Sermons

Monday, November 30, 2015

Longing


Advent begins not with fuzzy sheep and sleepy babies but with talk of destruction, of wars and rumors of wars; of nation against nation and kingdom against kingdom and brother against brother; of earthquakes and things that light up the sky. These are things that make us afraid, which is why we prefer the sheep and the babies, the gentle cows and kneeling shepherds, the beautiful star shimmering in an otherwise silent night. What are we to do with such dire predictions?

But one look at our world today tells us that indeed, these are not predictions nor rumors but reality. What we are seeing now is destruction and war, kingdom against kingdom and brother against brother. The earth shakes, and explosions flash.

On the streets of cities all over the globe, ambulances rush the casualties to hospitals and people leave flowers in doorways and on street corners, and other people cry out openly, their grief raw and exposed. Rachel is weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more, said the prophet Jeremiah. Rachel still weeps, in every country, every day.

Thus we begin Advent with these scenes of destruction, but if we can look deeply inside ourselves in the face of such fearsome scenes, we may discover an intense longing. Longing for peace. Longing for forgiveness. Longing to be made whole, to be released from fear. We are longing for love and connection in the face of hatred and brokenness. We are longing for the world to be transformed, and ourselves with it. This is our work now, to pay attention to this longing and to make room within ourselves for new life that God will bring even the rubble of brokenness.

So Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.






Sunday, November 29, 2015

Stand Up and Raise Your Heads, for Your Redemption is Drawing Near






My husband’s friend Eric is an emergency medical technician (an EMT), and for the last several weeks, he has been with a Christian aid group working on the Greek island of Lesbos, the place where as many as 10,000 refugees each week are landing after crossing a treacherous five mile stretch of the Aegean Sea from Turkey. 

The people on the boats, which are just rubber rafts, most with motors but some without, left home with only a backpack and maybe a cell phone. Home is Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Palestine, and even the Sudan and Somalia, which are a long way from Turkey. There are 50 to 70 people on a boat: men, women, children. Babies even. There’s no room for luggage. When the wind is up, the sea is rough, and sometimes the boats sink. Eric and his team attend to the medical needs of the refugees as they get off the boats.

The other day Eric posted a picture he called Tears from the Sun. It was a watercolor painted on wrinkled paper by a child refugee who survived the ocean crossing. At the bottom of the drawing is the blue sea, and on top of the sea is the outline of a black rubber raft, and in the raft are many circles with reddish blobs holding the circles up - people wearing those orange life vests. Some of the reddish blobs are on the bottom of the raft - they are the children who are put there so they won’t fall out. 
Overhead, a big yellow sun has rows of blue tears flowing out of its eyes as it looks down on the boat taking the refugees away from home.

It is like a sign in the sun.

Eric also posted videos of the boats arriving. Some of them arrive at night, while others are drifting and someone goes out to help bring them in before they land in the wrong place. 

Many of them land in the wrong place anyway, a place near a lighthouse, which of course is a treacherous place - that’s why the lighthouse is there, to warn them away - but this is where they come because they can see the light and they can see the huge pile of lifejackets on the beach, which are there because it’s too hard to take them away. 

Some days, he said, they’d be watching the horizon intently and see nothing for hours and then, suddenly, a boat will appear, and then another and sometimes a whole flotilla of boats, and they get ready to get to work.

And what I notice when I watch the videos is how the people are all looking out so expectantly. They are not bent over, cowering, but straining forward, looking up. Some of them jump out of the boat before it lands, arms outstretched, saying, Thank you! Thank you! I am so happy to see you! 

Some of them are crying, in fear no doubt, but also in gratitude that they made it across the sea, that their family is still together, that they have escaped the hell they came from. The way ahead for them is still very uncertain, but they have made a significant landing.

“Stand up and raise your heads, for your redemption is drawing near.”

Jesus is not describing the future in this apocalyptic text. He is describing the world now. All hell is breaking loose, the signs of which are unmistakable. And people everywhere feel faint with fear and foreboding. But this doesn’t mean that the end times are here. The world is like this every year. 

