Justice & Joy

A wonderful sermon that is filled with peace and joy and courage from all who took part in this day of great joy!

Take Off Your Shoes

(Sermon from Nov. 19, 2017, King of Kings Lutheran Church, Ann Arbor, Michigan)

The headwaiter called the groom 10 and said, “Everyone serves the good wine first. They bring out the second-rate wine only when the guests are drinking freely. You kept the good wine until now.” –John 2, The Wedding at Cana, Common English Bible

New Things. New Beginnings. A New way to express who we are, as we work together through changes that have come upon us as if in a wind-tunnel. The news in our lives as a community, as a country and individually have come on so hard and fast in the last year that at times, it takes our breath away. Every day it seems we have to accommodate something new. We even have a name for this phenomenon: the New Normal.

We have new people with us today. We did not have long to anticipate…

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Hijacking Trumped

Some valid points from a friend. Thanks for your continued courage Marie.

Take Off Your Shoes

I was reading a story from the BBC News, about the unholy alliance between the United States President and “Evangelicals.” You can read the storyhere.If I was not a member of a mainstream Protestant church, or if I had not ever been introduced to the concept of Evangelical, I might avoid anyone who links that word to their faith.

Evangelical comes from the Greek word meaning “Good News.” It was originally used to describe the act of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ in word and deed; in writing and in speaking; in working for justice, in serving one another in the way that Jesus modeled while walking the earth.

As a pastor in the ELCA [Evangelical Lutheran Church in America], one of the largest Christian denominations, with about 4 million members across the United States, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, it is deeply disturbing toread…

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Living through now

Take Off Your Shoes

A therapist I know told me last week that THE distinctive feature of stress in the United States right now, the thing she has not seen in her many years of practice, is the way the results of the 2016 election have divided families, friendships, and marriages. She said, “we have lived through tough times before. Many of them. Many equally if not more difficult than this time. What we haven’t seen before is the pain being so great that it divides relationships, even in families, across the entire country.

I’ve thought about this a lot. It hits quite close to home for me. And I think if I had to distill the sense that I feel and that others seem to lament it is a constant feeling of Betrayal.

When one sees the current administration in Washington as not just incompetent, but frighteningly vengeful, angry, and irrational. Also impulsive…

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“She Persisted!”

The following is from my sermon today. It felt that it had to be said, for if the Canaanite woman could persist so shall we all.

Jesus is in the middle of a profound conversation with people who are trying to get their heads around what can defile us, what causes us to sin? Is it an outward thing or an inward thing? He is no doubt having a back and forth with the Pharisee’s who have followed him out of Jewish territory into Gentile territory to have this conversation. What matters for Jesus is what is in the heart, which makes all the difference in the world.

Then there comes a voice, a shouting voice from beyond the crowds, it is a desperate voice, a woman’s voice that is echoing around them all now. She is insistent on being heard and she has no other alternative, no other choice but to raise her voice up in despair and some slim reason to hope for a chance for life, not her life though. No, she comes on behalf of another, she comes because her daughter is sick beyond describing and this unnamed and unknown Canaanite woman needs help from this Jewish healer who has come into her territory and she like all mothers will try anything on behalf of their children. People are becoming aware of the voice. It is getting closer and closer and louder and louder, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” Then it gets even louder, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David!” Now the disciples are upset, they have been through enough already, can’t he just get rid of this woman who has no claim on Jesus, no right to ask for help, for she is not only not Jewish and a gentile, she is descended from the people who have lived in that land for longer than the Israelites! Please, the disciples say, just send her away, get rid of her!

And here is where it all goes off the rails, we expect Jesus to react the way he always has, he will heal her daughter right away. He will do it and say some pithy thing that they and we don’t get and have to ask about later when they won’t look so stupid. Yet, Jesus doesn’t do that at all. In fact his behavior is difficult and hard for us to understand, we will contort ourselves into some weird ideas about he is just pretending, he already knew he was going to heal her. But the text doesn’t say that. He basically parrots back good orthodox 1st century Jewish thought about Gentiles. They were dogs. Not cute dogs that you hold in your lap, but dogs that are wild and dangerous. Jesus isn’t going to do anything to help.

