Thursday, December 30, 2010

noticing God moments...

So, in following up with the remembrance of the Holy Innocents, two wonderful moments this past week.

In the Divine Hours, there is usually a hymn for the vespers service.  Sometimes I make up my own melodies, sometimes they fit to other hymns I know.  So far, in the season of Christmas they have all been carols/hymns that I have known....well, until December 28th.  As I peeked ahead the day before, I thought, oh I don't know that one. 
This is what it was:

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Lullay, thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
O sisters too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we do sing
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All children young to slay.
That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever mourn and sigh,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
It's also known as the Coventry Carol.  On the 28th my friends Jen & Eric loaned me The Christmas Cornucopia by Annie Lenox.  To hear about how Annie put together this collection, "full of love" as she says, check out her her official website
She sings the Coventry Carol on this album and it is a beautiful rendition.  My favorite part is that the even through the sorrowful words and remembrance of the innocents, the final chord resolves from a minor chord to a major one. (I think I got the language correct there...) It's that sense of hope and promise that even in the midst of a horrible tragedy, God is still here. 

The second great God moment happened this morning as I was talking with the church secretary.  She was telling me about the two kid cut-outs she took home with her from church on Sunday.  One was her grandson (a student at IU) and the other, her granddaughter (a high school student). 
She called her grandson and told him to swing by the house today and she gave him his cut out.  She told him that we surrounded them in prayer, and she thought about putting it in her Bible and then had second thoughts.  She gave it to him and said, "I could keep this in my Bible, but I want you to know that even when you seem all alone, there is a congregation who loves you and prays for you.  Please take this and put it on your fridge or someplace you can see it and remember us and God in your life."
She plans on giving the other to her granddaughter the next time she sees her.   

Just one more beautiful example of God at work, empowering God's people to share their faith and their love for one another. 

Until next time . . .

Monday, December 27, 2010

remembering in a new way

This past Sunday we remembered the death of the innocents. 
It's a hard thing to wrap your heart and mind around the death of all the little ones in the midst of celebrating Jesus' birth.  And apparently, this is the first time that I have not been on vacation the first Sunday after Christmas, so while we did have a service with lessons and carols, the final lesson was the appointed gospel text for the day...and we all heard about the slaughter of babies in Bethlehem. 

So hard to hear and often hard to comprehend.  As I sat with that text through Christmas Day, I was thinking about my trip to El Salvador in seminary.  One of our visits was to the village of El Mozote, where the population was massacred December 11th and 12th in 1981. 

What remains in my mind is the church in El Mozote. 
As you walk around the side of the church, you enter the Garden of the Innocents.

So I shared the story of this place...of people, and especially the children, who were killed during this civil war. 

I shared that on the side of the church, there are images of children, and below those images are the names of the children and their ages. 

I think part of who we are as church, is to hear these passages and remember that we do not live in a perfect world.  And that part of who we are is to lift up, love and care for the innocents in our families, communities and the world.

Then I handed out little boys and girls, cut out of construction paper...each person in worship was invited to put the name or names of children in their family or community whom they love and care for.  As people were coming up with names, one woman said, I have an announcement...(similar to a children's sermon, once people are involved, who knows what may happen....) she shared that her grandson and his wife shared the good news at Christmas that they were expecting!  It's the first great grandchild! She put baby on one of her cut-outs :)

Then we cradled the 'children' in our hands and prayed for them, for their health, their growth, their innocence, their lives. 

The service was also an opportunity for us, as congregation and pastor, to still see and experience God at work in the ministry and mission that happens through us every day. 

Good things, just like God, in unexpected places. 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Christmas is wonderful!

Christmas Eve service was complete with candles, smiles, hugs, family and was great to celebrate Emmanuel - God with us - in the midst of our own anxieties and wonders about the future.

Here's the sermon from last night...blessings to all in this Christmas season.  

Christmas Eve
December 24, 2010

Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalm 96
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-20

Please pray with me,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen. 
Can you think back to the perfect Christmas? 
That may be more challenging than you think.  I’m sure we all have memories of those perfect moments, those perfect gatherings…the year of the perfect tree, or presents or meal….but I think, looking back, we see what we want to see. 
We put together the moments and the memories…and sometimes they become their own entity.  Our mind plays tricks on us, albeit in a good way, to flood our hearts and minds with good feeling memories.  

