“If you really want to understand why the church is declining in North America, you need to recognize how frightened most of our people are by the word ‘evangelism.’” David Lose, pastor of the Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis wrote that statement a number of years ago, and yet, I think there is truth to it, even today. For some, it comes from being on the receiving end of someone else’s evangelism. Whether asked “Have you accepted Jesus?” by a domineering brother-in-law or “Do you know where you’re going when you die?” by a well-meaning but intense co-worker, too many folks have experienced evangelism as coercive, even threatening.
For others, the explanation isn’t nearly as sinister. It may be a conviction that religion isn’t something polite people talk about; or that one’s faith is private; or simply the desire not to be perceived as one of those people (you know, the kind we just described).
Whatever the reason, many of us not only have little experience in evangelism but are downright frightened of it. And that, of course, cripples our ability to reach out with the good news. In light of this situation, John’s story of Jesus’ baptism might be the perfect reading to invite us not only to admit our dis-ease with evangelism but also begin to overcome it.
Except this isn’t exactly John’s account of Jesus’ baptism, at least not as told in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Each of those writers records Jesus coming to John the Baptist to be baptized, describes the descent of the dove, and shares the message of the heavenly voice. But the Fourth Evangelist is characteristically different. Here we get a second-hand account from the testimony of John the Baptist. But, quite interestingly, he doesn’t actually baptize Jesus in this gospel; instead he only shares what he sees.
And that may be the larger point of this story from the Fourth Gospel -- that when it comes to our relationship with Jesus, our primary job is to see and share. Not threaten, not coerce, not intimidate, not woo or wheedle or plead, but simply to “come and see” and “go and show.”
John the Baptist does that here. He sees the dove descend upon Jesus and tells others what he sees. That’s it. Andrew later does the same. He tells his brother what he and John’s other disciples saw -- the person they believe is the Messiah -- and invites Peter to come along and see for himself.
Could it be that simple? At its heart, evangelism is noticing what God is doing in our lives, sharing that with others, and inviting them to come and see for themselves.
Where do we even get this understanding of evangelism? Remember this isn’t only what John the Baptist does, and it’s not only what Andrew does. It’s also what Jesus does. When Jesus notices some of John’s disciples following him, he asks them what they are looking for. They, in turn, ask where he is staying. He doesn’t give an answer. He doesn’t question further. All he does in response is make an invitation: “Come and see.”
Notice. Share. Invite. These are the three elements of evangelism, sharing the good news of what God has done and is still doing through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for us and all the world. These are the three elements that Pastor Lose teaches his congregation about evangelism. The challenge, of course, is that most of us have little experience in any of these activities, so let’s take a few minutes to look at these elements together.
Notice. I have always wished that we would begin every church board meeting, every council or committee meeting, every confirmation class with five minutes of folks taking turns naming where they saw or felt the presence of God in the world and their lives. Or maybe, since at first that may be difficult, we just name those places we saw where God needed to be -- places of tragedy or distress or hurt -- and then over time we may get better at noticing where God actually is -- in the first responders or relief workers or a caring neighbor or friend. Over time, we develop the capacity to see God in our lives and the world. In all of it…the light and the dark, the good and the bad, the highs and the lows. And in all the times in between.
Share. Most of us are nervous about sharing our faith, either because of uncomfortable experiences we’ve had with feeling judged by others, or simply because we’ve never done it. That means practice is probably the only solution to this problem. For this reason, this is what Pastor Lose does in the congregations he leads or teaches in. He says, “when I’m teaching in congregations I often invite folks to turn to someone near them and share one reason they like this church, one reason they like to come. It’s intended to not be a big deal, and yet it sometimes is simply because we’re not used to doing this. But we can learn. The first time I tried this, an elderly man came up to me afterward. I wasn’t sure what to expect, as some folks definitely don’t like this kind of exercise at all. But he smiled, introduced me to his wife and said, “I want to thank you. You see, this gal and I have been going to church together for sixty years. And it turns out we’ve never known why the other comes!” Yes, we can learn.
Invite. This may at first seem the hardest of all. It can feel so intrusive, and of course it puts demands on us to follow through. And yet … think about it: we invite people to things all the time. To join a book club or play pickleball, to go to an after-school event or to come over for dinner, to attend a sporting event or to go shopping. We’re actually quite good about inviting folks to come to things … just not to church. And, of course, we invite people to those things we really like, those things we’ve enjoyed and think others would, too. We need to ask ourselves first, what elements of our church life do we most value? That is, we’re not just going because we have to but because we enjoy it. Then, our task is simply to think about who might also enjoy this event or activity and invite them. Framed this way, it’s probably not as hard as it seems.
Okay, this is a lot and, clearly, hearing one sermon can’t make us all suddenly feel comfortable with sharing our faith. But, being in worship together today can get the ball rolling, and we can all commit to practicing more regularly the skills we see in today’s scripture: to notice, share, and invite.
Beyond all this, one more thing: think about how small these things are as they play out in the first chapter of John’s Gospel, and yet also notice what huge results they have, reaching far beyond what the participants involved could ever have imagined. John the Baptist simply shares the wonder of what he saw, and Jesus gains his first disciples, people who will carry his message to the ends of the earth. Jesus invites them to come and see, and they leave their homes and families to embark upon God’s great adventure. Andrew tells his brother he really ought to meet Jesus, and the rock upon whom Jesus will build his church falls into faith.
From the beginning of creation until now, God delights in taking little things -- things the world decides are nothing -- and doing something wonderful through them. So it can be with our initial attempts to share faith, our tentative ventures into telling others what we’ve seen and felt. They may feel like very small efforts, yet the God who brought light from darkness and raises the dead to life wants to -- and will! -- do marvelous things through them. Thanks be to God!
Rev. Lisa Drysdale
January 19, 2020
god in it all
Mark 1:4-11 (The Message)
This past Monday, January 6, in the rhythm of the church year, the feast of the Epiphany was celebrated—the manifestation of God in earthly form. Taking its themes from the journey of the Magi, the “wise” foreigners who undertook a journey of discovery in search of the Christ child, Epiphany reminds us that the Divine does indeed show up in unexpected places—among ordinary people in ordinary settings.
The fact that Mary and Joseph were an ordinary young couple making the best of a tough situation, reminds us that the light of God’s presence can shine in the midst of our own dark nights.
The fact that ordinary shepherds were among the first witnesses of the greatest story ever told, encourages us to be awake and alert to the good news of Christ’s presence in the wilderness places of our own lives.
The fact that the Magi were Gentiles reminds us that even though Jesus was the King of the Jews, he was born as a Savior for all humankind, not just those who were specially chosen.
This is good news for all of us!
On the Sunday following Epiphany—today--we commemorate Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River, which launches us into the season between Christmas and Easter which we identify as Ordinary Time.
In Christian tradition, the weeks between the Birth and the Resurrection are called Ordinary Time because we are not celebrating any particular mystery of our faith but rather the mystery of Christ with us in all aspects of our lives. The Incarnation—God with us in the flesh—transforms every aspect of our human experience into a place of encounter with the Holy One. It takes more than a day or a week to fully live into this reality; it takes practice to learn how to recognize it.
Joan Chittister writes, “The time between Christmas and Lent, and the time between Pentecost and Advent [are] known as Ordinary Time, time outside the seasons of the two great feasts of the church. Time to rest in the contemplation of those [things that are at the center of our faith], that are the lodestones of our souls…in this period that is between the two poles of the life of Jesus, we get to pause awhile. To take it all in. To make the connection between that life, that reality, and our own. Ordinary time gives us time to contemplate the intersection between the life of Jesus and our own…In the liturgical year we live the life of Jesus day after day until one day it becomes our own.”
After Christmas this year, I heard what seemed like “confessions” of a sort, from a number of people who said that they just couldn’t “do” what the Christmas season “required” of them. To deal with their flagging spirits during Advent and Christmas, they chose to simplify, or minimalize, or even give up some of the things they would normally do during the season. When Christmas was over, then, they were able to breathe a sigh of relief, almost, and turn their focus toward the New Year. They seemed glad and energetic to be able to do that.
Some people [though], find themselves in an emotional slump after the intense waiting of Advent, which culminates with Christmas, and then is followed immediately by celebrations associated with the chronological New Year. This letdown is understandable given the adrenalin-pumping pace of the holidays. It can feel like everything we looked forward to is now behind us and all that lies ahead is cold weather (for some) and getting back to work.
However, the celebration of Epiphany—with its emphasis on how God visits us in the midst of the ordinary—can actually fill us with anticipation. Epiphany reminds us that Ordinary Time is a season when things can get really exciting as we reflect on the “extraordinarily ordinary” aspects of Jesus’ birth story and renew our determination to seek God in the ordinary aspects of our own lives as well.
Just a couple of months ago, from her home in Michigan, Maggie Paulus wrote beautifully about this very time…”ordinary time.”
She wrote, “Today I walked across the yard and cried. Not because I was sad, but because I was heart-achingly happy.
Happy because my yard is full of a thousand leaves that crunched beneath my moccasined feet.
Happy because I felt the wind again across my face.
Intensely happy because even though my boy had slammed his finger in the door, he ran, fast as those legs of his could carry him across the yard, and I had the incredible privilege of opening my arms up so big and wide and pulling him into my comforting embrace.
I was happy because he got to have a Lightning McQueen Band-Aid and it immediately made him smile again. Moments later, he came tromping in, requesting a Band-Aid for his sister and then he tore out across the yard again, just to tape a little bit of happiness onto her perfectly fine finger.
And when I saw that, the way he ran toward his sister, whooping and hollering that she could have a Band-Aid, too, I lost it. Carrying the lawn chairs out to the shed to store them up for winter, I nearly wept.
Because why do I get to be witness to such beautiful things?
Why have my days been blessed with a kitty to pet and a stove to cook on and running water that’s always clean? Why do I get to have a handsome, loving bearded husband and three rambunctious beautiful kids, and why do I get to know about God and how come my heart is so heaping full of Him?
I don’t know the answer to these things. Especially, when I’m face down on the bathroom linoleum, crying out to God for the suffering that I read about and see. My sisters that are trafficked by pimps, trapped and abused. My brothers who suffer at the wrath of evil men. Little children who go through the most unbelievably horrendous things.
