Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sign for the times

This afternoon we had a snack in the food court of the Crystal Mall in Vancouver - a shopping area that is 100% Asian.  (Steamed mini buns and green onion pancakes - delicious - thanks for asking.)
Here is the sign that was posted on a column there in the food court: 
Be soft spoken and forgiving, even when reason is on your side. 
Isn't that a good reminder?  Do you think we'll see anything like that at Market Place Mall anytime soon?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Bonus Post!

Tomorrow I'll be traveling, and may be I won't be able to post.  I lifted a little quote from another blog ( as a little Monday substitute:
”The moment you come to trust chaos, you see God clearly. Chaos is divine order, versus human order. Change is divine order, versus human order. When the chaos becomes safety to you, then you know you’re seeing God clearly.” – Caroline Myss, “Spiritual Madness: The Necessity of Meeting God in Darkness”
I have no idea who Caroline Myss is.  But I like the quote.  My relationship with chaos is troubled but fairly stable.  Like a friendship with someone you don't totally like, but can't imagine living without.   As for seeing God clearly . . . I think I prefer Paul - "Now we see through a mirror, dimly.  Then we shall see face to face." 

Sunday - Second Sunday in Lent

The big news at Philo Pres is that we are receiving a new member, and adult, by profession of faith.  First profession of faith.  Ever.  This is the gold standard for the vitality of a congregation, and we're one of very few Presby. churches who will do this this year.  The vast majority of congregations can not even remember when they last got a new believer.   (I remember the last one, too, but it has been a few years.)  Thank God for prevenient grace and for a welcoming community when the time is right.  So excited.

The "message" is the second one in our "Tree of Life" series.  I'm preaching on a little-read passage from Daniel, in which Nebuchadnezzer (I learned how to spell his name - that should count for something) dreams of a tree that represents his empire and his life.  I'm not saying this in the sermon, but I think that I felt prompted to use this pericope by a comment from some economic analyst on the radio.  He said, 100 years ago, Britain looked west, across an ocean, and saw a new power rising at exactly the time that the British empire was beginning to wane.  And now the U.S. is in the same position.  I just think there ought to be some theological reflection on the historical moment in which we live.  And this passage is, in a way, a hopeful one for people of faith. 

Daniel 4
The Dream Tree of King Nebuchadnezzer
Tree of Humility

The Cross is the Tree of Life and we are journeying toward it this Lent.  But what trees do we pass on the road?  Last week we thought together about the Tempting Tree in the Garden of Eden.  

This week let’s examine a more obscure tree - the dream tree of King Nebuchadnezzar found in the mysterious book of Daniel:  Our question is “what does this tree tell us about ourselves as human beings and about the God we long to know?”

Listen children, let me tell you a story from the Epic Tales of Nebuchadnezzar. 

Once upon a time, a long long time ago, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia ruled over all the world - or at least all the world that mattered back then.  Babylonia was a beautiful place, near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers - where Iran is today.  It was an agricultural showplace, where irrigation and cultivation produced huge crops of grains, vegetables, and fruit.  Fertile farmlands made large and beautiful cities possible, and King Nebuchadnezzer lived in the largest and most cultured city, where every day he was able to enjoy every luxury, including the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  Nebuchadnezzar’s empire was enormous!  The King lived in a large and ornate palace where he was waited on hand and foot by servants of every color and race, who had been brought from every corner of his far-flung empire as prisoners of war.  When the King’s army went out to battle, they so dominated their enemies that they often they evacuated whole cities, bringing back with them every leader, every learned person, every beautiful woman and every bright young child to serve the King. 
    This is how Daniel - a young man from Jerusalem, of Judea, had come to be part of the King’s court.  Daniel was a Jew, one of the people who had been transported to Babylon after their kingdom, weakened by internal strife and lax living, had fallen to this powerful enemy.  It was the Jews in Babylon who wrote and sang the lament, “By the rivers of Babylon, where we sat down, and there we wept, when we remembered Zion.  For our captors required of us a song.  But how can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” 
    Daniel struggled to remain true to his Lord in this strange land.  And his struggle was complicated by the fact that he lived and worked in the center of power and luxury, the palace of the King.   Daniel was very valuable to the King, for the young man was possessed of remarkable insight and intelligence, gifts from God. 
    Well, one day, Nebuchadnezzar called for Daniel to appear before him.
    Daniel, the King said, I wonder if you can help me interpret a powerful dream that I had last night.   In my dream I saw a magnificent and beautiful tree, the trunk of which grew straight and strong and so tall that it’s top could not be discerned from the ground.  It seemed to grow right up and touch the sky.  The branches of this tree grew lush and full, and in them all the birds of the air made nests, and raised their young.  The sound of their songs and the flashes of colors from their wings enlivened the scene.  The tree flowered and blossomed and bore fruit, all at the same time.  The fragrance was intoxicating, and drew creatures of the forest and the plains, who feasted on the fruit and rested in the shade.  There did not seem to be any limit to the tree’s bounty or beauty, and I marveled as I beheld it. 
    Then, I heard a voice from heaven say to someone I could not see, “Go cut down the tree.  Fell it, and let the birds of the air and the creatures of the field scatter.   It will be no more.  And when there is nothing but the stump remaining, cap it with a great cap of iron, level with the grass around, so that no one will even be able to tell that it was there.  When you are done, let it be like a pasture, where oxen will graze, and not trace of grandeur remains.”
    My wise men tell me they cannot tell me what the dream means.  But it was so vivid, so real, I know it must have a message for me.  What do you think it means, Daniel? 

