A Lot to Ask

A Lot to Ask

Dear Friends,

Each week’s liturgy includes something we call “The Prayer of the Day,” formerly known as “The Collect.” The Prayer of the Day is a summing up of all the day’s themes, to greater and lesser degrees of weekly success.  This Sunday’s texts are all about the cost of discipleship, the push and pull of faith and life, forgiveness and sin, responsibility and sloth.  The Prayer of the Day appointed for Sunday is a particular favorite of mine:

Teach us, good Lord God, to serve you as you deserve,

to give and not to count the cost,

to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not seek for rest,

to labor and not to ask for reward,

except that of knowing that we do your will.

It is a bracing “ask.” And a prayer not many of us would eagerly pray.

Sunday’s texts are all about the cost of doing God’s will.

We meet the prophet Jeremiah, a reluctant spokesperson for God, called to speak judgement in a time of great prosperity. On his best prophet days, he was ignored. On his worst prophet days he was betrayed by his own family. (Jeremiah 20.7-13)

The Apostle Paul characterizes the life of faith as dying to sin, being crucified with Christ, being buried with Christ, being destroyed and enslaved. (Romans 6.1b-11)  Who would choose such a life?  Apparently, many did. The opportunity to live life in Christ was a greater joy than all the sorrows that came with it. Is that true for us?

In the Gospel, Jesus paints a dark picture of what the disciples have agreed to do. (Matthew 10.24-39) You may recall that last Sunday Jesus commissioned them to share his work, because there was simply too much for him to do alone. They were glad to hear that they would be able to cure and exorcise and even raise the dead. But Sunday’s text speaks four times of “fear.”  With the power to restore life came the very real possibility that theirs would be taken from them.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 20th century Lutheran martyr, called this the “cost of discipleship.” Ours is not a yippy-skippy faith, success upon success. Ours is a servant faith that puts aside our own needs for the sake of the other. Thus, the prayer of the day that caught my attention.

Please join us Sunday as we attempt to make peace with the demands of what we have agreed to do. Inserted in the middle of the liturgy will be a joyous event—the Affirmation of Marriage Vows for Margaret Price and Guillermo Guidino, who were married in Lima, Peru in March.

Though our lives of faith are not nearly as complex or dangerous as those of the first disciples, there is no question that faithfulness to the call of Christ requires a great deal of us—all those things we ask in the Prayer of the Day. Know that it is a privilege for me to serve with you, to suffer whatever cost or wound, weariness or labor comes as a result of our bond to one another and to Christ.

Following as faithfully as I can,

Pastor JoAnn Post





Dear Friends,

I remember the first time my mother didn’t send me a birthday card. It’s not that my birthday is such a big deal, but my Mom never forgot anything, especially a child or grandchild’s birthday. Her forgetfulness was small and insignificant at first.  The name of an old neighbor. Whether she was driving to her Women’s Bible Study or being picked up by another. We paid those lapses no attention—we all forget things like that. But one of her children’s birthdays? That was a memory loss of a different order.

The Missing Birthday Card Episode occurred four years ago. I remembered it this week as I celebrated my birthday—without any acknowledgement from my parents. But I didn’t expect to hear from them. They have other things to think about. Fortunately, I was able to spend time with them last weekend—a quick unplanned trip because my father’s health has taken a dramatic turn. (Thank you for understanding my need to be away from you last Sunday.) And while a birthday greeting would have been nice, it was gift enough to see them.

But her forgetfulness is haunting. Can a mother forget her children? I didn’t think it was possible, but now I know it is.  And I find myself a little at loose ends.  Suffering a bit of anticipatory grief, trying to imagine a world without my parents in it. And feeling, as Jesus would say, “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

Sunday’s scripture texts indicate that that feeling of helplessness, of aimlessness, is nothing new. As they set out on their wilderness journey, God offered the people of Israel assurance that, even as they wandered sans GPS they would be God’s “treasured possession out of all the peoples.” (Exodus 19.2-8a) The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome, acknowledging the inevitability of trouble: “we boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance . . . “ (Romans 5.1-8) And in the gospel reading (Matthew 9.35-10.23) Jesus himself was overwhelmed by the trouble around him. Everywhere he went he was accosted by crowds in need of something—food, shelter, forgiveness, healing. He realized he could not care for them alone, so he commissioned the twelve disciples to do what he did. Everywhere he looked, Jesus saw need. Sheep without a shepherd. Followers without a leader. Students without a teacher. Children without a mother.