But, this woman will not stop. She will continue to push and shove and ask for justice, ask for healing of not herself, but her little girl. She like so many other women who are desperate just kept coming and coming and she just persisted, yes she persisted and would not stop. It is then that his world changed. He has his universe expand as you will. He sees at this point that his message isn’t just for the lost sheep of Israel. It is for the whole world. Jesus comes to a new understanding of his own words, words like love your enemy, pray for them and those who persecute you. He remembers that all are created in the image of God.

This is true of us and Jesus as we live in our world today. According to a guy by the name of Einstein the universe is expanding, this has been confirmed by the telescopes and other devices we have placed into space. What we are finding out is that it is ever expanding and that means that it is getting bigger and bigger.

I think that is what happened to Jesus at this point. His universe expanded, he learned something new from this desperate woman. And so he acts, so he heals because she persisted! Jesus changes his mind. Just like God does throughout the Hebrew Bible, in Exodus and in Isiah we hear the stories of God changing. This is what is happening to Jesus. God is in partnership with God’s creation. Otherwise why would we pray? He wants to hear from us and he is affected by us and us by him. He is trying to lead us to a new understanding here.

Jesus changes his mind, for to not do so would have meant he was just like those Pharisee’s who had followed him, unwilling or unable at this time to change. The rules were set, you had to follow them outwardly for sure, but what about the outsider, what about the foreigners, and didn’t God care for them? Jesus really wouldn’t be worth following if he didn’t come to understand this persistent woman.

This story reminds us of two very important things that are woven together in the scriptures, love and justice. Our first lesson is absolutely clear on it. Jesus is also very clear on it too in his parables and his encounters with people. Love and Justice are for all people. And it is time to say to this country that this is where it is at! No more excuses, no more saying, “why can’t they get over it?” No more division of the races from Jewish to Canaanite to Gentile to White Americans against Black Americans. The racist crap has to die. We have to come to grips with it. The events in Charlottesville demand a response from the church. Our elected leaders need to hear that there is no false equivalency between one side and the other.

My father enlisted in the army in 1942, he was of German descent, but he went off to fight his cousins who were being led by the Nazis. Luckily he never had to fire his gun at another human being, but many of his friends did, many of the men I knew growing up went out knowing that what they were fighting against was evil pure and simple. If you think there are sides in this discussion then you have already decided that you are on the wrong side. 

Amos says; let justice roll like the mighty waters of a rushing steam. Yes, justice for those who have suffered under a system that was built upon the backs of slaves, free labor, upon the share croppers who never could get out of the debt to their plantation owners, Jim Crow laws that kept them from voting, schools that were segregated and still are in terms of resources. Yes it is time to get a voice. It is time to hear the cries for love and justice. It is time for people like you and me to get our voices up along with our arms and our legs too. It is time to repent!

It is time for us to expand our universe. It is time for us to hear the pleas of our fellow human beings. They came here not with hope, but in chains. Their chains, their demons, have been with them now for 400 years. We enslaved, tortured, Jim Crowed, terrorized, ghettoized and dismissed them for too long. For too long we have had to add names to the list of those killed for the rights of others. I don’t want to add any more. I want Heather Heyer the 32 year old woman who was killed by those Nazis and White Supremacists to be the last one who has to die. I want us to hear the cries of that persistent woman, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David!”

Our understanding of God’s love has expanded so much in the years of my ministry. We are now a church that believes in inclusion for all. We are a church who has said yes to the refugees, we have said yes to those people of color, we have ordained women and now LGBTQ can also serve God in this church. We are a church that can grow in our own understanding of what has been done to people of color in this country. We understand that slavery and the continued human bondage after the Civil War through the Civil Rights Movement was deeply sinful. We understand that it continues to be our sin, our Original Sin. We as the ELCA have stepped up, there were Lutherans standing in Charlottesville and they were standing across from men dressed in combat gear along with loaded guns that spat at them and derided them, just as Jesus was spat upon on the way to the cross. What happened to Heather Heyer could have happened to them. They sang “This Little Light of Mine,” along with Christians of many denominations, Hindus and Jews, Muslims and Buddhists. They stood singing as hate was rained down upon them. They were lifting up a prayer, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David!” They persisted! Now it is our turn, so I ask you, will you stand for love and justice? Will you stand up for what is right? Will you persist?






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From Millionaire to Medicaid

A friend from Holden posted this. Food for thought for our country.