What Jesus is saying is that when we see so clearly the world’s brokenness, that’s when we must stand up and raise our heads, looking for redemption in the midst of it. We must be alert, keep awake, to see it amid the chaos. 
My first year in seminary was the year that we invaded Iraq. And someone put up a poster outside the chapel that asked: What is God doing in Iraq? 

I was completely flummoxed by this question. What on earth WAS God doing in Iraq? I was deeply conflicted and uncomfortable with the whole thing - both the situation and the question. And then a few days later, someone attached to the bottom of the poster a picture of a soldier carrying a child to safety. And I saw. That’s what God was doing in Iraq. 

Asking what God is doing gives me a lens through which to see redemption, to see salvation in the midst of so much destruction and brokenness.

But all of this is scary. I don’t know what’s scarier to me - the thought of fleeing my home, crossing a rough sea in a rubber boat with only what I can carry on my back, or being the one to help desperate strangers get out of a boat not knowing what comes next. 

When the world seems so scary we risk losing our way, being overcome by fear, if we cannot keep our grounding in God’s promise of redemption. And we cannot see it if we are either cowering, or looking away. 

So we hold our heads up, even in the midst of our anxiety, and look out, to see arms reaching out for us and to reach our arms out, too.

This is how we begin Advent, naming this chaos and destruction, naming our anxiety and our fear. Come thou long expected Jesus and fix all this mess, we plead. 

But Jesus is always coming, being born anew and always with us, giving us strength to be love in the world. 
Just last week, a new baby was born - which is the kind of sign the Bible tells the shepherds to look for at Christmas. A new baby born to the family of refugees from Afghanistan, and many St. Stephen’s folks have come together to help them settle into new life here. 

One doesn’t have to be a trained professional like Eric or a combat soldier to take a chance on doing God’s sometimes scary work in the world. 

Thanks to you, they have carseats for both their toddler and the new baby, and beds to sleep in, and rides to the doctor. They don’t just have things, they have friends, they have a connection with people whose names and stories they are learning. 

Advent is often described as a time during which we make room in our hearts for the coming of our Lord. And this is true. Advent is the fast before the feast of Christmas, and we must intentionally prepare. 

But what are we preparing for? Who is Jesus bringing to reside with him in our hearts this year? And if  having Jesus in our hearts means doing Jesus’ work in the world, then we must look up and look out, even though we are besieged with noise and images that make us afraid. God is at work in the disasters out there and Jesus is asking us to recognize that work so that we can join God in bringing good out of brokenness. 

This is what we are making room for - room for our own capacity more and more to be love in the world, making room for God’s love to not only live in us but to work through us to bring life to the world. 

To see God reaching out for us and we reaching back in return. Reaching out and making room - that is our redemption.
We ourselves need to be saved from the fear that makes us turn away from the needs of the world. We need to make room for the question: what is God doing over there, and over here, and in all the places of suffering.

And so look up, even though it seems like all hell is breaking loose. Hold your heads up, for your redemption is drawing near.








Saturday, November 28, 2015

Caturday Afternoon



We're not fat. We're fluffy.

Let us know when you get the Advent wreath up so we can chew on it.







Friday, November 27, 2015

Friday Music: Fire and Rain, Updated! Now with calzone!



Having a little fun with Stephen Colbert and James Taylor, who has updated "Fire and Rain" with all the stuff he's seen since 1970.

Enjoy your Friday!






Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Pied-Billed Grebe


The pied-billed grebe sinks straight down when it wants to hide or hunt for food. Other water birds dive, but this one is more like a submarine. You have to sneak up on it, or it will disappear - the pied-billed grebe is easily frightened. So it's a real treat to be able to see one.







Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Time to Play!


The holidays are coming. Family is on the way. Time to play a little!

What are you up to for Thanksgiving?






Monday, November 23, 2015

Monday Poem: Kindness

Kindness
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
Feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out of the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorry.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes senses anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Naomi Shihab Nye from The Words Under the Words: Selected Poems 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunday Psalm


Psalm 93     

Dominus regnavit


1
The LORD is King;
he has put on splendid apparel; *
the LORD has put on his apparel
and girded himself with strength.

2
He has made the whole world so sure *
that it cannot be moved;

3
Ever since the world began, your throne has been established; *
you are from everlasting.

4
The waters have lifted up, O LORD,
the waters have lifted up their voice; *
the waters have lifted up their pounding waves.

