Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Eve Message

"The word of God said:

I will set you free.

I won't let you be anything but holy, good, and free.

The word spoke through the ages for all people...just like you and me."

The Word of God has brought each of us here tonight.

For whatever reason, in whatever way, you are here to welcome the Christ child once again.

To experience the word of God that is with us.

With the world.

With those in darkness.

With those who need light.

That is the grace and mystery of this evening.

That you are here to celebrate a baby born in a manger.

The Word of God has brought each of us here tonight.

For whatever reason, in whatever way, you are here to remember that Christ is born for you.

Yes, you.

Even on days when you feel alone or abandoned by God.

Even on those days when only lament comes to your lips.

The Word of God has brought each of us here tonight.

Perhaps with pressure from parents, or in memory of the candles and silent night.

Yes, the Word of God is with us and stirring in our souls.

 "The word of God said:

I will set you free.

I won't let you be anything but holy, good, and free.

The word spoke through the ages for all people...just like you and me."

There is a mystery tonight. That the word of God came to us in the form of a baby.

In a manger.

On the straw.

With sheep and cattle too.

The word of God came to us in the simplest and purest of ways - the innocence of a baby.

The word of God has the hearts of prophets who speak to the hearts of a troubled people

and the compassion to feed a hungry world.

The Word of God embedded in Mary's womb, the woman who knew that God would do mighty things for the lowly.

The Word of God known by John the Baptist who leapt in his mother's womb.

The Word of God has in his bones the commitment of a father who raised the child of God

And the audacity of a mother who said yes to the impossible.

The word of God grew up to be a man, The word of God, Jesus.

The word of God spoke through the ages for all people....just like you and me.

"The word of God said:

I will set you free.

I won't let you be anything but holy, good and free."

The word of God has the fearlessness of David who overturned the bullies of his day.

The word of God has the quiet spirit of Mary to sit at the feet of the hurting.

The word of God has the energetic fervor of Martha to make sure all are fed and cared for.

The word of God has the peace of the nameless woman to wash the feet of a hurting world.

The word of God has the hope of a hemorrhaging woman to reach out hands to stop pain and suffering.

The word of God has the persistence of the widow to never settle for anything less than wholeness.

The word of God spoke through the ages for all people...just like you and me.

"The word of God said:

I will set you free.

I won't let you be anything but holy, good and free."

The word of God comes to you and me.

The word of God comes in the form of broken pieces of stained glass to form a cross of hope.

The word of God comes in the form of an outstretched hand offering support.

The word of God comes in a meal for a new mother and a grieving family.

The word of God comes in the joy of a child rushing to peer into the manger.

The word of God comes in the welcome and love to all finding their identity.

The Word of God comes to give us a new name greater than anything we call ourselves, that of Child of God.

 For you see when the word of God came in a manger,

in the midst of dirt and cattle and among the straw,

the Word of God declared that nothing would be out of the reach of love and grace.

The Word of God is with us.

And even if we try, as we have in the past, God can never be kept out.

For the government tried to stop the Word.

On a cross, where death came and all power emptied.

And then three days later,

The Word could not even be contained by death.

The Word, Jesus, cannot be kept out.

The word of God invited itself into the world,

through a baby.

The Word of God is with us.

The word of God does not need an invitation or a welcome.

For even when the inn keepers and the world said, "We have no room."

The word of God came anyway, in a manger in a barn, to show us love that has no bounds.

"The word of God said:

I will set you free.

I won't let you be anything but holy, good, and free.

The word spoke through the ages for all people...just like you and me."

*Inspired by the book:  Jesus, the Word.  Mark Francisco Bozzuti-Jones

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Joy of Angels

So much heartache and so much violence these last few days.
So much to take in.
So much to sigh over.

In the midst of violence and loss and suffering, words often fail.  I've been waiting to write a blog post reflecting on the events from the last few days until after Sunday morning.  I needed to wait.  For on Sunday morning at church we were looking forward to the Christmas pageant.  It's been planned for months.  The costumes were ready.  The stage set.  The children excited.  The story of Jesus waiting to be told.

You see, I waited to reflect until I witnessed hope through the eyes and ears and voices of children.

As a congregation, and as a community, we needed to see life.  We needed to see hope embodied.  We needed to smile through the tears.  

And smile we did.

We smiled as children came one by one to be a part of the pageant.  We smiled as everyone had a part to play.

We smiled when the angels were up and down and lifting their skirts for all to see.  Angel wings and joy up and down the aisles.

