Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Eve Sermon

There are many words used to describe this time of year. Within our culture people will tell you that Christmas is their favorite holiday. When asked to describe how one experiences this season, they will tell you it is filled with “happiness”, “contentment”, “laughter”, “memories”, “busy-ness”, “warmth”, and so on. One of the words I hear most often used to describe this season, especially within the church realm is joy.

When you look up the word joy, you will find Webster defines it as “the emotion evoked by well being, success, or good fortune”…you will also see a secondary definition listed stating that it is a “state of happiness or felicity”.

In considering the Christmas celebrations we hold in our homes, surrounded by the presents, extravagant meals we bake, and the decorations that adorn our tables, shelves, and walls, the joy we experience from these things work well within Webster’s idea of what joy is. This kind of joy does indeed bring about some sense of success and happiness to our lives.

Where Webster tends to falter however, I believe, is when we come upon the story of that Christmas eve so many years ago. When the angel appeared to the shepherds on that night and proclaimed, “do not be afraid; for see-I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” For here, in this story, we learn about a different kind of joy. It is not your ordinary kind of joy, it is great joy, proclaimed to us from the highest realm, from the messengers of God to the ordinary people, sharing the good news that a savior has come.

For you see, the problem with Websters idea of joy is it has a hard time getting past the realm of something that is self-induced. Within our culture, we scramble to make our own joy, to find our own joy. This is why so often walmart parking lots are full, Christmas parties are abundant, and the bars are always packed…people are trying to find real, pure joy.

Real joy, true joy, is not something we can make ourselves. It is not found under the Christmas tree, in driving out to do our Christmas shopping. We don’t find it in the hundreds of goodies we get to eat throughout the season or even in the Christmas specials we watch on television. While we can find some form of joy in these activities, how long can it last? 15 minutes? An hour? When the television goes off, when the last cookie is eaten, or the last gift is unwrapped, we will again find ourselves empty and void, with the little high worn off and will be reminded that self induced joy is not the real thing.

The real joy that we receive is not a product or even a byproduct of something. It is not a spinoff of something or the generic brand; it is indeed true and authentic. It is why we are all gathered here on this evening. It is the reason for the angel’s proclamation to the shepherds.

True joy is a gift, given to us simply because of our loving God. It is the good news humanity had been waiting for, longing for, or as scripture says, “groaning for like a women in labor pains.” We had been anxiously praying for the coming Messiah, the savior who would free us from our sinful selves.

This was something we had learned overtime was the kind of joy we could not do on our own. Humanity had learned the hard way that this was not the self-induced kind of joy; it had to be the real thing. We needed to wait for God’s help, for we were fully dependent upon his grace. And so we waited, anxiously, yearning, for the day that the Messiah would come and bring us the true joy, the real thing. And finally, it had come in the form of a baby in a manger.

For you see, this is real joy. It is something that happened to us, to humanity. It wasn’t because of something we achieved. We didn’t do anything to earn it. We didn’t do anything that was deserving of the Christ child. Jesus’ coming was solely a gift, given to us because of God’s love. The joy we experience is our response to the gift that we have received.

We are joyful because we know the bad news. We know that without God’s love, without this Christ child, there is no way we could free ourselves from our sin. We know that we are in bondage. The reality that without Jesus coming, we would be condemned to death is something we all face. Knowing the truth of our situation makes the situation so much greater. It makes the joy so much greater.
The birth of Christ is a story that is about joy, true joy. It is about joy at its purest form. When we understand the joy of Christ’s birth, it brings about a greater understanding of what joy means in other areas of our lives. At the birth of a new child. When we go in for medical tests. At the death of a loved one. At a birthday celebration. At the homecoming of a grown child. At an Easter celebration. At Sunday worship. At a gathering of friends. As we sit down for dinner.

We can understand real joy during good and the bad times, the large celebrations and the small ones, in a new light. For Christ is with us in all times and in all places, and his birth message is given to us all.

For Christ’s joy is for everyone to experience because the good news of great joy is for all the people. The Savior, Jesus Christ, is for everyone. Not just those of us who are sitting here this evening but those who are not in worship as well. Not just the reverent, but the irreverent, too. Not just the righteous, but the unrighteous.

It is important for us to understand that God’s message is for all of us, in all times and in all places. The real joy Christ brings is for everyone. If you believe you’re beyond help, know the real joy that the Christ child is the helper of those in need of help. If you believe you’re past grace, know the real joy that the Christ child has given to you his grace. If you believe you’re out of hope, know the real joy that the Christ child has come to restore your hope. If you believe there is no way out of your situation, know the real joy the Christ child has come to take you by the hand and lead you home. Amen.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

42 countries in 14 months

I found this video, while kind of silly, to be incredibly moving.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

All are welcome

There are few in this world today who do not love children. The presence of a baby can make the heart of just about anyone melt. When a young toddler yell’s hi as we walk down the aisle at the supermarket it is impossible not to say hi back. When a kindergartener says something so funny you cannot help but to laugh. Children are a vital part of our community and of our lives.