But that may not truly be the way all the former years were…we have a tendency to remember the good times, especially at Christmastime.
But throughout our individual and collective pasts, we have each had Christmases with hiccups, pitfalls, struggles and challenges. 
As I was sharing the news with my mom that I had accepted a call to a congregation in Pennsylvania, she said, well that’s gonna make for a pretty ‘yucky’ Christmas.  (My mom used something stronger than yucky…but you get the idea.)  And I thought to myself…yeah, it will be rough, but so have the past few.  

Our first Christmas together, with me serving as your pastor at St. John’s, I was facing the beginnings of a broken marriage.  My mind and heart were struggling with God, relationships, marriage and why all of it would come to light at a time when we are all to be happy and joyous. 
I needed the Christmas message of God coming down and into a broken world…because mine seemed far from whole.  There was a glimpse and of hope and comfort knowing that God came into a broken world…not to take away the hurt and brokenness, but to be with us in the midst of it. 
Our second Christmas together, was a different story.  Just last year…there was a tension, a new level of anxiety as this congregation faced challenging conversations thinking, praying and responding to decisions made at our Churchwide gathering in August of 2009.  There were people who didn’t worship here last year, because the tension was too much…there are people who were here last Christmas who have since stopped worshipping here. 
The tension was felt and the hope and promise of the Christ child was there in the midst of the angst, struggles and questions about who we are called to be as church.

 In this past year we have changed...while the faces around us may have changed, we continue to be an active part of God’s mission in the world around us. 

And that brings us to this Christmas: the last Christmas we will celebrate together as a congregation and its pastor.  No doubt, there are questions about the future of this place, what happens next?  Underlying that good news of our savior born on this day is the reality of what the future will bring through God in this congregation. 

Can you think of another Christmas, where the future was uncertain? 
Where those hearing the message for the first time may have wondered what the future was going to bring?   

That first Christmas, Joseph and Mary huddled together in a stable…trusting God that this was a part of the plan.  Sure there was comfort in the eyes of a newborn child, but the questions about what this would mean for both Mary and Joseph and for their baby boy, Jesus surely permeated that holy night. 
 They walked and lived in the hope and faith that God would bring peace to the earth through their newborn son.   

The story they lived that first night…was just the beginning.  We know the whole story, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.   

What we know now…that story that we hear tonight, shapes our faith, strengthens our lives, and empowers us to service…that story…gives us the strength to go through that first Christmas when our family looked different, whether a loved one is gone because of death or divorce…we know that Jesus came into this world, to walk with us through whatever we face.  

God with us, Emmanuel, means God is with us, here and now…in the midst of all that we face…death, loss, broken homes, losing a job, a change in what our church looks like, who fills these pews, and who is still longing to hear this message of God come down  - to us – where we are…to be with us…to love us, save us, claim us and send us forth in God’s service.   

The joy of this night, is knowing that we are not alone…that God came into this world, came into our world, on a night, just like this.  To a community and a world that wasn’t perfect…to a community and world that needed a message of unconditional love and forgiveness, just like us, here and now. 
The joy and warmth, we feel in this place, through the Word of God and as we share the peace of God…and as we all are welcomed to this table, to this meal.  This meal…is Jesus presence with us right now.  We eat of this bread…and we taste Jesus presence in our lives…we drink of this wine…and sip from the cup of salvation. 
We know that through this meal, Jesus, God, is with us.  That, my friends is good news of great joy for all people!  God sent Jesus into the world, not to condemn it, but to save it, to save us, to save all of God’s creation!  Think about how awesome that is!  Right? 

Tonight we celebrate that first night, a night, where God came into the world, not in a special, sanitized beautiful maternity ward….but in the muck of an animal’s stable, and he was placed in a manger…in the place where food for the animals would be placed. 