We smiled at the Darth Vader voice of one of our narrators.

We smiled when Joseph entered played by one of our younger girls.

We smiled when baby Jesus wasn't in the spot Mary had hoped and it seemed for a minute that baby Jesus was lost.

We smiled when the cast of characters told the congregation that God came for each of us.

During worship, as a congregation and as a world grieving, we came together because we need each other.  We need to pray for one another.  We need to hear the prayers of others.  We need to speak words of justice and compassion.  We need to speak truth to power.  We need to use our hands and feet to reach out to our neighbors and strangers.

We need to see hope embodied through the story of a baby born in a manger, a story of Jesus born to die on a cross to overcome death once and for all.  A story of light overcoming the darkness.

We witnessed a story enacted through the simple acts and voices of children.  In the clumsiness of a people searching for the light.  In the quiet voices of angels.  In bread and wine.  In silence and stillness.  In babies crying.

The ordinary acts of each of us together spoke extraordinary volumes of love.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Interruptions from God

Olivia runs up to me with her arms wide as she wraps her hands around my waist and exclaims, "I just wanted to tell you that I really like you!  I wanted to tell you earlier but you were busy."

My heart just melted.

And yes I was busy earlier.  She was referring to when I was leading worship on Sunday morning.  So, just a little busy, I suppose.

My heart just melted.

This encounter happened after worship on the second Sunday in Advent.  As a community we're counting down till Christmas.  We are waiting.  We are looking into the darkness expecting the light to come.

And we are tired.  At least I am.  I am tired and thinking I'm much busier than I should be after all my talk of rest and Sabbath during this season.  At least it seems as if I'm running in all directions as I'm visiting, writing, reading, preparing, proofing, sermonating, baking, calling, organizing, cleaning, and remembering to breathe.

Then in the midst of worrying what I forgot to announce in worship and whether I'll remember the prayer request just given to me, Olivia comes running to me with her arms wide open.

"I just wanted to tell you that I really like you.  I wanted to tell you earlier but you were busy."

Perhaps that is how God feels when loving each of us?  Perhaps God's arms are always poised with welcome and love and we're just too busy to notice?

What of all those other times that I was too busy to notice God's love stretching to embrace me?        

Because isn't that just like God to sneak up on you with the innocence and pure joy of a five-year-old?  Isn't that just like God to come to us no matter how busy or stressed or inopportune the time?  Isn't that just like God to remind us that true worship isn't about us but about the One who loves us unconditionally?  

Thank God for five-year-olds and for unrelenting love.

And thank you, Olivia, for reminding me that any time is a time to be reminded of love.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Watching Baby Jesus

"Someone has to watch baby Jesus."

The words spoken from one of our younger theologians at church as our baby Jesus doll lie in the manger and straw.  We were gathered for the church's second time in the Sedalia Christmas Parade.  A kick-off to the Christmas season on an unusually warm and clear day.  Surrounded by sleighs, trees, decorations and lights, we were dressed in jeans and t-shirts more likely preparing for spring than the winter to come.

"Old Fashioned Christmas" was the parade theme.  The church had an old fashioned truck with an old fashioned Christmas scene complete with fireplace, popcorn-strung tree, and a grandmother lovingly reading to her grandson.  She read to him the original story.  The greatest story some may say.  For us, it was the original story - that Nativity story of Christ's birth and the light entering the world.

There on the other side of the float sat the children dressed as angels, shepherds, Mary and Joseph.  And there in the manger lie the baby Jesus, a favorite doll picked just for this occasion.

As with any parade there is much waiting.  Waiting for the parade to start.  Waiting to start moving once the parade begins.  Waiting when the floats get in a traffic jam.  Waiting for the candy to be passed out to the children lining the sides of the street.    

As we sat and waited dressed in costumes, one of our angels said, "Someone has to watch baby Jesus."

Perhaps she was afraid of baby Jesus getting picked up in the wind.  Or concerned for this favorite doll of her friend.  Or like an adoring angel, she wanted to make sure Jesus received his due appreciation and honor.

"Someone has to watch baby Jesus."

Truth is, her words hit me as I've been more concerned about Jesus watching me.  I worry about whether Jesus is really with me in my pain and longing.  I question his hopefulness for a weary world.  I'm more concerned that Jesus is with me than about watching for Jesus in our midst.  I'd rather complain that Jesus has left me to wander the darkness alone than seeing him in the light of others.

