Longest Night- God with us, Emmanuel

Luke 1:26-38
Fear Not. Yeah. Famous last words that God’s messengers always seem to start with just before they announce a huge disruption. With these words it seems the world has just been upended for the listener. And here is young Mary who is troubled by the obvious sales pitch coming from the angel Gabriel who sounds like a slick sales guy: “yo- pretty lady, you are so lucky you met me.” She didn’t really ponder the words so much as she was troubled by them. She seems to sense that there is a flip side to this deal and she knows that being “favored” is not as great as it sounds in those days- I mean Queen Esther was “favored” too, and if she had turned it down she and her family would have been killed.   In all honesty, his words, “Do not fear” don’t exactly establish trust or good reason to chill out. They are kind of like the phone call from the hospital that says, “ I don’t want to alarm you, but…”

So, God bless her for her teenage attitude- because she listens to the messenger with a typical teenage heart and immediately begins to question the messenger. Only a teen girl could have the courage to challenge an arc- angel, am I right?
You can almost hear her saying “Um, hey, Gabe, just how is that supposed to happen since I am not exactly having sex? Didn’t anyone teach you the birds and bees?”.

And then the messenger tells her how it will work.

You know that song, Mary did you know? Yeah, well, Mary knew alright. She knew every step ahead of time and she surely knew from seeing other young women get pregnant before marriage that trouble was on the horizon.

Still, she has more courage than almost any other biblical character and she says, “ok.”

She says yes to the biggest cockamamie idea yet- one that could likely get her killed. And she had choices. Unlike Esther, she could have said no. She could have argued, been bitter, been angry. Instead she says, Yes, not just yes, but resounding and rejoicing yes. Because the messenger reminds her that with God, nothing is impossible.

Each of you are here tonight because the holiday season is painful. Your hearts are not in it and you have good reason. Some of you have had more than just a disruption in your life- some of you have had it decimated by death, destroyed by addiction, or shattered by circumstance beyond your control.   You know what it is to be standing neck deep in agony – breathless and without any sense of control, promise, or hope. Unlike Mary, you didn’t get to say no to divorce, death, illness, poverty, or a loved one’s addiction.

But that doesn’t mean we cannot glean a glimmer of hope and light from her experience. Joy is light for us to follow, to be warmed by, to dance by. But when you are breathless from grief, fear, and anger, it is almost as though joy is a wimpy little flame that can be extinguished by the tiniest exhale. So we keep holding our breath- our tears- our sorrow and we sit, still and silent even as we yearn to run, to scream, to cry, to move, to sigh, and breathe every breathe that we can . Meanwhile, we wish we had the bonfire of life and light to dance like the Wild Things we are inside- to be warmed and to love by.

I promise you, the bonfire of life and joy is waiting. But it starts with a tiny flame that we nurture and celebrate by beginning to live again without fear- taking the lesson of Mary and offering our very self up to God to use and fill and give new life from. Tonight is about realizing we have been waiting to exhale and then doing it. Giving our tears to God, letting our very breathe be prayer (ya-weh) and offering our pain up to God. Because that is why God sent Jesus- why Mary endured the humiliation to bear a child into the dirtiest and most unwelcoming place so that God might be WITH us and we would never need to endure alone.

In the midst of the busy season while other bustle- you sit still and holding your breath. Let it out. Let it go. Let it be the prayer it needs to be- let the Holy Spirit translate the words you cannot say and then, let God BE with you.

Yes what you are bearing may be impossible to bear alone. But the wisdom of the angel’s promise to Mary’s guides us- For nothing will be impossible with God. The good news is that Christ is already born, already with us, already accompanying us if we will but let him.

That is the good news- the news we have been holding our breath to hear and remember- Christ is born this day to be with you. Fear Not, you, beloved are also highly favored- God sent the son to be your light. The gloom will not win. Light is coming, light is here, God with us, Emanuel.3jg5shkw-1450101453

Finding Joy means Rejoicing- Advent 3 December 2017

We made it to week three! More than half way through our journey of Advent. The readings and season seem full of shadows and reminders of how difficult everything is. From John calling us all vipers to fewer hours of sunlight, the illumination of hope can sometimes seem dim. And when times are tough we have two choices: we can cry or we can… laugh.   Have you ever had one of those days? You know the ones I am talking about; the ones where you are a teenage girl and following all the rules and suddenly you are pregnant and unmarried? I don’t know about you but I have had a few laugh or cry days and even those pale in comparison to what Mary was facing as she awaited our Christ. So she did what she could do. She rejoiced. She leaned into the Psalms like todays that ask for help and she rejoiced in her circumstance understanding that the Lord restores our hope even if the world only sees it as a dirty little thing. When we rejoice, we offer what we have- what little or lot it may be and God gives us hope in return, cleaned up, shined up, washed and ready to share with the world. So today, we rejoice. It is Gaudete Sunday- the day of rejoicing in the midst of the shadow and gloom.

