I believe in God the Parent, who made heaven and sustains it. May God bless us and have mercy upon us.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and lived in this world like us. He called his disciples and taught them the good news and truth of God's kingdom; he also teaches us about the beloved community; peace and justice were his; he cared for the poor, the sick the widow and orphan. He faithfully obeyed the word of God and was crucified, died and was buried, and on the third day rose from the dead. He is seated at the right hand of God from there he will come again.
I believe in the Holy Spirit who empowers us, renews us daily, refreshes our souls, and helps us to share our lives and possessions and reconcile with each other.
Finally, I believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. may God bless us to do God's will with humble minds though the church, of which Jesus is the head. Amen.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
Neulsarang English Worship Service
Sunday, November 28
“The Year of the Lord’s Favor”
Hello friends. You do not know me well yet, so first let me say something about who I am. I hope you will learn more about my faith in God and my beliefs about our Lord Jesus Christ as I preach this morning. You already know that I am married to Joe. You may not know that we met at seminary, seven years ago when I was studying to be a pastor and Joe was studying Hebrew scripture. For the past five years I have been working at Seattle Mennonite Church as Associate Pastor – primarily I have been preaching and leading worship and teaching the church’s youth.
I chose to preach on the text from Luke 4, because like Jesus, this is my first time speaking with you. Joe will read the passage, Luke 4:16-21 (2)
I chose this passage because to me it summarizes who Jesus is and what his life, his work and his teaching were all about. He quotes from Isaiah chapter 61: (3)
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
I will return to each of these points in a moment. First, I’d like to talk about the setting, or the context. (4) Jesus is reading in his home town and in the synagogue. When he stands to read, the scroll of Isaiah is handed to him – he is taking part in a common form gathering. Jesus is doing something that happens each Sabbath in his hometown. He is participating in Worship. Just as many of us come to worship every Sunday to learn more about living as Godly people and to learn more about God’s word, Jesus was attending synagogue.
Verse 16 especially emphasizes this fact. “He came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, as was his custom.” But in many ways, it was life as usual. He immersed in – totally a part of – his Jewish faith and tradition. Scripture was important to him and he knew it well. We see this also in Luke 2:46 where we can read the story of Jesus when he is 12 years old. Already at this young age, he want to search his scriptures and learn from the teachers in the temple.
I cannot compare myself to Jesus, but I can identify with being a part of a family and tradition that shaped me and formed me to be a person who follows God. My parents, Christian teachers and mentors, other relatives, all encouraged me and taught me more about the Bible and about living as a person of faith. Being a part of a strong community of Christians led me to become a leader in the church. Jesus was formed and shaped in his tradition to love scripture, to know God and to become the leader and prophet that he became.
Although in many ways this was an ordinary Sabbath day, it was also totally extraordinary. (5) In his quotation from Isaiah, Jesus begins by reading ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me”. Jesus is reading words that were written many years before his time. But Luke, who recorded this event, makes clear that Jesus does indeed speak with the power of the Holy Spirit. He does this with the two stories that come before this.
First, Jesus goes to his cousin John the Baptist. He asks John to baptize him. A symbolic start to begin his life’s work. And this baptism ends with the Holy Spirit descending – coming down from the sky – like a dove. A voice speaks from Heaven: "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." This is Jesus’ Father in heaven blessing the beginning of his journey. In my Christian tradition (and in yours?) baptism marks the choice of a believer to commit to a journey of faith. Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit to empower him – to give him the power that he needed – to do God’s work on earth.
Next Jesus goes to the desert. He prepares for his years with crowds of people by being alone to pray, to fast – he does not eat for all these 40 days. He is tempted during these days – to turn away from a life of service to God and God’s people and toward a life of power and wealth. Again, at the end of the forty days we hear that Jesus was “filled with the Power of the holy Spirit”.
When Luke talks about Jesus being filled with the Holy Spirit, that is his was of saying that what Jesus is about to say is also full of God’s Spirit. God affirms – God says ‘yes’ – to Jesus. To his speech from Isaiah and to all that he will do among God’s people on earth.
So we know two things. First, Jesus is formed by his Jewish faith and tradition. Second, Jesus is filled with the Spirit in a special way that makes him different. With this as context, Jesus searches for his chosen passage. He reads the words from Isaiah, and steps into public view. The scroll of Isaiah is handed to Jesus but this is the text that he looks for…The spirit of the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. (6)
“Blessed are you who are poor,” Jesus says in Luke 6, “For yours is the Kingdom of God.” This is a theme, something that we can hear and read over and over again in Luke’s gospel. The good news for those who are poor, is that they too can be God’s children, can live in God’s Kingdom. It will not only be the rich, who can afford to put money in the offering plate who get to be with God. In fact, it is those who are poor who receive a special blessing. Jesus identifies in his whole life and in everything he teaches, with people who are poor. In Luke and in all the Gospels, Jesus blesses the poor and invites those who want to follow him to care for the poor.
(7) For example, Jesus will tell parables that teach those who have money and wealth, to give up what they have, or to make friends with the ones who have nothing. In Luke 14, he tells his host, “When you give a dinner, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.” And he goes on to tell the parable of the rich man who threw a banquet and none of his friends came – they all made up excuses. They had stories about getting married, or buying cattle. So the rich man goes into the streets and does as Jesus says – he invites the poor and hurting and homeless.