"Someone has to watch baby Jesus."

Thanks to the words of an angel for the reminders of Jesus in our midst.  For Jesus was there as we gathered and laughed and planned.  Jesus was there in the excitement of children dressed to tell the greatest story.

Yes, we all have to watch baby Jesus.  Because, you see, Jesus is on the move in the world.  Everywhere.  In the beginning and in the end.  And everything in between, Jesus is with us.  Watch out world, because with Jesus in our midst angel voices can be heard proclaiming good news that will bring great joy to all people.

Friday, November 30, 2012

A Chocolate Advent

The eve of Advent is upon us.  The eve of waiting.  The eve of counting down till the birth of the baby in the manger.  The eve of time marked by hopefulness.  I know the Advent countdown all too well.  With the first day of December comes the first day to open my chocolate filled Advent Calendar.  For me, it's not just a door to open to a bible verse or thought for the day, no, a door each morning containing chocolate.  Good chocolate.  German chocolate.  A start to my day - a start to my December days for as far back as I can remember. 

I love Advent.  I love the light amidst the darkness.  I love gathering for worship amidst the deep blue.  For years I remember the calm and contemplation of mid-week Advent worship, space to feel God's presence in community.  I love the longing and expectancy for a savior.  I love the reminders to slow down, to watch, to wait.  To welcome the One who is always welcoming us.  

And I love the daily chocolates from my Advent calendar.  

I always anticipate my Advent calendar.  Each and every year, without fail my mother would do the honor of purchasing my calendar (yes, even to this day I will not buy my own calendar as it comes from my mother).  It's the Advent calendars with winter scenes, idyllic children, Santa all red and cheery, trees and lights, and beneath each and every door, from December 1st through the 24th, a sweet, savory chocolate.

I'm not a generally patient person in much else in my life (you can ask my family that I've been known to divulge secrets due to my excitement and unwrap and wrap again presents to see what gifts I was receiving) but during Advent I relish the chance to open a door, day after day, one by one, and cherish that one piece of chocolate each morning. 

Now, don't get any grand ideas of this pastor's deep Advent piety.  There are no experiences of prayerfully opening each door or blessing the day.  No, I simply open the calendar each morning and eat my piece of chocolate.

It's a beginning.  It's a start.

On the first day of December, as in so many years past, I will open the door leading to my first chocolate of the season.  It will occur in the morning, even before breakfast.  Day after day another door unlocked to another chocolate.  

So what does all this chocolate have to do with Advent?  Perhaps nothing.  Perhaps I just like chocolate and the self-control it takes to have only one piece a day for 24 days.  Or perhaps, just maybe, this daily ritual of opening the door and enjoying a piece of sweetness is just one glimpse into the life of faith.  Could it be that I need the reminders, especially this year, that there is goodness in the world?  Could it be that the memories and joys from Advent pasts are enough to sustain me during the holidays?  

Yet, maybe I just need to know that the month will be over and in the end the One I've been waiting for has already been waiting for me.  

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Trotting with Turkeys, and Stephen

The 4th Annual Turkey Trot Run/Walk is on Thanksgiving Day and you'll be in town.  We should walk together.

I don't run.

It's a walk.  I think plenty of people will be walking.  It'll be fun, and it's for a good cause.

Yes, but you don't KNOW that people are walking.

Right, but it says Run/Walk.  I can find out.

Again, I don't want to be the only ones walking, and they have to wait around for us to take down the finish line. That would be embarrassing. 

I'll find out if people walk and we won't be alone.  Plus, we are fast walkers.  I walked across Spain one summer.  I can keep up with the best of them.

Wait, you walked across Spain? Why don't you tell me about it???

Oh, Stephen.  We're going to walk the 5K on Thanksgiving morning.  It's for a good cause.  And we need to get some exercise with all the food we'll consume that day!

Yes, dear.


Thanksgiving morning and we're going to walk a 5K!

Wait, what??

Get up and let's go.  Registration begins at 7:30.  It's a beautiful day.

Did you find out if anyone else will be walking? I don't want to be a hayseed here.

Yes, people walk...

Look at all these people! None of them are wearing jeans. Why am I the only one wearing jeans?

Because we are walking, it's fine.  No one is discussing what we are wearing.

You don't know that. I feel so judged right now. We are such outsiders here in Missoura.

We are walking, we can walk.  It's all good.  Since when do you care what people think of you?

Since always. Look, even that old guy is wearing running pants. I hope we at least finish before him.

