Monday, December 13, 2010

Star of Guidance

This is the third in an Advent series “The Stars Tell the Story”. 
Scripture is Matthew 2:1-12, the story of the Wise Men’s Star.

What if the wisemen had GPS?  There’s a Christmas card that depicts the three wisemen, on their three camels, ignoring the star over the stable and studying the little devices they hold in their hands.  “We’re close!” they say as they pull up to the wrong stable.  “Mine just said, “You have arrived at your destination.”
    Lucky for us, the wise men were not guided by GPS - but by an alignment of the stars.  We have no idea what they saw in the sky.  I mean, there are theories,  comet - planets - supernova - but we have no way to know.  What we know about their guidance system is contained in this marvelous story.  So let’s take a look at what the story tells us about what guided them on their journey to Jesus so long ago. 
    First of all, the story tells us they were guided by wisdom, not foolishness.
    They were wise men.  They were astrologers.  We tend to think of astrology as a superstition - it seems silly to believe that what’s going on with the stars and planets has any effect on us as we go around making decisions, facing challenges, getting from yesterday to tomorrow.  But astrology has been very important part of various cultures through history.  Chinese, Hindu, Arab, Persian, Greeks, Mayans . . . they all had their versions of star studying and portent seeking.  I was also interested to learn this week how some of the words and expressions we use carry some of their “flavor” from astrology.  I’d never thought about the origin of the word “disaster” for instance:   comes from the negative prefix: DIS and the latin word for star: ASTER.  Bad star.  Ill-starred.  Comes from the time when bad events were thought to be brought on by bad “stars”.   Same thing for FLU.  “Influenza” was named that because doctors in the middle ages believed that epidemics could be caused by the bad “INFLUENCES” of planet and star alignments. 
    One article - OK- I’ll admit it, it was Wikipedia - cited a study that said 31% of Americans still believe in astrology.  I find that hard to believe.  At least 31% of me does.  But I would believe that 31% of americans read their horoscope occassionally.  I don’t do that.  Because I realized that, without one ounce of belief, I still had stray thoughts that “explained” things through the little ditty I’d read.   Oh, yeah, I’d say when I’d get irritated or annoyed:  “Long buried resentments could surface today.”  Or when I pigged out at lunch, I’d excuse myself by remembering:  “Self-control will be harder today.” 
    It’s just silly.  But I think it is a hint of how much we long to bring our lives into some sort of alignment with the larger and better purpose - some say “of the universe”.  we say, “of God”.   There is a human need to find something significant in our day to day.  I think that’s a little star planted in us by God.  The astrologers had a principle:  “As in heaven, so on earth.” 
We say, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”   And I don’t think there is anything silly about letting ourselves be guided by what we think is heaven’s intent.  In fact the message of Christmas is that Heaven has come down to earth so that we might SEE what human life is supposed to be about, how it is supposed to be lived, what Heaven intends human life to be.   When we look to Jesus, we see God and God’s purpose for us.  We see ‘heaven and earth’ together.
    And being guided by that star - of deep wisdom - is very very wise.

Set our GPS on hope, not fear.  The scriptures contrast the other people in the story with Herod.  The wise men, Mary, Joseph - - - all of them acted out of hope.  Herod acted out of fear.  They sought the child.  Herod feared the child.  The part of the story we never read, but which is always there is that Herod was so afraid that he killed the children of Bethlehem.  The difference between hope and fear is the difference between life giving and life affirming actions and violence and death. 
    Whe we decide to do something, or not to do something, we can check with ourselves:  Am acting out of hope that God is going to act in the world, or the fear that God means us harm?
And to be led by hope. 

    The wise men were guided by the promise of joy - not the fear of sorrow.  My favorite verse in this whole story is ‘when they reached the place where the child was, they were overwhelmed with joy and worshipped exceedingly’    I hope that each of us can remember a moment or two in life when we were led to exactly the right place, exactly the right person, exactly the right action.  And we felt that incredible joy of being able to do exactly the right thing.  At the birth of a child.  At the decision to share our life with one person, through thick and thin.  At the right job, or the moment to retire.  The Christmas morning when we are all together with our family in Spirit if not in fact, and God blesses us with the joy of memories of the past and dreams of the future.  These moments of joy - and the quest to experience them again - are the stars that can guide us.during this season and indeed, throughout our whole lives.  Let the star of joy guide you.

    And the wise men were guided by love.  Always.  Love.  I know the word love isn’t even found in this passage.   But love is there.  And here’s how we know:  The wise men brought gifts to the Christ child.  Gifts are expressions of love.  You can give without loving.  But you can’t love without giving.  This season of the year gifts take up alot of our time and attention.  We can torture ourselves and others with the obsessive and never satisfactory quest for the perfect gift.  I got caught doing this yesterday.  I had to go to a Christmas party and take a white elephant gift for an exchange with a bunch of women.  And I wanted my gift to be the one people fought over.  I wanted the moment my gift was unwrapped to be the one when everyone there thought, “Well, isn’t that just the nicest!  How I wish I’d thought to bring something like that!”  Needless to say - it wasn’t like that at all.  Basically, every gift was junk.  Some of it was expensive junk and some of it was disappointingly crummy junk.  But the gifts were not what the party was about.  The party was about how much this group of women loves each other.  The real gift was seeing pictures of grandchildren, and hearing about children’s weddings and even (this was a tough gift for me to appreciate!) hearing what medicine everybody was on now that we are all getting older and less able to cope without medical interventions.  The real gift was that one of us, who had moved to Chicago, drove all the way down here to be with us. 
    We can worry about how much we should spend, and whether the person we’re gifting needs or wants what we have decided to give.  But the wise men brought gold, frankinscense and myrhh.  Hardly the most soughtafter baby presents.  I think it was Letty Russell who said, “If it had been three wise women - they would have brought diapers, blankets and a hot dish.”  But the gold for a king, the frankinscense for a priest and the myrhh to ease suffering and honor death - these turned out to be right in ways that better, more practical gifts could never match.  We can worry about “the right gift” Or we can be like the wisemen and just bring our best and hope that somehow, in ways we can’t foresee, the gifts will be expressions of love.  We need to recognize that the relationships we cherish will be strengthened, not by the packages we wrap and unwrap, but by the act of giving a bit of our time, our money, our attention to others.   That is love - giving something of ourselves.  And it is a star that we can look to strengthen our relationships with God and the people with which we share our lives.  

    Being led by the stars of wisdom, or hope, or joy and of love is not as being directed to our destination by a GPS.  I’ve got a minute here, so I am going to share a quote from the pastor of Christ Church in Philadelphia which makes alot of sense to me: 
It strikes me that many a spiritual person today—from the doctrinally certain to the skeptically seeking—desire a religious life built upon GPS simplicity rather than “a star rises” complexity.  So many of us want to be able to type into a little box, “I want to know God,” and have it tell us to turn right or left, say this prayer or that, read then verse then that one, and we will then arrive, easily, without being lost once.  Or, being already in the fold, we want to type in, “Why do I feel alone,” or, “Why does the one I love suffer,” and have the answers spoken to us by a device we can turn off if we think we know better. 
    The wise men learned that the star draws but does not direct us.  We must struggle to find our way.  And, as they knew, there is no final destination, simply stopping points along the way where we rest and pray, and then gather our things and journey further.

    As we journey further in this season, in our faith, in our life - we are invited to look to the stars to guide us.   With the wise men, let’s let ourselves be led on - by the stars of wisdom, hope, joy and love.  Let us pray.
Our heavenly Father, you who set the stars in the skies and placed us here on earth,
we ask you to guide us toward Your Holy Presence in Jesus Christ. 
Give us Wisdom to seek your will on earth. 
Give us the Hope that you are working for human good. 
Give us Joy in the journey and always,
give us hearts so filled with your Love that they overflow during this and every season.  
In the name of the Child of Bethlehem we pray.  Amen.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Stars of Promise

Sermon Start -
Genesis 15:1-??
Look up - count the stars -

From this week’s news:  The universe may glitter with far more stars than even Carl Sagan imagined when he rhapsodized about billions upon billions. A new study suggests there are a mind-blowing 300 sextillion of them, or three times as many as scientists previously calculated. That is a 3 followed by 23 zeros. Or 3 trillion times 100 billion.
The estimate, contained in a study published online Wednesday in the journal Nature, is based on findings that there are many more red dwarf stars -- the most common star in the universe -- than once thought.
"We're seeing 10 or 20 times more stars than we expected," van Dokkum said.
When van Dokkum and Conroy crunched the incredibly big numbers, they found that it tripled the estimate of stars in the universe from 100 sextillion to 300 sextillion.
That's a huge number to grasp, even for astronomers who are used to dealing in light years and trillions, Conroy said.
"It's fun because it gets you thinking about these large numbers," Conroy said. Conroy looked up how many cells are in the average human body -- 50 trillion or so -- and multiplied that by the 6 billion people on Earth. And he came up with about 300 sextillion.
So the number of stars in the universe "is equal to all the cells in the humans on Earth -- a kind of funny coincidence," Conroy said.
newspaper article says there are far more stars than astronomers knew about before.  It’s not that the stars are countless.  But you have to count them a long, long time to get them all. 

