Friday, August 15, 2008

I am off Monday for vacation. J and I are going across Canada on the railroad. I am looking forward to this time. I am tired and need some time to regroup. We are going to see some beautiful country without having to drive—what luxury! We are also going to visit with some of J’s family and a seminary classmate.

I am looking forward to this trip. I was raised on the railroad. My father worked for the Santa Fe for almost 45 years. We traveled by rail the whole first part of my life. I was out of college before I ever flew. So taking a train trip is a real touch with my past. There is something very calming about the sound of wheels on a track. I know I will sleep well in the berths we have reserved.

The idea of being able to read and travel is delightful. J and I have stocked up on all the fun reading that we want to do: Some exciting whodunits, a couple of biographies and perhaps a bit of spiritual reading. The idea of being able to sit in a comfortable seat and watch the scenery come to me appeals to me. Usually we have to choose between an active vacation where we have to drive and a passive vacation when we can just veg. I think we have the best of both possible worlds with this trip. Sometimes the planning of a vacation is half the fun.

Hopefully we will figure out how to use the digital camera on this trip and I will be able to bring home some pictures of the West. I am not taking the lap-top. I am going to take a vacation from blogging too. It is time. But two weeks isn’t long.

The transformation is accomplished in so little time. The work of refreshment can be accomplished with rest or activitiy. But I do know there is change. I morph from being a glutted with too many appointments and too much responsibility into a place of suspended animation while on vacation. All of the stuff and bother of ministry is put on hold for a brief time and I can catch a breath. A little Canadian air will prove golden.

But today and over the weekend we have to get organized to be able to leave. The house straightened, the car cleaned out, the cats attended to, the rent paid, the bags packed and of course, some Olympics watched! It is time to put the laptop to sleep and get on with life.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

A Miracle of Presence

A few weeks ago a friend told me she didn’t really know what it meant to have an experience of God. Recently another asked me how to pray. While these should be the stuff of what a pastor does most days, sadly these confessions are rather rare in my pastoral experience. And I love it when people start getting serious about their relationship with God and are willing to share with me their doubts. The genuine work of being pastor doesn’t often happen. Most often we deal with the mundane things of planning liturgy, visiting the sick or figuring out what the Bible reading is saying for the next sermon. But you have to be ready for those moments when the Divine enters someone’s life to claim that as gift and a moment of the holy. It is when these kinds of conversations begin that I know that miracles occur.

With my friend, it was just a matter of a day before she did recognize that she had an experience of God. “God walked in the door!” she claimed when a close moment with a friend evolved into an awareness of God-with-us. And it was just a matter of moments before my other friend realized that praying wasn’t as difficult as he was trying to make it out to be. These might have felt like miracles in their lives—and in some ways they were.

Whenever God makes God’s presence known, it is a miracle and that is what our readings are about. Today we hear about God making God’s presence known in the lives of believers.

Elijah was a prophet—one of the greatest prophets of Israel. But Israel was in the control of other countries whose gods were not the God of Israel. Elijah had humiliated and finally killed the priests of the god Baal and had to flee into the mountains to escape the wrath of the queen of the land. Elijah calls upon God to save him. There is an earthquake, a storm and fire. All of these would have been recognized as manifestations of the god Baal. But God was not in any of those things. God makes God’s presence known in the silence of Elijah’s heart and a humbled Elijah covers his face and is moved by God’s presence.

In the familiar story of Jesus walking on the water, Jesus appears to the disciples when they too are frightened during a storm. The disciples think that it is a ghost coming across the water, but Jesus calls to Peter to come to him across the water. Peter falters in his trust and begins to sink, but Jesus lifts him up and they get back into the boat. Peter’s faith is bolstered and he confesses that Jesus is the Son of God.

Miracles in the Bible are not just things that we cannot understand. They are not magic or necessarily earth shattering events. They are moments that are designed to bolster our awareness of God’s presence in our lives. And I would suggest to you that miracles happen daily.

There are many miracles told by the writers of the Bible. The parting of the Reed Sea for Moses, the parting of the Jordan River for Elijah, the abundance of oil and meal for the Shunnamite woman, the oil for the Temple during the Maccabean Revolt, the feeding of the Five Thousand, the healing stories of Jesus. All of these are miracles—not because they are the completion of the impossible but because they bring to the awareness of the people around them that God is always present; God is always acting.

