Saturday, July 26, 2008

What's God Cookin Up In The Kingdom Kitchen?

What is your favorite recipe? We had some folks over the other night and a friend said she'd bring her favorite summer salad. I asked her for the recipe too. I love to gather recipes for favorite dishes – it's a wonderful way to strengthen relationships and community by learning about others' traditions and cultures.

Perhaps each of you have a favorite recipe too?

Let's look at the recipe for my friend's summer salad:

3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce

3-ounce package instant ramen noodles (raw)

2 tablespoons sesame seeds
10-ounce bag cole slaw cabbage mix
1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
1/4 cup dried cranberries

Now admittedly, taken by themselves the ingredients may not sound very appetizing. But after whisking together the dressing ingredients

and sautéing the noodles with the sesame seeds and scallions then adding the cranberries and cole slaw cabbage mix and finally tossing the dressing on the noodle mixture, YUM!

Our lives are full of individual events that are like ingredients in the summer salad. Some are sweet, some are slimy, some are raw and rough and some are sour. Taken separately, these events of our lives may not seem good, by themselves, by when whisked by God's grace and blessed with other events; the final product will be good. It's not just our goodness or piety that God intends to use; God's work needs our neediness…our failings, too. Many successes have been based on numerous failures…the inventor of the boomerang said that the success occurred because of all the failings that preceded the final successful version.

I see God taking all of the events of our humanity and creating "good" from all our experiences. It's hard not to judge the goodness of God's work here and now…but has God finished the recipe yet? What is God is cookin' up in the kingdom kitchen?

God has promised to concoct a good kingdom for us. We were adopted as children of God with the waters of our baptism. The baptismal promise that God gives is one of the present as well as the future. We live and participate in the kingdom of God right now. God gave us the gift of salvation through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But, like the summer salad before mixing together, the kingdom is not complete. We are in the "already but not yet" of living in the kingdom. When the recipe is complete, all will be made "good" in Christ.

Like many of you, I find food at the center of community -especially our Christian community. We celebrate the body and blood of Jesus Christ at the table every week and we don't do it by ourselves, we do it "in community". So over my vacation, I read a book about food. The author of the book was quoted to say, "How could I take communion and read the Bible and not feed people?"

Sara Miles was an unlikely candidate for a religious epiphany--a lesbian, with atheist parents and a journalist's view on life with experience as a restaurant cook.

She traveled to war-torn countries reporting on the effects of the war on the citizens, and experienced first-hand how people who are worlds apart, speaking different languages can be brought together by the simple act of sharing food.

She began to see food as the universal bond that ties us together.

Then out of the blue, Sara found herself in St. Gregory's Episcopal Church where she ate a piece of bread, took a sip of wine, and found herself radically transformed. And her desire to share the breaking of bread with those less fortunate became overwhelming.

She set up the St. Gregory's food pantry--a new idea, where, instead of dishing out meals like soup kitchens, the volunteers allow the poor and needy of the area to maintain their dignity by selecting their own groceries and bringing them home to cook their own meals. In no time, the news of the good work in St. Gregory's spread among the community, and now her efforts feed over 450 families each week.

The actions of one person can be significant to others. Margaret Mead said "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

He put before them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches." (Matthew 13:31-32)

Speaking of small, did you know that a mustard seed does not grow into a spreading tree? It grows into a rather dry-looking shrub, a shrub that spreads by spilling seeds that make more shrubs. But Jesus imagines the kingdom of heaven as a mustard seed that grows into a spreading tree, a tree in which the birds come and make their nests. For that to happen, it would take a miracle. So the kingdom of God is the place where miracles happen, where unexpected growth occurs.

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose…For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:28, 38-39)

The past year, Holy Trinity has been in the process of transformation…of working together for good. We have told our faith stories, we have answered surveys, we have shared our dreams and hopes for Holy Trinity, we have gathered over 3 days to work on our mission, our values. We have done all this to ask "what is God cookin' up here" - as a way to determine God’s purpose for our community.

What in the world is God up to?
What is God up to in our community?
What is God up to in our congregation?
What is God up to in my life?