That’s why God used the canopy of stars in the night sky to communicate to Abraham the almost infinite promise of God’s goodness and love.  He made Abraham a promise, that he would have a large family, which would be blessed and that through Abraham’s kin, the world would be blessed.  And when Abraham asked how he was supposed to believe that, considering that he didn’t even have a son - heck, he didn’t even have a daughter at this point! - God took him outside his tent, into the desert night, and had him look up and try to count the stars.  He said, “You can be sure that I’ll make your family as numerous as the stars in the heavens.  And they will shine as bright.” 

God swore by the stars - made them a sign of his faithfulness and steadfast love.  In Romeo and Juliet, when Romeo is proclaiming his love, he says, “Lady, by yonder blessed moon I swear . . .” to which Juliet replies, “Oh, swear not by the moon, the inconstant month, which monthly changes in her circled orb, lest thy love prove likewise variable.” 

God doesn’t use the moon to talk to Abraham about the promise. He points to the stars. 

Stars were a sign of God’s promise to Abraham - to make Abraham’s family a great nation - to use this particular people to bring about God’s plan for humanity and the earth. 

As time went on, (and on and on) it became clear that Abraham’s family, though they had a special relationship with God, were not willing and/or able to redeem the world. 
They got sidetracked.  They fought amongst themselves.  They forgot to trust God’s promise.  They messed up.  Instead of bringing light to the world, they started living in the shadows themselves. 

And the only part of the promise they remembered was the part about their particular tribe being blessed - chosen - special.  They forgot the part about being a blessing to the world.  But they remembered and they hung onto their own specialness and often fell into the trap of worshipping their own “specialness” instead of the God. 

Whenever that happens, God’s faithful promise is in peril.  It looked as if the plan is fatally flawed.  The stars . . . the shining . . .  not going to happen. 

And yet, a promise is a promise.  And God had promised a night sky’s worth of descendents to Abraham, to make a huge clan that would bless the world by living in it as God’s family.  God doesn’t renege on his promises.  But when he finds that one way of fulfilling them is not possible, he finds another, better way to make the promise come true.  So God sent Jesus to be born, live and die in order to redeem the world and expand the family of folks who are God’s childen.

That’s what Christmas is - a more complete, better way for God to form a community that loves Him and shows his Love to the world. The New Testament is clear that now it is you and I who are God’s people - the ones God has chosen to bless and to be a blessing.

The “blood” relationship of being descended from Abraham became less important than the relationship made through Jesus’ blood on the cross. This is what John the Baptist said to the religious folks who came out to the desert to see what he was up to:  “Don’t think you can say, “Oh, we’re children of Abraham.  God can make children of Abraham out of these rocks.”

Friends, we are the rocks. We are heirs of God’s promise, not through Abraham, but through the blood of Jesus Christ, we are God’s special people.  We are the ones who have inherited the promise that we will be blessed and we will be a blessing. So we’re going to do something together to symbolize that fact.  Here.  I’m giving you each a potato - because it looks like a rock.  Each of you take a rock.  Hold it in your hand.  Not very shiny or sparkly, is it?  Now take the knife and cut it in two.  Take half of it and imagine a star on the cut face of the rock.  You might want to draw the star, lightly, with a pencil.  It could be a four point star, or a five point star, like the ones on your bulletin cover.  Or a six point star, like the Star of David.  Maybe you can envision a star with the same number of points as you have members of your family.  The Star of Bethlehem, that I saw in the Church of the Nativity, over the place where Jesus was born was a fourteen point star.  So a star can have any number of points.  It doesn’t really matter.  But take the knife and carve the edges of the potato away until you reveal the star shape.  It will just take a few cuts.  Then you can pass the knife to the person next to you.  You’ll have little pieces of potato left over.  Just put them on your bulletin until your pew is done, then you can put them in the little bag so we don’t leave a big mess here in the sanctuary. 

And I know this will take some time.   Let this time be a time of prayer, in which we ask God to seal the promise on our hearts.  Maybe this will be a time to ask ourselves a crucial question:  This Christmas -  How is God’s promise to bless and redeem the world coming true in your life and the lives that you touch?  We have some time now, and as we sing, and during the offering.  Don’t rush.  We’re on God’s time now. 

And what I want you to do is to bring your star up with you when you take communion.  After you have taken communion - shared in Jesus’ body and blood  - shown through that ritual that you belong to him and he is part of you forever - then go to the table and and dip your star it in the paint and stamp one of the squares of cloth that I showed the kids during the children’s sermon.  Like I told them, we’re going to make an Advent banner of stars.

And the banner will remind us that God’s promise to Abraham - sworn on the stars above - is now God’s promise to us:  We will be blessed.  And we will be a blessing.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Not like Others

Oct. 24, 2010
Sermon Start
Luke 18:9-14

Thank God, I’m not like that Pharisee!  (I think we’ve all said it, under our breaths.)  Thank God I’m not a self-righteous, judgemental, hypocrite like that Pharisee.  Thank God I don’t look down on other people like those people do.  Thank God MY religious practice is purer than theirs.  Thank God I am not like . . .

The problem is, the moment we think it, we ARE like that Pharisee.  Jesus has set a trap for us here, telling us a story that, the minute we enter into it, imaginatively  - closes  - SNAPS SHUT on us and has us wondering ‘what happened here?”

Well, before we begin to gnaw our own collective leg off to get out of this trap - let’s take a minute to admire how carefully and thoughtfully the trap is made.

Jesus . . .  the Pharisees are a group that we’d probably admire if we were reading about them.  Their goal is to sanctify every moment and every situation for God.  To make the everyday sacred and holy.  That’s nice. 

That’s why they pray!
That’s why they fast - this one twice a week!
That’s why they tithe - which I keep telling you is a wonderful and spiritually rewarding way to put your financial life into God’s hands - to sanctify your checkbook.

These are good things to do and the Pharisee does them.  But here’s the trap that the Pharisee falls in head first:  he begins to believe that HE is the one making himself holy.  His religion becomes self-referential.  His holiness becomes something he acheives, rather than something he recieves.  He is even “praying with himself” - (a sermon title I was BARELY able to resist using)

And God gets pushed out of the picture.  Because God is too big and too mysterious and too holy to fit within the frame work of any individual’s religious practice.  So God gets to be a little tiny object within the religious practice. 
the pharisee’s god is  . . .
Not too holy. 
Not too great. 
Not too creative. 
Not too merciful. 
Not too loving. 
Not too fierce. 
Just . . . domesticated and small enough to enhance the very lovely life that I (I mean the Pharisee) is living. 
My judgement is always the right judgment.  (No need to put myself in other people’s shoes.)
My prayers are the sincere prayers.  (Too bad about yours.) 
My standards are always the correct ones.  (For me and for you, too.) 
My morality is fine for me.  (And it would be fine for you, too, if you’d just be like me.) 

God’s larger perspective, God’s longer time, God’s wider and deeper love.  .  .   who needs to worry about that?   I’m doing just fine, thank you.  In fact, Thank You, God, that I am not like those others who haven’t figured out how to live such a nice life.  There but for the grace of God, go I.

But let’s not go there.

It is so easy, so easy and so pleasing, to forget how radically dependent we are on God’s grace.  To think that we’ve earned how nicely things have fallen in place.  And that THOSE PEOPLE who are struggling so must be struggling because they aren’t as hard-working, as wise, as good hearted, as we are.  

This past week a candidate for office in this district made some outrageous statements about African American men - generalizing about the choices and interests of thousands of the people he’d like to represent, without any nod of understanding of individual differences, collective challenges, or the larger culture’s role in focussing interests and choices.  It was just - here’s what THEY do and here’s why THEY do it.  There’s US - Thank God - and there’s THEM.  Thank God that WE aren’t THEM. 

Jesus sets us up, tells us this crazy prayer story just so we’ll notice that we are them - the ones we think are “other”.  (The Pharisee opens his prayer, “I thank thee, Lord, that I am not like OTHER men.”  And we thank God that we aren’t like the one who is OTHER than the OTHERS.   And Jesus just winks at us and smiles. 

Hey Christian!  Haven’t you noticed that I don’t draw those lines.  I don’t see those lines.   I certainly don’t respect those lines that get drawn between the ins and the outs, the natives and the immigrants, the Cubs and the Cardinals . . . men and women, Jew or Gentile, bond or free?  Jesus crossed so many of those lines in his day.  Eating with sinners, arguing with scribes, teaching women, forgiving tax collectors.  Jesus crossed all the lines and brought close all the ones who, like the tax collector in the story, were “far away” from God.  Because just in BEING he had crossed the line between God and humanity.

His life and death and resurrection are about the fact that that line, the one between God and humanity, couldn’t possibly be penetrated by the best efforts of the most well meaning people on earth.  God is simply too magnificent for little human minds to grasp, too compassionate for human hearts to comprehend.  We can’t get there from here.

I recently, just for fun, asked Google Maps to calculate directions between here and the place I stayed in Nicaragua this year.  You know what it said, “Unable to calculate route.”  You can’t get there from here. 

That’s the message of Jesus to all our human striving to become acceptable to God by means of praying the right words, giving the right amount of money, arranging our life the right way,  belonging to the right groups.  “You can’t get there from here.  Unable to calculate route.”  We can’t make it there - and the Pharisees mistake, our mistake, is to think that we’ve arrived on our own steam.

