Monday, February 18, 2008

Bringing God Into It

Recently St. James has been going through a transitional period with our musicians. This is very hard. Someone who is hurt and troubled told me that it was my fault that our congregation is "falling apart." I assured this concerned member that St. James is NOT falling apart, that God is very much present in the midst of our conflict, making a way for us in the wilderness. The angry response was, "Oh, don't bring God into this."

As so often happens, I couldn't think of the right response at the time. But I've thought a lot about this exchange since then, and it has produced much fruit in my Lenten contemplation. I want to share some with you.

1) It is neither possible nor necessary for me to bring God into the struggles at St. James. Or anywhere else. God is already present. In fact, it is God who invites us "into this"--not vice versa. God calls to us, embraces us in our baptisms, and claims us as God's own. Even when we don't reciprocate, still God pursues us, loves us, forgives us, and believes in us.

2) In the story of the temptation, Jesus was driven to the wilderness by the Spirit. That has often troubled me, but now I find it somewhat consoling. The Spirit leads the church and we follow, not the other way around. Even when our circumstances feel as arid and lonely as a desert, we can rest in the assurance that God is there with us, and will nurture and guide us through. Angels will attend to us when we are worn out.

God is in this. God is and has always been in this congregation, this community, this world. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. That Word still echoes through the universe. In spite of everything we do that hurts God's beloved creation, God is here. In spite of all the ways we fail, or flounder, or even refuse to try, God is here. What's more, God is here because God chooses here. God chooses us. Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


It seems kind of perfect to me that we will begin installing our new energy-efficient "green" lighting during the season of Epiphany. Epiphany means "manifestation" or "appearance" and--in the church calendar--refers to the Wise Men's arrival at the cradle of Christ, where they SAW the Messiah to whom they had been lead by the light of a star. But anytime we catch a glimpse of God at work in the world we have "epiphanies."

I mentioned in my sermon Sunday that the key word for the season of Epiphany is "LOOK!" What better way to celebrate the season than by installing lights that make it better for us to see by? Furthermore, the council's decision to obtain a no-interest loan from the synod to retrofit our lighting reflects (pun intended) our commitment to be better stewards of God's creation. The timing for the beginning of this project couldn't be better. On Saturday, Feb. 2, right at the end of Epiphany, after weeks and weeks of hearing about the Light of God, we will enhance our building's lighting. I know new light fixtures in our basement and gym are not exactly like the glorious symbols of the incarnation of Christ, but they work for me. They effectively remind me that we are turning toward light, turning toward the world that God so loves, that we are unafraid to turn toward something new.

At the end of the service of Baptism, we hand a candle to the newly baptized (or sponsor) and issue this call: "Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." Let that be our mandate in 2008, and may our building retrofitting project remind us of it regularly.

By the way, please invite all your friends and neighbors (especially those who know anything about electrical wiring) to join us on Feb. 2 from 9-noon to help in this endeavor!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Come, Lord Jesus!

At this time of year, I fumble through my collection of CD’s trying to find J.S. Bach’s cantata Wachet Auf. It shapes the season of Advent for me, even as Bing Crosby’s Christmas Album patiently awaits its turn later in the season. I am especially entranced with the third song in Bach's cantata, a love duet between a soprano who sings the role of the Soul and a baritone as Jesus. The Soul repeatedly asks, “When are you coming?” and begs, “Come, Lord Jesus!” like an eager lover or impatient child. Over and over the voice of Jesus faithfully insists, “I’m coming.” It is a reminder of God’s aching desire to be with us here on Earth, just as we yearn for God’s presence among us. It's painful and beautiful and incredibly full of intimate longing.

God is not coming back one day to punish us. God is not angry with us. God does not wish to hurt us. God wants to embrace us and all of creation. Jesus will indeed be returning one day, filled with mercy and compassion to “make all things new.” Between our festivities about Jesus’ first coming to earth and our hope and trust in his return, we wait. In some ways, our whole lives are spent in the season of Advent (which, after all, means coming).

What music brings the reality of God's presence to your mind? What sings your pain and your aches, as well as your hopes and joys?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

devils and dust

People grieve the death of so many civilians and soldiers in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, of so many Israelis and Palestinians, of monks in Myanmar and of religious dissenters around the world. It is horrific and tragic to see people killing and dying in the name of God. Just as tragic, however, are those who apparently survive the violence, and yet are also victims. What happens inside a person's soul when that person kills another child of God? I think Bruce Springsteen captures the agony perfectly in this verse from his new album "Devils and Dust."
We've got God on our side
We're just trying to survive
What if what you do to survive
Kills the things you love
Fear's a powerful thing
It'll turn your heart black you can trust
It'll take your God filled soul
Fill it with devils and dust

Let us pray for all who encounter violence in themselves and others. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

class time

Maybe it's because I used to be a teacher.  Or because I attended school through two master's degrees, so it's habitual.  I don't know.  But there is something about the start of a new school year that makes me feel like turning a page--literally or figuratively.  Although the world celebrates New Year's Day on Jan. 1st, and the church welcomes the new year with Advent, for me the new year seems to begin right now.  What do I need/want to be learning right now?  Who are my teachers?  What about you?  What "classes" are engaging you these days?  How can we encourage one another and support one another in this constant learning and growing?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Thomas Merton, a spiritual writer, monk, and poet, once wrote, “A tree gives glory to God by being a tree.” The author of the letter to the Ephesians puts it this way: "Each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift…. Some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ." (Ephesians 4:7, and 11-13).

Certainly I am called to be a pastor and teacher, and in that I do strive to equip the saints for the work of ministry. But beyond my profession, how do I give glory to God? What is my essential Sue-ness? What needs to shine in all its authenticity in order for me to be truly honoring God's creation?

What is it specifically, particularly, uniquely about you that gives glory to God? What gets in the way of it? How can the Church help you embrace that inherent YOU-ness more fully? I appreciate any thoughts you'd like to share....

Thursday, July 26, 2007

phoenix rising

I'm obsessed these days with the mythical phoenix. It's not just because of the Harry Potter books (though I love that JK Rowlings has tears of a phoenix as an agent of healing--great image/idea). It's because there's something wonderful about new life rising from the ashes. I know what it feels like to be just a lump of coal lying in the dirt, and I know what it feels like to grow new wings.

The legend of the phoenix is familiar in Arabic, Chinese and Egyptian mythology. In each, the bird is a sign of immortality. The version I know (probably a cultural mish-mash of all of them) is that the phoenix is a bird that lives 300-500 years. It then builds a funeral pyre of fragrant wood and burns itself up, only to be recreated, arising from the ashes as a brand new creature, which lives another 500 years. I suppose the Christian symbolism is obvious, right? In the first century, a wise bishop added the phoenix to the collection of resurrection images. Last year was a toughie for me, but I feel my new feathers fluttering even now.....