But you didn’t want that

One of the things I learned early on in ministry is that sometimes, even often, pastors will be called upon to conduct funeral or memorial services for people we did not know very well. Occasionally that’s on us (we didn’t spend enough time visiting); other times it’s a culture that allows for people tangentially related to the church to call upon the institution in time of need; and in special cases, someone you know and love in your church family asks if you will extend the circle of your care to include the uncared-for in their own circle. I’ve been the one to say a few words at a ne’er-do-well uncle’s “pauper’s burial,” a program funded by the city for indigents. I’ve stood in the mud of an early-spring cemetery with the two families of a man who remarried, watching the uneasy rapprochement between the now middle-aged stepchildren he raised and children he left. And I’ve been up to the country to bury the matriarch of a blue-collar clutch who clucked at her chicks to warn them from danger and was frustrated by their responses often.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who were sent to you! How often I have wanted to gather your people just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you didn’t want that.” (Luke 13:34, CEB)

It was the first, but not the last, service for which I used this text, but I will confess I used it sweetly. The hen with the chicks under her wings can’t really protect them from the fox, you know. She can comfort them under her wings in the moment of crisis. She can lay down her life for them.

The mother hen I buried up in the countryside of Maine had been the one to speak honestly with her children and her grandchildren about their paths in life. They made her life hard. When she died at 75, great-grandchildren were in baby seats or held on hips at the graveside. She gave warnings, shared wisdom, and offered protection — but they didn’t want that.

Jesus is honest with those who will listen. He names their hypocrisy and offers a hope for redemption, even second chances. His path is a loving one, but it is a hard one. There is no protection from death. We are all going to face it. There is no avoiding a reckoning with life or with God. Will we gather under the wings of the mother hen? Or will we insist on going it alone?

Mothering God, thank you for offering the shelter of your wings. Amen.


I’m reading and blogging about Luke for Lent. Want to read along? The full schedule can be found here.

According to your word (a prayer for pastors)

One: Here am I, the servant of the Lord.
Many: Let it be with me according to your word.

One: Here we are, O God, your servants, seeking to understand what you want for us, and what you want from us. You wend your way into our lives, sometimes a lightning bolt, or a whispered breeze, the ray of sunshine piercing through forest cover, the full moon illuminating waves as they break on the shore. We feel you before we know you fully.

One: Here am I, the servant of the Lord.
Many: Let it be with me according to your word.

One: Here we are, O God, your servants, moved to consider new possibilities for being useful to you, making ourselves useful on your behalf. You change our lives, sometimes through the aha! in lines of scripture or the evocative phrase in a poem, words leaping off a page, supernaturally bold-faced.

One: Here am I, the servant of the Lord.
Many: Let it be with me according to your word.

One: Here we are, O God, your servants, aware there are many ways to serve you, and wondering if we have found the right ones. We consider possibilities for ministry: accompanying your children throughout their lives, while offering a good word, marking them as yours, breaking bread and pouring cup, providing care in times of illness and loss, organizing to take the world as it is and make it what you would have it be.

One: Here am I, the servant of the Lord.
Many: Let it be with me according to your word.

One: Here we are, O God, your servants, looking for signs. How will we know when we have found the path laid out for us? Will there be angel song in the sanctuary, or the nodding head of a friend across the table in a coffee shop? Will we feel serene and purposeful, or a little sick to our stomachs? Give us the courage of Mary, who was brave enough to question an angel and faithful enough to give her life to your service. Let it be with us according to your word, we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray saying:

Our Father, etc.


This prayer, based on Luke 1:26-38, was offered at the closing worship service of “Here Am I: Women Responding to God’s Call,” a conference co-hosted by The Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and RevGalBlogPals on the weekend of The Annunciation of the Lord.

Eat, drink, be merry

There are some days when I am stressed out and in a hurry to finish things and my hurry and stress are usually obvious in my tone of voice and the speed with which I talk and my propensity to fly off the handle. I have decent self-management skills, most of the time, but I am currently piecing together several part-time gigs, which means some weeks I don’t have enough to do and other weeks I have a lot of deadlines.