God's grace is creative and transforming – just as a master chef can create and transform sour, slimy, sweet, raw and rough ingredients into a delicious summer salad. We can plant the ingredients, the small little seeds, and let God create a good recipe in the kingdom kitchen. God has freely given God's love to us in Jesus Christ. We are known, named and called by God. We are called to be nurturing community where Jesus Christ transforms people's lives and empowers people to make a difference. God will reign and we will walk with each other as sisters and brothers…Thanks be to God!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream

from April 24, 2008

I had an amazing dream last night about our church....young & old folks learning to cook meals in our tremendous kitchen and feeding each other!

When I awoke, my mind just raced about potential of something like this. Here's the flood of thoughts:
* preparing "Dinners by Design" types of meals for families in area (they come prepare in kitchen & freeze then take out and reheat)
* using the monies collected from such a venture for seed money for outreach to the hungry, homeless, &/or unchurched ministries
* pick up meals on their way home from work
* family activity or childcare drop-off times (evenings, weekends)
* inviting hungry/homeless (from food pantry/PADS/others) in for weekend breakfast/lunches
* cooking classes through the Park District
* Intergenerational cooking classes for our church & community
* online cookbooks from collection of favorite recipes
* Thanksgiving (and other holiday) meals for hungry/homeless
* Caring Casseroles - prepare & freeze casseroles to take out to homebound, ill, recuperating, grieving folks

So, now what? Having such a vision/dream is amazingly powerful for me and quite energizing. Planting & sharing it (without it being my idea) with lay leaders so it can either grow into a reality or die a quiet death takes planning & patience & time.

Now it's time for prayer!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Will You Follow? Lead?

Examples of following & leading - Dancing & Geese

Whether following or leading, we are commanded to Love Our Neighbor As Ourself. You see, there is no limit -no boundary to the extent that we should go for our neighbor.
For God’s mercy has no limit - God’s mercy is abundant. God asks us to give God mercy, not sacrifice. God has such hope and love for us that God has reached out us through Jesus and shown us abundant mercy.

Jesus is traveling around Galilee doing ministry. First he sees a tax collector at a toll booth and invites Matthew to follow him. They travel on together and eat with other tax collectors…considered sinners and not accepted by the Pharisees - the ruling Jewish leaders.

Then we hear of Jarius, a loving father who is also a leader in the synagogue. He approaches Jesus and asks Jesus to follow him to his home where his daughter has just died. Then the hemorrhaging woman reached out in her faithfulness, to Jesus to be healed.

Both stories provide food for thought upon the nature of ministry—that of Jesus as well as that of the church. Jesus calls Matthew to follow him, yet Jesus follows Matthew and the sinners to the table. Meanwhile, the desperate leader and the suffering woman prevail upon Jesus to win his touch. Jesus reaches out to the toll collector, but he finds himself apprehended by those seeking his healing touch.

Jesus often receives credit for touching a woman with a bloody discharge and for touching a dead girl's body. According to tradition, Jesus reaches across Israel's purity codes in doing so. Recent scholars recognize that Jesus does not disobey the Law in either instance, but he does touch ritual impurity. The thing is, Jesus initiates neither contact. Once again, he practices the art of following.

So it may be with the church's ministry: sometimes we go forth and identify ourselves with those on the margins; in other cases the needs of others draw the church beyond its comfortable boundaries. Like Jesus, the church needs to cultivate the art of following.

Sometimes the church needs to learn the art of following, as Jesus does in Matthew's Gospel. During the Civil Rights Movement some European Americans acted as heroes, risking social standing, employment, even bodily safety for the cause of justice. In fact, my own pastor in suburban Wauconda had learned the art of following and worked hard to lead the justice movement in our little community. You see, he had grown up on the south side of Chicago and had followed people who looked and sounded different than he. God's mercy worked through him to show us how to follow... how to listen and learn from others. He taught me to respect others who believe differently than me. His story and the stories of other European Americans have inspired me for as long as I can remember.

