Anonymous Generosity

Anonymous Generosity

Dear Friends,

The Salvation Army (Tri-Cities Corps) announced Wednesday that it had received a gold coin and a gold bar in two separate bright red kettles. Each gold piece was valued at about $1,800—far more than a single kettle collects in coins in a day. This generous, anonymous gift is not limited to the Greater Chicago area—the Salvation Army receives gifts of gold in cities across the country each Christmas. I have questions. Is it the same person dropping coins in kettles in Bremerton and Huntsville and Indianapolis? Who keeps gold coins and bars just lying around? Is this a “thing” of which I am unaware? Why do the donors choose to remain anonymous? How cool is this?

Anonymous generosity is not limited to gold-collecting supporters of the Salvation Army. On Sunday we will mark not only the Second Sunday of Advent, but also the Feast Day of Nicholas, Bishop of Myra. While many believe Bishop Nicholas is the model for the jolly figure we call St. Nick or Santa Claus, he was, in fact, a beautifully-robed bishop in a prosperous Turkish town in the 4th century CE. The town’s public prosperity hid its private poverty. But Bishop Nicholas saw it. He was credited with tucking gold coins in the shoes of poor children while they slept, or providing dowries for three young girls trapped in the sex trade, or delivering food to families who had none. But no one ever saw him do it; no one could pin these random acts of kindness on him. And he preferred it that way.

Anonymous Generosity. Have you ever committed such kindness?

For years, I was a regular blood and platelet donor through the American Red Cross. But when we moved to Illinois, I fell out the habit—the rhythm of donating blood or platelets every 56 days was broken. But I was snapped out of my sloth by an urgent request from the Red Cross for blood donations during the pandemic. The number of donors had plummeted, but the need had not. So, on Wednesday afternoon I donned my mask and rolled up my sleeve to give an anonymous gift to a stranger. As soon as I got home, I went on-line to schedule my next donation. Its not exactly a Bishop Nicholas-level gift, or a gold coin in a kettle, but that pint of blood makes a world of difference to someone I will never meet. I forgot how satisfying that is.

Perhaps you could mark the Feast Day of Nicholas by being anonymously generous. Tuck a chocolate kiss in the shoe of a sleeping child. Drop a coin in a kettle or a bag of groceries at the pantry. Straighten the wind-whipped wreathe of an elderly neighbor or make a double-batch of soup and share it. That single kiss or bag of groceries, that ordinary kindness or ladle of soup may not seem like much, but we bring hope to the world one gift, one kiss, one smile at a time.

We invite you to join our congregation’s generosity for The Night Ministry this Advent. Who will wear those warm socks or enjoy that hot cup of coffee? God knows. We don’t need to.

Today, at the end of the First Week of Advent, I give thanks for your steady generosity—known and unknown—to our congregation, the organizations we care about, and all the people whose lives you change every day.  Bishop Nicholas would be proud—were he not so self-effacing.

One more reason to smile. My grandson, Theodore James, celebrates his first birthday today. Actually, he’s not celebrating—he’s too young to understand the pile of gifts and beaming grandparent faces on Facetime. But we are celebrating his birth and his presence in our lives. Happy Birthday, Theodorable! You make the whole world smile.

Blessed Advent. “See” you Sunday.

Pastor JoAnn Post

Too Much

Too Much

Dear Friends,

Is there any such thing as a blessing too big? A gift too great? A kindness too cosmic?  Yes, and I first experienced such a blessing, such a gift, such a kindness on a Thanksgiving almost 50 years ago.

I grew up on a story book Iowa farm. We raised all manner of livestock (ovine, bovine, equine, swine, canine, feline, leporidae) and fowl (exotic and ordinary). Even though we were surrounded by nothing but farms, our farm was the destination for field trips from grade schools near and far.  Where else could you go to milk a cow by hand, ride a horse, pet a sheep, eat homemade cookies on a hay rack in a sunny pasture?