On those occasions, there may be moments in which I sound a bit hysterical.

In Luke 12, Jesus sounds like me on a deadline. Maybe multiple deadlines. The chapter gathers a string of parables and conversations, then ends with a vision of families torn apart by the disruption he brings. It’s clear he is feeling the tension of trying to get his message across and worrying that no one will understand, and soon it will be too late. Deadline is a literal term when applied to his story.

And really, it is in ours, too.

Just to be sure we don’t miss it, Jesus tells us the take of the guy who builds bigger and bigger barns for his enormous harvest.

“Then he thought, Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. That’s where I’ll store all my grain and goods. I’ll say to myself, You have stored up plenty of goods, enough for several years. Take it easy! Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself. But God said to him, ‘Fool, tonight you will die. Now who will get the things you have prepared for yourself?’ This is the way it will be for those who hoard things for themselves and aren’t rich toward God.” (Luke 12:18-21, CEB)

 

The rest of the chapter makes clear that hanging onto earthly wealth is not what God wants for us. We need to be alert for God, not attached to our possessions, confident that God will care for us, and ready to be separated from our families because we follow Jesus.

I’ve spent the past 24 hours with a group of women considering whether they are called by God to ordained ministry. RevGalBlogPals partnered with the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia to make this possible, and we are so grateful to LTSP for their great hospitality. Participants are staying on campus for free and being fed, too. I helped gather a panel of powerhouse clergywomen to talk about their call stories and answer questions from those considering seminary.

The things we talked about came down to the same essentials: keep an ear out for what God is doing; be ready to make all the changes necessary to follow a call; trust that somehow God will make sense out of no sense; and remember that not all relatives/friends will be supportive when they hear the news.

I hope we offered encouragement without sugarcoating anything.

Mostly I want to say, life is short and time goes by quickly. As the man with the barns discovered, a plan for the future can’t protect us from death, isn’t enough to overcome having a human body, prone to failing.

Knowing that, how much more important is it to use the time we have faithfully?

Holy One, I pray for all women who are considering their calls to ministry. Help them to see where you are moving in their lives, and to answer with courage and commitment to you. Amen.


I’m reading and blogging about Luke for Lent. Want to read along? The full schedule can be found here.

 

A fraction as righteous

I’m not great at saying things directly. I tend to sugarcoat, to look for a way to make nice, to nudge the other party in a particular direction rather than issuing a command or even a request. When I feel hurt, I have a hard time saying so; instead I show it in ways that I will grant are less than mature and generally not effective. This happens because I want people to like me, and I want them to think of me as nice. I’ll step up and be straightforward if I need to do it to protect someone, or something, other than myself, but I find it harder to do when I feel my reputation or my work is at stake.

I think of this as a sort of righteous niceness.

I know I need to work on this, that it is a flawed way of moving in the world, but I still find it very hard since it goes against not only my personality type but also my childhood training. This doesn’t mean I let go of the hurtful things people say or do; in fact it’s the opposite. I will spend a long time anticipating the next blow, to the point where I sometimes see the insult or the injury in something that was never meant that way, or I work off the feelings by telling someone else what happened instead of dealing directly with the problem.

“How terrible for you Pharisees! You give a tenth of your mint, rue, and garden herbs of all kinds, while neglecting justice and love for God. These you ought to have done without neglecting the others.

“How terrible for you Pharisees! You love the most prominent seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces.

“How terrible for you! You are like unmarked graves, and people walk on them without recognizing it.”

One of the legal experts responded, “Teacher, when you say these things, you are insulting us too.”

Jesus said, “How terrible for you legal experts too! You load people down with impossible burdens and you refuse to lift a single finger to help them. (Luke 11:42-46, CEB)

There’s more, on both sides of this, as Jesus speaks frankly with those who see themselves and their code of behavior as righteous. I don’t write this off as being only about Jews or even first century religious leaders. We’re all prone to this, with whatever code is ours.

