Monday, October 24, 2011

a beautiful promise...from Leviticus?

Leviticus is a book of the Bible that is all about law and "do-nots"...not exactly warm and fuzzy.  So, imagine my surprise when this sermon materialized from Levitcus 19.  Yes, I wrote it, but I was amazed at the promise, beauty and hope that comes from this text.  The sermon was surprisingly difficult for me to get through, which usually means it was written from a fragile place...that was certainly true for me this past Sunday. 


Leviticus is the book of focus for today. Our Old Testament reading comes from Leviticus, which can be a somewhat intimidating book, boring, stern, a divisive book painting pictures of black and white morality. Leviticus is often quoted when one wants to throw down the moral gauntlet of what God said is right and what God says is certainly wrong. Leviticus is a book about holiness, or certainly our reading today centers on that very idea of “being holy”. Now, that is a church-y kind of word – an off-putting word, I think, often we think of holy as in “holier than thou”. We say God is Holy, or if we do not say it Scripture certainly does, all over we hear of that God is Holy, the name of the Lord is Holy, Bless God's Holy name. But, what does that even mean?

In our Old Testament, God's holiness is depicted as something completely and utterly “OTHER”. Moses is commanded to take of his shoes for he is on “holy ground”, many hid their face in the presence of holiness in order to spare their lives, and those who did not, certainly died for merely catching a glimpse of the holiness of God. Sound inviting? Probably not. God is holy, because God is perfect and we know that God's ways our not our ways, God's thoughts are not our thoughts. This Almighty Creator of the Universe is Holy and awe-inspiring and worthy of our fear and our worship and our bowing of heads, because God is Holy. As we hear in Leviticus 19 God is inviting us in to these different ways of living – ways that revere our relationships, ways of living that care of those that live on the margins of society, ways of living that do not stand for hatred, but rather love others as we love self. God is holy because these are the very nature of God, God's holiness is defined by relationship, liberation, mercy and love. This is the holiness of God, this is the nature of God.

There is another invitation extended in Leviticus 19. In verse 2 God says, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” To me this sounds like an old parenting technique – “You will sit quietly during church today” “You will clean your room this afternoon” I have used this technique from time to time and I know these statements are not really meant to be prophecies are much as they are threats lest the hoped for behavior does not happen! God says, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” This, however is no threat, this is a promise. “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” This is no threat, this is a promise.

There is a beautiful, and holy litany found in Leviticus 19. The rhythm invites us with every refrain into the Holiness of God, how could we possible be invited? How could we, mere mortals, be drawn into this God whose very presence can cause death, this God whose very nature liberates and loves without measure? Who are we to be invited into this holiness?

Because this Holy God is your Lord and your God, you will be holy. This is no threat, this is a promise.

You will revere your family – I am the Lord your God.
You will care and provide for the poor and the alien – I am the Lord your God.
You will not steal or profane God's holy name – I am the Lord your God.
You will promote justice and speak well of your neighbor – I am the Lord you God.
You will not hate in your heart, you will not take vengeance on anyone, you will love your neighbor as yourself, I am the Lord.
This is not a laundry list of things to be before being considered “holy”. This is a divine gift, a holy glimpse into the ways and nature of God. When our heart and will conforms to the ways and nature of God, we experience holiness...sometimes slight and passing droplets of holiness, sometimes long and satisfying drinks of the holy, beautiful majesty of our Lord and God.

This is the law of God, and the law of God is a way into holiness. Of course, we know this is not something to achieve, rather something to embrace, a life and way of being that is different. We are still mere mortals, we still will turn our faces in the presence of this Holy God because we know how often we have turned down this invitation.

This Holy God is our Lord, our God and we can say this and claim this Holy God and know that we are claimed by God. God claimed us as beloved, redeemed and yes, even Holy, in Christ. Scripture continues to proclaim what was first made true in our creation in God's image, what is proclaimed today in Leviticus 19, Scripture continues the proclamation when Jesus prays these words, in the Gospel of John “17Sanctify them [Jesus' disciples] in the truth; your word is truth. 18As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.” In the Word we are sanctified, meaning we are made holy. In Jesus, we are sanctified, meaning we are made holy, too. This is not a threat, this is a promise.

