeling it. Is it the push of Lent hurtling towards us? I don't know. But I ground out most of this last night after 10 PM. Ugh.

That said, I think it preached.
Sometimes I worry about myself.

“A Motley Crew”
Matthew 5:1-12
January 27, 2008

It had been an amazing set of days. For the brothers, James and John, it had been like nothing they had ever experienced before.

Here was what they had experienced:

Growing up in a small fishing village, where they were known by all as the sons of Zebedee. Never being able to throw a stone at a goat, or to giggle at a girl without some venerable neighbor accosting them, and reminding them of that connection: “You, sons of Zebedee! Your father will not like to know what it is you’ve been up to!”

Beginning to understand at a very young age what that name meant, what it signified to and in the community. It meant: fisher-folk. It meant: poor, but proud. It meant: God had blessed other families, but not yours. It meant: crushing taxes, but nothing that could persuade either father or mother that some other line of work would be more profitable. Zebedees valued their independence above all. A leased boat, even with the taxes, meant that nobody owned you. Nobody controlled you, even if you weren’t blessed.

And then the daily life: Up hours before dawn, hours before the farmers and shepherds and goatherds, even, because the fish… they liked the night hours. They would swim and school with abandon when normal folk were still sleeping off their drink. So… up they would get, the sons of Zebedee and their father. And down to the shoreline of the lake they would go… the lake that was so large and unpredictable, the locals called it “sea.” And out would come their nets, and they would push off into the swirling waves, and they would wait.

While they waited their father would talk, murmuring low. He would talk about the taxes, and about the other fishermen. He would talk about the way the drink did get to some of them, and warn his sons to beware. He would talk about the catch of the day before, and wax poetic on the fine catch that was sure to come today. He would even, sometimes, talk about their mother, and the women and girls at home. The big-hearted Zebedee would talk, and his respectful sons took it all in, all the while scanning the water with their young, sharp eyes for a silver flash of fin. And then the haul, and the muscle-straining, back-breaking task of pulling it in. Or, no haul, and the hollow anxiety of rowing back to shore empty-handed. If it was a good day… if they were blessed by God… the work of cleaning the fish, quickly, expertly, then brokering the sale, then transporting the haul to the market. Going home with a few coins to be turned over to the women folk, so that they could hurry to the market before sunset. A meal eaten in the crowded firelit rooms, and bed, far earlier than other men, because they would awake the next day, far earlier than other men.

This was their life. This was their every single day, six days out of the week. because even the poorest were blessed by the Sabbath. This was their life. Until, that is, just a few days earlier, and the arrival of Jesus, walking by as they had mended their nets. Their father had been talking of the day’s catch, a good one, the end of a good week, and a rare moment of feeling prosperous and optimistic. James and John had looked up to see Jesus, walking slowly towards them, with the brothers Simon Peter and Andrew at his heels, the look of enthralled puppies on their faces. He had called them, called their names… how did he know their names? Had Simon told them? Their father had looked up, shocked, to see his only two sons abandon their nets without a word. John was already upon Jesus, eyes wide, listening to the other two talking excitedly. James turned to see his father scowl and turn his back. He had hesitated only a moment… and then he too had gone.

And it had been an amazing set of days, like nothing the brothers had ever experienced before. Jesus had begun preaching in all the little synagogues by the lakeshore, and his reputation had spread through the villages faster than news about good spots for casting nets. Here was a man whose tongue was surely blessed by God… he had the ability to speak just a few words, only to have whole crowds of people fall silent astonished. As if by instinct people had begun to bring their sick to him… people who were paralyzed, people with fevers, people who were possessed by demons. The brothers watched with their mouths gaping wide in amazement as Jesus laid his hands on them and healed them. Each day consisted of miles of walking, followed by Jesus preaching and teaching, followed by breaking bread in someone’s house, followed by an evening of healing late into the night. The men were carried along, each of them, on a current of energy that seemed to radiate from Jesus himself. They were utterly rapt. They were along for a ride.

And they were such very different men, those four, on that ride. John, James’ brother, was the youngest. He followed Jesus with the look of a dreamer, almost afraid to open his mouth in his presence. James had recently begun to believe John was outgrowing his meekness, but now, in the energy field created by Jesus he was newly docile. James had always liked thinking of himself as his brother’s protector, but suddenly, in Jesus’ presence, he wondered that he had ever given himself the compliment of thinking he could do much of anything. In the light of Jesus—the power of his words and his touch, the depths of his compassion—James felt himself somehow diminished, impoverished. He wondered that he had ever imagined he had anything to offer anybody.

Simon Peter was the oldest and the roughest of the men. He had a reputation in their small down for being something of a braggart, but James had always suspected that the bravado hid a lion’s heart. If anyone was wronged, if any merchant tried to short the scales and cheat a fisherman out of his due, it was Simon who stepped forward to argue and cajole until justice was done. Andrew stood somewhat in his older brother’s shadow, while at the same time loving him with a startling purity of heart. Andrew was devoted to Simon, and now, it appeared, he was devoted to Jesus.

The four men had begun to stumble into a new rapport, without the familiar surroundings of the boats and the nets to bolster their relationships. They had been growing to know one another even more intimately than is afforded by living and working together at the lakeshore. They had begun the process of figuring out their roles, in relation to one another and to Jesus…

And then, today, something had shifted. The mood had changed. There was some new tang in the air. Jesus had awakened them early, and hustled them out the back door of a house, only to find a crowd already waiting for him. They ducked behind another house, hurried along the lake and across a rocky, weedy path to the foothills outside the town. They had begun to climb. The four men hurried after Jesus, who strode fast, as if on his way to an important assignment. The four followers were glancing back over their shoulders. They could see the crowd. It was immense. It was terrifying.