Even in the face of probable death both Mary and John-2How do we do that though? What kind of joy is there to offer up in difficult circumstances like Mary’s where death is now the imminent likelihood? Well, I can assure you it is not the happy skippy-joy-joy of Disney. Rather it is a joy that is deep and teary and passes all understanding. It is the joy when a loved one dies after a long illness or addiction- that they are finally free. It is the joy of watching your child go off to college and no longer “need” you. It is the joy of being too poor to go to Paris for a date and being able to rely on your imagination which is infinite and will take you to Mali and Ireland and Taiwan too. It is the joy that lets a young girl sing out with tears streaming down her face and offer her life, her body, and her future up to God with praise. It is the offering of the tears- that is the kind of joy I am talking about, the very last thing we have, and giving it up to God by choice frees us from our shackles. It is a letting go and letting God.


John knew what it was to just offer up what we have. He lived in the desert for goodness sake. He was not on the social ‘A’ list- awkward at best and just plain unpleasant and offensive at worst, he offered up what he had- that he could point to Christ and let the world know the Messiah is coming. He offered up plain water and baptism that was in many ways just an action- it did nothing. No special promises, just washing clean the body so that they might be ready for the Messiah. But he knew in offering up his plain old baptisms, and his rough course language and truth that the Lord would restore the people and they would be ready for Jesus who would come and offer a new baptism that not only washed them clean but literally make them new. It would not just restore the hope and promise- it would be a whole new promise, a whole new way of loving and living, with an eternal twist that would grant joy beyond understanding.

Have you ever had tres leches or rum cake? Did you know the secret is to soak them until the liquid is pooling around the cake and then to let it sit until it is drawn up into every morsel of the cake, creating a moist and yummy goodness? It is a fullness that almost seems excessive. It is too much- almost gaudy in the fullness and excessive nature. And it is because of the absolute fullness and a little bit of patience that we experience amazing rich yumminess. The cake sits as an island surrounded by impossible odds. And the magic that is food heaven happens when the cake just takes it all in. John and Mary knew that over-fullness. That excessive nature of God and that it would knock the socks off the world. So even in the shadows of possible death and silence of the prophets, they rejoiced. They offered up their lives, reputation, tears and fear in a refrain of rejoicing and in return, God granted them and the whole world who would come after them the hope and promise of something new- Jesus, our Savior, who would come to illuminate the shadows and offer us redeemed and eternal salvation, a celebration of love and intent for us all.

So yes, we celebrate. We rejoice- always, in all things we find joy and we offer it up- because who wouldn’t rather laugh and dance?





Do not be afraid of the dark-2nd sermon for Hope (Nov 12, 2017)

Christ is not an economy, he is pure gift.“Shave your LEGS!” the cry would come over the telephone. My father was a special ops Soldier and we never knew when they were coming home. The only notice we ever got was from a wife who lived near the special airfield that was specifically for our helicopters. She would hear the blades cutting the dark night air and she would run to the phone and make the first call to the phone tree. Of course, with their husbands gone, many a wife had pointed their attention elsewhere as they focused on children and homes and the inevitable things that go wrong when your Soldier is away. So they ran for showers- to shave, smell pretty, and gussy to welcome their tired and homesick Soldiers.

I heard my mom tell this story again recently and it ran through my head as I thought of the bridesmaids who were not ready. Their cry of “Shave your legs” was the bridesmaids, “Look, Here is the Bridegroom!” Like the bridesmaids who knew the groom was coming soon, these wives KNEW their husbands would be back someday soon and they were anxiously waiting. They knew from experience what to do.

Unlike a military spouse awaiting their beloved service member, or bridesmaids holding on for a few extra hours, our community in Christ has become a little more forgetful. After all, it has been 2,000 years. It is almost as though we know it is supposed to happen, but not really, or at least not in our lifetime, so, as long as we are good for the funeral, why worry? But Christ IS coming and we need to be prepared.