On another occasion Jesus uses the poor widow as an example of faithfulness. (8) In Luke 21, the widow puts in the little money she has and Jesus says “Truly, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.” Jesus came to preach good news to these people – the poor.
The ‘good news’ is both Spiritual good news of life in God, but also the ‘real life’ good news of receiving care by other members of God’s Kingdom. This is good news for us to. We are called to live a life of disciples of Jesus. We too can have a relationship with God and we too can offer our lives as service to those in need.
At my church in Seattle we have had to struggle with this a lot. There are many people who have no homes, who sleep outside on the street, often outside our church. Five years ago my congregation began a small ministry to people who are homeless. It started with offering a meal each Sunday evening and inviting everyone – homeless and not homeless, Christian congregations and non-Christian neighbors – to eat together. There was even a Korean church that participated.
Then we started a day-time drop-in center – a place where people without homes could come in the morning to do laundry, to eat something, to use a computer. This has also become a place that offers spiritual care: Bible study, care by pastors, ministry at the time of death of illness. And our ministry to those who are homeless or poor has become a rich blessing to us.
Next Jesus says, God “has send me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind.” This happens literally: Jesus heals people who are blind. He makes people see who couldn’t see before and he heals many other kinds of illnesses and diseases. And Jesus also causes people to ‘see’ the truth of who God is and what God wants for them.
(9) Luke 18 is a classic example of Jesus healing a man of his blindness.
As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, "Jesus of Nazareth is passing by." Then he shouted, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, "What do you want me to do for you?" He said, "Lord, let me see again." Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has saved you." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.
There are several things that make this exchange very radical and amazing. One, Jesus talks to this man. He asks him what he can do for him – he does not make an assumption about what the man wants. He treats him as a human, talks to him at the same level. In the end the man can see – he is longer blind. And everyone who watches Jesus heal the man can see in a new way also. Now they have a new kind of vision as well.
(10) Oppressed go free – Jesus is reading from Isaiah, who was writing to people who were oppressed. They were being held captive in a foreign country. In Jesus’ context, the Jewish people are being held captive by an occupying force. The Roman Empire and Roman government are governing by force. Luke’s readers would have heard this from the time of Jesus’ birth: he was born in Bethlehem because the Roman Emperor had called a census.
Recently completed the Korean population census. I just had to go online and answer a few questions about my family and where I live. Jesus’ parents were forced by the Romans to leave Nazareth and travel to Bethlehem – quite a long journey. The Jewish population was kept under for by violence. Freedom from this kind of oppression would have been welcome.
What kinds of oppression do we experience now? Who are the oppressed? As Jesus disciples, how to we respond as Jesus would have us respond to those who are poor, blind or in need of healing? I don’t know this city or this country well yet. It is difficult for me to see where there is need. I do see the pain and grief of a country divided and destruction and fear that on going violent exchanges cause between North and South.
As Jesus’ disciples, my belief is that we try always to be more and more like Jesus and what he set out in this short quotation from the prophet Isaiah.
(11) “Jesus calls us who claim to follow him to continue his mission. We are to bring good news to the poor. We are to proclaim liberty to all captives, release to the imprisoned, God's blessing on the oppressed. We are to release, restore, and transform. To be a disciple means to confront injustice and minister to the oppressed. As Jesus probed the root causes of problems, so will believers. Through transforming society we show compassion.”
By naming all of these ways that he would practice his ministry, Jesus is announcing the year of the Lord’s favor. In the prophets the ‘year of the Lord’s favor’ was a time in which there would be an end to violence, a time in which enemies – even natural enemies – would lie together, as in the passage from Isaiah 65:17, 23-25: (12)
For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating;
They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD-- and their descendants as well. 24 Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. 25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent-- its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.
For many years the Jewish people had read prophesies such as these – words which promised that someone would deliver. They expected a political ‘Messiah’ – someone who would save the nation through violence, war or rebellion. They expected a king or prince. But Jesus read the scripture and said, “I am the one.” He said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Staring now is the year of the Lord, the time that you have been waiting for. Starting now. Jesus is not what they are expecting. He is not a king or prince like the political leaders they know. Jesus’ kingdom is sometimes called the ‘upside-down’ kingdom because it is the opposite of what is expected. Jesus is a servant-king and everyone who follows Jesus serves as he does.
This is still the ‘year of the Lord’s favor.’ We are still being called to be Jesus disciples: offering good news to the poor, offering healing to the blind and the ill, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor. May we all seek to do so.
Next week: the second part of this story, in which Jesus’ words make trouble.
(13) “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
December 4, 2010
Good morning. It is good to be with you again this morning. I’m going to begin where we ended last week in the book of Luke. Once again Joe will read the text, this week beginning at Luke 14 and completing the story of Jesus’ time in his hometown.
*Last week I talked about Jesus reading from the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue. I said that by doing this he rooted in Jewish faith and tradition – he identified as being totally a part of the culture and religion of his birth. He also implied that it was he, Jesus, who would become the Messiah. Jesus, not a political leader, not a king, would be the deliverer and savior that the prophets had spoken of.
I did not speak much about how Jesus’ message was received, about how people reacted to what Jesus read and said. * At the beginning “all spoke well of him and were amazed.” By the end of Jesus’ comments, “all in the synagogue were filled with rage.” That is a big change in how they think about Jesus. And I think it has to do both with what Jesus read and then what he said about it.
