Sunday, July 27, 2008

Working Beside God

This week I'll be coordinating a Church of the Brethren workcamp for junior high youth. All the planning that goes into the details can be exhausting and yet it will all be worth it when the group comes together and experiences the joy of giving. We'll have days of working with Together We Stand, a group working to empower people to take ownership of their city and improve community. ($10/year and 10 hours of volunteer service.) And we'll play in the parks we've helped to spruce up and swim in the river. We'll go to a ball game and visit the state capitol and the Black History museum. A ghost tour is even in order. The learning opportunities will range from history presented 'museum-style' to sociology studied up close. Relationships will form and friendships will continue past the week if all goes well.

Workcamps are amazing. People are helped, yes, but the real change comes in the workers. It is a strange thing but workcampers become service volunteers for life and their perspective on the world is changed forever. God's Spirit is certainly at work alongside us and in us as we serve. Praise God for that!

While I'm driving to worksite, counting heads, and buying enough food for our meals, I'll be giving thought to Isaiah 55 and how God desires joy for creation and how desiring God brings us joy. There's much to think about but that's the heart of where I'm going for now. As usual will be at the center of my work. I'm hopeful (and almost certain) that the week will lend insight to the text as I too am changed. Today we sang Teresa's Prayer; God be in my heart... my hands... my living. It should be a good week of heart and hands working beside God. How very exciting to anticipate the experience of tired, sweaty, bodies along with the stirring of the Spirit. What learning is in store for me as I work with the kids? What stirring will come from God's spirit?

Thursday, July 24, 2008


I'm using some space to refer you to another blog. "When Love Comes To Town"
Here you will find a reflection on God's people encountering God in places of pain, in places not expected. Even by the Waters of Babylon!

How is it that we think God is found in white-walled sanctuaries and that we meet God best in our clean "Sunday clothes"? Where is the mystery of God when the only surprise in worship is the attendance?

I will yet look at the lectionary texts for this or next week. Meanwhile, I will muse on people who are hurting around the world encountering God in more surprising places than Sunday morning worship.
For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"
How could we sing the LORD'S song in a foreign land?

If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy. Psalm 137: 3-6
Listen on Youtube.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Today's text was "wheat and tares" as the old story goes. I heard a good sermon on parables as puzzles and Jesus as the 'box lid' and I read several good commentaries on the text this week. I've been thinking about planting and wondering just how much of growth is God's responsibility. We work so hard to maximize our potential and our possibilities, trying to do everything we can to enhance our growth. I wonder if all growth isn't the responsibility of God; the One who sends rain on the just and unjust.

John Ballenger of Baltimore (Woodbrook Baptist Church) writes in Clergy Journal the following good point:
The parable offers the opposite advice from the adventure movie line, "Kill them all, let God sort them out." Jesus in effect says, "Care for them all, let God sort them out." In forbidding the servants to root out the weeds, the householder, in effect, commands that the weeds receive the same care as the wheat until the day of harvest.
In that case the farmers are responsible for tending and God is responsible for the final result. I am struck by the willingness to let the good wheat and the weeds share the precious water and nutrients of the soil. I guess if we are thinking we're wheat, we're not so special after all, but as in so many parables, if we are the weeds, we have much for which to be grateful.

My husband always says, "a weed is just a plant or even flower, growing in the wrong place."
Looking at responsibility, and accepting that God has the ultimate responsibility, perhaps ours is to recognize the flower mistaken as a 'weed' and share this space with a different crop. Then when all is said and done, ultimately that is, God will do any necessary sorting.

Monday, July 14, 2008

No Beard, No Prayercovering

How very good and pleasant it is when 'brethren' live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down over the collar of his robes. Ps. 133
Brethren, of both genders and several denominations, have gathered together in Richmond this week. It is the first time that the Church of the Brethren and the Brethren Church have joined together for Annual Conference since the split in the late 1800's. That in itself is an amazing event. What is even better, and always amazes me, is the diversity within our denomination. Here we sit, thousands strong, and some women wear prayer coverings, others are in shorts and sleeveless tops. Some men are in plain clothes, others are in plaid shirts, shorts and sandals. Somewhere in there is my colleague in his suit and me in a skirt, along with our congregational members in a variety of styles. It is a beautiful thing to see and of which to be a part.

Even more amazing is the diversity of theologies. You hear it in the preaching and in the comments made from the floor mics to business items. We are all different; a large group of individuals. Yet, when the singing starts the unity of the brothers and sisters can be heard, loud and clear. We don't all sing the same parts. I sing a plain soprano, but all around me are the four parts sung as one beautiful hymn that resounds even stronger when the instruments stop and just the voices fill the coliseum. As is true for any symphony, the variety of complex and different parts is what makes the music so grand. We are never as beautiful when we are uniform in style and sound as we are when our differences are pronounced. It's an old saying and oft repeated concept. Yet it is when you are sitting in the midst of sisters and brothers that the reality can be felt, heard, seen and tasted. It is now, when 'brethren' worship and serve together, that the Body of Christ is most alive.

