Pentecost — One Week Late!

DSC04430As I noted in today’s newsletter (you can subscribe below), this is a crazy-making time in our lives. We’ve got a major move underway and a big family vacation right in the middle of it all. And I’m still (at least, partially) in recovery mode from several weird medical experiences of the past few months. So this post is about a week later than I had hoped it might be.

Through it all, we keep on truckin,’ by the grace of God and a whole lotta stubborn determination. One week ago we traveled south to be present for our middle daughter’s oldest son’s confirmation. Wesley is 17, just finished his junior year in high school and is contemplating college, right around the corner. How in the heck did that happen? Wasn’t he just a tiny kid who looked almost exactly like his mama?

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While we were there, we managed to sneak in basketball games for each of Wesley’s two younger brothers and I had the shopping joy of browsing a JC Penney, a store which my town hasn’t had for years. They have definitely upgraded their women’s clothing section!!

But the true highlight of the weekend was that Confirmation Service. We always love worshipping at Knox Presbyterian in Pasadena CA, and are regularly inspired by their creative worship and solid preaching. It’s been a good home for our kids and that makes this particular set of parents and grandparents very partial and very grateful.

It was Pentecost Sunday — a great day for welcoming young adults into full membership of the church. Two of the five kids were also baptized — a wondrous splashing of water from a beautiful wooden font.

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But the standout surprise moment for us happened during the children’s sermon. Pastor Matt invited the confirmands and about 3 of the littler kids to take hold of round, disc like objects which he had stashed up front. They were in shades of red, orange and yellow and as the kids began to handle them, I could see that they were circles of crepe paper streamers.

And here’s what we did with them. The kids tossed them out as far as they could, then the congregants picked them up and tossed them behind themselves until the back pew was reached. Then the back row tossed them toward the front until all the rolls were completely unspooled. It looked fabulous!

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Then we were instructed to raise those streamers above our heads and stomp our feet as fast as we could. “And that,” said Pastor Matt, “is just a small picture of what it must have been like when the Spirit showed up at Pentecost.” Wind and fire. Oh, YEAH!

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It was the perfect set-up for the kids’ vows and the gentle reading of a piece of their own personal credos, each one reading a portion that wove together into a modern version — a confirmation student version! — of the Apostle’s Creed. 

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At the end of the service, some helpful ‘stage hands’ moved forward a large white easel and a table spread with colored (washable) paints. And during the singing of the last hymn, we were invited to come forward, dip our thumbs into red, orange or yellow paint and make a mark on the sketched-in flames drawn on the easel.

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Everyone was involved, a bodily experience of community that I found profoundly moving.

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It’s not the most gorgeous piece of art you’ll ever see, but it is a lovely representation of this particular fellowship of believers and their commitment to be in this thing together.

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In the quiet space after the service, I snapped a photo of the finished flames, set against the draped cross. And I thanked God for this motley, crazy thing called ‘the church.’ We are far from perfect, but sometimes . . . sometimes, we get it right.

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Joining this with Jennifer, Lisha, Laura.

A Sacramental Life – A Deeper Story

This is a story that I’ve told pieces of before, but I’ve never told it at A Deeper Story. It’s my turn over there today, so please follow the links to finish reading this post . . .

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His name was Thomps. Tall, lean, always smiling, Warren Thompson was the kind of man who made you think of Jesus every time you looked at him. I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone quite like him — and somehow, that makes me very sad. Seems to me there should be oodles of people like Thompsie. Seems to me that all of us who claim the title Christ-follower should look a whole lot more like Thomps than most of us do.

He came to faith in his 20s, soon after leaving the navy and settling into married life with his life partner, Nancy, in the foothills of Pasadena, California. I don’t know much about his earliest days of faith because I didn’t meet Thomps until he was in his mid 50s.

He wasn’t a flashy guy. Far from it. He was almost shy, somewhat diffident, willing to stay in the background — emphasis on the word stay. That was the thing about this man — he stayed. He came to the mid-sized church we attended long before we did and very quickly offered his services as a volunteer with the youth. By then, he had a couple of little kids, a full time job and a heart that throbbed with an overflowing love for young adults.

So Thomps began to hang out with the teens. He showed up on Sunday mornings, he showed up on Wednesday evenings, he showed up on outings, he showed up at camp. Wherever they were, Thomps was there, too. He was willing to be the stooge, the guy in the skit who got shaving cream smeared on his face, the one who just loved seeing kids laughing and having fun.

More than their laughter, though, he loved their hearts, especially those belonging to young men. Every male student who came to youth group got taken out to breakfast. He’d drive all over town, picking kids up early in the morning, taking them — one or two at a time — to a local coffee shop. Together, they’d down pancakes and orange juice, and Thomps would ask them about themselves. “How’s school?” he’d say. Or, “How’s your prayer life?” he’d query. And always, he’d ask, “How can I help?”

