God on the Go

God on the Go

Dear Friends,

Two roads diverged in a text, and I—

I took them both.

(With apologies to Robert Frost.)

Advent’s texts are filled with travel. Jesus urged disciples to flee the city at the first sign of destruction. John the Baptizer warns his hearers to flee the wrath that is to come. Late in the season we read of a journey to an inn-less city. This Sunday we navigate a single road, but from two different vantage points.

Isaiah promises the people in exile that God will come to them.  (Isaiah 40.1-11) This might not seem odd to us. But to the Chosen People, who believed that God resided in The Temple in Jerusalem, who grieved God’s alleged absence during their hiatus from the Holy Land, the idea that God would lace up the Nikes and run to them was more than odd; it was heretical.  Their sojourn in the wilderness had been all about finding a homeland, a stable place for themselves and for the Ark of the Covenant.  Annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem were journeys toward God.  But in this familiar text, Isaiah promised that they no longer need to go looking for God; God would come to them. God exercises the “reversible” option on that desert expressway.

Mark describes that same road, from the same prophetic text, but for another traveler (Mark 1.1-8) John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness to the tune of that familiar Isaiah song: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make the Lord’s paths straight.”  The people who first heard John the Baptizer wondered if he might be the traveler for whom they longed, the promised peripatetic Messiah. So they came running to see. In a highly hyperbolic claim, Mark says that “people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem” came out to hear him.  A crowd of that size was simply not possible, but, true to form, the Chosen People (and some of their unchosen neighbors) imagined they had to do the traveling, the running, the searching.  Instead, John the Baptizer pointed away from himself toward the road that Isaiah had promised. “One who is more powerful than I is coming. To you. Wait for him.”

Friends, we don’t need to go looking for God, peering into dark alleys or pursuing stray rumors. God is not lodged somewhere, playing hide-and-seek with us. God is on the way to us, on a highway straight and level.

Join us this Sunday to hear about those reversible lanes, God’s decision not to wait to be found, but to come to us.  Our Sunday School Children meet at 9:30 a.m. to sing.  We Worship at 10 a.m. to study, to sing, to pray, to wait. The Forte Family will light the second candle on our Advent wreath. In the afternoon we invite you to our Advent Christmas Concert—we will sing of God’s promised peace to the accompaniment of orchestra, children and adult choirs, and readers.

On Sunday we will sing, “Prepare the royal highway; the King of Kings is near!” It’s true.  Christ is coming soon. Join us as we wait.

Pastor JoAnn Post

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Matters Great and Small

Matters Great and Small

Dear Friends,

This evening, my husband and I are hosting a small dinner party in our home for the Archbishop of Sweden. (No, IKEA is not catering.)

A year ago, my husband and I were in Drama, Greece as guests of the Greek Orthodox Church, celebrating the return of Codex 1424 and making international headlines. (The 9th century Greek Manuscript of the Complete New Testament (Codex 1424) is returned during Magnificent Ceremony and Vespers Service, http://www.goarch.org)

Sunday morning, Jonah and Molly Ley will light the first candle on our Advent wreath.

Sunday afternoon, my trusty Subaru ferries me to Titonka, IA where I will spend a couple of days with my Mom, whom I have not seen since my Dad’s funeral a month ago.

Which of these events, some of them very public and others very private, is most important, most impressive, most significant? Does it matter? And who makes that determination?

The First Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of a season of reflection on the nature of our expectations of God’s presence and power in our lives and in our world.

Isaiah 64.1-1:9: “You did awesome deeds which we did not expect; you came down and the mountains quaked at your presence.”

1 Corinthians 1.3-9: “God will strengthen you to the end. God is faithful.”

Mark 13.24-37: “About that day and about that hour no one knows. Be alert: for you do not know when the time will come.”

Advent is all about power–the power that lies in God’s hands. Power over our hearts, on earth, and in the heavens. Whether your day will bring a brush with greatness or the brushing aside of a tear, your life matters to God. That’s why everything from international intrigue to a candle in a child’s hand is cause for pause, to wonder at the presence of God in matters great and small.

