So open-hearted . . .

So open-hearted . . .

Dear Friends,

My father used to tease of and to me, “You’re so open-minded, your brains have fallen out.” I fear the same accusation could have been leveled at the early church. 

The farther we venture into the Book of Acts, the more expansive and open the church becomes. This unapologetic welcome was not universally welcomed. Think about the people we’ve met thus far this Easter season: Peter, formerly a denier who became the church’s chief spokesperson; Paul, formerly a persecutor of the church who later gave his life for it; Dorcas, formerly dead but alive again, Gentiles, formerly unwelcome in the church later given equal standing.

Notice that each is described as “formerly.” They each were one thing, a meme, a hashtag, who became multi-dimensional, completely-changed disciples of the Risen Lord. The early church became increasingly open-minded—thought not easily and not uniformly.

On Sunday, the Sixth Sunday of Easter, the church opens its door even wider. After a falling out between Paul and a preaching partner, Paul decided to backtrack and visit cities and villages where he had once preached. He was stymied. Time and again. Stuck in place, wondering if maybe his work was over or his plans misguided, he was invited in a vision, not to go back but to go forward. “Come over to Macedonia (now Greece) and help us.” (Acts 16.9-15)

Rather than revisiting already-established churches in places he knew, Paul was called to boldly go where no disciple had gone before: Europe. He and his disciples sailed for many days, arriving in Greece with no clear direction or plan. On Sunday we will read of his riverside conversation with a woman named Lydia, a wealthy businesswoman who was Christ-curious. She and her household were baptized, and her home became HQ for the ministry in Greece—Paul and his accomplices came and went from her home as they ventured deeper and deeper into this new land.

So open-minded, their brains have fallen out? No, so faithful their ministry expanded and expanded—creating room for those who would previously have been rejected.

This is a big weekend for us.

Tomorrow we invite you to the season’s final concert: Fulcrum Point Brass, featuring our friend Stephen Burns. The concert is at 4:30; it is free and open to the public. Please come.

 On Sunday, not only will we meet Lydia by the river, we will affirm the baptisms of two young disciples, AudreyAnn and Paige, who will stand before us to profess their faith. We will meet the sabbatical pastor. We will plug the coffee pots in and revive Coffee Hour after worship.

(My sabbatical officially starts June 1. So, though we will formally welcome the sabbatical pastor on Sunday, he will not begin his ministry with us until June.)

What will I do on sabbatical? I’ll try to sleep past 5 a.m. I’ll reacquaint myself with cooking and entertaining. I’ll travel to visit family and friends. And I’ll write. I am working with a small team of creatives—writers, artists, musicians, poets—to provide materials for a new narrative lectionary for preachers and congregations of many denominations. A “lectionary” is the cycle of readings used in public worship—we currently use a three-year lectionary. This new lectionary digs deeper into the stories and themes of scripture—dwelling for more than one Sunday on a biblical figure, or a lengthy narrative. It’s an exciting project for me as a preacher, and a wonderful challenge for me as a writer. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Meanwhile, the resurrection calls us to push open doors formerly closed, welcome those formerly rejected, open our minds to ideas formerly verboten. I wonder who is calling us to a new place, a new idea, a new way resurrection possibility? “Come to _______ and help us!” someone is begging. Who might that be?

See you Sunday,

Pastor JoAnn Post

(If you are not on our e-distribution list, streamed and recorded worship can be accessed directly through our website: www.ascension-church.org.)

Come to the table

Come to the table

Dear Friends,

Is there anyplace in the world more terrifying than a middle school cafeteria? You might think that a lion’s den or barbed wire bed sheets would present greater danger, but, in my humble experience, the school lunch room is the worst.

Pre-teens, awash in hormones and self-conscious anxiety, are forced to walk the gauntlet of tables where everyone has a place but them. Even the nerds have staked out a table. There is no place for you to sit, no friend who calls out your name, no kind stranger who scoots over and says, “Hey, join us.” And, even if there were, would you be able to choke down your homemade PB&J sandwich and off-brand soda, knowing that everything from the color of your cola to the way you hold your sandwich is under scrutiny.

