Its Oscar Season!

Its Oscar Season!

Dear Friends,

Its Oscar Season!

The nominations for this year’s Academy Awards were released on Monday. As soon as the list was posted, I received a panicked phone call from one of my sisters. For years, she has viewed every film in every category (yes, every one) in anticipation of an Oscar Party with similarly Oscar-obsessed friends. Her phone message? “The season is shorter this year! I only have four weeks!” Her next phone call was to a friend to start scheduling trips to the theater, and an on-line search for viewing options for the more obscure nominees.

A podcast I frequent is also obsessed with Oscar. They are airing interviews with the directors of nominated films, and I glommed on to an interview with Martin Scorsese, director of “The Irishman.” (10 nominations) Though I am not always a Scorsese fan, I have to give him credit for consistency. Even his Wikipedia page agrees with me: Scorsese’s body of work explores themes such as Italian-American identity, Catholic concepts of guilt and redemption, faith, machismo, crime and tribalism. Many of his films are known for their depiction of violence, and the liberal use of profanity and rock music.

You can spot his films at a hundred paces because of the steady drumbeat of these ubiquitous Scorsese themes.

Its Epiphany Season!

If there were Oscars for consistency in biblical story telling, the Gospel writer John would win in every category. His Wikipedia page might go something like this: John’s body of work explores themes of light and dark, sight, identity, sacrifice, commitment, truth, love, and omniscience. Many of his narratives are known for their negative depiction of religious and political leadership, and his preoccupation with death.

In this Epiphany season, the season of “revealing,” John does not disappoint. Last Sunday we read about Jesus’ baptism in Matthew’s gospel. This Sunday we get a first-person account of that event from John the Baptizer himself, as narrated by John the Gospel Writer. (John 1.29-42) The text introduces us to many of the themes with which we will become familiar. This particular text is preoccupied with the Greek concept of “meno,” to abide, to stay, to remain. Jesus’ true identity is revealed—sort of. On flimsy evidence, disciples commit themselves to Jesus’ cause. The invitation to “come and see” is extended. (As it will be numerous times in the gospel.)

Throughout this season (two weeks longer than Oscar-viewing season), other gospel writers will also attempt to reveal Jesus to us. And, in the process, we will be “revealed,” as well. Are we faithful or fickle? Determined or doubting? Bold or blind? Will we invite others to “come and see,” or, by our lives, discourage their curiosity about the Christ?

Please join us Sunday for Children’s Music (9:30 a.m.), Godly Play (9:45 a.m.) and Worship (10 a.m.) Through scripture and song, meditation and meal, we will watch the story of Jesus’ life and our ministry unfold before our eyes.

For some, this is Oscar Season. (Go, “Little Women”!) For us, it is Epiphany Season.

Come and see!

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

 

All Words Matter

All Words Matter

Dear Friends,

I greeted the new year in a movie theater watching the latest cinematic adaptation of “Little Women.” Based loosely on both the book and the author’s life, I was intrigued by the attention paid to the publisher of Louisa May Alcott’s first novel. In the film, the publisher expresses reservations about the trajectory of Alcott’s autobiographical novel. Mr. Dashwood said, “If the main character is a girl, make sure she is married by the end. Or deadEither way.”

I suppose a writer needs to write what readers are willing to read.

This morning’s Chicago Tribune included an editorial by Eric Zorn, who offers advice about how to navigate the sure-to-be-bumpy political season ahead. Zorn and other political writers expect (and relish) pushback for their opinions, but they also report being routinely subjected to unwarranted harassment, ridicule and even threats. In the past, Zorn responded even to his most virulent critics, but has this year adopted a new policy with regard to the threatening words that land in his inbox: ignore, delete, block.

I suppose a writer doesn’t need to respond to every reader.

Multiple studies have proven that we tend to read only those words with which we resonate. We know that, left to our own devices (pun intended), we reject words that might alter our world view, challenge our conventional opinions, or offer a contrary word.

I suppose it is human nature to choose our words selfishly.