Please join us for worship at the start of this holy season. Sunday School will meet at 9:30 a.m. Sunday with Director of Music Minkyoo Shin to continue preparations for our Advent Christmas Concert (December 10) and our Christmas Pageant (December 24).  Sunday Forum is on hiatus until the New Year.  Worship at 10 a.m. provides space in your life for calm reflection and hopeful song.

We will mark St. Nicholas Day on Sunday, so make sure you wear hole-less socks—you’ll want to leave your shoes in Fellowship Hall for a special treat. We also continue to receive commitments of support for our 2018 Ministry Budget and our Shine! Capital Campaign. Thank you for your generous support, already putting us over 80% of our goals.

What in your life is most important, most impressive, most significant? All of it–great and small–matters to God. And all of it is welcome here, where people powerful and ordinary come to pray a common prayer, sing a simple song, share an ancient meal.

Though we at Ascension rarely make headlines, it continues to be important, impressive and significant to me that I get to be your pastor.  In between all of today’s important events, I will be remembering and giving thanks for you—you with whom I will spend this Advent waiting.

Lighting candles in the darkness,

Pastor JoAnn Post

The Power of Love

The Power of Love

Dear Friends,

Buried beneath the stomach-turning headlines about sexual harassment and misuse of power at the highest levels of both the political and entertainment industries, lies a smaller and more personal heartache. A congregation I formerly served has, this week, been grappling with threats of violence against their ministry.  The police and FBI are involved. Programs have been cancelled. Parishioners are alternately frightened and enraged. Neighbors are on high alert.  Why? Because a nameless caller promised to show up at a Thanksgiving event with firearms.

I can’t imagine how violence against a congregation seems like a good idea to the caller. What is to be gained?  What will be solved? The congregation’s leadership has been cautious about drawing attention to the threat—the caller’s misplaced sense of power may only grow if he knows the whole city is watching. What to do?  Everything. Nothing.

Harm happens in every industry (including mine), at every level, for a wide and twisted variety of motives.  The common denominator is Power—to desire to wield authority over someone else.  This maniacal desire to control is not new to our time.

We will gather on Sunday to celebrate Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year and a brilliant display of power exercised with love. Sunday’s scripture texts could be ripped from the headlines as even the Ancients struggled to discern God-given, life-giving power from selfish, death-dealing control.

The prophet Ezekiel wrote of the “shepherds of Israel,” a cynical nickname for religious leaders who misused their power. (Ezekiel 34.11-16, 20-24)  The wicked shepherds divided Israel, the sheep over whom they were to watch. The wicked shepherds created cliques among the sheep, setting them against one another. The wicked shepherds used the people for their own ignoble ends.  What does a Good Shepherd do? How does God wield authority?

Paul wrote to the congregation to Ephesus to remind that true power lies in Jesus Christ.  (Ephesians 1.15-23) Jesus’ glory and greatness have nothing to do with dominance and fear, but with the power of Love to overcome all the so-called powers of this world.

We close the church year with one of my favorite images of God’s ultimate power—the parable of the sheep and goats. (Matthew 25.31-46) In Jesus’ parable, God sits on the throne separating sheep from goats.  The distinction between sheep (hurray!) and goats (boo!) will not be their resume or wealth or reputation.  Those who will be welcomed into the kingdom as beloved sheep are those who see the world’s sorrow and wade into it.  As for the rest, the “goats” who lived lives of selfish excess—well, it won’t end well for them.  The power of love—that’s what God will be looking for.

Record numbers of people will be traveling this weekend to give thanks with friends and loved ones all over the country. You do not have to travel far to give thanks—just park your car Sunday morning in the church lot at 460 Sunset Ridge and you will find yourself surrounded by grateful, hopeful people whose power is demonstrated in kindness, whose love is shown in selflessness.