Just remembering those days, that place, that fear makes my palms sweat.

In the church, we speak of the table as “welcoming” and “expansive.” But is it? Are we? And even if our table is open to all, it is not universally true.

Friends recently attended worship at another Christian church in our area, assuming that, because Jesus is Jesus wherever you go, they would be welcome at the communion table. Not so! The worship leader was very clear that Jesus’ body and blood were only for people whose theology and lifestyle had been pre-approved. Will my friends ever worship there again? Not likely.  Will they be missed? They weren’t even noticed.

The early church’s table practice was similarly exclusive, rendering the middle school cafeteria an all-you-can-eat, come-as-you-are, early-bird-special with complimentary valet parking at the Golden Corral, by comparison.

On Sunday, in our ongoing series “Resurrection Repercussions,” we peek into a dangerous dining room in 1st Jerusalem. The apostle Peter, whose shadow could heal and who had resuscitated a dead woman, had been summoned back to Jerusalem to do some explaining. (Acts 11.1-18) What’s the offense? Back in Acts 10, Peter had had a vision in which foods formerly deemed “unclean” for an observant Jew were given God’s stamp of approval. In the spirit of that new law, that new expansiveness, Peter had traveled to a gentile home in Caesarea, where he baptized a man and his family who were not members of the synagogue. And ate with them. Gads.

What’s the big deal? Up to this moment, the early church believed only Jews could believe in Jesus. Gentiles were as unwelcome in 1st century Christian fellowship as they had been in synagogue. So, it wasn’t the baptizing of Gentiles that had his Jerusalem interrogators tied in knots. They dragged Peter into a private room and, in a scene worthy of “The Godfather,” hissed menacingly, “Why did you go to uncircumcised people and EAT WITH THEM?”

Remember the middle school lunch room? Remember the impenetrable hierarchy, the unwritten rules, the millions of ways you could be humiliated? That’s what was happening in Jerusalem, as Peter broke all the lunch room rules, eating with those who were not worthy. He ate with sinners, gentile sinners, in the same way Jesus had during his ministry.

For all of Jesus’ ministry, his tendency to sit at the wrong table at the lunchroom had gotten him in trouble. Same for Peter. Same for us?  Are all welcome at our table and in our ministry? At different times in our history, we have excluded people because of age or cognitive ability or marital status or membership or any number of protective limits. Those are not times of which we are proud.
Who might we, either unwittingly or intentionally, be excluding now?

Please join us Sunday, in-person or remotely, as we consider both the offense and the necessity of breaking the lunchroom rules for the sake of sinners. And, in case you wondered, you’re always welcome at our table.

Happy to share my PB&J with you anytime,

Pastor JoAnn Post

(If you are not on our e-distribution list, streamed and recorded worship can be accessed directly through our website: www.ascension-church.org.)

What does a disciple look like, anyway?

What does a disciple look like, anyway?

Dear Friends,

Odd Couples. Oscar and Felix. Penn and Teller. Thelma and Louise. Fries and Mayo. Sometimes, odd couples are the strongest couples.

Two weeks ago, the writer of Acts paired two unlikely characters.  We learned that St. Peter, who once denied knowing Jesus, had been given such extraordinary powers that even his shadow could heal. In the same story, we met a pharisee named Gamaliel who took Peter’s side in a debate with the religious hierarchy. Gamaliel warned, “If this (Jesus movement) is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is of God, look out.” (Acts 5)

Last week, we met another two who didn’t belong together. Saul, a whiz bang canon lawyer and persecutor of the church, was baptized by Ananias, a local Christian leader who was terrified of Saul. When they walked together into the local synagogue, some fainted dead away. Saul and Ananias didn’t belong in the same sentence, let alone in the same synagogue. (Acts 9)

On Sunday, we meet another unlikely pair. Peter is called to the home of a recently-deceased, tailor/seamstress/weaver of the early church, a woman so significant she was named “mathetria,” or “female disciple.” Dorcas/Tabitha is the only woman in scripture given this designation. She was also wealthy (we know this because her home had two stories), and a generous business owner. After resuscitating her, Peter moved from her home to the home of a “certain Simon, a tanner.” What’s so odd? In a single day, Peter encountered a wealthy, faithful, Jewish female benefactor of the early church and a Jewish man whose work was repulsive in every way—tanning dead animal skins rendered him “unclean” and the stench of his work meant he had to live way out of the way. (Acts 9)

What does a disciple look like? What does a disciple do?