This is one of the reasons so many love the stories of Jesus with the children. We have all probably seen dozens of different images of Jesus surrounded by children. There are beautiful images of Jesus swinging a small child around, laughing along with him. I’ve seen wonderful artists portrayals of Jesus cradling a baby in his arms. Jesus loves children just as we all do. So when we hear about Jesus taking a small child and speaking to his disciples about welcoming a child, our hearts tend to melt a little.

What is so fascinating about our Gospel passage for today is there are so many layers that need to be unraveled. Like most scripture, we cannot take it at face value. If we were to apply this passage to our own culture, we would view the children as a welcomed part of the community. We would think of how easy it is to welcome a child, as we do so all the time.

The interesting component to this is during Jesus’ time, children were not as welcome as they are today. In fact, young children were viewed as useless and in the way. They were disposable commodities within their culture. Part of this had to do with the fact that many children did not live very long. The other part had to do with young children not being of working age. Since they had little to contribute to society, they were viewed as almost sub-human until they reached an age where they could work.

The focus of our Gospel text for this Sunday is one that speaks to welcoming the invisibles of this world. Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven is indeed counter-cultural. Jesus is to be seen in small children, in the lepers, in the tax collectors. Jesus is even to be seen on a cross and here again he announces his impending death to the disciples. These lessons are difficult to accept for his disciples, and can often be difficult for us to hear today.

Here, Jesus calls his disciples, and ultimately us, to humble ourselves. The disciples had been fighting over who is the greatest, who would take over after Jesus was gone. Jesus takes this argument and tells them no one is the greatest.

Just like any good parent or teacher he tells them we are all equal. We are all saint and sinner, no one is greater than the other. We are to view ourselves the same as we view the invisibles of our community. We are to humble ourselves and welcome the child, eat with the criminal, shake the hand of the tax collector. We are to view each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, as Christ can be seen in each of us.

So often this text and other texts like it become a rags to riches kind of story. They are told in a way where the least become the greatest, the underdog becomes the winner and receives the trophy. But really, Jesus’ teaching here is so much more than that. It is not about becoming the underdog so we can get the reward. Rather, Jesus is telling us that we are to humble ourselves, not bickering about who is the greatest. No, we are to humble ourselves in turn recognizing that we are all equal in the eyes of God. We are to humble ourselves, not so that we get the reward, but because we are called to be humble. We are called to view ourselves and the child as brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.

We are not to be chasing after power or greatness. We are not to be placing ourselves on a pedestal as being the better Christian or more worthy to come to the communion railing. We are not to be working towards reaching a certain social status so that we have the better homes, better cars, better phones, or better clothes. We are called to reject all of these things as contrary to the kingdom of God.

None of these things matter to God’s kingdom. As is so often said, you can’t take a suitcase to heaven. Jesus tells us in this passage to stop worrying about worldly things. We are to focus on what is important, what really matters in the bigger picture. We need to stop chasing after the things of this world; instead we are to follow the way of the cross. We are to be following in the way of the cross that seemed so repulsive to Peter and to all who would use power to reinforce social barriers and hierarchies that keep folks from seeing one another as children of God.

A student at Luther seminary recently shared the following story about a woman she met in Kenya named Doris. She lives in the poorest slum in Kenya, in a tiny shack made out of cardboard, and the slum she lives in is "guarded" by corrupt police officers who are always trying to get bribe money. She welcomed her grandchildren into her home to live (no one knows if their parents were alive or not). Her grandchildren are HIV positive and she contracted the disease from them.

She faithfully walks with them for 2 hours each way every Sunday to bring them to church, and Doris makes the walk by herself each week to go to a support group at church for people living with HIV/AIDS. She welcomed the visiting college students, all white Americans into her home, even though doing so was dangerous to her life because it drew the attention of the police, who asked for a bribe that our group refused to give. The police could have thrown her in jail, or worse. The students also drew the attention of her neighbors, who might have thought that since she had white people visit, she must have more wealth than they thought, and they could have robbed her and hurt her.

Doris’ story is an example to us of what it means to walk the way of the cross. It is to humble oneself, to take risks, by welcoming the outcasts of the community. For Doris, we knew the risk she was taking by welcoming white people into her home. And yet she knew that is what Jesus calls us to do. She knew that the students were her brothers and sisters in Christ, and so she welcomed them, just as Jesus called the disciples to welcome a small child. For whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

The call for us, brothers and sisters, is to recognize that we are all a part of this great family following the path of the cross. We are a family called to take down the barrier of the labels such as invisible or outcast. We are to take down the walls that divide us, recognizing that no one is worthy of the kingdom of God, yet Christ still suffered for our sins and he still welcomes us to the banquet feast. We are to welcome each other, knowing that we are all saints and we are all sinners, and journey together on the road of humility towards the cross. Amen.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Streams in the Desert

It was 700 BC, and life had become a desert to God’s people. The world once known by the Israelite community was no more. Their lives had dried up; their emotions were spent, food had gone to waste, their city was demolished.