And help he did. He went to sporting events, he listened to debates, he encouraged good study habits, he offered suggestions for devotional guides.

And he prayed. Oh, how he prayed.

 Please join me at A Deeper Story and tell me about a Thomps in your life . . .

When It Rains . . .

So . . . remember that post I wrote last week? The one about Love and Fear? Yeah, that one.

About three days after it went live, I apparently had a kind of panic attack, the night before I was to visit the surgeon to learn if I’d be on schedule for this healing process or have to add more weeks on the dang scooter.

That was NOT fun. And it set off a bout of esophageal problems that I’ve run into once or twice before — days of heartburn, back and chest pain, inability to eat much at all. Last time this happened, it took the better part of a month to resolve.

The great news I got at the surgeon’s office (begin partial weight-bearing and physical therapy now, two weeks ahead of schedule) was quickly offset by feeling absolutely lousy and remarkably frightened about it all.

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So much for ‘love casting out fear,’ right? It seems this is a lesson I never quite learn. And it’s not going to get any better as I continue to age, of that I am quite certain. As we get older, a lot of our youthful defenses can’t quite pull off what they once could, and different kinds of intervention sometimes become necessary. 

My kind and patient husband and I went through one long day of medical testing to confirm my own diagnosis of this condition and my gastro doc ‘just happened’ to be in the lobby when I was near his section of our clinic. He promptly did a complete endoscopy.

The confirmation came when he sprayed an absolutely vile tasting numbing agent into the back of my throat and for the 60-90 minutes that stuff numbed me up, I was symptom free. He did find a few small things going on in that department, but apart from the very likely possibility of a spasm in that long tube between throat and tummy, there is no clear reason for this siege.

Except.

Stress brought on by worry.

Man, that’s hard for me to put into writing. So, he prescribed some stomach-soothing liquid medication, and a new variety of prescription GERD treatment.

And also? Ativan, to be taken whenever I feel that panic rising.

Somehow, that feels like a huge personal failure to me. Yet another of the many painful lessons I’m learning as we walk through this L O N G period of recovery and rehab. Deep breathing and the Jesus prayer are not always going to cover it all. They’re just not. 

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Despite my ill health, my disappointment in myself, and my overall fatigue with ALL of this, I wanted to go to church. It was Communion Sunday and Pastor Don was into 1 John 5. Oh, how I needed to worship, to sing, to pray, to hear the Word. And to sit with God’s people.
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I was reminded — again! — that we don’t do this journey alone, we belong to one another. That’s the way God designed and intended the Christian journey to flourish. We gather together, in the same space, and we remember that we cannot do this discipleship thing without the company of others.

And when you’ve been sitting on your butt for 7+ weeks, these moments of community gathering are essential, believe me when I tell you this. The service was lovely, filled with grace and good humor, lovely music, a well-preached word. And the Table.

Oh, the Table. The remembering and the re-membering and the visual picture of the body of Christ streaming forward to share in the Body of Christ. Yes, yes! I needed this.

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This is the great, old palm tree that stands tall in my backyard. I love it. And when I manage to scooter my way to the chaise lounge that faces it, I sit and stare for a while. And I marvel.

Birds by the dozens flit in and out of it’s immensity. All kinds of birds, from tiny sparrows to red-headed woodpeckers to noisy black crows. And there’s room there, room for every one of them. A safe space to build a nest, to nurture the hatchlings, and to rest, away from the dangers of coyote and bobcat, of riding mower and leaf blower.

I am deeply blessed to be able to say that church has always been such a place for me. Worship is a safe place, a nurturing place. A restful place. I’m so grateful that this is true in my life and that, despite the frustrations and limitations of these weeks, I am still able to be there.

It’s a humbling thing to have to acknowledge that even after many years of following Jesus, and many experiences of grace made real, I still do battle with fear and worry. I am asking for grace, most especially for myself just now. And for gracious acceptance of the limits within which I must live the rest of my life. The physical ones are difficult enough. But the emotional and spiritual ones? Those are proving to be the biggies, the ones that need daily relinquishment.

As always, I’m standin’ in the need of prayer.  

Doubters Welcome Here

DSC01761 They call this week “Low Sunday.” It’s the Sunday after the biggest feast in the Christian year, and every associate pastor in the world knows about it. This is a Sunday when associates are often asked to take the pulpit, providing an opportunity for the lead pastor to take a breather after the heavy push of Lent and Easter. And our fine associate stepped right up today.*

On the Orthodox calendar, this Sunday — which comes 8 days after Easter — is also known as the Sunday of St. Thomas, and the usual passage in their lectionary is the very one we used today. We have devised our own lectionary for this past school year, working through the gospel of John, and we are almost to the end. Serendipitously, Pastor Jon worked through these six verses from the end of chapter 20 in this morning’s meditation.