Every New Season

SCAN0004 With official escort, John (in wheelchair under the red shade umbrella) leads a parade across the mile-long Grand Coulee Dam spillway

If my late husband could’ve written his memoir, the title might have been “From Millionaire to Medicaid in One Not-so-easy Stroke.” Some twenty percent of U.S. citizens access health care through Medicaid, the government program for the elderly, disabled and poor. John certainly never expected to be one of them. He was a successful, small-town newspaper publisher when he was paralyzed by a brain stem stroke at age 61. Diagnosed with “Locked-In Syndrome,” John’s fully functioning brain was locked inside a body that could not move, speak or eat.

He required skilled and vigilant care 24/7. He was fed through a stomach tube. A tracheotomy tube protected his airways. He communicated by blinking his eyes, using a simple alphabet code. We were determined that he would live at home…

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Meals on Wheels!

The first time I ever learned about Meals on Wheels was during my internship year at St. Peter Lutheran Church in East Baltimore. That was way back in 1980. The congregation was made up of wonderful people who took their faith very seriously, while having a fun filled time doing it. I had only been there for a few weeks when a delightful soul named Ginny came into my office and asked me to come along as she and her husband delivered food to the needy  through this program called, “Meals on Wheels.” They and many others from the congregation delivered meals to the hungry each week. They worked through a local social service agency, but you could tell this was their ministry and their joy to be involved with it.

That first delivery had a profound affect upon me. I met older people who had little or no contact with the outside world. They were trapped in their houses due to no money or health issues. They were homebound in the truest sense of the world. They had done nothing wrong and were not trying to milk the system. They were hungry. Hungry for food and hungry for some company. Over the next few months I made deliveries with several members of St. Peter. Always the people were overjoyed to see us, always they were thankful for the food and of course the company for just a few short moments, while we checked to make sure they were okay.

This experience led me to establish St. Peter’s first food pantry. In those days we called it a Manna Locker, in reference to the free food that God provided for the Israelites. We connected with one of the local food banks and were able to become a site where this could happen frequently. All because a woman named Ginny came in to see me one day and asked me to help her out. She was sent to me by God to let me know about how even then there was food insecurity and the need for human kindness.

This all leads up to the next step in this blog and that would be my utter disgust at the people in the 45 administration, I will not speak his name, who think that we need to gut the government support for this program, because somehow it doesn’t work. Well I know it works. I know people who receive “Meals on Wheels” now. They too have done nothing wrong or tried to cheat the system. They are poor and they are hungry and they are shut in and have no one to care.

It seems obvious to me that they also now have a government that does not care if the program works or not, they just have a disdain for anyone that is not well off, any one who is not white and privileged, though most of the meals delivered go to poor white people, but that would mean they would have to care about people they used in the election, but don’t give a damn about in real life.

They only metric I use to determine it’s success is the metric of Jesus. “I was hungry and you fed me.” Jesus always speaks the truth and I believe the truth he would speak and what his church should all be speaking about, is the fact that if people are fed, if people have human contact that is all I need to know about it’s success.

It would seem that 45 and his minions have no compassion at all. If it doesn’t make our military bigger they are not interested. Of course, our military spends more than the next 10 countries combined and 8 of them are our allies, and since 45 seems to love the Russians maybe they are an ally too, God help us! We don’t need to cut the social programs that have a long history of providing help for the needy. Some of those programs help our vets, like “Meals on Wheels.” Some of them are about being a kind and caring people, not selfish and arrogant. Most of them are the right thing to do.

“Meals on Wheels” was a symbol to me that we do care about our elderly, we do care about the lonely and the hungry. That we do care and do not blame, which seems to be the 45 administration’s tact, blame everyone but them.

This administration is a foul abomination on our country. It is everything I have fought against since that day over 37 years ago when a woman named Ginny came into my office and changed my life forever by introducing me to “Meals on Wheels.” Don’t tell me it doesn’t work, I’ve seen it!

Holden Revisited!

For me it doesn’t seem possible that I left Holden Village almost 6 months ago. During that time much has happened in my world and in the country and the whole world in general. I have been outraged by the election of someone I consider totally unqualified for the job and he has done nothing to change my opinion of his lack of qualifications.

Yet, I do not want to wail at the so called Trump Administration today, what I want to do is to reflect a bit on what it has been like to be “out” of Holden and what it might be like as I plan on returning on Wednesday of next week, February 15.