Yet most of them did not seek out the cause of racial justice; rather, it found them. A particular incident opened their eyes to the harsh truth, or a specific crisis called them to action. Then, sometimes slowly, sometimes reluctantly, and usually hesitantly, they moved forth. Confronted with the leadership and the suffering of African Americans, some but not all Anglo European Americans joined the cause. As in many of the healing stories of Jesus, they were heroes not because they sought out the opportunity for healing but because they responded to the call set before them. They practiced the art of following, then given the fullness of God's mercy, they began to lead. They led without fear, because through Christ, they were not afraid.

Some churches suffer from a misguided hero complex today. Mainline churches wonder how to draw people in rather than how to engage with human beings where they live. Rather than wait for people to come in, perhaps the church should follow our neighbors out into the world, responding to their needs as they emerge.

What might this look like at Holy Trinity?

Rather than complain that families attend summer soccer games, we might offer clinics on parenting and sports….or perhaps utilize our gymnasium and open it to the community.
Rather than puzzle over why the multi-ethnic community in our neighborhood doesn't visit us, we might explore how to participate in the area Korean or Indian or Mexican events.
Rather than close our front door to those who seek entrance, we might consider opening it…both literally and figuratively.
Rather than give money alone, what if we went to the Food Pantry and gave our time? We might go to an area PADS site and served the guests there…or we might explore how Holy Trinity could become a PADS site.

God's mercy sees through all of our sinfulness and follows us faithfully like the woman....and yet, also leads us like the synagogue leader led Jesus to his dead daughter. There is a steadfastness in knowing God will be there...merciful...always.

Let's pray.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

In the Spirit, Unity is Created out of Diversity

Today is the birthday of the church – we all have birthdays…some of us also celebrate Adoption Days…and some of us celebrate the anniversary of our baptism. And today we are reminded of our baptismal covenant with the beautiful colors and sounds that God created. Paul taught the Corinthians the baptismal tradition:
Galatians 3:27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

Today is the Day of Pentecost, the day that the Holy Spirit rained down on the disciples. It was a bright day full of great power – the colors of fire and the sound of wind; a day when God’s hand opened and poured gifts on ordinary people, scared people, wondering people. Gifts came raining down from heaven, and caused ordinary disciples to do things they never imagined that they would do. So what do we do to make this day special? Some wear red – a bright powerful color – to recapture the passion, the excitement of that day long ago. Some recapture the energy by hearing the readings in different languages, or wave colorful streamers or offer special music.
What can we do to help us experience what it was like on that day? One minute the disciples are inside the house, together – the next they are outside – with tongues of fire dancing on their heads and the word of God dancing on their lips. I think it looked like that when the apostles first received the gifts of the Spirit: a rainbow of color and sound.
Gifts of the Spirit - that’s what Paul talks about in our lesson from first Corinthians.
"There are varieties of gifts, but the same spirit," he tells them. "There are varieties of services, but the same Lord, and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone."

That Holy Spirit that fell down on the believers on Pentecost kept falling on Christians – even amidst the paganist lifestyle of Corinth – giving them a variety of gifts. And the Holy Spirit that fell on Pentecost – and that fell on the Corinthians – also falls on us, here and now, and gives to us a variety, a rainbow of gifts.
Except that with the Corinthians, there was a problem. And we get an idea of the problem as we read Paul’s letter, when he tells them:
"To each is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good."
It seems that the Christians in Corinth were acting as individuals - they were proud of their gifts, and they used them to compete with each other, to try to figure out who was better. They thought that the gifts they had received were for their own benefit only, and not for the sake of one another – for the common good, as Paul writes. So what was supposed to be a good thing turned out to be the cause of pride and arguing and division. There are many gifts – Paul reminds us – but only one Lord, only one God – and our many gifts are be used for one another’s sake, for the "common good".
The common good – we hear this phrase sometimes, in a political way, and in fact, Paul is borrowing it from the political life of his own day. But what does it mean?
Martin Luther said "One does not live for self alone but lives also for all others on earth, nay, rather, lives only for others and not for oneself."