I have a fair number of rules about human interactions that are reasonable, and ethical standards worthy of upholding, but I also have a few at least that protect my way of moving in the world without allowing *me* the opportunity to tell the truth I find hard to speak. That truth gets stuck because I am afraid of rejection, afraid that others will team up against me, afraid that everyone else is right and I am bad at my job, or worse, my life. This may be in part because I lead with feelings – “when you do this, I feel” – and so many people in my life have put that back on me saying they can’t make me feel anything, that my feelings are my problem.

In a book about the Enneagram, I read recently that people like me (2s) can’t get past this without really examining how they operate; we need to develop “insight into our own brokenness and sinning…”* instead of looking for someone else to blame for whatever has gone wrong.

As much as I want to line up with Jesus in this passage, I can see myself on the side of the Pharisees and legal experts, with a highly developed code of behavior that doesn’t allow for much grace or mercy. It keeps me “safe” from others by dint of my righteousness but leaves me fearful, always, of losing everything.

What would it be like to say to someone, “The way you handled that hurt me,” or even, “I wonder why you chose to do that in the way you did?” Could it lead to a real conversation, instead of the interior maelstrom I allow by not being frank?

Holy One, it’s possible I am not as nice as I want to be and only a fraction as righteous. To protect myself, I close off deeper mutual understanding. What would it be like to be more straightforward? I wonder. Amen.


I’m reading and blogging about Luke for Lent. Want to read along? The full schedule can be found here.

*From “The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective,” by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert

Knock, and it will be opened – really?

Jesus always seems to be encouraging us to persist, because persistence will get God’s attention. No parent is going to give a child a scorpion instead of an egg, and if your neighbor is already in bed and won’t give you some extra bread out of hospitality, he might do it out of annoyance to get you to go home, already. Later we’ll get a widow practically stalking an unjust judge. Don’t give up, he says.

And I tell you: Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you. Everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. To everyone who knocks, the door is opened. (Luke 11:9-10, CEB – I read Luke 11:1-28 today)

Really?

I hear you, maybe we didn’t get what we asked for in the form we expected. Etc.

I would simply ask those who embrace that interpretation to consider whether or not they are speaking from some naive or even smug privilege.

In my denomination, we’ve been ordaining women practically forever, but there remain churches who see women as second-class candidates. We were the first Christian denomination to ordain gay and lesbian people, and we’re nominally open and affirming to all LGBTQ+ people now, but the situation on the ground is more complicated. Queer and trans clergy and candidates for ministry are knocking, seeking, asking, and we can get through the hoops right up to the point of receiving a call to a church. Then it’s in the hands of a small segment of a local congregation, a group of volunteers, certainly taking their responsibilities seriously and perhaps worried about getting it wrong and being blamed if the church suffers due to the choice they make.

And as we wait for emails or phone calls, as we are turned down by committees, as months become years, our knuckles bleed, our hearts hurt, our spirits flag.

I haven’t searched for a settled call since I came out, so I am speaking for others here, but it’s honest to say that I’ve considered the possibility of searching and decided I don’t want to risk myself. I’ve pieced together other work, much of it speculative. I don’t earn a full-time salary even by combining the other work, and I rely on my spouse’s employer for benefits such as health care and even life insurance. I wonder if I could ever earn those things again in the work for which I was trained.

Other doors have opened, of course. Other requests were granted. The love I sought for all my life was found. I write this not because I am disappointed in my life but because I wonder about my church, and other varieties of church, that make statements in forums that have limited bearing on actual employment for people like me and think that’s enough.

It’s not.

I hope what we need is merely time, that this will change, but the truth is that people who are genuinely called by God are languishing, wondering if they got the message wrong, when maybe they were just more open to the Spirit than the rest of church world. My heart hurts for them.

Holy One. We are still knocking. Please, open the door. 


