Let Go, Let God — for Addie Zierman’s LinkUp

So, this whole ‘let go and let God’ cliche from so many voices in the evangelical world. I’ve written about and around and through this whole idea from lots of different angles over the years, most especially as this cliche morphs with others — like, ‘he must increase, I must decrease,’ or ‘more of Jesus, less of me.’ There’s something about the whole ‘dying to self’ mentality that has gotten more than a little bit twisted over the decades. The longer I live — and clearly, that has been a lotta years now — the less I like any of it. In truth, I believe that this particular worldview has done far more harm than it has good.

When we advocate for the annihilation of the self — and at its core, this phrase is advocating for exactly that — we are lying to people, big-time. We are teaching something that is diametrically opposed to the kind of life Jesus invites us to live, the kind of life Jesus modeled for us, the kind of life we are designed to inhabit. We are, in a word, deeply devaluing the Incarnation. God took on our flesh — that’s how deeply we are loved. That’s how valued human flesh is — every single human-fleshed person ever exisiting — every.single.one.

Please hear me clearly here: I am not in any way disparaging the sacrificial work of Jesus on the cross, nor am I saying that we are destined for an easy, comfortable life. If the gospel shows us anything, it is that a life lived well is a life lived with generosity, kindness, tolerance, joy and acceptance. It is also a life marked by suffering, loss, sorrow, grief, tragedy and sometimes unspeakable horror. We are human persons, living in a world of beauty and of terror. Life lived here will always be a mixed bag. Yet we are promised joy in the midst of all the mess and mayhem. How is that possible?

Well, it doesn’t happen by abdicating our selfhood. It doesn’t happen by waiting for some kind of robotic activity within our zombie-like bodies under the strange spell of a god who is outside of us and chooses to use us like puppets on a stage.

It does happen when we are open to the possibility of partnership.

When we say ‘yes’ to the sweet voice of the Spirit who woos us with an invitation to join the dance.

It happens when we spend time, energy, effort — and money, as needed! — to discover who we are and how we’re wired. It then becomes our ‘job,’ if you like — our primary task in life — to experience God’s delight in us and to realize that it is God’s delight that both invites and empowers us to use our unique mix of gifts and talents in service of the kingdom dream. And that is going to look different for every single one of us.

There are no duplicates in God’s design. And we will never, ever become clones of anyone, not even Jesus. Hopefully, there will be in us — as in an old, married couple — an increasing similarity, striking ways in which we begin to resemble one another and our elder brother. But letting go of who we uniquely are at the core of our being is not what is required. Not at all. On the contrary, it is when we discover and release our ‘who-ness’ that God is most delighted and most honored. Ireneaus got it right, all those centuries ago, “The glory of God is a human person, fully alive.”

There will always be things to let go of, oh, yes, there will. Most particularly, we must learn to release all the accretions of time and choice that are keeping us from knowing and being our truest selves. Things like pride, fear, obsessive drives of any kind, besetting sins. Those things we must part with — or at least, keep working on!

But that center piece, that true blue, loving, imago dei?  Oh, no — not that. Not ever that. YOU are designed in the image of a loving, creative, hard-working, knows-when-to-call-it-a-day, merciful, justice-seeking, lovely, kind and joyful GOD. A God who sends some spark of divinity right into each and every soul that draws breath on this planet. A God who sees, knows, loves, and draws forth that spark, over and over and over again. A God whose desire is for our good, for our growth, for our mutual embrace. A God who — beyond our power to reason, imagine or sometimes, even believe — wants human beings to jump into the circle and DANCE.

Don’t ever let go of that.

Joining this reflection with Addie Zierman’s, “Let Go, Let God” link-up. Oh YAY for link-ups!

How the Bible Reads Us

Most of you know that I an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church, a denomination in the free church tradition, with many ties to both Lutheranism and Methodism. This is a paper submitted to a denominational committee in 2007. All of us were required to read Eugene Peterson’s fine book, “Eat This Book: a conversation in the art of spiritual reading,” before we met together. Four of us were assigned to be the writers for four related topics and then all four were to be compiled into one document. Somehow, one part never got written and so one of our NT professors took all the pieces that did get submitted and re-wrote them into one longer paper. I believe that exactly ONE line of my contribution ended up in the final product! (Here is a link to the entire paper, if you’re interested in reading it.) I loved doing the work for this assignment — looking at scripture and at our denominational heritage to re-state what we believe about the word of God. I am posting it here in conjunction with the final post in the Q & A Series. It is an extra resource.


All scripture references in this portion of the paper are taken from the TNIV

How the Bible Reads Us:
Reading for Transformation
Part 4 of an ECC Resource Paper on
how the Covenant does biblical and theological reflection

written by Diana R.G. Trautwein

 ”Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God.
This is how you will know that the living God is among you…” Joshua 3:9-10

“If you are sitting there dead in sin and shame, dear one, sit then where it rains…
It is always raining in the Word.  Sit there, and you will soon be drenched through and through.”
 August Pohl (1845-1913) Sermon in Missions-Vanne, September, 1878,

from Images in Covenant Beginnings, Eric G. Hawkinson (1968), pp. 65-67

From its earliest days, the Evangelical Covenant Church has proclaimed both a profound respect and an abiding passion for the written word of God.  Our respect for the Bible leads us to honor its contents with serious study, doing the difficult but rewarding work of textual, historical, linguistic, literary, and sociological analysis.  We train our pastors and encourage our laity to make use of good academic tools, and to read with minds engaged, as we seek to learn together about the biblical underpinnings of our shared faith. We desire to honor God’s word and to serve the church through rigorous scholarship, careful deliberation about interpretive differences and humble appreciation for this rich resource we share.  We stand in awe before the word of God and its complex ancient languages, its variety of historical details, covering thousands of years and dozens of cultures, and its beautiful mix of literary styles and types – all of it working together to tell the story of God’s redeeming work in the world.