Sometimes I don’t at all know how to live this life.
I just know that every day is a gift and that the Maker of mine offers to share all these moments with me.
Some people have supposed that the Creator of the cosmos, holy as He is, would only dwell with the super spiritual folks. Or perhaps, that He’d only show up when His earth children were doing obviously spiritual things. You know, like preaching and praying. Like meditating and sacrificing or singing worshipful songs to Him.
But, the God in the narrative of Scripture never meant His children to separate their lives into distinct realms, as if some parts of our lives were secular and other parts were sacred. No, the God who conducts November winds and adorns the grass with frost, bids us to live even the mundane parts of our days in the Presence of His light-bearing face.
Coram Deo. It means before the face of God.
It signifies that there are no demarcation lines between what is spiritual and what is not. So that scrubbing the commode and chasing my kids in the yard, before the face of God, is every bit as sacred as preaching a message on Sunday.”
God is in it all. The extraordinary times, and the ordinary times.
There is a Christian practice that can help us remember that God is in it all. It is called the examen of consciousness and it is so very simple. All we have to do is take a few minutes at the end of every day to review the events of that day asking God to show us evidence of the Divine Presence we might have missed. (You may prefer to take a few minutes in the morning to look back on the previous 24 hours.)
As we reflect on every aspect of the day—waking, showering and dressing, eating, commuting, relating with others, difficulties and challenges at work, moments of pleasure and pain, consolation and desolation, decision-making, interacting with the news and needs of the world, returning home, the evening spent with friends or family, working late, crawling into bed—we can ask God, “Show me where you were present, making the ordinary extraordinary.”
When we incorporate this simple practice into our daily routine, Ordinary Time becomes anything but ordinary, and our awareness of “God in it all” grows.
Stephen Orchard wrote this poem, and I think it offers us a great way to begin this kind of daily practice:
“We thought we knew where to find you;
we hardly needed a star to guide the way,
just perseverance and common sense;
why do you hide yourself away from the powerful
and join refugees and outcasts,
calling us to follow you there?
Wise God, give us wisdom.
We thought we had laid you safe in the manger;
we wrapped you in the thickest sentiment we could find,
and stressed how long ago you came to us;
why do you break upon us in daily life
with messages of peace and goodwill
demanding that we do something about it?
Just and righteous God, give us justice and righteousness.
So where else would we expect to find you
but in the ordinary place with the faithful people,
turning the world to your purpose through them?
Bring us to that manger, to that true rejoicing,
which will make wisdom, justice, and righteousness alive in us.
Rev. Lisa Drysdale
*Stephen Orchard, Bread of Tomorrow: Prayers for the Church Year, Janet Morley, ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1992), p. 48.
getting close is risky!
We’ve been hearing a lot in the news lately about Christianity Today, the evangelical Christian periodical that was founded in 1956 by Billy Graham. Graham started the magazine as a counterpoint to The Christian Century, the predominant independent periodical of mainline Protestantism, and as a way to bring the evangelical Christian Community together. If you need or want to know more about why Christianity Today has been in the news, Google it. There’s a lot to absorb and think about there.
I subscribe to The Christian Century. Since 1956, Martin E. Marty was a columnist and the senior editor for The Christian Century. For decades, I loved reading Martin Marty’s columns, and now I look forward to reading the “From the Publisher” column written by his son, Peter W. Marty. Peter became the publisher in 2016, and also serves as the pastor of the 3,500 member St. Paul Lutheran Church in Davenport, Iowa. In the November 20, 2019 issue of the magazine, Peter Marty wrote about an experience he had at the Grand Teton National Park, and it completely captured my attention. Here’s what Peter wrote:
“At the Grand Teton National Park Visitor Center, my wife and I listened to Rick leading an outdoor presentation for park visitors. He had on the sand-colored Stetson hat and gray shirt with the arrowhead-shaped emblem patch that gives park rangers their look.
Across a gigantic boulder in front of him Rick had draped a grizzly bear skin. He was explaining how to deal with grizzlies in the event that we should encounter one while hiking. This is not a scene we are used to in Iowa. There we have squirrels, and nobody gives talks about how dangerous they are.
After providing standard advice about hiking together and making plenty of noise, Rick turned to the bear spray clipped to his belt. “You’ll want to use this with care,” he said. “Always make sure to take the wind into account.” I imagine that, were I face to face with a grizzly, I’d be thinking more about my grave than the wind. But, point well taken: it’s bear spray, not self-spray.
Rick continued, “You’ll want to spray this toward the bear, but not when the bear is too far away. Wait until she is 30 feet away so that the cloud of mist doesn’t dissipate too soon.” I carry energy bars when I hike, not a tape measure. And who in their right mind would actually wait for a bear to get sufficiently close? But Rick knows more than I do. I kept listening.
“Bear spray is 99 percent effective,” he said. My mind immediately went to the 1 percent and how researchers might have arrived at that statistic. “In the event that the spray fails you, you’ll want to lie face down on the ground and play dead. Plant your face in the dirt with hands on your neck, legs spread slightly.” By the way, if you don’t know the definition of vulnerable, this is it.
“Oh, and if you have a backpack, keep it on. It creates more distance between you and the bear.” I couldn’t help thinking of those energy bars. Why would I want food within three miles of my body with a bear breathing down my neck? But, hey, Rick is wearing that Stetson hat, and he has 30 years of experience I don’t have.
The more Rick spoke, the plainer it became: risk is inevitable if you want to get close to nature. If you’re risk averse, keep your distance. Sightsee from your car. Study wild animals in a magazine.
When I reflected later on this obvious truth, it struck me that the same reality holds true for our relationship with God. If you want to get close to the Lord, there are risks involved. You become part of a people who don’t look exactly like you and whose company may unsettle you. You throw your money behind causes larger than your next Amazon purchase. You take to heart Jesus’ mandate about feeding kids who don’t ask to be hungry.”
Talk about risky…let’s think for a moment about today’s scripture in Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a prophet to a nation on the edge of a cataclysmic change, a nation that stood on the brink of an abyss, and at the bottom lay the end of their history as an independent nation. All they could do was stand on the walls of Jerusalem and look to the horizon for the conquering armies that stood poised to sweep them off their land and into exile.
The portion of Jeremiah 31 we are looking at today is the one bright spot in an otherwise depressing book. The 30th and 31st chapters of Jeremiah are known as the “Book of Consolations” because within these chapters the prophet holds out the eternal hope that no matter how bad things get for Israel and Judah, God will still keep the covenant, God will turn back to the people with compassion and the people can and will be restored to God’s good graces.
The passage speaks of restoration—salvation brought by the Lord, the return of exiles from the farthest corner of the earth, even the most fragile and helpless of society sheltered and protected—all at the hands of a loving and forgiving God. Everyone shall be forgiven and brought home again.
In some ways, this text reads like the second half of a terrible joke. “What do you want first? The good news or the bad news?” Before we get to chapters 30 and 31, Jeremiah has already delivered the bad news. And you know what? We know about bad news, too. We live in disruptive times. While not unprecedented, we are living in a time that leaves us reeling, wondering what on earth and in heaven is going on. Anyone who lives in disruptive times looks for companions who have been through them earlier, wanting to know how they went through it, how they made it, what it was like. In looking for a companion who has lived through catastrophic disruption and survived with grace, biblical people more often than not look to Jeremiah…they receive him as a true, honest, and God-revealing companion for the worst of times.
And this is why…our text today finally springs the good news on the people of Judah, and on us. And it is good news, indeed! It’s totally amazing, almost unbelievable. The good news is that if we are willing to risk drawing close to God, then there is always hope. We may need to work with God a little bit to make the good times roll again. We may need to intentionally place ourselves in situations that make us uncomfortable. We might have to back up our words with our actions. But there is always hope.
Back to Peter Marty. He concludes his reflection about the risks of getting close to God this ways: “If want to avoid the risks associated with getting close to the Lord, keep your distance. You can choose to talk about God, which is what a lot of religions and pledges of allegiance do. If you want to get close to the Lord, prepare for some vulnerability, and be open to letting faith splay you wide open. Risky as loving this One may be, it’s our only way of getting near to the grace and mercy we so desperately need.”
Thanks be to God for the never-ending gift of hope.
Rev. Lisa Drysdale
Ugh! Not Again!
Matthew 3:1-12 (NRSV)
I have found this year’s Advent scriptures particularly difficult to deal with. The world already seems so dark and painful…and off course. I feel the distress of others more this year than in the past. A part of me wants to curl up under the comforter and call it a day. Every day. By 9:30 a.m.
And then in “walks” John the Baptist. Ugh.
One of my favorite writers in the Christian Century at the moment is Matthew Johnson. He is offering up some particularly helpful (for me) and insightful (to me) thoughts about these Advent scriptures. Regarding this story of John the Baptist he tells the story of the liturgist who got to share today’s reading in worship at his church one year. When the liturgist got to the end of the selection, he turned to the pastor, paused, and said, “Um, that seems mighty harsh.” Indeed! This story of John the Baptist’s appearance is anything but warm and cozy, like that comforter I wouldn’t mind crawling under these days.
Years ago, Calvin Chinn, another writer for Christian Century told about how “John the Baptist is alive and well in San Francisco. He appears at the corner of Powell and Market Streets, where long lines of tourists wait to catch a cable car ride over scenic Nob Hill and Russian Hill on the way to Fisherman’s Wharf. He enjoys a captive audience. Some days, you can choose from among several candidates. Whether toting a sign or a Bible, their message is the same. Repent! Or else!
Chinn went on to say that “These days, I don’t find the message inappropriate. I may be put off by their appearance, but from the first John the Baptist in the gospels to the ones I encounter today, we need to pay attention to their message: Repent!”
I have to say, this is not the message I sense most people want to hear ringing in their ears during these days leading up to Christmas. You will absolutely hear all sorts of Christmas music playing non-stop starting in early NOVEMBER, but you will not hear this message much, if at all: Repent! It’s a word/action that carries a lot of baggage for a lot of us.