Last week we thought about the passage which Jesus read from Isaiah. I discussed how I believe it sums up everything that Jesus will do in his ministry: bringing good news to the poor, healing the blind, freeing people from many kinds of captivity. These words may have been good news to the people listening to Jesus in the synagogue too. After all, they were not wealthy and they were living in an oppressive Roman occupation.
* They would surely have been reminded of the Jewish religious law called Jubilee. Jubilee built a time of Sabbath rest into the life of the community and the earth in several ways:
- land laid fallow – no planting (need to share with each other)
- servants freed – no more dependence on obligated persons
- debts forgiven – same as above – freedom from debt
- ancestral sold out of need returned – return to home
All of these things have the effect of making people into equals, ensuring sharing of resources, and allowing people to depend on each other rather than take advantage of each other. The land and the resources, which belongs to God, is being put into the hands of all of God’s people.
In the middle ages in Europe, people also understood that the land belonged to God. But at that time the king acted as God’s voice on earth, deciding who could have what land, who would play what role. * I mentioned before about the Kingdom of God sometimes being called the upside-down kingdom. Jesus is reminding his friends and fellow Jews that God’s wish is not for the land to be distributed according to one powerful man’s desires, but for the poor to use the land according their need. And Jesus is telling his friends ‘today this scripture has been fulfilled.’
After hearing this and being reminded of the familiar law, the people in Jesus’ hometown synagogue are filled with awe. I learned that it was custom in the synagogue, after the scripture was read, the reader would sit and then was time for comments. It was his comments and the words that Jesus said – not what he read – that made the crowd turn on him. As I read through these verses I wondered why Jesus would say the things that he did, if he thought it might anger these people who were his friends, neighbors and relatives.
My experience of living in Seattle, is that many, many of the people who live there are from another place. Everyone has a ‘hometown’ from which they moved to the city. Joe and I are no exceptions. Joe was born and raised in Indiana and I spent my childhood in a small town in Canada. I might be wrong, but it seems to be similar here. Everyone has a hometown where they have parents and relatives. Last weekend our family went for kimjong with the family of a friend in her hometown. She told me that in her town, where she grew up, everyone is related and everyone knows everything about the other people. The place where I grew up is similar. My family name is Epp. In the town where my parents now live, there are probably 15 families with the name Epp and there are less than 2000 people in the town.
I think Jesus’ town was like that. He knew everyone. Everyone knew him. I talked about being raised in a faith tradition by parents and relatives. Jesus was like that. He was closely guided and shaped by these people. He knew them well. I think because he knew them well, he knew how they would react both to his reading and to the work he was about to do. Maybe you can think of a time when you had something that you were called to. Something that you needed to do. Something that was right but you knew before you told them that your parents (or friends or family) would not agree with you. Jesus was in that spot.
*Jesus anticipated his home-town neighbors’ questions about what he has said. Jesus knows his neighbors; he has lived there for almost 30 years. He has worked among them. They know him as Joseph’s son, the carpenter. They are probably trying to find him a good wife and wondering, why didn’t we know that he was such a good speaker. Perhaps they are wondering if there isn’t something to the stories they have been hearing about him speaking in towns around Nazareth.
So, when at first they are pleased and admiring. Perhaps they are a little surprised. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” They say to each other. This is a little irony for the readers, who already know that Jesus is not really Joseph’s son. In fact, the two people who might have known what was coming are Mary and Joseph. Because they know him as Joseph’s son, they will be expecting him to first and foremost be theirs. If he will heal, he should heal at home. If he will teach, he should teach at home. Israel’s history and it’s laws have been very focused on maintaining purity and keeping people from straying. But we know that Jesus is not Joseph’s son. He is God’s son. He is not for his hometown but for the world. And for the nations.
Jesus knows this and he says “a prophet is never accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” He goes on to use two stories familiar to his friends.
*First Elijah, who offered aid to a poor woman and her son. And then Elisha, who heals Namaan the Syrian. The widow and Namaan could not have been more different – the woman is poor, a widow and has nothing. Namaan is a powerful commander in the army. He has everything he could ever want. Both of these individuals are miraculously helped by the prophets of God: the woman received food and her son, at the point of death, is healed. Namaan, who has leprosy, is made well. Both of these individuals come to proclaim the name of God after their encounter.
With these stories, Jesus confirms that he will not be staying in his home town. And not only that, when he begins his ministry it will be with people outside the Jewish faith and Israelite nation. We live in a world in which it is not uncommon to leave one’s hometown, to travel across the country, across the ocean, to live and work – sometimes for a lifetime. For Jesus this would have been radical indeed. The hometown ties were very strong both within the town and within the nation of Israel. For Jesus to suggest that his gifts would be offered outside his town and even outside the Jewish people was unexpected and condemnable.
Once again, as in the reading of Isaiah, he is giving his listeners an idea of what his ministry will be like. He anticipates that this kind of ministry will result in rejection by the people who raised him. And they are very, very angry. They ‘do a 180’; they move from loving to hating, from pleasure to anger in the space of a few stories. They are so angry that they are prepared to throw him from a cliff.
*This is the first of many times that Jesus will upset his listeners with message about Jubilee, healing the sick foreigner, bringing good news to the poor and healing the unclean and unwelcomed. I still don’t fully understand complete rage of the listeners. Even understanding a little of the hometown possessiveness and the defensiveness about interpretation of scripture, I don’t quite get why they would be angry enough to want to kill him.