Please join us Sunday morning for a special event in our life together. We have invited the shepherds and flocks of St. James the Less Episcopal Church and Northfield Community Church to our pasture this Sunday. We will worship together in the sanctuary at 10 a.m. We have assembled a joint choir. Our nursery will be staffed for little children, and children ages 3-8 will be invited to “Children’s Church” during the sermon. My colleagues Pastor Lisa Senuta and Pastor Duayne Meyer and I will share leadership and preaching. Afterward, we invite you to stay for an indoor picnic (the weather is threatening). But the joy and hubbub of being together in ministry will be shadowed by the “harassed and helpless” ethos in which we live.

Who can forget the image of our elected leaders, most accustomed to lobbying bills and sometimes lobbing balls, dodging bullets on Wednesday? Who can imagine the grief of Londoners recovering from fire or the citizens of Kabul enduring yet more terrorist attacks? Every day’s local news reports on more domestic and neighborhood violence. How do we measure the helplessness in our own lives—the sorrow and need we each endure? We certainly cannot forget it.

Last Sunday morning, before my husband I and started the seven-hour drive home from Titonka, I said good-bye to my father, perhaps for the last time. I was crying as I left his room, speechless and unable to hide the tears.  Just as I was about to leave the building, I heard someone call my name. It was Phyllis, a long-time neighbor from the farm and member of my home church who now lives in the care center with my parents. She beckoned me over and, without a word, opened her arms to me.  I knelt beside her wheel chair and laid my head on her shoulder. She patted my hair as I cried, whispering, “I know. I know.” And she does. She knows what it is to be harassed and helpless. She also knows what it is to be comforted. And remembered. By Jesus, whom she has followed all her life, and by those whom Jesus sends on his behalf.

Today I give thanks for Phyllis, and for my Mom and Dad who raised me in the faith, and for countless others who bring Jesus’ hope and healing to sad children like me. I hope to see you Sunday, but if you are traveling, I pray you will not be “harassed and helpless” but loved and nurtured, remembered by God and by us.

Another year older and grateful for it,

Pastor JoAnn Post




So Many Questions

So Many Questions

Dear Friends,

A golfing friend told me on Sunday that the holes on greens on professional golf courses can be moved to keep the course challenging. I didn’t know you could move a hole!

In my lifelong pursuit of the perfect black dress shoe, I bought a pair of black flats that look dressy and feel great but are made entirely of rubber. What will Crocs think of next?

On Saturday a climber completed the first free solo ascent of El Capitan in Yosemite. No ropes or safety gear. Why would you do that?

There are so many things I don’t know or understand. Some of them are merely interesting, like moveable holes, weird shoes and improbable physical feats. But others are deeply troubling. A hammer-wielding attacker at Notre Dame. Unnecessary intrigue in Washington, D.C.  Vicious speech from both left and right. What does it mean?

This Sunday marks the only church “festival” based not on an event in the life of Jesus or the church (Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, etc.) but on an idea, a concept, a not-easily-grasped belief. We call it Trinity Sunday, a day set aside to ponder the mystery of God who is simultaneously three and one. One of the early attempts to articulate this belief was the Athanasian Creed,* in use by the Christian church since the sixth century. It is a dense, complex, modestly judgmental statement of belief that is rarely consulted. A Venn diagram does the trick for some. Others have tried to explain the Trinity with homely examples of things being both “three and one” at the same time: an egg that is shell/yolk/white; water that is liquid/steam/vapor. (I’m not sure how God feels about being compared to an egg. Or a glass of water.)