    And Daniel, who had advised the King for almost all of his young life, said, “Dear King, I hope that the dream is not meant for you.   But the meaning of the dream is not hard to see:  The tree is your empire.  It is large and beautiful and spreads over the whole world.  But, like all empires, it too will fall.  And you, great n, will fall as well.  Only when you are completely humbled, having lost all your power, your prestige, your position - everything you believe makes your life worth living, will you remember what I have said.  But when you do, and acknowledge God as the one worthy of worship, your life will be returned to you.  Like a shoot that rises from the stump of a great tree, you will live again.  Put not your faith in empire, but only in the God of the whole earth, who sees empires rise and fall.”

    As you might expect, Nebuchadnezzer did not heed Daniel’s advice.  He could not imagine the world without his empire.  It is a failure of imagination that has repeated itself in empires from Babylon, to Assyria, to Greece, to Rome, to the Ottomans, the Byzantines, the French, the British . . . well, you get they idea.   Yet Daniel’s words were true.  And his counsel was sound then, and sound even today:  Put not your trust in empire, for like majestic trees they rise and flourish and fall.  But happy are those who put their trust in the Lord, who lives and reigns forever. Like saplings, vigorous and full of life, those who trust first and foremost in Him rise from the ruins of the empires which have fallen and bear witness to the Lord of Life. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Quote for our day

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A day late and a dollar short

I didn't post yesterday.  Orthodontist again.  Parent teacher conferences.  Ah.  Now I remember why I was so tired.  I spent the morning getting the bulletins set for the next two Sundays.  And talking to the people I needed to talk to to do that.  And I went to the store.  And had another conference call.  And met with a couple who are getting married in May.  And saw another member/friend.  And did a reference check.   And arranged a meeting with another young person who is thinking about getting baptized.  "I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord.   Better than: Man plans.  God laughs. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Here's the road I'm a little bit farther down.   I don't know why it wouldn't load yesterday. 
Today was great.  I made reservations for a Board of Pension conference I have to attend in May, had a conference call with the Presbytery muckety mucks, got ready for the kids' after school program, met the kids, helped five kids prepare for baptism, had soup supper and discussion of What's the Least I Can Believe and Still be a Christian, looked over a list that needs to be translated into a data base, had a Christian Ed meeting, and made a couple of phone calls to set up appointments for tomorrow and Friday.   That's enough.  No smoking. Set brakes.  Stop engines.  Call it a day.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

two minute drill

Today was AWESOME for so many reasons:  New members coming on, a wedding for a dear member/friend, some glass that came out of the kiln just right . . . I made precious little progress on my list from yesterday.  But I feel like I'm a whole lot farther down the road. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Monday Funday

Waiting for the "oomph" to kick in so that I can at least begin all the things that are nagging at me:  reading the stuff for sermon prep.  the photo directory list.  transferring pictures.   calling Maaco about C's car.  Sunday's bulletin.  finding "actors" for a dramatic reading on the 27th.  filing papers.  paying bills.  this blogging is doing nothing but bogging me down. Time to quit and get some real work done.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

First Sunday of Lent

The Gospel lesson for this Sunday is always Jesus' temptation in the wilderness.  But I went with the first account of Temptation - from Genesis.  As you may recall, it didn't turn out so well.  Adam and Eve were a big fail.
I wanted to tell that story as my first "Tree of Life" for Lent.  I'll post the sermon.  But I also want to remember that I got a picture of Chuck and his girls, and met with another potential confirmation person (who had so many good questions and observations - quite exciting for the pastor!) and then ate the Malawi dinner with the senior high folks.  So it was a good day.  Thank you, Jesus.  Here's my "listen to Jesus" verse for the day:  "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."  It really was light today.

