Archives for May 2013

Midweek Service — “Waiting”

I am slowly reading through a stack of old sermons, editing, deciding which I would like to place here as a record-of-sorts, primarily for my family and friends. In honor of the many years when my family attended a midweek service (now just about completely extinct!), in the middle of each week, I’ll put one up in this space. I am hopeful that remembering where the Lord has met me in the Word over these years will speak again of love and power and healing — in my own life, first, and in the lives of others as well. These posts will be longer than most and will always include reference to the text(s) of the day.

This was a sermon given at my home church, the place where I was called out to ministry, about a year after a traumatic cleaving in the congregation and a time of waiting for what might come next. I am happy to report that in the four years since that time, they have found a pastor they love and who loves them, and God is doing good things in and through them all.


“WAITING. . . “
Mark 5:21-43 with Psalm 130 and Lamentations 3:23-33
Preached at Pasadena Covenant Church, June 28, 2009
By Diana R.G. Trautwein

Two stories, one twisted within the other.  Two stories, two women – one older, probably in the midst of what we today might call ‘the pause.’ One younger, just embarking on the journey to womanhood.  Twelve years of bleeding, twelve years of life.  All the usual resources exhausted for one, almost all hope gone for the other.  Both in desperate situations.  Both in need of a healing touch.  Both in need of a saving touch.  By the time they encounter Jesus, each of these unnamed female characters is…dead – the younger one, truly and physically dead – the older one, socially and communally dead – marked by her unceasing flow of blood as unclean, untouchable, unreachable.

One we meet in person – we watch her, sneaking up from the back of the crowd, wriggling her fingers up close to the traveling rabbi, wrapping them in just the very fringiest ends of one of the long tassels he wore.  One we meet first through her father – an important man, given a name by our storyteller.  A leader in his town, a man with a heightened sense of right and wrong, of clean and unclean, of all things good and righteous and holy, and all things not good, unrighteous, unholy.

Jesus and his disciples have just returned from a rather momentous journey across the Sea of Galilee, across that boundary line between the Gentile world and the Jewish world.  There has been a storm, a vicious, terrifying storm – and Jesus, by the power of his word and his will, has calmed the storm.

There has been a terrifying encounter with a crazy man – living like an animal, filled with demons of all kinds. a man beyond the pale of human community, without hope, without recourse.  And Jesus has met that man, met him with pity and with power – power to heal, to save, to transform.

And now, the boat is back.  The disciples are back.  Jesus is back.  And as the little ship slaps its way up onto the sandy shore, they are surrounded by a huge crowd, an eager crowd – pushing and shoving, wondering about this wonder man, watching to see just what he will do on this side of the sea.

Striding through that crowd is the figure of an important community member, a leader in the local synagogue, Jairus, by name.  And the first thing Jairus does is the last thing the demon-filled man had done – he falls at the feet of Jesus and begs him for something.  The demoniac on the far shore, with the voice of the demons who had fractured him for so long, begged Jesus to cease and desist.  The desperate father begs – over and over, our text tells us – for mercy, for healing, for salvation for his little girl, his much-loved daughter.  And Jesus says, “Sure!  I’ll come.”  And they turn and head in the direction of the man’s home.

But then…

And isn’t that just exactly what so much of life is like?  You’re heading in one direction quite often a really good direction, somewhere you are quite intentional about going, to do something that is a really good thing to be doing…

But then…

You’re busy raising a family, or you’re busy establishing yourself in a career, or you’re busy studying to get through school.  Maybe you’re sinking your roots in a community, or fixing your home into a place of welcome and respite…

But then…you lose your job or your investment portfolio heads dramatically south, or you lose your scholarship or student grant, or your spouse becomes frighteningly ill, or your marriage begins to unravel, or…And, all of a sudden – you are seriously interrupted.  You are forced to change direction.  You are required to take a step back, to look at what’s happening in the moment, and to wait, to see what the outcome of it all may be.