All too often we think miracles are not things that happen to me. Miracles are something grandiose or they happen to others. Or even worse, we think that miracles don’t happen anymore—that miracles are merely the explanations of a non-scientific age. But I would like to suggest to you, that our training since our first science class in school has taught us to doubt the existence of miracles. We want to find existential meaning for each event in our lives. We often pooh-pooh the real miracles—the real encounters with God because the thought—the awe that such a meeting would bring is inexplicable.

If we look at the story of Jesus walking on the water, we find that the disciples reacted much the way that we do. First, they would rather believe it is a ghost than believe that Jesus can walk on the water. Second, Peter wants to do what Jesus does to prove that it is Jesus and he does, until he finds himself without support. But when he has experienced this miracle, Peter is finally able to see Jesus for who he is –the Son of God.

This is what the small miracles of our lives do for us. When we find God working in our lives and can see it as God’s work, we need to be able to claim our faith and share it.

A pastoral colleague tells of uprooting his family to attend seminary in another city. Nothing went right and the little money they did have was soon gone. One Sunday they quite literally had no food —nothing to eat for Sunday dinner. When they went to their car after services, they found the whole back seat filled with groceries. Somehow their situation had gotten to members of the church and quietly their needs had been met. A miracle? They thought so. It was a sign of God working in their lives and the lives of the members of their church.

Like last week, it was the disciples who multiplied the loaves and fishes, not Jesus. It was their miracle of giving that was highlighted. So it is today—it is Peter’s confession that Jesus is the son of God that stays with us, that reminds us that it is we, ordinary people, who confess that it is Christ who changes our lives. When we can confess that “God has walked into the room”, when we can share with one another what God is doing in our lives, we are doing what our baptismal covenant calls us to. When we can help another see God working in their lives we are giving the greatest gift we can offer.

The word “church” –ekklesia in Greek comes from the words “to call out”. Those folks who find they are to be “church” for one another are those who are “called out” of themselves, or out of their comfort zones to witness to God’s blessings in life. We are to be those who can recognize the miracles in our lives and in the lives of others. We are to be those who allow us to welcome the miracles knowing God’s presence in our lives, in the lives of those around us and in the communities we live.

I would invite you this week to look at your life and open yourselves to the miracles that have happened to you. I would also invite you to share those miracles with others—not in pride, but in the humility that God showers upon those who are found by him. This is evangelism—this is the Evangelical in the ELCA. It is a simple, humble act of being truthful about what God is doing in our lives. We may not be called to walk on the water but we will truly be called to hear the “voice of silence”. AMEN

Friday, August 8, 2008

Humid Summer Friday Five

Presbyteriangal is feeling hot and humid in August and has done a hot and humid Friday Five.

“It’s August. An oppressively hot and humid month where many of us live.

I remember the Al Pacino movie though not much about the plot. Just that it was very, very hot. And he had giant sweat stains on his shirt.

As I pass through this year’s dog days in my felon ridden neighborhood (OK, just two housefuls. But isn’t that enough?), I am trying to focus on the blessings apparent around me, past and present, that I might not notice, necessarily. In that spirit, this week’s Friday Five goes thusly:

1. What is your sweetest summer memory from childhood? Did it involve watermelon or hand cranked ice cream? Or perhaps a teen summer romance. Which stands out for you?

My sweetest memories of summer in Texas were Girl Scout camp and Burger’s Lake, the swimming lake that the families in our neighborhood went to. We nearly always took a picnic to Burger’s Lake and I remember homemade ice cream or watermelon being a part of those trips. But most of all it included fried chicken from one of our neighbors. Mom didn’t like chicken and never made it, so when we went on a picnic it was always a treat when one of the neighboring moms made it.

I remember especially going to Canoe camp one year in which we spent almost all waking hours on the water. My hair was bleached almost white by the time I came home and it is the only time I remember being tan in my life. It was the only way to beat the summer’s 100+ temps in Texas. This was all before air conditioning.
My remembrance of summers in Ft. Worth was that they were incredibly hot—too hot to go barefoot on asphalt because it would stick to your feet and leave a blister. But it was a dry heat and that you really could cook an egg on the hood of the car.
I was back in TX just a week ago for 105+ weather and found it much easier to endure than the 90+ humid stuff we get in NY.