But it is not the nature of God to offer only pleasing words, gentle nudges, bland guidance. On the Second Sunday of Christmas, God comes at us with a WORD! (John 1.1-18) Not an opinion, or a suggestion or a clever turn of phrase, but a WORD! And that WORD is Jesus—God in human likeness. Jesus was not edited to please his readers. Jesus incited his followers to faith and his critics to violence.  Jesus challenged the prevailing political and theological wisdom. Jesus baffles, offends and intrigues us to this day.

In a world awash in carefully curated words intended alternately to soothe or slash, we willingly gather around the Word that speaks truth that we sometimes struggle to receive. Please join us Sunday to worship this Word that simultaneously comforts and angers, promises life and challenges death.

We welcome our children back to Children’s Music (9:30) and Godly Play (9:45) after a brief hiatus. Worship (10 a.m.) offers a last opportunity to enjoy Christmas carols and texts, and closes with a nod to Epiphany (January 6) as we bless our church home for the new year.

In the coming year, a year sure to bring joys and sorrows we cannot now imagine, I trust our words to one another will be offered in love and hope. That we will neither offer only words that fall softly on our hearts, nor ignore/delete/block words that make us uncomfortable. Perhaps in this new year we can commit to hearing God’s WORD and then sharing it with a word-weary world.

Blessed New Year,

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the third day of Christmas . . .

On the third day of Christmas . . .

Dear Friends,

Christmas is a 12-day festival celebrating the birth of Christ, with neither a pear tree nor a partridge anywhere in sight.

Hanukah is an 8-day festival, marking the re-dedication of the Second Temple in 165 BCE, after it was desecrated by the armies of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a land-hungry Greek ruler.  (Sorry. No potato latkes.)

In both cases—Christmas and Hanukah—the celebration is filled with light.

In both cases—Christmas and Hanukah—the quest for political and economic power were pivotal factors.

In both cases—Christmas and Hanukah—the origins of the festival have been largely overshadowed by legend, custom and commercial opportunity.

Some of our congregation’s families are celebrating the festivals simultaneously this year, as the Christmas (December 25 – January 6) and Hanukah (December 22 – 30) calendars coincide. I asked the mother of one of our Jewish-Christian families how she was holding up under the celebratory pressure. “Oh, it’s so much easier,” she sighed.  Imagine the candles in their home!

If you are at all intrigued by a 12-day Christmas, consider including the following Christian commemorations and more contemporary events in your daily devotions this weekend:

December 26: Stephen, Deacon and Martyr (Acts 7)—pray for a world free of religious persecution AND remember that in 2004, over 225,000 people died in a tsunami that swept through Indonesia and Thailand—pray for those harmed by natural disasters

December 27: John, Apostle and Evangelist (John 1)—pray for writers, visionaries and theologians AND remember that in 1994 the Rwandan genocide began to unfold—pray for victims of civil war and violence

December 28: The Holy Innocents (Matthew 2)—pray for children harmed or abused in any way, AND remember that in 1860 Harriet Tubman completed her last mission to free slaves—pray for freedom for those enslaved

And on the First Sunday of Christmas, December 29, we celebrate the season by inviting our ministry partners at Northfield Community Church and St. James the Less Episcopal Church to join us for worship. All those Christmas carols you’ve been longing to sing? We will be singing them Sunday! Please join us for worship at 10 a.m., and a festive reception afterward.

On this, the Third Day of Christmas, I am forgoing the customary three French hens, and avoiding any eye contact with the plate of Christmas cookies on my kitchen counter. Instead, I am giving thanks for you, and the light of Christ that shines in you and through you. Your generosity this Christmas has provided shelter, clothing and comfort for those experiencing homelessness, and offered safety and welcome for all who joined us for Christmas Eve. Thank you for the daily gift you are to me and to our community. You shine even more brightly on these dark winter days.

Blessed Christmas Season,

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the award goes to . . .

And the award goes to . . .

Dear Friends,

This is no Humble Brag. This is a Head Scratcher.

