Saturday, November 30, 2013

Advent 2013

I stumbled across this the other day on Twitter.

Advent begins tomorrow.  I will do my very best to remember to post something each day on this blog. No guarantees.  But it will be good to note each day with intentionality.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Home is where you find it

One of my many homes.  Family cabin in Deadwood/Lead, SD
I have needed to complete some paperwork over the last couple months that required me listing all of my addresses for the last ten years.  It is really quite humorous to see.  I have moved way more than should be humanly possible.  I will be moving to some-as-yet to be determined location in August 2014.

Here is the line-up: (multiple citations in the same city mean that I moved to a different house or apartment)

1. St Peter, MN
2. St Paul, MN
3. Denver, CO
4. Denver, CO
5. Boulder, CO
6. Fort Collins, CO
7. Fort Collins, CO
8. Pueblo, CO
9. Bozeman, MT
10. Helena, MT
11. Fort Collins, CO
12. Denver, CO
13. Denver, CO
14. Lakeside, MT
15. Sioux Falls, SD
16. Lakeside, MT
17. Sioux Falls, SD
18. Deadwood/Lead, SD
19. Sioux Falls, SD

What I have learned in this crazy moving around process…

a. You don't need nearly as much junk as you think you do.  I have gotten the moving process down to a science.  When I moved to Minnesota last January I got rid of most of my belongings and all of my furniture.  That was awesome.  I sort of regret the day when I need to buy a bed again.

b. Home is not solely a place where you keep your stuff.  Home is a state of mind.  Home is people and community.  Home is wherever you happen to find yourself at any given point in time.

c. I feel blessed to meet SO MANY people from all over the world in all of this crazy moving around.  And many of my circles of people have started to overlap, which is really awesome to see.

d. For better or worse, I have gotten fairly good at saying goodbye.  I have also been around the block enough to know that people end up back in your life for all sorts of crazy reasons, so "goodbye" is usually "see you later."

e. It's sort of a chicken and egg situation.  I am not sure if wanderlust spawned this moving around, or if the moving around spawned the wanderlust, but I have kind of an insatiable desire to see new places.

f. I have had to start over in new cities so many times that I have been forced to develop self-confidence and an extroverted self, that I don't ever doubt now that I will be just fine wherever I end up.

Backyard of my Madison Street house in Denver

Monday, November 25, 2013

What kind of king is this? A sermon on Luke 23:33-43

Grace, peace and mercy are yours, from the Triune God.  Amen.