*I do understand and find important Jesus’ reaction to the reaction, although it is somewhat mysterious. Jesus’ final action in another way to reflect what his coming ministry would be like. If Jesus was a political savior or revolutionary, we would expect his response to such rage to be rage in return. Perhaps violent rage. Indeed perhaps the people who were pushing him toward the cliff’s edge expected a fight. We hear nothing of that. But we just hear that Jesus ‘went on his way’.
*Jesus’ teachings and ministry are reflective of this. His teachings are of justice for the oppressed, good news for the poor and a call to his followers to respond to evil with good, to hatred with non-violent love. His ideas about the upside-down kingdom and welcoming the outsiders are ultimately so threatening to those in power that, like the people in his hometown, they want to kill him. And of course, we know that he is killed on the cross – he responds to evil with love.
We also know that the cross was not the end. Just as the moment on the cliff was not the end, but only the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Those moments on the cliff, like the reading from Isaiah, like the stories of prophets who gave aid to non-Israelite foreigners, Jesus ‘going through the midst’ of his captors and ‘going on his way’ looks forward to Jesus leaving death and the tomb behind.
From Jesus' preaching and teaching, to his ministry of healing and liberation of captives of every sort, to his death at the hands of his adversaries, to the victory of the resurrection, Luke's Gospel is sketched here in miniature, as Jesus leaves Nazareth (never to return, according to Luke's narrative) on the road that eventually will lead him to Jerusalem. (Ringe)
I haven’t mentioned or acknowledged at all that we are in the season of advent. In my home congregation in Seattle, we would be lighting candles in the advent wreath each Sunday, in anticipation of the birth of Jesus. Naomi and I are counting the days on two different advent calendars – each day we open a door in the calendar that marks the days as we get closer to the coming of Christ. What is exciting to me about this time of year is that we are intentional together about waiting for Jesus – the Jesus who changed everything. The Jesus who preached good news, who healed and loved and taught and gave himself freely to show the truth of God’s love for the world.
I try all year round, and in my whole life, to live up what Jesus taught and showed. My prayer is that I may do so. And I pray also that you all may hear how Jesus is calling you to follow.
Since Joe moved here he has been really welled cared for by his co-teacher Grace, who is Christian and who worships at a non-denominational church called Neulsarang (which means always love, I think). Although this congregation boasts over 1000 members, they have an English worship service in English, to which about 15 people come on a good day. Grace is involved with the service and invited Joe. He was the first non-Korean to attend, although the regular preacher is Korean-Canadian. So Naomi and I arrived and began to go as well, alternatively with the Mennonite church.
For me, the initial draw was proximity (it's about 15 minutes away as opposed to 50 or more) and that it's in English, which the Mennonite service is not. I'm not even sure what theology they profess. The services follow this formula: worship songs with recorded music and lyrics on power point (some of these I knew, some not), a prayer by one of the members - usually in Korean, the Apostles Creed, offering during which we sing 'All to Jesus I Surrender', the sermon, and finally the Lord's Prayer. It's starting to grow on me, although I can't say I affirm everything in the Apostles Creed and we sing the same songs most Sundays.
What I do love about this place is that the few people who are there are there every Sunday. They are so committed to this service. And they are so happy when our family is there. They are sweet and generous and loving. Since they knew that I'm a pastor I was asked to step in and preach when Elmo (that's really his name) the usual preacher went back to Canada for a wedding. I said yes, but what to preach on?? There's no committee, they don't follow a lectionary. Elmo's sermon's are always topical and always about one's personal relationship with God. (eg. "How to deal with criticism") But I'm a Bible preacher and I'd been missing Jesus, so I ended up preaching on Jesus' first public adddress. Luke 4:14ff, when Jesus reads from the prophet Isaiah and goes on to be rejected by his hometown.
It's an interesting challenge to prepare a sermon for non-native English speakers. My congregation in Seattle is educated and well read and I'm familiar with the culture and references of that community. I draw on all of that when I preach. I use big words and big ideas. I make leaps and draw connections. I was unsure of how to do any of that in this context. But this gracious community welcomed my efforts (see here) and told me that they understood about 80%. Not bad.
Joe took some pictures of me preaching. Here and here.
Monday, October 25, 2010
These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:I am in exile. I feel somehow like this is a confession, or a disservice to the choice that I made. After all, we made a decision as a family to be in Korea for this year. And yet, I can't really get around it. As friendly as this place is, I look different than my neighbors, I speak a different language and, as awesome as the internet is, my own community is distant.
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
I have not spent any of my time here wallowing in homesickness or self pity at being 'exiled.' The opposite is true. I have kept busy exploring my neighborhood, going for runs, doing the grocery shopping, the bill paying the child-caring. I have been spending time studying Korean and making new friends.
But I was on the verge of self pity this morning, after a somewhat sleepless night, and an exhausting last few days with Naomi, who is increasingly whiny and stubborn and boundary-testing. (She has no trouble at all wallowing in homesickness and self pity.) Then I read Joe S.'s blog, and Jeremiah's word from YHWH to "seek the peace of the city where I have sent you into exile...for in its welfare you will find your welfare."
Not only did this text remind me that my welfare is tied to this place and its people - I had been active and engaged (more or less) in the community - it reminded me that I am here not only because of a decision that Joe and I made, but by the leading of a God who calls and sends, even to places distant to those we call home. And in all my busy-busy home-making and settling in and Korean study, I have not spent any time dwelling in the word or presence of the One in whose name I came. No wonder I complain of not feeling Presence when I am not making myself present.