Here are John’s words, in The Message:

But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.

The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.” But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”

Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.”

Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”

Thomas said, “My Master! My God!”

Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”

Anyone who’s ever been to church knows this passage, right? That infamous stretch of scripture which has given rise to the descriptor, ‘doubting Thomas?’  How about ‘doubting Diana?’ Or ‘doubting _______ (fill in your own name?’ Because we all struggle with doubt, don’t we?

There are days when I not only don’t know what to believe, but I don’t know IF I believe much of anything at all. And almost everyone I’ve ever walked with on this following-after-Jesus-journey will admit to similar periods of wrestling, of questioning.

Madeleine L’Engle used to call it viral atheism, like a bout of illness. 

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Barbara Brown Taylor’s most recent book, ‘Learning to Walk in the Dark,’ speaks of her wrestling and wondering, of her deep desire to re-define the whole idea of darkness. She asserts that the darkness fairly shimmers with the presence of God Almighty, reminding me that God inhabited the darkness in the opening words of Genesis 1, long before any of the glorious universe we live in was even created.

Yes, there are good things to be discovered in the dark. And maybe, just maybe, doubt is the doorway to some of those good things.

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Today, Pastor Jon also referenced Mother Theresa’s writings, writings culled from her personal journals, writings in which she, too, talked about doubt and an often overwhelming sense of God’s absence.

Interesting, isn’t it? My own devotional reading, conversations I’ve had with a wide variety of people — both IRL and online, and the sermon this morning were all connected, touching on the same basic topic, and providing a week of deep personal encouragement for me.

Why? Because I’m beginning to think that I may be in very good company indeed when I admit to doubt. And now, I find myself wondering what there is to be learned from this particular season of walking in the dark.

Thomas is a fine teacher, that’s for sure. He’s a toucher, is Thomas. A believer in the flesh, the in-your-face presence of another to confirm what his mind struggles to hang onto. He wants to put those hands on the scars of his Savior. He needs to see with his eyes, and touch with his fingers.

The hard part is that Thomas had to wait a while for his Resurrection experience, didn’t he? His friends celebrated right away — they heard and they saw and they touched. But Thomas was absent on that first remarkable day, for some reason, missing in action.

And hearsay was not going to cut it for this man. No way, no how.

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When they gathered again, on that eighth day, Thomas made sure that he was there. And when Jesus appeared — in that mysterious, other-worldly way of his — he turned those laser-like eyes directly in Thomas’s direction.

Read that paragraph in the gospel reading one more time.

Do you hear any word of critique in Jesus’s invitation to Thomas? I don’t. He looks right at him and invites him to come and touch, to come and see for himself.

Caravaggio’s depiction of this scene was on our screens this morning. Look at this painting. Do you see how dramatic this encounter must have been? Look at how the hand of Jesus grips the wrist of Thomas so firmly, directing his fingers straight into that scarred chest.

No wonder Thomas cries out, “My Lord and my God!” Here is the proof he longed for, the touch he needed.

And then Jesus says something rather amazing. Amazing because I believe that Jesus was speaking those next words directly to me. And to you. And to any disciple who did not have the gift and the privilege of touching the resurrected body of the Lord:

“Blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”

I cannot touch that wound in the side of Jesus, nor the nail marks in his wrists. But there are other wounds in this body of his, aren’t there?  

So, I wonder where are the scars that need touching today? Because I believe that invitation given to Thomas is wide open for me, right here, right now. “Diana — are you wondering? Are you struggling? Then, come. Touch my side. Touch my hands.”

Here is where I am finding the wounds of the Savior these days: 

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This is the invitation for me right now. She is old. She is frail. She is blind and deaf and increasingly dumb, as words are harder and harder to find. So the touching of the wounds in this place is a primary point of ministry and of obedience these days; not one I chose, but one that is right in front of me, nonetheless. 

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She loves the ocean and she loves to take drives and she enjoys eating pizza once in a while. So today, in the middle of this current bout with doubt, with all this wondering and wrestling, I find myself  looking for the wounds and trying my best to tend them a little.

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We wrestle the walker into and out of the car and we sit across from one another at California Pizza Kitchen. And slowly, with lots of waiting in between, I hear pieces of her heart. I hear the words of old gospel songs. And I hear the phrases that she latches onto with all her might, phrases to keep her going during this terrible time of confusion and loss:

“The Lord’s been good.”