My Dad was always ready. In an instant the call would come and he was required to be out the door in 2 minutes flat. His bag and gear were always ready- always being tripped over and taking up floor space. Unforgettable. He was ready. But then, that is what he did for a living right? All of our troops are ready. Their spouse and children are always ready. They never believe that they are safe from the call that says it is time to go. Even now, in retirement, my heart still skips a beat- until we hit that 1 year mark, when he can no longer be recalled as though he were still active with little to no notice. But this is what we do.

And the bridesmaids, well, waiting with the lamps is not something they do often. A wedding was cause for amazing celebration and it was not an everyday thing. So they were not old hands at it. But what about us? Are we ready? And more to the point, are we ready for what is really coming? They are not all glory- end times will not just be us all rising up in a happy party wearing gleaming white robes. It will mean death for many who are not saved. It will mean realizing that our mate, our child, our friend or neighbor is not with us. Our first reading from Amos sounds scary and it is absolutely meant to be. Amos is reminding the people that the end that they are crying out for is not the Disney movie version that is full of sweet singing birds and lovely happy endings, rather the Brother’s Grimm version- harsh, real, and full of deadly dangers. And in all honesty, the malaise we tend toward as modern Christians when it comes to the return of Christ is pretty prevalent. We have prettied it up and really think “not me.”

I wonder if we do that because it is scary to wait for the unknown. The bridesmaids were waiting in the dark. Now I don’t know about you, but I can tell you the dark in Riverside is NOT the same as the dark in a place with no light pollution. It is SO dark. And if you have ever been in that kind of dark, you know, it can be scary. My dad’s unit relied on that. They played on it in fact. Their motto for the unit was “Death Waits in the Dark” because you cannot see evil and danger coming for you.

Well as we wait for Christ, I wonder, did we become so afraid of what was out there in the dark that we had to immerse ourselves in a story that lets us separate from reality and fear? A coping mechanism for what we did not know and could not imagine?

These are dark times my friends. These are dark times because so many feel left out and isolated. Our schedules are crazy, expectations to commit more, more, more are high and even our techonology which is supposed to make things easier ends up making us give up more free time. We are so alone that we find ourselves caught up in our identities so that we can claim we belong somewhere, anywhere.  Identities caught up in which country we are from, which team we root for, which school we went to, or even which service we were drafted or joined. We even hear the bridesmaids stories and we identify immediately with the wise bridesmaids (didn’t we?). We do this in defensiveness- a desire to be on the winning side but more importantly to belong. This past month has been difficult for me for that very reason. Having moved so many times, I am acutely aware that I am always the new person who does’nt know the “ways” things are done. I work my rear off trying to find out the history, the customs, the traditions and habits, always scared to death to make a wrong move because I just want to belong too. I am sure you can relate

Our Veterans learn this lesson in the harshest way- no matter how deep their allegiance to our nation, we end up letting them down when they need us the most. They belonged when it was convenient for us, but now they wait for months for essential medical care, they are dismissed when they return home, they are noticed when it makes others feel good, and the rest of the time, they are a problem we don’t want to see or pay for.  We love to see them in uniforms and thank them by paying for lunch when we see them at a restaurant, but we look away when the visual evidence of their sacrifice is in front of us. No one wants to see or know just how many service members are saved in war today, because then we have to look at and pay for their broken, maimed, disfigured bodies and minds. We lose 22 Veterans a DAY to suicide because they have lost hope- because they are alone in the dark and there is no one there to share their oil until the bridegroom comes.

Veterans day is about celebrating those who served, but today is Sunday, now is worship and now is the time for us to ask how the Gospel of Christ leads and feeds us to manage in our world and circumstance. Maybe my dad’s unit is right. Death does wait in the dark. When those bridesmaids were not allowed into the home, they were left locked out in the wild with no protection. When our Veterans, our lonely, our grieving, our sick have been left in the dark by us- they have been locked out by our society because we do not have enough extra for them.

But there is good news my friends, in the midst of all that bad news, pain, lonliness, and law. The Good news has already come and there is a light that does not run out of oil. This come to Jesus talk is for all of us, me included.   Beloved, our identity is not in our team, our school, our nation or even our church. It is in Christ. Those others are lovely and create community, but they are not what saves us in the dark. Our true identity is safe in Christ- we are on the winning side. Without Christ, we are in darkness-all those other identities and allegiances mean nothing and will not save our soul or grant us peace.

