Friday, June 1, 2012

God on the Loose Among Us

Mark Blume sent me this story about how he saw God at work last night.

The Juergens family hosted a dinner party tonight for Joni’s parents and her two sisters who were visiting from out of town. Denise and I and Jan and Alan Rutkowski were invited. Denise and I because Denise visited New York with Joni and her sisters last year and Alan and Jan because Alan went to Marquette University with Joni’s sister Laurie and Alan, Jan and Laurie had become good friends during that time but had not seen each other in over 20 years.

While we were visiting with each other before dinner, we noticed a couple looking for something in the field next to the elementary school behind the Juergens' house. Wondering what they were looking for and thinking they could use some assistance, Joni and a couple of us went out on her deck and asked the couple if they had lost something. The women responded that she had lost her ring in the grass but was about to give up looking for it. Joni offered to help and the woman and her husband declined, but we insisted. So we all went out the field to help search for her ring.

The woman and her husband were from the Oshkosh area and had been attending their granddaughters’ soccer game. The woman stated her hands had gotten very cold and her ring must have slipped off her finger and fell into the grass. When we asked what kind of ring we were looking for and the woman indicated it was a gold band with five diamonds.

Some of us formed a line and began crawling on our hands and knees to search in the grass for the ring, while others spread out around us and also searched in the grass. After I’d say about ten minutes, Joni’s sister Laurie jumped up and shouted she had found the ring. And sure enough there it was….the woman’s missing ring. The woman was obviously very happy and thanked Laurie and all of us for finding her ring.

Someone suggested a picture. The woman’s husband tried to take a picture of Laurie and his wife with his phone. But the memory card on his phone was full and he could not take any additional pictures. So I pulled out my phone and took a picture of Laurie and the woman and then the entire group (minus me and the woman's husband).

We invited the couple to join us for dinner. They declined and the woman’s husband made a joke about buying us all dinner, but at McDonalds since there was so many of us. We headed back to the Juergens' house to enjoy a great night together and the couple headed off to their car presumably to return home.

God was definitely on the loose among us tonight.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tuesday's Text--Acts 2:1-21

This weekend, we celebrate Pentecost--the day when the Spirit descended and the people understood one another, even though they spoke in their own languages.  It's sometimes referred to as the birthday of the church.

Acts 2:1-21
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.  6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

How have you experienced the Spirit at work in your life?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

God sightings--the gifts pastors receive

I've talked about it before, but it is so true that I'll say it again.  Pastors receive amazing gifts from the people who sit in the pews.  They may not be intentional, but they are extremely beautiful.  I don't think they can be planned, they just happen.  In any case, these moments are memorable and I treasure them.

I think about the candlelit faces on Christmas Eve.  When I stand up to give the benediction and look out over all of those faces, sometimes stretching all the way to the back of the narthex, I see beautiful images of the light shining in the darkness, the Word becoming flesh, brothers and sisters created in the image of God.  Simply beautiful.

There are moments at the communion table when time seems to stop and I get a glimpse of God's time.  I see hands stretching out--old hands and young hands--to receive Christ's body.  I see our youngest ones beginning to understand that they have a place at God's table, that God's love is for all of us, that all are really, truly welcome.  I can't put a value on these moments.  I can only say they are beautiful.

Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to preach and preside at Faith Lutheran Church in Lakewood, Ohio.  The pastor told me when we talked earlier in the week that one of their members was celebrating her 95th birthday and that she would be there (probably in the third pew on the right) with her daughters.  I watched as she took communion, with bright pink fingernails, and a daughter on each side and found myself with tears in my eyes.  It was a moment overflowing with love--love of mother for her children, love of children for their mother, the love of God made manifest in a little bit of bread and wine. 

A little later, during the announcements, I watched as a huge smile grew on her face while we sang happy birthday to her.  We were singing to her, but that moment was a gift to me.  A reminder of the beauty of the body of Christ.  A reminder of the way that we are connected in baptism, made brothers and sisters in Christ, that our church is way bigger than the people we know and recognize from regular encounters.  It was a moment I will treasure.  A gift and a grace.

We can't always know when we will catch glimpses of God at work.  All we can do is trust that in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the world, God is at work, all around us.  Sometimes we catch glimpses of the grace and beauty and love in moments when we least expect it and sometimes in the places where we trust so fully in the promise that God will indeed be with us.  Beautiful beyond words and every day blessings.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

1 John 5:9-13

This second reading for the 7th Sunday of Easter is 1 John 5:9-13.

If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son. Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son. And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

Who gets to decide who "has the Son"?
What does it mean to you to have eternal life?
This is the last weekend we will hear from 1 John for awhile.  What new insights have you discovered over the past several weeks?  What new questions do you have?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday in Easter

I am looking forward to my return to Peace on June 10.  I have, however, enjoyed this time to meet other brothers and sisters in Christ in Northern Ohio.  I was invited to preach at Faith Lutheran Church in Lakewood on May 13.  What follows is the sermon I preached there.

What does love look like?  Is that a puzzling question or does an answer come immediately to mind?  What does love look like?

We’ve been listening to readings from 1 John all through the season of Easter.  And it has struck me this year just how important love is in this little book.  The word is used over and over again.  Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action....  Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God....  God is love....  Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also....  And today, by this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.  Combine this with Jesus’ pronouncements in the Gospel of John, “Just as the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love” and “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” and we have a pretty powerful reminder that love--God’s love--is at the center of this life of faith.  So what does that love look like?

I don’t remember who first taught me about God’s love.  I do know that since before I could remember my parents have told me they loved me, and my grandparents.  I know that skipping stones in the Mississippi with my grandpa and going to visit grandma at the nursing home where she worked are some of my earliest memories, along with climbing into my dad’s lap to read story after story and remembering my mom staying up late to sew doll clothes or paint individual tulips on the wall of my childhood bedroom.  All of them, each in their own way, helped me understand what it means to love and to be loved.  