It would make my heart glad to see you Sunday morning for Worship. We won’t be holding Sunday Forum or Sunday School. We continue to receive Commitments of Support for our 2018 ministries and Shine! Capital Campaign, and are delighted with the results, so far. We will gladly receive yours, as well. (We will make a full report on Sunday, December 10.)

I wish I could say that the threat to my former congregation has been resolved. But when the Thanksgiving event was cancelled, the allegedly-armed stalker called back, “disappointed” that he wasn’t able to join them. By the time you read this, I may know more than I do today.  Will his threats prove credible? Will he be apprehended? Will the congregation find its feet?  My dear friends suffer uncertainty and fear because a person with delusions of power chose to target them.

Exercise your power in these grateful days—pray for victims, confront abusers, refuse to be silent, demonstrate Christ-like power that seeks out the lost, feeds the hungry, protects the defenseless and forgives the sinner.

My mostly grateful heart is heavy,

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

 

A Thanksgiving Ten

A Thanksgiving Ten

Dear Friends,

He and I chat every time we run into each other in the grocery store aisles. He interrupts his work to ask me how the “God Business” is going, and I inquire about the Bible study he leads every week at a local automotive shop. This week he put both his hands square on my shoulders and smiled impishly into my face:

“I have a little Thanksgiving quiz for you.  On a scale of 1-10, how happy are you?” “10.”

“On a scale of 1-10, how grateful are you?” Same answer.

“On a scale of 1-10, how generous are you?”

Before I could answer, he laughed. “I know the answer! Because I know you! Happy and grateful people are always generous. You’re a 10!” He hugged me and turned to another unsuspecting quiz contestant.

I know some of my friend’s life story. Though he is also a “10” on every one of these scales, his life has not been easy.  His family has suffered more than its share of setbacks and disappointments. But none of those sorrows changes his happy, grateful, generous life.  In fact, I wonder if those setbacks and disappointments have multiplied those attributes. I’ll ask him next time I see him—I always have a grocery list.

As we prepare for Commitment Sunday at Ascension, and many are making plans for Thanksgiving, I am sad to tell you that Sunday’s texts are not happy, grateful or generous. They are ominous, pointed and harsh.

The prophet Zephaniah shines no light on his readers, warning them instead that “the day of the Lord” would be dark and coming soon, that they would be obliterated. (Zephaniah 1.7, 12-18)

Psalm 90 reminds us that the length of our lives is variable, but always short. “So teach us to number our days that we apply our days to wisdom,” the Psalmist prays.

Paul writes to the congregation at Thessaloniki, using their unbelieving neighbors as a foil for his faithful advice: “Don’t be like them—they live in the dark. Don’t be like them—they are drunkards. Don’t be like them—trouble will come for them like a thief in the night.” (1 Thessalonians 5.1-11)

And Jesus tells his disciples a parable about a landowner who left his slaves in charge of his (considerable) wealth during a protracted absence. (Matthew 25.14-30)  One of those slaves invested in the stock market and doubled his master’s money; a second slave did the same. But the third dug a hole in the ground and buried everything he had been given. When the Master returned, he praised Slaves #1 and #2 for being “trustworthy and good,” but Slave #3 was deemed “wicked and lazy.” Why the disparity? The third slave did no harm to the master’s money; he did nothing wrong. Nor did he do anything grateful. Here’s the thing: Slaves 1 and 2 were happy and grateful for their master’s trust in them; that recognition made them generous with their master’s wealth—getting a rate of return on their investments that Wall Street has never been able to match. Slave 3 didn’t recognize the trust placed in him, so his master’s gift became instead a burden; he became angry, thankless and miserly.  Maybe my grocery store friend is on to something.

We host a special event at Ascension Saturday morning: a Prayer Vigil between 8 a.m. and noon.   Drop in any time between those hours to sit quietly and reflect at one of three prayer stations situated around the building.  In the Sanctuary, you will be invited to pray for the congregation’s mission. At the Garden Doors, you will be asked to remember our ancestors in the faith whose faith built our facility. At the “Woman at the Well” statue, we invite you to call to mind those who thirst, who hunger, who look to us for sustenance. Prayer ideas will be provided, but there will be no schedule or expectation.  At noon, whoever is present will gather around the “Woman at the Well” for a simple service of Holy Communion.  I know we’ve not done anything like this at Ascension before, but don’t be frightened.  All we ask you to do is pray—at your own pace, in your own words or with words we provide; you won’t be asked to do anything at all and only God will be listening.  Come, enjoy the peace of our church home. And pray for all the work God does through us.