As part of that identity in Christ, we are called to care for the least of these. That is what being prepared is all about. We are not supposed to be like either of the sets of bridemaids. We should not be so proud that we run off to get oil so we are not ridiculed for not doing our job well- because we will be kept out for our pride. But we also should not be so wise that we only ever care only for ourselves. Wisdom is not the same as kindness. Look to our lives and think ahead, think of another and prepare for their hard times so that we may assist them.

We do have enough oil. In fact, we don’t know if the bridesmaids who did not share actually did not have enough to do so. They just said so. And I think of our world and how easy it is to say, I don’t have enough to share or I will run out too.

But Christ is the oil in our lamps my friends. There is hope, as our Thessalonians reading reminds us, there is light for those who struggle with depression, addiction, PTSD and more. There is new life for those who are dead in their hearts and they will be raised up with Christ too. There is ENOUGH and we do not need to be afraid.

There is so much my friends- so very much- we can share and share generously because Christ first shared with us and his light is unending. Our job is to share that bounty and light with those who have none, just as Christ did for us.

Christ is Coming, beloved.

Be ready, and do not be afraid to wait in the dark, because hope waits in the dark too. In Christ, death has no sting and hope and the light of Christ will always overcome.




People are Strange- first sermon for Hope (Nov 3, 2017)

“People Are Strange”
People are strange when you’re a stranger
Faces look ugly when you’re alone
Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted
Streets are uneven when you’re down

When you’re strange
Faces come out of the rain
When you’re strange
No one remembers your name
When you’re strange
When you’re strange
When you’re strange


It is hard to be a stranger, wouldn’t you agree? It is odd for me, a stranger to many of you, to begin my first sermon with these lyrics, but if you will permit me this idiosyncrasy, I believe you will find that they are a beautiful complement to our lectionary for today.

Everyone has been a stranger at some time. And each of us have experienced what it is to feel out of place, out of tune and out of rhythm; to not look or act like everyone else did, to not speak the language, or know the customs of the place we were. It is lonely and scary and exciting and full of potential.

So when Christ had so many folks (strangers) around him that he had to walk up a mount to be heard, I think he could have been thinking what Jim Morrison and Robby Krieger immortalized in these lyrics for Rock and Roll. In Matthew’s Beatitudes Christ looks around him and realizes he is surrounded by strangers- all of whom are also strangers to one another. And as Jesus always seems to notice the underside of every situation, the side we rarely pay attention to, he walked up to a high point and sat down and began to share the famous beatitudes. It might have started off with these words ”When you are a stranger, there is no solace.” and continued,

“When you are a stranger, there is no solace, and blessed are those poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

As he continued, Christ reflected for all who would hear the sorrows and hardships of this world. And it can be frustrating to read, especially when we are in that moment ourselves. How can the poor have anything? How can the grieving be comforted? How can the hungry and thirsty be filled? In our world, the reality is the hungry get hungrier and words of blessing do not fill a growling tummy. Grieving hearts are given a timer. When the timer goes off, the world seems to cry the words of the food channel competitions: “Time’s up. Step away.” And we are to act as though our grief is now complete. But grief doesn’t play by those rules, does it? So we are left with these kind and generous sounding “platitudes” and the subsequent burning question: How then can these circumstances that are so heavy and hard possibly be blessed?

The answer may be in our 1 John reading: “what will be has not yet been made known.” Is it possible that the way the Beatitudes will be made real is not here, but in the everlasting with God? A Colleague wrote a blog about this, entitled, “Mazel Tov! You are suffering!” In it he ponders the Buddhist observation of suffering; one where acknowledging suffering can lead to a place where suffering can end. In other words, a leaning into the suffering so well that we fall through the other side, into the waiting arms of God.. What if John really has it figured out? What if the Beatitudes of suffering and pain are about the possible that we don’t know yet; the blessing that “is” already and not yet? You see, if the beatitudes are blessing, and the heart of being blessed is the recognition of God as God, those who focus their lives on God and value that relationship with God are thus blessed. They find the blessing by leaning into the covenantal relationship itself- by leaning into the pain and trusting that God is there as God has promised


If so, then John is reminding us that within that promise, our future is wide open and it is full of possibilities. It is full of new and strange things that we cannot know yet and it is full of strangers from so many places and spaces. In fact, it points to the reading from Revelation today, to the great multitude who are gathered before the throne. A multitude of strangers who do not look like, speak like, or even eat what we do. An innumerable crowd of people with skin of every hue and languages we cannot understand. A crowd of strangers who are not really so strange at all.  A crowd of Saints.