But Jesus came into the world, was placed in the manger…and has become the food, the bread and wine for you and for me, but we are not the only ones who are hungry…this meal is here for all who hunger and thirst. 
Jesus is the bread of life…come down to earth to teach us, love us, save us and feed us for the journey that lies ahead. 
So come, you who hunger.
Come, you who thirst, there is plenty to eat…and plenty to share with those around us. 
And now may the peace, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, and let all God’s people say, amen. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

completely humbled

Is it possible to have hopeful and heart heavy moments at the same time?

I'd say yes. 

I had a wonderful visit with and older couple from the congregation today.  Firstly, I had to circle Robesonia in the road atlas for them, so they know where I'll be.  We had a lovely chat, I got to see some of the antiques that the wife has collected..."I'm running out of space," she said.  "Well, after you've been married 61 years, you accumulate some stuff," he replied. (True story) 
I got to dance with him at their 60th wedding anniversary...he's quite the dancer.

He was born in that house, in the living room where we chatted.  He's lived there all his life and while he still works on the family farm (he'll be 90 next year) his son is now his boss. :) 

Over homemade carrot cake, and little glasses of Oliver Blackberry Wine we talked about everything from religion to politics and all sorts of things in between.  I saw where the old wood burning oven used to sit in the kitchen, out the back window you can still see the one room school house he walked to as a boy.  If the walls could talk, I do not think they would have much to add to all that I heard today.  As we sat at the kitchen table, he said we've been kind rough to you the past few years.  I said, well, we've been through ups and downs together...and I've learned alot.  To which he replied, "I admire you."  And at that point I didn't feel worthy enough to sit at their table.  A man, with 89 years of life experience...a life on a farm, no of 7 children, then raising his own children in that house, too.  How blessed am I to share in these amazing moments with people?  This is the man who people worried about when it came to calling a female pastor. (Whether he, the man who was born the year the church was built would be okay with a woman in the pulpit.)

He admires me?  (speechless)

Things I will always remember about him:
He'd sing Holy, Holy, Holy every Sunday if he could. 
He used to ring the bell every Sunday before worship.  If he wasn't going to be at church he would find a replacement and he would call me to let me know he wouldn't be there.
How the week after the congregation took the vote to leave the ELCA (that failed) he said, well, where did the other people go?  If the vote had gone the other way, I'd still be here...
The same pew he and his wife sat/sit in week after week after week. 

What a wonderful afternoon...I wonder if they will ever know the impact they had on my life, my ministry and my faith...

The evening allowed for an amazing dinner with a dear friend and colleague.  She celebrated my joy with me and we cherished the time we have had together...thanks Nan :)

Until next time . . .

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Come, Hope of unity...

I can't believe it's already Advent 4. 

While the weeks have seemed to sail by...the days have had moments of quiet solitude and prayer.  It was four weeks ago that I spent an evening with yellow watercolors, a star cookie cutter, scissors and a pen.  And this is what my Advent journey looks like now...

I love that each day, as I honor praying the hours, I have one person or group that I focus on.  During this time of goodbyes, packing and beginning to transition it's been a struggle to get outside of 'me.'  The call process was so God & Holy Spirit led, that I truly felt free to be the me that God has created and called me to be...I told a member in Indiana that I feel God calling me to PA, and she said, "Do you really believe it?"  Yes, I believe it....but it's not easy to share the joy and excitement and new found passion with the people I see everyday.  When I say I feel God in the process, I believe people in Loogootee hear that God is calling me away from here. 

The only way to describe it is bittersweet. My heart is heavy and yet hopeful.

I've been truly touched by comments made by folks at church have been eyeopening and tear jerking.  Not to mention comments made by folks within the community...that's one of the things in this vocation of ministry....not knowing sometimes, until you're gone what God has done through you in a certain place and time.

One of today's heavy moments....finding out an 8-yr-old who I have been drawn close to during my time here, cried when she found out I was leaving....

One of today's hopeful worship, people fill out the 'blue form' (attendance/sign up/prayer request form).  There is a member who when I first met him, people were worried about how he would take to me, if he even would at all.  He had been away from the church for several years, spending most of his time at his mother's side in a nursing home, and he pretty much kept to himself.  My second month here, I presided at his mother's funeral.  He's been hit or miss at church...but more regular as time has passed.  Last winter he removed 6  inches of snow from my driveway, although I wasn't allowed to tell anyone who did it :)  I greeted him at worship today, but he didn't want to talk.  Today, on his blue form, he added me to the prayer list....for my time of transition.