 

In the fall, my father raised turkeys for our neighbors’ Thanksgiving tables. He always kept the best one for our family, butchered and plucked it himself as a gift to my mother. We were a big family, so no ordinary turkey could feed us all, but one November my father outdid himself. He had been keeping a secret from my mother—a 40-pound turkey lurched and gobbled in a coop behind the barn. A feathered Chris Farley. My father loved to surprise my mother—this gigantic turkey would be the perfect holiday surprise.

 

I remember the crisp, cold afternoon he walked into the kitchen, holding the enormous naked bird aloft by its scaly feet—an offering to the gods of Thanksgiving. He was certain my mother would swoon with delight. Instead, she was horrified. The bird was big as a bushel basket, almost freakish. “How will I ever get that in the oven?” she blurted. His face and shoulders fell; even the bird drooped. Without a word, he left the house, dragging the rejected bird behind him. The next sound we heard was the revving of a chainsaw in the garage. My father cleaved that enormous bird in two, in the same way my unsuspecting mother had taken a chainsaw to this heart.

 

Though my father’s gobbling gift served its culinary purpose, Thanksgiving Dinner that year was not quite the same. We were all aware that our main course’s Better Half pouted icily in the basement freezer. The blessing had been too big, the gift too great, the kindness almost cosmic.

 

The pandemic has highlighted the lack in our lives, losses too many to name, too painful to acknowledge. We fear the wound in our hearts will never be filled. And though the promise of a vaccine is promising, it is yet distant, too good to be true. We will not allow our hopes to be dashed again.

 

But, in the church, we stand on the edge of a new year, another Advent of hopeful longing. On Sunday, the first candle of our Advent wreath will flicker in the darkness: “We light the Advent candles against the winter night.” On Sunday, the first notes of our ancient longing will float in the air: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” On Sunday, the prophet reminds that God “did awesome deeds that we did not expect.” (Isaiah 64.1-9)

This Advent, one of the darkest we have known, promises blessings too big, gifts too great, kindness too cosmic. The light will shine. Our lives will sing. God will, again, do marvelous things. Our hearts, sawn in two, will be restored, resewn, renewed.

Thanksgiving was more than a federally-mandated holiday on the farm. It was a sigh of relief—the harvest was in, the barn was dry, the pantry was full, our house was warm, our family was safe. Though I have heard my father sing in decades (and I doubt St. Peter has invited him to sing in the heavenly choirs), I can still hear his tuneless, gravelling voice rise and fall in grateful praise during Thanksgiving worship in our country church:

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;

He chastens and hastens his will to make know.

The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.

Sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own.

With all our farmer neighbors, he gave thanks for blessings too big, gifts too great, kindnesses almost cosmic. None of us is forgotten. Not one.

I am eager for Advent and its invitation to unreasonable hope. Come, Lord Jesus, come soon.

Blessed Thanks Giving,

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

It Matters

It Matters

Dear Friends,

She laughed when she said it, but I think she was serious. “Unless it matters to me, it doesn’t matter.” If a stranger had said that to me, I would have written them off as terminally selfish or narcissistic. But this is a person I know who is, ordinarily, kind and thoughtful. But it seems the “kind and thoughtful” switch has been turned off, and she now does, says, thinks whatever seems best for her, regardless of the consequences. I don’t quite understand what has happened.

“Unless it matters to me, it doesn’t matter.” She is not the only one who feels that way.

Recently, a famous body-builder and virus-minimizer was hospitalized with Covid-19, hovering near death for weeks. He is now everywhere on social media, posting “before” and “after” photos of his once ripped body now ravaged by virus, begging people to take the virus seriously. “It happened to me! It could happen to you!” Suddenly, it mattered—because it mattered to him.

We are all myopic in our own ways. We are all most concerned about our own concerns. But what would it take, what would it mean, if we cared about what others care about, if we tended to the needs of others before our own? What would happen if, when it mattered to you, it mattered just as much to me?

Sunday is celebrated as the Festival of Christ the King, a “newbie” to the church calendar, established by Pope Pius XI in 1925. What was happening in 1925 that occasioned a new occasion? Those turbulent years between the two great world wars saw the steady rise of dictators and nationalism. As political leaders across Europe demanded absolute and unquestioning allegiance, the church wanted to remind the world that there is only one Ruler, only one King and his name is Jesus. How troubling that political events that spawned this festival a century ago make it still relevant in our time.