I’m reading and blogging about Luke for Lent. Want to read along? The full schedule can be found here.

As lambs among wolves

Sometimes I think I’m just not mean enough, not wily enough, not cruel enough. It seems like the people who get things done have all those qualities, the people who achieve a certain kind of greatness, the people with influence and power.

Today I wrote a letter, or four letters, actually, to my congressman, my senators, and to the President. They are cover letters to go with the statement RevGalBlogPals has made about the travel ban. 354 people signed on to the statement, from across the country and even beyond U.S. borders.

I’m under no illusion that it will make a difference to the President.

“The harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest. Go! Be warned, though, that I’m sending you out as lambs among wolves. Carry no wallet, no bag, and no sandals. Don’t even greet anyone along the way. Whenever you enter a house, first say, ‘May peace be on this house.’ If anyone there shares God’s peace, then your peace will rest on that person. If not, your blessing will return to you.” (Luke 10:2-7, CEB)

I wonder how the disciples felt going out into the world? Were they hopeful enthusiasts? I’ve been that person, convinced that humankind had turned a page in our collective story, toward more kindness and acceptance. Along the way they met people who rejected them, who rejected the Savior they came to represent. They had to shake dust off their sandals and move on to the next town. They had power over demons, but that didn’t make everyone agree with them.

We live in a time of aggressive disagreement. I wish I still had that hopeful enthusiasm. I pray we are living through a wild pendulum swing that will prove temporary, but I recognize that while many will be just fine in the midst of this moment, those who do suffer will suffer terribly.

Here’s my question. If things do come round right, will there be equal suffering for the ones who presently hold power and are using it in ways I believe are wrong in God’s eyes? Jesus called the names of cities that would “cast down to the place of the dead.” (That’s in verse 15. I read all of chapter 1o today.) This is what happens to wolves, at least the metaphorical ones.

I guess my preference is for changes of heart all around.

Lord, make us all more like lambs, more like the Lamb of God. Amen.


I’m reading and blogging about Luke for Lent. Want to read along? The full schedule can be found here.

Twelve baskets of leftovers

I’m still finding last week’s announcement about the “skinny” federal budget infuriating. An American of Irish descent wearing a Book of Kells necktie stood in front of the press and said it was compassionate to *not* feed people through programs funded by the government.

I’m angry, angry at people in Washington and people on social media, but also angry at people I know face-to-face who smugly declare the kinds of things I suspected they thought all along but were careful not to say in politically mixed company until recently emboldened, about their attitude toward government programs that assist the poor, the elderly, children, and others in need.

They seem to be saying,

We don’t have enough for ourselves to be able to share.”

When the day was almost over, the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so that they can go to the nearby villages and countryside and find lodging and food, because we are in a deserted place.”

He replied, “You give them something to eat.”

But they said, “We have no more than five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all these people.” (They said this because about five thousand men were present.)

Jesus said to his disciples, “Seat them in groups of about fifty.” They did so, and everyone was seated. He took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, blessed them, and broke them and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. Everyone ate until they were full, and the disciples filled twelve baskets with the leftovers. (Luke 9:12-17, CEB – I read all of chapter 9 today)

JESUS MAFA. Jesus multiplies the loaves and fish, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved March 20, 2017].
The message we’re hearing from Washington is that we would better leave money in the wallets of lower-middle class and poor people who could choose to spend it as they wish. The message we’re hearing from Washington is that people don’t really care about taking care of themselves, so why should anyone else do it for them? The message we’re hearing from Washington is that those with money will have the access they can buy, and the rest of the world can figure out how to get by with nothing. It’s a theology of scarcity; it says if we let other people have a little, we might not be able to keep a lot for ourselves.

Jesus is saying something completely different.

He is saying,

“There is already enough to go around.”

Holy God, may we remember that yours is the love that never lets us go, the grace of twelve baskets of leftovers, the mercy of more than enough for everyone. Amen.


I’m reading and blogging about Luke for Lent. Want to read along? The full schedule can be found here.