We learned yesterday that Ascension has been named “Best of Winnetka” in the “religious organization” category. Two weeks ago, we received the same honor from Northfield. We are accustomed to seeing the “Best of . . .“ plaque in a restaurant or body shop or hair salon. But “Best Of” religious organizations? I don’t even know what that means.

We are surely not “best” in size. We fall comfortably in the “midsize congregation” category.

We are surely not “best” in financial assets. Though certainly prosperous, nearby congregations tower over us in terms of wealth.

We are surely not “best” in public profile. Many people I meet, even locally, have never heard of us.

Our staff members and volunteers are hardworking, creative and kind, but “best?”

Great! Perfect! Best! These are descriptors coveted by despots, distributed at dog shows. But it is not so among us.

This Sunday we will light the fourth candle on our Advent wreath. And as the candle is lit, we will sing, “Four candles burning brightly say Christ will soon be here!”

On Tuesday evening, we will gather in winter darkness to worship a Newborn King.

This Christ who lights our darkness, is Lord of Losers. We love him because he loves us, not in our magnificence, but in our sin, our shame, our failure, our fear.

This King whom we worship was enthroned in a stable. King Herod (whose political machinations forced Jesus’ family into that precarious nursery) lived in a palace.

This God named “Emmanuel” draws near to us, as near as a child in a young mother’s arms. What self-respecting god does that?

This Messiah comes not to destroy the enemy, but to usher in a time of peace.

Though there may be Christians who aspire to “best,” who seek greatness,  fame, wealth, prominence, we desire none of that. Our aim is not to best, but to be faithful. Our goal is not wealth, but generosity. Our desire is not for fame, but for service. Our King rules from a cradle, from a cross.

Please join us Sunday for our apparently “award-winning” life together. Children will sing, costume and prepare for Christmas Eve at 9:30 a.m. During worship, we will sing Advent Lessons and Carols by the light of four candles, burning brightly. After worship, we will box up the last of our Advent Tree gifts for The Night Ministry—we delivered a carload of warm clothes and blankets, and hundreds of dollars’ worth of gift cards to them on Thursday, and will take another on Monday.

We invite you back to Ascension on Tuesday evening for Christmas Eve worship. Candles. Carols. Holy Communion. The Christmas gospel.

Please forgive me if you were among those who voted us “Best of Northfield and Winnetka.” I am grateful for your confidence in us, your pride in our ministry. And, to be honest, this award might be all my fault. I have been known to describe you to colleagues as “The Best.” Perhaps someone overheard and mistook my delight for a nomination.

Next time our community gives out awards, I may nominate us in the “Grateful Servant” category, or perhaps the “Humble Steward” category. But more important than the way our community regards us, is the way in which God regards us. And God always regards us—the greatest and the least among us—as worthy of love and mercy. That’s the Best.

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

 

 

 

Musings at O’dark Thirty

Musings at O’dark Thirty

Dear Friends,

It is early morning here in North Carolina as I write you. I just delivered my husband to the airport for an early flight to a meeting in Houston; I’m back at the house, enjoying these dark hours before the world wakes up. We have been here for a few days to meet our grandson and spend time with our daughter and son-in-law. It will be hard to leave them this afternoon, when I fly home.

Though it has been an extraordinary gift to have these days with our family, the disconnect from the rest of the world has been disorienting. We have been fully occupied with All-Things-Theo, and haven’t had time (or interest) for much else. The last news broadcast I saw was on a TV monitor at O’Hare, while waiting to board our flight. That was four days ago. Is anybody out there?

Needless to say, in addition to neglecting current events, I’ve been slack in my study routine. Usually, by this time in the week I’ve had three opportunities to do scripture study with colleagues, in addition to my own time and mediation. Would you think less of me to learn that only now have I looked at Sunday’s preaching texts?

Let’s take a quick look together.