Sure enough, I was doing the practical part of YHWH's instruction to the exile - to me - sending my daughter to a local preschool, exploring the local customs and language, engaging people. I have been dwelling in this place but not in the One who brought me here. Now, who knows, this self revelation may not make me any more likely to be prone to wallowing, but I think it's kept me from it for today. May the One who calls and sends be both comfort and inspiration.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
But, the first morning that I was bustling Naomi out the door to preschool, there was another mom bustling her two kids out the door and onto the elevator. She said, 'hi' and we exchanged pleasantries in English but since we were both bustling, it never went any farther than that. We did the same a few mornings in a row, until on morning I asked her, 'How is it that you have such good English?' and she told me that she was a teacher. She tutors school children in English in her home. The next day I asked if she would be willing to tutor me in Korean. And thus begins our fledgling language-trade friendship.
Rora (her English name) and I have met once for a teacher session. She bought pastries in order to bribe me (her words) to be her friend. Little does she know how much I needed a friend and how grateful I am for the opportunity to learn from and hang out with her. She also invited me to take a paper-folding class with her, a traditional practice which I jumped at. In her I have and will encounter the hospitality, grace and openness of Christ to the stranger.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Although I did bring my sewing machine in my suitcase, I hand stitched these. It took a long time but I kind of like the tactile nature of using a needle and thread. And now, thanks to Vija, I also have a thimble and my finger won't get that horrible little hole in it from the needle poking in. I may have a whole year of hand-stitched quilting ahead of me; I found that my power converter doesn't work with my blow-dryer and I'm a little afraid to try it with the sewing machine.
Tuesday, October 05, 2010
I know that many people were praying for us, but I’m ashamed to say that I have not spent much time in prayer or communion with the Divine at all in these past few weeks. There was very little time to relax or think of much of anything on the plane, as I was entertaining Naomi or responding to her millions of questions, observations, and demands. That we would get a visa to enter Korea has never been a certainty. At least, a visa for any considerable length of time. We did not apply for a visa’s as Joe’s dependents so I was counting on our Canadian passports to get us six month tourist visa’s. But we don’t have return tickets and more than once, both by the Korean consulate in Seattle and by the worried looking check-in agent at the Korean Air desk in Seatac Airport, that it’s all up to the customs agent and Koreans don’t like it when you come into the country without a return ticket. Thus, when I was on the plane, and Naomi had finally fallen asleep in the final hours of the flight, my prayer was simple and direct: God, may we go through customs smoothly. I said this on repeat as I watched the miniature plane on the screen in front of me get closer and closer to Incheon on the map.
I thought that if I landed at the airport in the state I was in, and I was asked even one question like, “Do you have a return ticket out of Korea?” (no) or “How long are you planning on staying?” (a year) I would probably start crying. I was lugging a tired and pee-stained preschooler, my bags and hers, and had not slept for about 24 hours. And yet the customs agent barely glanced at us long enough to verify that we were the people in our passport pictures. A quick stamp and a scribbled ‘6 mos’ and we were through the doors and waiting for Joe.
Five or six months from now, when Joe and I and Naomi are returning from our yet unplanned vacation through Asia, I hope God is listening again!
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Well that's what I've been doing. Naomi's been building legos, playing outside, watching videos (a little too much of that probably), going to the park, going swimming, eating donuts, jumping on the trampoline, peeing in the potty (most of the time) and going to the farmers' market. And I've been able to do all of those things with her, plus all my errands and re-reading the whole Harry Potter series. All of this because of this awesome gift of time.
I have been reminded over and over again that it does take time to be with a preschooler. It's not only the potty training (which is definitely time consuming!) It took Naomi and me almost an hour to walk home from the park yesterday. The park is a 5 minute walk away. I was torn constantly between wanting to yank Naomi away from the one thousandth rock stuck in the mud, the sticks and pine-cones and blackberries, and allowing her and myself to revel in these thing. I should want and be able to draw pictures in the dirt by the side of the road with a stick, hop from paver to paver in the sidewalk and lick pretend ice-cream made from pine-cones.
I should but that doesn't mean that it's easy to relax into the pace of a three-year-old, and she is often as frustrated with me as I am with her. I have this whole plan of exploring quilting as a spiritual discipline, but I am beginning to wonder if one of the challenges (and gifts) that lies before me in this time of Sabbatical will be to discover what it means to live into the spiritual discipline of parenting. While I think a lot about what it means to introduce Naomi to Jesus and at whatever level she can understand it, the faith in which I live, it has never really been a full-time gig.
So, why shouldn't a five minute walk take ten times that long? No reason, when presented with the gift of time. God help me live into the gift. I will need it - both the gift and the help living into it.
Monday, August 23, 2010
We take everything that our day has held,
the best and the worst,
and we pile it into your wrinkled, loving hands.
We take everything that the world has held today,
the good and the bad,
and we heap it all into your lap, Grandmother God.
Then we crawl up into your lap, too.
And still there is room for us and the whole world.
Tuesday, July 06, 2010
If Sunday worship is the meal that nourishes and sustains individual Christians as well as the Christian community, then it is vital that leaders understand how to prepare and serve this meal. If this is the meal that keeps Christians alive, that delights our souls, that creates a context for fellowship and celebration, and that sustains the church's work and witness in the world, then we must cultivate skill in the kitchen as well as capacities for hosting and serving on the part of worship planners, preachers music leaders and other in worship ministry.