Rather than trying to explain the unexplainable, we consult scripture for wisdom and images. We will read the delightful account of creation in which God creates Human in “our” image (Genesis 1.1-2.4a). We hear a brief word from the Apostle Paul as he closes a letter to the Corinthian church with the Trinitarian blessing (2 Corinthians 13.11-13). Jesus himself speaks of God who is Father, Son and Spirit as he departs the disciples (Matthew 28.16-20). Each of these texts is but one attempt, a single pass at God who is beyond imagining or explaining.

On Sunday we celebrate the Baptism of Finn Louis Dallman. We baptize him in the triune name of God by pouring water over his head, anointing his tiny forehead with oil, asking him to be like a light in darkness for us. Martin Luther himself, in writing about baptism in The Small Catechism asks, “How can water do such great things?” Good question. Baptism washes him, strengthens him, protects him, encourages him, unites him with the faithful of all times and places who have passed through those same waters. How can this be?

Here’s another unexplainable thing. Love. God’s love for us. Our love for one another. How do we explain God’s irrepressible love for us as a race and as individuals? How do we explain the deep bonds between us human beings, bonds that cause us to fight and forgive and cling to one another? In these days of my parents’ rapid aging and decline, I am humbled by the love for them that wells up in my heart and eyes. I have never felt this way before, and cannot find words to describe what I feel for them.

A friend is keeping a list of questions for God, anticipating an interview in which God will explain all the unexplainables in my friend’s life.  But I wonder if, by the time that interview takes place, my friend will no longer care about the answers anymore, so overwhelmed and comforted by seeing God face-to-face.

Most of what matters in our lives defies easy description. But we trust that Love is stronger than Hate. Forgiveness more enduring than Fear. Life sturdier than Death.  In the meantime, I will pad around in my new rubber shoes, pondering the imponderables. Because, in spite of plenty of evidence to the contrary, God is good and we are blessed.

Pastor JoAnn Post




“Over There”

“Over There”

Dear Friends,

100 years ago George Cohan’s “Over There” was published by the Library of Congress. Within three months it would become one of the biggest hits in American music history. Remember this lyric?

Over there, over there,

Send the word, send the word over there

That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming

The drums rum-tumming everywhere.

So prepare, say a prayer,

Send the word, send the word to beware –

We’ll be over, we’re coming over,

And we won’t come back till it’s over, over there.

The song was written in support of America’s engagement in what would come to be called World War I. Our country’s involvement in the war came after months of political and military debate about our responsibility to nations “over there.” The decision to enter the war was not wildly popular, and signaled a dramatic shift in U.S. foreign policy. But who can imagine what the world would look like today if we had not intervened? Or that a song might turn the tide of public opinion?

It’s interesting to me that no specific nations “over there” were named. Was this a calculation on Cohan’s part to make the song potentially applicable in later wars (which it was), or because “over there” was a conundrum even to him? What was “over there” in 1917? 30 Entente Powers (also known as the Allies) took on the Central Powers, which included well-known nations like Germany and Austria-Hungary, and some lesser-known powers like Senusi, the Dervish State and Jabal Shammar (15 nations in all). “Over there” might have fit more easily into a lyric, but it also revealed how little we knew of the world beyond our oceans.

The first Pentecost (Acts 2.1-21) had a similar impact on the world.  When Jesus told his disciples to remain in Jerusalem after his ascension, he indicated that they would soon be sent to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the “ends of the earth.” (Acts 1.8) Of course, the “ends of the earth” didn’t extend very far then, but Jesus’ vision exceeded that of any 1st century cartographer.  It was not until the promised Spirit descended in a violent wind and with tongues of flame that Jesus’ “over there” began to take shape.

Apparently, Jerusalem, where this event took place, was home not only to native-born Jews but to immigrants from at least 18 countries who were named as in attendance that day. Partheans, Medes, Elamites . . . The Miracle of Language that erupted that day was a marvel to those immigrants, but didn’t stop at the western edge of Cyrene. Like an explosion, the waves of that day continued to spread to places Jesus’ disciples couldn’t begin to imagine. In fact, they spread across the oceans even to us.