I don’t remember the first time I sang “Jesus Loves Me,” but I know that by the time I was in Kindergarten, I was so confident in that love that I stood in front of a group of sixth graders and scolded them, with hands on my hips, “How many times do I have to tell you, when you’re singing about Jesus you should have a smile on your face?”  Folks at my home congregation who remembered that story were not surprised when they learned that I was headed to seminary.

A pastor friend once told me that every night, he traces the cross on his children’s foreheads and says “Jesus loves you and so do I.”  Not long ago, he and his teenaged son had an argument that resulted in the son stomping off to his room for several hours.  But when it came time for bed, he emerged and came upstairs to tell his dad he was going to bed.  He leaned down to receive the blessing he had received nearly every night of his life.  “Jesus loves you and so do I.”  

Maybe your story is different.  Maybe you remember vividly the day that you first learned about God’s love.  That you first experienced it and took it in.  Maybe you remember the first time someone spoke those amazing words that are so full of grace and hope and promise, “Child of God, you are loved.”  Whatever the story we have to tell, isn’t that promise still absolutely amazing.  You are loved.

We love because God first loved us.  And, as you all know well, God’s love moves in us, through us, and around us.  When we really stop and take it in, we can’t help but be moved.  And it gets us moving, right?  Whether we speak of God’s love or show it, when we really take it in, we can’t help but to share it.  And since God gives us a variety of gifts, we use those gifts to the best of our ability to let light of Christ’s love shine in a world that so often needs to hear it again that love is more powerful than hate, that God is love, that you are loved.  

So what does love look like?  I took a look at your website and it looks to me that love at Faith looks a little bit like a community clothes closet or a community meal.  It looks like a place where “a church for all” is taken so seriously that there’s even a place for pets every once in awhile.  It looks like a place where quilts are created with love and resources are shared in the neighborhood and around the world.  It looks like a place where God’s people understand that love is active.  It looks like a place where generations have been nurtured and joys and sorrows shared and where strangers are welcomed as brothers and sisters. 

My husband moved last August to teach for the year at Oberlin.  I joined him at the end of November.  During our time in Ohio, we’ve enjoyed the opportunity to visit many different churches--ELCA, Episcopal, UCC, and Baptist.  This is what we’ve witnessed again and again: God’s love takes on many different forms.  We’ve stumbled into congregations that are tiny and some that are quite large.  We’ve seen confirmation students excited to share God’s love through service and college students who have experienced God’s love in places near and far.  We’ve watched as brothers and sisters in Christ washed one another’s feet and have knelt at many a communion rail.  I heard last weekend at the South Central Synod of Wisconsin assembly stories of congregations reaching out to show God’s love in various ways in their own communities--through community meals and outreach to immigrant communities.  I heard stories from around the ELCA of the ways God’s love is being shared with folks who have heard about it for years and folks who have just recently heard the promise for the very first time.

And when we stop and think about it, this love of God that is steadfast and encompassing and sure, we realize that that love surprises us and delights us and fills us with awe.  That that love works in many and various ways in and through the people around us--friends and family and strangers.  That God’s love is something to be shared.  That God’s love is engrained in us deeply and yet entirely new.  That God’s love empowers us and fills us and renews us and refreshes us.

Today, like we do most every Sunday, we gather at the Lord’s table, where we take in the body and blood of Christ.  Where we hear the words of promise “This is my body given for you.”  Words that are so full of love.  Words that change us.  Words that charge us to share that love, not just within these walls but out into the world.  The authors of a book on Lutherans and immigration called They Are Us put it this way “In the eucharist, we not only eat at the altar table of our congregations, but we follow the real presence of Jesus into the world to connect with the community.”  God’s love changes us.  It frees us to serve.  It sends us out into the world to use the gifts we have been given to the best of our ability, all in the name of Christ, whose love is so strong it conquers death.  That is a stunning and empowering reality for us, isn’t it?  In Christ, we have a promise of love so amazing it conquers even death.  So what have we to fear?  We lay down our burdens and follow the one who is love.  We are freed to love and sent out to serve.  

It never ceases to amaze me when I hear the promise at the end of Matthew’s gospel.  “Remember, I am with you always until the end of the age.”  God calls us to love and promises to be with us through the joys and the sorrows and challenges that an active love brings.  At Christ’s table, we are nourished once again to go our many different ways to love--neighbors and strangers and enemies and friends.  We love because God first loved us.  We do our best to obey Christ’s command to love one another.  We abide in Christ’s love, so amazing, so divine and we rest deeply in the promise that God is love.  Amen.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Living, Daring Confidence

"Faith is a living, daring confidence in God's grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times."  --Martin Luther

Over the weekend, over 400 Lutherans from around South Central Wisconsin for the annual synod assembly.  We heard updates about what is going on around the synod and around the church.  We met with colleagues and friends.  We were challenged by Luther Seminary professor Rolf Jacobson to live into the amazing story of God.  Whenever we gather, I am amazed to hear the stories of God on the loose among us--in South Central Wisconsin and in the world.

Thanks to new technologies, the ELCA has been able to put together a video the past several years so that we can see some of the ministries that are happening around our church.  I was moved by the theme of living, daring confidence--the theme for the video and of our assembly.

How have you been moved by a living, daring confidence in God's grace?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

This week's Bible study--1 John 5:1-6

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.

The theme of love continues.  What does it mean to you to love God?
The theme of "children of God" is very important in this letter.  How has your idea of being a child of God changed throughout your life?
How does the Spirit work in your life?