Christ the King Sunday begs us to consider what matters to others, specifically what matters to our King.

“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,” the King said.

“I was naked and you gave me something to wear,” the King reminded.

“I was in prison and you visited me,” the King thanked.

What sort of King lives this hungry, naked, incarcerated life? Our King. Our King Jesus, who is found not on a throne or in a palace, but in the world’s lowest place. Because, though our King loves us all, there is a soft spot in the King’s heart and a special place in that kingdom for those whose lives are most difficult, who go often unnoticed, those whom we disregard.

Though Jesus is the Ruler of Nations, Son of God and Savior of All Creation, though he could easily have delegated compassion to someone on his staff, Jesus decided to care, to notice, to make the world’s sorrows his sorrows, to regard the world’s poor his siblings, to befriend those who are strange to us. Why? Because when it matters to us, to any of God’s children, it matters to God.

We were all saddened to learn that Illinois has been, necessarily and wisely, returned to Covid-19 High Alert. We are re-thinking our Thanksgiving plans. We are weighing greater and lesser risk. We are considering the safety of those we love. And though being apart is painful, we honor the rules, we curb our enthusiasm, we put aside our own needs. Why? Because if it matters to someone else, it matters to us. (Masks matter.)

We gather remotely for Worship on Sunday to celebrate Christ who is our King. We invite you to drive by on Sunday between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to deliver your pledge of financial support and receive a pie in return. Pledge and Pie! What could be better? (Pledges may also be mailed in, or delivered to the office in person during office hours.) Thank you for your generous support.

Why do we go to such extreme measures to worship together, to carry on our ministry, to care for the world’s poor, to protect the vulnerable? Because the King has modeled our way of life. If someone is hungry, we feed them. If someone is frightened, we comfort them. If someone is in danger, we protect them. If it matters to someone else, it matters to us. And all of us—woke and reluctant, rich and poor, healthy and weak—matter to God.

“See” you Sunday,

Pastor JoAnn Post

Failed Waiting

Failed Waiting

Dear Friends,

If I’ve heard it once this week, I’ve heard it a hundred times, “Why is it taking so long?”

You may assume that this bleak bleat was prompted by the current protracted ballot count, but we are waiting for more than an end to our electoral angst.

Why is it taking so long—to get my covid test back?

Why is it taking so long—for the doctor to get back to me?

Why is it taking so long—to get my air travel refund?

Why is it taking so long—to hear back from that job interview?

Why is it taking so long—for people to take the pandemic seriously?

Why is it taking so long—for my school to decide about in-person learning?

Why is it taking so long—(fill in the blank)?

If life was an Olympic competition, our worst event would be Patient Waiting. Not only would we never medal in that event, we would get booed out of the pool. But Patient Waiting is exactly the skill that is required of us, in every aspect of our lives. I fear we are failing.

The biblical equivalent of our pathetic pleading is this: How long, O Lord? And we hear it in each of Sunday’s texts.

Amos channels God’s frustration with corrupt and selfish religious practice: “How long do I have to wait for you to do it MY way? To let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5.18-24)

Paul comforts early Christians, anxious about the eternal disposition of those who had died before Jesus’ return: “We do not want you to grieve as those who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4.13-18)

Jesus, only chapters before his whole world comes crashing down, warns his disciples, “Keep awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25.1-13)

These dark lectionary warnings are prompted, not by pandemic or politics, but by the looming end of the church year. (Christ the King Sunday is November 22; Advent opens on November 29.) Should we consider it odd or comforting or eerily prescient that since ancient times, the future for God’s people—and the whole universe—has been dimly lit?

We continue to gather as best we can, to follow as faithfully as we can, even when so much conspires against our gathering and our following. Please join us Sunday for live zoom worship at 10 a.m., and remain afterward for our November Vitality Talk. Because even though no one can answer the question, “Why is it taking so long?” we are confident that when we are in one another’s company, the waiting is neither frightening nor fatal.