5
Mightier than the sound of many waters,
mightier than the breakers of the sea, *
mightier is the LORD who dwells on high.

6
Your testimonies are very sure, *
and holiness adorns your house, O LORD,
for ever and for evermore.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Caturday Chores


On Saturday, we do our chores.

Bella washes,
and Sally irons.
Or tenderizes.
Or sheds.

Hope you get all your chores done today!























































Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday Music: Here and Heaven





In 2011, cellist Yo-Yo Ma teamed up with Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile and Stuart Duncan to record an album called the Goat Rodeo Sessions. This song, Here and Heaven, was written by all of them plus singer Aoife O'Donovan.

Everybody knows Yo-Yo Ma, of course. Edgar Meyer is the double bass player who often plays with Yo-Yo Ma and a host of others. Chris Thile plays mandolin with The Punch Brothers (who describe themselves as a progressive bluegrass band) and has been tapped to succeed Garrison Keillor as the host of A Prairie Home Companion when Keillor retires. Stuart Duncan fiddles with The Nashville Bluegrass Band and Aoife O'Donovan has an extensive resume (including studying at The New England Conservatory) as a singer-songwriter who sings with bluegrass band Crooked Still and the "folk noir" trio Sometymes Why, currently tours with a super girl group I'm With Her, plus her second solo album is set for release in early 2016.

This ought to get you moving today. Enjoy!








Thursday, November 19, 2015

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Standing out from the Crowd


I've had a lot to think about these last few days, as no doubt you have, too. We are all trying to make sense of things. And there are a lot of things to make sense of. Despite the focus on the terror in Paris, there have been other bombings. There has been other terror. There have been acts of violence all over the world, including the natural violence of earthquakes. There's so much, and it's all a lot to take in.

With all of this going on, there's a lot of noise. Newscasters are talking, pundits are opining, professors and professionals are explaining, regular people are wondering. Fear is in the air and coming through the airwaves, and the result is ugly. The backlash against refugees is
 so disheartening. 

There's a lot of noise on social media, too. Someone says something, and lots of people jump on it. Maybe they agree and share. Others disagree and call people out. There's a lot of noise.

I wish we could all be more gentle with one another in the wake of tragedy. I know we need to process. I need to process - and as an extrovert, I tend to process out loud. But I don't think it is helpful to monitor how others are processing and to criticize them for it. I need to monitor myself first. And God knows there's enough hurting to go around without inflicting more pain and making more noise. It doesn't leave room for grief; noise doesn't encourage true reflection, which is the path to transformation (of the self and of the world). Trashing each other, accusing each other, makes it harder to work together in the face of all this brokenness in the world.

So stand out from the crowd. Don't be part of the mob, the "madding crowd's ignoble strife."* Somewhere, somehow, God is working to bring new life out of tragedy. I need to make room in my head, my heart, my life, my world for the seeds of peace to grow, to cast out fear that makes us clench our fists instead of open our hands. And most of all, I need to develop the eyes to see God's hand at work even amid the rubble.

Only then can I advocate for the good, only then can I hope to build up and not tear down. Only then can I make a difference.






*from Thomas Gray's poem Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard











Monday, November 16, 2015

Monday Haiku



This I know is true:
"Hope is a thing with feathers."
Oh Lord, give us hope.







Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sunday: View from a Hospital Room in France


Just before the news broke on Friday about the bombings in Paris, I was at the Virginia Fine Arts Museum here in Richmond, looking at this painting by Van Gogh, the view from his hospital room in St. Remy, where he was recovering from a(nother) breakdown.

In the end, Van Gogh died in such a wheat field by his own hand. His demons got the best of him. But his contribution to the world through his art, which reveals the beauty of this world with stunning clarity, lives on. 

Although we humans are scarred and broken, the world is still beautiful. Behold, and give thanks.




Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday the 13th! Black Cat!



Not my usual music offering, but hey, it's Friday the 13th and we are all about black cats! And dancing! And sparks!













Thursday, November 12, 2015

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Tuesday Thoughts

Saturday was rainy but I decided I really needed to take a long walk outdoors anyway. After all, I had on my rain gear from our farmer's market run (too soon the market will move indoors and my back gate will no longer be the entrance into fresh vegetable paradise). And as I always told my son when he moved to Boston, having the right outerwear is the key to being able to cope with the weather.