Please join me for Sunday Forum at 9:00 a.m. Sunday. Our Little Ones will be in Sunday School at 9:30 a.m., and our Intermediates will be preparing music for worship. (Wear your Shine! t-shirts, kids. And if you don’t have one already, there is one waiting for you.)

During Worship we will receive commitments of support for both our 2018 Ministry Budget and the Shine! Capital Campaign. Our children’s choir, bell choir and senior choir will gift us with music. Capital Campaign Consultant Phyllis Wiederhoeft will serve communion and share a “giving strategy” with our children during Children’s Time. We will—in sermon, song and prayer—turn these troubling biblical texts to our purposes, using them as a quiz for our own lives of faith. Will the grocer’s adjectives be used of us? Are we Happy? Grateful? Generous?  Or do we more closely resemble surly, sulking, selfish Slave #3?

After worship, a vat of Debby Schwab’s world famous Hot Fudge Sauce simmers for us, as we celebrate Shine! with an Ice Cream Social. And don’t forget: on Sunday afternoon we welcome Broadway and Caberet to our concert series. It will be an unforgettable event.

As the National Day of Giving Thanks nears, it prompts us to ponder our Every Day of Giving Thanks. My grocery store friend leaves joy, gratitude and generosity in his wake.  I aspire to do the same. Do you? Please join him and me and Matthew’s stock-market savvy servants in recognizing all that has been entrusted to us.  Because I have a little quiz for you.

A Grateful Servant of my Master,

Pastor JoAnn Post

Seeds Gotta Grow

Seeds Gotta Grow

Dear Friends,

My parents’ pastor has known them for 25 years. He is wonderfully suited for rural ministry: patient, thoughtful, honest, rooted, slow to speak, quick to chuckle. In his funeral sermon for my father last Saturday he described our expectation of life with Christ when this life ends:

Your Dad never spent a day planting corn, only to come into the house and say to your Mom, “Well, I sure hope nothing grows!”

Your Dad never took you kids out to survey the fields in summer and boasted, “Look! Nothing came up!”

It was an image that resonated powerfully in that farming community. In the same way that farmers plant seeds in expectation of life, so we live our lives in expectation of the life to come. We are comforted at the time of death with the belief that the seeds of faith planted in us will sprout into abundant life with God. More than once we commented that our Dad would have loved his funeral—the texts, the music, the crowds, the remembrances. It always strikes me as a shame that we wait until death to sing a person’s favorite hymns, read favorite texts, tell favorite stories, speak of our affection and respect.

It was a busy weekend for everyone. Farmers were hurrying to finish the harvest when I was there; the headlights of combines and trucks studding the nighttime horizon like stars fallen to the ground. November marks the end of a long growing season in farm country.

November also marks the end of our church year. Christ the King Sunday is celebrated November 26; Advent opens on December 3. Our scripture texts speak more and more openly of the end of things—the end of time, the end of relationships, the end of business as usual.

On Sunday the Prophet Amos (Amos 5.18-24) warns his readers that it would be wise for them not to long for the Day of the Lord. They lived lives of faithlessness to God and to neighbor—the Day of the Lord would bring harsh judgement rather than welcome reception.

Paul writes to the church at Thessalonica to calm their fears about the eternal disposition of those who died before Christ returned (1 Thessalonians 4.13-18). This text is the source of beautiful images of an angel’s shout and a trumpet’s call and the dead “caught up to meet the Lord in the air.”