This question gets raised even about me. After 50 years of ordaining women in the ELCA, and 36 years as an ordained woman myself, I still encounter people who say, “But you don’t look like a pastor.” I don’t even know what that means. What does a pastor “look like?” Gender? Age? Facial hair? Demeanor? Facial expression? Wardrobe? (A hospital volunteer recently demanded to see proof that I was a pastor before they would let me visit a parishioner. Fortunately, I carry an ELCA ID card with me at all times. You know, for Pastoral Identity Emergencies.)

As we continue our Easter sermon series, “Resurrection Repercussions,” I am seeing things in familiar scripture stories I have never seen before. Like the disconnect noted above—odd couples, unlikely pairs, jarring juxtapositions, mismatched matches, disciples who don’t look like disciples. We have much to learn from those who witnessed or immediately followed Jesus’ resurrection. Among those lessons is a realization that there are lots of ways to follow Jesus, lots of ways to be a disciple. Are you Bold Peter or Curious Gamaliel? Are you Heart-changed Saul or Unsettled Ananias? Are you Wealthy Tabitha or Smelly Simon? And does it matter? Each followed in a unique, important way.

Also, since you asked, I am finalizing plans for a three-month sabbatical this summer. My last Sunday with you will be May 29; my first Sunday back will be August 28. On Sunday, May 22, you will have opportunity to meet our Sabbatical Pastor and learn more about my plans for this time away. Thank you for granting me time to think, read, write, consider, rejuvenate. I will miss you while I am away, but the goal of a sabbatical is to give me space and time to return a “better me.” Who wouldn’t want that?

The resurrection of Jesus Christ resonates across time and space, as he calls unlikely disciples, odd couples to important tasks. Please join us Sunday—in-person or remotely—as we meet disciples who might just encourage our own discipleship. After all, it is entirely possible that a disciple looks like . . . you.

See you Sunday,

Pastor JoAnn Post

Bully

Bully

Dear Friends,

Remember the class bully? The person who made fun of kids who wore glasses. The person who mocked anyone who was even modestly different. The person who tripped you in the lunch room and shoved you aside on the stairs. The person who, in retrospect, was probably remarkably unhappy and frightened, and, perhaps, was themselves bullied (or worse) at home.

Or, what if you were that bully? What if you look back on your younger self with shame? What if it was you who made fun, who mocked, who tripped and shoved?

On Sunday, as part of our “Resurrection Repercussions” series, we’ll meet the biggest biblical bully of them all. (Except maybe for Goliath, big as a house and skilled with a sword.) In Acts 9, the persecutor of Christians named Saul, gets knocked heels over teakettle by a vision of Jesus on the Damascus Road. It was something of a nuclear option, but Saul had to be stopped. He had been leading a crusade in and around Jerusalem to identify, imprison and kill any who believed in Jesus, crucified and risen. He had obtained a no-knock warrant for any house that might be hiding disciples. He was a dangerous bully, and proud of it.

That’s why, while traveling from Jerusalem to Damascus, a voice boomed, a light flashed, his mount shied and Saul was thrown to the ground. Saul was blinded by the light. Even now we call a life-changing moment a “Damascus Road experience.” It was the only way to stop him.

But more interesting than Saul’s conversion from persecutor of the church to preacher of the gospel, was the way the early believers received the news. Suddenly, the Christians who had been hiding in their basements to protect themselves from Saul were asked to invite him to the kitchen table. It would be as if Vladimir Putin rebuilt Ukraine, as if Osama bin Laden repented for 9/11, as if Adolf Hitler joined a synagogue. Impossible. Unheard of. Unbelievable.