They climbed for close to an hour. The men were bathed in sweat as the sun climbed higher in the sky, and they had nothing to shield them from its glare. The crowds, laden with their sick, their babies and their picnic baskets, were far below them. Jesus turned, abruptly, and sat on a rock. He looked at them, each of them, in turn, holding the faces in his gaze for what seemed an eternity. James leaned against a scrubby pine, panting, while John and Andrew flopped at Jesus’ feet. Simon Peter stood at Jesus’ side, looking down at the crowds, as if prepared for some sort of defensive tactic. After what seemed like a long time, James heard the voice of Jesus swimming towards him through the sound of blood rushing through his ears.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

And he held James in his gaze.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

And his eyes rested on John, sitting at his feet, looking up.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

And he glanced, with just the tiniest hint of a smile, over his right shoulder, at Simon Peter, looking sternly down at the crowds.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

And he looked into the eyes of Andrew, the devoted one.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

James looked at Jesus, and wondered at what he had spoken. He looked from one man to another, and began to take in the full impact of Jesus’ words. He began to understand something, something he still probably couldn’t have said aloud. But he began to understand. They were enough, these four men. Was that it? He wasn’t sure. But they were the ones… somehow he knew, as surely as he knew how to tie a mesh knot, that they were the blessed ones. But how was that possible? How could they be… blessed? How could the poor be blessed? Didn’t everyone know that it was the rich who were blessed by God? How could those who mourn be blessed? Didn’t the need to mourn automatically indicate that God had somehow cursed you, taken a relation to the land of the dead? How could all these things be signs of God’s blessing, God’s favor? It was all upside down and backwards.

As James looked into Jesus’ eyes, and listened to the sound of his voice, he knew that somehow Jesus had taught them a new thing. Somehow, God had thrown his lot in with them. He could feel it. He could feel it in the power of Jesus’ presence. And somehow, they were each an integral part of this new thing…this kingdom of heaven Jesus was talking about. Each of them was a necessary and unique part… none of them was expendable. Each member of this small, motley crew had a role to play. And in that instant James knew there would be more of them, multitudes. He knew that Jesus would draw to himself all those in mourning, both those who mourned their loved ones and those who mourned a world so violent, so unjust. And he knew that Jesus would draw to himself the peacemakers… people who would teach others to bend and yield and lay down their weapons and live together. And Jesus would draw to himself all manner of women and men and even children, and each and every one of them would be necessary, a vital part of this new kingdom, the one that had already begun.

You are the light of the world, James heard Jesus say. And he laughed aloud. The crowds were coming. Here they were! Thanks be to God. Amen.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Off-Lectionary Free-Associations... will NOT Make it Into the Sermon

These are my thoughts as I approach Matthew 5:1-12

They say, Sausages taste good, but those who love them are better off not knowing exactly how they are made. The same might be said of sermons. At the risk of dashing anyone’s preconceived notions about my personal sermon-writing process, lest anyone labor under the illusion that my sermons flow, fully formed, from my brain, through my fingers and onto the computer, I am about to let you in on the truth: which is to say, the rabbit-paths, the worm-holes, the bouts of free-association and mental blocks I came up against on the path to this week’s sermon.

First, the Beatitudes, the blessings, which open the fifth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, and begin the passage commonly known as the “Sermon on the Mount.” My earliest associations: I learned the Beatitudes during the course of my Catholic school education. Something visual about the memories I associate with them leads me to believe I was eight years old, in the fourth grade. At the risk of veering into cloyingly cute territory, I will confess that when I first heard of them, they were referred to as “The Eight Beatitudes,” which I heard as, “The Apey Attitudes,” as in, the attitudes of apes, gorillas, simians. And, being eight years old, I believe my response was something along the lines of, “That sounds interesting. Jesus is teaching us about gorilla behavior.” Only, I was wrong. As I was to learn.

The second thing I recall learning about the Apey Attitudes was that I ought to find them comforting. Blessed are… the poor in spirit, those who mourn, etc. etc. And I was supposed to be consoled by those blessings. Only, I didn’t particularly relate to any of the Attitudes. I knew I couldn't claim to be poor, in spirit or otherwise, I certainly wasn’t meek. I had lost my Aunt when I was four, but really, it was my mother who mourned, not me. Pure in heart? I didn’t think so. Peacemaker? Spend an hour observing my brother and me at play. No to peacemaking. So… I was supposed to feel a certain way about the beatitudes, but I didn’t. And so I felt guilty about that.

Then, I learned a song. A happy, happy song.

Happy is the man who walks in the way of the Lord our God and King.
Blessed is he and happy are they who put their trust in him!

And the song goes on to recount the beatitudes. I regret to inform you that I spent an afternoon this week staring glumly at the computer screen while the melody of that song, which hadn’t crossed my consciousness in at least 35 years, taunted me.

Then I noticed something fascinating: I was getting angry. Angry at the beatitudes! At these beautiful statements made by Jesus, whom I have made it my business to follow, or, at least, to know kind of a lot about…these statements which I ought to find consoling. I realized that I have a suspicion about these statements, going back to a conference I attended about fifteen years ago. A speaker compared and contrasted Matthew’s beatitudes to those found in Luke’s gospel, and found them wanting, found them watered down. Jesus wasn’t talking about the poor in spirit, she said, he was talking about the poor! And we’ve accepted the watered down message! These statements are used to keep those who are oppressed down, by reassuring them that, in the end, God will vindicate their losses and their sorrows. And by gaining their acquiescence, by giving the poor and downtrodden these assurances, we ensure that they will not fight for their rights, that they will not rise up in revolution to demand their full human dignity!

As I said. It’s not a pretty process. But this week I felt compelled to let you hear all the ambient noise going on in my head when I came to encounter the first 12 verses of the Sermon on the Mount. Now. Perhaps I can get down to what they actually say.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Name Meme

This came from Sharecropper at 23 Acres. Given Sunday's sermon, how could I resist?

1. YOUR ROCK STAR NAME (first pet, current car): Gretl Volvo (not sure that one works)
2. YOUR GANGSTA NAME (fave ice cream flavor, favorite type of shoe): Mud Tracks Dansko
3. YOUR NATIVE AMERICAN NAME (favorite color, favorite animal): Purple Dog
4. YOUR SOAP OPERA NAME (middle name, city where you were born): Jane Philadelphia
5. YOUR STAR WARS NAME (the first three letters of your last name, first two of your first name): Magma
6. SUPERHERO NAME (2nd favorite color, favorite drink): Green Shiraz
7. NASCAR NAME (the first names of your grandfathers): James Joseph
8. STRIPPER NAME ( the name of your favorite perfume/cologne/scent, favorite candy): Coco Twizzler (now that was unexpectedly successful!)
9. TV WEATHER ANCHOR NAME (your fifth grade teacher’s last name, a major city that starts with the same letter): Rados Rio de Janeiro
10. SPY NAME (your favorite season/holiday, flower): Spring Tulip
11. CARTOON NAME (favorite fruit, article of clothing you’re wearing right now): Blueberry Nightgown
12. HIPPIE NAME (What you ate for breakfast, your favorite tree): Oatmeal Lilac

Hillary on Everest

It's a climb not a lot of people are willing to make.

