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.