The most interesting character in the Damascus Road story, to me, is a man named Ananias, who was asked to teach and baptize the suddenly-repentant Saul. He balked: “I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done, and how he has authority to arrest all who believe in Jesus.” His protest went unanswered. And for the rest of life, Ananias would have to explain his acceptance of Monster Saul into the Christian community.

Remember the class bully? What if that person called you today to apologize?

Remember being the class bully? What if you called your victims to beg their forgiveness?

Would that ever happen? Could that happen?

One of the primary characteristics of the resurrected Jesus is the capacity to forgive. If you remember last Sunday’s gospel, “Forgive” was his first command to the disciples on Easter evening. The disciples balked. As do we all.

Please join us Sunday for worship as we consider the possibility of a changed mind and heart AND our reluctance to have our own hearts and minds changed—about ourselves or those who have harmed us. (If you are not on our e-distribution list, streamed and recorded worship can be accessed directly through our website: www.ascension-church.org.)

See you Sunday,

Pastor JoAnn Post

If this is of God

If this is of God

Dear Friends,

I am still recovering from the most amazing Passion Sunday, Holy Week and Easter ever. At least the most amazing in the last two years. Though the stories we told, the songs we sang, the prayers we offered were ancient, they seemed fresh and new and challenging. Thank you for making this, the pinnacle of our life together, a time to be savored and celebrated.

But Easter lasts more than a Sunday. We are in the Octave of Easter at this moment—the eight days that began last Sunday and conclude on the Sunday ahead of us. We are also in the Season of Easter—a seven-week celebration and study of the implications of the resurrection. I invite you to join us for worship for the whole of the season.

That said, this is my 36th Easter preaching season and, between you and me, I have grown a bit weary of the usual cast of Easter characters and commentaries. Doubting Thomas. Breakfast on the Beach. Good Shepherd. The Final Discourse. No disrespect to scripture, but in 36 years I’ve spent more time with Thomas than with most of you. I need a new challenge, a new way to imagine Easter.

Please join me for a six-week Sunday preaching series on “Resurrection Repercussions.” Together we’ll walk through the assigned first readings each Sunday—readings from the book of Acts about the impact of Jesus’ resurrection on the first believers and first Christian communities. This Sunday, we’ll consider a favorite text from Acts 5, in which the temple elders are trying to decide if they should actively persecute Jesus’ followers or starve them of attention, hoping they’ll just go away. (Acts 5.27-39)

While considering how significantly to punish the apostles, who wouldn’t shut up about Jesus, one of the temple elders advised, “I tell you, leave these men alone. If their plan is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them.”

It was wise advice then; it is wise advice now: “Wait for it.” We cannot see God at work in the midst of a thing, only when it is done.

But before we gather for worship, we invite you to the next in our “One Tree Many Branches” concert series. Saturday afternoon, we welcome “one of today’s most dynamic young concert artists,” Winston Choi, to our piano bench. The concert will be mask-optional; no refreshments will be served. The concert is free and open to the public.

After worship on Sunday, we conclude our Lent Challenge with “All Ascension Reads: After the Last Border,” by Jessica Goudeau. I encourage you to read this beautiful, heartbreaking, challenging true story and join the conversation. But even if you haven’t had a chance to read the book, you are welcome to listen in.

As we close in on the Second Sunday of Easter, our Orthodox siblings are marking Good Friday today, and will celebrate Pascha (Easter) on Sunday. Our Muslim siblings continue their Ramadan fast. Our Jewish siblings are savoring the delicious memories and promises of the Passover just past. All around the world, the faithful remember God’s promises and lean into God’s future. Because, in spite of all efforts to suppress God’s efforts, as Gamaliel said, “If it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow it.”