Please join us for the Festival of Pentecost. The church will be dressed in red. A multi-language reader’s choir will tell the story. Music will be offered by a gifted young trumpeter, a capella ensemble, and praise choir. We had hoped to celebrate the Affirmation of Baptism of one of our middle school students, but some of her family members were suddenly unable to join us, so we’ve postponed Izzy’s confirmation until they can all join us for the celebration.

We will give thanks for those first disciples who trusted Jesus’ wisdom about the need to travel “over there.” We will extend the conversation to consider our responsibility to that nebulous “over there.” What words will we use? What message will we send? And how far away is “over there” anyway?

Did you see the news this week that in 2018 NASA will launch an exploratory craft to the sun?  I cannot grasp the enormity of that undertaking, the distances that tiny craft will travel. A mission to the sun is as unimaginable to us as the “ends of the earth” were to Jesus’ disciples or “over there” in the early years of the previous century. The worlds God created have no boundaries or limits. The people to whom we are sent challenge everything we thought we knew about language, culture, sexuality, ethnicity or religion. Will we go “over there” (wherever that is) in Jesus’ name?

Please keep our staff and leaders in your prayers as we retreat (not “flee” but “plan”) this evening and Saturday. I look forward to celebrating Pentecost with you (and the 32nd anniversary of my ordination) on Sunday. And if you are traveling this weekend, blessings to you. Maybe Jesus has work for you to do “over there.”

Eagerly along for the ride,

Pastor JoAnn Post



More than a memory

More than a memory

Dear Friends,

On Monday a good friend will stand with thousands of other mourners and patriots at the National Memorial Cemetery in Honolulu, Hawaii, witnessing to and remembering those who have served our country in times of both war and peace. Each gravesite will bear a flag. Soldiers will march. Bands will play. Rifle volleys will echo. Preachers and rabbis and imams will pray. Silence will be kept. Airplanes will fly over. And tears will fall. For her husband, and for countless spouses, siblings, parents and friends who have been laid to rest on that hallowed ground.

On that same day, 3,918 miles to the east, the graves of deceased veterans will be more quietly honored in the cemetery of my home church in Iowa. A floral wreath on one. A flag staked in the ground at another. A faded serviceman’s cap perched on another. There will be no crowds, no ceremony, no song.  But tears will fall there, too.

Grief is a gift no one wants to receive. But we grieve only because we love, and few of us would forego the opportunity to love because of the inevitability of the parting. My Grandpa Post, himself a veteran of World War I, told me after my grandmother’s death, “On our wedding day I looked at her and knew that one day we would be parted. I decided I had better love her well.” And he did. For over 60 years. But the “missing her” never abated. Shortly before his own death he told me, “It would have been easier if someone had cut off my arm than for her to die and leave me.”

The Seventh Sunday of Easter is all about grief, about parting, about longing.

The first reading (Acts 1.6-14) describes Jesus’ parting words to his disciples, and their upturned faces as “he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” The text is remarkably silent about their reaction to Jesus’ ascension, but I suppose that having witnessed the crucifixion and resurrection, they were beyond being surprised about anything.  They were not allowed to stand there for long, because two men in white robes (the same two men in white robes who had been at the empty tomb?) told them to get themselves to Jerusalem to wait for whatever would come next.  When the text closes they are waiting for something they couldn’t begin to imagine.

The epistle reading (1 Peter 4.12-14; 5.6-11) continues instructions to that early Christian community about what their life together would look like after Jesus’ ascension and before his return.  One thing that was certain was that the in-between time would involve suffering. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you, as though something strange is happening to you.” To quote my grandfather, it would have been easier if they had just sawed their arms off.  Being parted from Jesus, waiting for his return—it was harder than we can imagine.

The gospel reading (John 17.1-11) is a portion of Jesus’ prayer for his disciples on the eve of his being torn from them. I can almost hear the sadness in his voice, as he consults the Father about their future. “Protect them,” Jesus prayed. Protect them from fear, from division, from impatience, from forgetfulness. Jesus knew that he and the disciples would be reunited, but they did not. It would have been a tearful evening.