It's life-threatening. There's not enough air up there to support life. It's cold, colder than human beings were meant to have to endure. The weather is unpredictable. One false move, and you're done for... one slip, one misjudgment, one act of hubris.

The people who choose to make the climb do it for the craziest reasons, some of them. For some it's an act of arrogance. For some, it's the logical thing to do with all their money. For some, it's a spiritual quest. For some, it's the last significant decision they will ever make.

Succeed or fail, and it's one hell of a public success or failure. Succeed, and it's almost never due to your own skill or intelligence entirely-- other people help, guide, sometimes even carry you. Fail, and it may be your last opportunity to do so. And you can be sure-- if you fail spectacularly, people will make money analyzing the spectacle of your failure for years to come.

I'm just not sure why anyone would do it. But I wish them luck. All of them.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Calling Names: A Sermon on John 1:29-42

“Calling Names”
John 1:29-42
January 20, 2008

We have this man, this John the Baptist. And frankly, John is a problem for us. Let me count the ways. John is… unconventional, to say the very least. For one thing, John has a habit of crying out—yelling, loudly, in public. I have seen people like this, on the streets in our town, on the subway in the Big City. Everyone looks away. Everyone moves a bit to one side, so that they will not touch the yeller, and the yeller will not touch them. The only good thing, in John’s case, is that he does most of his yelling out in the wilderness, where he will only bother a limited number of people.

Another problem with John: he has difficulty giving a straight answer. Who are you, people ask him, are you the Messiah? No! he yells. Are you Elijah? No! Are you a prophet? No! Well, who are you then? I’m a voice! he cries. In the wilderness! That’s all! A voice, crying out! You begin to see the difficulty. John is not an easy man to get to know. John has… limited social skills.

John also says things that are confusing, and troubling. In our passage today, he quotes himself, saying, He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he is before me! Well, that clears everything up. Also in our passage today, John just out and out calls Jesus by a name. He sees him coming, and he just yells, he cries out, Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! He then goes on to tell a story, the story of how he came to know that Jesus was the Lamb of God. The story involves the fact that John has been baptizing people, and that the One who sent him to baptize told him to look for a sign. (I forgot to mention, John also hears voices.) The sign would be that the Spirit would descend out of heaven, and remain on someone, and that Someone would baptize with the Holy Spirit. And so that’s how John knows that Jesus is the Son of God, and the Lamb of God. John leaves a detail out of this slightly convoluted story, a story he probably tells out of breath and too fast to really understand. The detail is a fairly major one: John has, evidently, baptized Jesus.

This is a pretty big detail to leave out, and one would expect that John, though he is a yeller and a confusing speaker and a hearer-of-voices and a talker-in-circles… one would expect John to recall and recount this fairly central, fairly major point. But he does not. He does not, because this is a problem. John baptizing Jesus is a problem. It is a problem for every gospel writer (though Mark doesn’t appear to think so). It is a problem for two reasons. First, it is a problem because John’s baptism is described as a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. In every gospel, that’s what it says about John’s baptizing. In every gospel but one: this one. In this gospel, when people ask, Why are you baptizing? John responds in a characteristically circuitous way, not exactly answering. I baptize with water, he says. And another thing: someone else is coming. Later it dawns on him: I came baptizing so that he would be revealed! This is what one writer has called “theological damage control.”[i] This gospel writer, of all the gospel writers, gets what a problem this baptism of repentance is for someone he is calling the Son of God. So, he eliminates it.

John baptizing Jesus is a problem for another reason, as well. It is a problem because, in this culture, this observant Jewish first century Palestinian culture, when you baptize someone, that makes them your follower. That makes them your disciple. It is a problem that Jesus is baptized by John, because that means, at least for a time, that Jesus is a disciple of John, that Jesus is one of John’s followers.

John has an answer for that as well. John says, I came to testify. I came to testify, and I have testified: Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. And by calling Jesus that name, John deftly and swiftly diverts the reader from the big problems he has raised, and sends us on another path entirely.

But this has me thinking. What if Jesus was a follower of John? Is that such an unsettling thing? We have these gospels, written for us so that we will know the truth of Jesus, and who he is. And sometimes, the facts (as reported in the gospels) have a distracting way of not quite dovetailing with the truth (as witnessed in the gospels). Let me be clear: in my mind, this does not change or harm the truth. In fact, to me, it makes it more interesting.

So, what if Jesus was a follower of John? And what if, like our president, John had a way of giving his followers little nicknames? We’ve all heard that the President called Michael Brown, the Director of FEMA, “Brownie,” and that he called his Vice President “Quasimodo,” and that Condoleeza Rice is known as the “Unsticker.” (Ask me after church and I’ll tell you his nickname for Karl Rove[ii]; I just can’t bring myself to say it in the pulpit.) What if John the Baptist had nicknames for his followers? What if one was “Tangent Man” and one was “Fasting Boy” and one was “Far Out Pharisee?” What if one was “Lamb of God?”

What if John the Baptist gave Jesus the nickname, the title Lamb of God, and it, kind of, stuck? We’ve all heard stories of how children whose parents call them “My little genius” tend to do better academically than children whose parents have less positive nicknames for them. (I was called “Bullets” for a while. I’m still not sure what that was all about.) We have a way of living into our names, as the presence of pastors named things like “Pastor” and “Divine” would seem to suggest. So, perhaps, John, Hearer-of-Voices, John, Talker-in-Circles, John Testifier-to-the Truth, perhaps he saw something in Jesus. And he called him by this name, Lamb of God. And this name turned out to be predictive, prophetic. Jesus ended up living into this name. Jesus ended up a sacrifice, as truly as any farm animal brought to the temple. Perhaps more truly. John called Jesus by a name, and in the end, Jesus lived into that name.