Our passion for the Bible leads us to a slightly different perspective when we read God’s word, both personally and as a community of faith.  As a people of God committed to the Word, we firmly believe that in addition to standing in awe before the Bible, we also need to sit in obedience under it.  A foundational truth for the Covenant church is that the word of God is a living thing, a primary place where we go to meet the living God. “The Word of God is ‘spirit and life’ and always meets us as such, and therefore requires of us a spiritual and living response.”  (From Covenant Principles, 1960 and 1973) “We are a people of a Book.  We believe the Bible is the place where God is to be met, where his forgiveness is proclaimed, and where his will is made known…the Bible is for us a meeting place with God.” (From Covenant Committee on Freedom and Theology, Biblical Authority and Christian Freedom  (1963), pp. 6-7).

This gift of God, this living book, is made alive for us and in us through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.  It is the Spirit who makes the word “alive and active.” (Hebrews 4:12)  “Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  Paul picks up similar imagery in his letter to the church at Ephesus when he describes God’s word as “the sword of the Spirit.” (6:17) This remarkable, double-edged sword of the Spirit – God’s sculpting, shaping word – does its work in us in order to transform us.  Through the guiding, probing, challenging power of the Holy Spirit, the word of God works within each of us as individuals, and within all of us as a community, to transform us into the image of Jesus Christ, who is the heart and center of our shared story.

For our story as a denomination, our stories as local congregations, and our individual and personal stories all find their meaning and purpose within the larger story of God, as it is told to us in scripture.  This is most especially true as God’s story is lived out in and through Jesus, who is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.”  (Hebrews 1:3)  When we come to this narrative in an attitude of openness, expecting to encounter the life-changing, powerful Word, we discover that we are there, participants in God’s story of love and rescue.  Even though this marvelous word was not written to us, it surely was written for us, and our fingerprints begin to emerge with every turn of the page.  We, too, have bitten into forbidden fruit and paid the price for it; we, too, have wandered through the wilderness, wondering where we’ll land; we, too, have been overwhelmed by a task, only to discover that God is able, that God is faithful; we, too, have been lost and then found.

These discoveries, made in the context of reflective, participatory reading and meditation on the word of God, also lead us into confrontation and challenge.  Not only do we recognize ourselves in the sly ambition of a Jacob or the sibling rivalry of his 12 sons or the chronic complaining of the newly freed Hebrew slaves, as they meander through 40 years of desert living, we also come face to face with the call of scripture to live differently. Sitting under the Bible in obedience means that we must do more than simply smile in recognition, and shake our heads at the vagaries of human willfulness.  Following the admonition of Jesus in the gospel of Luke, we learn to call ourselves blessed if we are “those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (11:28) Obedience to the word of God, which is possible only through the affirming, comforting and challenging presence of the Holy Spirit, leads to transformation in the life of the disciple and in the life of the church.  Conversion is necessary; repentance is required; change is inevitable. We are continual works in progress; we are ever pilgrims on the way; we are always “being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

It is this process of conversion and change, wrought by the living word of God at work within us, “that has been at the heart of the Evangelical Covenant Church since its founding…This dynamic life-shaping power of the word leads us to affirm that both women and men are called to serve as ordained ministers.  It is the reason we intentionally pursue ethnic diversity.  It is the motivation behind every act of compassion and justice through the life of our shared ministry.”  (From Covenant Affirmations, 1976, 1996, 2005.)

Collectively and individually, we are encouraged to continually come to the word of God in a spirit of humility and gratitude, seeking to discover how we are to be changed, how we are to be transformed into the church and the persons that God intends us to be.  We come to the text not simply to ‘feel better,’ nor to find a magic ‘fix’ for a particularly vexing question or problem; not to earn ‘points’ for good behavior, nor for confirmation of a preconceived agenda.  We come to the word of God to wrestle with our own sinfulness, to acknowledge our own brokenness, to learn of God’s redeeming grace one more time.  We come to be changed.

It is only by purposefully placing ourselves, as individuals and as a community of faith, in a posture of submission, receptivity and expectation that the word of God can continue to convert us.  It is there, and only there, that we find ourselves in the best possible place to receive God’s gift of grace, over and over again. Many years ago, C.O.Rosenius wrote these words:  “Thus you see that the Word was the means through which God sustained your life in grace.  It is the same way with the church and with all Christians.  God’s Word is not called a means of grace in vain.  Without this word it is impossible to keep a life in grace.”Thanks be to God for the “life-shaping power,” and grace-sustaining winsomeness of the word.

* “On the Purpose and Necessity of Using God’s Word,”
from Images in Covenant Beginnings, Eric G. Hawkinson (1968), p. 113
















31 Days of Giving Permission to . . . REMEMBER

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Sometimes, it’s good to remember where we’ve been and to look for the connections
between there and here. I was searching for a completely different document on my hard drive (one that I did not find, unfortunately) and came across a sermon that I had written six years ago, a sermon that for some reason did not get filed in the folder marked ‘sermons.’ (Don’t ask about my document filing system. It’s a mess and I don’t really know how to fix it.)
I actually enjoyed reading it, something that doesn’t always happen.
And I remembered where I was back then — in the middle of a family tragedy, in the middle of a massive re-model, in the middle of my husband’s retirement planning.
It was good to see that some things have changed significantly.
It was a little hard to see that some things (mostly inside me!)
haven’t changed quite enough.

Do you have ways to look back on your life and reflect on where you were and where you are? Scripture admonishes us to remember. Over and over again, we’re encouraged to remember the good and build on it, and to remember the not-so-good and release it. Sometimes in the busyness of our over-full lives,
we don’t give ourselves permission to stop long enough
to be reflective about our own journey.
Maybe something in this sermon will help you to do that.