Imagine what that waiting felt like to the leader of the synagogue.  An important man, used to being treated with respect, even deference, humbling himself at the feet of a relatively unknown itinerant preacher/teacher/healer, taking immediate steps to accomplish what he had come to accomplish – and being stopped dead in his tracks by….this woman, this unclean, unwelcome, unacceptable…woman.

People pressing in on all sides, disciples skeptical of their own teacher, confusion in ascendance, and as the healer stops, turns, asks, “Who touched my clothes?”  This woman – the one everyone knew was trouble to be around – this woman – the one that Jesus should have known was not worth his time, this woman – the one awestruck by what has just happened inside her own body, this woman – who dares to tell the whole truth in a culture – much like our own! – where truth is not easy to come by and is often hard to hear, this woman – stops the whole parade.

And Jairus is forced to wait, on the sidelines, out of the spotlight, his concerns for his daughter momentarily forgotten while the rabbi engages in a time-consuming, highly personal, deeply transformative conversation with this woman.

“Daughter,” he calls her.  “Daughter,” folding her in with a single word.  The actual physical healing takes but an instant – a momentary exchange of power.  But the conversation, the truth-telling, the recognition, the inclusion, the blessing – ah, that is where the true miracle happens. And our storyteller gives us such rich detail, quiet commentary, instructive modeling as he describes it all for us.

Jairus is asked to wait – in the midst of an urgent, life-threatening situation – he is asked to wait…for a little while.  But the woman…Well, the woman knew a whole lot about waiting. Twelve years worth of waiting.  Waiting for doctors to be successful, waiting for the bleeding to stop, waiting for permission to rejoin her friends, her family, her worshipping community – for her symptoms required her to be on the outside of all the circles of her life.

Like so many stories of the Kingdom of God, these stories before us today are about insiders and outsiders – and about how unpredictable those definitions become when Jesus is the one doing the defining.  Like the later stories of The Prodigal Son, or the Good Samaritan – the ‘usual suspects’ become the true neighbor, the party-worthy son.  This woman becomes “daughter!”  The leader of the synagogue becomes the man on the edge of the crowd, waiting for Jesus to continue on the way.

I can’t tell you how many times in my ministry life I have said to people in trouble,  “I think that waiting is often the hardest thing that we’re ever asked to do as disciples of Jesus.”  It’s tough to wait in a surgical reception area.  It’s tough to wait for an addicted friend or family member to wake up and smell the recovery process.  It’s tough to wait for someone you dearly love to die, and to watch them suffer while they’re dying.  It’s tough to wait for decisions to be made by other people about your future, your life – whether that’s getting into the school you want, passing the course you’re struggling with, getting the job you’ve interviewed for, receiving the promotion you believe you deserve, or getting an ‘all clear’ after rigorous cancer treatment.  It’s tough to wait for whatever comes next when you’re part of a congregation that’s been through a hard year.  It’s tough.  It’s tiring.  It’s sometimes very scary and very lonely.

So, why does scripture talk about waiting so often?  And why is the language of waiting so often found in the language of lament, of all places?  “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,” our psalm of lament for today reads.  “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits…” And the reading from Lamentations says, “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”  And, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.”

I am guessing that our friend Jairus didn’t think it was a good thing to wait for the Lord.  To stand there, desperate for his daughter, desperate to move, to go, to get there.  And I’m guessing that this woman didn’t think it was a good thing to wait twelve long years in the midst of deep isolation for someone to finally help her.

And yet….

And here are the counterbalancing two words to the “but then…” of a few minutes ago…

And yet…

Our psalm goes on to say these things: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord, more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.  O Israel, hope in the Lord!  For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.”

And yet…

In waiting, there seems to be room, space…for hoping.  In waiting, there is room for steadfast love.  In waiting, there is space to experience the power of God to redeem – even the most difficult, the most painful, the most terrifying situations – all those hard things that seem to come right along with the territory of being human creatures who live on planet earth.