Chinn said he was told recently that his progressive theology did not take the call for repentance seriously enough. “I was challenged to address the issue of how my denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), could change its ordination standards to permit LGBTQ candidates to be ministers without requiring them to repent of their sins. The accusation bordered on a vicious attack.” I guess this is where my own head tends to go when I hear someone shout “Repent!” I sense a vicious attack. Or I sense it as a threat, maybe, because “or else” is usually verbalized or implied after the shout of “Repent!”
Chinn went on to say, “The irony is that I do take repentance seriously. A colleague once wrote that ‘everyone reads the Bible selectively, no exceptions. The question, for everyone, is, ‘what do I select to follow, to value, to credit and why?’” This, my friends, takes a lot of head and heart work. What do I—what do you--select to follow, to value, to credit, and why?
So let’s be absolutely clear: Advent hope is about God coming, AND this God who comes is disturbing. John the Baptist doesn’t just say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” He doesn’t just say, “Repent, change the way you live,” but repent and prepare for the coming of the kingdom of heaven which will ruffle all your securities and overturn anything you try to leave in place.
But here’s the good news (because if I can’t identify the good news, then I really never will get out from under that comforter): Yes…our world is full of injustice, oppression and unrighteousness—I personally feel this so deeply, these days—so something has to give when God enters this world, and it is not going to be God.
The good news is that repentance allows for the possibility of change! The very God who calls US to repent was once called on by Moses to repent, AND GOD REPENTED. (See Exodus 32:14….) God is a God who doggedly pursues wayward people, holding out the possibility of life when situations point to death. This is why we look, during these days of Advent, to the scripture in Isaiah that tells us “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his root. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:1-3)
This is why we draw such great comfort from what Isaiah continues to say: “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6)
So we have a shoot growing from a stump, and a return to paradise where animals live at peace. The wolf dwells with the lamb. The dangerous, predatory animal is invited to play with its prey. The enemy is made the guest. The poor and the vulnerable need not fear, but can welcome their oppressors. All of this is the undreamed-of result of God’s righteousness and justice…and our willingness to repent.
In these days of turmoil, we can use a heavy dose of repentance. Calvin Chinn said “The world would be a better place if more of us confessed, apologized, sought forgiveness. If we can get past the strangeness of John the Baptists, his message to re-orient ourselves needs to be heard. We have ears. May we listen!
Rev. Lisa Drysdale
breaking and entering
Matthew 24:36-44 (The Message)
In a recent issue of the Christian Century, Matthew Johnson said about today’s scripture reading exactly what has been on my heart as we have moved—seemingly at a rapid pace!—to the Advent Season. He wrote, “As Advent begins, I want to be drawn into an anticipation of joy. I yearn to have the Spirit encourage my imagination, to point my heart toward wholeness and reconciliation.”
He goes on to acknowledge that this text from Matthew does little to spark that feeling. Earlier in chapter 24, some of the disciples ask Jesus about “the end of the age.” Now he is deep into answering them, imploring them to be ready for what is coming. Matthew Johnson says he is troubled by what Jesus says to them, and I have to agree with him. I am troubled by what Jesus says.
Jesus talks about the surprise of the great flood in the day of Noah—how people just went on living, oblivious to what was about to arrive. An end that comes with destructive force is troubling, no matter how great the new thing that emerges might be. Jesus speaks of the end as if some will be swept up and disappear. Communities will be separated, families divided. It’s all very troubling.
Matthew Johnson is associate pastor at Barrington United Methodist Church in Barrington, Illinois.
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And then he compares the Son of man’s “coming at an unexpected hour” to that of a burglar, or a thief, as some translations write. Unexpected like a thief? That is downright terrifying.
Matthew Johnson tells of a memory from childhood—a memory of discovering that someone had broken into his home. I am grateful that I have never had this experience myself. Maybe some of you have. Johnson wrote: “My family and I returned just before evening, and the sun had almost set behind our 1920s-era bungalow. I remember being struck by the way the fading orange light obscured the details of the structure and the lone oak tree behind it. All we could see from the sidewalk was a glowing shadow, as if the gabled roof had swollen or grown a head.
“As we walked up the steps, things felt amiss. It was difficult to tell in the twilight haze, but the lines of the door were off. A small triangle of darkness rested in the kick plate of the screen door. The oak door behind it, normally a burgundy rectangle, had become a trapezoid. Passing headlights reflected off its two square panes of glass and projected the mirror image of a family photograph that hung on the perpendicular wall. The door was ajar.
“My mother swept my brother and me away from the door and back out to the sidewalk. My father grabbed a piece of driftwood he’d found in Lake Superior and stowed under the porch swing. He’d planned on repurposing it into furniture, not a makeshift club. He raised it in his right hand and stepped softly across the threshold.
“Remembering that day, I am troubled that the Son of man might arrive with criminal intent. It seems contrary to the nature of holiness and the gift of grace. We claim he’s our Prince of Peace, not [a Prince of] thieves.”
If Jesus said this now, the story might be different. Home surveillance companies are raking in billions with the assurance that they can blanket every square foot of our residences with camera coverage. Intruders, package thieves, misbehaving pets, and even the Son of man should beware. In that scenario, I’d say I could be ready. I’d have the upper hand. That is, unless the end were to arrive like a thief during an internet outage.
Matthew Johnson says he wants to believe this criminal comparison is just a poorly conceived metaphor. If that were true, I think we’d all feel better. “Just a handful of verses later, Jesus speaks in more positive terms, saying the kingdom is like a wedding and being ready is about attending to the bridegroom. I want to believe this was all concocted by a sect of his early acolytes, those convinced their rabbi messiah would be back soon enough to steal them away part and parcel. I want to believe that Jesus is just in a bad mood throughout this chapter full of doom—destruction, disaster, persecution, Matthew’s patented “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
“Yet I actually believe this illustration is intentional.
“That day of shadows lit in orange, when things outside our home were ajar, nothing inside seemed different. Nothing was missing. If things had been rifled through, the prowler had been meticulous about putting them back. As my brother and I nodded off in the yard, the police came and dusted for fingerprints—but if anyone had been inside, they left no trace.
“Looks like you were lucky,” an officer told my mom.
“Except that for a long time every creak of the floor or rattle of the furnace made us jumpy. Every little thing that seemed different had us second-guessing that officer’s assessment. It felt as if we were constantly guarding against a ghost.
“A week later, our neighbors awoke to discover a gloved man lurking around their living room by candlelight. By the time the police arrived, all they found were the doors sprung open, the same as ours.”
Maybe—whether we want to believe it or not—maybe the Kingdom of God has to be sneaky—because otherwise we probably wouldn’t cooperate. In perfectly apocalyptic fashion, maybe we need to be disrupted so the true nature of our faith can be revealed.
Johnson continues by saying, “If a new beginning is to take place, a number of things I value greatly will need to be stolen—things far more harmful than the dishonorable behaviors Paul warns against in Romans 13. I excel in divisiveness. I have perfected the art of letting anger linger. I draw strength when finding the fault in others. I refuse, quite often, to let my aims be sidelined or even interrupted. I struggle to give any of these things up willingly. Having them stolen might be the only way I let them go.”
Matthew (the gospel writer!) delivers a blunt reminder: Advent can be a season to remember that what you and I hope for is rarely what we need, nor is the way God gives it the way we’d prefer to receive it. This Advent, we can all be working on being ready for that—ready enough to accept that this season brings trouble with the aim of establishing joy. Thanks be to God for getting our attention.
Rev. Lisa Drysdale
water can flow
John 4:7-15 (NRSV)
The water looked clean, but the children kept getting sicker and sicker. No one knew what to do. "One time, I had four children all in the hospital at once," says a pastor named Justin in the African nation of Rwanda. He didn't understand about germs and disease transmission in the local water.
Then Larry and Carolyn McBride showed up on a mission trip from Saddleback Church in California. After seeing children carry dirty river water over long distances, they returned home with a deep desire to do something for thirsty African children. The McBrides gathered friends for prayer and planning. They began to craft clean-water systems for Rwandan hospitals, clinics, orphanages and pastors' homes. Their project, called the Clean Water Initiative, also created teams to equip hundreds of Rwandan church volunteers to improve health and sanitation in 116 communities.
The Clean Water Initiative provided a water filter for Pastor Justin's home and funded a well in the community. "We have people coming from all over to get clean water, and we haven't been back to the hospital since," he reports. "It has changed our lives and given us hope for the future."
Teams are now taking Clean Water Initiative technology and education around the world - to Argentina, Mexico, Tanzania, Tibet, Kenya and East Timor. They're even going to Haiti to help combat the cholera outbreak. The McBrides dream that "no child would miss another day of school or die of such a preventable death."
New life begins with just one drop. Jesus knows this, which is why he cries out in the seventh chapter of John, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the Scripture has said, 'Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water'" (John 7:37-38).
Whenever the Bible speaks of "living water," it's pointing us in several directions. Living water can mean fresh, running water - water from a spring, as opposed to a container. It can also mean life-giving water. In this case, Jesus is suggesting both because he knows that fresh, running water is also life-giving water - something everyone needs for a life of health and vitality. Just ask the children of Rwanda.
But John the gospel-writer offers a third meaning of “living water.” John is convinced that the living water Jesus offered to the woman at the well and to the crowds of people gathered at a festival is nothing less than the fresh, running, life-giving Holy Spirit of God, which comes to Jesus' followers on the day of Pentecost, and is available to us every day. Living Water. Holy Spirit. Both change our lives. Both give us hope for the future.
Clean water and the Spirit of God can flow together in some powerful ways in the mission of the church today. An organization called Living Water International exists for one simple reason: to provide "a cup of water in Jesus' name." They know that when they give thirsty people something to drink, they're really serving Jesus. For decades, this Houston-based nonprofit has been building clean-water wells in poor parts of the world. It believes the simple presence of one clean-water well can transform a community. Clean water leads to health, which leads to productivity, which leads to education and commerce and forward progress. It isn't just about a cup of cold, clean water. It's about a future.
Jesus tells us the power of the Holy Spirit has the same effect. When we turn to Jesus in faith, we receive a free-flowing and life-giving Spirit who has the power to transform our lives. The Spirit makes us happier, healthier and better able to serve God with passion and purpose. Just one drop. That's where it begins. Then the flow of the Spirit becomes a river of living water.