This weekend marks the start of the summer traveling season, and I suspect that many of us will not be together again until fall.  This short parting is bearable only because we know it will end. (I do miss you when you’re gone.) If you are in town this weekend, please join us for Worship. Sunday afternoon we will gather in our Celebration of Life Gardens for the interment of a faithful disciple who died in December. In the early evening we witness vows of lifelong faithfulness in marriage. It will be a “typical” day for us in that we won’t know if our tears are for joy or sorrow, if we should laugh or cry. We will do both.

Some of you know that my father’s health has been rapidly declining; his time with us is short. (My father is also a veteran, having served in the Korean War.)He has been placed in hospice care in the nursing facility in which he lives with my mother.  My siblings and cousins all report having recently had the same conversation with him that I did a few weeks ago, “I wonder what heaven will be like?”  He asks that question with tears in his eyes, because he knows that, in death, he will reunited with many who have gone before him, but parted from my mother and all of us. He stands between that life in which there are no tears and this life which is awash in them.

On this Memorial Weekend, in these waning days of the Easter season, we acknowledge the joys and sorrows of our common life. We grieve because we love. We trust that we will receive all that has been taken from us. And we long for that great day when all our battles have ended, and all our tears will be for joy.


Gratefully yours,

Pastor JoAnn Post




gods known and unknown

gods known and unknown

Dear Friends,

Sometimes I forget that just six months ago my husband and I were in Greece to return Codex 1424 to the Greek Orthodox Church.  It was an unbelievable opportunity, almost dreamlike in its unlikely splendor, but, sadly, is mostly eclipsed in my thoughts by more recent and far less interesting events. I was reminded of that adventure this week because of the first reading for Sunday: Acts 17.22-31.

The Apostle Paul was in Athens at the Areopagus, addressing the 1st century residents of the city. Until I stood there myself (2000 years later) I did not grasp the significance of his observation:

I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of worship, I found among them an altar with an inscription “To an unknown god.”

Athens was a wildly diverse religious city, its streets and squares pocked with statues and markers and buildings and altars and obelisks dedicated to gods too many to name.  Paul’s notice of an altar to “an unknown god” revealed both the faith and the fear of the Athenians. They wanted to make sure they honored all gods, and that no deity was offended by the absence of an altar in its name. Faith in the gods was, for them, a thick braid of devotion, dread and speculation. Not unlike the role of faith for many in our time.

My husband and I hiked to the highest point of the city, the Acropolis, and from that vantage point were able to see archeological evidence of many long-destroyed holy places. I could not help but wonder if centuries from now tourists to Christian religious sites will see nothing but dusty museums and commemorative plaques, as well.

I’m sure you know as well as I do that many churches, of many denominations and faiths, remain “open” long after the congregation has ceased to have a mission or purpose.  We are sometimes more attached to the house of worship than the One we worship. But that is a conversation for another day.

It was this tendency to mistake the life of faith with physical locations or with gods whose images were carved in stone that underlay all of Sunday’s texts.

Paul introduced his polytheistic audience to Jesus, the Son of God who could not be contained in a shrine made by human hands:

We ought not to think that [Jesus] is like gold or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals.

In a contemporaneous letter attributed to Peter (1 Peter 3.13-22) the writer wrote of Jesus who defied all laws of physics and time, by descending to “the spirits in prison” during the three days of his body’s confinement in the tomb. That same Jesus, having conquered death, then took his place at the right hand of God. What must a 1st century audience have thought of this Jesus? Did they imagine him to be like the multiplicity of gods they worshipped, or as something, someone wholly different? Did they build altars to Jesus as the Athenians had done for their laundry list of deities?

We continue reading in Jesus’ final discourse (John 14.15-21) in which Jesus attempted to prepare his disciples for his absence.  He did not encourage them to build a building or erect an altar or carve an image by which to remember him. Instead, he promised to be always present  with them in the “Advocate” (another name for the Holy Spirit) who would be with them forever.  What would that be like, they wondered, for Jesus to be with them but not with them?

Where do we worship? Whom do we worship? Why do we worship? These questions occupied the imagination of the ancients and ourselves.