So what is there about waiting that can help create space for all of these good things?  Space for hope, for steadfast love, for the power to redeem?  At least one solid clue is found in the two interwoven stories in today’s gospel lesson – and that clue underscores the word of both the psalmist and the prophet in our OT readings as well.  We are to wait….on the LORD.  You could even change the preposition to wait ‘in’ the Lord or wait ‘with’ the Lord or wait ‘through’ the Lord, or wait ‘for’ the Lord, if that helps you wrap your mind around this concept a little more easily.  The waiting talked about in the language of biblical lament, and the waiting pictured in the narrative in front of us is not the waiting experienced while standing around in the supermarket line, or sitting in the traffic lane at rush hour, or getting anywhere near the DMV office.

Both the woman and the synagogue leader waited…on the Lord.  Each of them put themselves in the presence of the Savior, deliberately choosing to be near him.  Each of them came to that presence, that nearness, with the concerns that weighed heaviest on their hearts, prepared to be completely honest and open about their pain and the reasons for it.  Each of them came to the Savior, each of them fell at his feet, with fear and trembling…and each of them came with faith. Feeble faith – I’m sure it was at times.  Magical, even superstitious faith – most probably it was at points.  But faith, however feeble or unsophisticated, is welcomed by the Savior whose presence they sought.  Faith, however flickering and doubt-filled it may sometimes be, is recognized by Jesus, is received by Jesus, is, in fact, seen by Jesus as a necessary and vital part of the healing, saving process.  “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease,” Jesus said to the woman, after she knew in her body that healing had happened.

“Do not fear, only believe,” Jesus said to the synagogue leader when word came that his daughter was dead, while he was waiting on the Lord.  There is a strange and wondrous alchemy going on here, one that I don’t begin to understand.  An alchemy between the power and the willingness of Jesus to heal and to save, and the faithful obedience of the broken disciple who needs that healing, that saving.  Neither the flow of blood nor the death of the daughter was a good thing –  they were hard, tough, difficult things, the kinds of things that happen to people a lot.  But…in the midst of each of those hard, tough, difficult things – in the midst of waiting on the Lord – they miraculously found…hope, they powerfully discovered…the steadfast love of God, they experienced…the power of redemption.

I’m not here this morning, in the midst of a place and a people whom I love deeply, to tell you that the hard things you all have experienced together in this last year are good things.  They’re not – they’re hard!  They cost a lot in shared pain, in doubt, in confusion and anxiety, maybe even in loss of trust and suspicion at points.  You’ve been going through the ‘but then…’part, haven’t you?

But I am here to tell you today that you are, even now, in the ‘and yet…’ part.  I haven’t a clue what your own individual healing or your healing as a community is going to look like, but this much I do know: it will come, it will happen.  In fact, I would venture to guess that it has come and is happening – and here is the alchemist’s mystery in it all – it has come and is happening as you practice waiting on the Lord, both individually and corporately.

As you earnestly seek God’s presence, as you tell the truth, as you fall at his feet in awestruck wonder, as you take turns being in and out of the spotlight of his love and mercy, or waiting on the sidelines, as you open yourselves to the grace and mercy of God, you will find healing.  Reaching right through the crowd to touch the edge of his tassel, or sitting quietly with just a few others in the bedroom of a dream or a vision that seems dead to your eyes, as you wait on the Lord – seeking his presence, offering your faith, no matter how frail it may be at any given moment in time, God is faithful.  His mercies are new every morning.

“Don’t be afraid,” the rabbi will say to you.  “Only believe.”

“Daughter,” our Lord will say to you, or “Son,” he will say:  “Your faith has made you well.  Go in peace and be healed of your disease.”

Let us pray together:

Oh, teach us to wait, Lord.
Teach us to wait on you,
for you,
with you,
through you.
By the movement of your Spirit
at work within us,
call us to yourself –alone and together.
Build in us a deep and lasting desire
to be intentionally with you.
Teach us to tell the truth,
to you and to each other.
Remind us of your glory,
that we might regularly fall at your feet,
both in awe and wonder at what you have already done in our lives,
and in acknowledgment of our ongoing need for you.

