Young Blackberries

This year the blackberry bush near the church is full of growing berries.  But for me they are like forbidden fruit – not because of allergies, but because the deer will vacuum up all the berries as soon as they ripen.  Last year I was sure I’d get one berry, but the deer cleaned them out in what seemed like five minutes.

Anyway they are pretty while they are growing!

Ministry in Summer

Sometimes I don’t know what to do with summer in the church.  One would think it would be easy living:  no Christmas or Easter preparations, committee meetings taking a summer break, and so on.  Just relaxing and waiting for September.  Yet if one is wise (and I’m unwise more often than I would like to admit), one will spend the summer days preparing for the next Christmas and Easter and the other busy seasons.

And then there’s the task of holding people’s interest (sorry to be so blunt about it) over Sunday after Sunday with no Christmas carols, no special decorations, no children’s choir … just plodding through sermons as sunshine beckons outside.  Maybe holding my own interest is an issue!

Perhaps there’s more to waiting than plodding, or doing nothing … perhaps waiting is a work in and of itself.  R.S. Thomas, a priest in the Church of England, wrote about the priest’s summer as a time of waiting.

Moments of great calm,
Kneeling before an altar
Of wood in a stone church
In summer, waiting for the God
To speak; the air a staircase
For silence; the sun’s light
Ringing me, as though I acted
A great rôle. And the audiences
Still; all that close throng
Of spirits waiting, as I,
For the message.

Read the whole poem and some commentary at http://sites.nd.edu/oblation/2015/11/18/the-meaning-is-in-the-waiting/

Summer isn’t calm for everyone.  Our church owns a summer camp, and we are also close to a number of farms.  For the vine grower, the farmer, the orchardist, summer is a time of waiting, but also a time of bearing fruit.  At the camp, summer can be very fruitful in the spiritual/personal development of the campers as well as staff.  I wonder what fruit we, who are addicted to being busy, can bear during long summer days?

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Prayers I Like: Funeral Prayer

Yesterday I attended a funeral at at United Methodist congregation.

This prayer was printed in the bulletin.  A number of people have already written about Americans’ discomfort with the reality of death.  This prayer squarely addresses death while proclaiming full hope in God’s creative and redemptive power.

O God, who gave us birth,
you are ever more ready to hear
than we are to pray.
You know our needs before we ask,
and our ignorance in asking.
Give to us now your grace,
that as we shrink before the mystery of death,
we may see the light of eternity.
Speak to us once more
your solemn message of life and of death.
Help us to live as those who are prepared to die.
And when our days here are accomplished,
enable us to die as those who go forth to live,
so that living or dying, our life may be in you,
and that nothing in life or in death will be able to separate us
from your great love in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

(see more at https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/a-service-of-death-and-resurrection)

Sermon thoughts: season of Epiphany

Looking over the Revised Common Lectionary texts for the season of Epiphany (time till Lent), I see several accounts of someone feeling called.  We have the call of little Samuel, the call of Jesus’ first disciples, the call of Elisha.

I see a few themes emerging as well:

— Some of these folks seem already primed to hear the call.

Hannah, the mother of Samuel, laid out his career before he could make that decision for himself.  She promised to dedicate him to God… so when he was still a small child, she apprenticed him to the priest Eli.  By the time Samuel hears God calling to him in the night, he has already left the home of his parents, and has made his home in the temple.  So in a way he is primed to hear the call.

What about the call of the first disciples, guys who were fishing for a living and working for their dad?  Family meant so much in ancient cultures – it still means a lot in some cultures today.  However, there’s one thing that primes these fishermen for a call to leave:  they are already landless.

In the foundational thoughts of the Hebrew Scriptures, so much is about land, and keeping land in the family, knowing which land belonged to your tribe, and so on.  But when we meet Mary and Joseph, they are already living in Nazareth, a different place than the “family land” of Bethlehem.  The fishermen who become disciples, presumably, do not have a family farm.  All the land is occupied by Rome and Roman puppet kings.

How we have already been primed to receive a call, to take the next step?  Infant baptism is a sign and seal of making us ready, like the mother Hannah dedicating her baby to God.  Our spiritual formation in worship, Christian education, and private devotion helps us live in God’s reality, while at the same time living in the reality of “powers” that control our land, our income, and so on.

— Sometimes the call meets with resistance.  

Elisha is upset that his master Elijah is going to leave.  He tries to stall the inevitable, accompanying Elijah on his last journey.  He asks (desperately?) for a double share of Elijah’s spirit.  Jonah resists his call to preach to Nineveh.  Nathaniel seems skeptical about the call at first:  “what good can come out of Nazareth?”