Trusting our work is of God,

Pastor JoAnn Post

A good idea

A good idea

Dear Friends,

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

When the second Covid vaccine booster recently became available, I wanted to be an early adopter. I signed up to get the jab on Monday—just three days ago. Because I had had zero reaction to the first three shots, it never crossed my mind that getting a vaccination during the busiest week of a pastor’s year might not be a good idea. Sure as shootin’, I woke Tuesday morning with a sore arm and all the vaccine reactions you’ve read about. I felt perfectly awful. So, I cancelled all my meetings and plans that day, and gave in to the call of my pillow. I’m grateful for the boost to my immune system, and it seemed like a good idea at the time, but . . .

This evening we enter the Great Three Days of our life together: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and, the culmination, the Festival of the Resurrection.

The texts we will read are rife with actions that may have seemed like a good idea at the time . . .

Judas: “Geez Louise. It was only thirty pieces of silver.”

Peter: “Nope, I never met the man.”

Crowds: “Crucify Jesus! Barabbas isn’t such a bad guy.”

Caiaphas, Pilate and Herod: “If it makes the people happy . . .”

Soldiers: “Hit him again. He’s going to die anyway.”

Disciples: “Women. They’re hysterical. Empty tomb? Really?”

Somehow, in ways we cannot understand, each of these characters in the drama of Christ’s suffering, death and crucifixion was able to justify their actions.

Perhaps, more amazing than the bad behavior that seemed like a good idea at the time, the more amazing thing is that all of it is forgiven.

Because, to God’s mind, its always a good idea to forgive. Judas. Peter. The crowds. The leaders. The soldiers. The disciples. Regardless of their intent or the level of their culpability, its always a good idea to forgive.

These next few days invite us to worship in intense and intimate ways, as we grapple with the events that led first to Jesus’ undeserved death and, finally, to his miraculous resurrection.  I ask you to join us, either in-person, by livestream, or later on our YouTube channel. Links for all these liturgies will be sent to you, one-by-one each day. If you are not on our e-distribution list, streamed and recorded worship can be accessed directly through our website: www.ascension-church.org.  This evening we worship at 7 p.m. On Good Friday, we worship at 7 p.m. On Easter morning, we worship at 8:30 and 10:30 a.m. with a light breakfast between services, and an Easter Egg Hunt at 10 a.m.

Please join us for worship on the Great Three Days and on the Festival of the Resurrection. Its always a good idea.

Blessed Triduum,

Pastor JoAnn Post

Don’t look up

Don’t look up

Dear Friends,

One of my sisters pursues an annual mission to watch every film nominated in every category of the Academy Awards. Best Picture. Best Animated Feature. Best Director. Live Action Short Film. Best Visual Effects. From the moment the nominees are announced until the moment the red carpet is unrolled, she’s watching movies. It’s exhausting. And exhilarating. (And, until the accessibility of streaming services, expensive.)

And, because of her dogged fandom, I trust her for advice about which of the nominees is worth watching. I’ve been working my way through her short list of “must see” movies.

Last weekend, I watched the nominee “Don’t Look Up,” a film so stuffed with A-list movie stars (Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio, Timothée Chalamet, Cate Blanchett, Tyler Perry) I had to suppress the urge to bow before my TV screen. It’s a comedically dark, thought-provoking film; a satire of our current mistrust of science and expertise. There were moments I laughed out loud. And others when I cringed.

What wasn’t funny? It is too close to true—the crowds were too easily distracted from attention to information and excellence, coaxed toward anger and arrogance. As an asteroid hurtled toward earth, national leaders exploited the event for political gain. “Don’t Look Up!” was the slogan on every baseball cap and RV. And, because so many “didn’t look up,” encouraged to pretend the facts weren’t real, that attempts to either divert or destroy the asteroid were thwarted, and Earth was blown to smithereens. Ignorance is not bliss; ignorance is dangerous. (The more I write about it, the less amusing it becomes.)

As I prepare for the liturgies of Passion Sunday, Holy Week and Easter, I am distressed at how little we have changed. Whether the issue at hand is cinematic asteroids or 1st century political jealousies, we seem to respond to threat in the same way. Leaders—political and religious—exploit public paranoia for their own ends. Crowds—eager to be angry—first cheer Jesus as he enters Jerusalem and then shout for his crucifixion. Innocent by-standers—cautiously weighing their options and reluctant to offend—allow events to unfold without intervention.