The truth of the matter is, we can only “get there” - get in right relationship with God - by radical dependence on God’s goodness and grace.   Which is freely offered - poured out like the latter rain upon the heads of the believer.  

This is a story about what God can do. 

God can make a way for human beings - tax collectors, even.  even Pharisees  - as prone to sin and selfishness and self righteousness and self deception as we are - to come into the presence of the Awesome and Holy God and say a truthful prayer.  God can make a righteous way for every single one of us here this morning to enjoy fellowship with Him.  God can draw to his warm and loving embrace all of Philo, all of this country, all of this hemisphere, all of this world. 

And it’s not because we smell so good and look so fine and talk so well that he scoops us up in his arms and loves us.  It’s because God’s heart is so big and his love is so deep.  It’s God’s love that saves us and not good works, great gifts, or spiritual gymnastics.  And when we understand that, then we don’t look at the Pharisee and say, “Thank God I’m not like him.”  We don’t look at anyone and say, “Thank God I’m not like those others . . . “  We say, “Thank God there are no OTHERS.  There is just US - those upon whom God has mercy, whom God makes right and saves.”

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wednesday, Sept. 15th

O.K.  The month has flown by.  Today the kid's program starts, and Bird's Eye Bible Study is tonight.  I have to go to the grocery store before the kid's thing.  And . . . I'm starting to drag my feet, hoping that Chris' visit isn't going to be over so soon.  But it is.  Up and at 'em, Cindy!  Let's go.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Communion Meditation - September 5

This is the third in a series of sermons focused on emotions and faith. Last week was "fear". This week is "desire".

Faithful Feeling: Desire

Using Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-8 and Philippians4:8

We’ve been talking about how our emotions and our faith are related. This series grew out of several of the questions that the congregation submitted at the beginning of the summer. Some were questions about fear, anger, grief. There were no questions about desire. Which sort of reminds me of one the joke (repeatedly told by Philo’s most brilliant writer to date - David Foster Wallace. He used this most than once):

So there’s these three young fish, hanging around the ocean floor, chatting it up about fishy stuff, when an old fish swims by, and greets them - “how’s the water, boys?” And they look at each other, and say, “What’s water?”

We, like the fish, sometimes fail to recognize, and maybe don’t even know the name for what surrounds us, what we breathe in and what we “swim through” all the time. I think that’s true of “desire”. We live in a culture so awash in desire that we may not even recognize that it is all around us all the time. We live in a culture that is driven by consumer spending and depends on making us all driven consumers. Our most powerful desires - the desires for acceptance, the desire for sex, the desire for pleasure, the desire for happiness . . . these are all manipulated by Mad Men and Women. Madison Avenue has become Mainstreet in the USA and much of the world.

So lets just notice the water first, OK? As Christians, what are we to make of this water in which we swim? We can’t hold our breath, or hold our noses. This is where we live. This is where we bring up our children. Media studies reveal that
Today however, half of the clothing that kids wear include an advertisement of one sort or another. Backpack, shoes, and many accessory items also display the most popular brands for a child's peers to see. Today, ads are much more pervasive and less recognizeable as a sales pitch.

(Fast food - child’s toy - movie or TV - clothing, accessory, transportation, cell phone cell phone apps . . . )There are a seemingly limitless number of products that are then presented to the child.

These ads for children, just as those targeted toward adults, create a need where none existed previously. They also hook children, and subsequently their parents, into an endless loop of buying more and more products. ( - advertising and children)

A lot of this desire onslaught, especially that aimed at those of us who have outgrown “Happy Meals” uses the “hook” of sexual desire. And while, on the one hand, it seems quite right that sexuality is not a subject that automatically seems shameful and unmentionable - That is good. God made our bodies and our sexuality is part of who we are supposed to be - it is also true that sexuality is hard to talk about without recognizing about how it is constantly influenced, shaped, and most of all USED to sell us things.

As people of faith, what unique insights and resources do we bring to life in this time and place? What do we know from Scripture? What does Jesus Christ’s life have to do with desire?

Well - maybe first off - our spiritual tradition does not demonize desire. In fact, our tradition recognizes desire as part of our souls from the very beginning. The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden from the third chapter of Genesis is attempt to describe the souls of human beings:
Desire is a permanent part of human life. And God wanted to set up the world in a way that good desires would be satisfied: He put human beings in a garden with all that they needed to eat. He gave them work to do, to satisfy their desire to be useful and purposeful. He gave them each a partner - a soul mate. Adam calls Eve “Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”. Desires are satisfied. Needs are met - but not just in a utilitarian, joyless way. There is abundance. There is beauty. There is fulfilment.

But God’s plan is that there be something in the center of our lives that cannot be satisfied. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is “fenced”. It’s off limits. And to live faithfully is to recognize and respect that our souls have an off limits section - a desirable part - which belongs only to God.

We feel desire for beauty (it was lovely to look at) and good (to eat).

So our tradition recognizes a deep kind of desire as part of our souls’ very structure. Are we in touch with that desire?

When we see something truly beautiful - or hear something truly beautiful - isn’t there an ache of the unobtainable about it? Beautiful music. It’s so great that we have the Korean Presbyterian Choir here this morning. When we hear beautiful music, it washes over us, but we can’t grab it or keep it. Even the musicians are not in possession of the music. It passes through them, but it doesn’t belong to them. Real beauty is like that: - a beautiful person - a work of art - a stunning landscape - a perfect flower. These touch our souls and awaken in us a longing for more that cannot be satisfied. There is in us a longing for something that cannot be bought or owned. We ought to pay attention to that.

Jesus pointed to that beauty that can’t be bought when he invited his disciples to look at the birds of the air and the Flowers of the field. Look - he said, the lilies are clothed more beautifully than Solomon. Even the richest man we know of couldn’t buy the beauty that is only God’s to give.

Pastor and writer John Jewell puts it this way: If you have ever experienced a deep inner longing, but could not quite put your finger on what exactly the object of your longing was -- you have experienced the spiritual condition of humanity.  It is a longing for that original intimacy with God and intimacy with each other that only God can give. It is the soul's "not quite conscious" memory of the way it should be.
It is amazing the lengths to which people will go to fulfill that inner hunger.  Physically, emotionally, socially and intellectually we search and ingest and try to fill the void -- this God shaped blank as some have called it. And it's never enough -- never quite it.
Adam and Eve attempted to fill in the hole in the center - and we do that, too. We try to fill in the basic longing of our lives by our own efforts and initiative rather than standing in respect and appreciation of it.

Desires can be reminders of the things that we do not and cannot have. And so point us toward God. Or they can be motivators to forget and misunderstand God and so separate ourselves from Him.

I think that it’s significant that in our foundational story - Desire is symbolized as a beautiful piece of food. It is a fruit that Adam and Eve want. It is something to eat that they believe will dissolve the distance between themselves and God. And God said, “no”.

But In Jesus Christ, God turns the table - God sets the Table and offers to dissolve the distance between us - not by making us like God (which was the snake’s pitch to Eve, remember). No, God dissolves the distance between us and satisfies our deepest desire by becoming like us - and offering Himself to us - in a little bit of food. He satisfies our desire on His terms:

Finally, we come to the Table where God offers the relationship that satisfies, that nourishes and delights. Rather than saying, “You shall not eat . . . “ At the Table, God holds out to us the true bread of life and says, “Take, eat. This is for you.”

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Proud Momma

Just got back from Millimeter Mountain's show at the Canopy Club. It was SO GOOD! Such fun to be the mother of a rock star. Yeah, Rachel!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My first born son is home

and I'm pretty excited about it. he arrived last night about nine, after two hard days of driving. the beagles are with him and the dogs are all getting used to each other.
pictures soon.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

August 15 sermon

Fire and Rain

Start with the James Taylor song, “Fire and Rain” which is a gentle and mournful song about the end of a relationship.

Fire and Rain are two elements Jesus uses in this passage - which is so hard to hear and interpret. But, unlike Sweet Baby James, Jesus doesn’t sound melancholy and resigned. He sounds cranky and confrontational. This isn’t Jesus, Meek and Mild, that we expect to encounter.

Reminded me of the story about the flight attendent on a Jet Blue flight this week that made the news. Flight attendents are usually so pleasant and cheerful and helpful and encouraging. And they have to be. Even when passengers misbehave, or don’t follow regulations, or are extra demanding, flight attendents have to stay cool. It’s their job. But this guy finally had had it. A passenger pushed him too far, and he lost it - cussed her out and then grabbed a beer and slid down the emergency exit. We don’t want to ride with that guy! and here is Jesus sounded only slightly less exasperated with his followers and the crowd. Is this what flying with Jesus is going to be like? Maybe we should be the ones pulling the escape lever and sliding down out of church, making our escape. (In fact, I really like the image of our nice wide steps out front covered with a big red inflatable slide and the congregation exiting in a hurry.)

But before we do - I think we ought to at least listen to try to hear what this passage is really saying to us: And the first thing to notice is where in the narrative Luke places this exchange. At this point, Jesus has “set his face” towards Jerusalem. He has been preaching forgiveness over vengeance, grace over works, faith and courage rather than fear. And he knows, clearly he knows, that making these choices is going to cost him his life. He knows that the cross awaits him. And yet his disciples lag behind him in understanding in every way. So he tries to bring them to understanding by talking about fire and rain.