Jesus encourages his disciples to “be woke,” as political activists advise (Matthew 25.1-13). He tells a parable of bridesmaids who are ill-prepared for the wedding, who fail to have enough lamp oil to light the bridegroom’s way. Rather than judgement on bored wedding attendants, it is a reminder to be always alert to God’s presence in our midst. “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

A few random thoughts about last weekend:

Corn is King: Because of record-breaking rainfall in October, the corn harvest was running frighteningly late. My father’s Friday night visitation was sparsely attended in its first two hours—our farmer neighbors and friends were racing the clock to bring in the harvest. Just as we were closing the doors, a neighbor rushed in, his hair dripping wet, corn dust under his fingernails. “I’m sorry to be so late. I had to stay in the field as long as I could!” Fortunately, it rained on the day of Dad’s funeral, so all the farmers could attend. (A few of them dozed in the pews; it was the first time they had sat down in days.) We have since received word that my brother finished the corn harvest at 3:00 Wednesday afternoon. Whew.

My hair is interesting: (I haven’t seen many of our old friends and neighbors since the last family funeral 18 months ago–apparently my hair has grown considerably since then.) Buried among the expressions of respect and affection for my father, my hair sparked a great deal of conversation. “There’s something different about you . . . “ “Didn’t you used to be blonde?” “I like this cut a lot better than the way you used to wear it.” And from my mother, “It’s too long. It doesn’t look like you. Cut it off.”

ROUS’s: Fans of the film “The Princess Bride” will forgive me for commandeering that acronym to reference instead my family’s fecundity. On Saturday we were “Relations of Unusual Size.”  My mother and we eight children and our families followed my father’s casket into the sanctuary, singing through our tears. When we finished all five verses of the hymn, the organist continued to play. Confused, my older daughter looked first at me and then back down the church aisle. They were still coming—aunts and uncles and cousins streaming to their places. Our immediate family filled half of the enormous sanctuary. “I forget how big the Post Family is,” she whispered. Indeed. ROUS

Before I close, please accept my deep gratitude for your kindnesses to my family and me. We have been overwhelmed with cards and gifts and food and flowers and expressions of concern and love. Though my father’s death is a tremendous loss, the abiding feeling I carry with me is that of Gratitude. How blessed I am. How blessed we are. What a blessing you are.

I missed being with you last Sunday. Because of events in Titonka, I was not able to worship on All Saints Sunday. Instead, I listened for your voices singing “For All the Saints,” and think I caught a bit of it on the breeze. I will look for you this Sunday: Sunday Forum at 9:00, Sunday School at 9:30, Worship at 10 a.m. with Coffee Hour following.

Please never take for granted the gift of our shared life, the privilege of worshipping together. We gather to be reminded that good seeds have been planted in us, that faithfulness is demanded of us, that God’s presence is evidenced at unlikely times and in unlikely places.

Don’t miss an opportunity to tell the people you love that you love them. And let the grudges go—it is surprising how little those hurts matter at graveside.

With hope and expectation,

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

In Memoriam: My Dad

In Memoriam: My Dad

Dear Friends,

My father, Erwin Eldon Post, died on All Saints Day. He was 85 years old. He had been diagnosed with cancer in May, suffering steady decline since then. But in recent days, his health worsened rapidly. My mother, Troyce, to whom he was married for 15 days shy of 62 years, will be lost without him.

My parents farmed land that was first tilled by my grandparents outside our hometown, Titonka, Iowa. Ours was a storybook farm—dairy and beef cattle, horses, sheep, hogs, goats, poultry, dogs and swarms of nameless barn cats, surrounded in summer by undulating fields of corn, soybeans and hay. In the winter, when the trees and fields were bare, we could see the church steeple a mile to the south, and the lights in the pastor’s kitchen. Mom and Dad left the farm eleven years ago, when they moved from our five-bedroom farm house to a two-bedroom ranch in town. Last year, they moved together to the Titonka Care Center, where they shared a single room.  In all three circumstances—on the farm, in the “town” house and in a nursing facility—Dad would say, “Everything I need is right here.” Except for a tour of duty in Korea, my father never lived more than five miles from his birthplace.