And then, we have Jesus’ followers. And we notice that, actually, Jesus calls his followers by names, one of them at least. How many names can we come up with for Simon Peter? Simon. Peter. Son of John. Cephas. Rock. Which is interesting, because the gospels also call him, Satan. Stumbling Block (Matthew 16:23). Sleeper. One of Weak Flesh (Matthew 26:40-41). Denier of Jesus (Matthew 26:34). One who Wept Bitterly (Matthew 26:75).

But Jesus does not call him these things. Jesus calls him Cephas, Rock. My rock. The one on whom I will build this church. Jesus calls Peter by a name, and that name sticks. Peter becomes the pre-eminent disciple among the Twelve. Peter becomes the rock. Like a loving mother, Jesus gives Peter a nickname to grow into, to live into. And live into it, he does.

The thing I think we need to remember here is that there is a name Jesus calls us, that Jesus calls everyone who follows him. It is a name we were reminded of in last week’s gospel, a name that was given to Jesus by a voice from heaven at the moment of his baptism. In fact, this name is, in its way, the qualifier of all other names we are called. This name is “Beloved.” So, Peter is really, “Beloved Rock.” Think about it.

What names has Jesus called you? I think when we follow someone, when someone’s our boss, we have to be ready for that Someone to come up with a name for us, and it may not be the one we were expecting. I doubt Special Advisor Karen Hughes saw “Hurricane Karen” coming, but that was the name her boss gave her, and in many respects, it stuck. What names has Jesus called you? There was someone in this church who was “The Christmas Tree Lady; she and her family have moved south now, but I think she will forever be known by that name here. There are people in every church who go by names like “Property Guy” and “Mission Man,” names like “Flower Lady” and “Choir Girl.” But you know, we have to be careful. There are names we give one another in church and at home, in school and in our extracurricular activities. There are names we give one another and ourselves. But we have to be careful not to confuse those with the names Jesus gives us.

Perhaps the church calls you “The Property Guy,” but Jesus has called you “Beloved Teacher.” Maybe the church knows you as “The Flower Lady,” but Jesus has, in fact, called you, “Beloved Mystic.” We keep calling you, “Cookie Mom.” And Jesus calls you “Beloved Agitator.”

We have to be most careful of all not to confuse the names Jesus gives us with the names we give ourselves. Names like, “Bad Daughter.” “Lazy Employee.” We call ourselves all sorts of horrible things… have you noticed that? “Failure.” “Fat.” “Forgetter.” And through it all, Jesus keeps calling us, “Beloved. Beloved. Beloved.”

So I ask you, to begin the process of listening hard for the names by which Jesus is calling you. Listen hard… listen as hard as that strange and troubling Talker-in Circles, Hearer-of-Voices, John the Baptist. Listen past the cacophony of names—even those names our society suggests should be welcome, but which sometimes come with an overlay of pain and grief—names like Mom, Dad, Son, Daughter, Spouse, Partner, Grandfather, Great Aunt. Listen past the noise of the church-given names—even the welcome ones—like Pastor and Deacon and Elder and Sexton and Chairperson and Clerk and Giver and Volunteer. Listen past the terrible ones we sometimes give ourselves… we don’t need to speak those out loud any more, they are already so ingrained. Listen, hard, and hear, first and foremost, Beloved. Beloved. Beloved. And then listen some more. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[i] John Dominic Crossan, http://wiki.faithfutures.org.
[ii] “Turd Blossom”; you see why I couldn’t say it from the pulpit.
Image: St. John the Baptist by Leonardo da Vinci.

Friday, January 18, 2008

I Dreamed...

I was in a production of "The Mikado." And I played the part of...

The Cheerleader.

Coming on stage, complete with pom poms, to sing,

Jesus, Jesus,
He's our man

If he can't do it,

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Year I Was 25

Wyldth1ng tagged me for this meme... to recollect the year I was 25 years old. I turned 25 on April 27, 1986. Just as a refresher, that's the first year "LA Law" was on TV. Reagan was in his second term. Robert Palmer was on MTV with the scrumptious "Addicted to Love" video. Yes, that long ago. Shut up.

1. The year I turned 25 was the fourth year of my marriage, and a year in which I was pursuing a career as a professional singer. This means that I took voice lessons and spent a lot of time alone in my apartment practicing (on Beacon Street in Beantown) while my husband spent a lot of time at his law firm. I was very lonely. But there were nights in Cambridge listening to jazz. There was the unfettered freedom of being able to stay out as late as we wanted. And I think we were really in love. Which is kind of cool.

2. Because we lived in the city, we had one car which we hardly ever used; we walked most places; my husband commuted to his job (he was an attorney in those days) by foot.

3. We had a landlord who was a commercial airline pilot. He would be out of town for several days at a time. While our apartment was really nice (old building, high ceilings, fireplaces in both the living room and the bedroom), our landlord was kind of absent-minded. He would forget to have oil delivered for the heater. We would have no heat until he got back into town. That wasn't so good.

4. On Valentine's day, near the end of my 25th year, my husband and I decided to try to have a baby. A few weeks later I was touring with a choir as their soloist; we had a gig in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I was singing the alto solos in the Vivaldi "Gloria." While we were in Puerto Rico I drank a lot of rum, and we went swimming under a waterfall in the rainforest.

5. Naturally, the whole time I was swigging rum and cavorting under waterfalls, I was pregnant with Larry-O.

All in all, a pretty good year.

Taking Your Pulse: Choir Section Leaders

About two months ago our choir director came up to me after church and said, with some extreme agitation, that he was hoping we could hire some section leaders for the church choir.

The choir is composed mostly of older members of the congregation... who still have lovely voices, I hasten to add. But an illness here or an injury there can decimate a section. We have three men total, one bass and two tenors. The bass is married to a lovely soprano who is slipping into dementia, and who requires the assistance of two other sopranos to get through rehearsals and services: the way in which all these women care for one another is stunning, and very moving. There are three sopranos, four altos, and that's it. Our best soprano has been out for about two months with a serious back injury (she is having surgery even as I type this).

Our choir director feels that it is increasingly difficult to do good music with the resources he has available. He is looking for (what in my opinion is) and extremely modest amount of money to accomplish this, through the hiring of four section leaders.