We do not make ourselves holy, we will not be offering a holiness-now seminar at church anytime soon. This is the work of the Spirit, and the Spirit is at work in me and in you because Jesus came into this unholy world with a holy promise and a holy invitation. The holy invitation is that our hearts and our very natures will be conformed to God's so that our lives may be love-filled, caring, reverent and holy. This is the work of Christ, in us, you and me. Sometime we catch droplets, sometimes long and satisfying drinks of the holiness of God in our midst.

Three years ago I traveled to Mexico with other seminarians to fulfill a cross-cultural requirement. This was not a mission trip, or a chance to sit on the beach, instead it was a listening experience. Each day for two weeks we stepped into different communities and heard stories—we heard the stories of community organizers working to bring fair profit to local farmers, indigenous people fighting to remain on their land, church leaders working to make the church in Mexico a place for all people and we heard the stories of many, many, many women who work tirelessly for their families, their land and their home. I met one woman whose story will stay with me forever. I met her during our visit to a community called La Estacion. This squatter settlement lays on the outskirts of Cuernava, Mexico and stretches for literally miles. The types of homes one will find while walking the neighborhood range from areas of land, simply marked with string and people sitting around, cardboard boxes, or some more developed homes that have metal walls and some cement foundation or outline. Stray dogs were everywhere and the smells that we walked through made it very difficult to breath. I was prepared to see neighborhoods like this, what I was NOT prepared for was to sit inside a home and have a conversation with a life-long resident. Our trip leader broke us into small groups so that only two or three entered a home at a time, there was not really room for any more. And we were armed with questions to ask so that when we regrouped we would have all asked the same questions and could have a cohesive reflection time. I was tasked with speaking for my group and was ok with most of the questions, what does a typical day look like for you? What is your relationship with your neighbors? Are you hungry? But my final question I was so embarrassed by I prayed we would run out of time so that I wouldn't have to ask it. “What are your dreams?” this is what I was to ask our host, whoever they may be. Standing in La Estacion I thought the word dream couldn't be anywhere in the vocabulary! Who am I to ask about dreams and hopes and aspirations of any kind? What do I know of what the residents could want?

holiness in Mexico
With a pounding heart I went with my group further into the neighborhood. Our hostess was Brenda invited us into her home, we ducked out heads and made our way through a small maze of wires, copper-fencing, boxes stacked until we entered the home. The floor was cement and the walls were made of metal…this was one of them most stable structures we had seen. The home consisted of two rooms, the kitchen which we sat in, and sleeping room—the two areas were divided by hanging blankets. Over the entrance hung a cross, and near the only window was Our Lady of Guadalupe. This was the home for Brenda, her husband and their seven children.
She served us a snack and politely entertained our questions. The answers were all the ones we did not want to hear — her day was endless finding and preparing food — some days successful, many not. The community very dangerous — you cannot trust your neighbor even though these homesteads were literally collapsing on top of one another. Then I asked with broken spanish, do you have dreams? Hope? ..she answered that all of her children remain healthy and that their future might be safe, good and better than she could hope. Then I asked if she had fears…that her children would be hurt, ill or stumble onto paths that would lead them to bad places. So many things between Brenda and I are different, at first glace, maybe everything is different. But our heart and our nature is one – we were simply mother to mother and though all earthly measurements put us on different ends of the scale, we were the same, living out the dreams, hopes and fears of all mothers and fathers and care givers anywhere.
In La Estacion I sat while drops fell from Brendas' eyes and drank a long and satisfying drink of holiness. The heart and nature of God manifest in this woman, she is holy because her Lord and her God is holy, she is holy because her heart and nature are of, caring, reverent and holy.

We are invited into holiness, but not just invited, we are transformed and made holy by Christ alone and because this Holy God has made it so. Holiness is not a status to be reached, it is an encounter, it is a gift, it is relationship with God and with one another...this is where we become holy.

You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” This is not a threat, this is a promise. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Friday, October 14, 2011

End of the week fun!