Don't start that.  We're just here to walk and support the Center for Human Services.  We should have brought walking sticks like that man!  Then we'd fit in with the crowd.

Right, just what I forgot to bring to a 5k race, my walking sticks... We are soo out of place right now.

There are plenty of other people who are going to walk.

Wait a second, why are our numbers red and everyone else's black? Is it because we're walking? Are they just assuming since I wore jeans that I'm walking? See, I told you they're judging us!

You checked the walking box on the registration form.

Oh, right...

Look the race is starting.  Let's go!  We want to be near the front of the walkers and get going... Ugh, I really wish I had a walking stick. I need to get a good one. When I walked across Spain I kept losing mine.

Why does that not surprise me? Why are so you stuck on these walking sticks? Look, that guy is just carrying his right now. That's just added weight.

We're making good time and keeping a good pace. There's the 1 mile marker!

Yes, but here come the first runners passing us for the finish line.

Woo hoo!! Good job everyone!!!

What are you doing?

I'm cheering for them as they finish... Yea, way to go!!

You are so embarrassing.

I did this in seminary when the Columbus Marathon came through town.

I'm sure you did.

I'm pretty sure I woke up the other people in the dorm.

Again, I'm sure you did.

Look, there's the finish line! Wasn't this fun?

Yes, great fun. Half the parking lot is empty. Can we go get coffee now?


Happy Thanksgiving!  For all the journeys this past year, whether full of ease or challenges, whether alone or in the company of community, I am grateful.  Stephen and I will continue to take one step in front of the other.  And we'll see how many more embarrassments are to come.


If you want to learn more about the Center for Human Services and the awesome work they are doing with people with disabilities check out their website:

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Phone Call Away

For the first time this holiday season I'm celebrating without my father.

There were, of course, many holidays and times when I was away from my family, yet, always a phone call away from the traditional greetings of my father.  There were the phone calls during college where it never failed that the phone would ring at 7 a.m. just to be sure that my father caught me before the busyness of a college day.

"Dad, you can call anytime during the day, you know.  I'm not that busy."

"Well, I just want to make sure I get to talk to you.  I never know where you are or who you're running around with and what homework needs to get done."

"Okay, dad.  It's good to hear from you."  Even at 7 a.m. it was good to talk to my dad.

There were the phone calls in Africa, too.  My family and I figured out the time change and network problems of living in rural Africa for two years.  Nothing stopped me from a phone call with my parents.  Not the heat.  Not the miles of walking.  Not the lack of power.  Not the in-and-out network.  No.  I made sure to have a phone date set each time I hung up the phone with my parents so I had another call to look forward to.  And if it meant standing on the root of a baobab tree with village folks passing by wondering about the crazy American.  So be it!

The phone calls during seminary and my first call occurred on Sunday afternoon.  Holy, sabbath time.  I usually was in the midst of a post-Sunday morning fog and my dad would call.  He wanted to know about my sermon and how service went; he was always eager to tell me about his morning and the sermon he heard.  He asked me theological questions and wanted to know my thoughts.  I heard about his week and who he went out to lunch with, updates on the town and family.  I received the latest movie reviews and which characters he believed best exemplified the Christ figure.  Holy, sabbath time.  

The phone rings to this day and I still look hoping for a call from my dad.
The shortcut for "dad" is still on my cell phone.
I still hear his voice.
I still feel his love.

And when I need the reminder of his presence I remember his final words to me on the phone almost every phone call:  "It was good talking to you.  You be good now.  And remember I love you."

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Do Not Be Afraid

A Sunday with a baptism and a first communion doesn't get much better for this joyful pastor.  A Sunday to hear the words of God's love for all, to offer bread and wine, and to be washed with water is nothing short of miraculous.  

Week after week God reminds me that the words I preach are as much for me as they are for the community I am privileged to serve.

Below I share the closing words to this morning's sermon; words of hope and promise.  Words inspired by a God who knows no bounds and whose love exceeds beyond understanding.   

Do not be afraid people of God for the Lord is with you.
Do not be afraid for where you see only scarcity, there is abundance if you only see with the eyes of the Lord.
Do not be afraid because you have a community here today who is promising to support and love you.  A community that will pray for you.  A community that will love you no matter what.  A community that will always welcome you home.  
Do not be afraid to remember the means of grace that overcome you today - on this day with the washing of water, the grace of bread and wine, the forgiveness at the table, and the unfathomable love declared by God's words: "Child of God."  
Do not be afraid to be a child of God and to see others as children of God.  
Do not be afraid to share your voice for the voiceless, to call out injustice, and to speak truth to power.
Do not be afraid to cry with those who are mourning.  Do not be afraid to sing with joy with your neighbor and stranger.
Do not be afraid, for the waters that wash over you today and the bread and wine that are freely given will be yours forever.  