Anyway, it wasn't even raining hard. Just a slow, straight down rain, no wind, and it was warm.

Walking in the rain requires a particular kind of attentiveness. Wet leaves are slippery. Some puddles are too deep to ignore. So you have to watch where you are going.

I found that what I liked best was listening to the somewhat muffled sounds echoing around inside my hood while I walked with my eyes more or less always on the ground around me. The crowd from the football game a street or two over was cheering in between the announcer's announcements. Shouts of joy alternated with sighs of being let down. The rain was making a gentle showering sound, punctuated by definite drips off trees onto car hoods and into puddles. I just let myself listen.

At one point, I wondered about the time (waiting for my FitBit to buzz on my arm to say I'd met my goal) and felt the usual anxiety. Do I really have time for this? Shouldn't I hurry home to cook lunch or do some chores? Are there emails to look at from the office? Isn't there something I am supposed to be doing?

But then I made myself stop. Stop! Stop! Just keep listening, I told those nagging voices in my head. I am doing something right now! I do not need to be thinking about doing other things. I just need to be present to what I am doing now.

And this is the crux of the matter. Being present to what I am doing now. Understanding that what I am doing now is doing something, and letting go of judgment about that. There's always plenty to do. Sometimes just listening to rain dripping into puddles is what I need to be doing. That's more than OK. It's essential.

















Monday, November 9, 2015

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sunday Psalm

Psalm 127 

Nisi, dominus


1
Unless the LORD builds the house, *
their labor is in vain who build it.

2
Unless the LORD watches over the city, *
in vain the watchman keeps his vigil.

3
It is in vain that you rise so early and go to bed so late; *
vain, too, to eat the bread of toil,
for he gives to his beloved sleep.

4
Children are a heritage from the LORD, *
and the fruit of the womb is a gift.

5
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior *
are the children of one's youth.

6
Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them! *
he shall not be put to shame
when he contends with his enemies in the gate.





Saturday, November 7, 2015

Caturday!


We are enjoying our new mouse game on the iPad.

What are you up to today?








Friday, November 6, 2015

Friday Music: Gjeilo Ubi Caritas



This setting of Ubi Caritas by Norwegian pianist and composer Ola Gjelio is performed by the Central Washington University Chamber Choir.

Today I have two funerals. It seems like a good day to sing this.









Thursday, November 5, 2015

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Monday, November 2, 2015

All Souls (The Feast of All Faithful Departed)


But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment will ever touch them.
In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
and their departure was thought to be a disaster,
and their going from us to be their destruction;
but they are at peace.
For though in the sight of others they were punished,
their hope is full of immortality.
Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good,
because God tested them and found them worthy of himself;
like gold in the furnace he tried them,
and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them.
In the time of their visitation they will shine forth,
and will run like sparks through the stubble.
They will govern nations and rule over peoples,
and the Lord will reign over them forever.
Those who trust in him will understand truth,
and the faithful will abide with him in love,
because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones,
and he watches over his elect.

Wisdom 3:1-9








Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Feast of All Saints




Let us now sing the praises of famous men,
our ancestors in their generations.
2 The Lord apportioned to them great glory,
his majesty from the beginning.
3 There were those who ruled in their kingdoms,
and made a name for themselves by their valor;
those who gave counsel because they were intelligent;
those who spoke in prophetic oracles;
4 those who led the people by their counsels
and by their knowledge of the people's lore;
they were wise in their words of instruction;
5 those who composed musical tunes,
or put verses in writing;
6 rich men endowed with resources,
living peacefully in their homes-
7 all these were honored in their generations,
and were the pride of their times.
8 Some of them have left behind a name,
so that others declare their praise.
9 But of others there is no memory;
they have perished as though they had never existed;
they have become as though they had never been born,
they and their children after them.
10 But these also were godly men,
whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten;

13 Their offspring will continue forever,
and their glory will never be blotted out.
14 Their bodies are buried in peace,
but their name lives on generation after generation.

The Wisdom of Solomon (Ecclesiasticus) 44:1-10; 13-14










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