Throughout seminary we were able to indulge in "1/2 day Fridays"! I always made our schedule so that we were done by noon on Friday and then the afternoons were reserved for a fun activity (no housework, homework or any other kind of work allowed!).  Now that the princess has a rigorous Kindergarten schedule this cannot happen every week, but we had a FREE FRIDAY and took advantage!

We spent the afternoon tooling around downtown Hood River, found a great spot for lunch and then went back to a favorite park (right on the water, of course).  The pictures are pretty low quality, but the view is not!

a beautiful day to run and be free! 

the Columbia River and I are good friends! 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Psalms, psalms and psalms

This is the second year in a row I've been privileged with preaching on Psalm 23.  I was also privileged with reading this Psalm at two bedsides this week, a powerful way to experience the Word -- in community, in illness, in joy, in family and in death. This Psalm is heartwarming, assuring, powerful and true.  So, the sermon for this past Sunday was an overview of the book of Psalms and then focused in on Psalm 23.  Here is the last half...

When we fall ill, when disease and frailty of our bodies take over, we are often left speechless. But we are not left alone. Turn to Psalm 6.

Instead of talking about forgiveness, we have actual words of confession of sins and begging for mercy here in the Psalms. Turn to Psalm 51 (3-5, 10-12).

When we know we need to trust, or be strong in the faith, yet lack the words or the confidence, it is helpful to hear the words of other people of faith who have struggled and are hurting, yet remain strong in faith. Turn to Psalm 62 (1-2).

When we feel far away from the Almighty God of the universe, when we are sure that we have been forgotten by our creator, we can turn to the Psalms to be reminded of how close this God truly is. Turn to Psalm 139 (v. 13-15).

And now we turn to the Psalm assigned to this day, the most beloved and well known passage in all of the Bible, Psalm 23. I would like to spend a few minutes looking at the Psalm, but I will not preach this Psalm. You see a Psalm, just like music or just like poetry does not have one has meaning. And the meaning is experienced differently for each of us every time we read it. This is the mystery of the Living Word of God.

Psalm 23 can be looked at as having three distinct sections. The first one is verses 1, 2 and 3. The author is describing God, life is good and the imagery is lush and beautiful scenes of nature. In this section God is the active force, God makes, leads, restores and leads again...the author is the happy recipient. Think of a time when your life was lush and beautiful and God was present.

The next section is just verses 4-5, the author has moved from talking about God to talk to God directly. The scene has changed from beautiful scenery to dark valleys, tools and instruments. Yet, God is still there, in the dark valley, using the tools and instruments as ways of comfort and giving direction. The paradox of feasting in the presence of enemies, and of course our enemies take many forms; sometimes a person, sometimes a disease, sometimes a form of suffering, war, addiction, emotions or even our very selves. And even drinking from an overflowing cup speaks to the paradox of faith. We have hope in the face of despair, we have life in the face of death. Think of a time when you walked the dark valley, when you feasted while staring an enemy in the face and God was present.

The final section is the last verse, standing alone. The author is no longer addressing God directly, but speaking this bold confession of faith. Given that we have just walked this brief walk with this person of faith throughout their life we are now given what their conclusion or statement of faith is after this life, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” After the beautiful scenery and the dark valleys, we arrive home, in the house of the Lord forever. Think of a time you have felt at home, surrounded by peace and goodness and God was present.

The Psalms are your words of faith. They are meant to be read every day, start with Psalm 1 and work your way through. The Psalms are also meant to be made our very own. So, write your own Psalm, reflect on a Psalm and then do some drawing, or serving or activity that comes from your devotional time spent in God's word. How will the Psalms come alive to you? How will God speak to you through the Psalms? How will your relationship with God change because of your time in this book?