Friday, November 9, 2012


Look at your hands.

Look closely.

Look to the skin, the fingers, the bruises, the marks, the calluses, the birthmarks, the years of writing and typing, the years of holding and carrying, the years of eating, the years of praying.

Look to the work of your hands and remember the experiences and encounters, the lives touched, the bodies embraced, the warmth and the coldness.

I look at my hands and I open them to the memories and experiences of touch, relationships, work, fellowship, prayer, and play.  I open my hands and I see the hands of many who have touched my hands with theirs.  I remember the many varied and diverse hands that embraced me, challenged me, taught me, loved me, prayed with me, ate with me, and held me.

I see Ruth and her 97-year-old arthritic hands, her long sweaters that cover the twists and bends, her hands that have held both sorrow and joy, hands that monthly continue to fold the church newsletter in love.

I see Nadine and her 87-year-old hands moving with the beat of music on her saxophone.  The breath of life continuing to inspire.

I see Laurie as she raises her hands to conduct music and the gift of voices joining together; I see Jeff as his hands glide over the keys and bring music to the air; Sarah as her hands drum to create rhythm and power and move us all to the beat of life.

I see Ndey and Hancha and the other Gambian women as they show me their calloused, rough, and bruised hands; theirs are hands that have seen struggle, worked in pain and yet, still create life and joy in the midst of their labors.

I see Erica and John and Andrea as they embrace and are embraced by the hands of their baby.

I feel the hands of family as prayers are said to bless my marriage.  Hands lifted in prayer and hands open to love.  

Whose hands do you see holding yours?  Whose hands reach out to you in love?

Look at your hands.  Look.  Wait.

Look towards the manger and see, soon, the hands of our savior, the hands of a baby, the hands of an infant.  Pure and simple, hands of love.  Hands poised to welcome all.  Hands open to new life and resurrection.  Hands to embrace the world.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Gratitude Project

My facebook page has been riddled with posts of gratitude from friends and family.  It is the month of November and the gratitude project has taken hold.  Each day people from all over share one thing that they are grateful for on that particular day. 

Blessings abound.  Gratitude overflowing.  God always present. 

I smile each time I scroll down the newsfeed and am reminded of my blessings from the lists and stories of friends.  On those days when I feel less than grateful for all the mishaps and stress in my life, a simple word or sentence reminds me I am blessed.  There are days that I wallow in my own self-doubt and insecurities; those days where waking up just a few minutes late sets the tone for a day of harried experiences; the confrontational email or phone call; the long lists of to-dos; the illness of a friend.  I need the words of all God's people sharing their joys and gratitude; somehow these joys and gratitude become my own. 

Blessings abound.   Gratitude overflowing.   God always present.  

This past Sunday we celebrated All Saints Sunday.  A member of the congregation created a work of art with his hands and heart and faithfulness to be first experienced on this moving day.  At the beginning of worship, the cedar-wood cross was lit with votive candles positioned in the front of the altar.  Following the hymn of the day people were invited forward to light a candle in honor of a loved one.  Coming forward they were invited to share God's light, to feel God's light, and to know that they too were a part of the light of Christ.    

Blessings abound. Gratitude overflowing. God always present. 

One by one the candles were lit and the sanctuary illuminated.  One by one the joys and sorrows and gratitude of a community was lifted up.  One by one the communion of saints surrounded us.  One by one, one candle after another, we were reminded that the light cannot be overcome. 

At the communion rail, the community knelt and shared prayers and gratitude before the glowing cross.  I saw the faces of those who faithfully come to worship week after week, along with the faces of those who are unable to attend.  I saw the faces of those we buried this year together.  And the faces of those who continue to go unnamed.  I saw the faces of a community in need of God's light.  I saw a community of saints and sinners, a community of God's people, and I was grateful. 

I haven't taken up the task of sharing my daily gratitude, but if I did, I surely would have included the gift of the cross this day.  The gift of light.  The gift of the saints.     

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Puppets, Oh My!

There are some days that once you look back and relive the simple, enchanting moments from the day, you are astounded at the beauty.  Today is just one of those days.