Luke 24:50-53, Acts 1:1-11
Preached as part of the “God’s Big Story” series
Montecito Covenant Church
April 29, 2007
By Diana R.G. Trautwein

It’s been quite a week for me. How about you? Three long car trips — miscellaneous family woes, including some really scary and sad health issues for people I dearly love; the constant noise, dust and confusion of the re-model from planet weird, which goes on and on and on . . . making me more than a little bit crazy and cranky; navigating some tricky interpersonal waterways in my work week – not always terribly successfully; meetings up the wazoo; trying to listen attentively as my husband thinks out loud about some of the complications and decisions associated with his retirement in five weeks.

And then there was this sermon to think about — on the Ascension, of all things. Not something I think about a whole lot, to tell you the truth. Oh, I occasionally refer to it when we recite the creed together: “I believe in Jesus Christ . . . Who ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead . . . “ But it’s not a topic I tend to think about a whole lot.

Doesn’t seem to impact my life much — not like the crucifixion or the resurrection or even the story of Jesus’ birth or the various details of his ministry Nope. Don’t think about the ascension too much. So, adding into an already heavy-duty week the thinking and study required to piece together 20 intelligible minutes on that very subject seemed a daunting and even frustrating task.

But here’s what I want you to hear from me today, before you hear anything else – maybe even if you don’t hear anything else, please hear this: After a week like the one I’ve had – and maybe after a week like the one you’ve had – the ascension is EXACTLY what I needed to ponder, EXACTLY what I needed to wrestle with a little, EXACTLY what I needed to hear from God about.

And, as always, that came as a big surprise to me. Because it never ceases to amaze me that the sermons I preach are always, and I do mean ALWAYS, preached to me first, preached to me and in me – right smack dab in the middle of this messy, ordinary, sometimes glorious, sometimes trouble-filled life I lead. Whatever the topic of the week may be – whether I’ve chosen the text or it’s been given to me – it seems as though the first work of the Spirit needs doing in me before I can even begin to contemplate unpacking the word for others.

And this week, despite my fears and rather listless energy for the topic at the beginning of the week, the same thing happened again. I was reminded one more time, of who I am and who I am not, of who we together are, and who we are not, and, most importantly, of who God is and how Jesus continues his salvation work in me, and in us, minute by minute, day by day, week by week.

Because there are just some weeks when I need a whole lot of saving, a whole lot of shaping and forming and learning and stretching. I need a whole lot of hearing and reading and reflecting and reveling in the story of God’s love, God’s mercy and God’s power. And this week’s scripture just knocked me upside the head and made me say, “Thank you, Jesus!”  and “Help me, Jesus!” and “Lord, have mercy.”  And “Amen!  Yes. Yes. Yes.”

Will you hear the word of the Lord as it is recorded for us by the person we know as Luke – the author of the gospel that bears his name and the author of the book that immediately follow the 4 gospel accounts, the Acts of the Apostles.

Reading first from Luke 24 and then from Acts 1:

Luke 24:50-53:

   When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

Acts 1:1-11

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

    So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

    He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

    After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

    They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

This is indeed God’s word for us today.

We have been looking this whole year at the story of Jesus, beginning last fall with the birth narratives and moving through his teaching, healing, disciple-making ministry, his trial and crucifixion, his death and resurrection. Today we arrive at an important point of transition in our 3-year preaching series which Don has entitled, “God’s Big Story.”

Book one of Luke – the gospel, the good news, the snapshot story of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ in 1st century Palestine – book one is finished. And book two of Luke – the Acts of the Apostles – is beginning. And this strange little story that reads like watching Jesus sort of floating off into the ether is the monumentally important turning-point – transition point – transformation point –  between the two.

In the opening words of Acts, Luke writes to his friend Theophilus that his first volume, his gospel record, was, “about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven . . . “ certainly implying that book two is about what Jesus continues to do and to teach as the story of Jesus, of salvation, of revolution is carried to Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

So, to summarize in a pithy way, the story of the ascension tells us these important things as we transition from one phase of God’s salvation story to another:

Jesus is moving on,

the church is being born,

the Spirit is soon to come.

And it’s all right here, in these words we’ve just heard.

First, Jesus is moving on:

“It is finished,” not “I am finished.” 40 days of ‘convincing proofs’ of his resurrection, 40 days of reminding them there was work ahead of them, important, life-changing, world-changing work for them to do. And how is that going to happen? Well, according to Acts 1, it will happen in two important ways: first by waiting, and then by witnessing.

And that order is so important – for those 11 gape-mouthed disciples on the hill near Bethany, and for all of us gape-mouthed disciples on this hill near Westmont. The first thing we must do – and the last thing we usually choose to do or even think to do – is to . . .


Don’t go anywhere. Don’t do anything Just WAIT.

For what? For the gift, that’s what. Hmmm…pretty broad category there. Pretty general statement. So Jesus gets a little more specific. Wait for . . . The gift my father promised, the gift you’ve heard me talk about, the baptism I told you was coming. And don’t wait for it all by your lonesome, each of you in your own closet. No, wait for it together.

Now, in a couple of weeks, we’ll look more intensely at the particular form of the gift that Jesus promises here in chapter one of Acts.  At that time, we will remember and celebrate Pentecost – that wonderful, awesome, strange and even scary visitation of the Holy Spirit on the early church.  That promised baptism that would bring power and the skills and gifts that would make witnesses of all those gathered in the upper room.

But, the witnessing will come later, it is the waiting that begins now.