Did it have to go that way? Could cool heads and kind hearts have prevailed? How might informed discussion have subverted angry diatribes? Did Jesus have to die at the hands of duplicitous, self-serving, frightened bureaucrats, pontiffs and royals? I wonder.

Please join us as we enter these holiest of days. On Passion Sunday, worship will begin in Fellowship Hall with the Palm Procession, and continue into the Sanctuary with the multi-voice reading of Jesus’ Passion According to Luke. (Luke 22.14-23.56) We will also gather for worship on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. These are solemn days, the centerpiece of our faith. In these days, we will see ourselves reflected in scripture’s mirror.  It is not a pretty picture.

After worship on Sunday, we have invited Shaikh Nazir Chahin, of the American Islamic College, Chicago, to teach us about Islam in Afghanistan. He comes to us as part of our Lent Challenge to educate ourselves about the country from which our Refugee One co-sponsor family came. Our time with Sh. Chahin will begin at 11 a.m.; the discussion will not be livestreamed.

“Don’t look up!” was the rallying cry of frightened, self-serving individuals in a fictional, Oscar-nominated film.

“Crucify him!” was the rallying cry of frightened, self-serving individuals in 1st century Jerusalem. It is not fiction. It is the story of our faith, and of the world’s inability to receive the truth of God’s boundless love in Jesus Christ.

We stand on the brink of Holy Week. I invite you to step over the threshold with me, to greet the One who died at the hands of ignorance and fear, that we might live in joy and courage.

Pastor JoAnn Post

What’s that smell?

What’s that smell?

Dear Friends,

He did not often speak of his military service as an Army medic, but once in a while a memory would rise to the surface. One such memory was sparked in a hospital, where he was a patient and I was his pastor. We were walking slowly down the hall together, him wearing a faded blue hospital “johnnie,” pushing his IV pole ahead of him.

As we turned a corner, he stopped suddenly. “Do you smell that?”

“Smell what?”  

“That,” he prodded. “I’d know that smell anywhere. Gangrene. I smelled it all the time in the service. Gangrene. That’s what death smells like.”

Our return walk to his room was silent. A scent I could barely detect had catapulted him forty years and a million sorrows into his past.

“That’s what death smells like.”

That’s not my old friend talking now, but Jesus. Still in hiding following the resuscitation of his friend Lazarus, and the subsequent threats on his own life, Jesus ventured out to Lazarus’ home one evening for a private meal.  (John 12.1-8) While sitting at the table, Lazarus’ sister, Mary, emerged from her room carrying a heavy jug. The scent of what she carried was unmistakable. Nard. Expensive. Pungent. Its not a smell you smelled every day. Only at weddings. And funerals. And when the nard was used for those ritual purposes, it was typically “cut” with a lesser quality oil to make it last.  

But not on that night. Not while Jesus’ enemies planned to kill him. Not while Lazarus was still recovering from having been dead. (I imagine its hard work to be dead.) Not while Judas was busy “cooking the books” to hide his embezzlement. On that night, as the smell of sadness already hung in the air, Mary dumped the whole jug of nard on Jesus’ feet. $4,500 worth of nard, in U.S. dollars, adjusted for inflation. And then she knelt before him and washed his feet with her hair. John writes, “The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

It was an embarrassing intimacy, an expensive kindness, an unnecessary gesture.

Why did Mary do it? We don’t know exactly. But the penetrating perfume of nard—in the air, on Jesus’ feet, in Mary’s hair—prompted an immediate reaction.

Judas, never to be trusted, expressed immediate faux concern at the waste. “Tsk, tsk. We could have sold that nard and made a fortune. I mean, fed the poor.”

Jesus snapped back. “Do you smell that?” he said. And like a combat veteran who had smelled too much death already, Jesus said, “That smells like death. Mine.”