A visit from my mom always brings new adventures and explorations in Missouri.

Unknown to us (and perhaps much of the world) Independence, Missouri is home to the Puppetry Arts Institute.  Who would have guessed that situated in the heart of Harry Truman's hometown would be a unique and eclectic home to a wealth of puppets from around the world?  My mom and I definitely did not.  Thanks to AAA and their recommendation we headed on I-70 to the Puppetry Arts Institute (PAI) for a morning of enchantment.

We arrived in Independence and after a few U-turns made our way to the city street where the PAI is situated.  Nestled along the street we were welcomed by two delightful, older women.  The large room we entered was set up for a group of 25 boy scouts coming later in the day to learn the basics of puppetry (and perhaps go home with a finger puppet of their own or a painted head they painted themselves!)  The PAI is a museum and as such my mom and I expected to browse on our own and take in the history of puppetry and the special Pinocchio exhibit.  The puppet ladies, however, had a different idea.

Who knows how many visitors they have simply stopping by.  They were delighted to take us room by room and share their knowledge and love of puppetry.  We heard their personal stories and learned of the great puppeteers.  The vast collection included Chinese dragon puppets, the European Punch and Judy, and even the Broadway show Nunsense puppets.  Puppets, puppets, and more puppets!

Even a visit to the bathroom included puppet company.

We were convinced that if we lived a bit closer to Independence the enthusiasm of these ladies would bring us back for puppet demonstrations and puppet making.  We practically knew their life stories.

On the way out the door we were handed two finger puppets to remember our visit.

Eating lunch down the street following our adventures in puppets, we had our finger puppets on the table.

Our waiter excitedly asks where we got the puppets.

"I grew up playing with puppets.  I love them!"

My mom and I smiled.  We told him just down the street there is a museum dedicated to puppets.

Our waiter said, "Really?  I had no idea there was anything to do with puppets here."

We left Independence with our finger puppets and full hearts.  We also left with a desire to know more of the hidden treasures in our town.

What gems have you found right in your own backyard?


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

For the Saints

All Hallow's Eve.  Halloween.  Reformation. 

This All Hallow's Eve I remember those who have died.  In preparation for All Saints Sunday we have a list of names of the saints who died this past year.  We will speak their names during worship; they will join us at the table as they do every week.  We will light candles and give thanks for the light that still shines in our midst.  We will remember and we will honor the mystery and grace of death and resurrection. 

Yet, never did I imagine that I would have my own father's life and name and history to lift up as one of the names of the saints.  Never did I anticipate that reality.  Never did I want to believe that death and grief would so powerfully take hold of me.

I don't want to speak my father's name on Sunday.  I don't want to acknowledge the reality that he is dead, that he is among the saints.  I don't want to know that he joins us with all the saints who have gone before and all that are to come.  I want his real voice, his real skin, his real touch.  With me.  Now. 

Due to a variety of circumstances, I am not preaching on Sunday.  Perhaps that is for the best.  Or perhaps preaching would have been a way to give honor to the day and my father.  Nevertheless, I will have God's word declared to me by another. 

I am the pastor and I will preside at worship.  I will light a candle for my dad.  I will read the names of the saints.  I will acknowledge in a small way the power of naming the saints, of remembering.      

But most importantly, I think for this coming Sunday, I am first and foremost a daughter.  A daughter who misses her father.  A daughter who yearns for time to go backward.  A daughter looking into the light and trusting in the words of others that resurrection is real.  

"By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high
will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet in the way of peace."
                   -Luke 1:78-79

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Bean Bag Toss

Today is one of those days that brings a smile to my face.  Today is one of those days that reminds me why I love being a pastor.

On Reformation Sunday during the Sunday school hour all ages gathered to play and learn and experience the Reformation.  We had different activities and games and stations.  Pumpkins were carved and letters were written to those who aren't able to join us in worship.

The week began and I loaded my car with the pumpkins and cards.  One of my favorite stops is to a senior living facility, both assisted and independent.  As I walked into the building I noticed Jean, the sister of one of the congregation members, sitting in the living area.  She's with  a group of residents.  I greet her and share with her the pumpkins and cards.

"It's bean bag toss time.  Every Tuesday afternoon we play."

I've heard all about the bean bag toss game.  Every time I visit I hear how great Jean is and how many prizes she has won!  Even now I hear from her friends how Jean masters the bean bag toss.