Our transformation begins with just one drop - a drop of concern for a child in poverty. That drop can turn into a trickle - a trickle of help for a neighborhood in need. This trickle can become a river of living water - a river that carries the good news of God's love around the world, washing over people with improvements to their spiritual and physical health. Whether fighting cholera in Haiti or installing water filters in Rwanda, Christians are changing lives as they follow the Holy Spirit's leading. Jesus' words are coming true: "Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water" (John 7:38).
It can start with just one drop. The installation of one water filter. The digging of one well. But once the water begins to flow, nothing can stop it. Same for the Holy Spirit.
Rev. Lisa Drysdale
water can be still
Major-league baseball is now off our radar (and television) screens until the third week of February, when the league’s “Spring” training kicks into high gear. But don’t despair! There is still plenty of football ahead. Maybe you’ve heard this before…George Carlin musing on the nature of baseball and football:
Baseball is played in a park - a baseball park. Football is played in a stadium - often called Soldier's Field or War Memorial Stadium.
Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life. Football begins in the fall, when everything is dying.
Football is concerned with downs. "What down is it?" Baseball is concerned with ups. "I'm not up. Is he up? You're up!"
In football, you receive a penalty. In baseball, you make an error. Oops!
In football, the specialist comes in to kick something. In baseball, the specialist comes in to relieve someone.
Football has hitting, clipping, piling on, spearing, personal fouls and unnecessary roughness.
Baseball has the sacrifice.
In football the objective is for the quarterback, sometimes called the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense, hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy, in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use the shotgun, with short bullet passes and long bombs. He marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial attack with a sustained ground attack, which punches holes in the front line of the defense. In baseball, the objective is to go home and be safe.
If you were in worship last Sunday, you will remember that we are thinking about water for a couple of weeks, and using the story of Noah and the flood, we thought about how water can be destructive AND purifying. This week, I want us to think about how water can be still. The difference between destructive water and still water can be as dramatic as George Carlin’s understanding of the difference between baseball and football!
Psalm 23 tells us that the Lord, who is our shepherd, leads us “beside still waters.” I love that image. I believe we are led “beside still waters” so that we can become still. So that our souls can be restored. But there is no doubt in my mind that achieving a stillness that can restore us is very hard to do. This is not news to you…most of us are always on the move. With all that is demanded of us (in reality, or in our own minds) it is hard to figure out how to be still.
In my pastor’s article for the November/December edition of our church newsletter, The Good News Focus, I wrote about my love of napping. I offered up a photo of my 2-year-old great-nephew, Nolan, coming to a full-stop on his walk on the canal path, to take a nap! At least, that’s what I imagine he is doing. Right there on the pavement. Totally relaxed. Oblivious to where he is. I just assume his little body was completely worn out and he had to stop. And be still. I know it is not easy to give ourselves permission to close our eyes and be still, but Psalm 23 tells us that is, in fact, one way in which God takes care of us. God leads us beside still waters, so we can become still.
For so many people though, even if we are able to achieve some level of stillness in our bodies, we can’t still our minds. Our brains resist being still, I think. I’ve heard stories from so many people who know how excruciating it can be to be in bed, their body completely still, but they cannot fall asleep because they cannot still their mind. “He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.” Tell that to the person who cannot rest at night. They probably have a completely different story to share.
We all do so much during each day to stimulate our brains, often on purpose! An article in the Buffalo News on October 18 reminded the reader how the phrase “use it or lose it” has dominated our thinking on how to—in theory--protect our (aging) brains, and as we tend to do, when we think something is good for us, we find ways to overdo it! Now, according to this article written by Carolyn Johnson, a study published in the journal Nature, suggests more isn’t always better. Excessive activity—at least at the level of brain cells—could be harmful.
As I understand it, there is a protein in our older brains called REST (is that not perfect?) that tamps down genes involved in sparking brain activity. After some testing on mice and roundworms, scientists found that in some very long-living roundworms, when the REST protein is increased, the brain activity decreases and the roundworms live longer. Fascinating! Cynthia Kenyon, vice president of aging research at Calico Labs said, “I think this is overactivity, out-of-control excitation—it’s not good for the brain. You want the neurons to be active, when and where you want them to be active, not to be just generally firing off.”
A favorite verse for many people comes from Psalm 46: “Be still and know that I am God.” Be still. Lead me beside the still waters. Restore my soul.
Henri Nouwen said, “Without solitude it is almost impossible to live a spiritual life.” I would suggest, “without times of stillness, it is almost impossible to live a spiritual life.” Living in a world of constant noise and distractions, we are exhausted and disconnected. Yet scripture commands, “Be still and know that I am God.”
Many fear silence and stillness because it often forces us to slow down and listen to our minds, our bodies, and our spirits. But the promise we hear in Psalm 23 is that our souls will be restored by still waters. There is something about water that is still that brings us comfort, peace, rest. A chance to catch our breath.
For just a moment, I want you to call to mind a place you love that has still waters. Picture yourself by that water. Take a deep breath, and let it out.
Know that God is in that stillness. And be restored.
water can be destructive
Genesis 6:11-22 (NRSV)
I enjoy being near water. I like that I live an easy distance from the Niagara River, the Erie Canal, Tonawanda Creek, Ellicott Creek, and Lake Erie. I love being on the beach on the Gulf Coast of Florida, in Englewood, south of Tampa. What I do NOT like being near is waves. What I do NOT like being near is hurricanes. What I do NOT like being near is tsunamis. It’s true that I’ve never personally experienced a hurricane or a tsunami, but I am confident I do not like them.
We are nearing the 15th anniversary of the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, one of the most powerful and deadliest natural disasters ever. On December 26, 2004, an undersea mega thrust earthquake that registered a magnitude of 9.1-9.3 occurred off the west coast of northern Sumatra, Indonesia. People on the coast felt the earthquake, of course, but then many of them became fascinated by the rapidly receding water…it was like all the water was being sucked away, and behind it there was this great expanse of ocean floor that people had never seen before, never walked on before. So they ran out onto the newly exposed ocean floor.
Fifteen to twenty minutes after the earthquake, the first waves of that ocean water came roaring back to the coast. The tsunami waves topped 100 feet, and traveled as fast at 500 mph. For nearly 230,00 people, there was no time to get out of the way.
I was serving the Salem United Church of Christ in the city of Tonawanda at the time of this tsunami. I remember very clearly that we wanted to give people in the church opportunities to make donations to organizations that were trying to offer assistance in the aftermath of this disaster, so we created a massive bulletin board in the fellowship hall, filled with photographs from the Buffalo News and Time Magazine and National Geographic, with information about where to make donations. When I close my eyes, I can still see some of those photographs…particularly the ones that show the 100 foot wall of water approaching the coast, and the ones that show mothers and fathers and children clinging to the branches of trees or sitting on the roof of a house, hoping against hope that they would not be swept away in the water. They probably were. I looked at those photographs for months, and they made me deeply sad. As hard as I tried, I just could not fully imagine the fear and panic that must have suddenly gripped the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands of people as the relentless walls of water came.
We hear at the beginning of Genesis that God had an idea, about water. With just a word from God, a dome appeared, separating the waters from the waters. The waters above the dome were separated from waters under the dome. God called the dome Sky. And it was good. A little later, God created humankind, and that was a good day, too.
A long time later humankind wasn’t so good; in fact, humankind was behaving in an ugly fashion. Then God had another idea about water and with another word, water came, floods of it. It fell from the sky, it rose high on the earth, and God’s simmering anger drenched everything everywhere, and only those few animals and humans aboard the boat survived. The earth was purified. What I want you to hear this morning is that God’s message about the flood is a beautiful message which came in a time of great ugliness.
Why? Because the story tells us that at the time of Noah, human consciousness and the resulting behavior had become quite ugly. Our words and actions reflect the peace, or lack of peace, the beauty or ugliness, in our hearts. What we think affects our behavior, and our behavior affects the world we live in. Long after the world was first created by God’s word and pronounced good, the world had indeed become an ugly place. The descendants of Cain and Seth had multiplied greatly and spread broadly across the land, and everything had become a mess. The thoughts and hearts of the children of Seth and Cain turned continuously to evil, and so naturally the world reflected their thoughts and hearts, and it became an ugly, awful, and evil place. God was not pleased (Genesis 6:1-6).
So God had a thought to destroy all of it except for Noah’s family and the animals who went aboard the ark. God had this thought, said the word, and the waters became ugly, and began to fall, and to rain, and rain, and flood the earth, until all living creatures were blotted out, purifying the earth, washing it clean (Genesis 6:7-8).
As terrible as it sounds, God used chaotic, destructive water to purify the earth, to cleanse it from human thought, from human behavior, and from human life. As painful and destructive as it sounds, this story of water has everything to do with God’s ongoing desire to purify us. Even though God regretted making humans, even though God saw that humans had made a mess of everything, even though all of that happened, God decided to give all of humanity a second chance at getting it right.
We can be thankful that we are made in the image and likeness of God. Human beings may have behaved badly, we may have had ugly ideas, and sometimes live ugly lives, but we were — and we are — innately, intrinsically well made, and deeply good.
In Noah’s day, when God was frustrated with the way humans behaved, and with the way things turned out, God gave all of creation a thorough washing and a second chance. If God could give such second chances to all of earth and humanity back then, then certainly God, who continues to wish to purify us and make us whole will give us second chances—and third and fourth chances—today.
So let us give thanks that even though this most basic element of nature—water—has the power to destroy, God uses water to purify and heal. Thanks be to God. Amen!
Rev. Lisa Drysdale
who doesn't love a good eraser?
“School days, school days, dear old Golden Rule days …” If you remember that old song it means you’re, well, old; (Note: I do NOT remember this song!) and that means you’re at least old enough to recall when the front of your school classroom featured a big blackboard on which all of your assignments for reading, writing and ʼrithmetic were carefully inscribed by your teacher with chalk. (Notes: I DO remember blackboards!)