What I don't like is clean-up. It's as true of my culinary endeavors as it is of worship. I mean the physical clean up: putting away the candles and the table runners, vacuuming up the crumbs from Communion. I can be forgetful or neglectful about cleaning up on Sundays, to the annoyance of our facilities manager. And I am often a procrastinator.
But, since I am quickly approaching my sabbatical, I have made it my summer goal to reorganize the worship supply room, take inventory and restock. We have a beautiful (from my perspective at least) and well stocked space for worship supplies including candles and holders, vases, cloths in many colors, rocks, leaves, various types of stands and holders for things. All this can get into a bit of a jumble, however organized the space began and I spent the better part of the day today pulling out clothes and banners to see which have to go to the dry cleaner to get the wax removed, pulling out broken candle stubs from votives, sorting things into categorized bins.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
In Acts 2, there are people from all over the known world gathered to celebrate one of the high Jewish holidays. All of these people who were just minding their own business tuning each other out because they couldn't understand what the person next to them was saying, now they can understand every word. And not only understand but realize that God was working through this miracle of understanding.
No doubt Douglas Adams named the Babel fish for the story in the Bible often associated with Pentecost as the anti-Pentecost, the place where all the trouble started. At Babel, in Genesis 11, the language are all mixed up and no one can hear or understand each other any longer. But Pentecost and the Holy Spirit gives that all back. In understanding they are suddenly able to create a community, because the barrier of language has been broken down. And that's not all, Peter quotes Joel as he interprets this event: even upon slaves, on men and women, on young and old. The Spirit is for everyone. This is the birth of the church.
Radical new community all because of a little fish...I mean the Holy Spirit.
whose love is more than mind can measure or time contain.
We believe that God's desire is fullness of life for all,
and from the heights of heaven to the depths of hell,
nothing and no one has fallen beyond the reach of God's mercy.
We believe in Jesus Christ,
who unveiled the divinity of human flesh
and revealed to us the nature of God;
who embodied God's holy wisdom
and brought forth fruits of love, joy, peace,
goodness, faithfulness and humility.
We believe in the way of the cross,
for when Christ embraced the outcasts
and unmasked the arrogant,
he stirred into deadly confrontation
the power of love and the love of power.
The enemies of life had their way with him,
tearing spirit from flesh,
but God's saving power raised him to life,
so that we and every person on earth
might follow him into the fullness of life which death cannot overcome.
We believe in the Holy Spirit
God's ceaseless and mysterious Go-between,
who kindles the fires of passion and integrity.
Elusive and uncontrollable,
comforting and disturbing,
she purges our delusions with fire
and whispers grace with a lover's breath,
empowering us to refuse what is evil,
and be taken up with praise.
Though sometimes fearful, in God we trust.
We lay ourselves open to the Spirit's touch
that we might be the body of Christ,
offering our life for the life of the world,
and being drawn into the mysterious dance of the Trinity,
through Jesus Christ,
to whom be glory and praise forever.
- Nathan Nettleton, Laughing Bird Liturgical Resources
Friday, April 02, 2010
I often feel this way around Christmas as well. A celebration of light and joy when, for some, life seems full of darkness and sorrow must feel particularly oppressive. My pastoral colleague Jonathan often says, ‘What you see depends on where you sit.’ I think it may be difficult to see and hear a story of resurrection when you’re sitting in the tomb next to death, or addiction, or depression, or unemployment or homelessness or any number of losses and traumas that we bear in ourselves or on behalf of another.
For this reason I think I will speak from Mary’s perspective this year. Mary Magdalene who first encountered the risen Jesus, also first encountered the confusion and fear of the empty tomb. Where is the body? Has someone taken him? Why is the stone moved? Who are the strange and white robed men? Who is this man, the gardener and does he know what has become of my Lord? I weep with Mary who ‘as yet did not understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead.’ (John 20:9) And I will try to proclaim with her ‘I have seen the Lord!’ even though I, like she, may not recognize him right now.
**The image above is by Chinese artist He Qi, entitled 'The Empty Tomb'
Thursday, March 18, 2010
My answer would be much the same almost three years later. So I have recently been facilitating a discussion in our adult education hour about teaching peace to children. I initiated this group because I have really wanted a forum to pool the collective wisdom of parents about strategies for teaching and modeling our discipleship of the Prince of Peace. There are so many facets to raising children to be not only non-violent, but also proactive peace-seekers, that it is both a fruitful but all too limited conversation.
In our last session we talked about the concerns of parents whose children have an excess of energy and often channel it in aggressive or violent ways, or who continue to gravitate to war toys, games and play. There were many great suggestions for creative and alternative play. One was involvement in sports and athletics. One mom of two teenage boys said that this has been the primary way that her boys have engaged in positive, directed, energy releasing activities that have the benefit of team work and goal setting built in.
I have been encouraged in some of my reading to resist the competitive urge in sports and to emphasize the satisfaction of participation, the benefits of working with the team, the joy that engaging in physical activity can bring. The lore of soccer-moms or hockey-dads speaks to the way parents can get tied up in very aggressive, competitive and even violent ways around their kids' sports. I found this great poem by Cynthia Hockmann-Chupp on the PeaceSigns website, a newsletter from MC USA's Peace and Justice Support Network.