First fire. And this is an exchange between Jesus and his disciples. Jesus tells them, I have come to kindle a fire on the earth. Fire is a symbol of God’s presence. When God led Moses and the Hebrew people out of Egypt, he led them with a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud during the day. The burning fire, which lit up the night, was a majestic and awe-ful manifestation of the invisible God. God made Himself known in the fire. In the same way, Jesus is the visible presence of the invisible God. He is burning with a passion for God’s will and God’s way. He is the way human beings know God’s way and to follow him is to follow God’s leading.

Jesus knows that his time on earth is limited. And if people are going to follow God, Jesus is going to have to have disciples who are “on fire” for God to lead them when Jesus himself is gone. What Jesus wanted more than anything else was not to have a 120 half committed disciples but Jesus wanted 12 fully committed disciples. Those 12 fully committed disciples would change the world.

And he seems to be working with some pretty wet kindling. The disciples ask dumb questions. They miss the point of his preaching. They put earthly loyalties ahead of total trust in Him.

Two thousand years later, not much has changed. Jesus’ disciples are still smoking and smouldering, but only rarely catching fire. And I’m not talking just about those in the pews. In fact this week a series of articles in the New York Times concerned a phenomenon they called “clergy burnout”. Ministers are leaving their calling in droves, and many answered a survey saying that they are staying only because they don’t have any other way to make a living. My favorite comment on this was by Bill Easum, who has been in the ministry even longer than . . . well, longer than I have. He said, “How is it that so many ministers can be burned out, when most of them have never been on fire?”

This fear of burning people out is something I hear in relation to church work and church workers among folks around here, too. We don’t want to ask people to do too much, or make too much of a commitment to the work of the church because we don’t want them to get “burned out”. We turn down opportunities to serve, to “pace ourselves” because we don’t want to get “burned out”. Meanwhile, the people who work the hardest and most diligently - teaching Sunday School, serving meals, preparing music for worship, calling on neighbors, giving sacrificially, supporting the youth program, the mission work, etc. - seem to reap the greatest blessings. They have a glow about them, when you see them at work. And they get tired. But they don’t get burned out.

Perhaps we should worry less about getting burned out and more about catching fire and actually living out what we say our commitment is to Christ and his mission.
Garth Brooks Refrain:
Standing outside the fire

Standing outside the fire

Life is not tried it is merely survived

If you're standing outside the fire
Jesus said, “Would that the fire were already kindled.” Add these words - in my life. What would it mean for our community and our world if each of us would surrender to the fire of Jesus’ love in our lives? Become totally committed to living the life that he has invited us to share.
As I’ve been thinking about that kind of commitment, I was reminded of a story of what Julius Caesar’s soldiers did when they came to conquer Britain. Do you know that story? The Romans approached the island nation by sea of course. The Brits saw them coming a long way off. They massed in the highlands above the beach and waited to see what would happen. But when the Romans reached the shore, they did something that no one expected, and which showed their commitment to their mission so unmistakably that the Britons were filled with awe and fear. Do you know what they did? They burned their boats. There was no turning back. They were there to conquer or to die.
That’s the kind of burning commitment that Jesus is trying to kindle in his disciples - the kind that says, “I am following you now, Lord. I will not turn back. When struggles come, when difficulties arise, when other priorities vie for my attention and my loyalty, I am still going to follow you.” That’s the kind of discipleship that Jesus needed 2000 years ago, and that’s the kind of discipleship Jesus needs, still today, to set the world on fire.
The second image Jesus uses is the sign of rain. And this is addressed to the crowd. Not the disciples. The hangers-on. The spectators in his religious road show. To them he says, “You guys talk about the weather. You’re really good at figuring out the obvious: Clouds in the sky? Looks like rain. Wind from the south? Gonna be a scorcher! Instead of standing around talking about the weather, you might want to turn your attention to what God is doing right here and right now.
Part of Culpepper's (Luke, New Interpreters Bible) reflections on these verses:
To what do we pay close attention, and to what do we turn a blind eye?...
Jesus' sayings challenge us to examine the balance of attention and neglect in our own lives, to consider whether these there is a pattern of prioritizing the insignificant while jeopardizing the things of greatest value and importance. Have we given as much attention to the health of the church as we have to our golf score? Have we given as much attention to the maintenance of our spiritual disciplines as to the maintenance schedule for our car? Where in the scale of our attention to detail does our devotion to the teachings of our Lord rank? [p. 269]
Do we put off attending to those things that matter - put living our faith off for some “future” more convenient time? Jesus says there is no time like the present. Today. Now. This is the opportune moment. This emphasis on the present is not an aberration. Jesus starts out his ministry by reading a prophecy and his only commentary is “TODAY this scripture is fulfilled among you.” He says to Zaccheus, “Today salvation has come to your house.” He tells the criminal on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
The Apostle Paul, in his preaching of the Gospel picks this up so beautifully when he says to the church in Corinth, “Now is the acceptable day of the Lord. Today is the day of salvation.”
Don’t put it off. Pay attention. God is moving in the world right now. Will we participate in what God is doing right now?
Fire and Rain. Unlike James Taylor’s use of the images in his soft, sweet song, Jesus’ talk about fire and rain has hard edges. These sayings challenge and accuse us. The fire talk burns us, and it’s a hard rain that washes away our complacency. Maybe we prefer the softer, sweeter song. But we should remember that that sweet song is about the end of a relationship. “Just yesterday morning, they let me know you were gone. . . . I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain, but I always thought that I’d see you again.”
And Jesus’ more difficult sayings are spoken out of his own burning desire that the relationship he offers us should not end - but deepen, strengthen, become something lasting and beautiful and true. Jesus’ fire and rain are his way of urgently encouraging us to become the disciples he has invited us to be. To not miss the opportunity we have in the present moment to follow him.
I had this sermon all written, when I thought maybe I’d look up the lyrics to the james taylor song I remembered from so many years ago. And much to my surprise, there was a verse that I didn’t remember at all. Not at all. It is a prayer. Let us pray:
Won't you look down upon me, Jesus
You've got to help me make a stand
You've just got to see me through another day
My body's aching and my time is at hand
And I won't make it any other way

Sweet Jesus, our time is at hand. Help us to make our stand with you. Kindle in us the fire of a deeply committed relationship with you - one that begins this day, one that will last throughout eternity.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Burned out or Zonked out?

Last night I went to sleep about 8:30 and slept til 7 this morning. And I have to admit, I do feel better today than I have in weeks. Maybe I'm just tired.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Today is our day at VBS - to do the Bible Story and bring the food. I haven't felt real connected with the whole process this year, though we do have 7 kids and 3 leaders there, and I've tried to see them each night. Attendance is low this year. Second year in a row, and some of us are talking about maybe doing something different next year.
Of course, when I got to be in charge a few years ago, we tried something different and everyone went STAMPEDING back to the old way. (But, honestly, I think we had a good year. We had over 100 kids there, and some of them still tell me they remember it and thought it was cool.)
I wonder is we could do something more God/Creation/Renewing the Earth centered. I heard Tolono did that it turned out great. Recycling and gardening and learning. Just a thought. Charleston takes the kids camping for a night and they spend the day in a state park. Wouldn't that be more memorable?
The folks who take the lead with this VBS are such incredibly hard workers, and they put alot of themselves into it. Maybe we should just leave it be.

This morning I'm meeting someone who works with Tim for coffee and to talk about my trip to Palestine. She's from Lebanon and I want to know enough to be a good guest there. Some phrases, the right greetings, etc. So I'm tickled about that.

Jeri and Kirk got home from Malawi. The trip was incredible. The total culture change was both eye-opening and exhausting, as I remember from Nicaragua. But Africa is WAY more challenging than Nicaragua! I think it will take them a few days to get rested up before they can even recognize themselves in the mirror. Tough trip. I'm so proud of them for answering the call to go!!!

Other things to do today - send bulletin material for Paris pulpit exchange
plan 1/2 of service for Youth Sunday.
look toward fall sermon series (arg!)
enjoy the beautiful birds and flowers in my yard.
write thankyou notes to the great folks who helped pull last Sunday together.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Presby Park Picnic Potluck w/ Prairie Dog Band

The Tolono Presbys joined us for a wonderful worship service. Thanks to Rev. Kerry Bean for his help with the service - and to everyone who brought their hearts, their voices, their neighbors and their covered dishes! The Spirit moved. (I hope that's not too presumptuous. I really mean it.)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Trying to think about what happened yesterday

Yesterday the man who used to run the Philo Country Store shot his brother at his grocery store in Tolono. The brother died. It is so sad and horrible, it is hard to think about anything else.

Brian is just a regular guy - friendly, hard working, a little crude sometimes, but he was generous in helping out the Youth Group with a car wash on more than one occasion. He wasn't religious - in fact the only theological conversations we ever had concerned his good deeds "making points with the Big Guy". I feel pretty sure that that kind of thinking isn't going to be of much help to him as he tries to sort out what has happened now.

I wonder how his family - his parents and his wife and children - are going to cope. The future suddenly is very dark and torturous for all of them.

You know, the Presbyterian/Protestant/probably all Christian way of thinking SAYS that we are all sinners and that without God's help we are capable of terrible things. But I doubt if any of us really come to grips very often with the implications of that. We don't REALLY think of ourselves, day to day, as having evil lurking in our hearts. But then something like this happens and . . . here is a man who is not all that different than most of us, and he killed his brother.