The people of God were now in captivity. Their capital city had been incinerated and their houses of worship were destroyed. It had been fifty years since their captivity had begun. Their young men had all been killed and the king had been blinded. All they had once called their own was now gone. Their city, their sons, their temples, their homes. Everything they loved was dried up, wasted away. Their hearts and minds had given way to a hopelessness.

These are the people whom we hear about in today’s Isaiah reading. They are God’s chosen people, living through a desert time; fifty years in the sands of captivity and sorrow. The life they had known was dried up and wasted away. All that was left of them was an empty shell of a broken heart.

The people spoken of in Isaiah’s writings are ones whom speak to the deserts we all walk through. The context in which Isaiah is writing is one that transcends culture and time. It speaks to those times we all experience when the streams of our lives have been overcome, leaving us dried up, broken down, and burned out. All that is left is the cracked clay and blowing sand.

The words of Isaiah in chapter 35 bring us to a new beginning, a promise to all of God’s people. It bridges for us a time when the prophet was sharing God’s message of judgment on the nations. It was a time of living through hard truths, heartache, and sorrow. This chapter takes us from the time of living in the dried up places and brings us into a message of promise. It is a message that takes us to the promise of a highway in the wilderness, of streams in the desert. This chapter opens to us the hope of the coming Messiah, who would deliver us from our sin and bring us to reconciliation, to grace.

Our lives can be very much like those of the Israelite people. We too live through desert times. Our lives can become dried out through the pain we encounter through sin, illness, or loss.
Our lives can become dried out through the pain of losing someone. As we quickly approach the holiday season, this truth becomes even more real. We remember our loved ones no longer with us; praying the holiday season will quickly pass and the pain of our desert will ease. We long for the streams in the desert.

The pain of desert times speaks with the endless reality of debt, loss of income, and empty cupboards. Like the Israelites who had lost their city, taking with it means of income, food, and shelter, we too live through times of economic uncertainty. While we hear all the time that money should not control our lives, inevitably the reality of living in the red makes it shadows more prominent as the bills come in. It is during those times that the sands of the desert sting our eyes, making it impossible to see past the pain.

Broken relationships, painful illness, depression, substance abuse…all of these situations have their real effect on the lives of God’s people. We all live through the dry times making our thirst more overpowering and leading us to long for relief.

Life can certainly be like a desert. Pain can lead us to paths that look much like the Saharan desert. Paths that are long, hot, and unending. Life leads us to places were God seems far away; to places where we feel alone, afraid, where love feels far off, were relief shows no sign of coming. We become the Israelites, living through times were our world feels like it has been burned away, leaving us with no place to call home; faced with only our sin and a message of judgment upon us.

The promise we hear for the Israelite people is the same promise that has been made real in our own lives. Where the deserts exist, stream will flow. Where there is only sand, flowers and plants will bloom. The eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped. The lame shall leap, the tongue of the speechless will sing for joy.

God makes a beautiful garden in the deserts of our lives. The message to the Israelites was made real in the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Christ came to the people whose lives had become like the desert. He healed his people such as the young child overcome by a demon. He made the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, the blind to see. Jesus came to bring blooming gardens to the desert hearts. Healing physical ailments, bringing a message of love to the prostitutes, providing a second chance to thieves and tax collectors.

Jesus came to redeem all, making a highway of grace in the hearts that had become sand. Just as Jesus’ coming brought streams to the broken hearts in his lifetime, so he continues to heal today. When Jesus is alive in our lives, when the spirit moves in us, there are streams brought to the desert.

In our baptisms, we were washed with the waters of healing, cleansing the desert of captivity to sin and offering us a message of hope and grace. We were brought into this new and lush garden of the body of Christ. Water cleansed us. The spirit of God, the living water, lives inside us. It opens a gateway to hope.

The call for us in this passage is a call to new possibilities. It is the call to take those parts of our lives that are living in the desert sands, and reimagining how the streams of living water can bring us healing and hope. One of the most difficult things the Israelites faced was moving beyond living in the grief of their captivity and into a place awakening new hope and possibility. They had to move beyond the place of asking why this happened and into a place of asking what they could do to make the desert bloom.

God is calling us to take the things that weigh us down, turning them into new possibilities to proclaim God’s grace. To take our deserts and bring streams of living water, to create new opportunities in places we once considered dry clay.

In our gospel lesson, we hear of a woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer. She knew Jesus could make her daughter well. She was persistant, she was patient, she knew Jesus could take this desert pain and bring living water. She knew Jesus could and would heal her.