Game of Peace
As I sit here on the sidelines,
Watching the ball go back and forth, back and forth,
Help me to remember that this is a game.
It's not all about me.
It's not all about my child.
Be with the referee.
It's hard to always be a fair and equitable judge.
Let your light shine through me,
As I remember that the ref, too, is your child.
And whether he is my brother in Christ,
Or God's child waiting to be discovered,
Let this be an opportunity to witness for your peace.
Be with the opposing coach.
It can be tiring to work with children.
Help me to remember all the volunteer hours,
All the time away from family and friends,
Given so my child has a chance to play against another team.
Let your light shine through me,
As I remember that the opposing coach, too, is your child.
And whether she is my sister in Christ,
Or God's child waiting to be discovered,
Bless this opportunity to witness for your peace.
Be with the opposing players.
They are children like my child.
Yet some have already experienced more grief in their short lives
Than I have in my long life.
Let your light shine through me,
As I remember that the opposing players are your children.
As I sit here on the sidelines,
Let your light shine through me
I cannot pass the ball for my child
But I can pass the peace.
Wednesday, March 03, 2010
"Holy Shit!" might have been my response to news that Jesus hears about in Luke 13: ‘Pilate massacred a group of Galileans while the were worshiping in the temple. It was so brutal that their own blood was mingled with the blood of the animals that they were sacrificing!’*
Instead, he told this parable:
"A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, 'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?'
He replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'" (Luke 13:6-9)
What?! One might expect outrage from Jesus. Or at least astonishment. A rant, maybe, against the occupying government. But instead, when informed of the senseless deaths of Galileans at the hands of Pilate, he says, ‘Oh and that other instance of people being killed by the tower falling. I bet you think that they must have done something to deserve it.” But after he reminds his listeners that God does not punish us for our sins, he also reminds them - twice - that at any moment they too could be called before their Creator; repent in the time that is left, or perish as those others perished. And he goes on to tell the parable above.
From ‘holy shit!’ to holy shit. How does Jesus manage these remarkable transitions? This is a story about a gardener who, as the King James Version puts it, ‘digs and dungs’ the poor unproductive fruit tree. In almost the same breath as Jesus is demanding repentance or perish-ment from his bewildered audience, he is offering a reprieve. A way to use the time we have left to seek productivity. And we are not in it alone. The faithful gardener will be there digging around the roots, looking for what is rotten, packing in the stinky but vitamin-rich manure. Thank you, gardener!!
I have been wondering about the gardener’s final pronouncement to the tree’s owner: “If the tree bears fruit, well and good, but if not, you can cut it down.” My junior high Sunday school class pointed out to me that the gardener doesn’t say, “I’ll cut it down for you.” but “you can cut it down.” I don’t know whether the emphasis is my own wishful thinking or whether it was Jesus' intention, but I like to think that not only will the gardener bravely intervene on behalf of the tree, he will spread the holy shit and he will not have anything to do with the tree's destruction. The tree may still perish, but the gardener will have done everything in his power to protect and nurture it into health and fruitfulness.
The junior high class was pretty certain that the gardener was Jesus and I’m pretty certain as well, although I don’t necessarily think Jesus always lines up one-for-one with any given character in his stories. But in this case, I do think he’s inviting us to seek the holy shit. Look for opportunities that are being offered to be enriched. Sometime the enrichment and growth opportunities will not smell good or seem enticing. The best compost is filled with slimy and squirming worms and sometimes the digging around the roots will hurt. But we’re in it with the gardener! Thank you, God for holy shit.
* It is unclear whether this was an actual event, but Pilate’s recorded governance practices in other instances make it very plausible - eg. the massacre of a group of Samaritans while on pilgrimage up Mt. Gerizim, their most holy site.
** Thanks to Jonathan, my co-pastor, for the colorful and evocative inspiration that began these reflections!
*** After March 7, see the related sermon ‘One More Year’
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Thursday, February 11, 2010
A cruel and greedy king, some people who oppose him, some servants who invest his money, and one who does not. This parable bugged me and bugged me because I don't want Jesus to be the king. The king is so cruel, so unfeeling, so power hungry, so cavalier. He seems to be the opposite of everything that Jesus stands for - just exactly like the real-life kings and rulers then and now.
Well, exactly! Jesus is not the king, he's the bizzaro king. Or rather, the king is the bizzaro Jesus. Luke, in having Jesus tell this parable was creating the anti-Jesus. Alvin Schwartz, the creator of Bizarro Superman, said this about his character Bizzaro Superman:
"I was striving, you might say, for that mirror-image, that opposite. And out of a machine which would reveal the negative Superman, came the mirror image, - always remembering that in a mirror everything is reversed...The times were such that one-dimensional characters, your standard superheroes, even in comics, seemed rather simplistic, like paper cut-outs. What was demanded was the full dimensional personality - a figure that carried a shadow, if you like. I was certainly inspired to some degree also by C.G. Jung's archetype of "the shadow" - and Bizarro certainly reflected that, as well" Bizarro talked in opposites and didn't know good from bad.
Jesus is the king who exalts the humble, seeks the lost, gives life to the dying. So when Luke puts Jesus in the mirror, he gets a king who does the opposite of those things, who exalts the already exalted, who turns the loser away and who kills the ones showing the life-spark of opposition. The readers recognize the king for who he represents - the corrupt and vengeful kings of Israel's provinces - and identify with the fearful slave and the protesting bystanders. The recognize the injustice. That is exactly what Jesus wants. The kingdom of God, the 'upside-down kingdom,' turns the world that we know, and the violent values that it practices, on it's head.