Like you, I am wearing out the “refresh” button on my laptop, eager for news of election results at every level of government.  As we wait for the answer to “Why is it taking so long . . . ?” I invite you to consider the words of our synod bishop, Yehiel Curry, in yesterday’s missive to the Metropolitan Synod of Chicago:

Siblings in Christ, will we be the church who is able to shatter the red and blue walls that divide us? Will we transcend parties and powers that polarize, demonize, and distort our perception of one another? And will we do this for the sake of Christ’s mission—a feast for the hungry and a world where prisoners are set free? Will we do this, or will we remain captive to the same spirit that is tearing the world apart? (You can read the whole text here: http://eepurl.com/hh5dp5)

 In these waning days of the church year and a political cycle, we wait together for the answer to our perennial questions, “Why is it taking so long?”  And, as Paul advised in 1 Thessalonians, we comfort one another with these words, “God knows.”

Honored to be (not so patiently) waiting with you,

Pastor JoAnn A. Post

What Time Is It?

What Time Is It?

Dear Friends,

I will be uneasy all weekend, anticipating the time change early Sunday morning (our clocks fall back an hour). Its not that I mind losing an hour of sleep in the morning—as an insomniac acquaintance says, “I can sleep when I’m dead.” What worries me is that the time change happens on Sunday morning—the first and most important day of my week. What if I forget to change the clocks? What I set them the wrong direction? What if I miss one of my clocks? What if I am late for church (or early, depending on the season)? It seems a foolish thing, I know. But I won’t relax until we are all in our places at the proper time Sunday morning.

Since the pandemic fell, time has lost its meaning. Every day feels the same. Routines have been long abandoned.  We sleep more some nights; less on other nights. A favorite meme announces: “Until further notice the days of the week are called Thisday, Thatday, Otherday, Someday, Yesterday, Today and NextDay.”

It is oddly fitting that time seems so completely fungible these days. On All Saints Sunday we surrender ourselves to God’s time rather than our own. On All Saints Sunday we reach back to an ancient prophecy from Revelation of a day when “they will hunger no more, and thirst no more, when God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7.9-17) The gospel reading promises blessings now (“theirs IS the kingdom of heaven”) and blessings in a future time (“they WILL BE comforted”). (Matthew 5.1-12) In our All Saints prayers we name the names of the beloved dead, as though they were still among us, and we lean toward our grand reunion when, again to quote the Revelation text: “I saw a great multitude that no one could count standing before the throne.”

All our hearts are troubled these days, as the Covid-case counts climb, and we anticipate a potentially contentious Election Day, and the days grow dark and cold.  I invite you to consider living by God’s Time, rather than our own. To reach back to promises made long ago, to embrace the gift of each day, to look forward to that time when all tears will be dried.

On this All Saints Day I am remembering those I love who have preceded us into heaven, giving thanks for their witness. Please join us for (zoom) worship this Sunday. Please remember to turn your clocks back one hour. And please consider living by God’s Time, putting the sorrows of this present time into holy perspective.

“See” you Sunday,

Pastor JoAnn Post

Penny for Your Thoughts

Penny for Your Thoughts

Dear Friends,

The penny is less than worthless, costing 2 cents each to create. In fact, in 2022, the US Mint will cease producing pennies, though they will remain in circulation for some time after that. How did we get to this place—spending two times the worth of a coin that no one even uses? There are many reasons, but one of them has to do with the face on the coin. And the state that claims that famous face. Many attempts have been made to eliminate the penny, but the state of Illinois is among those who have lobbied for its survival. After all, the penny bears the face of Illinois’ favorite son—Abraham Lincoln. How could we do that to dear old Abe?

By now, that $20 bill in your pocket should bear the face of Harriet Tubman, a former slave who freed other slaves from bondage. She would have been the first woman and first person of color to grace a piece of US currency. Though the design process was already underway, it was stopped abruptly for reasons that are not clear. Some say it is because the steps necessary to make the $20 bill impossible to counterfeit were not in place. Some say it is just taking longer to produce the quantity of bills necessary to be in meaningful circulation. And others say it is because Ms. Tubman was a black woman, whose face would replace that of former President Andrew Jackson, a slaveholder and architect of the Trail of Tears. A freer of slaves or an owner of them. Which bill would you rather spend?