This is our call; to be patient, to be persistent, to see how the places that are dried up in our own lives, in our own church, in our own family, and in our own community; how these places can be awakened and made alive through the living water given to us through a gracious and loving Messiah. For as is promised in Isaiah, when the Messiah comes, there will be streams in the desert. Amen.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sermon on Unity

Our Gospel reading for this week offers us an invitation. We, God’s people, are invited to feast. Last week, we heard the earlier part of this reading, which began for us this great invitation. We are invited to the meal of eternal life, to eat of Jesus’ body and to drink of his blood in the elements of bread and wine. Here, Jesus invites us to the meal that proclaims and offers God’s grace.

This week, we, the ELCA, have been sharing in the National Assembly. During this assembly, we have offered invitations again. They were invitations extended to others to fully participate in sharing ministry within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

One particular invitation that was accepted with a 95% majority is about sharing in a full communion agreement with the United Methodist Church. The process of which began back in 1977. Over the years, we have been in discussion with them about our similarities and our differences. Our focus has not been on what divides us, but what brings us together.

Probably the greatest hurdle this process has faced is what we encounter here in today’s Gospel reading. In the Methodist tradition, Holy Communion is celebrated as a memorial; a remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice. The tradition does not teach that the bread and the wine are literally Christ’s body and blood. Rather, it is a time to eat of this meal like they did in the Last Supper, and to prayerfully remember Christ’s death.

In the Lutheran tradition, we teach that indeed, the bread and the wine are Christ’s body and blood. The meal has Christ’s real presence over, under, and through it. We teach that through the elements and the Word proclaimed, Christ is truly present in the meal. As in the greek word for eat in the John text translates; we are gnawing on Jesus’ body. It is truly his body and blood, allowing Christ to abide in us. How, we do not know. As Luther stated, it is one of the great mysteries of our faith.

While these differences are indeed great in our understanding of Holy Communion, we are now in this relationship of full communion. What this means for our relationship with the Methodist church is that ministers can share in leading worship at one another’s congregations. This is something that has been evidenced for many years at Simpson Temple in Altoona. Two Lutheran and United Methodist congregation came together to have one pastor. At the moment it is an ELCA minister. The next pastor will be United Methodist. The two congregations are now one; they worship together, serve together, acting as one Christian body.

The call we hear in today’s readings is one that speaks to the invitation we have in this Full Communion agreement. It is the call to come together as Christ’s body and to share in the meal that offers God’s grace. It is the banquet feast, where we can eat of the bread and drink of the wine that proclaims the Good News of eternal life to all.

God’s body throughout the world comes together at this meal. We come bearing our differences in belief about what the elements in Communion are. We come bearing our sin and the weight of our burdens, ready and eager for the words of forgiveness that are proclaimed. And we come united, even in our differences, reawakening us to our unity as God’s children.

This is the great gift of the Gospel; that through Christ, we are united. The invitation is extended to all people even in our differences and brings us together as God’s creation. We are called to come together as one with people of all faiths, ethnicities, age, orientation, class, gender… We come together with those we are angry with, and those we do not know. We are brought together not because we want to or because we like the people sitting next to us. No, we come together because of the one who calls us, Jesus Christ.

We come to the table because we have been invited. We come as honored guests who, while completely undeserving, are fed and nourished through the sacrifice of a loving and gracious God. It is why we call this meal a means of grace. Because the one who loves us more than we could ever love ourselves wants to nourish us through this heavenly meal with his word and grace; strengthening and equipping us to do the work of his kingdom.

To pray for others
To forgive our neighbor
To love stronger
To open the door to another
To share God’s love to someone
To invite all to Christ’s meal

This message of invitation is one that feeds the hungry and strengthens the weak. Prior to our John reading, Jesus had fed the 5,000. Here, as he gives the message to eat of his body and drink of his blood, he is speaking again to the same crowd. He is telling them that indeed, their stomachs were filled through the loaves and fish, but he is offering them something more. He is inviting them to feast on the meal that has no end. Christ has the words of eternal life and is calling us to be united with one another in a meal that will sustain them in all times and in all places. It is the meal that they eat of and never grow hungry. It is the drink that will cause them to never be thirsty.

While they may not understand how, and while the idea of eating his flesh and drinking his blood may seem offensive, God calls them out of their current understanding and into paths yet untrodden. They are to break away from what they think they understand and delve into this great feast of God’s grace.

In Communion, we walk up divided by our differences only to be united as one. As we approach the end of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, we can be in prayer that this will be the proclamation made about our relationship with the Methodist church and all of God’s children. That indeed, our differences will not divide us but will rather unite us. As we face questions on matters of sexuality, HIV/AIDS funding, evangelism, and all other issues we have heard about through the churchwide agenda, we are called to pray for the each other as the Christian body.

After the vote on sexuality at synod assembly, Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson offered these words: “We meet one another finally, not in our agreements or our disagreements, but at the foot of the cross -- where God is faithful, where Christ is present with us, and where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are one in Christ."