And while we wait, even as they waited those centuries ago, we need to remind ourselves and one another of what we know, of what the ascension so magnificently reminds us : that God is God, that God is on the throne, that Jesus is now there with him, still wearing our flesh, and that Jesus continues his work of kingdom-building by praying for us, by whispering into the Father’s ears on our behalf, and by releasing, again and again, the great, unfathomable gift of the Holy Spirit, who comes in power and in love to fill the church and to continue the work of the kingdom of God through the church.

For the church, despite its flaws and foibles, despite its foolishness and feebleness, despite the pettiness and the entitlement and the one-upsmanship that can so often rear its misshapen little head in even the most mature of Christian fellowships – the church is God’s chosen vehicle, the church is Christ’s body in the world, the church is the recipient of God’s Spirit of grace and of power and the church is where the kingdom is caught in glimpses while we’re still on this side of heaven.

And there are three important things that the church is given to do, all of them either explicit or implicit in Jesus words to his disciples as he ascended to the Father:

We are to wait,
We are to worship,
And we are to witness.

The waiting is clear in our Acts passage for the morning, but you’ll notice from the lighthearted sense of Luke’s closing words in the gospel reading today that the most natural response to the ascension of Jesus is the worship of Jesus – Luke 24:52 tells us that after Jesus was taken up into heaven, the disciples who watched him go, “worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” Probably the earliest recording of a distinctively Christian worship experience. And it happened while they were waiting, while they were waiting together.

Wait, worship, witness. All of those ‘w’s’ are important – they each continue to play important parts in the kingdom work that the Spirit of Jesus is doing today, in and through and sometimes, in spite of the church. They need to be remembered, and they need to be practiced, and they need to be kept in sequence.

Because here’s the heart of it all, the thing that we so often lose sight of, that we so easily stop tracking with, that we too often fail to remember, or that we simply choose to ignore – here it is, are you ready for it?

It’s not up to us.

Did you hear me?

It’s not up to us.

Do you see that crown back there? There’s only one crown on that table, and there’s only one person who wears that crown, and it sure as shootin’ ain’t me. And it ain’t any of you lot either.

Jesus Christ is now ascended. Jesus Christ is now exalted. Jesus Christ, still robed in our flesh, is now with the Father,

Ruling in majesty,
Working in mystery,
Loving in perpetuity,
Praying in sincerity.
For us. For you and for me and for this world.

That’s what the ascension is about.

That’s why I can come to the end of a rotten week and say,
“Thank you, Jesus,” and
“Help me, Jesus,” and
“Lord, have mercy,” and
“Amen. Yes! Yes! Yes!”

So…as we come to the close of our time together this morning, I am going to ask you to take just a couple of minutes to WAIT, to wait together on the Lord. And then we’re going to worship with the singing of the last hymn. And then we can leave this place better prepared for all the messy, ordinary, sometimes glorious, sometimes trouble-filled life that we each are called to live. And we can witness to the mysterious, and revolutionary presence  of the kingdom of God, right here, in the midst of it all.

Will you wait on the Lord?




31 Days of Giving Permission . . . TO BE SEEN

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The sermon topic was centered around the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well, one of the richest passages in the entire New Testament. So many layers, so much great stuff to think about. And our pastor did a fine job asking good questions, finding great points of application. It was my turn to lead in prayer, and I wove together some of my own thoughts on that passage and the emotions that were triggered by a poem posted on Facebook Saturday by John Blase, one of my favorite people writing anywhere. The gospel passage is about a tough conversation, and a woman who discovers that there is a man, an amazing man, who truly sees her for all of who she is — and accepts her anyhow.
So as  you pray this prayer today, will you give yourself permission to be fully seen by Jesus? For who you are and what you’ve done and what you’ve not done?

A Post-Pentecost Prayer
October 13, 2013
written by Diana R.G. Trautwein

 I came into worship today with this poem on my heart.
It’s written by a friend I’ve met online. He’s a writer, an editor, a poet,
and a bit of a cowboy, who lives in Colorado.
And he often puts words to things I’m wrestling with,
words that are just behind my eyes, but I can’t quite see.

Do you know that feeling?
His name is John Blase and these are his words.
They’ve been haunting me a bit this weekend:


The loneliness lays
claim to you with
cumulative power.
It starts as a wild hair.
You break rank and
keep your eyes open
as others bow to pray.
You see a sea of crowns
for the very first time
and feel adrift: who
are these strangers?
You close your eyes
before the final amen,
a timed acquiescence.
You file out with the
throng into the bright
sunlight. But you can’t
shake the bony chill.
You sense this will
only grow sharper.

-John D. Blase*

As we, in this circle, go to prayer, I want to acknowledge that
some of you may well be feeling what is described here.
And if you want to keep your eyes open while we pray, that’s just fine by me.

 Let’s pray together:

 There are days, LORD, when the only prayer we can find
is the one we just sang: Come, Lord Jesus, come.

The truth is,
we’re all thirsty, most all the time.
We’re thirsty for things we can’t quite name,
hungry for friends we don’t quite see,
often painfully aware that we’re lonelier than we know.

And that’s one of the reasons that we come here,
and we join our voices together, to sing out your praises.
Somehow, we feel a little less alone, a little more connected,
when we sing.

But I’m not sure that connection is as easily found when we pray. 

So, as we begin this part of our conversation with you today, Lord,
I want to acknowledge those who feel the bony chill of loneliness and disconnection.

Our gospel story today tells us about such a one, a woman on the edge,
on the outside of her community.
Yet, you saw her. You acknowledged her and drew her out,
you confronted her and challenged her.

You. Saw. Her.

She gave you water from the well.
But you gave her life, and hope and newness.
And she ended that well-side conversation
with all of that outside-the-edginess gone, her loneliness dissolved.

 So I guess, Lord, I am asking you to remind us — each one of us,
in ways that are as unique to us as they were to that woman —
that you see us.