In fact, you might’ve been the good kid who got the special privilege of cleaning the erasers by banging them together, creating a cloud of chalk dust which had everyone coughing for five minutes. Or maybe you were the bad kid who got after-school detention and had to wipe down the whole board with a damp cloth. Whether you approached it for praise or punishment, or to work out that difficult math problem in front of the whole class, the blackboard was the nerve center of classroom life.
It still is to some degree, although kids today will never know the smell of a cloud of chalk. Instead, they get the alcohol smell of the markers for the dry-erase board, which started to phase out the blackboard in the late 1980s. Actually, the blackboard’s demise started a little earlier than that with the advent of the green chalkboard, which was made from steel and porcelain and was less fragile than the older, heavy, slate boards. The green color was also supposed to be easier on the eyes, and the chalk powder didn’t show up as much, making it easier for the Bart Simpson-esque class clown to wipe it down after school. The evolution of the classroom board continues today as some schools have “smartboards” that allow what’s handwritten on them to be immediately photographed, digitized and downloaded — no need for copying down your homework.
We might think of the blackboard as ancient technology, but the truth is that since civilization began in Mesopotamia, people have been scribbling on things, and then correcting their mistakes. The Akkadians and Babylonians used wet clay tablets and a stylus for writing, the marks of which were easily erased unless you wanted to bake the clay and make them permanent. The Romans used wax tablets that could be warmed and reformed as a kind of early Etch A Sketch. In fact, Rome is where the term “clean slate” comes from. In Latin, tabula rasa means “clean slate.”
Of course, if you want something to be permanently written, you “write it in stone.” The first real document we encounter in the Bible is written that way, the Ten Commandments being chiseled on stone tablets when Moses was in conference with God on Mount Sinai. The Israelites carried those tablets around in the Ark of the Covenant for generations until the Ark itself rested in Solomon’s Temple. It was the set-in-stone covenant that God had made with Israel, but that covenant itself had had its own evolution of media, from God’s first toddler-like instruction to Adam in Genesis 3 (“Don’t touch! Don’t eat!”) to Abraham’s bloody path of animal guts in Genesis 15. Stone tablets seemed more sophisticated by comparison, communicating God’s word to his people in a permanent medium.
In Jeremiah’s day, however, those stone tablets were gone. They disappeared sometime during the Babylonian invasion of Judah and the subsequent exile of God’s people to Babylon around 586 BC. Whether they wound up in a forgotten hiding place, were destroyed or are languishing in a warehouse in New Jersey, nobody really knows. What we do know is that the exile was a major event in the history of God’s people, destroying the world as they knew it and leaving them with an uncertain future. How were they to move forward now that the covenant with God had been broken by their sin? What was to guide them when the tablets were no longer around to give them the rules? How would they now relate to God on the other side of exile?
Through Jeremiah, God had promised the people they would return from exile and have their own land again and God promised not to leave the people to suffer endlessly for their sins. Whereas the old covenant was chiseled in stone and offered no practical means, other than endless animal sacrifices, to erase the sins they committed, God promised the returning exiles a new covenant. It wouldn’t be like the old Sinai covenant, which was brittle enough that they broke it repeatedly. Instead, God would write this covenant on their hearts — a “heartboard” that could be repeatedly erased, cleaned and made new. “I will put my law within them,” said God through the prophet, “and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people”.
In an elementary school classroom, you might expect the rules to be framed and hung on the wall for all to see, and if you violated them, you might be required to write them 25 times on the chalkboard, whiteboard or smartboard as a punishment. Whether that punishment is effective, however, depends on the orientation of the child. No amount of scribal repetition will change the hard heart of a rebellious child. In a high school classroom, on the other hand, you’re less likely to see the rules scribbled out on the wall. Instead, those rules should already be internalized by people old enough to have the capacity to know what’s right.
The same is true for God’s people. Knowing the commandments and obeying them are two separate things. To obey freely, one must have an inward sense of what’s right and wrong, an inward orientation to please the one in authority, and a desire for repentance and forgiveness.
God’s people had spent 70 years in exile. It was like a timeout — plenty of time to figure out what they had done wrong. Going forward, God now expected them to relate to him in a different way — not as coerced, chastised children, but as people on the way to maturity. Repentance and forgiveness were the means by which God would work in his people, forming them into a covenant community based not on external compulsion but on internal communion with God.
No longer will they need those stone tablets or endless, repetitive instructions about who God is. Instead, they will know God by God’s grace, by God’s forgiveness, by what God does in their hearts. And what is God doing there? Erasing the brokenness. “For I will forgive their wickedness,” says the Lord, “and remember their sins no more”. In other words, their “heartboards” could be cleaned and renewed.
And in the ultimate reversal, they wouldn’t have to clean those boards on their own as a constant punishment. Instead, Someone was coming who would take their punishment on himself and enable their hearts to be washed clean of their sin forever. Jesus embodied the new covenant, and we who are his people by his grace are made new, our sins erased and our lives given a tabula rasa, a clean slate.
What’s inscribed on your heartboard? Maybe it’s a problem from the past, a sin you can’t shake, a fear or shame that binds you and keeps you in exile from God. Hear again the good news: God is ready to wipe your life clean through the grace of his Son, Jesus Christ. No need to pound the erasers!
Rev. Lisa Drysdale
October 20, 2019
to love and be loved
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Since 1901, the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded 99 times. Over the years, 89 men, 17 women and 24 organizations have received it. Last October, the prize went to Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. In 2017, the Nobel was given to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Ten years ago, Barack Obama received the prize for his efforts to strengthen international diplomacy.
Forty years ago? Well, that was 1979! Do you even remember 1979? 40 years is the number of years that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness. Forty years is the amount of time it takes for a new generation to arise.
Forty years ago, on October 17, 1979, Mother Teresa of Calcutta was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She heard a call from God to help the poor, and she founded a group called the Missionaries of Charity. In India, Mother Teresa and her helpers built homes for orphans, nursing homes for lepers and hospices for the terminally ill. According to the Nobel website, she was a “saint in the gutter.”
In her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, she said, “I am sure this award is going to bring an understanding love between the rich and the poor. [That] is why Jesus came to earth, to proclaim the good news to the poor. And through this award and through all of us gathered here together, we are wanting to proclaim the good news to the poor that God loves them, that we love them, that they are somebody to us, that they too have been created by the same loving hand of God, to love and to be loved. Our poor people are great people, are very lovable people, they don’t need our pity and sympathy, they need our understanding love.”
One particular word pops up again and again in these lines from Mother Teresa’s speech: love.
The group that Mother Teresa founded in 1950 is called the Missionaries of Charity, an organization that now has more than 5,000 members. They are focused on charity, but unfortunately that term is often misunderstood. So often we think of charity as the act of giving help to people in need, typically in the form of money. But the word “charity” comes from the Latin caritas, which means “affection.” Charity is fundamentally Christian love and affection, not a monetary gift. We should all be missionaries of charity.
Forty years have passed since Mother Teresa gave her speech. She died in 1997 and was declared a saint in 2016. A new generation of Christians has arisen. So how are we doing on the goal of creating “an understanding love between the rich and the poor”? How are we doing with Christian love and affection?
In his second letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul challenges his younger colleague by saying, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David — that is my gospel” (v. 8). When we “remember Jesus Christ,” we remember his words about love — words which are not so much a fuzzy feeling as they are a call to action: In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus commands us to “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
When asked which commandment is the greatest, Jesus says, “ʻYou shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39).
Jesus also gives the order, “Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High” (Luke 6:35).
“If you love me,” says Jesus, “you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
So, what does it mean to remember Jesus? Love your enemies. Love the Lord your God. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love Jesus. Love one another. Show so much love that you lay down your life for your friends. In other words, be a missionary of charity. A missionary of Christian love and affection.
The world needs this kind of Christian love now more than ever. In the United States, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, and there is not much “understanding love” between the two. In 2015, according to the Economic Policy Institute, the top 1 percent of families took home an average of 26 times as much income as the bottom 99 percent. Income inequality has risen in nearly every state, and it has a lot of negative effects, including increases in crime, increases in illnesses and decreases in high school graduations.
Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize for reaching out to the poor with Christian love. She didn’t judge them, but instead offered them affection and assistance. Her loving actions were the way she remembered Jesus Christ, “raised from the dead,” even though these actions caused her hardship. We can do the very same, as we seek to create “an understanding love between the rich and the poor.”
In the novel City of Peace, a stranger appears at the door of Riverside Methodist Church on a Sunday morning. He says, “I’ve been out of work for a month, and money is real tight. I could really use some food.”
“We’ve got a food pantry,” says Harley Camden, the pastor, “and you are welcome to a bag of groceries.” Harley has a lot to do before the Sunday service, and he feels annoyed that this scruffy, middle-aged stranger has ambushed him. But Harley has been in the business long enough to know that ministry happens in and through interruptions, so he decides to try to be patient.
“I was delivering pizzas, but I wrecked my car,” says the man as he starts to examine the shelves of canned food and dry goods. “They couldn’t keep me on without a car. I’ve been looking ever since, but it seems like nobody’s hiring.” Harley stands nearby as the stranger slowly fills his bag, examining each food label. “Sorry to hear it,” the pastor replies, wishing that the guy would make his selections a little faster.
“You know, I’m a pretty spiritual guy,” says the man when he finishes filling his bag. “I can feel things. People say I have a sixth sense. I knew the exact moment my brother died, even though he was far away. I feel the Spirit is here, right here in this church.” “Really?” replies Harley, surprised. “Thank you.”
“No, thank you,” says the man. “I appreciate the groceries.” And then he slips out the back door and heads down the street, leaving Harley to marvel at the people he has met who have keen spiritual sensitivity, folks with built-in radios that can pick up stations no one else can hear.
In City of Peace, Harley Camden discovers the truth of what Mother Teresa knew in 1979: “Poor people are great people, are very lovable people, they don’t need our pity and sympathy, they need our understanding love.” All of us, rich or poor, are created by the same loving hand of God, made to love and to be loved.
So let’s commit to this in the life of this church: let’s commit to doing our best to present ourselves to God as disciples who actively love God, love neighbor, and lay down our lives for our friends. Missionaries of charity. Amen.