Link to the sermon that started it all here.
Sunday, February 07, 2010
It was about this time two years ago that I commemorated the life of Carole Marnet, a dear woman from our congregation who died after a battle with cancer – her third. I still smile when I remember her. Always ready with a tight hug, she had a constant sparkle of mischief in her eyes and she was gentle but strong. She loved her family fiercely and proudly, telling anyone who would listen about the accomplishments of two daughters. She would have been overjoyed at the birth of twin granddaughters a year after her death. But Carole also had a very tender place in her heart for the ‘stranger’.
She was tough advocate for people who many would ignore or despise. Carole welcomed into her home, a man who had for many years had lived in his van. From stranger to loved one.
Although we let go of Carole two years ago, I believe that what is worth holding on to is her legacy of love of stranger. I am so grateful to have known her. I thank God for her fierce and loving presence in my life. Marilyn prayed on Sunday as she began her sermon 'Make our hearts to be tender, that we may welcome you.' Indeed, Christ often comes as a stranger, and I pray too that we might be open to receive him.
and though its meshes are loose,
nothing is ever lost.
- Tao Te Ching
We come to Lent every year knowing that it is a time of being in the wild, spare space of self-examination and confession. The season begins with Jesus in the desert, tempted by Satan, the Adversary. He has let go of everything, emptying himself in preparation for what will be the intense and full life of the itinerant preacher and teacher, healer and wonder worker. He is fasting and weak. He is offered by Satan feasts and kingdoms and invulnerability at the moment when he might most want to grasp at those things. He has not yet begun his ministry, he has no disciples, no followers, no ardent supporters. And in the time of greatest emptiness, what his net retains are the Hebrew scriptures in which he has been immersed all his life. When he is tempted he replies from the scriptures that have formed and fed him.
The wilderness of the Pacific Northwest is nothing like the one that Jesus experienced. Our wildernesses are craggy mountains, pine forest, cascading waterfalls, and the vast ocean. It was the shore and the empty, waiting nets of the ocean’s fishers that began to seem like an appropriate metaphor for the wilderness of Lent as we planned the worship series in which we will be immersing ourselves these next six weeks. Here at the shore we are at the verge, in a place between earth and water. An empty space, a space full of possibility. A space where we anticipate and discern action and direction.
Certainly the first disciples of Jesus knew what it meant to be on the shore. They also know what is meant to come up empty again and again, nothing in their nets but the holes. And they knew then what it meant to be filled to brimming; Jesus’ word offering a rich harvest so that when they were called, they went with their whole hearts. We will come before Christ with empty nets, waiting to be filled. Many people give something up for Lent, but this wilderness time is also about pondering that to which we shall hold fast. We will discern together and before Christ what the net will hold and what we will let fall through its mesh.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Bryan Moyer Suderman's song inspired my sermon title this week. Look at, listen to and buy his music here. His songs are great for kids. Naomi loves 'Walking, 'Walking' and 'The World Song' actually titled 'The Emmaus Road' and 'God's love is for Everybody' - also the title of the album.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Saturday, January 09, 2010
Working at Seattle Mennonite Church, I’m around a group of folks who don’t always know where their next meal is coming from, and the next bag of groceries is, more likely than not, coming from North Helpline food bank. It feels like such a disconnect to live in a city where people pay premiums for organic produce from Whole Foods when outside there's a lady who offers to recite a poem for my pocket change.
Now this is also a city at whose food banks I notice a lot of organic and local produce. Once, in the Winnipeg food bank where I worked, the majority of the delivery one day was boxes and boxes of frozen sheet cake. And maybe a few cans of pasta. (Let them eat cake, indeed!) At least here I notice a better balance of foods, including veggies from all the awesome local farms. It’s a fine and sensitive line between shopping ethically and being self-righteous about groceries when so many people wish they could afford groceries at all.
Even in the co-op, how much pressure is it on the parents who don’t make organics a priority, or who can’t afford the higher prices, to now think that to be in our co-op they need to show up with the ‘right’ kind of snack? I don’t worry too much about what the other co-op parents think of my snack, but I do walk the fine line myself. I like to make sustainable and healthful choices. And especially with meat I try to buy from animals that have been ethically and sustainably raised. But often I opt for what’s cheaper because I’m on a budget.
Is it possible to ask the question ‘what would Jesus eat?’ I’m pretty sure that eating organically wasn’t really an issue. I think he would probably eat anything that was set in front of him and pay more attention to the people at the table than what was on his plate. So for me it comes down to: make the good choices you can, share what you have, eat together, and give thanks for the food, the earth and the One who makes all things.
Friday, January 01, 2010
I try to find ways to use books and play that at least introduce Naomi to ideas about who God is an how God is found in the world. Christmas seems like a natural time to use this kind of play. It can be difficult to find resources for play and reading that are in line with my theological bent but it's hard to go wrong with figures of Mary and Joseph and Jesus in the stable. I can remember playing with the figures in my family's creche when I was a child myself.
It's a hard to balance the many other influences on our kids, not all bad, but each pulling pieces of them in other directions. I pray that Naomi will continue to want 'more Jesus' and that even though we might put baby Jesus back in his box, she'll know that Jesus is wholly un-contained and always ready to play with her.