2. Describe your all time favorite piece of summer clothing. The one thing you could put on in the summer that would seem to insure a cooler, more excellent day.

Cotton! If I can wear lightweight cotton, whether it is a dress or a skirt, pants or a blouse, it needs to be lightweight and light colored cotton. I have had problems during the summer with vestments since I sweat (No, Virginia, I do NOT perspire.) so heavily during summers. Just this spring one of my members made me an alb of tropical wool that looks wonderful and is remarkably cool. I am so thankful.

3. What summer food fills your mouth with delight and whose flavor stays happily with you long after eaten?

TOMATOES! I love the summer because of homegrown tomatoes and a wonderful cold, fresh basil, tomato, balsamic vinegar and garlic sauce that I put over hot homemade pasta. Delish! By the end of winter I am almost frantic for the taste of a Real tomato.

I also love the summer fruit—melons, peaches and of course strawberries. When I served a church in CA I was in the strawberry capital. By February you could smell the berries on the air. But in the long run, I prefer the locally grown NY berries that are small but ohhh so sweet.

4. Tell us about the summer vacation or holiday that holds your dearest memory.

The neatest vacation I have had was a couple of weeks in MT fly fishing with another avid woman fly fisher. I caught so many big fish and the biggest fish I have ever caught.

I am hoping that the vacation I will be taking this year will provide a similar experience. We are taking the Canadian Railway from Toronto to Vancouver in a couple of weeks. It is almost like a cruise but without the sun. Three days of watching the country pass by with wonderful food and drinks and plenty of time to read. Sounds like heaven.

5. Have you had any experience(s) this summer that has drawn you closer to God or perhaps shown you His wonder in a new way?

I had a wonderful moment today. A member came into my office and asked how to pray. It was such a simple request and asked with such candor and openness that it allowed for some significant moment of God being shared. This doesn’t happen often enough in my experience. But it happens often enough to keep my hopes up. Thank you, Jesus.

Bonus question: When it is really hot, humid and uncomfortable, what do you do to refresh and renew body and spirit?

There are several things that I try. But there are some days that nothing works and like a good catholic, I offer them up . If I can go swimming, that is the best. If I can get to somewhere there is a/c, I go but there are always liabilities—a movie, the book store (always a temptation for me), the mall (a greater danger). Sometimes the only thing to do is to sit with a tall drink, a good novel and someone with whom you can really be bitchy. It helps!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Lambeth Conference

Every 10 years the bishops of the Anglican Communion meet in England at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury. All bishops who are presently serving (and not retired) are invited to the Lambeth Conference named after the palace of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Actually it is held on the campus of the University of Kent. This body has no power to legislate for the Episcopal Church because it is only the bishops who meet. But it has always been a group that felt as though it was doing something important for the Church.

For Lutherans, such a meeting must seem rather bizarre. Bishops in the Lutheran tradition serve at the will of those who elect them. Most of the bishops of the Anglican Communion are not elected—they are appointed by other bishops and serve for life. This is not true of Episcopal bishops who are elected by the clergy and laity of their dioceses, but then have tenure until they retire or are 72.

But for all in Christendom, the Lambeth conference seems like an anachronistic exercise of pomp and circumstance that may be more window dressing but does not enter into reality of the living out of the Gospel. I don’t know if there is a meeting of the bishops of the various Lutheran synods of the world like this, but I am sure that it does not have the amount of pomp. Anglicans do pomp so well!

I must admit that for the past 2 weeks I have been staying glued to the various reports on line from Lambeth. I have been wearing my Anglican hat with a sense of rakish abandon even to going to an Episcopal Sunday service while I was on vacation. I have allowed myself to drink deeply of the angst that permeates us Anglicans when bishops meet and gnash my teeth with the rest of Episcopalandia at the comments of world-wide Anglican bishops because schism has been on every one’s lips for the past 10 years.

What we heard was that bishops were listening to each other! They were sharing at very important levels not only the Scripture but the hope of the Gospel for them and the Church. They did not agree. They didn’t try to agree but they listened.

