Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"Comfort in Fall Rituals"

"Take comfort in fall rituals" my Starbucks email says as they promote the pumpkin spice latte. I'm taking comfort in a different kind of ritual, that of the funeral. Tomorrow is family visitation and on Thursday we celebrate the life of Barbara Jean Fitzgerald, my mother-in-law.

She was an awesome woman and my only mother for the past 10 years since mine died. She has had a rough time of it in the last several years. It seemed each infection was harder to overcome and many landed her in the hospital. She fought back again and again, always putting on her beautiful smile and reaching out from her wheelchair to hug us when we visited. Until last week, when she tired of fighting. She asked not to go to the hospital and thanks to the care of my sister-in-law and Piedmont hospice, she was able to stay home as she relinquished the fight. In her language, she WAS going home.

We take comfort in the rituals surrounding end of life. We will take comfort in memory and story. I'll read scripture and encourage family to share a mental image they have of 'Jean'. We will say our goodbyes this way and listen for the words of hope in scripture that remind us that we are in God's care, on both sides of the grave.
Psalm 25:5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.
For mom, the waiting is over.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Ok, I'll play the Friday Five

1) What was the hardest thing to leave behind when you went away to school for the first time?
My friends from school. I moved away from that town the same weekend I went off to college. TOO many goodbyes all at once.

2) We live in the era of helicopter parents. How much fuss did your parents make when you first left home?
They never seemed overly effected by my leaving. Maybe because the whole family was in the midst of a move. Mom said they just figured I was old enough to leave home by then, she had around that age.

3) Share a favorite memory of living with schoolmates, whether in a dorm or other shared housing.
Water fights in the all-girls dorm and sitting in the window to watch the guys have ROTC practice.

4) What absolute necessity of college life in your day would seem hilariously out-of-date now?
A relative's ok to "Check out of the dorm" for the weekend.

5) What innovation of today do you wish had been part of your life in college?

End of August, already?

Can it be the end of August? It feels so much cooler and I am loving the temperatures. Yet I feel the pressure of things not finished and some never got started! It's hard to believe that vacation and a writer's conference kept me away from blogging for so long. And now that I'm back? Well here's a brief thought from this morning until the sermon notes come together.

As I write it appears the worst of the very hot days of summer are over. Beautiful weather is a gift that we take for granted until the temperatures rise over 90 degrees. When we sweat and groan when stepping out of the air conditioning is required, we remember the gift of “good weather”. Even as we enjoy a few cooler days, complete villages and towns in Pakistan struggle to survive severe flooding. Life on this planet is diverse and calls us to constantly be aware of our surroundings and all humanity of which we are a part. Each day we view life in both small and large perspective. Each day we pray for those close to our hearts; family, friends, AND those far away who hope someone remembers. May we live in the challenge of holding near and far together in our prayers as we enter the usually busy fall season.

May my busy days never keep me away from prayer.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Vacation - Staycation

Total relaxation takes getting used to. I played golf on Monday, 18 holes! Which is unusual for me. It was a good thing because the first 9 holes were awful. Tuesday, I met my goal of not leaving the house since it was so hot. I read and watched TV and did hardly anything. Today I read this morning and did a little (!) workout, then went to the National Mall and spent a couple hours at the American History Museum and a quick look at the Hope Diamond (outside its setting) next door. We couldn't find a Metro parking spot anywhere so we drove and finally found a spot on Madison. It was a quick drive home on Rt. 50 before traffic got bad. A good day.

Tonight we go to a neighbor's for dinner. Maybe I'll go to another museum later this week. Tomorrow I go get my haircut and visit with friends (hopefully). At least I got the hair appointment!

Oh my reading so far, besides Christian Century, is E.P. Saunders, Jesus and Judaism
I read most of it in 2007 but reread the opening chapters and hope to skim the rest before beginning my fun book, The Lacuna, which I'll probably start later tonight.

Relaxing. Oh and someone from the congregation did die, unfortunately, but she hadn't attended since I began (until last Sunday) and the family decided to go with a church with whom they had a relationship. I guess the vacation "jinx" thing is true.

I could get into this kind of life!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Blessed Right Out of Our Fear, Luke 12:32-48

What can you do when someone gives you too many summer tomatoes?
Fix a big meal
Can or freeze them for another day
Give them away
(You can make your ‘problem’ of having too much, someone else’s problem by sharing your good tomato fortune.)

Why the talk about tomatoes? Jesus used the simple and familiar things to explain concepts about God.
While tomatoes are not the ‘riches of the world’, for us they may make Luke’s stories as understandable to us as Jesus’ words about making (for ourselves) ‘purses that do not wear out’.