While we have our differences, one thing remains the same. We certainly will always face our differences as the church, but our unity in Christ never wavers. We are the body of Christ, united through his death and resurrection. The invitation to the meal will always be extended, allowing our differences to wash away as we share in the flesh that is true food and the blood that is true drink. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Independence Day Sermon

A few years ago, there was a special series on A & E about young men discerning whether to enter the Priesthood. I found this show fascinating as it caused me to reflect back on my own journey of discernment when coming to seminary.

The young men were rather extreme with their discernment. One carried a life sized cross miles and miles down an old country road. Another was in the midst of college and spent much of his time speaking with priests, family, and friends about whether this was the right thing to do. His family had always pushed him to enter the priesthood.

One young man who particularly stood out for me decided to make a type of pilgrimage. He left everything he had back at home and journeyed through several states, depending solely upon the generosity of others. He had no real plan, other than his destination would be a Catholic church in another state. Throughout his journey, he had to depend on strangers hospitality. He would share his story with them, with the hopes they would provide for his basic needs: foods, clothing, shelter, even transportation. He carried nothing with him. All he had was the clothes on his back and faith that God’s people would provide what he needed.

This young man on this journey was striving to live out our Gospel text for this Sunday which speaks to Jesus’ call for the twelve. He sent them out, two by two, with only the bare basics. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. Jesus called for them to live with the bare necessities and to trust that their needs would be met through the kindness of strangers.

It is interesting that this text should show up this week. We have just celebrated as a country our Independence Day; a day in which we remember the sacrifices others gave on our behalf so that we may be a free country. It is a weekend we remember the gift we have in being able to raise our families in a country where we can get an education, where we can vote, where we can worship freely.

It is indeed interesting that this text falls on Independence Day weekend, when the call we are given here in Mark is the pure opposite of independence. In this Gospel reading, Jesus is calling us to a pure dependence; dependence upon not only God but our neighbors. Here, the disciples are told to leave everything they have behind and live in a way that is dependent upon the hospitality of the children of God.

Jesus is calling us to move out of our own comfort zones and into a life that is dependent upon Christ and Christ’s body. We are called to be witnesses, which literally in the Greek means truth tellers. We are to be the ones who tell the whole truth in word and deed, that Jesus Christ has come into this world for the salvation of all people. We are to fulfill the mission given to us in baptism, being dependent upon God and God’s people providing for our needs, in turn bringing the Body of Christ closer together.

We are to be truth tellers whether or not the people will listen. Everyone here today knows how difficult it is to proclaim the Gospel when others do not seem to care to listen. As a congregation, it has been many years since St. Luke was filled to the brim with people. Our community can at times feel burned out and too tired to hear or experience God’s Word lived out. At times one can wonder where God is in the midst of the suffering people that surround us.

And yet here we are, called to be truth tellers no matter if people will listen. We are called to be faithful proclaimers of the Gospel even if people scoff, even if people get angry with us, even if people walk away. We are to be faithful proclaimers of the Good News, inviting people to church, reaching out when they are in need, voicing God’s love for them even if they struggle to love themselves. And if they don’t listen, we simply shake the dust from our sandals and move on.

God has called us to move beyond ourselves and into a world of need. We are to move beyond our own wants, hurts, and desires and to see those whose suffering is greater than our own. We cannot live solely for ourselves as individuals or even ourselves as the body of St. Luke. We are to see the wider church within Mt. Union, within Huntingdon and Mifflin County, beyond the borders of the Allegheny Synod and into the world. We are to be visionaries, always looking for new ways in which our Redeeming God is calling us to serve.

We are called to take the risk that God has prepared us to do, what God has called us to do. We are to love. Love beyond what our minds can cognitively grasp. It is the unconditional, unyielding love that breaks down all walls and barriers. It is the redeeming love of God lived out in the body of Christ. It is the love that calls us to mission in the baptismal waters. It is love that is in the bread and the wine that nourishes and strengthens us in our journey. It is the love that leads us to leave our worldliness behind and to live out the Gospel in its purist state.

There are so many ways in which God is calling us to serve. We are to serve in the ways we have been for years; through providing quilts to those in need of physical comfort, in providing meals to those seniors in our community in need of food and fellowship. Through the foodbank, through the pregnancy center, through the outreach we offer as we generously give of our time and talents throughout the week.

And then there are new ways, ways yet to be discovered. God is always calling us to grow in our vision and in our outreach. We are to be dependent upon each other and our neighbors whose needs may be greater than our own. The call for us is to come together, to meet the needs of others and to have our own needs met. It is the call for us to be united as God’s children, striving to proclaim the Good News and to grow stronger in our faith and outreach.

As I think back on the young man who left everything behind as he made his pilgrimage, I cannot help but think of all the people who reached out to him. It is easy to think of all the walls people build up. I for one worried as this young man began his pilgrimage as I didn’t think many people would open themselves to reaching out. Yet so many people did. Everything this young man needed God provided through his children. Total strangers, all with different backgrounds: young, old, rich, poor, black, white….they all reached out to help this young man.