How good it is!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Wide-eyed Wonder

This week deserves an extra post; its Vacation Bible School! While some pastors and educators dread this crazy week, and I've been known to celebrate it's completion, I really enjoy the kids in this different and personal setting. For the last few years, our congregation has employed centers each with a different focus. My center has been story telling. Thanks to using Group and Cokesbury curriculum in past years, we have created a series of props, wall hangings and costumes to really create the Bible story. Taking off on the creativity of these publishers, this year we have written our own scripts for the Augsburg Rainforest curriculum. Each story has a personal angle and every day we spend hours building a new set. For instance, Monday was the story of Ruth and Boaz, we had a simple field scene and the opportunity for the kids to accompany Ruth while she gleaned from the field. Today Elisha's servant encountered the kids outside Elisha's house at a well. (Real water of course, and real sand to walk thru on the way to the well.) The servant shared Elisha's story and the real fear that the 100 people making noise (sound effects cd helps) in the house, were going to riot when they discovered 20 loaves weren't enough. After checking on the party, I, I mean Elisha's servant, came out and told the kids with great surprise that the bread fed everyone and there was even enough left over for them and gave them a loaf to tear apart. A fun day.

My favorite part is the look on the kids faces when they come into the room. Our backdrops, painted scenes, colored lighting, and key realistic props make each day an adventure. The look of total wonder and surprise when they walk into the story, is worth all the hours of set-up. They remember these stories because they have lived them. They have eaten bread with prophets, caught fish (real fish of course) with disciples, crawled thru the caves outside Rome with persecuted Christians, and been caught praying in Daniel's apartment. They have even crawled into the empty tomb and found the folded linen cloths before meeting Jesus in the garden. How could the effort be any more worthwhile? It is a privilege and a delight to be part of VBS storytelling.

Tomorrow we enter an elaborate garden (real plants lined a path surrounded with soil) and see what grew from the mustard seeds the gardener dropped last year. Then as the kids sit up in the tree house, they'll hear the words of Jesus about mustard seeds. I wish everyone had the opportunity to sit on the floor in sand with children and tell stories or come join us on Thursday and you can stomp grapes with the kids while we tell the story of Jesus, the true vine!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Yokes We Choose

I had a unexpected stay at the hospital this week following a Sunday that felt like someone had kicked me in the gut and then hung around to squeeze my stomach with endless rhythm. The doctors, nurses and technicians cared for me with great care. They dispensed relaxing pain medicine while they looked for gall stones, kidney stones and anything else that seemed amiss on my insides. The doctor decided to treat me for stomach acid and a possible infection. Thanks to all that good care and a restful private room with a view out towards the Virginia Piedmont, I returned home feeling much better. So today I went to the office to get some things done. Within a couple hours the mysterious ghost had a grip on my stomach again and was starting to squeeze. There was nothing major going on, no crisis, just a simple writing assignment, some phone calls and organizing, a drop-by visit, some calls on my cell, a couple family questions to deal with or pass on, a call from the doctor to clarify my prescription and a few well wishers who had heard of my illness. Nothing particularly stressful; just the normal routine.

It is interesting the yokes we strap on. Others may see the extent of the weight but from the vantage point of underneath the load, I guess we just can't see it. Or maybe it's that we take a certain pride in carrying so much. Like at the gym; "I can press . . ." After all, 'no pain, no gain' right? Maybe that's why I read Jesus' words in Matthew 11:30 with two different ears of understanding. On one hand, the light burden sounds good, just like that quiet hospital room with the lovely view that removed me from the deadlines and calendar on my desk. On the other hand, I'm not sure I'm ready to let go. I mean the word for light in v. 30 can also mean insignificant or limited in extent. I don't want to be insignificant and I don't want to be forgotten while I rest away at the hospital. Ministry is too important for me to take it that lightly.

Just maybe I need a third ear to listen to Jesus; one that is willing to admit that it is not my ministry, but his and the work really can go on without me. Yet maybe, in all that insignificance I can also hear his care reaching out for me with hands like the E.R. nurse, saying, "Let me help your pain." "Let's get you settled and comfortable while we look at your problems." Maybe I can find a way to hear those words that remind me that I am significant in Christ's eyes, not for what I do, but just for who I am.

Maybe its time for the yoke to go. And seriously, won't I look much better without it?