And there it is… the Saints, the strangers and not so strange who inspire us. The known and unknown of history and even our community today to whom the beatitudes are an implicit imperative to live consistently with God’s justice. Saints because they chose to “do” something. I have heard many times that the biggest regret of every dying person is not what they did, but what they left undone. And our saints, they chose to do. They saw the world of hurt that Christ speaks of in the Beatitudes and they chose to do something about it now- to bless and lift up humanity here and now in this place, in this day and age.

Not because they were earning a way to heaven, since we can’t, or because they had to do it to pay Christ back (how would that look anyway?) they are good Lutheran’s whether they realize it or not, (we can claim them, right?) but they do these things, live this life of implicit imperative because they were and are confident in their role as God’s beloved. As such, they trusted that no matter what they put their hand to, God would still love them- even if what they did was scary and strange and they totally messed it up. They didn’t earn their way into that great throng of humanity in the Revelation text, Jesus Christ did that for us.


We celebrate All Saints not just to honor the ones gone before us and also around us, but also to learn from them, to remind ourselves that we too, should be living this implicit imperative of Christ. So why don’t we? I think we often choose not to do things because they are new and strange, or that we may mess it up. Being a stranger, doing strange things, it does not feel connecting, it does not feel sustaining and comforting. Yet we need to remember that we are not strangers, not really. John reminds us of this; “dear friends, NOW we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known, but we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him.” You see, we are not strange, we are not strangers- when we lean into this baptismal promise of Christ for us, we are then the heirs, the children of our God and even when we feel like we are so different, we are already becoming like Christ himself.

You see, when you are known, you cannot be a stranger. And to be known, you must get out there and know others first. It is scary. It is hard. And it is blessed work because God doesn’t forget us, and we can cling to the promise that we are God’s beloved children even in the midst of the unknown. Yes indeed, the lyrics had it right- partially. Faces do seem wicked when you’re unwanted, but they were also wrong. Someone does remember your name, our God in heaven has written your name among the list of saints, your robe is washed in baptismal waters and your name is called out- known among the multitude and most importantly, by Christ, who lived and died for you, for your sins, for your life, so that you might be known.

In Christ, we join the multitude, our names are on the roles, we are no longer a stranger in a strange land, but a child of the God most high, part of the biggest family you can imagine and we are not alone. We can lean into the hard stuff of life because our God is with us. Never Again will we hunger, never again will we thirst, for the Lamb is our Shepherd who brings us to springs of living water and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.   Amen.



Restore us O God; Advent 1 December 3, 2017

Restore us O God, let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.’

In those days the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.”

 We hear these words and the first emotion that rises up is fear. We cannot imagine not having light. We put nightlights in our house and on our streets. We surround ourselves with light and with even the best curtains, it seems even the digital clocks will still pierce the darkest room as we try to sleep. We are so surrounded by light that we don’t even realize how little we can see the dark until we are in a rare place without light polution.

People spend the day sun worshipping and the evenings dancing.

Barbara Brown Taylor is one of my favorite preachers and wrote the book, “Learning to walk in the dark.” Until I read that book, I have to admit that there were more than a few times the dark scared me. Like Taylor, as young woman I was not afraid of the dark, enjoying my fair share of sneaking out for midnight walks in the crisp and clear night air of Julian- not too far from here, but far enough not to have light pollution. To me, it was never really that dark I always had the stars to light by way- it always seemed my dirty white tennis shoes were a beacon to getting caught as they appeared to glow supernaturally in the star and moonlight.

As I grew older, I began to fear the dark and nearly succumbed to the modern tendency to put a nightlight in my children’s rooms. When I would walk to Los Angeles County hospital in the wee hours of night, alone on my way to an emergency chaplain’s page, I recall feeling safe in the belly of old General Hospital even though it was vacant but once outside, the night seemed ominous and scary. I had become afraid of the dark.   Then I read Barbara’s book and began to remember my joy and comfort in the dark of my youth. With some pondering, I the truth of her words: dark itself is nothing to be afraid of, rather, it is the dark inside us that we fear the most. When we hear the idea of the end times being in the dark, I wonder, are we more afraid of what is in the dark or what we will face when we are alone with ourselves?