Well, the schism didn’t happen! We who do pomp so well cannot bring ourselves to split. It just isn’t in us. We can’t even divide into different synods when the going gets rough. Standing in the middle of the road is what we Anglicans do and we do that well, too. We are tepid as a Church. We have the soul of prophets but we not the stomach for it. But I wonder if we don’t just need a tepid voice in the voices of Christianity in this present age. The violence in the Church has just been too much to tolerate and still hear the message of hope that the Gospel is.
The Episcopal Church appealed to me when I left Rome, as a church which allowed for differences. It also allowed for a broad inclusion of opinions and understandings of what faith meant. It was diffuse in its articulation of what it believed hoping that what was common for each believer out weighed what was different. And over the past two weeks I have watched my denomination get clearer about being diffuse. I am not happy about the continued work that needs to be done to welcome LGBT persons in their midst and into the councils of the Church. I am not happy that there seems to be a spinelessness to the leadership of my denomination. But at the same time, I am at peace with the fact that we would rather stay present to the possibility of newness rather than split.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Feeding the Five Thousand

August 3, 2008
During the awful years before I came to St. Luke’s, when I was not allowed to work at my vocation, I was working for a grocery store—a job that paid not much more than minimum wage and demanded long hours. At the end of the month, I didn’t have enough to pay all my bills and we like so many people in the US became mired in debt.

Finally we went to a debt consolidation place and today we are almost out of debt. But we have learned to do with much less. We do not buy on credit. And we are living well now on two part-time salaries. It has required us to be creative, to make much more of little. And I would say that J and I live more reasonably now with less than when we both had full-time positions and credit cards. It has been a hard lesson to learn, but I believe that we live more in line with what Jesus teaches than we were before.

I am convinced that Jesus was trying to teach his disciples the same thing in today’s reading. Jesus had been followed into the countryside and it was time for supper. The disciples suggest to Jesus to send his followers away to get supper but Jesus does not. “You feed them,” Jesus says. Jesus does not feed the people; he empowers his disciples to feed them. They have little, but it is enough: Five loaves and two fish. All too often we think that we do not have enough—we conserve and save when we need to be sharing.

In this story of the multiplication of the loaves and fish, Jesus takes what he is given, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it. It is the same action that we do at each communion service. We take bread, bless it, break it and give it. This is not an accident. By the time that Matthew writes this gospel, the action of taking, blessing, breaking and giving was already part of the ritual of the Christian community. It was the sign of Christ’s presence with them.

The words ‘take, bless, break and give’ already had meaning for the hearers of Matthew’s gospel. Just as they have meaning for us today. The story of the feeding of the Five Thousand is a story about Eucharist. It was not just a nosh on the hills around Galilee. It was not merely a way of providing sustenance to the body. It was to have life meaning, faith meaning. The Feeding of the Five Thousand has to do with making something out of nothing by God and giving sustenance to the soul as well as the body.

During the summer I have a bit more time to read some of the new professional works that come out about Scripture or church mission. A series that I have been reading have to do with the life and times of the first century folks in the Middle East. The Gospels are written with very little explanation of what the local customs were in Jesus’ day. Several social anthropologists have gathered together to make the first century more accessible. Slowly but surely we are learning in the religious world that we cannot take the Gospels at face value—that there is needed a good bit of explanation necessary for the Gospels to be understood. For the people of Israel, eating had to do with God.

“The power of the Lord is manifested in his ability to control food: to feed is to bless, to confer life; to feed bad food or to starve is to judge or punish, to confer death. Acceptance of the power and authority of the Lord is symbolized by acceptance of his food. Rejection of the power and authority of the Lord is symbolized by seeking after food he has forbidden. People "limit" or "tempt" the Lord--that is, question the extent of his power or authority--by questioning his ability to feed them. The Lord's word is equated with food. Eating joins people with the Lord or separates them.” (Neyrey)

Food and eating is not just a mere formula for bodily sustenance. The taking, blessing, breaking and giving of food was a holy act. It was taking something common, bread and wine, and being creative because God was creative with it. The power of God is before us when we break bread with one another.