It's a side to him that many people have not seen...but more are becoming aware of....thanks be to God.

Until next time . . .

Monday, December 13, 2010

un-lazy sunday

Yesterday was probably the roughest day I've had at St. Johns.  I walked in, knowing that everyone had received the letter of my acceptance of a new call.  I received many tearful hugs, some folks didn't even mention it, and others joked that they were mad.  The rough part was worship.  There was this underlying sense of 'ugh'.  I don't know how else to explain it...I think the 'ugh' comes from the gap between my excitement for the new call and the feeling of loss within the congregation. 

The moment that I teared up was at the end of communion.  The family who lit the Advent wreath also assisted with communion.  The husband and wife (in their mid-late 40's) had their granddaughter with them...I'm not sure of her age, but she's in the ones maybe almost 2? Oh, I don't know....probably the ones...since she had her pacifier and grandpa held her as they lit the advent candle.  Then they came up for communion and since it was by stations grandpa held her in one arm as he held the tray of cups in the other.  Then the three of them came up to the altar.  I gave the bread & wine to the wife & husband, then made the sign of the cross on the little girl's forehead and said, You are a child of God.  God loves you and God blesses you.  And through the pacifier she said, "thank you!"  (I get teary just typing about it.) These are the moments you don't ever want to let go. 

I looked at this family...who have been with the congregation just for the past year...what a blessing it was to marry them, to get to know them...and see them with grandkids. 

After worship we had a brief congregational meeting to elect council members. 
Coming into the meeting we had two blank spaces on the ballot : Vice Chair and Evangelism.

The Chair Person called the meeting to order...and asked for nominations...she is a tough woman, who has been through a rough last few months, and while she is one to always step up to the plate, she is just plain tired.  It took a while, but we eventually received a volunteer for Vice Chair and the woman who assisted in worship that morning volunteered for Evangelism. 

This congregation has the leadership and the people to continue to see ministry happen in this was great to see God working through both of these people empowering them to share their gifts. 

The afternoon was full of housecleaning, singing a cantata at church in the afternoon and watching the Pats do some damage to da Bears.   I was bummed that my dear friend couldn't attend the cantata due to weather, but post-football game, I put up the tree and decorated it and just relaxed by the fire.  All in all, a pretty amazing, emotional day. 

Until next time...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

praying more often, with some guidance.

My advent devotional discipline, which I will honor for the 30 days of December, has been praying the hours.  I had used The Divine Hours by Phillis Tickle in the past, but not for a while.

This year I purchased Christmastide: Prayers for Advent Through Epiphany from The Divine Hours.  It mirrors the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany section from the Autumn and Winter Edition, but a smaller size so it is easier to carry around during the day. 

Setting time aside each day for morning, noon, evening and end of the day prayer has helped frame my days.  I have also appreciated the time to pray for the person/people/group that is on the star for the day. 

One of the most precious God moments that has happened occurred last week.  I was packing up my things to head out of town for the weekend.  I was heading to a congregation in Pennsylvania for a call sermon and congregational vote.  The wonderful news is that the weekend went well and the congregation extended the call and I accepted.  The star I pulled out of the basket that Friday morning, as my travels began, was the star for the congregation I currently serve.  It was a pleasant reminder that I am the pastor at St. Johns, while that will be changing in the future, I still hold them in prayer especially as we continue to journey through Advent together and begin our goodbyes.

The next month will be full of emotion, challenges, celebrating shared memories and preparing for our paths to go in different ways in the future.  I continue to be amazed and blessed as God presents opportunities and moments that shed light on the ministry that has happened between the congregation and myself.  Today alone has been tearful . . . in a most wonderful way.

I thank God for my time here, for the experiences, for my friends and colleagues . . . for all of it . . . all of you . . . for lifting up my gifts, shaping my ministry and giving me moments I'll never forget!

Until next time . . .