— How do we know a call is legitimate?  

Samuel’s teacher Eli realizes the boy is receiving  a call from God, after a voice has awoken the boy several times during the night.  Jesus demonstrates his call by teaching, healing, and freeing people from demonic forces.  (Of course Jesus’ demonstration of power leads to theme #2, resistance to his call.)  Jonah’s preaching is successful, but he doubts the efficacy of it, or still resents God calling him in the first place.

So a call from God may not appear to us to be rock solid or crystal clear.  Even if we clearly know the call is legitimate, we still have to implement it, in a world of ever-changing circumstances.

Path in the Woods

For some reason I like pictures of paths and roads in the woods.  In high school my art teacher taught us that since Western languages read left to right, any image that seems to “flow” right to left will have an off, or negative, or even menacing feel.  She showed us a Russian artist’s depiction of a 17th century woman being arrested for her beliefs.  The villagers mourn for her as she is dragged away, moving right to left.

So, I often take this particular path through the woods on walks.  Because the path curves a wee bit to the right and then to the left, it always catches my eye.  It just looks like I’m getting ready to walk into some far-off place, not knowing if it’s a good or bad “flow.”

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Sometimes we go down a foreboding path because we have to.  As in the case with this path, it leads me on the rest of my walk, so I know it serves a good purpose.  Sometimes we have to go down a worrisome path, because we have become ill, or because we experience a significant loss.

When the path goes right to left, or when we can’t see the end of it, it’s important to know we’re not alone.  Several of the Psalms mention God’s leadership on the path:

Psalm 23.3:  He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

Psalm 119.105:  Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

Psalm 139.3: You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.

May we be aware of, and thankful for, God’s presence on the path.

a good word from a friend

Seventeen years of wonderful friends, mentors, and colleagues … and with God’s help more to come.

I’m cleaning out clutter, so I can have room to think in 2018.

I found an old journal with prayers and reflections.  Seventeen years ago, apparently I confided in a friend that I felt like a wimp.  My friend said, “A wimp wouldn’t have gone all the way to Yale Divinity School to enter what is basically a man’s field.”

Today there are a lot of women in ministry, but times were different almost two decades ago.  In those 17 years, I have received so much from women colleagues and mentors.  (Yes, from men colleagues and mentors too!)  I’ve been privileged to walk with women seminarians and new pastors.  Resources for women in ministry are a lot more abundant than they were 20, 30, 40 years ago.

It’s not a career for wimps, that’s for sure.  But we all wimp out from time to time, and God works through others’ words of wisdom to strengthen us.

I thought about throwing the journal away, but I think I’ll keep it.  Might need to flip to that page again.

Lent: To Be

This morning, I saw that many of my Facebook friends have given up something for Lent:  soda, carbohydrates, sweets.  One of my online friends wondered what to give up (he hadn’t decided yet.)

I pray that each of these people will find their Lenten sacrifices to be a good work.  As for me, I’m not giving up a thing.  Remembering to avoid eating something is just one more item for my to-do list:  a list that’s impossible enough as it is.

It’s a woman thing.

To Do

Here’s what I mean:  in today’s America, being a woman means sacrificing all the time.  It means cutting important meetings short so you can get to your kid’s dance recital… and then scooting out of the dance recital so you can cook dinner.  It means worrying obsessively over the foods that enter your mouth.  It means a to-do list that looks something like this:

getgroceries-takecupcakestodaycare-getprescriptions-walkdog-buynewmakeup-putonmakeup-makepresentationformeeting-typenotesfrommeeting-callBobBillandSally-return20emailsbynoon-paybills-vaccum-dolaundry-packforbusinesstrip-mop-cleanuptoys-checkfacebook-getorganized.

Even if you have a great husband like mine who does tons of things around the house, there is always the feeling that you’re sacrificing something important, and that you need to do more.

Organizing helps to some extent, but it can become an obsession in itself.  I have good days (and lots of bad days) with organizing, and overall it holds very little spiritual meaning for me.

So my Lenten discipline is To Be.  To be a Type B, you could say.  Someone who is fully present in the moment, not someone who is ticking off “what’s next” while pretending to listen.

I will let Jesus be the Doer.  After all, he was best at it!  Even on my best days I can’t feed five thousand people from a few loaves and fishes.

I do want Jesus to teach me how to become a “Be-er” (not a beer!) instead of a Doer.  He was really good at being too.

The to-do list stretches on into eternity.  Yet the moments of being and presence are fleeting.

I AM, teach me how to be.  Amen.