 Forbidden fruit.
This is a tree in the garden in Artes, West Bank, Palestine.  
It was behind a fence that said "Do Not Enter" and Khalid, my driver, just 
pushed it open and took me inside.  
Then he picked nuts, which were like delicious soft shelled walnuts 
off the tree and gave them to me.    
(Mabel the Maple should have looked this good!)

The Tree of Life:  Temptation
Gen. 2:15-17, 3:1-7
Mar 13, 2011

I saw the whole thing!  Call me Mable.  Mable the Maple, and if you want to “tap” a first hand source  - then just gather around and I’ll tell it to you straight.  I was in the Garden when it all went down.  Of course, I was just a sapling then - skinny, just getting my branches - but I was tall enough to see what was going on right there in the center of the garden that day when the Beings - the Ones Made out of Dust - did what they did.  And God did what God did.  And the whole thing was so amazing I just about dropped my leaves in astonishment.   I’ve lived a long time, but I’ve never seen anything like it.

The day it all happened started like any other:  The Dust - Beings woke up when the sun warmed their faces, and the wind rustled through my leaves and kissed their cheeks.  They stretched and limbered up, chatting all the while with One another.  Some mornings the Creator strolled by and they all made a circuit of the garden together, but sometimes the Dust Creatures did that themselves.  They checked the strawberry patch, and the lettuce, and picked a pear or a peach as they walked through the orchard.  Of course, being somewhat limited in my mobility, I didn’t see everything they were doing.   Nor did I care.  I was more excited that morning about the possibility that a pair of cardinals might make a little nest in my newly lush leaves.    They would be my first nesters.   That would be cool.  The tree of Life - right south of me, had lots of birds nesting in her.  And the Tree of the Knowledge - directly to my west was a nice full tree, too.  Birds add a little something to a tree, don’t you agree?    Now my neighbors - Life Tree and Knowledge Tree - were more well established than I.  And I have to tell you, those were a couple of gorgeous trees.  Tall - Full - gorgeous green shiny leaves and fruit!  The fruit looked fabulous.  If you like that sort of thing.  I myself don’t have fruit.  But I do have those whirling wing-like confetti that is so pretty on a windy day. 

There were enough fruit trees in the Garden.  Orange trees, fig trees, grapefruit trees, lemon trees, pear trees, peach trees, mango trees, nut trees, pineapple trees . . .  Pineapples don’t grow on trees.  I was just making sure you were paying attention.

OK.  I’ll get on with it.  The Creator had made these Dust Beings and this Garden and they were perfect for each other.  The garden was beautiful, and pleasant - warm.  There were animals, too, but no predators.  Every kind of things just got along splendidly.  The Dust Beings could move around on their feet, they could eat the fruit from the trees, and the plants that grew out of the earth - their leaves and their seeds. 

There was one thing they couldn’t eat, though - my neighbor tree, the Tree of Knowledge was off limits, according to the Creator.  Now I’ve heard people wonder why that was.  And I don’t know.  But I’ve got alot of rings around my trunk, I’ve seen alot of living since that day, and here’s what I think: 

I’ve noticed that anytime life gets really good - there is some sort of limit involved.  A tree like me can only grow so big.  If I grew bigger, my limbs would be too tall for the sap to rise all the way to the top.  There is a limit.  Raising children - what’s one of the most important things you do for a child?  Set appropriate limits.  Love between a man and a woman - when it gets really good, they get married.  Which draws a boundary around that relationship.  Somethings become “out of bounds”. 

And Dust Creatures seem to have a difficult time with boundaries. They don’t seem to like anything to be off limits.  Think about Girl Scout cookies.  You think I don’t know about Girl Scout cookies?  You open up that package, you think you’ll have one or two Thin Mints.  That’s your limit.  And pretty soon the first sleeve is empty.  And you are too full to make a nice healthy dinner.  Limits are hard.