Rev. Lisa Drysdale
Luke 17:5-10 (NRSV)
I despise roller coasters. At least, I think I do. I haven’t been on a roller coaster in decades, but I distinctly remember the last time I was, probably at Seabreeze, in Irondequoit, near Rochester. Seabreeze is not known for having the world’s largest roller coasters, but still, riding the one they had was enough to make me hate them. You know how the very first thing you do on a roller coaster ride is slowly head up a huge incline? That’s when I started crying and screaming. On the way up.
But for some people, there’s something exhilarating about traveling at high speeds, being dropped from terrifying heights, and feeling like you just might lose your life. And do you know what these people do when they finish the ride? They get in line to do it again! They want more! Unbelievable.
Most of us tend to look at life this way. If something is good, then more of it will be better. So we make faster roller coasters—or live in bigger houses, buy fancier cars, and so on. But at some point, living in a culture where bigger is better leaves you thinking that what you do or what you have isn’t enough.
I read something this week written by Dennis Sanders, the Lead Pastor at a church in Minnesota. He wrote, “When I was called to be the pastor at my church six years ago, I wondered if I could do it. I spent five years as an associate pastor, but could I really be a solo pastor of a church? As someone who is on the autism spectrum, I am always wondering if anything is enough. I felt like I entered this profession with so many deficits. Can I preach good sermons? Can I engage in small talk? Can I connect with the congregation? Can I be a leader? Can I be a Christlike presence to those around me? It’s hard to look at other pastors—people who are master speakers and can exegete like nobody—and not feel inadequate.”
I desperately wanted to tell Dennis that he isn’t alone, and his feeling of inadequacy isn’t because he’s on the autism spectrum. I’ve been in ministry for nearly 35 years, and any time I am around a group of pastors, I find myself asking the same questions Dennis asks. It’s hard not to feel inadequate! Many, many pastors ask the same questions. With shrinking congregations and budgets, we wonder, can we continue this ministry to the community around us? Can we afford it? Why can’t we draw people like that megachurch down the road?
In today’s reading from Luke, the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith. Like us, the disciples tend to think that more is better. If they could only have a bit more faith, then everything would be great. They have seen what Jesus has done. Jesus made blind people see, removed leprosy from the skin of people, cast out demons, fed 5,000 people with a few fish and a little bread, and so much more. How do you live up to that? They realize there is no way that they can do what he did with their puny faith. If they want to do even 10 percent of what Jesus did, they will need an extra-strength faith. That’s the world we live in: more is always better.
But Jesus counters this by telling his disciples that to move a mountain, you only need faith the size of a mustard seed. It’s not about having enough faith. Being faithful is doing what God would have us do in the world even when we think our faith is incomplete and doesn’t measure up. Jesus is not a figure skating judge who rates us on our faith.
In Thursday’s Daily Devotion from the UCC Writing Group, Kenneth Samuel, pastor of Victory for the World Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia, wrote about his English teacher from 7th-9th grade, Ms. Hutchinson. He wrote, “She stands a demure 4’11”, wears spectacles and is quite soft-spoken. When she walks into a room, no heads turn. There is nothing at all intimidating about her presence or her demeanor. You’ll likely not find her leading any kind of protest or vociferously espousing any campaign.
Yet, for the past sixty years and counting, Ms. Hutchinson has been one of the most effective warriors for quality public education in our nation.
“She doesn’t fight with protests and press conferences. She fights by proving that when school resources and broader community resources are invested adequately, even children in the ghetto can excel academically. She fights by non-abrasively advocating for pedagogical means that measure critical thinking capacity, not just test-taking proficiency. She fights by being relentless in her efforts to instill within each of her students a sense of self-esteem and self-respect. She fights by personally inviting the parents of her students to take seriously their roles as partners and mentors in the educational development of their children.”
Pastor Samuel goes on to reflect: “There is need for change and reform in so many areas of our nation’s collective life. Do we need mavericks adamantly pushing for reform on the front lines? I think so.
But we also need fighters who understand the strength of inobtrusive perseverance. We also need warriors who face impossible odds every day, but who still fight to make progress—quietly but impactfully.”
With this great example in mind, are you reminded of God’s preference for small things? Gideon, the weakest guy in the land of Israel, is called by God to defeat an occupying army. His 300 men defeat thousands on the other side. When Samuel meets the strong, handsome sons of Jesse, God chooses the youngest, David, over his brothers. And God chooses a young, poor woman—living in Israel under the Roman occupation—as the one who would give birth to Jesus. God is into using what little we have and performing great works.
God doesn’t need us to believe enough. God calls us to be faithful—to seek to do God’s work in the world. Faithfulness is about being a witness to the grace and mercy of Jesus; it is about trusting in God’s faithfulness to us even when our faith is wavering. We are faithful when we proclaim the good news and do acts of compassion, even on those days when our faith seems small. It’s faithful to pray with a family when they learn their loved one is not going to get better. It’s faithful to bring communion to a church member who can’t make it to worship. It’s faithful to come together to write notes thanking a guest for their presence in worship, and encouraging them to come again.
The disciples don’t need more faith, and neither do we. We are called to trust God with the faith we have. It’s not a fancy faith and it may not seem like much, but in Christ it will move mountains. It is not about having enough; it’s about knowing that we are enough. Thanks be to God!
Rev. Lisa L. Drysdale
Psalm 71:1-6 (the Message)
Once upon a time…I’m told…people used to hide their money under the mattress.
But then they figured out that the mattress was one of the first places that burglars look for cash. So they decided to put their money in an old sock in the bottom of the sock drawer ... in a watertight plastic bottle in the tank on the back of the toilet ... in an envelope taped to the bottom of the cat's litter box ... inside a big coffee cup in the back of a cupboard ... or in an envelope inside a DVD case.
Very clever. But not completely secure. You don't want to come home and find that your spouse has given away your copy of the movie The Color of Money. You know, the Paul Newman, Tom Cruise film. The one that is filled with your money!
Fearing such losses, most people choose to put their money in bank accounts that can be accessed online with the use of passwords. We come up with a simple string of characters -- somewhere between six and 16 -- and figure that our money will remain safe.
Well, maybe it is. Maybe it isn't. It may be no safer than if it were sitting in a plastic bottle in a toilet tank.
According to Wired magazine (November 15, 2012), a password is no longer an adequate means of securing precious data. No matter how complex or unique, our passwords can no longer protect us.
As we know so well, hackers are now breaking into computer systems and releasing lists of names and passwords on a regular basis. We are putting so much personal information in the internet "cloud" that it is ridiculously easy for nefarious people to figure out our passwords. That’s why there’s so much focus on a two-tier system of recognition…someone would have to know my password and have my fingerprint, or my eyes, to access my information.
This is all very depressing. We can only hope that Internet security experts are still working hard to stay one step ahead of the bad guys. At some point, we're going to have to move past the password altogether. Or go back to taping an envelope to the bottom of the cat's litter box.
Psalms 71 challenges us to think long and hard about the source of our security. For years, we have trusted government to provide us with political security, law enforcement to provide us with community security, our medical system to provide us with health security, and our financial system -- including online banking -- to provide us with economic security. But we are learning every day that there can be breakdowns in these systems.
In today's cloud-based world, where is solid security to be found?
The writer of Psalm 71 calls God "a granite fortress, our bedrock," one who can free us "from the grip of the wicked". The psalm challenges us to put our faith in the Word of God instead of in human words, in online passwords; to place our faith not in technological fixes, but in theological fixes, and be willing to put our personal information in the eternally secure "cloud" that is Almighty God. We can reveal everything to God and trust God to protect us and save us.
The psalm begins with the words, "I run for dear life to God, I’ll never live to regret it". We do not know if the psalm-writer was being really being chased by enemies and needed to hide, or if he was struggling with illness, weakness or age, and needed healing and help. But in any case, he pleaded to God, "Do what you do so well: get me out of this mess and up on my feet".
At times, we all need a strong fortress -- a refuge that cannot be penetrated by hackers or criminals, illnesses or enemies, failures or betrayals. We long for a place that is a rock of refuge, a mighty fortress, a bulwark that never, ever fails.
Martin Luther felt the need for such a place when he took his stand against the Roman Catholic Church during the Protestant Reformation. In 1529, he wrote a hymn which began, "A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; our helper he amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing."
These English words are powerful, but the original German is even better. Historian Michael Streich points out that Luther compares God not only to a fortress, but to a stronghold -- what he calls a "Feste Burg." The word feste points to a strong and completely secure tower, and by doing this Luther stresses the absolute power of God over the invading forces. This is why the hymn's second verse ends with the triumphant prediction, "Christ will prevail triumphant!"
"A Mighty Fortress" moves us past the password to something much more secure -- to a completely unbreakable stronghold created by God.
But Luther goes deeper in the German version, speaking of a "Feste Burg." Historian Streich explains that "a Burg was a fortified town. When invaders approached, the surrounding populace fled to the safety of the walls" -- sometimes to layers of walls within walls. In his hymn, Luther is saying that God is like the most powerful of all Burgs, one in which nothing can breach the walls.
When we need a place of refuge, God offers us his Mighty Fortress, his Feste Burg. This stronghold cannot be hacked or broken into, since it stands as a fortified town with eternally unbreakable walls. Inside this fortified town, we are delivered, rescued and saved by the Lord who desires to have an eternal relationship with us.
Let's be clear, however -- life in the Feste Burg is not free of struggles. As long as we live, we are going to face what Luther calls a "flood of mortal ills." We will still experience personal attacks, betrayals, failures, illnesses, and the difficulties that come with advancing age. But God acts as a helper amid the "flood of mortal ills," one who supports us and shields us from complete annihilation.
Inside the Mighty Fortress we discover that (as Paul so beautifully writes in Romans) "neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).
Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Absolutely nothing. That's real security, much more powerful than a password.
Psalm 71 continues with the words, "My God, free me from the grip of the Wicked, from the clutch of Bad and Bully". The writer of the psalm is turning to God for help, and asking to be rescued from the cold grip of wicked, unjust and cruel people. In short, writes biblical scholar J. Clinton McCann, Jr., "the psalmist trusts that God -- not the wicked -- rules the world."