The activities coordinator pairs them up and they are ready to play.

They get three bean bags each to toss during a turn.  Each bag is three points.  The first person to reach 21 is the winner.  Together we cheer and clap and encourage one another.  Of course there is also plenty of laughing when the bean bags end up far away from the hole.

Jean is up and her partner is Don.  Don is up first and he gets three in the hole right away.  Sitting next to me is the score keeper and she leans over and says to me, "Don can't see a thing."

I smile.  "Well, Jean can't hear so they are some pair!"

Jean and Don take turns and it is a close game.  Jean says, "I must be nervous with a guest."  She ends up losing.

Later I challenge Jean to a game and I must have beginner's luck because my first three bean bags go directly in the hole!  We all cheer.  Jean playfully feigns anger.

I win.  I go over and shake her hand.  

Jean says, "See what you have to look forward to?

I know she speaks with sarcasm.  Yet, I can't help but be grateful at this moment.

I see a community that gathers to play together.  To playfully tease one another.  And to encourage one another to do the best you can, however you can.  It's a joy to be in their presence.  It is a humbling gift.

The Piggy Bank

It's that time of the year again. 

An intentional time of the year for people to hear how God has blessed us and how we can shine God's light through our time and talents. 

It's that time of the year again. 

As a congregation, we talked and talked and talked about how to share our time and talents.  

Then something happened. In the midst of our efforts talking about shining God's light among and with the people of the congregation, God's light broke through with the actions of a child.

During the children's sermon, Rusty was asking the youth where they share their gifts and how they help others in the community and at school. We heard about the youth cleaning up after the lunch room rush, welcoming a new student on his first week, and a neighbor offering homework help to the new kid in the neighborhood. Some were listening, some were watching each other, but all the adults had their eyes on the children.

Anna was sitting on the floor watching everyone and listening to Rusty. Layla was with her mom on the pew when she noticed the bright blue piggy banks next to her. The piggy banks were given to the Sunday school class to think about where their money goes. How do they save, spend and share. Layla sees the pig and she sees Anna. Off her mom's lap she goes and grabs the piggy bank to give to Anna.

Two children sharing. Two children knowing perhaps more intimately than adults what it is to give and love without restraint.
Thank you Layla and Anna for shining your light.

Later during the offering as the plate was being passed down each pew, I hear the pitter-patter of small, delicate feet. I turn around to see Layla once again sharing. She is running, running with the click and clack of her shoes, to drop her offering in the plate. She gives without thought, gives as a gift of love.

Thank you Layla for shining your light.

Thanks be to God that it is always that time of year to be amazed by God's shining light. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012


This weekend, all around the world the Muslim community celebrates the holy holiday known in The Gambia as Tobaski.  The festival of the sacrifice.  God summoned Abraham to sacrifice his son, Ishmael.  Abraham obeyed.  Before the sacrifice occurred, God stopped Abraham from his task.  Abraham obeyed.  His son's life spared.

I know the story.  I've heard about Abraham's faithfulness and his obedience to God.  I've read and heard sermons preached on the angst of Abraham at having to sacrifice his son.  Yet, he obeys.  Abraham as one of the ancestors of the faith for Jewish, Christian and Muslims.  Abraham as a model of faithfulness.  I know the story.

Or so I thought.

During my first celebration of Tobaski, a three-day affair in The Gambia, I attended all the required prayers, I bought new clothes, I helped clean the compound, and I helped cook.  And I watched the sacrifice of the rams.  (Of course since I had a camera my family wanted pictures of the event).

Each year during Tobaski rams are sacrificed to remember Abraham and his son Ishmael.  As I stood there watching the sacrifice of the ram, my brother leans over to me and says, "Do you know why we slaughter rams?"

He says, "We slaughter rams to remind ourselves that Ishmael could have been killed, but God didn't allow it; God saved us and gave us life."

It wasn't about Abraham, it was about God.  God's grace.

Throughout my two years in Africa my definition of God and worship and faith expanded.  Old stories were made new.  New stories were revealed.  New understandings broke through.  God was alive and active and life-giving for me.    

I give thanks for my Muslim brothers and sisters across the world.  I give thanks for the opportunity to learn from one another.  I give thanks for the opportunity to love one another.  We are all God's children.

Each year as Tobaski is celebrated I offer the same prayer.  I pray for this world and all the opportunities we have to point away from ourselves and to point to God.  I pray that we see God in our neighbor, in the stranger, and in the enemy.

Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Lessons from the Apple

I should have been prepared.

I should have known.

The church hosted a Fall Fest at a members' home and one of the activities included apple bobbing.  Good ole' fashion apple bobbing.

Full of water and an assortment of golden and red apples, the youth waited with anticipation.

"Can I go first?"

"I want to go!"

One by one, heads went in.  One by one, water covered faces, hair and clothes.  One by one, apples came up with each youth collected by their teeth.

Then came the words I should have anticipated:  "It's your turn, pastor!"

I had no excuse.  I wasn't sick.  I'm not really afraid of germs.  If all the youth could do it, why not me?

Except, I couldn't remember the last time I bobbed for apples.  If ever.  How do you exactly bob for apples?

But bob I did.  I received lots of advice.

"Just plunge your head in!"
"Grab it by the stem.  No, that's cheating!"
"Push it to the side."

And bob I kept doing to no avail.  No apples were being lifted out of the water.  

Finally as a resort to spare myself any further humiliation, I invited someone else to challenge me to see who could get the apple first.  If someone else could get an apple, perhaps I could be spared any further failed efforts.

My challenger came forward and we counted: 1, 2, and 3, GO!

In went his head, completely submerged, and not seconds later he came up with an apple.

I still had no apple.

But that's okay.

There was plenty of laughter and screams and joyous expressions when my challenger went head first right into a cold bucket of water.

Cheers abounded.

Then one of the youth grabbed an apple for me and gave it to me.  "Here you go, pastor!"

I took a bite.  Pure joy.  I may not have acquired the apple the proper way in true apple bobbing fashion.  I may have given up.  Thankfully someone else was there to provide a way for me.  

Many others that day didn't give up.  There were youth and adults who kept going back in the bucket.  I reveled in their determination and gave thanks for each of them.  For their commitment.

I give thanks for those who are able to dive right into life no matter what obstacles get in the way.  And I give thanks for those who offer an apple, those who offer hope, to a fellow brother and sister.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Festival of Sharing

Truth be told, I still don't quite understand.  

It's my second year in Sedalia and my second time on the Fair Grounds in Sedalia, MO for the Festival of Sharing.  Every year hundreds of youth descend on Sedalia and the fairgrounds for a YouthFest where they worship and work sorting items, loading and unloading food and boxes.  Every year large, very large, quantities of rice, beans, school kits, backpacks, health kits, quilts and prison kits arrive in Sedalia for sorting and shipping.  Every year an untold number of people across the state of Missouri and across the world are impacted by the Festival of Sharing activities. 

Doing some research in preparation for the day, the Festival of Sharing website states:  "The third Saturday of October is the day that people of faith, from many different denominations all over the state, gather at the Missouri State Fairgrounds, in Sedalia. The groups and families bring money that has been raised and “kits” that have been assembled during the year. Volunteers help to sack rice, beans and potatoes for distribution to Missouri agencies. In the afternoon state agencies bring their trucks and trailers to receive the kits, rice, beans and potatoes to distribute to their clients. Kits, assembled for Church World Service, are loaded on a semi truck to continue their journey to other parts of the world."

The youth and adults from the church I serve in Sedalia gathered at 7:30 a.m. at the fairgrounds for a devotion and donuts.  The fall day was crisp and the sun beginning to shine.  Trucks already being loaded.  Sacks of potatoes being flung.  

We each were asked if we could pick up one of the youth by ourselves?  
There were attempts.
But it was difficult.  

Then we put our arms together and took part in a trust fall of sorts passing one of the youth across the length of our arms.

Together we are stronger.  Together we can make the work go quicker.  Together we can be the Body of Christ.  

"Now, let's get to work," said the youth leader.  

And work we did.  

We sorted and packed and shipped and loaded and laughed along the way.  We said prayers for the families and children and prisoners who would receive the kits.  We praised God for the gift of life.  

Throughout the morning working and witnessing hundreds of youth come together in service, it was hard to understand the full impact this one day would have across the state and across the world.  Perhaps I'm not meant to fully understand the Festival.  Perhaps in not understanding, I can begin to contemplate the enormity of the need and the enormity of the response of so many youth from across the state of Missouri.  

In not understanding I begin to trust that others will help me along the way.
In not understanding I open myself to hearing stories from our neighbors.
In not understanding I keep myself open to the mysteries of a servant God.    

Perhaps in not understanding I can simply roll up my sleeves and begin working.

So check out the website - and we'll see you next year!