Isaiah is at it again. (Isaiah 35.1-10) He promises a time when the current reality will be upended—the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the disabled will dance. Isaiah imagines a time when geological formations will be altered in inexplicable ways (valleys will be lifted, roads will be straightened, water will flood the desert).  For centuries, we have trusted Isaiah’s faithful intuitions about God’s intent. Do we still?

We get a peek at the book of James—a rarity in our lectionary cycle. (James 5.7-10) We are urged to be patient—like farmers who trust the rains to fall at just the right time. Having grown up in a farm family, the metaphor is amusing.  The farmers I know demonstrate equal parts patience and fear. Is that how we wait? Frighteningly patient? Patiently afraid?

Last week we met John the Baptizer, and his short temper. This week that short temper has landed him in prison (Matthew 11.2-11), where Herod (spoiler alert) will soon have his head. Even John, the brash and boastful front man for Jesus, has started to wonder. He sent word from prison to Jesus, “Are you the one who is the come, or are we to wait for another?” In other words, “Have I been a complete idiot for believing in you?” (Translation mine.)

These are such typical Advent texts—more questions than answers.

I am going to sign off. The house is stirring. The sky is getting light. My tea is rapidly cooling. And there is a baby waiting to be held. See you Sunday?

Pastor JoAnn Post

He’s Here! He’s a Gift! We’re so Grateful!

He’s Here! He’s a Gift! We’re so Grateful!

Dear Friends,

My family made an announcement this week. We have been blessed with the safe birth of our grandson, Theodore James, into the world. He is beautiful and strong and loved beyond measure. Though we have known for nine months that we might be making a birth announcement, when the time came, I was at a loss.

Would we e-mail family and friends, or call them? When would it be appropriate to make a post to Snapchat or Facebook? Who would get the first text message? Would we post photos of our exhausted daughter and son-in-law, or wait to send photos after everyone had slept and showered? Would we include all the delightful (to us) details about labor and delivery, his size and shape, the origin of his name and our hopes for his life, or simply state the facts?

After offering prayers of thanks and tears of joy for Theo’s safe delivery into our world, we decided simply to e-mail immediate family and close friends that Theo had graced our lives. Though our correspondence included a few more details than this, the essence of our announcement was simple: “He’s here! He’s a gift! We are so grateful!”

The Second Sunday of Advent brings a simple announcement gone rogue. John the Baptizer, ill-clad and oddly-nourished, started his ministry with this direct, inviting announcement: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!” That simple statement was so intriguing, so powerful it drew hordes of people from all the surrounding towns to hear him preach, to confess their sins, to be baptized in the Jordan River. (Matthew 3.1-12)

Whether from lack of sleep or a lapse in judgement, John the Baptizer couldn’t leave well-enough alone. With hardly a word, he had been dunking the repentant under the murky waters of the river. But when he looked up from his work to stretch his back, he saw a handful of religious leaders scattered among the confessing crowd. Pharisees and Sadducees, obvious by their attire, had arrived at the river for the same reason as everyone else. To confess. To repent. To wash.  They had drawn no attention to themselves and did not expect special treatment.

But, even though his own father was a temple priest, John the Baptizer had a deep-seated mistrust of religious leaders. Instead of accepting their confession, as he had everyone else in the crowd, he pitched a fit. “What are you doing here? Have you really come to repent? Don’t start with me about your Ancestry.com report!” John the Baptizer was unrelenting, unkind, menacing.  He accused them. And mocked them. And humiliated them. Poor schumcks. They had been moved by John’s simple invitation to repent. They had not expected—or deserved—the tongue-lashing they received.

I have to wonder what sort of announcement the world receives from us in this holy season. What is our message as we announce Jesus’s presence in the world? In an American church everyday undermined by scandal and smallness, division and irrelevance, our announcement of the good news of Jesus Christ doesn’t sound much like good news. Perhaps our Advent announcement of Jesus’ presence in our world could be as simple as that of a proud grandparent.

“He’s here! He’s a gift! We are so grateful!”