Tell us again that the water you give is the only water that works,
living water that does what water does –
it filters down into every crack and crevice and brings new life.
It meanders, and slowly but surely snakes its way into every layer of who we are,
and it changes us.

 Even on the lonely days, it keeps on trickling down.
Even when we can’t find the words because the grief is too deep,
or the fear is too high,
or the harsh words we said in the car on the way to church are still hanging in the air —
that water of life keeps working its way into us.

Will you help us to remember that, please?
To know that when we come to the Water that is you,
we will always find what we need?

 We confess to you that we don’t always make it easy
for your water to do its watery thing.

We build dams and we blow a lot of hot air
and we sometimes even turn off the spigot,
with our stubbornness and our proclivity for desert living.
Forgive us, Father, and strengthen us to follow the river of life right to its source!

Thank you so much for the richness of your gift to us,
for the assurance that our hope is in you, and nowhere else.

And help us to see with your eyes, to spot those who are lonely
and reach out in kindness,
to offer that famous cup of cold water
in ways that are specific and unique to each person along the way,
help us to be leaky vessels,
through which the water of life gets spread all over the place.

We will thank you and we will praise you
and we will gladly drink at the fountain again and again.

In Jesus’ name, amen.

*Here is a link to John Blase’s website, The Beautiful Due. I urge you to subscribe and get his beautiful, thoughtful, challenging poetry in your inbox. You will never regret it. 






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.

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:

To the Penny…

Circle round, friends. I have a sweet story to tell.
And that open chest, filled with dress-up clothes 
is what inspires its telling this night.
It’s a bit circuitous, but truly rich with 
wonder and grace
and it happened at –
well, what can I say?
It happened at exactly the right time. 

I had been at my job as Associate Pastor for about eight months, 
when I overheard an off-hand remark
made by our Senior Pastor,
 a man I greatly admired and
was delighted to be working with in my first-ever
paid ministry position.
And this is what he said:
“Well, all the stats tell you that you’ll know a new
hire is a good hire if you can see that
they have ‘raised’ their own salary
and it shows up in the general budget funds
by the end of their first year.”


Earn my own salary? 
Have it show up in the budget?
By doing what, exactly?
I was scrambling to learn who people were,
how they worked together – or didn’t work together.
I was preaching a few times,
teaching a few times,
making lots of house and hospital calls,
planning small groups,
meeting with individuals and couples for counseling.
How was any of that
going to raise money for the budget? 

And then . . .

One afternoon, a favorite client of my husband’s,
a truly beautiful, older woman who was
self-confident, gregarious and very out-spoken 
called him up and said:
“What’s this I hear about you making a move to Santa Barbara? 
You know I’ve just moved up here, too, don’t you?
Tell me all about this please!! 
Why are you here?

So he told her.
“Well, you see, it’s like this…
my wife is a pastor.”
“She is what? A pastor, did you say?
Does she preach?”
“Sometimes,” Dick said.
“She’s an associate and she’s part-time, so
it’s just a few times a year.”
“Well!” She bellowed. “I want to know the next time
she’s up in the pulpit, because I’m coming myself
to check her out.”

And come, she did.
All 5 feet 10 inches of Pasadena socialite that she was,
garbed in a bright chartreuse wool cape,
straight from the runways of Milan.
She had been active in an Episcopal parish
in Pasadena but hadn’t yet found a church home 
in this new community.
When she came to hear me preach, 
she walked into the back door of the gymnasium 
we were using as a worship center, 
looked at the beautiful wooden cross 
we had mounted on the long wall 
(between the basketball hoops), 
genuflected, crossed herself, and sat down in the back row. 
Like any good Episcoplian would.
And she did that every single time she came.

That first time, she came up afterwards,
effusive in her praise, just delighted
that her financial advisor’s wife
was a preacher.
She introduced us to a few other people in her social circle,
and went out of her way to be kind and inclusive. 

“Whenever you’re up there,” she said, 
“I’m gonna be down here.” 

And she was.

She called the church office, and got the schedule.
And just about every time I preached for the next 10 years,
she was there, sitting in the back row. 

But here’s the strange and wonderful part.
Are you ready?
That first Christmas, 
on the first anniversary of my very first day of work,
she called her investor guy – that would be my husband – 
and said something like this, entirely of her own volition:
“You know, I would really like my annual gift this year to
go to that Covenant Church where your wife works.
That’s a great group of people over there
and I’d like to support what they’re doing.”

Can you guess what happened?
Her gift, 
to the penny
was the exact amount of  my salary –
for the entire year.
And for every year that she lived after that.
Can you imagine how encouraging this was
to a very wet-behind-the-ears,
brand-spankin’ new pastor? 
To this day, I give thanks to God for this
gift of love and grace in my life.
First of all,
for this delightful, loving and faithful woman.
And then for her serendipitous generosity.
Her gift came at exactly the right time,
and was exactly the right amount.

And I had forgotten this lovely truth until one night
last month when we entertained several small girls.
They opened the dress-up chest,
and floating out of it came some of this 
loving friend’s beautiful clothes. 

When she died, I had also become acquainted
with one of her sons – had married him and his wife,
in fact. And one day, as we were driving back to 
Santa Barbara from a time away, my phone rang.
He said, “Mom’s in the hospital, and it doesn’t look good
at all. But don’t come – because I know she would not
want you to see her looking like this.”
Gently, I assured him that I would be there,
and we headed straight to the hospital before going home.
That time of prayer and anointing and farewell
was one of the most beautiful experiences of my pastoral life.
And the two sons who were with her were
more grateful than they knew to have
the prayers of the church prayed over their mom as she died.

After her service,
the son and his new wife brought over a truckload 
of her clothing and costume jewelry,
donating it to a rummage sale we were having
to raise funds for student ministries.
I bought some of her beautiful and brightly-colored clothes,
including that chartreuse cape,
and put them lovingly in the dress-up box for my grand-girls –
who were yet to be born at the time!