The mission statement for Protestants for the Common Good states that the group acts for social justice and the common good as essential to the Christian faith, educating and mobilizing people of faith to become effective participants in political democracy."

And as MLK Jr. reflected, "Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. . . I cannot be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be."

A good description of "the common good" is there are some things that are just good for me, but there are also things that are good for us, for all of us, that make our community better – more beautiful, more just. Paul writes that the many varieties of spiritual gifts given to us as Christians are not simply for our own benefit, but to share with one another. Then he recites a list of gifts: wisdom and knowledge, healing and miracles and tongues – not in an attempt to limit our minds about God’s gifts, but to expand them. There are probably many more gifts than these listed: gifts of listening as well as speaking, gifts of compassion and mercy, gifts of hospitality. Paul wants to open our minds to the many gifts that the Spirit is giving to us – and to those around us. For I think the people of Corinth had a limited vision of both God’s gifts – and of who could have them.
NRS Romans 12:4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

We face two challenges when we think about the gifts of the Spirit. The first is selfish pride and the temptation to think of ourselves as better than someone else. And the second is the temptation to think that we don’t have any gifts, that what we do isn’t valuable, that we are useless.
Perhaps it’s either because we are too young or too old…
Perhaps because we think we are too small and insignificant...
Perhaps it is because others put us down, and tell us we don’t know what we’re talking about…
Sometimes we're tempted to just give up, because others are ignoring us…
then we don’t think we have a contribution to make.
Today is Hunger Sunday here at Holy Trinity. We have traditionally been generous with our contributions to the Food Pantries and our monetary collections for ELCA World Hunger continue to rise. What other ways might we use our gifts to help diminish hunger? Do these statistics seem overwhelming?
Worldwide, more than 1 billion people currently live below the international poverty line, earning less than $1 per day. Among this group of poor people, many have problems obtaining adequate, nutritious food for themselves and their families. As a result, 820 million people in the developing world are undernourished.

Well, when youth at All Saints Lutheran Church in Palatine set out to raise $100,000 for a local food pantry, many thought the amount was a tad idealistic. BUT when the youth raised $71,000 earlier this year, people were impressed but thought that would be the limit. But the energy and idealism of the youth prevailed—before Easter, they had raised more than $106,000. The All Saints youth banded together with local high schools and several area congregations to form Youth Hunger Opposition in Palatine, the organization that actually raised the money. But as the YHOP Web site says, “an ongoing problem needs ongoing effort.” The ongoing problem is there isn't enough food…enough bread…for the people who are hungry.
How might we use our unique gifts to help end hunger? What unique giftabilities exist within Holy Trinity? We have the gift of a well-equipped kitchen….the gift of multiple generations who have cared well for each other…the gift of education…the gift of music…How might we share these gifts with those outside Holy Trinity? How might we bring others into this loving family? What would it look like if we invited strangers to learn to cook with us in our kitchen? Or offer meals for those busy families on their way home? Or prepare meals for the people who live out in the woods in Morton Grove? Or prepare & share meals and pray with our brothers and sisters who are homebound?
We share our gifts with our brothers and sisters because as believers we have become one body in baptism:
1 Corinthians 10:17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

The Holy Spirit gave each of the believers an ability that was needed on the day of Pentecost. Jerusalem was filled with visitors from many nations, and God wanted to reach out to every one of them. By giving the believers the ability to speak in the languages of the visitors, God was able to reach all of the people with the Word of life in their own tongue.
No one believer was given the ability to speak all of the languages. Each of the believers had an individual ability to do their part. God’s intention was much bigger than the ability that was given to any one believer. All of the believers together were given every ability that was needed to fulfill the intention of God. God still gives to the community of believers every ability that is needed to fulfill God’s intention to reach the whole world.
Catholic priest and spiritual author, Henry Nouwen suggested the imagery of a mosaic. How one stone by itself doesn't look like much but when you place a whole bunch together you can make a mosaic. That as a church the mosaic we make up is the face of Christ. When people aren't using their gifts or joining the community then it takes away from the fullness of the picture and Christ's face isn't complete. The mosaic needs each of the stones to be complete in Christ.
What are the giftabilities that God has given to you? What giftabilities has God given to others in this community of faith? We will later sing these words…
"Let us be united…let our song be heard…we all are one in mission we all are one in call…our varied gifts united by Christ the Lord of all".