“We’ll just keep praying and believing.”

“Life is like a mountain railway . . . blessed Savior there to guide us.” 

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And so I am refreshed.

I am reminded that Jesus welcomed Thomas, doubts and all.

And Jesus welcomes me, too. 

You can read the full text of Pastor Jon Lemmond’s excellent sermon here.

Joining with Michelle, Jen, Jennifer & Laura this week:

And the Light Went Out . . .

I dressed in black,
ate my dinner earlier than usual
and drove one canyon over to rehearse.

DSC01442The sanctuary was filled
with evening light when I walked in,
heightening the lavenders and blues,
those deeply colored pieces
that fit inside the clerestory windows.
DSC01437 Musicians and readers met in the balcony,
our home as the sun made its way down,
down behind the hills and the sea.
No paper trail this night,
only the dark light of the screens
to guide us from scripture to painting, to silence.
Then to poem, to song,
to the loss of
one more layer of light. DSC01438 There is a sober feel to this night,
a quietness that invades our spirits

and guides our tongues.
Nothing is wasted.
No breath, no sigh, no syllable.
DSC01439 It is crowded and cramped where we sit,
bound by chair legs and mic stands,
script pages and surreptitious, hooded lamps.
DSC01440 The chandeliers,
hand-pounded
by an artist-blacksmith
in the valley,
remind me of crowns tonight.
Crowns fit for a king —
or one falsely accused. DSC01443 We begin with full brightness,
streaming in through the windows,

and shining out
from every light
in the house.  DSC01444 From my perch,
high above the worshippers,
I watch the space darken,
and feel the weight of it
settle into my bones.
My foot is aching this night,
tired from too much joyful standing,
baking and decorating,
standing beside my tall grandgirl,
who loves to try new things.
DSC01445And I’m glad that it hurts.
Not in a strange or masochistic way,

no. Rather, I am grateful to identify,
even in a small way, with
the pain of this day.
With the darkness,
the good and necessary darkness.
The darkness which brought us 
everlasting light;
the darkness in which the Good
was splayed out before us all,
absorbing our fallenness,
our brokenness,
our sinfulness,
our shame. IMG_4098 I am reading poetry tonight,
my partner a retired English prof

from a nearby college,
a wise and kind man,
who answers my queries
about
meaning and inflection,
about rhythm and pace.
DSC01446We hear the story,
the old story,
the true story.
We look at etchings,
beautiful, old etchings.
And we sing.
Sweetly, reverently, we sing. 
IMG_4097Seven times, a candle is snuffed out.
Seven words from John.
Seven songs are sung.

But only six poems.

For, in the end,
at the end,
there are no words.

Only the blessed darkness.

And then,
the Christ candle begins to move,

lifted high, cradled,
down the steps,

into the night.

And this time,
this time as I watch it go by
into the darkest space of all,
the one directly below my chair,

I weep.

This is a space where I cannot  be,
where I cannot see

the gleaming of His light.

And it hits me,
as if for the first time,
that this light went out.

The Light of the world willingly
went out,

was laid deep in the earth,
and did not shine.

How did any of us survive that darkness?

And yet . . . that very darkness
birthed
RESURRECTION.

Perhaps, I need to rethink
the meaning of the word,
the reality,
the gift
of darkness.

My deep thanks to Jon Lemmond for his wonderful script, to him and to Don Johnson for their masterful reading of the scripture, to Bob Gross, Jon Martin and Janet Spencer for such lovely musical leadership, to Tanner Gross for managing powerpoint and light level, and to my reading partner, John Sider. And special thanks for and to the poets – Richard Crashaw, John Byrom, Gerald Manley Hopkins, George Herbert, Christina Rosetti and Tania Runyon whose words graced this event with power, and with invitation.

Are We Missing the Boat?

The title of the post comes from this idea in the historic church:
“The image of Christ and his disciples in a boat is traditionally used
for the symbol of Christ and His Church.
In Latin the word “navis” means ship from which derives the word for the Nave of the Church.”

DSC01342We flipped things around in worship last Sunday.

Communion came first, sermon came last.

For me, that change turned out to be a powerful,
thought-provoking exclamation point to a lot of things
that have been churning around inside me
for the past couple of weeks.

We passed the trays on Sunday.
Not my favorite way to participate in this sacrament,
but the instructions included something new,
something that made this time-honored,
possibly-more-convenient,
definitely-less-messy way of celebrating the Lord’s Supper
a little bit more palatable for me.

We were invited to say the words to one another.

This is not something we normally do,
so right out of the chute, we were experiencing
a little cognitive dissonance,
a gentle stirring of the usually placid waters
that mark our times of community gathering:

We went to the table first, instead of last.
And each one of us was asked to say,
“The body of Christ,”
“The Blood of Christ,”
to our neighbor.