We might try to come up with the ways that we are different from him - hoping to shut out the horror and distance ourselves from it. But I think we might learn more and maybe grow more as human beings if we admit that what happened is an indication of who we all are, at some level at least. And I'd hope that that recognition would redouble our reliance on God's grace and forgiveness in our lives.

I hope that Brian finds someone who can tell him about God better than I did. And I hope his family finds lots of Christian friends who can walk with them through the valley of the shadow of death.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Early Morning Sermon

This one was really hard to write. Why?

Hymn of the Cosmic Christ
Colossians 1:15-29

O What a beautiful morning, O what a beautiful day!

I think I’ve told you before how much I love the movie and theatre moments in which characters burst into song. Viewed from the grumpy side of life, those moments seem kind of silly and embarrassing. But they also represent a kind of border between the mundane and the spiritual. Between ordinary life and rapture. Between what can be rationally stated, and what must be heart-fully expressed.

Our scripture reading this morning represents on of those moments - when the enormity and beauty of what he wants to express overwhelms mere prose. And he breaks into song.

This first part of our scripture lesson is a hymn - a song - extolling Christ and expressing the wonder of what God has done for us through Christ. This hymn was most probably sung in the early church
(I think it’s worth a moment to think about the fact that as the church was getting started and spreading, one of the first things they did was compse hymns and sing. Writing creeds came much later. Even writing alot of the New Testament came later. Hymns came quickly and took hold - that’s how closely linked our faith is to our songs. That’s why what Betty and our other accompanists do is not just . . . entertain us or show their personal musical gifts. When she plays for us, Betty connects us to one of the most basic forms of Christian expression. And we should never take that for granted. Thank you Betty, for enabling us to sing!)

Theologians and Biblical scholars refer to this portion of scripture as the Hymn of the Cosmic Christ, because it attempts to express who the one we call Jesus is and was, not only in his earthly life, but in terms of cosmic time and the context of all of creation.
Christ is the image of the invisible God, it begins.
In Christ were all things created.
All things were created by Christ and for Christ.
And in Christ all things are held together.
For in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things.

The majesty of creation is tied to the wonder of reconciliation in Christ Jesus our Lord.

A few weeks ago, I asked the congregation to fill out cards, with questions and issues that you would like addressed in sermons or bible studies. And I’ve been praying over those index cards, just keeping the faith of those writers and the themes they raised in mind as I planned for this fall.

And this week, as we continue to read in Colossians, I felt like the passage might help address one of the issues that were raised by thoughtful, faithful people. (Actualy, I thought I might address two of the questions, but the sermon got too long so I’m putting question #2 - about discerning God’s will back to be addressed more fully later.) One was about how we think about other religions, and whether or not God grants eteranal life to anyone but those who are Christians. What about good Buddhists? Good Jewish people? Good and devout Muslims? In our increasingly connected world, these questions take on some urgency. We see these people on tv. We read about them in books and on line. Doesn’t God love and care for them? Does God reject them because they do not call on the name of His Son, Jesus Christ?

Haven’t alot of us thought about that? People of faith, theologians and philosophers have spent alot of time thinking about that question. And this passage is one of the ones that they consider in that regard. Because it opens up a vision of Christ and an expression of the scope of His work that gives us a different vantage point or perspective on questions about God and other religions.

On the one hand, the hymn affirms that it is in Christ Jesus that we know God. He is the image - the mirror - the reflection - the representation - of Almighty God. In human form, God was pleased to dwell. We get much the same language in the first chapter of the Gospel of John- the Word became flesh and dwelt among us - the fullness of Grace and Truth. Christ is unique and we cannot know God apart from Him.

But, amazingly, as music sometimes can, the hymn also pulls us what feels like the opposite direction: Christ was present at the dawn of creation and EVERYTHING that was created was created by and for Him. Our Lord is not just a teacher in Palestine who founded a nice religion - one among many others, which are now in some sort of contest to see who can get the most votes in a worldwide “Earth’s Got Religion”. Christ created the earth, and holds together that creation. Which makes us think, well, Christ can and will work in and through all things to accomplish God’s purpose. In all humility, know that God is God, we have to allow for the possibility that Christ is working in and through in other peole, even of other religions, to care for and love and reconcile people to Himself. The Bible doesn’t just say, Everyone must believe in Jesus. It also says, with equal strength and power, “Through Christ God was pleased (past tense, you guys - Christ’s reconciling work is accomplished) to reconcile ALL THINGS to himself.

One of the ways that Reformed theology differs from Baptist and Anabaptist and New Wave popular TV evangelist theology is that our flavor of Christianity has also carried the insistence that God is free and God can and will “save” those whom God chooses, that it is not up to us to win or earn our salvation by works or any other way. Presbyterians have taken seriously that grace is a gift. And we respect God enough to think that God can and will give that gift out to whomever God wants.

And Christ’s own mission and ministry seem to point to God’s great desire to give it away to all. There is not an ethnic group Jesus leaves out, not a gender group he favors, not a religious boundary he encounters that he doesn’t cross, not a moral failure that is beyond his forgiveness. God’s grace is offered to all. Even to those who reject him and crucifed him. As he was dying - hanging on the cross that saves us - Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” Those words are our ultimate hope and our ultimate assurance that we ourselves are saved.

Now - taken to the extreme - this thought has given rise to the position we call Universalism. The theological position that God saves everyone, no matter what, because God’s love is so great that no one has the power to overcome or reject it.

Presbyterians are not universalists. One of our greatest theologians, Karl Barth, puts it this way: "The proclamation of the Church must make allowance for this freedom of grace. Apokatastasis Panton? No, for a grace which automatically would ultimately have to embrace each and every one would certainly not be free grace. It surely would not be God's grace. But would it be God's free grace if we could absolutely deny that it could do that? Has Christ been sacrificed only for our sins? Has he not ... been sacrificed for the whole world? ... [Thus] the freedom of grace is preserved on both these sides." [5]

For Barth, then, and for Reformed and Presbyterian Christians, the place we wind up is held in the same creative tension that we find in this hymn: Faith in Christ means that we can neither affirm nor deny the possibility that all will be saved.
So what can we do? Our answer is clear: we can hope (see CD IV/3, pp. 477-78). [6]
We can cling to Christ and the hope that he offers for our lives only as deeply and fervently as we offer and embody that hope in a world that clearly stands in need of his mercy and grace.
When we encounter people of other faiths, we look for Christ’s reconciling work in them, we have faith that Christ is there - because Christ is everywhere! - and we give thanks for that work, no matter who seems to be involved in it. We don’t presume to know what God is doing in their lives, even as we share with them the good news of what Jesus Christ is doing in our lives. We leave the question open. And we hope. We don’t judge. We hope. We don’t dismiss. We hope. We don’t ignore, or fail to make Christ known as WE know him. We hope and we hope to not only make him known to them. We hope to know Him more fully as we come to know these others, who are also His beloved.

We started by talking about the moment that ordinary life gives way to song . The magic of that moment is, it seems to me, matched by the way that a song when a song ends, the feeling, the melody, the rhythm of the song lingers on and flavors the more mundane, prosaic parts of our lives. You know? How, having heard great music, we sometimes find that the “hook” - that’s what they call it - the “hook” of the song - has caught us and stayed with us and changed us somehow?
The scripture hymn ends, but with these encouraging words:

continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

The great songs - like this great hymn of the Cosmic Christ - burst into our consicousness and then, even after the song ends, we live with the words and music running underneath our everyday lives.
Christ is the image of the invisible God. Even when things seem alien to us, in Christ all things hold together. In Christ the fullness of God was pleased to dwell and through him God has reconciled all things to himself. We, who are reconciled through Christ, in our lives and in our words and in our prayers, go out into the world Christ created and redeemed as bearers of that song.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday Five Pet Edition

RevGalBlogPals Friday Five for June 16th:

My friend Judy told a group of friends last week that her beloved hermit crab Al died. She missed Al--after six years of his company, even though she was not sure how pronounced his personality was or if he had one!

With the chewing exploits of our third dog, puppy Maisie, I am wondering about the pets we presently own and have had in the past.What about you? Tell us about the animals in your lives. If you have no pets, give examples of friends' pets or imaginary ones!

1. Did you grow up with pets?
Magnolia Blossom (Maggie B. for short) was a small breed beagle who lived with our family longer than I did. (I left home at 18. Maggie lived to the ripe old age of 19 years old.)

2. Do you have any pets now?
I have a dog - Chief. Also my stepson's dog - Lucky - lives with us. And soon my son is coming to visit and bringing his dogs - Kalie and Evie. It will be canine paradise around here.

3. What is the funniest or worst thing any of your pets have ever done?
Chief once ate 2 pounds of fudge that I had set in the middle of the dining room table in preparation for an afternoon open house. Then, of course, he was very sick and every rug in the house had to be cleaned and/or put away before guests started arriving. And they didn't get any fudge. That is "worst". Even now, years later, it does not qualify as "funny".

4. Who is/was your favorite pet?
Chief, who is a Heinz 57 type mutt, is my favorite. He is sneaky, shy, and sheds something awful. But he is absolutely devoted to me. And every preacher needs SOMEBODY who is absolutely devoted to them. Better and healthier to have a dog than look for devotion among congregation members.