Because, somehow, 
I just knew they would love them. 
And every time, they wrap themselves in
one of her diaphanous gowns,
I smile.
Both of our girls are going to be quite tall, you see.
Both of them are blessed with dramatic,
confident personalities.
And one day soon,
I’ll tell them about my friend,
the one who blew through my life
like a gift on the Wind of God
and graced me with her love.

OF COURSE, I’m joining this one with Jennifer Lee’s God-Incidences meme,
and also with Ann, Duane and Emily – whose amazing book releases TODAY.
If you love someone with an eating disorder, this book is one you should have on your shelf – it is terrific. “Chasing Silhouettes,” by Emily Wierenga


“This Difficult Friendship” – Living in Bodies

And the body, what about the body?
Sometimes it is my favorite child, 
And sometimes my body disgusts me.
Filling and emptying, it disgusts me… 
This long struggle to be at home
in the body, this difficult friendship.
-Jane Kenyon (From “Cages”)
 Yesterday, I was in need of some solitude,
some time by myself,
away from the interruptions of home and family.
So I packed a lunch, got in my car,
and waited to see where my car would take me.
Turns out, my car likes the Slough.
 The parking lot was much more crowded than usual,
filled with family and friends of UCSB graduates
who were gathering at the nearby park for 
celebrations of all kinds on this graduation day.
I found a spot between a large motor home,
which served as a gathering spot 
for a group of middle-aged guys I’ve seen here before,
and a car filled with a family of beach-goers. 
I ate my lunch.
I did some reading.
And I got in and out of the car,
taking pictures and paying attention.
 It took me until today,
after hearing a fine sermon this morning by
our Associate Pastor, Jon Lemmond,
to more fully understand why this particular spot,
of all the possible spots I could have chosen,
is such a special one for me.

I like birds.
A lot.
I know very little about them,
I just know I love to sit and watch them,
to try and capture some of their beauty and grace
with my camera,
and to reflect on how completely  
at home they are
with the bodies God gave them.
You don’t hear birds complaining that they’ve
got too many feathers or too few,
that they wish their beaks were just a bit narrower,
that their feet were a little smaller,
that their tummies were tighter.
No, you don’t.
Besides the fact that birds don’t speak English,
I think the reason we don’t hear (or observe) such
kvetching behavior in birds is this:
they know who they are,
they accept who they are,
they live a one-piece life.
I want a one-piece life.
I want to keep body and soul together,
I want to recognize that I am a body.
And I want to accept that body with grace and with gratitude.
And I have a long way to go on that journey.
Today’s sermon was a strong, clear word of encouragement
to keep on truckin’. 
Jon took a few verses from a favorite psalm 
this morning – Psalm 139:13-18.
And he laid out his observations beautifully:
1. Our bodies are spiritual – 
we want not to err on the side of gnosticism 
(the most stubborn of historical heresies in the church) 
and denigrate the design of God for our physicality.
It is with our bodies that we glorify God.
It is in our bodies that we are saved.
We are, in truth, our bodies.
In Genesis 2, God takes the dust of the earth 
and breathes life into it…
spirit and flesh, joined forever. 
But unlike the birds, our bodies need redemption,
restoration, renewal.
And they are so valuable to God,
that God took on our bodily form so that redemption
and restoration and renewal might be possible. 
2. Our bodies are praiseworthy.
And this is where most of us badly twist the truth 
of who we are as embodied creatures.
The most usual translation of verse 14 goes something like this:
“We are fearfully and wonderfully made.”
But Jon’s OT prof, Leslie Allen (who was also my OT prof!),
translates it more like this: 
God is wonderful. And we are made in God’s image.”
We should indeed stand in awe of who we are,
at what our bodies can do –
wounds heal,
pupils contract and dilate 
according to the ambient light,
our skin and sweat glands 
help set a healthy thermostat.
We are indeed wonderfully made!
we are wonderful because of who made us,
not because of any intrinsic ‘perfection’ of our own.
Therefore, beware our cultural predilection for
believing we are the center of things.
When the Bible tells us that our bodies are wonderful,
it is not meant as, “a psychological pick-me-up 
aimed at bolstering our self-esteem.”
Rather, these words point us first to the Creator,
and only then, to the creature.
If we can grab hold of this astounding truth,
then maybe, just maybe,
we can begin to believe that every single one of us,
able-bodied or not,
fat, thin, tall, short, young, old –
every one of us – 
broken and imperfect as we are –
is a thing of wonder and delight to the One who made us.
Not just cute babies.
Not just Hollywood celebrities.
Not just the perfect bikini-body.
Not just the strong, ripped muscles.
“We are beautiful because we are the Lord’s.”
And then my friend and former colleague offered the most
beautiful analogy to help us latch onto this 
powerful truth.
The stole he is wearing was a gift to him on the 
day of his ordination into the ministry.
It was made for him by his mother and his grandmother.
It is lovely to look at…
but it is not perfect.
It doesn’t lie flat at the back like 
a more professionally made stole would.
Some of the stitching around the six lovely 
symbol patches is a little rough. 

But it is one of Jon’s most priceless possessions.
When the Tea Fire hit his neighborhood three years ago,
he first made sure his wife and children were safe.
And then, Jon rushed into his house and grabbed this stole.
Not because it is perfect.
Not because it is without flaws.
Not because it does everything it was meant to do.
Jon grabbed it because of who made it.
Jon grabbed it because of the love that was poured into it.
Jon grabbed it not because of its intrinsic value,
but because of the relationship 
he has with the ones who made it.
It is beautiful,
not so much for what it is,
but because it reflects the love of the creator(s).
Can I begin to value my body for what it truly is?
The gift of my Creator?
My body.
The dust of the earth,
into which God breathed life 67 years ago.
My body.
The embodiment of God’s dream for me 
as a whole person,
a unified human being,
body, soul, spirit.
My body.
A reflection of the God who loves me.