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Coming out of the last two weeks on the Christian internet,
those two small changes spoke volumes into my soul.

Why?

Because way too many of us have lost sight of the big picture,
the glorious, beautiful, flawed but remarkable
Big Picture.
And this is it —
WE BELONG TO ONE ANOTHER.
Every one of us who calls upon the name of Jesus,
who chooses to follow in the footsteps of that
strange and wonderful rabbi,
is part of ONE family.
ONE.

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We may not agree on every point of doctrine,
we may enjoy differing worship styles,
we may live in wildly divergent cultures,
with very different standards of living,
lifestyle choices,
abilities and disabilities,
preferences and political parties and points of view.

But we are ONE.
The Body of Christ.
The church. 

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And when we begin sniping at each other,
undercutting, criticizing, taking sides, name-calling
for any reason —
any reason —
then we have missed the boat,
refused to see the Big Picture,
and engaged in thinking, talking and doing
the very things that Jesus himself prayed we would not.

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Our text, both Sunday morning and Sunday evening at our monthly Taize Service,
was taken from the 17th chapter of John’s gospel, verses 20-26:

 “My prayer is not for them alone.
I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,
that all of them may be one,
Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.
May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
I have given them the glory that you gave me,
that they may be one as we are one–
I in them and you in me–
so that they may be brought to complete unity.
Then the world will know that you sent me
and have loved them even as you have loved me.
“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am,
and to see my glory, the glory you have given me
because you loved me before the creation of the world.
“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you,
I know you, and they know that you have sent me.
I have made you known to them,and will continue to make you known
in order that the love you have for me may be in them 
and that I myself may be in them.”

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Jesus was praying for us that night,
all of us.
Our pastor reminded us that the opening verses of this chapter

contain Jesus’ prayer for his circle of friends, 
those whom he had called to be with him,
walking those roads,
seeing those miracles,
hearing that voice.
But in this last segment of the prayer,
he prays for ALL of us — ‘those who will believe. . .’
And dear friends in Jesus,

that means
EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US.

There are lots of people writing on the internet,
serving Jesus in a variety of capacities,
offering hope and healing through a long list
of charitable and church-based organizations.
Many of those friends would not see eye-to-eye
with me on a long list of topics.
But on this one thing,
this one central thing,
we are ONE:

Jesus is LORD and JESUS is the hope of the world.

And each one who hangs their life on that sentence
is a ‘relative’ of mine
and of yours.

It’s not easy, sometimes it’s not even pretty.
But it is TRUE.

And here’s what else is true — the way we are one,
now hear this, please —
THE WAY WE ARE ONE
IS HOW THE 

MESSAGE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD
IS CONVEYED TO THE WORLD.

Did you catch that in the beautiful prayer-words of our Savior?
The way in which our unity reflects the unity of the Trinity
is exactly the way in which the love and grace of God Almighty,
Father, Son and Spirit,
is transmitted most effectively into the world
that does not yet know about it.

“Then,” Jesus says,
“Then the world will know
that you sent me.”

Can it be any clearer than that?

DSC01348 I can think of no more powerful symbol of this unity 
than sharing bread and cup at the Table of the Lord.

And that is why our Sunday experience spoke so strongly
right into my troubled and tired heart.

WE ACTED IT OUT, you see.

We acted it out even before we heard the word preached,
before we passed the plate,
before we read the scripture or prayed our community prayer.

And somehow, acting it out helps me to catch a glimpse of
The Big Picture a little bit more clearly.
It helps me to catch, rather than miss, the BOAT.

It reminds me of how vitally important it is for us to 
love one another as God has loved us.
When my muscles move,
and my mouth speaks,
when I receive table gifts from the hand of another,
when I speak words of life to yet another,

“I REMEMBER.
AND WE ARE RE-MEMBERED.*”

And I know once again, that

WE BELONG TO ONE ANOTHER.

*My thanks to a long-ago story from Madeleine L’Engle for these lines.

Joining this one with Michelle, Laura, Jennifer, Jen.

 


What’s In a Name?

It’s been quiet around here of late. I’ve written around the blogosphere at several different places in the last few weeks, but not terribly often here, in my space, just writing for me, and whoever might stop by to see whatever words I’ve gathered.

We had a quiet weekend, celebrating Dick’s birthday in several small gatherings. On his actual day, just he and I went out for lunch and to a matinee. On Saturday, our son and his family surprised us with a drop-in, take-out dinner from our favorite local Mexican hang-out. And on Sunday, after church, we met our eldest daughter and her husband and youngest son at BJ’s in Ventura. We love s t r e t c h i n g birthdays out as long as we can — and three days was just about right.