5. How did you train your different pets?
Chief trained me to take him out and give him treats. He doesn't do much of anything else.

BONUS: Pictures of a pet or one you wish you could have.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Spaghetti and the Christian Life

Colossians 1:1-17
New Member Sunday

The opening of the letter of Colossians is like a big plate of spaghetti. All week I’ve been trying to pick it apart, pull out the most important strands, push it into some kind of easily understandable shape, arrange it simply and attractively on the plate so that we can all digest it.

And all week, I’ve failed. It isn’t that it isn’t good stuff. Wholesome, nutritious, substantial. It is well balanced and just what we need. But I can’t serve it up in neat spoonfuls. It keeps sliding off the fork. It’s messy.

Yet spaghetti is so good! I couldn’t give up the idea of serving it to you this morning.

And by Friday I realized why - - - because the letter is to a real church, about a real church, from a real christian about the real christian life. And church life, christian life, is often hard to sort out and explain simply. It is all intertwined and connected up over around and through. It’s messy. And fabulous. Spicy and good. And good for you.

Sophia Loren famously said, “Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.”

So . . . What I’m offering is a few messy forkfuls.

Church life can be faithful and fruitful. Lots of the letters, Paul’s letter, especially, are sent in response to some problem or crisis in the life of the church. Danger! Problems! People behaving badly! Alot like some or the communication we get about church now adays.

In contrast, Colossians is a welcome reminder that sometimes, by the grace of God, things go right and the church manages to do what it is supposed to do . . . reasonably well. The Colossians are greeted with thanksgiving and congratulated on their Christian life. The writer of this letter points to their faith in Christ, their care for one another and their Christian hope for the future. He says, “People have noticed. I have noticed. God has noticed that you are doing well.”

Now - maybe this is just me picking at a strand - but it’s interesting to me what he doesn’t say here - “Your Christian life is perfect. You are making a huge impact on the world. Slavery, abuse, unjustice, immorality, and heartache are all coming to a swift end because you are living so faithfully. I know that not a one of you ever errs, there are no bad feelings, and everywhere you go people are converted just by the power of your exemplary lives.” That ain’t the message. This is a small church, in a small city, and it’s doing pretty well. Thank God - because that is miracle enough - sign enough of God’s grace and mercy that this little congregation can continue to thrive and grow.

I think sometimes we can get focussed on the ideal way we think church should be - tackling every evil that destroys people’s lives, eliminating hunger, actively evangelizing our neighborhoods and communities, loving each other to pieces, and worshipping with such enthusiasm that we don’t want to stop when 11 oclock arrives - we just want to go on praising the Lord! I’d like to belong to a church like that. I’m sure you would, too.
We can get discouraged, always thinking about what we lack, so that we forget or ignore the incredible blessings with which God has blessed this little faithful group:

By the grace of God, this morning our Session met and prayed over two of our members who have answered God’s call to help out and share their faith in one of the poorest countries in the world. In Malawi, Africa, for Pete’s sake. Something is going right! Very, very right! And the other business on our docket was recieving 4 new members. Who have 5 children, overall. Our church is growing again. In the last month by roughly 5%. 5 people in the last month have said, “Yes, I have decided to grow my Christian life among this group of people.” Something is going right. The prayers of the people are being answered. Our congregation is fruitful. I thank God for that!

We aren’t going to solve all the world’s problems. But that doesn’t mean we are failing to do please God or live a life worthy of our calling. This is where God wants us to be - with each other, encouraging, supporting, etc.

Second forkful:
Two strands of the Christian life are continuously intertwined: knowing and doing. The Christians at Colassus are encouraged to keep up the good work on two fronts: Learning, growing understanding, obtaining wisdom, - - - -the head and heart front.
And bearing fruit, performing God’s will, being persistant in acting out their faith in the world.

One translation puts it this way: we ask God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will, and so acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works. We pray that you'll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work.

One of the most outstanding features of the Presbyterian flavor of Christianity is that heart and head and hands are emphasized in our life of faith. Learning what the Bible says is important to us. Finding out what the Bible means is central to how we grow as Christians. This includes everything from educating our young people about the Ten Commandments and the story of Jesus life to the kind of inductive application that happens around the table of Adult Sunday School, to the devotions that happened on the Senior High Mission Trips to personal study that I know many of you engage in using resources like “These Days” devotional booklets. We do church in a way that lets people know you don’t have to check your brains at the door of the church.

But it’s not all “head” knowledge. It is living out the central truths of the faith as we learn them. The forgiveness that restores relationships when things go wrong. The love that reaches out to those in pain with reassurance and hope and a hearty casserole. The humility that says, “Who am I to judge?” rather than shunning those whose choices seem unfortunate to us. Hands opened to give and to recieve life . . . this, too, is part of the Christian life we share.

Head and heart and hands are intertwined and integral parts of what God wants from us and for us.

And the last forkful is what the writer of Colossians prays will be served up for the future of the church: May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully
12giving thanks to the Father
Strength of faith, Patience to endure setbacks, and Gratitude to God for what is set before us. Here’s a trio of virtues that characterize the Christian life - strength, Patience and gratitude.
Where does God’s power flow through you?
Is it in your work?
Your family?
Your involvement with church?
Your prayers?

What difficulties are you having to endure right now?
What areas of your life call for patience?
When it is hard to wait, how can your faith and how do your church friends help you?

And what about this joyfully giving thanks to the Father business?
Do you spend some portion of every day just being grateful?

Strength. Patience. Gratitude. Can those strands of Spaghetti be woven in and around all the meatballs of your life?

Life in the church is like a huge plate of spaghetti. It is sometimes messy. I remember when I was younger and single, and eating out with a date, I didn’t order spaghetti until the relationship was pretty secure, because, no matter how careful you try to be, or which technique you try for twirling it around the fork, or scooping it with the spoon in your left hand, or even cutting it up into little bitty bits of pasta . . . it’s hard to eat spaghetti without looking a little foolish sometimes. Sophia had some advice about eating spaghetti, too. She said the best way was just to inhale it. It’s not an elegant meal. It’s a challenge.

But when this is what is set before you,
and around the table are people who are also willing and ready to dig in and give it a go,
it is time to tuck the napkins in, thank God for the bounty, and let ourselves spill over in thanksgiving and joy.

Blog as substitute for memory:

This is from an article about a vote in the church of England to reject a two-tier system of bishops that would women always "second tier". I just was struck by this one sentence, which MAY (I'm not really sure about this at all) describe what's going on in a lot of "mainline" churches:

That is what compromise bargains: schism in slow motion.

Right now I'm posting it just so that I can think about it later. What immediately comes to mind is the thought that slow motion breakups - whether of high school romances or denominations - seems unnecessarily cruel to me. Better (more humble and more kind) to affirm that life goes on for both parties, even when the relationship is over.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Misreading the situation

"New language offered for ordination standards"

This was the banner headline on the PCUSA website this morning. And my reaction was, "Isn't Greek and Hebrew enough????"

That's not really what they were talking about. Oh well. It's early. I may sharpen up as the day wears on.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Faith and Fireworks Sermon

July 4, 2010
Luke 10:1-17?
Faith and Fireworks

Sparklers, Black Cats, Smoke Bombs, M-80s, Fountains, Roman Candles, Bottle Rockets, . . .

The aisles of Shelton Fireworks are full of all the things that make Fouth of July so fabulous - especially for those of us who have the hearts of teen age boys. And then there are the big guns - the huge mortars and gigantic bomb like things that pyrotechnic technicians set off in the night sky to help their unite audience members of every age and situation - families with kids smelling of bug spray, corraled on big blankets, teenage couples with their arms draped around each other, elders comfortably seated on folding lawn chairs with drink holders holding plastic cups of lemonade - every one united in the Oohs! and Aahs! that accompany the spectacular display.

Fireworks are fabulous. There is something just so soul satisfying about seeing the night sky lit up with all those beautiful and short lived lights.

Even Jesus would have liked fireworks, and I sight as evidence his statement to the 70 apostles that he sent out to tell the world about the nearness of the Kingdom: He describes their success with the expression - “I saw Satan fall from the heavens, like a bolt of light.” Doesn’t that sound like fireworks? It’s a phrase that expresses joy and triumph and heart stopping wonder.

And when I read it in our lectionary reading, I thought, wow! It’s like Jesus, as an observer of the missionaries he sent out, was seeing what we will see tonight - fireworks!

Only the fireworks he saw were not the result of gunpowder and carefully selected chemical reactions. The fireworks in this passage are found in the faith and faithfulness of the 70 men and women who went out, two by two, to tell the world about this Jesus whose love was lighting up their lives.

What does this passage tell us about faith on this day and night when fireworks fill the air? What do faith and fireworks have in common?

Well - fireworks always come with explicit instructions. So let’s start with the instructions that Jesus gave these earliest missionaries as they started out:

We can tell from Jesus’ words is that both faith and fireworks inherently contain a large element of risk. 13,000 fireworks victims keep hospitals busy every year. More than half of those injured are children. Fireworks not only injure users, but also 40 percent of fireworks mishaps injure bystanders. In 2004, fireworks started an estimated 1,600 structure fires and 600 vehicle fires which were reported to local fire departments. These fires resulted $21 million in direct property damage.
More than half (54%) of 2005 fireworks injuries were burns. Contusions and lacerations were second (29%), and were twice as common as burns when the injury was to any part of the head or face, including the eye. Hands or fingers were the part of the body injured in 30% of the incidents.  In 24% of the cases, the eye was involved; other parts of the face or head accounted for 20% of the injuries.
One of the reasons fireworks injuries continue to occur is because people just don't consider how dangerous these devices can be.
Faith is evidently risky, too, Jesus said, “I send you out as lambs among wolves.” The world is not an easy place to live out our faith. Far easier to be faithful here, as we are gathered in this safe place.