Before I leave you, I invite you to our Advent, full of opportunities for worship, service and fellowship:

Our Vitality Talk, 9:30 a.m. Sunday, welcomes an Ascension public school teacher and administrator, who has direct knowledge of and experience with families in our area who struggle with food insecurity and unsuitable housing. Come to learn about the challenges facing students and teachers in our own neighborhood. 

Godly Play children will receive a treat from St. Nicholas this Sunday, as we mark St. Nicholas Day (two days late). St. Nicholas was a 4th century bishop in Greece, whose ministry was marked by care for the poor and concern for children.  Our children’s empty shoes outside their classrooms will signal their desire for a “visit” from St. Nicholas.

“Every Star: A Christmas Celebration” comes to life Sunday afternoon at 4:30. This annual musical event features choirs, brass, carols and a holiday reception. This concert is the highlight of our concert season, and a wonderful event to share with family and friends.

Our Advent Tree is, at this moment, bare. What a wonderful thing! Scores of tags inviting you to purchase warm clothing and footwear, or gift cards for have all been taken from the tree. We will replenish the tags by Sunday, so that you, too, can participate in gifting The Night Ministry with much-needed support and encouragement this season.

We continue to receive Pledges of Financial Support for our 2020 ministries. Thank you to all who have already pledged, and all who provide on-going, faithful support. If you would like to make a pledge of support, additional pledge cards are available Sunday morning or in the office during the week. Your generous, intentional and wise encouragement of our vital ministry makes a difference every day.

The announcement of our grandson’s birth has elicited joyful congratulations from family and friends across the country. Now that we are rested and getting used to the idea of being grandparents, you can be sure that we have much more to say about Theo than we did on that first morning. We will try not to bore you with our joy.

My husband and I will fly to North Carolina midweek to meet Theo, to hug our daughter and son-in-law, to comfort their dog who suddenly has stiff competition for their previously undivided attention. What will we say when we see our grandson’s tiny face, smell his burpy breath, hold him in our arms? I’m guessing we won’t have much to say, but a whispered Advent announcement: “You’re here! You’re a gift! We are so grateful!”

Blessed Advent,

Pastor JoAnn Post

Remind us, O God

Remind us, O God

Dear Friends,

The nursery school director in a previous parish always struggled to teach the children about Thanksgiving. Though the school body was diverse in many ways, they shared this in common—each child had a home, and a bed, and enough to eat, suitable clothing, and adults who loved them.

Her question to me was, “How do you teach children to be thankful for things they can’t imagine not having? How do they know to be grateful for mittens, if they don’t know that not every child has mittens? That is as foreign to them as teaching them to be grateful for gravity.”

She and I had this same discussion every fall, grateful that our children knew no lack, and troubled that it is not only children who struggle to be thankful for our lives, because most of us don’t know (or admit) that our lives could be otherwise. That is an understandable lapse among children, perhaps, but not among faithful adults.

Regardless of the way you mark this day of thanks giving, I invite you to consider giving thanks for the “invisible” gifts poured into each of our lives.  Sunrise. Sunset. Gravity. Air. Earth. Love. Faith. Time. Home.

And if you are asked to pray over your Thanksgiving meal, perhaps you could offer this prayer—praying both for those who have little and for those who have much.

Grateful for you,

Pastor JoAnn Post

Dear God,

Watch over your children, especially those with no homes to return to at the end of long and weary days.

Protect them from all harm and keep them from despair.

Open the hearts and eyes of those of us with blessings to share.

Unite our voices in a call for justice:

So that no man need ever lay down for the night on a wooden park bench because he has no home;

So that no woman need ever tuck her children into the backseat of her car because she has no home;

So that no child need ever wonder, “Where will I feel safe?” because he has no home;

So that all those who wander and all who are in need, find the shelter and the peace they seek.

Remind us, O God, that we cannot rest fully secure in our homes each night until all your children are, at last, home.  Amen.

(written by Rabbi Andrea Goldstein, Congregation Shaare Emeth, Creve Couer, MO, in affiliation with “Room at the Inn,” Bridgeton, MO)