An added spot of beauty to our worship last Sunday was a new offertory song. Our Director of Worship Arts, Bob Gross, wrote a lovely melody to go with these powerful words written by Mechtild of Mageburg in the 13th century. This translation was done in 1991 by Jean Wiebe Janzen, but the words in bold are Bob’s addition and served as a beautiful refrain throughout the piece. He tells us he’s going to do a YouTube version, and when he does, I’ll post a link here – and undoubtedly elsewhere, like Facebook and Twitter.  I sat amazed at how these lyrics sort of wrapped up my entire weekend. Read them carefully:
I cannot dance, O Love, unless you lead me on.
I cannot leap in gladness, unless you lift me up.
From love to love we circle, beyond all knowledge grow.
For when you lead, we follow, to new worlds you can show.
Love is the music ’round us, we glide as birds in air,
entwining, soul and body, your wings hold us with care.
Your Spirit is the harpist and all your children sing;
her hands the currents ’round us, your love the golden strings.
Play me a medley. 
Play me a song. 
Lead me, I am yours. 
I cannot dance alone. 
O blessed Love, your circling unites us, God and soul.
From the beginning, your arms embrace and make us whole.
Hold us in steps of mercy from which you never part,
that we may know more fully the dances of your heart. 
Joining with Michelle, Jennifer, Laura, Duane and L.L. this time.
And at the middle of the week, also joining Ann V., Jennifer Dukes Lee and Emily W.

On In Around button

Quiet for the Weekend – June 16/17, 2012

“Listen, O Israel! 
The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  
And you must love the Lord your God 
with all your heart, 
all your soul, 
and all your strength.  
And you must commit yourselves 
wholeheartedly to 
these commands that I am giving you today.   
Repeat them again and again to your children. 
Talk about them when you are at home 
and when you are on the road, 
when you are going to bed 
and when you are getting up.  
Tie them to your hands 
and wear them on your forehead 
as reminders.   
Write them on the doorposts of your house 
and on your gates.”
Deuteronomy 6:4-9, The New Living Translation
 Wooden gates and doors from Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church,
where the Kindergarden Commencement for our granddaughter Grace 
was held on Thursday morning of this week.
This church is four driveways from our home.
I have been inside a few times, but never wandered the grounds with camera in hand.
It is an old mission style church, built for the families of the soldiers in the presidio when Father Serra 
built the mission trail in California in the late 18th century.
It is gloriously beautiful and someday I’ll do an entire photo essay about it.
But these gates and doors spoke to me this week.
Perhaps the scripture above and the one below are part of why they did.

  “Yes, I am the gate. 
Those who come in through me will be saved. 
They will come and go freely 
and will find good pastures.  
The thief’s purpose 
is to steal and kill and destroy.  
My purpose is 
to give them a rich and satisfying life.”
John 10:9-10, The New Living Translation
And surely one of the sweetest gifts of a rich and satisfying life
is a purple hydrangea still glistening with morning dew.
This one was located next to the doors shown above.

May your weekend bring reminders of the rich and satisfying life of Jesus, the gate.
Linking this with my friends Sandy and Deidra at their quiet gathering spaces for our weekend reveries.

That Delicate Balance, Part Two

She really wanted him to play the piano.
Among the earliest guests to arrive
at the party,
she made her desires known
right away.
And of course, I am not surprised 
she felt that way.
She’s been teaching him piano for 14 years.
He was 4 when he started,
and we were gathered to celebrate
his 18th birthday,
and his graduation from high school.
The graduate with his family.

How many people do you know who stick
with anything for that long? 

“He’s been working on this one all year long,”

she said.
“I want to get him on tape,”
she said. 

But he resisted for quite a while.

As the sun began to set,
about sixty friends and family trickled
in the front door. 

The house looked lovely,

the yard, enchanting.
The chatter was friendly,
filled with laughter and warm reminiscence.
A slide show went round and round,
repeating on the big-screen television set,
featuring a lovely collection
of photos from day one until yesterday.
And it was there,
catching glimpses of the past,
that I felt the first sharpness,
the sudden movement of grief and loss
mixing its way right into the middle of 
celebration and joy. 

Our grandboy as a newborn,

held in the loving arms of his daddy.
His daddy who died almost four years ago. 

So much sadness for so long.

And so much joy and happiness, too.
All of it mixed up together in this journey we call life. 

Our daughter’s new husband,

strong and kind and good –
such a gift to all of us,
a gift we are grateful for,
right down to our toes. 

But another milestone has come and gone.

And Mark was not here to celebrate with us.
That will never change.
And I imagine, we will always feel
that stab of recognition at such times,
that moment of searing sorrow. 

It was only a moment.

And soon, the joyful banter
gained volume in corners, at tables,
in the yard, in the house.

And then, cutting through the conversation,
I heard the strains of Chopin.
Familiar music to my ears,
music I heard in my own home, growing up.
Ballade Number One,*
technically difficult,
achingly beautiful. 

So I gently led my mother into the living room,

to listen as Luke played this glorious piece.
She sat in a chair placed right in front of the piano.
My father’s piano,
the one he played for years and years. 

And I stood behind her, 

my hand on her shoulder. 

And together, we heard a miracle. 

The piano literally sang to us.
Of love and loss,
of hope and discouragement,
of hard work – hours and hours of hard work.
My dad’s,
our own. 

The tears rolled down my cheeks as I

missed my dad,
as I missed Mark,
as I celebrated Luke,
as I thanked God for Karl,
as I thanked God for all of it.

Learning to play Chopin takes practice.