As you sing the words, consider that we are all one in mission. What is our mission? We are all one in call. Where is God calling you? Where is God calling Holy Trinity?
Often when we consider the gifts of the spirit we forget what OUR common good is. For us who gather here today, and for the apostles who gathered on that first Pentecost: Our common good is the common mission of going out into the world, and sharing the love of God in word and deed. Our common good is to share – not just with one another – but with our neighbors and with strangers, with friends and with enemies – the hope that is in us. Our common good is to share God's wide and forgiving love -- and do it with words and deeds of mercy and justice.
1 Corinthians 10:31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.

We have a beautiful gospel, a story of a God who loves us each in all of our variety, who came to heal us and forgive us and to share his life with us, and to die for us. We have a beautiful gospel of a God who took a small band of ordinary people – gave them a mission, gave them gifts, and made them into a Church. And in this Church, even one of us, from the youngest to the oldest, from the richest to the poorest, has gifts to share – with us, and with the world. For it is in the Spirit that unity is created out of our diversity. And that is beautiful music.
Gracious God, thank you for creating each of us uniquely in our baptism and gifting us with your love. Help us to be active in the world .. to sing out… to share our gifts…to feed the hungry… to empower the oppressed…with all God's people…
And we sing Glory Glory Hallelujah!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Faith Journey Continues…

Preached on Sunday May 4 2008 to Confirmands of Holy Trinity - Glenview.

Confirmation can mean different things to different people. Some expect a sort of graduation – a milestone of sorts. Some expect to "feel differently" upon being confirmed.

Remember how you felt when:

you were just a little child, you were baptized?

Then a few years ago, when you received your First Holy Communion?

Last year when you studied the Old Testament with Intern Dirk?

This year when you have learned about Luther's Small Catechism?

It seems more like a life long journey than a destination. The journey began when you met Christ. Unlike other things you will do, faith does not have a graduation or a point when you have learned & achieved everything. This is not the end or the destination of exploring your faith for your journey continues…

All these things happen to you with all of your church family around - supporting, participating, caring for you. Sometimes you may have felt like you were doing this alone, but there were many people around for you.

KJV Proverbs 11:14 Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.

There are different ways to witness the glory of God…some people witness through the Word…some are touched by tradition…some are motivated by music….some find the power of God in the people around them. This community cares about you like God loves you as one of God's own…that is what the Christian community does. It's the great commandment…to love each other as Jesus has loved us.

NRS Mark 12:29 Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' 31 The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."

We have prayed the Lord's Prayer together…in Spanish…German - even in Latin but definitely better when we hold hands!

Our Father in heaven…Your kingdom come…Your will be done…

We shared meals together…on Wednesday nights during Lent, in class upstairs, in worship we share Holy Communion. I learned that you really like to use baked bread for communion – that gives new meaning to the petition "Give us today our daily bread". Your favorite – the bread of Holy Communion…

NRS Matthew 26:26While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body."

We forgave each other….we found out what it feels like to ask for forgiveness and then to forgive someone. We wrote down our sins and even dared to share them with each other.

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those against us…

NRS Matthew 18:33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?' 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart."

We shared the challenges that we faced…things from school, friends, family, sports, church…feelings…relationships…homework…school trips…new bikes.

Save us from the time of trial…And deliver us from evil…

And we prayed to God…the Creator, our God – the God that we share with each other.

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.

You have shared your faith…

NRS Matthew 28:19 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

We've shared our highs and our lows…acted out skits about how to pray and how to tell a sinner from a saint.

We've worshipped together…on Sundays…you have been acolytes and readers and prayer leaders and singers…on Wednesday nights in the snow during Lent…and last Sunday you lead an awesome worship!