What a bold statement of faith: God rules the world. The psalmist is saying that God the Creator is really in charge of the grand sweep of human history, despite the evil, unfair and heartless acts that people commit every day. God can be trusted to work his purposes out, in spite of the selfish and sinful decisions that people make.
To trust God in this way is to concentrate on living according to God's priorities. As the members of British indie folk band Mumford & Sons sing in the song "Awake My Soul":
In these bodies we will live,
in these bodies we will die
And where you invest your love,
you invest your life.
Most of us have learned how to invest our money, putting it in various online accounts with password protection. But have we learned how to invest our love, putting it into words and actions that serve our neighbors and glorify God? The writer of Psalm 71 has learned how to do this, saying, "For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth". If outsiders looked at us, would they see evidence that we have put our complete hope and trust in God?
"You keep me going when times are tough," says the psalmist; "I’ve hung onto you from the day of my birth…I’ll never run out of praise". If neighbors assessed our spiritual investment strategies, would they see signs that we have been hanging onto God and offering praise?
Where you invest your love, says the song, you invest your life.
But so often we make our investments elsewhere.
Psalm 71 challenges us to put our total trust in God, rather than in the people or institutions of this world. It invites us to depend on the Lord for security, rather than on anything that lies behind a password-protected Internet portal. When we put our faith in God, we discover that he is a rock of refuge and a strong fortress. We find that he is strong and willing to help us, as he guides us through the grand sweep of our lives.
Invest your love in God and in his plans for the world. There you will find security, eternally.
Rev. Lisa Drysdale
September 29, 2019
fear cannot lead
Judges 7:1-8 (Contemporary English Version)
Experiencing fear every now and then is a normal part of life. I assume we all know that. If we couldn't be afraid, we wouldn't survive for long. We'd be walking into oncoming traffic, stepping off of rooftops and carelessly handling poisonous snakes. We'd be hanging out with people who have tuberculosis. In humans and in all animals, the purpose of fear is to promote survival. In the course of human evolution, the people who feared the right things survived to pass on their genes. In passing on their genes, the trait of fear and the response to it were selected as beneficial to the race.
I did some reading about “fear” this week. I can tell you I did not just wake up one morning thinking I should know more about fear. Instead, I read a very brief devotional based on the idea that fear cannot lead. It cannot take the lead. The devotional was written by UCC pastor Kaji Dousa, and her reflection was based on this passage we are thinking about from the book of Judges.
Well. I don’t think I’ve ever preached from the book of Judges! Why would I? In Eugene Peterson’s The Message, he writes a synopsis of the book of Judges and says, “Sex and violence, rape and massacre, brutality and deceit do not seem to be congenial materials for use in developing a story of salvation.” No…no, they do not. Even so, in this book there is this great story about Gideon preparing to fight a mighty battle for God’s people, Israel.
As an aside, Gideon is quite a guy, and I laughed when I re-read about an encounter he had with God, where he is trying to make sure that going forward into this battle is, in fact, what God is calling him to do. Listen to this, from Judges 6.
Gideon said to God, “If this is right, if you are using me to save Israel as you’ve said, then look: I’m placing a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If dew is on the fleece only, but the floor is dry, then I know that you will use me to save Israel, as you said.”
That’s what happened. When he got up early the next morning, he wrung out the fleece—enough dew to fill a bowl with water!
Then Gideon said to God, “Don’t be impatient with me, but let me say one more thing. I want to try another time with the fleece. But this time let the fleece stay dry, while the dew drenches the ground.”
God made it happen that very night. Only the fleece was dry while the ground was wet with dew.
So Gideon began his preparations for battle. And I found myself thinking about fear. During the 19th-century debate surrounding evolution, the "face of fear" -- that wide-eyed, gaping grimace that often accompanies sheer terror -- became a talking point. Why do people make that face when they're terrified? Some said God had given people a way to let others know they were afraid even if they didn't speak the same language. Charles Darwin said it was a result of the instinctive tightening of muscles triggered by an evolved response to fear. To prove his point, he went to the reptile house at the London Zoological Gardens. Trying to remain perfectly calm, he stood as close to the glass as possible while a puff adder lunged toward him on the other side. Every time it happened, he grimaced and jumped back. In his diary, he writes, "My will and reason were powerless against the imagination of a danger which had never been experienced." He concluded that the entire fear response is an ancient instinct that has been untouched by the nuances of modern civilization [ref].
Most of us are no longer fighting (or running) for our lives in the wild, but fear is far from an outdated instinct. It serves the same purpose today as it did when we might run into a lion while carrying water back from the river. Only now, we're carrying a wallet and walking down city streets. The decision not to take that shortcut through the deserted alley at midnight is based on a rational fear that promotes survival. Only the stimuli have changed -- we're in as much danger today as we were hundreds of years ago, and our fear serves to protect us now as it did then.
But look at what today’s story in Judges says about fear. God felt like Gideon’s gathered army of 32,000 men was too big; God felt like an army that big would take credit for the win, and not remember God’s hand in all of it. In an attempt to whittle down the army from 32,000, God told Gideon to make a public announcement: “Anyone afraid, anyone who has any qualms at all may leave Mount Gilead now and go home.” 22,000 took God up on this offer. They headed for home.
God was planning to do something decisive and wanted the people to know it for the miracle it was. “If you’re afraid, that’s ok. Just go home.”
Fear could not take the lead. God was very clear about this.
Kaji Dousa reflected, “It is not bad to fear; it is a natural response to danger. The trouble is not feeling afraid. [But] problems arise when fear takes over. Fear cannot take the lead for any of our major advances, especially as we do the work of God. Fear cannot be the start of the advance, the impetus behind the action, the driving force.”
Fear cannot take the lead.
To pull all of this much closer to home, much closer to our own lives and hearts, consider the decisions of your day.
Is there a choice you need to make, an action you need to take, where you have been putting fear in the lead?
If so, remember Gideon’s shrinking army and know that God needs you (God needs me) to sift that fear out, set it aside, and send it away.
As Kaji Dousa concludes her reflection, “Setting aside the fear makes room for the miracles to occur.”
May it be so for us! May we be ready for a miracle. Amen!
Rev. Lisa Drysdale
what's your sacred space?
Psalm 27:1-6 (Contemporary English Version)
In April, 2016, Elizabeth Palmer wrote about sacred space in the Christian Century. She said, “I was in Boston for a day, and my friend asked if there were any local sights I wanted to see. I tentatively suggested the Liberty Bell. ‘That's in Philadelphia’ my friend laughed. ‘But I know where I'll take you. You're going to love this place.’ We got on the interstate and drove to a shopping mall. We entered next to a seafood restaurant, took the elevator down to the basement, and walked down a hallway. I heard chanting and prayers. Vested priests were lined up in a procession. We were at the doors of a Carmelite chapel. The 4:00 mass was about to begin, and the pews were packed.
“A chapel in a shopping mall is counterintuitive, but as I worshipped that day I marveled at the ease with which sacred and secular mixed in that holy space. The church was adorned with statues of Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Jude, and Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The sermon was lively, the cantor's voice was like honey, and more than 300 people received the Eucharist.
“At the same time, people were in and out--shoppers with their bags, some of them talking loudly in the hallway and others coming into worship. The gift store next to the chapel, where I bought my daughters orange and yellow cross-shaped suckers, reminded me that we were, indeed, inside a mall--at the crossroads of commerce, where the swipe of a credit card could secure tangible souvenirs made of corn syrup and wrapped in plastic.”
It is nearly impossible to define what is “sacred space,” because what is sacred is different for everyone. There may be general agreement about some very famous spaces, like the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. When that 800+ year old cathedral dealt with a massive fire on April 15, news reports used the words “horror,” and “gasps” and “grief” to try to describe people’s reactions to the scene. French President Macron, recognizing the profound effect this tragedy was having on people, vowed to have the church fully repaired in five years.
What space is sacred to you? I asked this question of the members of the church’s 20/20 Vision Team. The Team has been working to discover what is most valuable to this congregation in terms of mission, worship, and even very practical things like advertising, and welcoming, and…where we choose to sit in this large sanctuary when we worship together. Here’s some of the committee members’ reflections: a sacred place is a place that is dark, quiet. It’s a beach; a place where one can feel completely in tune with the surroundings; there’s such power in being in the presence of water. It’s a view of mist on water, and ducks, and music. It’s a room in my house that is quiet, and exactly the right color, and there are personal knick-knacks and religious books around. See how personal sacred space can be?
Then I had the 20/20 Vision Team engage in an experiment one evening this past winter. We came into the sanctuary and everyone sat where they would normally sit on a Sunday morning for worship. We were, as you can imagine, no where near each other. I sat behind the pulpit. A couple sat near the back. Others sat near the side aisles, near a pillar, in a particular pew. For five minutes, there was complete silence, and we just sat in our spaces, looking around, trying to understand what it is about that particular space that makes us feel comfortable. In reflecting together after the five minutes were up, we noted the calming effect of the blue color though millennials might say its an old-fashioned color. We talked about the comfort that comes from sitting in a pew where family has always sat. There’s a comfort for some in sitting where certain, dedicated, hymnals are near, or where certain people are always near.
Then we all moved to sit in a spot where we never sit in this sanctuary! Five more minutes of silence and paying attention. Then the reflections came: some felt completely disconnected from everything and everyone by sitting in the back. For those who sat right up front, they said they felt closed in, and didn’t like the thought of people sitting behind them looking at them, or they felt alone sitting near the front.
From there, we sat in a circle on the floor by the steps, then we moved to sit in a circle right on the chancel. We talked about how this spot—and being in a circle—brought a deeper sense of intimacy. All of a sudden, the ceiling didn’t seem so massive. Being closer to the cross on the chancel made the space feel especially sacred.
This was a very small experiment in thinking about sacred space. What we are doing together for a couple off weeks is also a small experiment in thinking about sacred space. Why are you drawn to a certain space in this sanctuary? What happens for you when you attempt to experience the spirit of God in a different space? What bothers you, and why? What comforts you, and why? We do have a couple of people who will easily sit anywhere in this sanctuary…what is going on for you??!