 And strengthen our faith, Lord.
Strengthen our feeble knees and our faltering lips.
Teach us to trust –
to believe that in the middle of the mess –
whether it’s a new mess or one of long duration –
you are there for us
and with us.
In the name of our Savior,
who welcomes us,
even though our faith is small and tattered,
even Jesus Christ,


It’s Word Candy Time!

Hope your May is going well —
I am a tad later than I wanted to be with
Sweet Greetings for you all,
but here is a favorite quote
with an appropriate and lovely photo.

You need to find this website and have a little fun,
browsing, wrapping, sending sweet messages to
friends and family.

Just click here to go directly to the Word Candy website.
Another fine service from TweetSpeakPoetry. 

The Gift of a Long Life — A Deeper Family

It’s the first Thursday of the month and time for my monthly post at A Deeper Family. And this one crept up on me, bigtime. Somehow, I thought the first Thursday was next week (duh!) and had set aside tomorrow afternoon to write this piece. Fortunately, truth dawned at approximately 9:00 p.m. for an essay that was due at midnight. 

With the grands at Shell Beach, one year ago this month.


Forty years ago, I was a stay-at-home housewife with three children under the age of five, wildly in love with my kids but often overwhelmed by fatigue and feelings of failure.

Thirty years ago, I had two teenagers and a pre-teen, served as an active volunteer in church and community, loved entertaining large groups of people in our home and was oblivious to the truth that this good, rich time of my life was rushing by me.

Twenty years ago, I walked across the stage to pick up my master of divinity degree from Fuller Seminary after four years of study, all that studying done while managing a small floral business in my home, watching each of my children move into committed relationships and becoming a first-time grandparent.

Ten years ago, I was nearing the midway point of my pastoral life here in Santa Barbara, discovering the harsh reality of death in our family circle for the first time, trying to balance (what is that, anyhow?) home and church, family and congregation.

Today, right now, I am retired from parish work; I offer spiritual direction from my home; I write on my blog, here at ADF, and several other places on the internet and in print; I have children older than most of the people I meet with or write with; I am married to a man I love deeply, a man who stays home most of the day because he, too, is retired; I am mother to my mother as she fades into the dim recesses of dementia; and I am Nana to eight grands, two of whom are college students, for Pete’s sake.

And at this moment, on a warm California evening, I am reading this list and wondering . . . who do I want to be going forward?

If I am blessed by continuing good health and even the moderate level of agility which I currently enjoy, I may live another fifteen, twenty, maybe even twenty-five years at the most.

What will these years look like when I stand there, in the future, and look back at now?

What do I hope for, dream about, pray for, purpose in my heart to do — or maybe more importantly — to be during however many decades remain?

Here, in no particular order of importance, are the things that rise to the top as I ponder that question:

Please join me over at A Deeper Family for the rest of this post . . .

The One Thing That Silences Heaven

I’ve read the book several times.
I’ve even taken an entire seminary class on it.
That helped, actually.
That helped me to see the book as a whole,
instead of a bunch of crazy-making pieces;
as a dramatic re-telling of God’s story,
of incarnation, salvation, faithfulness in the journey,
hope for the future.


It’s a tough nut to crack,
filled as it is with highly visual language,
pictures of strange creatures, horrendous battles,
frightening predictions.

So when it showed up in the lectionary for this Eastertide season,
and when Pastor Jon chose to use those texts
for the preaching series,
I will admit to a few moments of freak-out.
“Oh, no!” I thought. “Not THAT.”

I’m talking about the book of REVELATION,
that frequently misinterpreted, over-analyzed, deeply profound
collection of visions from John, the teacher, as his life neared its end.
To tell you the truth, I was dreading it a little.

Little did I know.

This has been a dynamite series, rich with meaning and encouragement.
Our Director of Worship Arts took up Jon’s challenge to write a song
for each week in the series;
our chancel artists have outdone themselves with altar pieces,
and Jon (and Anna, our intern this year)
have preached the word with power.