My father was a man of enormous stature, big as a barn door, with hands large as the bottom of a milk pail. His cowlicky brush of auburn hair was most often concealed under a seed corn cap. The hard physical work of farming did not bend his back or his spirit, but his feet always hurt. He was a John Deere man.

My father was deeply faithful; he knew that all he had was a gift from God. He and my Mom were blessed with eight children, all of us smart, healthy and hardworking. My parents took quiet delight in their fifteen grandchildren and great-grandson. My father once quoted a neighbor who, years ago, after seeing a row-full of Post kids perched in a church pew beside my mother, all our heads bent over hymnals, told my Dad, “Erwin, you are a rich man.”

As my parents aged, it seemed everyone else they knew did, too. Wakes and funerals were the big social events on their calendar, eclipsed only by doctors’ appointments and “The Bold and the Beautiful.” Dad was preceded in death by my grandparents, four of my uncles, four of my aunts, and my parents’ cousins, friends and neighbors too many to count. My mother quipped drily, “We know more people under the grass than on it.”

On Christmas Eve 1953, my father and his platoon were dropped at an Army base near Seoul, South Korea. The ground was bare and cold, the sky was gray, snowflakes fell but never seemed to land. He remembers, “I’ve never been so cold and lonely in my whole life.” Voice trembling, he recalls waking that Christmas morning to carols falling over groggy GI’s , cruelly, from an enemy airplane flying overhead.  “When I heard ‘Silent Night’ it nearly broke me,” he said. That gentle carol reminded him of the unspilled tears in his parents’ eyes as they parted at the bus station in Algona, the warm candlelit Christmas Eve in our home church, the beautiful girl (my mother) he left behind. He made sure we knew that at his funeral, regardless of the season, we would sing “Silent Night.” We will.

I cannot yet grasp that I will not see him again in this life. But I am humbled and grateful to be his daughter, to be the beneficiary of his hard work and steady faith. Sleep in heavenly peace, Dad. Sleep in heavenly peace.

JoAnn Post

The full obituary and funeral information may be seen at http://www.oakcrestfuneralservices.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For All the Saints

For All the Saints

Dear Friends,

More than 40 names found their way into our Book of Remembrance for All Saints Sunday—people we love who have died since last All Saints Day. Each name tells a story of love and loss, joy and sorrow. A friend’s congregation hosts a luncheon after worship on All Saints Sunday, a meal during which the story of each person in their Book of Remembrance is told. It is a grand, tearful, time-consuming tradition. Perhaps we might try it at Ascension one day?

It is one of the great privileges and mysteries of faith in Jesus Christ that we remain in relationship with those who have died, that we trust in the communion of saints that transcends time and space. Those we love who have died are alive in Christ. And one day we will be reunited.

I will not be with you this Sunday. My extended family and I will be worshipping in my home church in rural Titonka, IA, where we have gathered for the funeral of my father.  I hate being away from you, but as is true of our ongoing relationship with those who have died, you and I will meet one another at the Lord’s Table. Even when those Tables are separated by many miles, we are together in the body and blood of our Lord.

Because I am away, we will not meet for Sunday Forum and have, sadly, cancelled All Saints Vespers in the Garden Sunday evening.  But our children will enjoy Sunday School at 9:30 and a special art project during Sermon Story Time. On very short notice my friend and colleague Pastor Terry Baeder, Director of Field Education at LSTC, has offered to preach and preside Sunday morning. He is a good, kind and wise man, who will lead worship with dignity and hope.

Our tradition provides countless texts and tunes to accompany our grateful grief on All Saints Sunday. I leave you with a portion of the prayer which is offered on Christmas Eve in Cambridge, England, during their annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols:

Lastly let us remember before God all those who rejoice with us,

but upon another shore and in a greater light,

that multitude which no one can number,

whose hope was in the Word made flesh,

and with whom, in this Lord Jesus, we for evermore are one.

I’ll see you at the table. Blessed All Saints.

Pastor JoAnn Post

PS Remember to turn the clocks back one hour Saturday night.