As I prepare sermons, I often find that bits and pieces of music stay with me.  A scripture text will often remind me of a song, and that music becomes the accompaniment for my writing.  As I prepared to write this sermon for Christ the King Sunday, I was accompanied by the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.  Some of the words of this magnificent piece are, “King of Kings, forever and ever” and “he shall reign forever and ever” and perhaps most profoundly, “the kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.”  But the majesty and beauty conveyed in this stunning composition seems downright bizarre when compared to what we hear from Luke’s Gospel today.
This Gospel text seems more suited to something we would hear on Good Friday.  It seems to belong more with the scripture texts of Holy Week than on the last Sunday of the church year, this day that we call Christ the King Sunday.  To call Jesus a king when we hear a text like this seems more like a brutal farce than it does a confession of truth.  The Jesus described in today’s Gospel text is not the sort of king that we would choose, given the opportunity.
Our idea of a king is triumphant.  Someone who demands respect from those around him. Someone who is not going to be humiliated.  Someone who hates all the same people that we do and someone that we can call upon to do battle against all the things that we find to be cruel and unjust.  This King would not keep company with undesirable people and would silence those who would stand against us, using power and might.  We come from a culture without a history of royalty, but we make other things into our kings.  We make political parties the ultimate mediators of what is right or wrong, good or bad.  We place general principles and ideals above individual people and situations.  We see money and property and possessions as the ultimate security in this life.  A king is anything in which we might put our trust to protect and defend us.
In this way, we are really no different from the crowd surrounding the cross. This crowd, probably composed of curious onlookers, along with some of Jesus’ faithful followers, and other Jewish folks, had lived with a story their entire lives of a Messiah who would come to earth to save them.  This Messiah would be regal and wise, like King David, and would be strong enough to defeat their enemies.  This Messiah would avenge generations of injustice.   This Messiah would protect and defend.
With all this in mind, today’s Gospel text from Luke is terribly painful to hear.  It sounds like a story of brutal defeat. Jesus Christ, the savior of the world, hangs on a cross, among convicted criminals.  Not only has he failed to save the people, he cannot even save himself. He is mocked and tormented by Roman soldiers. Jesus speaks only twice and in ways that seem shockingly absurd given what is happening to him.  He says of those crucifying him, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” and the last words spoken before his death are uttered to a criminal executed on the cross next to him, “Truly I tell you, you will be with me in paradise.”  While the soldiers and the crowd mockingly call Jesus a King and taunt him with calls to “save yourself!”, the only person who actually sees Jesus for who he is a criminal sentenced to death.  We do not hear the crimes for which these two men are convicted, but we do hear that they have been justly sentenced.   This scene at the time of Jesus’ death is a reflection of his entire ministry.
Throughout his life, Jesus kept company with people who live on the margins of  “nice” society.  And in his death, he is not surrounded by family and friends at a quiet bedside, but rather criminals as he hangs on a cross, above a jeering crowd. And it is to these marginalized folks, people with nowhere else to go and no one to turn to, that Christ is everything.  That he is truly the King.  The criminal on the cross next to Jesus had nothing to lose by asking Jesus to see him and forgive him.  And Jesus sees him and hears him, and invites him into heaven.  This is profoundly hopeful for me…for all of us…and this is the essence of what it means to call Christ a King. 
In the midst of a situation that seems desperate, at a place called “the skull”, in the middle of death by crucifixion, Jesus is still extending words of overwhelming grace. To those who torment him, and those who suffer alongside him.  Literally with his dying breath he is saying, “You will never be separated from the love of God.”  No matter what you have done, or failed to do, you will still be with me in paradise.  THIS is the kind of King that we need.  This king protects and defends us from all the things of this world that would separate us from God. God in Christ is continually noticing, forgiving, and making new all sorts of hopeless situations, people, and places.
Christ knows suffering.  Christ knows what it means to be in unimaginable, excruciating pain.  He knows death. To me this is infinitely more hopeful than any king that would defend or protect with brute force, wealth, or political power.  Because of who Christ is and what Christ does, we are never separated from God. For all of us who feel like we are put on trial and convicted over and over again for not being good enough, wealthy enough, successful enough, Christ says, “You will never be separated from the love of God.”  For all of us who struggle with the painful realities of addiction, depression, and broken relationships, Christ says, “You will never be separated from the love of God. For I have endured suffering and death and triumphed over all these things for your sake. “  He shall reign forever and ever. 
I have been thinking a lot about why we have this text at the end of the liturgical year. We start each church year on the first Sunday of Advent, with texts that tell of the coming of the Messiah.  We move into the season of Christmas and tell the story of the birth of Christ, and then comes Epiphany.  We move into Lent.  We hear the story of the last week of Jesus’ life and his triumph over death during Holy Week.  Pentecost is the celebration of the giving of the Holy Spirit to all the people of the world.  Then, in the time after Pentecost we tell the stories of the life of Jesus.  This final Sunday of the liturgical year is a statement about the person of Jesus Christ and God’s ongoing work in the world.  The kingdom of God is now, not some far away time or place, and Christ shall reign forever and ever.  Hallelujah.  Hallelujah.  Hallelujah.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A week in the life of an intern pastor

I am sometimes amazed at the sheer variety of what goes into this job.  So here is a week in the life…

Monday: Weekly morning prayer and adult bible study on the Prophetic Literature.  Spent time preparing devotions for wednesday's staff meeting and evening Vespers. Afternoon was spent doing exegesis for my sermon while working at home.

Tuesday: Morning was a 45 minute drive each way to the Minnesota Valley Conference in Glencoe, MN.  This was a meeting with other ELCA pastors and Synod staff.  Afternoon was spent doing exegesis for my sermon while working at home.  Received a call that there had been a death and I needed to contact the funeral home to arrange a time to meet with the family.  A short dinner break, then back to Church for a council meeting.

Wednesday: Morning was a 1.5 hour staff meeting in which I led a discussion of what had been talked about the night before in the council meeting.  Some time spent finalizing confirmation lesson including making a burning bush prop.  Lunch in my car while heading to the funeral home. Nearly two hours spent at the funeral home. Back to the office to communicate all the necessary information to all the right people about the funeral.  Start looking for a song sheet for a hymn not in our worship book. Brief dinner break.  Evening Vespers, then teaching confirmation to 7th and 8th graders.

Thursday: Morning office hours at the local coffee shop.  Have conversations with a few parishioners there.  Bring communion to some members living in a nursing home.  Call a parishioner to pray over the phone in preparation for surgery she is having in a week. Still working on funeral stuff. Now attempting to find a sign language interpreter for this particular funeral.  Clean up and put away stuff from confirmation the night before. Afternoon text study.

Friday: Much needed sabbath because I am exhausted and woke up not feeling great.

Saturday: Time to start writing the sermon. Frustrating process.  Take a nap.  Work some more.  Clean my kitchen.  Take a walk in the frigid sunset cold to clear my head.  Finish sermon about 8:30pm.

Sunday: At church by 7:15am.  First service at 8:15am.  Second worship service at 10:30am.  Home by 12:00pm.  Blessed Sunday afternoon nap time.

And it starts all over again tomorrow morning...