The promise of Psalm 23 is that God is present, over and over and over again. God is present as a shepherd in the meadows and still waters. God is present in the dark places and still feeding you in the presence of your enemies. And finally we are reminded of the life we have in Christ. We die and rise again in Christ and are given the gift of life everlasting, so we will truly dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

There is a new movie coming out, “How Does She Do It?” about a working mom who is balancing work, marriage and mommyhood. I really don't know any more than that (I am the least of all a movie aficionado). However, the title caught my attention. Not because I am also a working mom, but because I hear the question, “How Do you Do it?” at least once a week. Maybe I hear this question in such frequency because I am a single mom, or because I work at a church, which means unexpected busy seasons and trying, emotional workloads. If I'm in a new place (new town/church/school) this question seems to come at a rapid fire pace. It always feels a little awkward because sometimes the question is asked with a little horror in the person's voice “That sounds awful, how do you do it?” (that's an exact quote) sometimes the voice is filled with, (what I feel is undue) awe, “I can't imagine, how do you do it?”.

No matter how the question comes, I always answer the same... “We take it day by day.” I feel like the question is undue and awkward because I think that is probably how ALL of us are getting through our lives, right? Day by day. We all have life circumstances that make the balancing act a bit precarious or baggage that feels heavier some days than others.

There are certainly times when I feel the pinch of being a single mom. However, I generally feel like I have a similar expectation set upon me as any other parent (single or double!), maybe sometimes I just have to get a little more creative to solve problems or get through a day (see below). I also have a lot of help, like a lot! So much, in fact, that I often think “single mom” doesn't represent our life adequately. Its more like I'm the communication hub of the village that is raising this beautiful princess. So, the “you” in the question “How do you do it” should not be singular, its definitely a plural meaning for us.

I cannot answer, “How do you do it?” because I'm just “doing” today...not yesterday and certainly not tomorrow! So, here is the answer to how we (me, a head cold and Disney) got through a busy week, ending with today...

(keep in mind this week was a week to be present with people, which meant very little writing time during the week.  Plus, the princess had no school on Friday, so I was counting on my weekend evenings to do A LOT of work and then...) Princess wakes up multiple times in the night with a fever, congestion and bad cough: Pastor alarms start ringing when is this sermon getting written?

Next morning the Princess wakes up late feeling miserable, lies comatose in front of “Alladin”...sermon written!

Princess takes long, steam shower and then proceeds to fuss in her room for at least 30 minutes over the outfit she has to wear...dishes done and laundry folded!

Pastor drags sick little one to church to get about ten different jobs done, Princess becomes the perfect little assistant and we're outta there in record time!

Make lunch together.

Princess takes medicine and lie comatose in front of “Robin Hood”...Bible study prepped!

Board games, walk, Barbies and book reading all afternoon.

Post-dinner movie (“Toy Story”) and medicine, then bed...all other church business is attended to!

It still was a day of productivity and fun, just different that originally planned. That basically sums up the “how do you/we/ya'll do it?” Day by day, and a little creativity! 

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness...We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:26, 28

Friday, October 7, 2011

1/4 the way there!

I'm 3 months into internship. The learning curve feels forever steep, yet fantastic.
Here is my top ten of “What I've Learned on Internship (so far)”

10. Its hard for me to be homesick. Its heartbreaking to see the Princess be homesick. (and she's still begging for a dog...grrrr)

9. I play piano about twice a week for a grand total of one hour. Its starting to get to me. Pastor/Musician or Musician/Pastor...still unclear how these things go together.

8. I love teaching children (confirmation is crazy fun!). It is harder for me to get amped up to teach adults, but I'm trying!

7. Ukelele! A church member found me a Ukelele, music and stand. Its a fun, easy instrument and I get to play with a circle of 20 hippies twice a month. Fun!

6. Pastoral care is a humbling, sacred and exhausting part of the job. weep with those who weep...” (Romans 12:15) is becoming a very regular occurrence.

5. I love Oregon mornings...crisp, cool, foggy AND I am nocturnal. I love to stay up late, yet the alarm for Kindergarten goes off painfully early.

4. Preaching every week is a beautiful discipline. It isn't always pretty, but I have loved delving deeply into the Word every...single...week.

3. It is hard to take a day off. Really, really hard. There is always something to write, so people to visit. I took a day off to do some much needed shopping and had to get up early and stay up late just to “take the day off”! Who can say Pastor burn out?!?

2. Humor is a beautiful way to get through tense meetings, moves us faster to conflict resolution and generally makes this job really fun.

1. God is good, very very good. And with this job, I get daily or hourly reminders of this goodness.
just a little random sass.