On Sunday, we mark the Fifth Sunday of Lent. In this season, Satan has tried to con Jesus. Jesus has portrayed himself as a chicken, a gardener and a foolish father. But now, on the eve of his arrival in Jerusalem where the nails were already being pounded into his cross, Jesus speaks plainly. No more games. No more metaphors.

“That smells like death.”

His announcement went unremarked. No one corrected him. No one burst into tears. No one scolded. They all knew what waited outside the door. They knew Jesus spoke truth. And when he snuck out of the house to avoid his assassins, the scent of love and of death followed him outside.

We have known for weeks now how this Lent would end. This Lent will end the way all our Lents end—betrayal, falsehoods, greed, violence. But in the air a fragrance lingers. A hint of love and faithfulness. An essence of kindness and compassion. It is the extravagant gift of Jesus’ own life, willingly given away.

After worship on Sunday, we ask you to remain for Afghan Tea and Treats. As part of our Lent Challenge to educate and advocate, we will lay the table with dried fruits, nuts, sweets and tea (no coffee). Though our Afghan refugee sister, whose family we are co-sponsoring with Refugee One, will be fasting for Ramadan, we will sample the flavors and aromas familiar from her home country. It will be another way to imagine our way into the lives of refugees, who brought only memories with them to our country.

My old veteran friend did not die in the hospital, nor did he succumb to gangrene, as had so many of his military buddies. But that tell-tale scent never left him. We shouldn’t be surprised. Studies show and we have experienced the strong link between scent, memory and emotion.

What, to you, smells like love? What, to you, smells like danger? What, to you, smells like death? Jesus would answer all three questions the same way, “Mary’s gift of nard.”

See you Sunday,

Pastor JoAnn Post

Running dreams

Running dreams

Dear Friends,

My dog runs in her dreams. Though deep in sleep her ears perk, her eyes flicker back-and-forth, her feet twitch, she vocalizes small happy whimpers. Somewhere in the landscape of her dream there is a rabbit. Or a squirrel. Or a small child in need of a lick. Though she is old and stiff, and her running days are long past, in her dreams, Maggie can still run.

My dreams are filled with running, also. But they are not happy dreams. And it is not me who is doing the running.

A friend of our congregation works with an international adoption agency, providing gap funding for international adoptions. She shared a recent agency communication with me which describes the circumstances of adopting American families in Ukraine, desperate to get their orphaned children to safety. The communication tells of some orphanages and orphans evacuated to Poland, Romania and Italy, and of other orphanages and orphans with whom there is no communication. It is terrifying to read. Everywhere in Ukraine, they are running. Running to. Running from. Running away.

Sunday’s gospel reading tells the story of running away and running toward, of dreams and nightmares. (Luke 15.1-3, 11b-32)

In the familiar parable of two sons and their father (erroneously named “The Prodigal Son”), a younger son runs away from responsibility and respectability, with half his father’s wealth in his back pocket. An older son runs away from his father’s explanation about how it is a parent can love two children differently and the same, simultaneously. A father runs toward the younger son who trudges home to repent, toward the older son who refuses to join the party, directly into the mockery of his neighbors, who would have written both boys off years ago.

The dream? That this family, torn by selfishness and self-righteousness, might reconcile. The nightmare? That this family, momentarily at peace, will suffer this same cycle again and again, as so many families do.

Sunday’s gospel is a huge text, worthy of many Sundays’ worth of sermons. It is also painfully particular, since each of us has played one or more of these roles in our own families. Are you the reckless or the responsible child? Are you a patient or punishing parent? Has your family been restored or is your family forever at odds? What are you running from? Running toward?

Please join us Sunday as we slow down and move methodically through this surprisingly complex parable. It is the story of a biblical family. It is the story of our families. It is the story of our chaotic world. But mostly it is the parable of a parent whose love knows no bounds.

I am writing from home on a cold and rainy Thursday afternoon, warming my fingers around a cup of tea. And my Maggie? In her dotage, she has claimed my bed as her own—at least when I’m not in it. So, as I write, she slobbers on my pillow and, in her dreams, ambles eagerly toward some delicious goal.