From Revelation.

Each week’s text has been centered around a worship scene in heaven,
worship — the true theme of this book.
The magnificent songs that fill these passages are
ones that have been written and re-written over the centuries,
enriching worship services from Orthodox to Pentecostal,
and most certainly enlivening our worship, week by week this Eastertide.

This week’s text was particularly powerful — please read it below the picture.

 “When he opened the seventh seal,
there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
And I saw the seven angels who stand before God,
and seven trumpets were given to them.
Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar.
He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people,
on the golden altar before the throne.
The smoke of the incense,
together with the prayers of God’s people, 
went up before God from the angel’s hand.
Then the angel took the censer,
filled it with fire from the altar,
and hurled it on the earth;
and there came peals of thunder, rumblings,
flashes of lightning and an earthquake.” — Revelation 8:1-5

Did you catch that?
“There was silence in heaven. . .
for about half an hour.”

Silence. In heaven.

And what is that makes all the noise in heaven come to a halt?

The prayers of God’s people are being offered on the altar.
The prayers of God’s people.

Rising like incense, heaven is silenced as the people of God
offer their prayers, their words of thanks and praise,
their, ‘Help, ‘Thanks’, ‘Wow,’ as Anne Lamott has put it recently.


 This is a picture I want to keep in my mind’s eye, day in and day out.
This is a vision that is important for us to grab,
to savor,
to hang onto
when it feels like all the silence
is on THIS end of the prayer equation.

The big take-away from this picture is this:



All of heaven quiets for our cries.

And then, after the hearing:

those words, those sighs, those groans,
are thrown right back down onto the earth.
Do you see what happens?

“. . . and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, 
flashes of lightning and an earthquake.”

As John enters into this vision, he actually sees our prayers —
ascending like incense, and then descending with power.

There are dangerous things going on when we pray, my friends.
Dangerous, wondrous, life-changing things.
The ways of the world are upset, the dynamic,
ever-fluid partnership that God Almighty has established with
the people of God is alive and well and making a difference.


So why, then, do we spend so little time in prayer?
Why do we more often choose to spin our wheels,
to worry,
to busy ourselves
with whatever we think it
is God ‘needs’ us to do
in order to change this world of ours?

Why is prayer so often a last-order resort
rather than our first thought?
Do we feel like we’re taking an illegal escape route of some sort?
Do we think there’s something magical about it all?
Are we afraid to take the risk of believing
that the God of the Universe
invites us into the work of creation,
the plan of salvation,
the transformational work of redemption?

Or maybe we worry too much about being ‘nice,’ and polite,
politically correct and proper when we pray.
Maybe we need to remember the psalms of lament,
the cries of dereliction,
the heartfelt pleas of those who suffer
that are woven throughout scripture.
Maybe we need to shout down heaven’s doors when despair hits us hard.
Maybe we need to keep on pounding and pounding on the gate,
like the widow who refuses to stop pleading her case.

Maybe we don’t believe that prayer makes any difference at all.

Ah. But it does. It does.

Not always the difference we hope for,
maybe not even very often the difference we hope for.
But maybe, just maybe,
that’s not the point.

Maybe the point is that prayer is the greatest school of all,
prayer is how we learn and grow and understand.
Prayer is the cauldron in which the work of the Spirit gets done in us,
and then through us, in the worlds we inhabit, day after day after day.
Maybe the prayers that we offer to God are then flung back into our very souls
as fire and lightning and earthquake . . .
changing us from the inside out.

Maybe prayer is where the truest transformation takes place.

And maybe, just maybe,
the deepest experience of prayer begins to happen,
when we, too, learn to be silent.
To stop.
To pay attention.
To offer just one word, or two,
to sit in the presence of God,
in the anteroom of heaven itself,
and become prayer.

Our very selves, offered on the altar, and then flung back to earth,
slivers of shimmering reflected glory,
living out that deepest, wildest, most profound prayer of them all:



Joining with Jennifer and Emily and Ann tonight.