Restore us O God, let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.

This is the first Sunday of Advent- four weeks where we recall and practice what our ancestors’ did- a waiting for the Christ child- for salvation and hope. For four hundred years the Israelites waited for a prophet- a time of silence and spiritual darkness- a time to sit, wait, and reflect upon their own lives and God’s promises. It was hard, but it was not bad. Like that 400 year wait, Advent is the living between times. Only now we await second coming of Christ and still no different from Israelites, our time of waiting in the dark hours is a time to stay awake and alert to our own spiritual health and wellness.

For the Corinthian church that Paul writes to in today’s missive, it was a hard time as well. Christ had died and they were trying to figure out which way to go, how to live out this calling and following of Christ. They were not doing a great job either. They struggled and bickered, deeply divided and each side convinced they were right. Paul understood they were afraid and struggling and he writes in a positive assumptive position of comfort, reminding them that they can make it through this hard time, and they have been enriched by God in every way.   Paul reminds the church of Corinth that they will be strengthened and God is ever faithful and present through Christ and the Holy Spirit. And while not every word Paul wrote is appropriate for our time and application, this remains steadfast and true.

Restore us O God, let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.

God began with the darkness, in the darkness. In fact, light wasn’t even the first thing God created. God revelled in the dark and was not afraid- finding the desire to grow and create and nurture within it. We too, should not be afraid of the dark. Darkness has its role. In it we are forced to remain still or to move carefully and slowly if we try to walk in it. In the dark, we find rest. Our bodies are reminded to be still, to allow God and the nature of the universe to heal us, to rejuvenate and restore us. In the dark, we can see things we never notice in the day- the shape and color and even reflections that are missing in the brilliance of the sun. The dark and the light dance for us but all too often today, we are so accustomed to constant light that we have become afraid of the dark.

Because we cannot see ahead while we wait, we can examine our own self, our own sin and our departure from what God desires for us. Our world is scary. Broader communication leaves us more aware of how broken the world is around us and how hard living is. We are more aware that life is one difficult circumstance after another and it is obvious that God does not guarantee us a life free of pain and sorrow. It is enough to make us cry out and we can. Isaiah shows us what it looks like to yell at God and to hold God accountable to God’s own promises in our lives.

Restore us O God, let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.

As I waited for first call and time continued as it does, I began to doubt myself. I began to doubt those around me who told me that I was a solid candidate. I wondered aloud to a friend if I was so solid, why am I still not pastoring yet? His words? Maybe it isn’t about you. Maybe it is about God and God’s promises? He reminded me that I needed to get over myself and remember that this is God’s call and promise and that it was fair to call God out. But it seemed presumptuous to me to call out God. Over the next 3 weeks 2 more friends would echo the sentiment, unbidden. One even shared that when he was in similar circumstance he packed a bag and set it by the door then he got down on his knees and he prayed. He reminded God that he was ready to go and it was all up to God to tell him when and where. A short time later he received his call.

Author Ellie Wiesel writes in The Trial Of God about how three Jewish rabbi’s called God to trial over failed promises to Gods own people during the holocaust. It was written based on his real life experience. It was the most faithful response imaginable- to trust that God made promises and that we can look at God and recall the promises of God, too. Isaiah 64 does just that. Well my husband wanted a good book to read and I recommended the book to him even as I realized the significance of yet another reminder of holding God accountable. I had a lot of unfinished things in my life- unfinished art, unfinished projects around the house, even things we needed to do to prepare the rental to be returned. I finally got the message and after some prayer, I realized I was not ready. I spent the next month finishing things so that I could be ready to go, too. And daily I would hold God accountable and say, “See God? I am getting ready to go. Are you preparing my call? “ Within the week, I was in conversations with the call committee of Hope and the moment I read the congregational profile, I knew this was it. I had called God out and God had responded because while I am not always faithful and ready, God is.

Restore us O God, let your face shine upon us and we shall be saved.

Advent’s texts give us a voice for our brokenness and failure to be faithful as we wait. They also give us the promise of a savior. We are headed into a new year of texts now and Mark will be the Gospel we walk with. His words are full of apocalyptic visions just like Matthew, but the difference is that there is a strong mix of encouragement and hope among Mark’s words. Yes, he shares that the end times will be scary. But he also reminds us that we will see evidence of Christ and his promise all around us if we sit still and pay attention. He promises us that Christ is coming.   Layered with Pauls’ promises that we will be equipped and Isaiah’s reminder that God is faithful, we can know without a doubt that as we wait in the dark, God comes to us and remains with us through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

While we sit through Advent we are reminded that God is our light and is present not outside of us and our lives, but inside of us. Do not be afraid of the dark. It is a holy place. In the dark we are able to clearly see the light of Christ present with us. Salvation is at hand.