But this limit was huge.  The Creator had said, “This one is off limits.  You eat of this one and definately, immediately, you are going to die dead.”  And, after all, this was the Creator talking.  He should surely know.  The Dust Beings knew that they could trust Him. 

But on this day, the Dust Beings walked right past me and over to that particular tree.  Something had caught their eye.  It was a snake.  He was just hanging there on one of the low branches, singing, and the Dust Beings went over to have a little chat.  I listened.  I wasn’t eavesdropping.  I just happened to over hear what they said.

The snake said, “So.  What a nice place this is.”  The Dust Beings agreed.  “Lotsssss of good fruit trees.” said the snake.  The Dust Beings agreed.  “It’s too bad you aren’t allowed to eat any of the fruit.” he offered.  The Dust Beings looked at each other and kind of smirked.  I could tell they were thinking, “Silly snake!”  The woman spoke up, “Oh, we can eat of the trees.  All the trees.  Except that tree you are in right now.  God told us “If you eat of that tree - or even if you touch it - you will die.”  I think it was a little prank.  I think she expected the snake to get scared and jump out of the tree.   Cause that was a lie.  God never said that. 

But the snake didn’t jump.  He just said, “Really?  He sssssaid that?  I wonder if that’s true.  It looks to me like a perfectly good tree to me.  I’ll tell you what I think:  I think this is the bessssst tree in the whole garden.  I bet God didn’t tell you that to protect you.  I bet God told you that because he knows that if you eat of this tree, you’ll be like God - you’ll know everything God knowsssssss.” 

And a funny look came over the Dust Beings faces.  Wasn’t God good?  What if God was just arbitrary and interested, not in them, but in keeping his own power?  What if He didn’t have their best interest at heart?  What if they ought to look out for themselves?  To guard their own best interest?  A God like that - power hungry and arbitrary - who wanted to obey that kind of a God? 

They looked around - at all the other delicious trees.  But I could tell that suddenly the NO tree did look to them like the best tree in the garden.  Better than all the YES trees.   They didn’t trust the Creator’s love behind the boundary.  They wanted to have it all. 

They had to push the limit God had set. 

So the female Dust Being reached out and picked a couple of pieces of fruit.  I watched in horror as they looked at it, polished it, sniffed it, licked it. And then took a big juicy bite.  They did it.  They broke the boundary.  They ate it. 

I held my breath.  Surely this was the end of this cute little couple! 

And, in a way, I was right.  It was the end.  At once the couple’s well ordered, harmonious world begins to disintegrate. There is no more talk of tending the garden. There is no more walking with God in the garden. There is only mistrust, blame, guilt, and alienation.  (Dennis Bratcher - )

The first sign is the way they looked at one another.  Before the fruit, they had been naked and unashamed.  Now, they are embarrassed. 

And they did something so lame and futile.  They plucked off some of my leaves and tried to cover themselves up.  They knew something was wrong - but the way they tried to fix it - ouch.  Painful for me and ineffective for them.  But I thought, “At least they know they’ve messed up.  They know they what God said.  But I thought, I guess like they thought, Maybe there is still a way to fix this.” 

But no.  It just got worse.   They heard the Creator coming.  And they couldn’t face Him. He called to them, and you should have heard the pathetic answer:  "I was afraid because I was naked."   Deathly over there.  I braced myself, because I knew what was coming. 

They were going to die.  But before they did, their partnership unraveled. . .   the man blames the woman for his disobedience. Then, unbelievably, he even tried to shift the blame to the Creator:  saying, This woman “you put here with me” as if it was somehow God’s fault.  You know how blaming goes - The woman blamed the snake. For the first time in their talk, there is not love, not trust, no sharing, no mutual accountability. There is only guilt, blaming, trying to avoid responsibility, damaged relationships. (Bratcher again) 

It was like watching a wreck in slow motion.  The destruction just kept coming.  And I knew the biggest one - the one God was going to have to impose, was yet to come.  Because the Creator had said, If you eat of it that day, you are most certainly going to die.   All of in the Garden were expecting to see the couple fall dead.  Justice demanded it.  Creation fell silent as we waited to see how God was going to make them die. 
I tried to cover my eyes.  A minute passed.  Two.  I peeked. 