What this story made me realize is the great potential we have as a community. To continue growing in our faith, in our outreach, in our love, and in our dependence upon each other. God has called us into a life of dependence upon Christ and Christ’s body within the world. May we recognize together the ways in which we need each other and the ways in which we can reach out to those in need. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hi/Lo Thursday

This post is part of "Hi/Lo Thursday" on the Riggs Family Blog. Check out their blog to read everyone else's "Hi/Lo" posts and get your link on their site.

For months now, i've been looking at all these cool options for things to write about on my blog. Nothing really ever stood out for me as I didn't feel the options really applied to my life. I mean truly, my is pretty mundane at the moment (praise God). Yet, I do have hi's and lo's so figured i'd give this a shot! We'll see how well I keep up with it. *smile*

HI: I am so escatic to say that Jamie, my sister, is coming into town today. She will be here for a month long visit. Being so far away from family can be very difficult. I've always been very close to them and living on the other side of the country is not ideal. I certainly feel called to minister in central PA but it does come with sacrifices. I miss being able to eat dinner with them, go to movies, have Sunday morning breakfast... all of those normal things we so often take for granted.

I love the fact that Jamie is able to take off so much time to visit. A week, two just isn't enough to really see one another. I love that with these long visits we don't have to pile all the fun stuff into a short period of time. We can be normal, have our space, and enjoy each others company. Plus, she can take my dog out on walks to give me a break! Always a gift.

We have so many fun activities planned while she is here. I'm excited she will be here for Holy Week to celebrate Easter with me. We are planning on going to a musical and are also going to try and fit a couple overnight camping trips in. My work schedule is packed, but with lots of fun activities she can join in on. This is definitely my high of the week. Please pray for safe travels for Jamie today. She is going through Colorado which is expecting a major snow storm. May she be blessed with a safe flight and a speedy trip.

LO: It is hard to come up with a Lo when i'm so excited to have Jamie coming in. I guess for this week it would be my headaches. I've struggle with chronic headaches since I fractured my jaw as a child. When I had the car accident in January my back and neck were affected and now the headaches are much stronger. Chiropractic care has helped, but they are currently out of town. It's been a week since I saw them and my head is reacting. I'm praying my neck calms down and i'm able to enjoy this weekend of ministry and time with my sister.

Alright, there is my HI/LO for the week! Hopefully i'll remember each thursday to do this; it was kind of fun!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Prayers for Stellan

There are so many kiddos out there who are struggling right now. As you know, I run the prayer website Asher and Jacob's Friends and every day there are dozens who are facing a new battle. While little Stellan is not on our Friends list, I do follow his Mama's blog and pray for their family. At the moment, Stellan is fighting to get a healthy heart rhythm and the situation is critical. His family is asking for everyone to spread the word of the need for prayer so that is what i'm doing. Please, drop what you are doing, head to his site, and say a prayer for him. And while your at it, please stop by Asher and Jacob's Friends and pray for the other children in need. There are many who are facing life and death situations as i'm writing this.

Creepy or Awesome....You Decide

Would you eat this???

Friday, March 20, 2009

Noah Sermon

I thought I would share a sermon I preached a couple weeks ago. Not the best one i've preached, but the Gospel nonetheless which is always a good thing. :) I will attempt to start posting more if you would like.

It is the typical Sunday school lesson. I sat and watched as a class of preschoolers learned about Noah and the ark. They sang and did motions to the “Rise and Shine, Arky Arky” song. They marched two by two throughout the classroom pretending to board the ark. They also finger painted together an ark, then adding different animals to it. It remained displayed in the classroom for the rest of the year.

I think many of us here today can remember such Sunday school lessons. It is one of the first stories children learn when they begin attending class. For many years, Noah and the ark has actually been one of the top selling nursery decorating kits. I remember when a good friend of mine was pregnant, it was her top choice. When we went to Baby’s ‘R Us, there was a huge section just for this design. There were cute animals, all two by two lining the shelves with beautiful rainbows and arks as the backdrop. It was sweeter than a chocolate chip cookie.

I remember the first time I heard this story as an adult. You see, even as a child who never went to Sunday school, I still new the story from television and my children’s books. But when I heard it as an adult, it seemed a very different version. It was dark, violent, scary to say the least. It perplexed me as to how such a difficult Bible story could become so soft and sweet.

Our lesson from Genesis is this dark and difficult story. It is one that is violent, God’s near genocide of the human race. It is one that calls us to see our sin, to recognize the dirt and filth of our behavior and our hearts. It is also, however, a lesson of how even in the midst of that, God chooses to offer us hope.

When we hear the story of Noah, it can make one uneasy. God is portrayed as an angry God, seeing good only in one family, in essence one man. God desired to wipe away the rest of the human race as we were full of sin and were useless in the eyes of the creator. The idea that the God we know now, the God who sacrificed himself on the cross at one point felt it necessary to cleanse the world and start over is something that is almost uncomprehensible. Yet it is what happened.