Session approved a trail period of this plan two months ago. Due to the holidays, he hasn't been able to find anyone (or perhaps due to that modest amount?) so far. Last night session voted to extend the trial period, but not before a significant debate, lasting nearly a half hour. The first issue raised was the choir: how would they feel about it? Is this embarrassing, or do they feel like they're being replaced or shoved to the side? Testimony from a session member who is an alto put this concern to rest. The choir is grateful.

Concern number two took me by surprise. It goes something like this: When I hear the choir, I value knowing that they are members of this community. If we are paying section leaders, there will be folks up there who are not members of this community. What if someone up there is an atheist, just there for the paycheck?

I hardly know where to begin to address this concern. (One session member suggested, well, we might be in a position to, you know, have an affect on the person's atheism.) And I was surprised by the vehemence with which it was raised. There was heat behind this concern. There was anger. And a promise that it "will be raised at the annual meeting."

The session members, in their debate, offered many good arguments in favor of having the section leaders, including the importance of a strong music program for attracting new members. I intend to ask them to be present front and center when and if questions are raised at the annual meeting, to give their own answers as to why the session voted unanimously to approve this. Twice.

So... anyone out there with any experience in this area? Do you serve a church that made this decision? How did the congregation respond? How did it work for the choir? And, finally, any good suggestions on delicate and community building theological arguments in favor? (Only kind of kidding.)

I await your wisdom.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Driving Mr. Larry

I decided I could take a day off today (my first since I got home from vacation) in order to drive Larry-O back to Big City U.

We set out at about 11 AM in light drizzle/ flurries. We had about three hours together in the car, during which he played me music by Buckethead (the apparently famous "Jordan"), Killswitch Engage (the eerie "My Curse") and even Scorpion (to which music, if memory serves, I may have actually danced. In a club. BC. [Before Children]).

I contributed the sedate (by comparison) Dave Matthews album "Crash" (notice I still call them albums? I am o-o-o-o-ld). Larry approved. We had a free-wheeling conversation which included, among other items:
  • His and his sister's assessment of my ex's girlfriend.
  • Our concurrence that Dave Matthews sings most appealingly about sex.
  • His sharing his anxieties about this semester, which he is "dreading" (owing to the fact that, he had a not-so-good semester in the fall, in his elective classes. The acting: great. The attending economics lectures: not so great).
  • His describing being "sexiled" (def: made to sleep elsewhere than his room because his roommate's girlfriend is visiting).
  • His plans for how he will take care of himself this semester (vague).
  • His feelings on religion (not so great... though he appreciates that having grown up with a mother in the religious field has given him a good grounding in scripture, which is extremely useful when interpreting, say, Shakespeare).
I was left feeling sad when I dropped him off. (Literally, he took his stuff and disappeared and I hit the highway again, in order to be home with Petra this evening.) I feel him struggling, I feel his alienation. I wished so badly he were a toddler whom I could hold in my lap and reassure. All I could say was "We love you. Be good to yourself. Be at peace. You can do it." I hope he could hear me.

Photo: A blurry Larry in scenes from "Equus" last semester.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Chosen: A Sermon on Isaiah 42:1-9

Isaiah 42:1-9
The Baptism of the Lord
January 13, 2007

I spent a part of my vacation with my children in a certain magical kingdom in the south. And one of the great thrills and pleasures of the trip had to do with roller coasters. We didn’t always love roller coasters in my family: there was an era when we would stand patiently in line for one, literally get as far as “next ones up,” and then one of us would abruptly decline to board and decide that there was something much more fascinating over there. But at some point—perhaps it was after adolescence—there developed a dependable willingness in my family to get into a little car and have it fling us all around at something approaching the speed of sound.

And so, when we were in Disney World a couple of weeks ago, we rode those coasters. Except, now it’s mom who’s a little hesitant, a little worried about all that hurtling around and my neck and my back. I didn’t ride every coaster with them on this trip: they experienced the thrill of the upside down Rockin’ Roller Coaster without me, while I had a lovely conversation with a fellow tourist about the weather in Orlando. Roller coasters can be wonderful and they can be terrifying. Not everyone feels ready to hop right on at any moment.

The book of the prophet Isaiah can feel a little like a roller coaster. Over the course of 66 chapters, the prophet goes from the depths of God’s angry judgment to the heights of God’s compassionate caring for the people, sometimes, with startling speed. The reason there are so many peaks and valleys has to do with the structure of the book, most likely cobbled together from the prophecies of at least three eras, three different sets of historical circumstances. In today’s passage, we hear words from a section commonly referred to as “Second Isaiah,” written, it is believed, during the 6th century BCE, after the people had been taken into exile. While first Isaiah has harsh words of warning for the people in their unfaithfulness, second Isaiah has words of caring and compassion because the people are broken, and they are broken-hearted.

The passage we read today is one of a number of poems throughout Isaiah known as the “Servant Songs.” For many, many years we Christians have been interpreting the servant songs as being about Jesus Christ. It’s easy to see why. The prophet says,

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. (Isaiah 42:1)

We hear echoes in these words from the story of Jesus’ baptism (which we have just read a few moments ago): the voice from heaven proclaiming, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). We understand Jesus to be God’s chosen one, God’s particular Beloved, the one in whom God’s soul delights, with whom God is well-pleased.

And yet, there is another school of thought about the servant songs. This sees them as less about an individual than a community, God’s covenant community. The prophet, rather than raising people’s hopes that one person will come to save them, is encouraging them to look to themselves, to their own gifts, to the strength they find in community. That is where they will truly find hope: in knowing that they are God’s chosen, God’s beloved, that God delights in them, that God is with them.

For us, today, I think we hold these ideas in tension. Yes, it is Jesus, whose baptism we celebrate today, who is God’s chosen, the savior of God’s people. It is Jesus who has received the gift of God’s Spirit, descending like a dove to show God’s presence with him. But Jesus is with us. We too have been baptized. We too have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. We too are chosen and beloved. It is in our own gifts, the gifts of that Holy Spirit, the gifts of every person gathered here, right now, that our hope rests.

Today we ordain three new elders, and we install them, as we install one continuing elder and two deacons. What does all this have to do with God’s chosen and beloved, with baptism and the gifts of the Spirit? Pretty much everything.