My guy was hungry for ribs, and BJs never disappoints. And to finish things off very well indeed, he was served his own individual Pazookie, complete with candle! Do you know what a Pazookie is? Just one of the divinest desserts ever invented, that’s what. A freshly baked cookie (several choices – he picked peanut butter), fresh from the oven, topped with a scoop of Haagen Daaz vanilla. Heaven in a small aluminum pan, that’s what.

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The drive south took us past this lovely spot, looking down on Summerland Beach. The day was breezy and the water a little bit wild — always fun to see. And somehow, the celebratory mood of day and meal and family seemed fitting and right after a profoundly moving worship experience earlier in the day.

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This was our fabulous worship band-of-the-week jamming after the service was over. Our Director of Worship Arts, Bob Gross, planned a perfect combination of songs for the theme of the day, including a masterful arrangement (his own) of,  “Lord, I’m Amazed by You” with The Doxology. The entire opening sequence brought me to tears more than once — filled as it was with what we do best: contemporary and traditional music, both poured through the inventive mind of Mr. Gross. We sang that old favorite, “Holy, Holy, Holy” this way – verse 1, totally a cappella (and we can SING the harmony in our community!), verse 2, full band with quiet percussion, verse 3, up a key, adding the most moving slow roar of the drums I’ve ever experienced, and verse 4, straight ahead and gorgeous. Oh, my.

DSC01241As always, the music, the prayer, the readings from Old Testament and New coordinated well with the preaching text of the morning, which this week was taken from the last eleven verses of John 16.

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God spoke powerfully through Pastor Jon about what it means when we pray in the name of Jesus. Here are a few highlights from that passage:

“My Father will give you whatever you ask in my name . . . I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God . . .  A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me . . . I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

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These few verses contain some mighty huge ideas, ones that linger and permeate. Ideas like these:

The name of Jesus is strong, redemptive, life-changing. It is not magical.

There will be suffering in this life — which should come as a surprise to precisely no one. But because of Jesus, because we are given the inestimable gift of praying in his name, we are never alone, no matter what. 

Praying is not about words alone. In fact it is more often about silence . . . or it is experienced in action. We pray in Jesus’ name whenever we offer comfort/aid/solace/provision for another.

We pray with our bodies, not just in them. WE are the continuation of the Incarnation as we allow the Spirit of our Lord to work through us, as we live out what it means to be the Body of Christ. 

Praying in the name of Jesus touches on one of the foundational truths of the Christian faith — we serve a Triune God, Father, Son, Spirit — One in Three, Three in One. 

We do not ask Jesus to pray for us, so as to somehow buffer the space between us and God the Father. Too much of the church has painted a picture of a scary God, one that Jesus saves us from, a God that cannot be approached by the likes of us. But Jesus says clearly and beautifully, “. . . I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you  . . . “

“Take heart,” Jesus says. Immediately after predicting that all his friends will desert him in his hour of need, that they themselves will have their share of trouble. “Take heart,”  he says. TAKE HEART?  Yes. And not only that, but because of that name, that powerful name, they — and we — will have peace, the kind of peace that makes room for this truth: the One in whose name we pray has overcome the world.

I carried these pieces of grace with me as we drove down the coast, as we laughed and ate a good lunch with our daughter’s family, as we came back home and prepared for the week ahead. Turns out there’s a lot, a LOT, in a Name. I am grateful

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A Prayer for Christmas Eve

When I retired from pastoral ministry three years ago, I assembled a small booklet of prayers I had used in worship over the previous few years, a gift of thanks to the people God called me to serve. This is a prayer from 2008, which I have edited and shifted a bit, in answer to Faith Barista Bonnie’s invitation this week to choose a character in The Story that we relate to. Several of the characters are noted in this prayer, and with less than a week to go before Christmas, I’m not sure exactly which one is closest to where I am tonight.

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It’s Christmas Eve again, Lord, and here we are.

Gathered in out of the rain, our Christmas finery on,
our spirits eager – or weary
            our ears and our hearts open – or not;
            our families nearby,
            our dinners either digesting or awaiting us soon.
We’re here.

And for some of us, Lord, that’s just about all we can manage.

We’re just barely able to stand with those shepherds,
            tired and cold from their nighttime duties,
            confused about the strange singing in the skies above,
            wondering about that tiny newborn in the corner.
“So,” we wonder with them, “what’s the big deal with this little one?

Some of us come, willing only to stand at the edges, perhaps somewhere near those wise ones from the east. Because we’re searching tonight, Holy Friend, we’re searching for truth, for insight, for strange portents in the sky that will give us the answer to the mysteries of the ages. 