In a triumphant song, David writes in Psalm 27, “I ask only one thing, Lord: Let me live in your house every day of my life to see how wonderful you are and to pray in your temple.” (vs. 4) Then he writes, “You will let me defeat all of my enemies. Then I will celebrate, as I enter your tent with animal sacrifices and songs of praise.” (vs. 6) House…temple…tent. For David, it doesn’t matter what the venue is. It simply matters that it is a place to experience God, a place to pray, a place to sing, a place to celebrate.
Every time we gather for worship in the Fellowship Hall—as we have for the past two summers—people tell me how much they value the intimacy that comes with sitting closer together, even facing each other. I certainly value the ability to be closer to you when I preach…where I can clearly see your facial expression and your body language. Where I can get a glimpse of what is making some kind of an impact on you. Or not. All of this feeds my ability to lead you in worship.
Here’s what I am encouraging all of us to do in these last couple of weeks in September: pay attention to where you are, what you’re doing, how you’re feeling when you encounter something or someone or someplace that is sacred for you. Think about how that sense of sacredness can be felt in this place. And think about how we can all expand our understanding of sacred space to include all the spaces God has created for us.
By the way, in case you were wondering…when the Notre Dame cathedral was burning, some people were very concerned about the honeybee hives that are kept on a roof of the cathedral. These hives house over 20,000 honeybees! The good news is, all the hives survived in good shape. Thanks be to God!
Pastor Lisa Drysdale
what's our address?
2 Samuel 7:1-7 (The Message)
I hate camping.” This is how Matt Laney began his Daily Devotion on the UCC website one day in August. “I hate camping,” he said, and I laughed. I’m pretty much with Matt on this one. When I was a teenager, I did travel with some kids from my church’s youth group in a Winnebago across the country to lead a week of vacation bible school with the Hopi Indians in Second Mesa, Arizona. While in Arizona, I believe we slept on the floor of a church on or near the reservation. The rest of the nights we usually slept in the Winnebago parked in some parking lot somewhere along the road.
And I have done some tent camping in my life as a director of a youth camp in Sandusky, NY. For a week. And those tents were built on large wooden pallets and had single cots and bunk beds in them so even then, some would say, I wasn’t really “camping.” I remember one night we took all the Junior High kids out to camp under the stars. I have absolutely no memory of how that went, so I must have blocked it out of my mind.
The truth of the matter is I’m not a big camper. But for people like me, there’s always “glamping!”
Camping is a thrifty way to vacation. It can also be a huge hassle: the complex packing and unpacking; the loud, drunk people at the adjacent campsite with the yappy dog; the mosquitos; the frightful bathrooms.
Glamping, on the other hand, is where stunning nature meets modern luxury. It’s a way to experience the untamed and completely unique parts of the world—without having to sacrifice creature comforts.
There is no doubt that the way we travel has changed. We no longer want a generic, one-size-fits-all vacation. We want to explore on our terms and immerse ourselves in local culture, and we no longer just want to simply witness nature—we want to live in it. A fusion of glamour and camping, glamping is a way to authentically experience the most awe-inspiring locales around the world.
Glamping is much more than a nice tent.
The glamping movement is growing, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. Across the globe, you’ll find incredible destinations, each offering their own unique advantages. You can wake up in a yurt on a mountaintop. Reside in the forest canopy in a treehouse. Take in the panoramic views in an eco-lodge. And that’s just to name a few.
Glamping lodges, for example, are the perfect way to experience nature while still having four walls and a ceiling. These unique destinations from Nepal to Maine have carefully constructed the ideal dwellings for their properties, allowing guests to stay in complete luxury while still developing an up-close-and-personal relationship with the surrounding nature.
Glamping.com has researched the best glamping tent accommodations throughout the world. These glamping tents are a far cry from the do-it-yourself tent in a bag. They offer amenities like comfortable beds and in some cases en-suite bathroom facilities. When you're glamping, there's no tent to pitch. All you have to do is relax and enjoy the unique experience provided by these luxury glamping tents.
But without the advantage of glamping at his fingertips, I can understand King David’s misgivings about God having to camp while David stays indoors.
David had just scored a decisive victory against the Philistines and marked his reign over both Judah and Israel by bringing the ark of God into Jerusalem. Remember that the ark of the covenant was built by Moses to hold the Ten Commandments, given to him by God. The Israelites carried the Ark with them during their 40 years spent wandering in the desert, so its not hard to imagine how deeply attached they were to this sacred container. In a moment of rest, David finds himself thinking it odd that a mere mortal like himself lives in a grand post-and-beam cedar house, while the Almighty Master of the Universe dwells out back in a tent. God should have a temple, a big one!
Then the word of the Lord comes to David through the prophet Nathan, “I’ve lived in a tent since I brought your ancestors out of Egypt. I don’t want a house. I like the freedom and mobility that comes from camping!”
Well, for someone like me who “hates camping,” this is just hard to understand!
A house for God was eventually built anyway, a big one in the middle of Jerusalem. That might come as a relief for those who resist camping. It also says how uncomfortable we are with a free-range God. We prefer God to stay where we put God. It says how we prefer a God who affirms and mirrors our values, biases and preferences. It says how much easier we think it is to keep God “here,” than it is to try to keep up with God moving all over the place “out there.”
What I want you to think about is this: do you identify as a camper, or a glamper, or a strictly indoors kind of person? How comfortable are you with the concept of a “free-range God”? What are the risks of a God who continually moves? What are the risks of a God who stays put?
The challenge for all of us is to remember that God’s address is everywhere. It’s in the elaborate temple, and it’s in the cave on the side of a mountain. It’s in the grandest cathedral, and its in the humblest of meeting rooms. It’s here in this Fellowship Hall and its in the beauty of our sanctuary.
God’s address is everywhere. What about our address?
Rev. Lisa Drysdale
Selections from Exodus 16
If you’re like most people I know, you’ve already thought about where your next meal is coming from. Maybe it will be from the vegetables in your garden. Or from groceries you haul home from the store. Or something on a restaurant menu that looks good to you. Until recently, these were about the only choices most of us had, meal-wise. Until, that is, the advent of meal-kit delivery services.
Once the domain of those trying to lose weight, gourmet meal kits have become a hot little corner of the food industry. Trading under names like Blue Apron and HelloFresh, these companies offer subscribers a box of fresh ingredients each week that they can use to whip up their own gourmet meals at home. Open box. Follow recipe. Dig in. Once you have a subscription to one of these services, the food cartons show up each week like clockwork. You don’t have to order them — although most services do allow for some substitution options. The boxes just come.
One day, long ago, the Hebrews, recently emancipated from slavery in Egypt and at the point of starvation in the wilderness, woke up to find bread from heaven! They called it manna, and like the Blue Apron boxes, it came on a regular basis — not once a week, but every morning!
This went on for years. Israel’s manna rations didn’t include such ingredients as quinoa, fresh basil or chili paste. But without fail, each daily delivery included a fine, flaky substance that “was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey” (Exodus 16:30). The Israelites scooped the stuff up and baked it into cakes, the ultimate in convenience food for busy working refugees.
There was no shipping box, no freezer pack, no insulating liner like today’s shipments. The manna arrived on the ground fresh, like shimmering morning dew. Its shelf life was limited to one day, so there was no stockpiling it for the future. But who among them was concerned about that, when the Lord delivered a fresh supply each day (with double, less-perishable rations on the eve of the Sabbath, to spare God’s people the temptation to work on their day of rest)?
It’s remarkable how often God sends us just what we need, when we need it. It was true for the ancient Israelites, and it remains true for us today.
When these holy wanderers were lost, God guided them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
When they were thirsty, God told Moses how to strike a rock with his staff, calling forth a bubbling spring.
When they were hungry, thinking back with longing on the three-square meals a day their slave-masters had provided, God offered them flocks of quail, easy to catch, and also this unique gift of manna from heaven.
The word “manna” literally means “What is it?” I am confident that was the question they asked themselves, when first they saw this crusty white substance on the ground. At least, it’s what every child (and adult?) still says when they see some kind of food they’ve never had before. What is it? Scripture tells us it went on like this for 40 years — an entire generation. Manna was the gift God gave the Hebrews daily, to preserve their lives.
Some Bible scholars have tried, over the years, to figure out what manna was. There are all kinds of theories. Some say it was the secretions of certain insects; others, tree sap; still others, a sort of edible fungus that sprang up during the night. The bottom line is, nobody really knows. To the authors of the Bible, it’s a miracle — and that’s probably all we need to know. The elegant image of manna from heaven is a powerful way of depicting God’s goodness in providing all that we truly need in life.
What we’re talking about here, in theological terms, is called “providence.” It’s not a word you hear so often anymore — unless you’re talking about the capital of Rhode Island. That city was named by its pious founder, Roger Williams. He gave thanks for “God’s merciful providence” in leading him and his followers to that place. This was after they were driven into the wilderness by the governing authorities of the Massachusetts Bay Colony who clearly did not like Williams’ unorthodox theological views. The early settlers of Rhode Island didn’t discover any flaky white stuff on the ground, but they did find plenty of game in the forest and fish in the streams. That was manna enough for them.
Isn’t that so often the way it is with us, in times when we feel trapped by dire circumstances? When jobs are lost, when relationships fail, when sickness intrudes — even when we’ve locked the keys in the car — we may not think at the time that God is close at hand, guiding our circumstances. But then, wonder of wonders, we discover that we have what we need, after all. And we give thanks.
Such experiences are our manna moments. They may not always seem so at the time — but, later on, with a little distance to reflect back on the situation, a pattern of loving care emerges. We come to see the providential hand of God active in our lives in the most remarkable ways. When that happens, the place we once imagined to be wilderness turns out to be a place of blessing after all.
From time to time, we gather at the table of the Lord. Here we consume not manna and quail, but bread and juice, which we understand to be, for us, the body and blood of our Savior. Listen for a moment to these lines from the Heidelberg Catechism, which dates from a time when the concept of providence did not seem so mysterious and strange as it does to so many people today: “I trust God so much that I do not doubt God will provide whatever I need for body and soul, and will turn to my good whatever adversity he sends upon me in this sad world.”
Powerful words indeed — for all our manna moments!