When we are baptized, we are baptized into a life of dangerous wonder, as one writer calls it. When we are baptized, we are opening ourselves (or our parents are opening us) to be called into service, kind of like God’s instant conscription plan. And none of us knows quite when or where God will call us into service. We might be called to help someone at the scene of an accident when driving on Route 17. We might be called to help a friend to recognize that her life is headed one a destructive path. We might be called to listen, when someone’s heart is heavy, to make his burden lighter. We are all called, each and every day, to serve God and our sisters in brothers in myriad ways. This is the calling of every Christian: to serve God and to serve one another, to care for the broken and the broken-hearted.

Some of us receive particular calls from the church, for particular kinds of work; we are chosen for special kinds of ministries. These ministries all flow from that first call of baptism: baptism is the foundation on which all our other ministries are grounded. In a few minutes, I will ask each of our candidates the constitutional questions. The first eight of these questions are identical for deacons, elders and ministers. They have to do with loving and trusting God in Jesus Christ, being guided by the scriptures and the Reformed tradition, using all our gifts for the good of God’s church. But then we come to the ninth question, which is different, specific to each office. Here is the one for Deacons:

Will you be a faithful deacon, teaching charity, urging concern, and directing the people’s help to the friendless and those in need? In your ministry will you try to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ?

The deacons are the compassionate hands of the church. That’s not to say that the rest of us are exempt: every single Christian is called to works of caring, charity, healing the broken and the broken-hearted. That was probably the sharpest focus of Jesus’ ministry, and it should be ours too. But our deacons help to direct our works, as a congregation, to those in need of our help. This is the calling of every Christian: it is the particular, focused calling of deacons.

The elders’ ordination vow is focused in another direction:

Will you be a faithful elder, watching over the people, providing for their worship, nurture and service? Will you share in government and discipline, serving in governing bodies of the church, and in your ministry will you try to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ?

Elders and pastor together make up the session, the governing body of the church. They are responsible to ensure that worship happens every Sunday, that the pastoral care needs of the people are met, that the church truly lives into its mission, that the church is a responsible steward of its property and finances. And notice that both deacons and elders have the same final question, urging them to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ. Like the servant in our words from Isaiah, we are all called and chosen to bring about justice.

I will not soft-pedal it. It is a tall order. The “yes” our deacons and elders have said to the nominating committee is guaranteed to take them into realms that are challenging and exhilarating. The late Mike Yaconelli says that roller coasters are a highly accurate model for the Christian life.

You say yes to Jesus, and suddenly you are strapped in, and you think, I am going to die! Then you begin the long climb of growth—Sunday School, baptism, church membership—and you think, Hey, no problem. I can follow Jesus anywhere, and then—ZOOOOOOOOM—you crash into the twists and turns of life, jerking left then right, up then down…Passion is the roller coaster ride that can happen when you follow Jesus Christ. It is the breathtaking, thrill-filled, bone-rattling ride of a lifetime where every moment matters, and all you can do is hang on for life dear.[i]

When we were in Disney World, Larry, Petra and I all got passes for an evening ride on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. This is a kind of next generation roller coaster, where you are basically dropped into a free fall, all in the guise of a haunted hotel elevator. Part of me was thinking, OK, I live in Rod Serling’s hometown. The least I can do is ride this thing. And the other part of me was terrified, and spent the better part of a day trying to figure out how to get out of it. As we approached the ride, at about seven in the evening, I started to fess up to Larry and Petra. Kids, I’m terrified, I said. I really, really don’t want to do this. But they said, Mom, it’s fun. We know you can do it. And we’ll be right there with you, one on your left and one on your right. You can do it.

The call of Christ can be wonderful and it can be terrifying. Not everyone feels ready to hop on at any moment. To every one of us strapped in for this roller coaster ride that is the Christian life, I offer the wisdom of my children: It’s fun. You can do it. And we—the whole church, the whole cloud of witnesses, going back to Isaiah and beyond, going forward into a church we can’t even imagine—we will all be there with you, on your left and on your right. We have been called, each and every one of us. We have been chosen. With the help of God and one another, we can do it. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[i] Michael Yaconelli, Dangerous Wonder (Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, Inc.), 93-94.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Disney Redux

As I showered this morning I realized that some of my Disney experiences are going to make it into my sermon this Sunday. I have only a handful of Petra's 150 photos at present, but I want to get these thoughts down before this brain ("on the wrong side of 45," as I heard someone say recently) loses the files entirely.

A little background. I come to Disney with a little teeny tiny bit of childhood baggage. When I was seven years old my parents took my brother and me to California for a two week trip. My dad was being wined and dined (literally) by owners of a couple of vineyards; he owned two liquor stores, and he had won some kind of trip, I guess. In addition to Sonoma Valley we had plans to go to San Diego (to see the zoo), to San Francisco (we saw "You're a Good Man Charlie Brown" and I ate my first ever Chinese food), to the Knotts Berry Farm, and, finally, to Disneyland. We also flew in a helicopter. By the time we got to Disneyland my parents were pretty exhausted. Or perhaps the neuropathy that plagued my mom from her mid-forties was kicking in. Anyway, they hated it. "It's so fake. It's so plastic." We were supposed to stay four days and we left after one. I had gone to the Hall of Presidents, and that was it. I was seven. THE HALL OF PRESIDENTS. We left. My little, bitter child's heart never forgave them. I didn't get to see Mickey or Minnie or Annette. THE HALL OF PRESIDENTS.

Fast forward 25 years. I am happily married to my college sweetheart, and we have two darling children (ages 5 and 7 months). College Sweetheart suggests a trip to Disney World. (He grew up in Florida.) We go, and we have the. time. of. our. lives. We go on Peter Pan's flight (7-month-old Petra in arms). We go on Splash Mountain (doing the baby switcheroo). Larry-O practically faints with joy when confronted by Captain Hook while walking down Main Street USA. It is nothing short of perfect.

We return to Disney several times as the kids grow up. Every time it's more or less magical. The last time we went as a family was 7 years ago. Four years ago February (Valentine's weekend, to be precise), the College Sweetheart moved out, in search of his Violist. That summer he took Larry and Petra to Disney (he invited me to come along; he'd read in a book about divorced couples who did this sort of thing. Uh, no thanks.)

So... this fall I got the little idea of doing Disney with my kids. Rule 1: we were not staying anywhere we'd stayed as a family of four. (We stayed at the Wilderness Lodge.) Rule 2: I was going to do everything the kids wanted to do. Rule 3: We were not going to try to replicate other trips in any way. This was going to be, we hoped, something new.