I learned that you love to hear and tell the stories from the Old Testament and from the New Testament….You selected the readings for the youth service last week. Very significant stories about creation, God's love for us, God's covenant with Noah and the story from John about Jesus walking on the water. You liked this story because it spoke to you of how faith in Christ can get you through anything...

NRS John 6:18 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20 But he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

As Jesus journeyed in his life, so will you. Just as Peter and Thomas doubted and questioned, so will you. Like Mary Magdalene, Paul, and those who believed with all their hearts, so will you. Your faith may falter like the disciples…sometimes strong, sometimes questioning. And when you face some rough times ahead, you will know that God is always here for you…and so is your church family.

Today you will read notes from people here in the HTLC family of faith…notes of support and you may learn that many of us are still on our faith journey…still learning…sometimes questioning. Our stories are all a little different but the one thing we do share is Christ. As you keep learning and exploring your faith, remember that the journey continues…and as you journey, you are cared for and cared about by the people here in this community of HTLC.

We are all called to walk with each other as sisters and brothers united in love.

AND the best news of all, Christ is with us on the journey!

NRS Matthew 28:20 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Lenten Meditation for Sunday March 2, 2008

Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

The waters of baptism take us to Christ's path of righteousness. We sit at the table set by Christ, our cup overflowing with his goodness & love. We want so much to be near the warmth… want to be children of Christ's warm shimmering waters. We want to be good and right and true…we want to expose the works of the cold muddy waters…the powers that exploit those who are hungry, cold, sick, homeless and suffering.

Through God's amazing grace, we have been shown the warm shimmering waters of Christ's love. In the mixing of water and dirt --- elements of this world yet seemingly of another world…our true reflection is muddied; it is then that we see the true sinful creatures that we are. As we go out into the world, this water flows through us, cleansing us and touching others…we seek quiet waters yet find muddy waters that aren't so shimmering. But the mercy and love of Christ opens our hearts and our minds to the possibilities of this world. The possibility of a beloved community here in this place and in this time. At the internship sites we serve…the hospitals we visit…the campus that feeds our thirst…the ministries of the ELCA… the ministries of Christ in the world.

We serve with joy in our hearts –we are freed by the warm shimmering water of Christ to serve in our own unique ways. Christ is with us as we go out into the muddy waters of this world.

Thanks be to God!

Lynne Morrow, Intern

Wednesday Night Lenten Experience

I thought the evening could not have been any better...the
confirmation families co-hosting the Lenten Supper worked together
6 of 7 confirmation kids actively helped with the supper! Then we
moved upstairs to the sanctuary for the Lenten Service and somehow,
all the hymns requested during the Hymn Request were favorites of mine
- yet requested by others!

The cantor (a new member!) sang beautifully - the pianist was splendid
- the cadence and even the lighting were all just right. (lighting is
an issue many times for us!)

The lay member (an introverted patent attorney) who shared his faith
story (This I Believe...) touched our hearts with his message. The two
confirmation kids who read the Epistle & the Prayers spoke better than
I've ever heard them - clearly enunciated and spoke into the mic.
(Even the "over 70" crowd was smiling & could hear & understand them!)

The Spirit was so strong and so alive in this night that, in my
estimation, the experience could not have been any better.

Until she (a new member) called my name - in a desperation sounding
voice - when we were all chatting after the service. When I started
toward her, she rushed up and gushed out "my brother is hemorrhaging
and they think this is it - they took him from the nursing home to the
hospital and I'm waiting to hear now".

Not surprisingly, what followed was not of my doing but a God-thing -
definitely Spirit driven. I gathered those remaining (~15) in the
sanctuary and called a prayer circle around her. This was new to most
of those present so I found myself explaining a little before we began
praying. Then we prayer after another and then silence and
then more prayers and silence. When we closed the prayers, everyone
stood there, in the center of the aisle of the sanctuary still holding
hands or arms and just embraced each other.

I believe this is what ministry is about - being open to acting on the
guidance of the Spirit. Offering new ways of sharing community with
one another. Caring & supporting those in our community - no matter
how new they are to the community - and embracing them and enveloping
them into our community.