And when I did, I saw an astonishing sight.  God was not carrying out the death penalty.  He let the couple live.  But God the Creator became God the Forgiver that day. God responds to disobedience, not with the full weight of justice, but with mercy and grace!
 It cost him, too.  It cost him the peacefulness of the garden.  He had to sacrifice animals to make the garments to cover the Dust Beings pitiful bodies.  Things would never be the same between animals and people and trees again. How could it be?  After people mistrusted and lied and hid  . . .  it can’t be that things just go back to being perfect.  What they did was too disruptive to allow for that.

But even though he had to sacrifice the perfection he had created, for a second time, he gave them the gift of life.  But this time, they had to live it on the other side of the boundary.  They had crossed over when they ignored the limit and nothing could bring them back. 

But I wanted to tell you this story, straight from the tree to you, because it’s really important that you know who this Creator is:  This One does not give you what you Dust Beings deserve because he loves you and won’t give up on a relationship with you. 

Take it from me.  Take it from the tree.  I was there.  I know. 

Saturday passed in a blur

Yoga.  Sermon prep.  Bulletin finally finished.  Picking up and dropping off the boy.  Dinner?  I can't remember if we had any. Oh, yes we did.  Saturday passed in a blur.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Friday Funeral

This morning at 10 o'clock people gathered for Bob's funeral.  His brothers and their children and their children's children and lots of folks from the town.  I think it was how he would have wanted it.   I hope so.  Bob lived a completely different life than most everyone I know.  He remained single.  He made a lot of money, but didn't seem to enjoy spending it, and lived very frugally.  He lived in numbers and details that are not at all interesting to me.  But it is interesting to me that he was able to live in this community, make a substantial contribution to civic life (as a banker, village clerk and trustee of the cemetery) and be regarded with some (admittedly bemused) respect by just about everybody.  He was different.  Really different.  And yet a community I think of as very much interested in conformity accepted him and considered him one of their own.  Interesting.  Rest easy, sir. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Day after Ash Wednesday

Yesterday was so busy.  I made soup, got the baptism class materials organized, printed out and distributed, ran off the bulletin for Good Friday, prepared for the soup supper study, talked to Bob's family about his service, picked up 10 kids for afterschool, did the soup supper, had Ash Wednesday and  . . .  that was about it.  After I picked Caleb up from St. Joe I fell into bed and had weird dreams all night. 
Today I met with Janice, and now I'm doing table clothes, sketching a Good Friday service for CUPS, going to CUPS meeting and ordering more books for the study.
Plus I have to get ready for Sunday. 
Prayer for the day Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.  Blessed are the peacemeakers, for they shall be called children of God. By name, the baptism candidates, Jeff's family, and me.   To be blessed and to be a blessing.  Listen to Him.   

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday Poem

Ashes -
by Anne Weems

Two nights ago I knelt and
took the ashes from the fireplace.

It was some time before I saw evidence
of the smudge of ash upon my face.
I washed it quickly away.

Last night I knelt and took the bread
and dipped it in the cup,
and then I felt the cool smooth
finger of ash upon my forehead,

ashes from last year's palms
saved for this holy time.

I wondered if there might still be
some remnant of Hosanna!

lingering in the ashes.

All evening long I wore the ash,
that holy ash,

and when others saw the smudge,
I wondered if they were inclined
to wipe it clean
or to lean closer
in the hope of hearing
some soft Hosanna!

burning still
in ash

or heart . . .

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Shrove Tuesday

Forgive me.  
I'm so sorry.  
I confess that I did the wrong thing, 
said the wrong thing, 
thought something I had no business thinking.  
I meant to do the right thing, but I didn't.  
Or, more often, I didn't even intend to do any differently than I did.  
This is my fault.  
This is partly my fault.  
I'm so sorry.  
Forgive me.

In the Orthodox church there is a liturgy where the people come up to the front, and say to the priest.  "I am a sinner.  I need forgiveness."  And the priest says, "God forgives.  Forgive me."  And then people say it to one another. 
"Forgive me." 
"God forgives.  Forgive me." 
How cleansing and renewing would that be?  I am breathing easier just playing it in my mind.  Maybe that is the prayer for the day, "God forgives.  Forgive me."

Monday, March 7, 2011

Getting set for Lent

Tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday.  I'm making pancakes for choir, and attending Caleb's band concert.  But I've been thinking about Lent for a week or so and I'm going to blog here everyday during Lent. 
I'll put my "listening to Jesus" quote up, and then just thoughts for the day.   It's possible that I might link to it.  But probably not. 
Tonight we had a Session meeting which was pretty energy filled.  I feel hopeful about the year ahead.