Jesus calls the disciples to be creative with five loaves and two fish—to make more of them than is initially seen. The disciples share these small bits with those who need to see God’s power in their lives. And all are fed; all are nourished. Is it a miracle? Of course it is! Whenever God’s power is seen, we are in the presence of miracle! Jesus calls the disciples to make something out of little and they do. They create community out of the simple acts of taking, blessing, breaking and giving. They nourish the body and the soul of those who have come to follow Jesus.

Over the past few months of my pastorate here, I have come to realize that we at St. Luke’s don’t have a lot of money to pass around. We are not a wealthy church. But we are resourceful. One of the things we do have is a sense of community. I have found that if I take away our coffee hour, I meddle in something very important to our life together—our community. It is something that is very precious to us—it is where we work out what it means to live together. It is where we practice what we preach. Sometimes we can use coffee hour to learn, sometimes we can have specific parties, but for the most part our coffee hour is as much a part of our Eucharistic lives as what we do here around the altar. We can recognize in our coffee cake and juice the same power God has in our lives to make us more than the individuals or families that gather for word and sacrament.

I am wondering if we can share the promise of Christ by sharing our coffee hour—our sense of community with the larger community of our area by inviting people to come to a meal without buying. Could we invite the five thousand of our community to feast on the largess of God that we can offer just as surely as did the disciples? I am not talking about evangelizing people. I am just wondering if we could invite everybody to a meal here at St. Luke’s and share what we have from our gardens, our baking, our farms, our trips to Sam’s. Yes, it would be work—but this congregation is not afraid of work if yesterday is any indication. Instead of having a fund raiser—perhaps we could have a FUN raiser (!) to share what God has given us with others. Certainly our towns and communities here along the Susquehanna need to know what it means to have community. They need to know of God's power to feed us all.

I would like to see us practicing what it is that draws us together. I would like to see us share what we have as a sign of God’s power working among us. I am not sure if it can be done, but it is something that might be different and put the accent on what it is that Christ’s does in the taking, blessing, breaking and giving that is a the center of today’s Gospel reading. I like to see us getting creative in making something big out of the little we have. Because it is there that we who have been given so much, can share what we have. AMEN

Friday, August 1, 2008

Barrier Blog--Getting locked out Friday Five

Revgals has had some technical problems with the blogger yesterday. I don’t understand such things as I am only a blog user—I don’t understand the fine points of blogging. Songbird reported that today we are back in good shape. But yesterday was evidently a day of detours. She posted this picture as a symbol of the technical kafluffle.

“This turned out to be a very small barricade in our blogging community life, but it seemed appropriate to explore locks and blocks and other barriers this week. Also, I liked the picture of the security team above! Could they be Blogger's Spam Prevention Robots, working overtime?”

In honor of their efforts, I bring you the "Lock Me Out, Lock Me In" Friday Five.

1) How do you amuse yourself when road construction blocks your travel?
This is happening quite regularly since the highway dept. is working on the stretch of the Interstate that I commute. Most of the time, I have a Book-on-CD in my player and just listen to the next chapter. I always have a book in the car, usually some professional reading that occupies my time when I am waiting for the oil change to get done, or am eating alone.

2) Have you ever locked yourself out of your house? (And do you keep an extra key somewhere, just in case?)
We don’t lock our house for that very reason. Neither one of us can remember where we put our keys. Being locked out of my car…? Yes, I have been locked out of my car while it was running on a day that it was -22 degrees. Somehow I touched the auto-lock and I had to wait until AAA could get there. ARGGGGG!

3) Have you ever cleared a hurdle? (And if you haven't flown over a material hurdle, feel free to take this one metaphorically.)
I don’t jump over things physically. It would do damage to the hurdle and to me! Metaphorical hurdles are common. But I usually can’t get over them on the first try. I have to try a couple of times otherwise they wouldn’t be hurdles. My problem is that I don’t know they are hurdles until I run into them.

4) What's your approach to a mental block?

Arg—these are coming more and more often! I find I can find some esoteric word for something before I can find a common word for thing. And names –how many times have I forgotten someone’s name at the communion rail? I just have to stop and focus.

5) Suggest a caption for the picture above; there will be a prize for the funniest answer!
“{wolf whistle} Hey, guys, here comes that mannequin from Macy’s again. Hubba, hubba!”