Practice, practice, practice. 

And learning to hold the tensions,

the mysteries of this life –
to hold them together,
to let them resonate with one another,
to acknowledge the pain and loss,
and to celebrate the gift and joy –
sometimes in the very same instant –
this takes practice, too. 

Life is hard.

Life is glorious.
Life is overwhelmingly difficult.
Life is radiantly free.
Life is …

It’s a dance with ever-changing tempo;

it’s a song with shifting harmonies;
it’s a tapestry,
a rich oil painting,
filled with color and with shadow. 

Thankfully, we don’t have to navigate 
the dance floor on our own; 
we don’t have to struggle to sing all the parts. 

We are given the gift of one another. 

And we are given the gift of Presence.

Loving, gracious Presence.
God – Father, Son and Spirit;
Creator-Redeemer-Counselor –
invites us into the ongoing dance of the Trinity,
the intricately, achingly beautiful song of the universe. 

In this life, we cannot yet see the edge of the dance floor,

nor can we hear the resolution of all the chords.
we can know the One who does.  

Thanks be to God.

And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.  And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
Romans 8:27-28, The New Living Translation

*At the bottom of this post you will find a link to Vladimir Horowitz playing this piece. Horowitz was a hero to my dad – a genius on the piano, especially playing Chopin.
This is an older video of a live performance, but you will get a view of the
technical virtuosity needed to play this music. 
I was so moved that I did not think to shift my little Canon camera over to video
to record even a little bit of Luke playing!
Thanks so much, Luke, for those transcendent 10 minutes.

Joining with those same friends with this second part on balance…no buttons this time.
Michelle, Jennifer, Jennifer and Emily. And this time with Laura Boggess, too.

Lessons from the Vineyard

“I am the vine,” he said.
“You are the branches.”
We live in vineyard country here in Santa Barbara County.
 It has not always been so.

For hundreds of years, the rolling hills around our county
looked like this. They were covered with oak trees, 
 singly or straggling down the hillsides by the dozen, 
creating a landscape unique to this part of the world. 
Then the trees began going down by the hundreds, 
bulldozed to make room for 
vineyards that look like this.
Miles and miles of vineyards. 
Espaliered grape vines began to sprout out of the ground, neat rows replacing the random gorgeousness
of oaks and wildflowers.

For many, this felt like an assault on nature,
beauty and 
the central coast way of life.

For others, it was evidence of a dream come true.
About a dozen years ago, county supervisors decided to stop the wholesale destruction of native oak groves,
insisting that any new vineyard acreage be built around
the natural habitat instead of through it.
As the vineyards matured, those of us who live by and drive on these highways and byways began to take note of the new beauty around us, enjoying the contrast of
planned and unplanned vegetation.
Now we can follow the seasons by paying attention to what’s happening in the vineyards.
The brilliant, lush green foliage of summer,
the red-gold shimmer of fall,
as the harvest begins.
The increasingly bare branches as December approaches. 
 It is when the branches are at their barest that some of the most important work of the year happens:
That good work of shaping, sorting, sifting through the vines for the best, preserving only what will produce good fruit the following year.
Winter is the time for trimming and cutting and neatening things,
making space for the plumpest of red, purple or green grapes, grapes that will grow heavy and rich as harvest time approaches.
 It’s during the pruning season that things are made ready.
Dead wood is removed,
unproductive sucker growth is tossed into the fire.
And sure enough,
when March rolls around,
new growth starts to shoot,
reaching for the sun, growing strong and sturdy,
ready to support the heaviest of clusters,
the richest of harvests.
I wonder, what season am I in?
In terms of my lifetime, I know it is autumn.
And that means the fruit should be ready.
How has the Master of the Vineyard pruned and shaped
and trimmed and cut back the branch that is me?
Have I consented to the shears?
The ones that want to cut away the lies?
The lies I tell and the lies I believe,
the dead stuff that weighs me down
and keeps me stuck.
Have I invited the Husbandman to trim away the compulsions, the anxieties, the addictions – however they may reveal themselves in my life?
Have I said ‘yes’ to the Gardener, the one
who sees what is full of life and promise and potential,
the one who can see what will yield the sweetest of fruit?
And have I allowed my soul-tendrils to sink firmly into the Vine,
practicing those things that will help me to dwell,
to stand firm in, 
to steady myself, 
 For much of my life, I feared this word of Jesus in the gospel of John. 
Taught that bad branches would end up in the fire, I wanted to work ever-so-hard to pump out those grapes!
It is only in recent  years –
these years that I’ve been driving through vineyard country – that I’ve begun to realize that ALL the branches on the vine are pruned.
And that kind of pruning is a good thing.
Everyone of us has stuff that needs to be cut away,
thrust into the incinerator,
moved aside 
so that there is more breathing room for good things,
sweet things,
rich things,
nourishing things…
for FRUIT.
It sounds so scary, though, doesn’t it?
Painful, too.
And I suppose sometimes, it is.
It’s painful to let go of habits,
compulsive behaviors,
and all those things we fill that interior space with,
day in and day out.

But… here’s the thing:
it all needs to go.
All of it.
And for good reason, too.
It’s hard to produce
when the branch is laden down with all that other crap.
So…as my own winter draws near,
will I allow the Vineyard Owner to do what needs to be done?
I hope so. I really do.
Because a well-pruned branch,
lovingly shaped and carefully trimmed –
well that’s where the good stuff grows.
My thanks to Don Johnson for his reflection on this passage in worship this morning.
And special thanks to Bob Gross for his wonderful musical setting of an obscure old hymn, bringing words to life in new and fresh ways. 
Joining Michelle for her “Hear It on Sunday” gathering,
Jen and the Soli deo gloria sisterhood,
Laura at “Playdates with God,”
and L.L. with “On, In and Around Monday”