“Could this be the one?” we wonder with the oriental kings.
“Could this be the answer we’ve been searching for?”

And thankfully, God, there are some of us in this lovely room tonight who are a lot like Joseph.
            Steady and stalwart, well-versed in the traditions of our tribe,
            yet open to something new that God might be doing.
            We struggle to be obedient to what we think God is saying,
            to be sensitive to what we think God is doing.

But…it’s been a long, hard journey getting here,
            and, to tell you the truth – we’re tired,
            through and through.

“Here he is, at last,” we say to ourselves.
But we wonder…”What’s coming next?”

And, Gracious God, there are even some of us here tonight
            who might choose to align ourselves with Mary.
            We’ve just come through a tough task, but we did it!
            The baby is safely birthed, your promises have been fulfilled,
            something remarkable is just beginning and we can feel it,
            we can see it, shining in the unformed future ahead of us.

And mysterious as it seems to be now, we know, because of the grace we have already experienced in our lives, it is all going to be good news.

All of it.

And so, we gather tonight – like that amazing cast of characters
            gathering in this beautiful story
            we repeat every Christmas Eve.

The story that is at the center of who we are,
            the story that speaks to us of Love Unspeakable,
            the story that sings to us of Joy Unsingable;
            the story that tells us.

For all of us are welcome here.

That is the glorious truth we praise you for tonight.

All of us — weary shepherds,
                    searching wise ones,
                    faithful yet fearful fathers,
                    loving yet wondering mothers –
all of us are welcome here.

For that little one in the corner over there, that wee newborn,
            that tiny, weak and helpless One,
            is the same One who blew the breath of life into
            each and every one of us.

“How can this be?” we wonder.  “How can this be?”

And then, we hear again your words of love and promise and power:
            “Behold, a virgin shall conceive…”
            “He shall be called Immanuel, God with us…”
            “For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son…”         

And we sigh with relief, we sing with gusto, we remember with joy.

This is Christmas Eve – and we’re here!

Thank you for the story that calls us to this place.
Thank you for the Truth that sleeps in the manger.
Thank you for the chance to begin again at the beginning –

In the name of our remarkable and gentle Savior we pray together tonight. 

Amen.

 Joining this with Bonnie, very late on Thursday night:

An Advent Journey, 2013: Looking for the Light – Day Ten

 

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I am fully convinced, my dear brothers and sisters, that you are full of goodness. You know these things so well you can teach each other all about them. Even so, I have been bold enough to write about some of these points, knowing that all you need is this reminder. For by God’s grace, I am a special messenger from Christ Jesus to you Gentiles. I bring you the Good News so that I might present you as an acceptable offering to God, made holy by the Holy Spirit. So I have reason to be enthusiastic about all Christ Jesus has done through me in my service to God. Yet I dare not boast about anything except what Christ has done through me, bringing the Gentiles to God by my message and by the way I worked among them. They were convinced by the power of miraculous signs and wonders and by the power of God’s Spirit. In this way, I have fully presented the Good News of Christ from Jerusalem all the way to Illyricum.

My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else. I have been following the plan spoken of in the Scriptures, where it says,

“Those who have never been told about him will see,
and those who have never heard of him will understand.”

Romans 15:14-21 -NLT

“A special messenger to the Gentiles. . . ” It is the apostle Paul who picks up the thread woven into the fabric of the Incarnation by those wise men from the east, who came seeking a new king. I suppose this story is really more of an Epiphany tale than an Advent one, but here we are with this passage on the 10th day of our Advent journey.

Perhaps those who laid out this list of readings wanted to be sure this small, golden thread was right up front, where it would be noticed. Because, you see, we are the recipients of this particular gift of grace. We are the ones who walk in the shadow of those ancient seekers from the east; we are the ones who follow along with Paul as he rounds the Mediterranean Sea, leaving depositories of gospel grace everywhere he goes.

It’s a thread worth noting, an essential slice of the light we are seeking as we turn round one more bend in the road, journeying toward Christmas Day. We, too, are part of this story.

We, too, are marked by the Spirit as ones who are ‘full of goodness,’ simply because we know Jesus.

Humble Savior, will you help us to know you better as we travel this road? Shine your light on us, lead us into truth, help us to see your goodness shining out of our lives, even in the midst of the holiday crazy.

* As an added Advent bonus, I heartily recommend you click on this link and meander over to SheLoves fine post on Random Acts of Advent Kindness. I’m going to try and do this as often as possible and I encourage you all to check it out for yourselves.

Full to Overflowing . . .

Jesus is an interesting dude.
Full of surprises, un-pin-down-able, a fascinating amalgam of
human and divine, comforter and cattle prod.