During Worship we will unpack these deliciously complex texts. And, sadly, we will bid Farewell and Godspeed to Tom and Debby Van Aman who will soon resettle in their lake home in Angola, IN on a permanent basis.

The questions asked by Paul’s Athenian audience linger today. Where is God? What does God do? How do we see God? Or, even more basically, is there a God and what difference does that God make?  If those are your questions, please join us Sunday—we won’t answer them all but you’ll find yourself in good interrogatory company.

No question I am grateful,

Pastor JoAnn Post


Home is Where Jesus Is

Home is Where Jesus Is

Dear Friends,

Best Mother’s Day card ever:

On the front: “Please don’t leave us.”

Inside: “If you do, we’ll all die!”

A friend and I cackled like hens at the Hallmark store when we found that card. At first glance, it was hilarious, but on reflection I realized that the lighthearted words could sting. Neither he nor I bought the card, by the way.

I know many for whom the card aisle on Mother’s Day is an emotional mine field because their mother is deceased or distant or damaged. What of women who long to be mothers, but cannot? Women who grieve the death of a child? Women whose children are raised by another? Or adult children whose mothers are unknown to them? Or in prison? Or absent by choice? What of orphans? The calculus of complications on Mother’s Day is endless. I am richly blessed to have both a mother and mother-in-law who are dearer than life to me, so it is a privilege to tell them I love them on Mother’s Day. I also give thanks for other women who have played significant roles in my life.  (On a note of personal privilege, I name my Aunt Marvella as one of these women. This will be my cousins’ first Mother’s Day without her, and her absence is a sorrow to us all.)

But Mother’s Day is not a liturgical holiday, so on Sunday when we gather for worship we will give thanks for those who have been as mothers to us, and acknowledge those for whom it is a hard day. And all of those joys and sorrows will be subsumed under the rubric of the Fifth Sunday of Easter and its oddly appropriate Gospel reading about disciples’ fears of abandonment.

To this point in the Easter season, our gospel readings have been about Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. But on Sunday we flash back to the days before his resurrection, specifically his promise of shelter for soon-to-be-abandoned disciples (John 14.1-14). The text is set in the context of the last supper, during which Jesus washed their feet and predicted that he would be both betrayed and denied. Rocking back on his heels, he acknowledged their confusion, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me.” He then promised them a home in “my Father’s house with many dwelling places.”  But when? How? Where? The disciples’ confusion was not alleviated by Jesus’ promise, only heightened. To their troubled hearts and minds, Jesus made three promises: I will make a place for you; you will do powerful things in my name; anything you ask in my name I will do.

To prepare for worship, please also read Acts 7.54-60 (the martyrdom of Stephen), Psalm 31 (which Jesus quoted from the cross), and 1 Peter 2.2-10 (a house of living stones).

Sunday morning will be the last gathering for our Sunday School Children and Sunday Forum for the program year. Worship will find us singing, praying, listening, and gathering around the table where disciples of every age, all the children of God gather to be renewed and refreshed. At the end of worship, we will bid Farewell and Godspeed to Bill Schwarz who is moving to Pennsylvania soon. We had hoped to celebrate the completion of our Lent Holy Family Challenge during worship, but we have had to postpone that event.

Congregations I have served have chosen to mark Mother’s Day in different ways—sometimes elaborately and sometimes not at all. But one of the most touching observances I have witnessed took place in an Atlanta congregation I served almost 30 years ago. On Mother’s Day members of the congregation, men and women, young and old, wore lapel flowers—white if your mother was deceased; red is she was alive. Little was said during worship about the day, but that simple gesture served as both acknowledgment of our mothers, regardless of the relationship, and that the day brings both joy and sorrow.

Sunday’s promise to us is that regardless of our family situation, there is a place for us.  A place of service to one another in this life, and a place in God’s realm when this life has ended. Whether the women who raised us were unrivaled saints or unrepentant sinners, the promise that we will not be abandoned by God is unchanged. As always, I give thanks for you who daily witness to the faithful, sheltering, relentless love of God, who is both mother and father to us all.

A grateful child of God and of my mother, Troyce,

Pastor JoAnn Post