One of the first things I discovered in my time of “recovery” from Holden is that I needed a lot more sleep. While I was there I always got a good eight or so hours of very peaceful sleep. Now it seems that even after 6 months I still need more sleep than I once was necessary. I wonder if it is about the noise that is always present that was rarely present at Holden at night? It was so quiet at night that you could always hear the air rush into your lungs and hear every little sound that the creatures of the night would reveal to me. Here is Boise I have found myself needing at least 9 hours of sleep to feel rested. I believe it is because at Holden I could really put my work down after hours. I was not the pastor or the administrators of the place, I was a worker bee who understood his assignment each day and it was finished at the end of the day. There is something very peaceful about being able to say as I completed the tasks of mailing all letters, putting the new letters and packages (How did Holden survive without Amazon Prime?) out in the boxes to be picked up by the residents of the village I was done. It was good to track the arriving shipments of material for our building of the new foot bridge and be able to report to the right people, like the wonderful John Tobin, that their order had arrived and work could proceed.

Here in Boise, as is true of all ministry sites, it is a bit harder for me to do. It takes me longer to fall asleep as my brain slowly processes the information I had gathered over the course of the day. There is a sense of incompleteness to the work, always another sermon idea to remember, always someone in pain to care and pray for each day. The day can blend into the night and so the need for rest has been obvious to me. Though most of the time my sleep is good, on the nights where it is not it truly a long wrestling match between my brain and my body that is demanding it’s proper rest. So for those of you who may read this you might want remember to put aside extra time for sleep each night as you prepare to return to this hectic world.

It is also true that you should remember that you are not a kid in a candy store when you leave Holden. Holden has everything one needs, but the world is filled with “stuff!” It was a total shock to me to drive around Boise and see all the shops, eateries and the like only to see that we are held captive to our desires for “more.” It is almost a overdose experience, only the drugs are the things we have been told we must have for life, which truly don’t help with our lives.

Oh I do believe I mentioned driving above and that is a big difference for me. Walking was a very healthy thing I began before Holden and continued to do so while there. Once here I did try and keep up, but even to walk in a spot you almost always have to drive. It’s a hassle and a pain. Much easier to walk out the Chalet 1 door and just start. Find some way to get those steps or exercise in after you leave Holden Village after an extended stay.

The rhythms of Holden are so incredibly different than the everyday rhythms of life out here. The pace, even in a relatively small city, are much faster here and in general at the world. Your calendar’s fill up quickly at times and the needs are great for many people. So crave out time for yourself, exercise, meditate, read, jump in some cold stream if you can find one. Make that time sacred for you in your life. Set it apart and follow where that time leads you. Work on being instead of doing. Holden gets being, out here it has to be intentional.

Lastly, for me as I reflect on my time “out” of Holden, build community for yourself. One of the hardest things for me is being alone. Part of  that is because I was married for 22 years and always had someone with me. We ate dinner together, we went to movies or fairs or quilt shows together, so there was always someone there. It was the same at Holden even more so.. Yes, sometimes eating dinner in our hotel there can be a pain, but you had someone to talk to if needed. You had someone who really did care about you at the table during that time. Not so much out here where you fix dinner alone and watch TV or a movie all by yourself. This is an area where I am sure I am still struggling. It is not the sleeping alone so much, but the lack of human contact. I guess I really do prefer living in community.

Those are the things I am reflecting upon as I get ready to return for a brief stay next week. There are many more, but these stand out. So how do I feel about going back? It truly is a mixture. Will it be like I remember? I do know our memories are sometimes fallible. Will the people who are new there welcome me like the ones who helped me adjust in those first few days now almost two years ago when I arrived? Will I want to stay? Will I refuse to get on the bus and return to our broken and bruised world? So I have questions to answer while I am there. I also have things to ponder about how my time “in the world” is going? Am I still as healthy as I was when I left Holden or have old patterns reasserted themselves that might not be as healthy as I might like or even realize. Yes, there will be time to think, time to pray in the Labyrinth, if it is open, a time to enjoy the company of friends who are there at the same time I am. A time for walking in my snow shoes through the incredible amount of snow that has fallen in the past few days there. I am excited and happy that this place is still there for me and for so many others. No one comes to Holden Village unbroken and it is my opinion that very few who leave there that are not changed for the better. It is the well in which I drink the best water for my soul. I can’t imagine a year going by where I will not return again and again. It was and I expect always will be a place where the I am at peace with my God, my fellow human beings and this wondrous creation. Yes it is the “peace that passes all understanding!”