Take the leap-off-the-bridge-into-the-chasm story in John 2, for instance.
In this narrative, Jesus is standing on a precipice.
Oh, it doesn’t look like much of a leap — he’s at a party, not a smack-down.
A wedding party, one of those 7-day deals in the ancient Middle East,
where everyone hangs around, eats and drinks and talks
and then eats and drinks a little more.

He’s just called his first five disciples, and is growing ever more surely into
his own sense of himself and his destiny. Jesus is getting ready to inaugurate
what he will soon call the Kingdom of God.
But other than some heartfelt conversations with his new followers,
he hasn’t done anything yet.

I’ve always found it fascinating that in John’s gospel, Jesus’ ‘coming-out’ party happens in
a small, country town at what was most likely a family gathering. 
I mean Luke has him in a synagogue, at least. And Matthew has him up on a hill, doling out powerful teaching by
the bushel basketful. Mark, who’s always in a hurry, leaps right into exorcism
and multiple healings.
But John?
In a backwater town, at a party.
And one where his mother is scurrying around, trying to make sure the tables are full,
the guests are happy, the details are being covered.

We’re moving slowly through the gospel of John at church this year, creating our own lectionary, reveling in the meatiness of this last-written of the stories of Jesus.
And the pastoral staff has called for ideas — literary, artistic, reflective —
to help us consider the story of Jesus as John presents it to us.
Yesterday, one of the resident poets  in our midst read this wonderful
reflection on the opening verses of this story: 

Mysterious Ways

    “They have no wine,” his mother said to him.
       He rolled his eyes.  “Not now,” he whispered.  “Mom,
       please.”  She didn’t care about his secrets.
       Why bear the Son of God if all he does
       is keep it to himself?  Here was a time
       to make the promise good—and please the neighbors.
       “Forget it.  Absolutely not.  You don’t
       have any idea what you’re asking me.
       Woman, no.”  And he rebuked her with
       a godlike gaze.  But mildly she turned
       and told the servants, “What he tells you, do.”
              – Professor Paul Willis (originally published in The Christian Century,
                      reprinted here by kind permission of 
the author) 

 You have no idea how validating it was for me to hear that poem!
I have an interesting relationship with my own son,
one that involves eye-rolling from time to time,
and whenever I read this small gem of a story,
I, too, see the eyes roll and hear the sighs heave.
But what I really love here? That off-handed comment to the servants.
Complete confidence that eventually this son would come around
to his mother’s way of thinking.

And so, with a series of simple imperatives — fill, take, bring —
Jesus steps out into the New World, the one where scarcity is no longer the norm,
where abundance surges forth from the most surprising places.
Water into wine, and not just any old wine, either.
The finest wine of the entire week of feasting,
the best stuff showing up at the last minute.

And then, like a seamstress picking up a sparkling piece of golden thread, John weaves this story together with the overarching theme of the entire book: GLORY. 
“What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.” (verse 11)

Overflowing wine, delicious wine, the BEST wine — 
yet only the servants and the disciples know its source.
Doesn’t sound all that glorious, you know?
The crowds are not pressing in with words of acclaim,
the sky has not opened, the lame do not walk, the lepers are not cleansed.
But John tells us that GLORY happens here,
in the side patio of a sleepy town, where a party is winding down.
GLORY.

Most of the time, I live a pretty ‘small’ life.
I stay home a lot, I entertain and/or visit with family, I write notes on Facebook.
I like my smaller world these days, yet I don’t often think of anything I do
as somehow a reflection of GLORY.
But I’m rethinking that this morning.
I’m wondering if maybe we sell ourselves short,
or more importantly, if we sell God short.
Maybe it’s part of the scarcity mindset, the fear that we don’t have enough,
that we aren’t enough.
Wherever it comes from, I find myself praying today that I can
move away from scarcity thinking to reflecting on, remembering, celebrating,
and even reveling in the abundance that is mine.

Because the truth is this:
NOTHING is small in God’s economy,
NO ONE is forgettable in God’s memory.
And if Jesus can usher in the kingdom with no one
knowing it but the servant and five rag-tag disciples,
maybe we can be kingdom-bearers
in the middle of the dishwater,
the lawn that needs mowing,
the wiping of noses and the changing of diapers,
the attention we give to our school work,
the ‘hello’ we offer to the guy in the next cubicle,
the kindness we show to the salesclerk,
the interactions we have with neighbors,
the time carved out to be with aging parents,
the offering of hospitality even when we may not think we’re ‘ready.’

After all, Jesus hesitates for a moment in this story.
“Not yet!” he tells his mom.

And then, he turns to the servants. 

Joining this with Michelle, Jennifer, Ann and Emily this week:




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