The focus of this story however, is not on the violence that can become so central. It is not a story to liven up fear in our hearts and minds, knowing that if God chose to do it again God could. No, the focus is on the covenant. It is on the fact that God chose to reject the ways of violence, giving up the method of flooding the world as a way of dealing with the evil that was so prevalent; instead giving us a covenant for all people.

The word covenant in the Hebrew language is berith. It is a word that means a contract, or better suited for this context to mean a promise. God gave us a covenant promise which was binding and would not be broken, stating that the ways of violence had ended in dealing with human sin. Rather than washing us through the waters of a flood God would wash us through the redeeming waters of baptism.

We see this promise lived out in our Gospel lesson. Jesus is first baptized with the Holy Spirit and proceeds out into the desert for forty days and nights. It is during this time that he is tested by Satan. Time and time again in the desert, Jesus is given opportunities to live out being the Messiah people expected. We hear more of this in Matthew. Jesus could have been the warrior Messiah, living for himself, commanding the world to do exactly as he chose. He could have ruled with power and violence, ridding everything of evil and making things exactly as he wanted. He could have given in to temptation, but he did not.

God would rather grieve the sin in this world than break the covenant promise given. Instead of wiping out sin in ways I could imagine would be easier for God, we are given a God who suffers death on the cross for our sake. Jesus embodies a new way of dealing with evil, one that is sacrificial, redemptive, and demonstrates to the world a suffering love. All for our sake.

The rainbow and the cross are truly intertwined. They demonstrate to us the covenant promise of God; one that chooses to take on the suffering of the world for our sake. We are blessed with a loving God who chooses us, who willingly grieves our sin and yet loves and forgives us nonetheless.

In this season of Lent, we live in the tension between the two: the rainbow and the cross. On Ash Wednesday, we began this journey. We entered with a promise of what is to come. It is the covenant promise that is the rainbow, guiding us along this forty day journey. On Ash Wednesday, we were reminded of why God flooded the world. We were reminded of our sin, our mortality, of our need for repentance. Even in that reminder, even with the ashes smudged on our foreheads, we still had that light, we still had the rainbow. We had the reminder that indeed, even as we walk this journey through the wilderness the covenant promise remains. God does not care for us through violence but through sacrificial love.

We are on this journey from the rainbow and to the cross. A journey that takes us through a time to walk through the wilderness, smudged with ashes remembering why we need a loving God. As we cross through this desert, we are to take time to meditate on the grief that God experiences for our sake. God chose to shed tears on our behalf giving us the flooding waters of baptism instead. God chooses us out of love; a love deeper, wider, greater than anything we can imagine.

This is why it is imperative for us to know the story of Noah. Not the story we see on the walls of nursery’s or hear in the words of the children’s songs. No, it is time we hear the story as it is meant to be; with the violence, with the heartache. It is time to hear it for its redemptive power. The rainbow’s significance is far more important than its visual beauty. For it is a reminder that God chooses not to take the easy way out. God chooses to grieve, God chooses to love, and God chooses to redeem. Thanks be to God. Amen

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Disney, Part II: A Unique Meetup

On our first day after we rested and got unpacked a bit, we decided to head on over to Downtown Disney. This was an extra-special trip, as our Aunt and Uncle from Utah would be in town! As it turns out, our trips overlapped by one day. Jamie and I had last seen them about 5 years prior, but Brenda hadn't seen them in over 15 years! So, this was a really cool opportunity to visit even if only for a few hours.

When we arrived, they were still out at Gator World (still makes me crack up ) so we had some time to kill. We visited a few shops and ended up buying things. I had promised myself I would have some restraint until the end of the trip, but that lasted only a few minutes! We loved the Christmas store and probably spent more money there than any other that day.

After around an hour, it was time for our visit!
My Aunt and Uncle don't look happy in the picture but I promise, the evening was filled with smiles and laughs!
Here's another picture of the three sisters in front of Stitch. I so wish Brenda or Jamie would have been spit on (Stitch spits water)!

We decided to ditch our original plans for Earl of Sandwich and went with T-Rex. You can read more about the food in my Dining Review, but I will say it's yummy food and the perfect atmosphere for Dino lovers!

Here's a picture from the inside of the restaurant:

After that, it was a few more shops. Jamie wasn't feeling well after her long, drawn out day of delays on the plane so she went back early. Brenda and I did a few more shops and then decided to call it an evening. It was a great first day and we couldn't wait to receive our wake up call and head out to the Magic Kingdom (or as Jamie says, "The Magical Kingdom)!

New Button!

I plan to post about our Disney trip tonight, but before I do I wanted to highlight a new feature on this site. I have created a new button for Asher and Jacob's Friends. While it is not the fanciest button in the world, it is a great way to bring awareness to families in need. If you are willing, please copy and paste the code found to your right and post it on your blog. The more people we bring to the site, hopefully the more prayers will go out to these amazing families.