All the world is on the move. Like an adoptive parent searching frantically for a terrified orphan. Like a war-scarred soldier stumbling home to their frightened family. Like the weary one to whom death draws near, reaching away from us toward eternity.  Like a parent who aches for a troubling child. Like a child who aches to forgive a troubled parent.

Jesus says, cryptically, “A man had two sons.” Why don’t you run by on Sunday morning and find out what happens?

Pastor JoAnn Post

What are you waiting for?

What are you waiting for?

Dear Friends,

Urgency. It’s the word on my heart today.

I recently presided at the funeral of a 40-year-old man who died suddenly from an unpreventable health crisis. He was wonderful in every way; his death has left his family limp with grief. But they are also deeply grateful because there were no words left unsaid among them, no wound still open. He died knowing the unconditional love of his family and they knew that he loved them in the same way. I have had more than one conversation since his funeral with some who are estranged from family or friends, who have always imagined they have all the time in the world to mend fences. This unexpected, tragic death puts the lie to “I’ll get around to it.”

On Sunday, we read scripture texts about urgency.

In Isaiah we read, “Seek the Lord while the Lord may be found; call upon the Lord while the Lord is near.” (Isaiah 55.1-9)

In 1 Corinthians, Paul offers a lengthy rehearsal of all the ways the ancient Israelites were alternately faithful and faithless. He concludes, “If you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.” (1 Corinthians 10.1-13)

The gospel reading offers two oddly paired stories about urgency. In answer to a question about the grisly slaughter of innocent people and what they had done to deserve their bloody fate, Jesus offered cold comfort. “Everybody dies. Whose fault is that? Does it matter? So, since you also will die eventually, why not repent now? What are you waiting for?” (Luke 13.1-9)

This head-scratching advice is followed by a parable about an impatient orchardist who wanted the gardener to cut down a puny fig tree. Instead, the gardener asked for one more season; asked that he be given a chance to restore the tree to vitality. Had the orchardist had his way, the fig tree would have been tossed into a burn pile. Thank goodness for an unexcitable gardener. Not all gardeners would have been so patient. Lucky fig tree. Some times it is important to wait, I guess.

On Sunday, we are asked, “What are you waiting for?”

I ask you to join us for the first of our “One Tree Many Branches” concert series post-pandemic. We welcome Black Tulip, a multi-national voice and instrument ensemble, who will offer a program celebrating women’s history month with early music instruments and arrangements. The concert begins at 4:30 Saturday; masks are optional; there will be no reception following.

As we emerge from the pandemic, we resume staffing our nursery for children up to age 3, and offering Godly Play during worship for those over age 3. Plans for Holy Week and Easter are also underway.

Urgency. The war in Ukraine reminds us that threats are real, that danger is all around, that the unthinkable can be quickly thought. On Sunday evening, my husband and I attended a prayer service for Ukraine at our neighborhood synagogue. The assembly was populated with Ukrainian nationals, many who have loved ones in Ukraine, and many of us who care deeply for their welfare. Let me leave you with a poem offered that evening, a poem that speaks of urgency: “I no longer pray for peace. I pray for miracles.” (The author is unknown to me.) I pray the poet’s hopeful urgency inspires us to act quickly to stop the carnage and restore peace. After all, what are we waiting for?

Pastor JoAnn Post

On the edge of war,

one foot already in,

I no longer pray for peace:

I pray for miracles.

I pray that stone hearts will turn to tenderheartedness,

and evil intentions will turn to mercifulness,

and all soldiers already deployed will be snatched out of harm’s way,

and the whole world will be astounded onto its knees.

I pray that all the “God Talk” will take bones,

and stand up and shed its cloak of faithlessness,

and walk again in its powerful truth.

I pray that the whole world might sit down together and share its bread and wine.

Some say there is no hope,

but then I’ve always applauded the holy fools 

who never seem to give up on the scandalousness of our faith:

that we are loved by God; that we can truly love one another.

I no longer pray for peace:

I pray for miracles.