Restore us O God, let your face shine upon us and we shall be saved.






How Can I cry out if I can’t Breathe;Advent 2 (December 10, 2017)

I cannot cry out if I cannot breathe.A voice will cry in the wilderness, prepare the way.


Of Course, Mark is describing John the Baptist. Have you ever wondered though, why he was crying out in the wilderness? Why wasn’t he preaching and teaching in the temple and cities? Wasn’t it counter-productive to do so from the wilds? Who would hear him crying out in the wilderness anyway?


Thanks to the other Gospels, we know more about John. I think today we hear that he wore camelhair and ate locusts and honey and just think that people did weird things back then. But even for his own time, John was, well, weird. He was a nonconformist- a subversive- an activist. Not too unlike his cousin who would come after him.


So it is no wonder that he was in the wilderness. We have a way of looking at the people who do not look, act, eat, or speak like us and making them feel unwelcome. If they are connected to issues that cause problems and upset the status quo, we quickly blame them for their own circumstance and distance ourselves, so that we will not be pulled into their mess. We push them off to the sides, to the places where we will not have to notice them, to the other side of the street, the tracks, the border and if necessary, to prison so we don’t have to face their differences and the issues they bring up that make us uncomfortable. We send them to the wilderness and we silence their voice among us.


The fires have left me breathless this past week. Many of you also have a cough, a tickle, a little stuff in your throat. For me, it has activated my asthma. And when I was asked if I could do a one day response for the Red Cross, I had to decline. In the end, deciding I could not risk my breathe. Because if I cannot breathe, how can I speak? If I cannot speak, how can I share the truth of God’s love.


And that got me thinking about our Gospel today and why we only ever seem to hear the truth cried out from the wilderness, from the outer edges and un-centered places? Why don’t we hear these voices of truth everyday among us? And I realized that the voices of truth are already among us, but we have silenced them. They are breathless and cannot cry out.


They are the women silenced and scared by the actions of men and power brokers who left them with no recourse but to put up and shut up. Who kept their silence and were blamed and manipulated by shame. If only the women like Bathsheba and Dinah had a #metoo movement to encourage them.


They are the babes left on beaches, drowned as they attempt to escape certain death while powerful men make decisions on who can live where. Men who will wipe out an entire generation of male children for their own political purposes and control. I wonder if the mothers of Syria think of the mothers who buried their babes because of King Herod?


They are the ones who don’t fit our laws of what right looks like, men in women’s clothes and bodies, dark-skinned or dreadlock wearing, upright citizens who just want to live and let live, who are precious children of God and are ignored when beaten, and left to die under the baton or on the road to Damascus. I wonder if the gay, brown skinned, or Hindi speaking person attacked for just living take their last breathes wonder where their good Samaritan is.


We hear their stories and turn away- they make us uncomfortable and we focus our anger on the person who takes the picture of the dead child rather than on the person responsible for circumstance that led to his running for his life. We hear of the women who speak truth of the Matt Lauer’s and Garrison Keilors of the world and our responses tend to be wondering if it is the truth why did they wait so long or upset that our favorite voices and faces are gone because someone had to make a “fuss”. Anger at our our discomfort rather than the fact a woman was violated and felt she had no recourse until now when a groundswell of others are gaining courage because they now know they do not stand alone.


We take their breathe and value when we tell a black man that if he just follows the law and the directions of the officer he will be fine. Because the truth is and video after video reveal in stunning proof, that it won’t be fine.

We steal the breath of every victim who tries to cry out every time we question them and doubt them in order to make ourselves more comfortable that we loved or lived among a place where a perpetrator also lived.


It is no wonder that John called the religious folks a brood of vipers. We are dangerous to be among.


The voices are among us- with truth to be told, with the message of Christ in their stories, in their faces, in their very breath. And until we give them space to be heard, protection to speak, support to share the difficult parts and love to heal the gaping wounds from which they cry, they will be breathless and thus, speechless. We will not hear their cry and we will not prepare the way.