Thank you!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Beginning of my trip report. Part 1!!

If any of you remember, I began a pre-trip report on the DIS boards. I never really completed it but have started a trip report I plan to finish, I promise! As I post over there I will copy it over to hear. I hope you enjoy hearing about our trip. The beginning of this is very similar to my pre-trip but I thought I would include it as it has pictures.

So, before I go any further, I shall introduce you to the crew:

Me (Laura): I am a 28 year old newby Lutheran pastor living in Pennsylvania. It has been my dream for many, many years to go to Disneyworld. Life has been a bit chaotic lately with some major transitions and personal struggles. This trip was important to me for so many reasons. Relaxation, connecting with my sisters, being a kid again, seeing the mouse... it doesn't get any better!
Brenda: Brenda is my 31 year old sister. She is an amazing person that I really do look up to. She lives in Alaska and works in pediatric home health. Brenda is overdue for a real vacation and is counting down the days with us. I regularly receive phone calls and emails about things she discovers she wants to do. While Jamie and I weren't totally on board, Brenda was ready for T&T (tower of terror)!!

Jamie: Jamie, our baby sister, is 23 years old. She, like Brenda, is my best friend and confidant. She lives in Seattle at the moment and is a dedicated volunteer at the Children's Hospital. During her most recent visit, she helped me build a trip plan which we will of course share with you. Jamie has held on to the excitement of this trip from my first crazy vision and helped me count down the days. Her #1 goal was to ride Dumbo, and she didn't care if people thought she looked silly doing so! I must admit, I was right there with her!

Arrival Day:

Since we live all over the country, our arrivals varied depending on our flights. Poor Brenda had a twelve hour flight from Anchorage, Alaska. Thankfully her original flight was changed so she ended up arriving the day before Jamie and I. We booked her a room at the Pop so she was able to recover with a good nights sleep before we started with all our exciting plans.

Jamie and I were scheduled to arrive in Orlando at the same time. We organized it this way so we could take the magical express together. This was amazing as I was coming from Baltimore and she was coming from Seattle. Thrilled does not even begin to describe how we felt about being able to do this together!

Well.... as we all know with the wonderful world of flying, nothing ever goes as planned. Jamie's flight got delayed and then delayed some more. No, this had nothing to do with weather. It didn't even have to do with a mechanical. The problem was the crew was late. Like, really late. By the time they had arrived, Jamie's connecting flight in Houston would be impossible to catch. Then, to top it all off, they had to de-ice the plane but had no de-icer. Seriously. So, by the time Jamie arrived in Orlando, she was tired, not feeling good, and just wanted to chill. Really, who could blame her?! If it had been me, I would have been a crabby, nasty mess. Not the way she (or we) wanted to start off, but she handled it like a champ.

I, on the other hand, had a fantastic flight. My plane even ended up arriving 30 minutes early much to my delight. The weather in Pennsylvania was snowy and gloomy so the sun of Florida was exactly what I was craving! While there was a chill in the air, it still felt like a glorious spring day!

I couldn't of been more excited to see this:

We all found the Magical Express a wonderful way to begin our vacation. The video added to the excitement. So, we were all off on our way to the happiest place on earth! So exciting to see exit signs with Disney on them!
Through the gate, we're there!
While not the best picture, can you tell we were excited about arriving. You wouldn't believe how many pictures the three of us have combined of ones just like this. With three separate bus trips, it's a little nuts! Since Brenda had checked in the night before, Jamie and I both did not have to even worry about it. Our Travel Agent worked it out to where Brenda would be assigned the same room we would have the rest of the trip, even though it was booked outside of our package deal. Our TA was truly amazing and I would recommend her to anyone else in a heartbeat!

Here's the check-in area I didn't have to worry about! Sorry it's so dark, it's not the best lit area.

While we had requested the 80's building of the hotel, we were upgraded to a preferred room. We were a little bummed until we saw how close we would be to the main building. It was great and oh so convenient. Plus, we had a nice view of the lake and it was SO quiet! Our room was in the 60's Playdoh building. So fun!

Our building:
View from the stairs/elevator; so cute!
Hallway leading to our room: Such a great room!

The view. Those old creepy looking buildings are the classic year unfinished buildings. Construction stopped after 9/11. There is talk that they are now turning them into family suites. We could see the lights from Hollywood Studios and fireworks from Fantasmic. Pretty cool!

Our very messy room. I forgot to get pics prior to our packing. Oops!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Few Pictures

I'm on my way to the Ash Wednesday service, but thought i'd share a few pictures. More to come!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Hello All,

I apologize for the long stretch between updates. Disney World was fabulous! I'm really sick with a fairly severe case of an upper respiratory flu so am not able to give you a real update right now. When all the meds the doc gave start to work I will give you all the "magical" details of our trip.

Hope you are all doing well; I will be back soon!