Thanks be to God for opening my eyes & my heart to this experience.

First Communion Passover

Just taught a really fun 1st communion class!

New Interim Pastor & I wanted something a little more engaging than
the "standard" Augsberg Come to God's Table booklets.

So spent today on the OT (Exodus - Passover & the Seder). We told the
story then they tasted from the seder plate & afikommen. We wanted
them to be able to articulate the significance of the story in one or
two sentences. They were able to capture the story quite succinctly.

We then went to the local pottery-making place & the kids painted
their own chalices. They will use these for receiving their 1st
communion on Maundy Thursday evening. (We commune them, then they
commune their families).

When their parents picked them up, the kids each told their parents
the short highlight sentence of the class. Judging from the big smiles
on their faces when telling their parents, I believe the new approach
of teaching was well-received!

Next week we'll have another Passover seder and will connect it to the
NT - Last Supper, etc.

Where will the waters take you?

Brothers & Sisters in Christ, Grace & Peace to you from God our father.

Ashes and Water…the two are connected in the sense that the water washes away the ashes. Today we begin the Lenten season and we wear ashen crosses on our foreheads. And today we move the Baptismal font front and center.

This is a time of inner reflection and confession of our sinful condition. In our Gospel today, Jesus encourages us to give alms, pray and fast in a joyful and sincere spirit. He tells us to refrain from public displays of humility that are simply done to impress others. Jesus suggests that we, his followers, wash ouir faces and in doing so, reveal our true selves to God alone. For even as we uncover ourselves in honest contemplation of our conscience, we are bathed in the waters of Christ’s mercy and love.

As we gather in our Christian community, we focus on the baptismal waters. The baptismal font waters allow us to see our own reflections…to reflect honestly and clearly on our lives. We consider the meaning of almsgiving, prayer and fasting in our lives...the waters of baptism flow like the springtime waters flow from the mountaintop down into the valleys…they flow into the rivers that fill the greater bodies of water, the lakes and seas. The waters of baptism mix & mingle with these other water bodies and are taken out into the greater world.

We too have been on the mountaintop…as we come back down to the plains and valleys, just like the waters of baptism, we too are mixed and mingled with others...we bring our baptismal covenant with us to these other bodies – other relationships – our communities. Our covenant of giving, praying & fasting is intermixed in these communities where we live it in daily life. We do all of these with joy in our hearts. These things the waters free us to do.

Christ sets us free and goes with us out into the world, just as the mountaintop rain waters ---- to fill and nourish our world with the Good News of God. We do all this bathed in the baptismal waters of Christ’s mercy and love. We go out into the world today marked with the ashen cross on our foreheads “marked by Christ”.

I’d like to share a poem with you by Susan Palo Cherwien.

O Sea, mystic Source,

Relentless and fathomless,

All streams run to you.

O River, fair Stream,

O earth-bounded Wanderer,

You seek the low place.

O Rain, soaring Mist,

Osmotic and life-giving,

Your form, the vessel’s.

O Water, O Life,

O Fountain and Origin,

Have mercy on us.

In the spirit of almsgiving, praying & fasting, I ask:

Where will the waters take you?

Christ flows like a River through us and touches the world.

The young man had coded three times within 12 hours from drug related causes. As I entered his room, he wiped his eyes and took a drink of water. Then he told his story …Following the first two resuscitations, he just assumed "this is it for me" and was resigned to continuing his life of drug use upon release from the hospital. That was, until the third time he coded and awoke to find the doctor and nurses standing over him – crying and telling him the miracle that had just occurred. He shared that he had always considered himself an atheist, believing that all existence was merely a random coincidence. His belief had changed between the 2nd and 3rd resuscitation - he couldn't explain why, but just "knew" that there was a God responsible for all of this and that his life now had a purpose. He asked about Baptism…about receiving the Spirit…about being born again. We read John 3. He then asked me to pray for him and with him. He took another drink of water and then, despite being afraid to fall asleep for fear of not waking again, he fell asleep peacefully, comforted by Contemporary Christian music.