Jesus talked about people who ‘built bigger barns’ and making ‘purses that would not wear out’. He spoke of ‘flowers in the field’ and ‘bread for tomorrow’. These were the simple things of life in his day; things people saw everyday as they walked dirt roads and scraped out a meager living close to the land. People of HIS DAY understood these word pictures.
We sometimes have trouble making sense of his words because today’s everyday-images are different. Most people drive to work and get food at the store. We worship in a church not a temple and we go to the park to spend significant time in nature.

Yet we still experience anxiety about having enough, whether that is enough food, enough shelter, or enough security. Basic human anxiety has not changed in 2,000 years, only the circumstances that cause it.

Our fears focus on little things that quickly add up to big things that threaten to take over our lives.
Money pays the rent
Employment provides security
Food keeps us alive
Our house protects us from storms, like those we’ve had this past week.
Do we have things to worry about? Sure we do.
And Jesus answer to our fears is “Fear Not, little flock, for it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

We’re are so blessed that we’re blessed right out of our fear. Or so Jesus says. But what kind of kingdom is it?
We would like to know the details, right?

Jesus describes the blessings of God’s Kingdom in stories that are quite unbelievable. The problem is, we’ve heard these stories before and we’re used to hearing Jesus tell us about the aspects of HIS day.
Such as, masters and slaves. He uses the story of a master who returns home to find the servants that he owns watchful for his return and doing what they were supposed to do.
Well, FORTUNATELY, we are not slaves NOR do we own slaves. (Thanks be to God.) And so his stories slip into the realm of ‘old Bible stories’ that don’t carry the impact they once did. We can’t hear the shock and the unbelievable reversal within the story. We have to get into a 1st century mindset to appreciate Jesus’ illustrations.
For instance, Status was everything in Jesus’ time. Status was more important than money, although they were related.
Your status; PRESTIGE, maybe a better word,
Prestige determined with whom you could socialize,
Prestige determined your opportunities to acquire money.
Prestige determined whom you could marry.
Prestige determined your VALUE to society, to your family and even your own self-worth.
One would NEVER, EVER do anything that could embarrass or in any way lower your prestige!
Therefore, a master would NEVER serve a slave. It’s inconceivable.
So when Jesus describes the blessing of having a Divine Parent, or Holy Father that ‘girds himself and serves’ SLAVES,Jesus’ listeners would have been APPALLED, almost disgusted at the idea.
This kind of behavior is such a REVERSAL that it might not seem like a blessing, (just like too many tomatoes).
Rather than a story of blessing, the story would just be confusing.
Like so many of Jesus’ stories. . .

Jesus was always talking about a God that one could trust. Jesus asked us to trust and not worry about food, clothing and the staples of life. Jesus told us to trust this confusing God of reversals.
But CAN we trust a God whose idea of blessing is upside-down from everything we know? What if God ‘blesses’ us with things we don’t consider a blessing? What if our ‘blessing’ involves more work? . . .What if God blesses with too many tomatoes?

If you’ve been a follower of Jesus most of your life, and you are not confused yet, you haven’t been listening. Jesus idea of good news doesn’t make sense. Jesus came to bring good news to the poor, when we know the poor can’t make it in this world. He came to release captives and give liberty to prisoners. We surely don’t want prisoners loose in our neighborhood! He warns that people of wealth will have trouble getting into heaven and tells people (like us) who have ‘things’ to sell them and give the funds to the poor.

How can any of his stories be ‘good news’ for us?
We have homes, food on the table, even if we do have mortgages and bills to pay that can seem oppressive. We have plenty of things and we’re not prisoners and we’re not slaves.
How DO we hear Jesus’ message of a God who has so many blessings to give that we need not fear for tomorrow?
If we are to be the watchful servants who receive extraordinary blessings, we must be prepared to have our world turned upside down. – and the fear knocked right out of us. Only if we adopt the truly crazy principles of God’s GRACIOUS kingdom will we be blessed. If we are looking for blessing from the world’s Point Of View, we will be as shocked and horrified as the 1st hearers of Jesus stories.

God’s idea of blessing is giving to us such a generous gift; giving to us with such abandon, [i] that we have a problem knowing what to do with all of it. We can’t horde it, we can’t put it away for a rainy day. All we CAN DO is give it away. It’s only when we start acting in the same crazy (GIVING) way as our God, will these gifts be a blessing.

So what do you do with too many tomatoes? You GIVE THEM AWAY. ! . ! . !
 Giving away and serving others is the ONLY way God’s gift translates to blessing, and you have to JUST DO IT, to see how it works. So this week, I challenge all of us to 15 minutes of Upside-Down Living. Put on your Kingdom Kap and think in God’s crazy, Grace-filled, Giving-Way and then see what you are called to do.

Get ready! ‘Gird your loins’ to use the old words of Jesus’ day, be prepared for action and you will likely shock a few people. And I can’t wait to see where LIVING like Jesus, takes us.


[i] David Schlafer Feasting On The Word, homiletical, Bartlett & Taylor, eds. (Louisville: WJK, 2010) p. 337