For the most part, it worked. Disney was decked out in its holiday finery, which was truly gorgeous. Six-story-tall Christmas Trees. The Christmas Parades. The unexpectedly beautiful piped-in Christmas music at the resort. Day 1, we did the Magic Kingdom. One of the cool things about our resort was our ability to take a boat to and from the Magic Kingdom (everything else was accessible by bus). We stood in line for Peter Pan's Flight for about 45 minutes, not bad, really. We went on the Pirates of the Caribbean and marveled at the newly installed animatronic Johnny Depps. Lifelike and babealicious. (And they still have that guy whose dirty foot is hanging over your head as the boat goes into the last tunnel.) We bought those amazing chocolate chip cookies they sell.

Day 2, we hit MGM Studios. First order of the day, a fast pass for the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out how to get out of it. We rode the Great Movie Ride, the Star Wars/ Tours. I declined to go on the Rockin' Roller Coaster (I don't like Aerosmith that much). By 7 PM our fastpasses came due, and I started babbling about how scared I was. "We'll be right there with you mom, one on each side," my children said confidently. We did it. Free-fall and laughing hysterically (rather than screaming).

Day 3 (New Year's Eve) was when things began to go south. In keeping with the "Let's not do anything we've done in Disney before" idea, Larry woke up at 6 AM with a raging stomach bug, every symptom and loud and closeby (these are not enormous rooms). Petra and I hovered a bit, then decided to take his advice and go far, far away. We went to the Animal Kingdom, where the first thing we did was to see the Finding Nemo stage show. It was astonishingly beautiful-- done with actors and puppets, much in the way they've done the Lion King on Broadway. And it's a meditation on letting go of over-protectiveness and letting your children swim free, as it were. It ends with the father fish, Marlon, hovering on stage for just a moment, with the joy and grief of a parent who has had to relinquish his control to his child's growth and development. If I'd been alone, I've have sobbed.

On to Dinosaur, a kind of virtual trip to... you know, the time of Dinosaurs. And also potential inadvertent back and neck realignment. And then to the Kahli River Rapids, wet and fun. And a fabulous meal at the Yak and Yeti. Petra was in line for the Everest Expedition (crazy-ass roller coaster that stops and goes backwards, no thanks) when it began to pour, one of those Florida late-afternoon tropical downpours. We ran for the bus. We'd been on the phone with Larry all day; he was no better, so it didn't appear to be food poisoning or tiredness (which sometimes gives him gastrointestinal symptoms), but a real bug.

Petra and I ate at the snack bar and then the three of us watched "Love, Actually" in our room... which is the last film College Sweetheart and I saw together before he moved out. Ouch. In a big way. New Year's Eve: Asleep before 11.

Day 4: Larry doesn't feel great, but gamely sets out with us for Epcot. We see Spaceship Earth, which has been updated with voiceovers by Dame Judi Dench, and which delicately and deftly handles the issues of religious pluralism and evolution (all around the parks, Disney takes a stand for evolution, and against... well, the abandonment of the scientific worldview. Yay Disney!) Larry leaves after an hour, feeling punk. Petra and I wander around the World Showcase, having a fabulous lunch next to a pyramid and a volcano (in Mexico) and doing some serious Christmas Shopping for cousins. On the way, we see one of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen, as well as a troupe of young Japanese woman drummers, who left us breathless at their artistry and athleticism. Larry rejoins us at about 8 PM for dinner in China (he has broth and rice, poor dear.) We leave before Illuminations (the big fireworks/ light show), like old people, wanting to beat the crowds.

Day 5: Magic Kingdom, the challenge of the three mountains. We quickly do Splash Mountain and Thunder Mountain Railroad (in 43 degree weather; there was a cold snap). Lunch and a parade, during which we eat caramel corn and funnel cake and reminisce about early trips. With the passing of each character, Larry or Petra says, "Oooh, I always loved her..." or "I wanted to be him..." or "She always scared the daylights out of me." (Favorite Disney Villain: Ursula, hands down). More Pirates of the Caribbean (because, you can't do it too much), more shopping, until finally Larry pleads stomach distress (funnel cake perhaps?) and we retire to our resort. To pack. And leave.

The following morning, on the way to the airport, I pondered something Larry said. "Mom, I might be getting past Disney." Oh my heart. I fought back tears. Of course he's getting past Disney. He's a big fish now, swimming in all sorts of directions, but most decidedly away from me. This might well have been "it" for our vacations at DW (though, I did extract a promise from Petra that, if she has kids, I want to be invited along; not too soon I hope. She's 15.) .

It was sweet. It was sad. It was fun. It was expensive. I'm glad we went. I wonder how to be a family, when they're all grown up. How will we do that?

Monday, January 07, 2008


I have been blessed by Steve (more than a week ago... this is what happens when you go on vacation and then scramble to catch up with your blog-reading).

Here's the blessing deal:
The idea… it’s a game of tag with a difference, rather than looking inwardly, we look outside ourselves and bless, praise and pray for one blog friend. By participating in this endeavour we not only make the recipient of the blessing feel valued and appreciated, but we are having some fun too. We’re going to see how far the bloggin’ blessings can travel around the world and how many people can be blessed! Recipients of a bloggin’ blessing may upload the above image to their sidebar if they choose to. If you recieve a bloggin’ blessin’ please leave a comment on this thread here so that we can rejoice in just how many blessings have been sent around the world!

I am honored. This means so much to me. When people in church are reluctant to have their names go on the prayer list, I am always puzzled, and often say something like, "But do you know how amazing it feels to have other people praying for you?" I have been on the receiving end of prayers many times in my life... it is one of the most powerful ways we can be in community together.

I have noticed that a lot of folks bless and pray for three or five blogfriends. I will go with three:

Little Mary: I think this post summarizes many of the things I love about her: her passion, her rock-solid faith, her uncompromising witness to the gospel. Plus, she is one stylish babe (I believe the term 'sexycool' applies here)! I bless her, and pray for her, that her heart's deepest desire will come to pass in 2008.

Bishop Laura
: I can't express my admiration for her... her deep, visionary mystic's heart, her brilliant academic mind, her willingness to be so vulnerable in her blogging, her willingness to engage in conversation with those who attack her for the journey she is on. I bless her, and pray for her, that 2008 will be the year in which she finds the fulfillment she seeks.