Christ came and put himself in a place of speechless breathe- he began his life gasping for air so that he too might cry out in our world. And he did- he cried out in the temples and he cried out in the desert. He cried out above the wind and waves and he cried out over death. He used his very breathe to fight the centered set, the ones who would tell him he was a problem maker and that he just needed to tone it down a little or maybe tell his story in a way people could hear instead of causing so much turmoil. And when he would not play by the rules, when he continued to speak the truth and use his privilege and breath to cry out for the least of these, to cry out and share the Gospel of God’s love for every human being and a promise of salvation for the small cost of faith alone, they nailed him to a cross where the death is one of suffocation- where the very breathe is taken even as he yet lived. And in his last breathe, he cried out one last time to beg God in heaven to forgive us for failing to hear.


Advent is our time to wait and ponder, to prepare the way beginning with our own hearts. I wonder, are we willing to ponder our role in taking the very breath from the voices of truth among us? Can we commit to protecting the breathe of our savior and his message among us? Will we stand side by side to protect an innocent who simply wants to live and breathe? Will we put on the itchy camel hair coat and let our hearts and spirits live in the discomfort of honesty and truth so that we too might hear the voice crying out and prepare the way for the Lord?


It will be uncomfortable. It isn’t easy to hear and walk with the voices of truth,. It isn’t comfortable to speak the truth. It isn’t popular to be different and stand for what right looks like. But it is what our Savior did for us and what in our loving response, we should do in return. Christ did not come to a young girl in an illegitimate way to make us uncomfortable. He came in poverty and humility to remind us of our own.


The voice in the wilderness does not just break the silence- it shatters it. It cries out from broken hearts, broken bodies and broken spirits.


Will you be humbled and give breath to the voice that needs to cry out here and now, among us? Will you call the one in from the wilderness and give them shelter, comfort, and love? Will you hear their story and love them as Christ did for you? Will you prepare the way?







Reconciling the Hero and the Harmer

“Pastor, how are we to respond?  Yet another of our heros has fallen to sexual misconduct or abuse!”

   “We are trying to reconcile the man we knew him to be

with his unacceptable behavior we now have become aware of.”

(Today Show, November 29, 2017).

******* TRIGGER WARNING*********
(Sexual misconduct+children)
My grandfather (paternal) was a kind man to me. He was gentle, sang, and played the organ, he snuck me hard candies and spoke Norwegian to me.  He taught me to love music, woodwork, and cars. He lived a Christian life and spoke of God with regularity.  He was like this with all of his grandchildren. 
My grandfather (same one) also molested me as a child. He molested other family members, too. Many in the family knew but my brother did not until he was nearly an adult. As he and my father flew home to my grandfather’s funeral, my dad told him my story so that he would not be caught off guard. I also think Dad still held anger that his own father had done that to his little girl and was struggling with going to a funeral to hear all nice things about someone who had broken an innocent child.  
The hardest part for my brother was reconciling the grandfather he had experienced with the one I experienced. I remind him regularly that our grandfather’s actions with me that were unacceptable do not undo the good he did. Each act stands alone. His good behavior did not excuse his bad behavior- but neither should his bad behavior erase the good. I remind him that it is ok to remember our grandfather with love and fondness because that is the authentic memory he has. He need not bear my anger, pain, or brokenness, even though I welcome him comforting me and holding me in it as I continue to grow and heal from it.  
I am not excusing my grandfather.   I am not justifying, supporting, or protecting him. I am a woman who has gone through deep healing and I now see clearly through waters that seemed impossible to move through once. In that clarity I see a broken man who broke others. I also see a man who tried to live right and sometimes failed. I pray that he found forgiveness before death- I pray that he reconciled himself. I myself, have reconciled that I can remember him with love and smiles of the good things that he did for ALL the grandchildren.
There is no sacred place from this kind of trauma.  Our news now fills our living rooms with story after story of sexual misconduct and abuse.  The more stories we hear, the harder it gets to make sense of the person we thought we knew through media or even personal experience with one who could do such things.  
But there is this- when we are ready, when we have caught our breathe- we can turn this over to God.  God heals and judges.  God comforts and chastens.  God is with us- and with them.  And God cares and loves until we can once more.  I for one, am grateful that in the years of anger and distress that followed when I was unable to forgive or heal, God was with my grandfather just as God was with me.   And I thank God for that because it is a difficult struggle to reconcile the harmer and the hero.