They met at night – in a secret private meeting place away from the daytime crowds. It was safe to ask questions, questions of life, death, heaven – with the one who seemed to know the answers.

But when Nicodemus actually came to Jesus that night, he didn't bring questions. He brought his own answer and told Jesus who he thought he was. Nicodemus a Pharisee, a Jewish leader and teacher came to Jesus and told him "I know of the miracles you have done; I know you have come from God". Jesus answered him "No you don't. Yes, you may have heard or seen the miracles…turning water into wine...but you can't use these things as evidence. Faith does not need evidence…it involves committing to believe in the unbelievable - risking to ask these questions in the daylight without any prepared answers. And, that's not the question you wanted to ask me anyway – you want to know how one enters the kingdom of God. And that, my friend, can't be done without being born from above."

Not quite understanding but still curious, Nicodemus asks "How can someone be born after living?" Jesus answers Nicodemus "No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit". Jesus realized that Nicodemus was searching and answered the questions that Nicodemus didn't know how to ask.

Are we much different from Nicodemus? We come week after week to proclaim our understanding of who God is and to ask God to fix things for us, to give us grace and eternal life. We ask for ourselves and others and go on and on and on. Yes, we are much like Nicodemus…doing all this in the stealth of the night.. in private safe places like our own church…seeking to get answers to questions we don't even know how to ask. Yes, as we struggle to figure it all out, God gives us new birth, of water and the Spirit. God breathes life into us. God pushes us out into the world to publicly live in God's presence. Nothing that we can do or say will do what God can do for us to be born of water and spirit. But Nicodemus keeps asking…he just doesn't seem to get it.

Nicodemus is mentioned three times in the Bible – all in the Gospel of John. The first is in this story when Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the night and questions him hesitantly, unknowingly about being born again.

The second time he is present in the Pharisee's discussion of punishing Jesus for being guilty of being the Messiah. Nicodemus is a little more public in his support of Jesus when he states to his fellow Pharisees that "Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?"

The final appearance of Nicodemus in the Gospel of John is in the burial scene of Jesus. After receiving permission from Pontius Pilate, he goes with Joseph of Arimathea to prepare Jesus' body for burial in the tomb. This time, his support of Jesus is done in public, in the light of day and with a very obvious load - he takes about 100 pounds of myrrh and aloes for the traditional Jewish death preparation.

In antiquity, organized religion liked to keep things under appropriate authority. Jesus came as a new river running through the land that the Pharisees could not control.

Quoting from a Lenten poem titled "O Sea, Mystic Source" by Susan Palo Cherwien:

O River, fair Stream

O Earth-bounded Wanderer,

You seek the low place.

Last month we celebrated the baptism of our Lord as he was baptized by his cousin John the Baptist at the River Jordan. Two weeks ago, we were on the mountaintop witnessing the transfiguration of Jesus the Christ with Peter, James and John. Now, we are in our second week of Len and have started our journey down that mountaintop just like the rains of springtime. Our lives have been filled with the waters of Christ and now the waters begin to fill the cracks and crevices of the dry and dying riverbeds with life. Christ, the mighty river carries us into the low places…takes us where we may not want to go. We flow into, next to and around one another…watching for and bumping into rocks, shooting the rapids, etc. of life.

We are encouraged to ask…

How do we seek the low place?

How can we become more conscious of the people in our midst who are unknown to us? Those who are invisible to us?

In what ways do we resist Christ the river by trying to stop it, redirect it, control it?

It takes courage to simply let the river flow…

To speak with someone new, someone different than us

To call out the injustices of hunger, homelessness and those in poor health

To spend time with those who society disregards "the invisibles"

To share gifts of time & talent beyond our community..with the greater church

It takes courage to let go and flow with the river of Christ…to take Christ with us everywhere we go out in the world. To publicly proclaim that we are not totally in control but that we are guided by Christ.

Let us be as public as Nicodemus is at the end of the Gospel of John. Let us give the river of Christ the control of our lives. Let us have the courage to embrace the truth about Jesus as the Son of God. Let us give thanks for the gift of life that he brings to us as children of God.