Milton: A poet's heart; a lover's sensibilities; an adventurer's spirit; and he can cook. What else can be said? I bless him, and pray for him, that the darkness might be lifted once and for all, and that he might see himself as we see him.

And to so many others of you out there... I bless you, and pray for you, that 2008 may truly be "the year of our Lord" for you.

Waterfall courtesy of travelblog.org.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Epiphany: A Sermon on Matthew 2:1-12

“The Epiphany”
Matthew 2:1-12
January 6, 2008: Epiphany Sunday

How many times has it happened to you? How many times have you had “an epiphany?” By which I mean, how many times have you had a sudden realization? An “aha!” moment (or a “duh!” moment)? A time when, as folks in Boston used to say, dawn came to Marblehead? I can name several epiphanies I’ve had right off the top of my head: the moment when I realized I felt called to ordination as a minister. The moment when I realized that the end of the marriage did not mean the end of happiness forever. The moment I realized my children are different people than I am. (Still working on that one!).

When we speak of having an “epiphany,” we usually mean that we have somehow been shown something that wasn’t entirely clear to us before, and that this something makes a difference in our lives… that, henceforth, we will live, and move, and think in different ways than we did before. And that understanding of epiphany is true to the church’s celebration on the Twelfth Day of Christmas. You won’t find the word “epiphany” in the New Testament, at least not in this passage from Matthew’s gospel, the coming of the Magi to worship the Christ child. “Epiphany” is a theological concept; it developed after the biblical tradition was already in place. And it is an important concept. Epiphany means “showing” or “manifestation.” In this case, it means the showing of the showing of the Messiah, the young Jesus, to his foreign visitors.

It’s pretty critical that we understand about that last bit, the “foreignness” of these visitors. Matthew’s gospel is the one most closely associated with Judaism, with God’s covenant with God’s chosen people Israel. It’s Matthew who is always connecting the dots for us, between the story of Jesus and the stories of the Hebrew Scriptures. And yet one of the first stories he tells us about Jesus has to do with a murderous king, the despicable Herod, whom Jesus can count among his own people. At the same time, Matthew shows us the recognition of Jesus, the truth of who he is, by foreigners, outsiders, people with perhaps only a passing knowledge of Israel and its covenants. The story of the epiphany is the story of God being revealed to outsiders. Those who should have been the first to worship Jesus are the ones who are quickly seen to be gunning for him. Those who should have been the very last to know or notice him, seek him diligently, find him, worship him, and even, in the end, protect him.

There are lots of “epiphanies” in this passage, if we care to notice them. The first and most obvious is the recognition of Jesus by the Magi, the outsider-astrologers from the East. But then Herod has an epiphany, too, doesn’t he? Herod is “shown” that there is a newborn king, by virtue of the interest of the Magi, and when dawn comes to his marble head, Herod is terrified. He recognizes that in Jesus, even in a very young, very vulnerable Jesus, there is a threat. The people of Jerusalem have an epiphany: when it becomes clear how rattled Herod is by the news of a newborn king, the people know perfectly well that their bloodthirsty ruler is liable to do something dreadful. And so they, too, are terrified. Finally, the Magi have yet another epiphany: dreams once again come into play… they realize they can’t trust Herod with news of the child… and so they slip away, going home by another way so as to avoid Herod’s wrath.

All these epiphanies. All these realizations that God is about something new and marvelous, and it makes a difference. It has an impact. Lives will be changed. I wonder again, what about our epiphanies? Can we remember a time, a moment, when were we “shown” God’s love, as startling and unexpected as the worshiping of a baby peasant by foreign dignitaries? Can we remember a time when we realized we wanted—we needed—to follow Jesus, to set out on our own pilgrimage for Bethlehem and beyond?

Some of us do have life-changing epiphanies about our faith, and we describe them in various ways. I realized as a fourteen-year-old on a church youth retreat that there was a different way to live than I had previously considered; I realized that it had something to do with the gospel; and I realized that I wanted to seek out that way. A friend of mine describes knowing herself a sinner in need of saving at about age 7, and her joy at being baptized by full immersion in her parents’ Baptist church. For some of us our epiphanies came later in life… like the man described by writer Kathleen Norris who is hanging out with hard drinking, hard drugging people, who has his epiphany when the man driving him somewhere decides to make a stop to kill someone. (They weren’t home.) Norris describes that man as having a sudden stunning realization that the path he is on is no longer viable, it is no longer a path for life. All these are epiphanies, and I know that many of you have stories that you could add.

And maybe there are some of us who are still searching, still wondering… still following after the starlight, in hopes of being shown something extraordinary, though we may not be sure what it is quite yet. And you know what? The scriptures are filled with the stories of people who didn’t even know they were looking for God, when God came looking for them. God came looking for the Magi… astrologers from another land, another religion… God sought them out and found them and met them right where they were.[1] God spoke to them in a language they could understand. This is such good news for all of us, both those of us who have our epiphany stories, and those of us who continue to search for the star and the marvelous One to whom it points. God is looking for us. God has placed a star in the heavens over each of our heads, over each of our lives, and God comes to us right where we are. God had an epiphany too, probably before worlds were created and time started on its forward course. God’s epiphany is that God wants each and every one of us, wants to hold us close as children, wants to give to each of us the gift of life abundant. Like those outsider astrologers, God has set out on a journey to find us. And we can trust that we will be found. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] Thanks to Brian Stoffregen of the Midrash Online Lectionary Group for this insight.

Friday, January 04, 2008


The Recipe For Magdalene

3 parts Intellect
2 parts Flair
1 part Seductiveness

Splash of Ambition

Shake vigorously

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Happy New Year!

I am just back from my time in Disney World with Larry-O and Petra... I mean, just back... in the house under three hours, the laundry is spinning, and I'm madly filling out health forms, writing absence notes, and watching the needles fall from the week-neglected tree.

It was cool. I'm too tired to blog it all now, and I need the thousand and one photos Petra took with her new (Christmas-from-Dad) digital camera to do it justice. But it was cool. We had fun. We also had illness. But we had fun.

And now I'm back, no resolutions made, per se, a funeral Saturday, and the sermon for Sunday not begun, exactly.