What are the risks? The primary risk is that we are going to be sent out. “I want to live a faithful life, but what if God calls me to go somewhere I don’t want to go? Talk to someone I don’t want to talk to? Do something that might embarrass or inconvenience me? The words to the old country tune come into my head: “I want to get right with Jesus - but not right now”

Well - I love the certainty of this part of the Christian life - we can be sure that God WILL be sending us to places and people and situations that mean we have to take some risks. That’s why we can it faith. There are risks to living faithfully. Now, we are very blessed to live in a country in which the practicing our faith does not ordinarily mean that we risk imprisonment or death. There are still countries like that, and we should be praying for the Christians in those places. But here - usually - we don’t risk death. And Jesus didn’t seem to say his followers were risking death, either. The biggest negative outcome Jesus mentions is the same one we risk in living faithfully: The risk of rejection. The risk that people won’t welcome us, listen to us, speak kindly to us. The risk that we’ll get made fun of, or shouted at rudely, or flipped off. (There were rude gestures in Jesus’ day, too.) And Jesus say we can’t retaliate. He says we have to just shake the dust off our feet and go on. Both faith and fireworks entail real risks - that is part of the thrill of using them.

Fireworks depend on the right elements being put in close proximity to one another. Contact between the fuse, and the igniter, and the thruster and the are what make fireworks go. If you have any experience with fireworks, you know that if any of the connections between there segments gets jostled loose or is missing, the firework is a dud.

Likewise, we can tell from Jesus’ instructions to his 70 chosen ones that faithfully fulfilling his mission requires close proximity to the people to whom they are sent. Jesus asks those he sends to go out, not with a credit card in their pockets, a reservation at a moderately priced but very nice hotel, and a picnic basket full of goodies, in case the nearest Subway or McDonald’s is not near enough. Jesus sends the faithful out with the knowledge that they are going to have to get into people’s homes, belly up to their tables, and sleep in their beds or on their floors if they are going to get the job they are sent to do done.

Getting close to other people, figuratively as well as literally, is a stressful experience for many of us. There are sociological studies that show that people in general need a certain amount of “personal space” and people in the Midwest, especially the rural Midwest, need a little more of that personal space than average. We live in the wide open spaces and, in part, that may be because we aren’t particularly comfortable pressed up against, and dependant upon, other people. Jesus seems to know this. Because he puts quite a bit of effort into specifically instructing those he sends in the details that will inevitably result in their close proximity to the folks they are supposed to reach with the faith.
If we are going to live as these faithful ones did - we need to be aware that sometimes this is going to result in uncomfortable closeness to folks we don’t really know and wouldn’t, if it were up to us, choose as hosts, guests, dinner companions and friends. Sometimes these instructions can be read literally: I think of the plates of food and the glasses of drink that were set before me in Nicaragua. Sometimes, I had to think twice about where the food had come from, how it had been prepared, and whether it was going to taste anything like what I’d prefer eating. When the farm hand asked if I’d like coffee, and then poured some from his cup into mine . . . and when he asked if I’d like cream and went over and squirted some straight from the cow into the cup . . . Well, putting that cup to my lips and drinking meant something more than when I share a cup of coffee with you during coffee hour. I know that Jeri and Kirk will be facing some of the same sorts of situations in Malawi. Sharing someone else’s food, in someone else’s home, eating together takes on a kind of intimacy that is both uncomfortable and thrilling at the same time.

But you don’t have to go to Central America or Africa to find that faith’s proximity principle comes into play. You just have to visit someone in the hospital, or their home. Or share a ride with them to a ball game or a personal conversation with them on the street. Proximity is priceless. Not always comfortable, but absolutely necessary to sharing the faith.

What would happen tonight, when you spread out your blanket to watch fireworks, if, instead of situating it as far from others as possible, you actually plunked yourself down close enough to the next group that you could talk? Find out about them? Share snacks? Think about welcoming, rather than avoiding, contact with acquaintances and casual friends and strangers in the week ahead. How many more opportunities would there be to find out what God is up to in their lives? How many steps would that take you toward the place where you could share with them the faith that sustains you? Try it. Faith and fireworks depend on contact, on close proximity, on sharing space.

But you know what I think is the most important thing that fireworks and a faithful life have in common? The way they light things up. They way they fill the darkness with beauty and joy. The way they surprise us - stop our hearts a little - even if we are watching for them, they always burst into bloom with ever new patterns and colors and forms. The faith of members of this congregation never cease to shock and awe me.

The fireworks tonight will last a few minutes. The risk and the reward of faith in Jesus Christ last a lot longer than that. Amen.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Black Lint in the Dryer (again)

The boys are home from their mission trip to Mt. Vernon. They had a good time and feel good about their work there, which is all I wanted. Caleb built a porch and repaired a wheel-chair ramp. Sean built a couple of ramps and put up fences. The residents whose homes they fixed up were very appreciative, which is also a plus.
They met some friends who they have already "facebook"ed. And they are glad to be home.
Doesn't get much better than that.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Someone in a truck whistled at me. Just sayin.

From Eunice Attwood - the newly elected vicepresident of the Methodist Church in Great Britain -

I found this on revgalblogpals today and just loved it. I want to put it somewhere I would see and be encouraged/challenged by it.

Vice- President Eunice gave an inspiring account of the type of church she wants to be a part of:

I want to be part of a church that is prayer-filled -
A church that is resourced and sustained by the Bible,
A church that can offer hope even in a credit crunch,
A church that can live well with difference and diversity.

I want to be part of a church that welcomes the wealthy, those who have power and influence -
A church that knows how to party and celebrate life,
A church that acknowledges death and speaks boldly of resurrection,
A church that doesn’t pretend to have all the answers but encourages all the questions.

I want to be part of a church that throws parties for prostitutes -
A church that welcomes those who seek asylum,
A church that longs and yearns for justice,
A church that listens to those no-one else wants to listen to.

I want to be part of a church that believes in transformation not preservation -
A church where all who are lost can be found,
A church where people can discover friendship,
A church where every person takes responsibility in sharing the good news.

I want to be part of a church whose hope is placed securely and confidently in the transforming love of God -
A church that engages faith in its communities,
A church that makes and nurtures disciples of Jesus.

A church where the story of God’s love is at the centre.
I want to be part of a church that offers outrageous grace, reckless generosity, transforming love and engaging faith.
This is God’s story Transforming Love: Engaging Faith.

My prayer is that by the power of the Spirit of God at work amongst us, it will increasingly be our story.

Last day of the quiet week

Well, tomorrow we get up early and head to Mt. Vernon to pick up the boys who have been at mission trip all week. I do so hope that it has been a good experience for them. Teenagers seem to have such a difficult time focusing on what is so right in their lives and in the world. It's a tough age. For them, first of all, but also for those of us who love them better than life itself.
I'm trying to begin and finish up a sermon for Sunday. Sitting on the back porch with the computer is the best office set up in the world. Thank Goodness for this fabulous weather!
The quiet this week has given me a chance to get centered again and take care of some planning for the season ahead. It's been very energizing. Can't wait to see a bunch of stuff coming into focus.
Speaking of focus - I've finally "retired" my too old right eye contact lense and have switched to my other eye (and set of contacts) for seeing distance. My brain is a little confused to have to read with the right and see signs with the left, but I think it will work after I get used to it. Brains are plastic, right?
I want to do desk work for a little bit today and then put on my garden gloves and clean up a couple of weedy places that are pushing right up to the edge of "out of control" this afternoon. That will be fun. The flowers continue to be gorgeous! What a blessing a garden is!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Two birds are splashing around in the bird bath. I'm going to have to refill it. Mother Nature was doing that for me, daily it seemed like. Now that the rain has stopped, it's hard to remember to water plants and refill bird baths. But I must. And I will.
Had lunch with my lovely daughter Rachel today. We ate Korean food at B. Won - which is always good. And I always think, as I leave the place, that I won't have to eat again for twenty-four hours. But it's dinner time and I'm hungry.
Tim is working late. Maybe I can get him to meet me somewhere for dinner.

Work report (I recommend skipping this)
I've got the bulletin done. And the sermon outlined in my head.
I've had some nice visits with folks who can't make it to church. Very interested (in others and in the world) people make very interesting people, in my opinion. I'm proud to know them.
I have a very good idea about a fellowship series organized around canning. I hope I can find folks with the equipment and know how to make that happen, cause everyone I've mentioned it to wants to learn how and do it together. We have the kitchen, heaven knows! And preserving local food so that we can eat it this winter is part of environmental stewardship, if you ask me. (Did you ask me? No. No one asks me.)
Also - I have to get serious about a get together for prospective new members and session. I wish I had a social secretary to make the phone calls and give me a date and a head count. I could take it from there. I really could.

So . . . there you go. My daily digest.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A good beginning

It's Saturday morning, 10 A.M.(!) and I have finished the sermon for tomorrow's baptism service. I even like it.
I started it early. "Early" for me means I started pulling stuff from books and commentaries on Tuesday and had some "hot quotes" by Wednesday.
I got past the easy pickin's of the passage (I started out linking it to John Cotter's work on leadership and creating a sense of urgency to get transitions made),
got through the period where I just feel like Jesus is fussing at me,
and finally was blessed with a sense of the grace of it all.
On Thursday I had a "Movement" map. Once that happens, it is pretty easy to make some connections with what is going on in the life of the congregation.
So last night and this morning . . . I had the fun of writing. And it's done! In time to practice!! Oh how fun is this going to be!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

OK Here's what I did today

Had coffee with a wonderful member whose father died recently.
Got the septic system pumped out. (Actually, I just watched the very nice septic system service man and called for help from an elder with a back hoe.)
Almost finished the news letter.
Talked to the mother of the bride about a wedding in July.
Took pictures of two families who are joining the church next month.
Went to the Quad and heard a summer band concert that my hubby is taping for a Big Ten show on the new band director. (Met the Band Director and his son. They ARE Presbyterian, of course!)
Day is done. Gone the sun.
What a great day to be the pastor of Philo Presbyterian Church.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Thinking about Sunday's service

The Gospel (Luke 9) is about how Jesus says "drop everything if you want to follow me. Let the dead bury the dead, don't put your hand to the plow and look back . . . " (at least that's the last half of the pericope. The first is about a village who rejects J and the disciples want to call down fire from heaven. Jesus is against that, by the way.)

And we've got a baptism (baby girl) and a new member (her doting dad) and I want that part of the service to be really cool - cause baptism is the greatest thing (since broken bread).

So I could ditch the lectionary entirely - or could I take a tack about creating a sense of urgency. Babies have a great sense of urgency. They want it and they want it now. Babies create a sense of urgency in their parents. The sense of needing to get one's life in order often comes when the pregnancy test comes back positive. And shouldn't children create a sense of urgency for the church. These children are why we deal with problems and rededicate ourselves to doing God's will (as we know and understand it).

That might work. I'm going to give it some more thought.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Monday Morning

So last night I was sitting on the back porch, thinking about what a nice Sunday it had been and how glad I was that the service went well. And then, in a moment, the pleasant mental road shifted, almost imperceptibly, to an uphill grade. And I realized that now I've got to start getting ready to do it again next week.
What's on your agenda for the week ahead?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been

This was my "honoring men of the church" sermon. More or less. I'm sorry it doesn't include the soundtrack of "Truckin'".

June 20
Honoring Men of the Church
I Kings 19:1-15a (elijah)
“What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been!”

If Elijah the prophet had a theme song, I’d like to think it would be the Grateful Dead’s classic, “Truckin’”. Do you remember Jerry Garcia - the lead singer from that long playing band? He kind kinda looked like the prophet . . . I have a couple of pictures, in case you doubt me. I’m going to have you listen to a couple minutes of that song about how it feels to always be on the move, like Elijah. If you don’t get all the words, it doesn’t matter. Just dial your way back machine to tie dye and enjoy . . .

I especially like the chorus: Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me. . . . . Other times I can barely see . . . . Lately it occurs to me . . . . What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been

Yeah! Elijah’s truckin! All the way from Israel to Jezreel, to Horeb and now on his way back to Israel to face down Jezabel. Life was a long, strange trip for Elijah and I’m not just talking about the story that we read this morning. What we have to remember, reading the Bible in drib and drabs on a Sunday morning, is that there is often much, much more to a story - especially a story like Elijah’s.

The cycle of Elijah stories in 1 Kings is long. The man Elijah has angry confrontations with powerful people, depends on the kindness of strangers, repays hospitality in a miraculous way, triumphs against tremendous odds, trains his own replacement, and, eventually is swept away by God in a whirlwind, accompanied by chariots of fire. Not a bad exit!

But my point is that this story is just one moment in Elijah’s long life with God. It is just one incident in an unfolding lifetime. It is a moment in time - an important moment, but just a moment in a man’s life.

This incident follows an episode in which he had utterly and completely humiliated the priests of the false God, Baal. He’d bested them in a contest of nerves and will. He’d demontrated God’s power in such a decisive way that he seemed as powerful and invincible as any man on earth. “Sometimes the lights all shinin on me! Other times I can barely see!”

As we meet Elijah in this moment of his life, he is low. Very low. But just a short time ago, Elijah had been on top of the world: Now he seems like a whiny child - dejected, full of self-pity and blaming everybody out there. He tells God that he just wants to lay down and die.

So which is the real Elijah? The powerful warrior/priest, or the pity-party poo-bah? Could it be both? On this day that we honor men, isn’t the man Elijah a reminder that no man can be completely known, or defined by looking at his highest triumph or the lowest that he sinks? Men can be awfully hard on themselves and, to be honest, men haven’t cornered the market on this way of thinking - by a way of thinking that says, in times of difficulty “Oh I’m just a loser who can’t do anything right” or in times when we are riding high, “I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread. I’m different and better than those other mere men.”

Aren’t we smarter than that, really? The news is full of accounts of men - and women - who do wonderful things, and then terrible things. Are they great men, or pitiful losers? Well, if we pay attention to the Bible, we might admit that human beings have it within us to be both. Often in very close succession.

But what the Bible, and Elijah’s story have to add is it is not only a picture of what human beings are and do, it shows us who God is and what God does when the road gets long and the way gets weary. We can see from scripture that God does not abandon us. When we are courageous, God is there. When we are cowardly, God is there, too.
When we are determined - God is with us. When we are despondent, we are still within God’s loving care.
God met Elijah in the wilderness where he had run and gave him bread for the journey. The first time, Elijah went right back to sleep. He said,
I'd like to get some sleep before I travel
Did God say, ‘Well, I gave him a chance?” No. God gives him another chance. “Get up and eat. You have a long journey ahead.”

God fed him in the wilderness. Bread for the journey. I have bread for you men, too. It is bread for the journey of faith that all of us are traveling. You can’t be truckin for Jesus if your fuel tank is on empty. This is “Grateful Bread” (to remind you of the Grateful Dead) but more importantly to remind you that God is always with you, always available to strengthen you when you are down and feeling out. Jesus spent some time in the wilderness, too, and when he was there and hungry, the devil tempted him by daring him to make the stones of the desert into bread. Jesus said, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from God.” The Word of God is an important source of nourishment and strength on the journey of faith, too. When you are feeling low, open God’s word and hear him say, “I am with you. This, too, will pass. Circumstances will change, but my love for you and my belief in you will always be here for you.” God fed Elijah, and this bread is a reminder that God will always feed you.

Elijah eats and sets out.
I guess they can't revoke your soul for trying
Get out of the door - light out and look all around
He goes, not back to the fight, but to the Holy Mountain of God. Another rest stop, it seems. And God asks, “Elijah, what are you doing here?”
It is as if God said to his downcast man ‘Lijah, you got to play your hand. Sometime the cards ain’t worth a dime if you don’t lay ‘em down.

Another jag of self pity. He felt set up, like a bowlin’ pin and knocked down, it got to wearin thin. why don’t they just let him be? But God didn’t give up on him. He had a warrant and he was gonna come in.

God fed him in the wilderness. Bread for the journey.

God reminded Elijah he wasn’t alone. Elijah complains that he is the only one left who is faithful to God. We often feel as though we are alone. One of the characteristics of depression and depressive thinking is isolation and a feeling of alienation from everyone else. But God reminds Elijah that there are others in the same position. God says there are 7000 others who are also faithful. 7000 is a big number. Elijah is not alone.

God spoke to him in a still small voice. God runs through his repertoire of great loud triumphant tricks. And Elijah notices that what he really craves - God’s presence - isn’t found in the big showy stuff. Then God speaks to the man in the sound of silence.

Sometimes God’s presence is too profound for words. Our lives are so full of noise. Computers, TVs, iPods, give us a different kind of noise. And for some reason I think men’s lives are even noisier than mine and my sister friends. Maybe that’s because yesterday as I sat on the back porch, trying to get this service in order, the neighbor guys on both sides of me were running crazy noisy power machines. Every once in a while a Harley would cruise by with it’s distintive roar. But, from talking to Harley riders, who have told me that their time on the road is often when they feel closest to God, a time apart, when their lives come into focus, I wonder if those motors and machines aren’t one way that men shut out the noise of the world.

I can’t help but think, girly girl that I am, that getting up and walking in the park or hearing the birds call to each other, would be a nicer way to experience the silence in which God’s voice can be heard. I’d recomment going fishing and sitting on the bank of a river, or camping in the woods, or spending some time with a cup of coffee and the Bible in the morning before anyone else gets up. But however we do it, people, men included, might find themselves richly blessed by listening for, opening toward God’s presence in the sound of silence.

I invite the congregation to experience God’s holy silence now for a moment, to let God’s strengthening and loving presence take away the fears of life and fill us with purpose and peace.

Dear God, embracing humankind, forgive our noisy ways, reclothe us in a quieter mind, in purer lives your service find, in deeper reverence praise. Breathe through the pulses of desire your coolness and your balm. Let sense be numb, let flesh retire, speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire. O, still small voice of calm. Through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Sovereign. Amen.