What’s in your wallet? Though we attribute that question to Samuel L. Jackson and CapitalOne, it was first coined by Jesus in Sunday’s gospel. (Matthew 22.15-22) Surrounded by leaders from both the religious and political systems in Jerusalem, his interrogators were laying a trap for Jesus: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”

There was no way Jesus was going to answer to everyone’s satisfaction. If he said, “No, we ought not pay taxes,” the political leaders (Herodians) would have pitched a fit over his lack of patriotism and civic engagement. Had he said, “Yes, we ought to pay taxes,” the religious leaders (Pharisees) would have come undone—observant Jews were to have no financial dealings with Rome, not even carrying its currency.  You see, the coin in question bore the image of Emperor Augustus, who believed himself to be a god. That image violated the First Commandment: “you shall have no other gods.”

Instead of giving both opponents reason to accuse, Jesus sidestepped the issue. “What’s in your wallet? Show me the coin. Whose image does it bear?” The answer was simple, “The Emperor’s.”

“Well,” Jesus said, “things that have the image of the emperor on them, belong to the emperor. But things that bear the image of God . . .” You can see where he was going.

As we prepare for elections at every level of government, and as we tear each other to shreds over the proposed tax amendment to our state constitution, it would be tempting to turn Jesus’ word into a political endorsement. (Like the Pharisees and Herodians, we love to use Jesus for our own political purposes.)

But Jesus is not weighing in on tax policy, or advising the US Mint. Jesus is reminding us that we belong to the one whose image we bear; we belong to God. Easy to say, but would anyone suspect—by the way you spend your time, your money, your words, your affections—that you belong to God?

In fact, Sunday’s question is not “What’s in your wallet?” Sunday’s question is “Whose face is on your face?”  Abraham Lincoln? Harriet Tubman? Andrew Jackson? Emperor Augustus? Jesus Christ?

Funny that during the pandemic, we are advised to use no paper currency or coins at all, since are in short supply and are potential virus carriers. Instead, we present our plastic debit and credit cards for purchases large and small. Whose face is on that worthless piece of plastic? And does the way we use it say something about whose we are and what we believe?

Please join us for worship Sunday (remotely) as we seek to see the face of God in one another.

Pastor JoAnn Post

On Sunday morning at 10 a.m., we host live Zoom Worship. You may join us using this information: Meeting ID: 899 7267 2648, Passcode: 195368) and wait for the host to give you access. Worship will be recorded and posted later on Sunday, for those who are unable to join us live. 

Namaste?

Namaste?

Dear Friends,

Things are not always as they seem. Not even dogs.

While checking out at my local grocery store, the clerk admired the very expensive dog treats I was buying for my picky-eater dog. “My dog loves these, too!” she said.  As is typical of dog owners, we quickly fell into the predictable canine conversation: what breed is your dog? what is its name? how old is your dog? what’s s/he like?

The clerk owns a cute little four-year-old mutt whose name is Namaste. “What a great name!” I exclaimed. “Is she as peaceful as her name?” The clerk shook her head sadly. “No, she’s a horrible dog. She’s mean to everyone but me. Its so embarrassing when my dog lunges at another dog and I have to shout, ‘Namaste! Stop it! Down, Namaste!”

By this time, the patron behind me was laughing out loud, as was the bagger. The image of a tiny little dog whose name echoes the Sanskrit greeting, “I bow to you,” barking like a demon at another dog was just too funny. All week, I’ve been imagining encounters between the gently named Namaste and the shocked, cowering dogs and their owners whom she threatened.

Things are not always as they seem. Not even “namaste.”

I shudder to think about the sermon that will emerge from another innocently named “kingdom of heaven” parable on Sunday. (Matthew 22.1-14) We have grown accustomed to Jesus’ parables of the kingdom—seed, pearl, net, treasure—so we expect to be lulled into slumber by another bucolic image of God’s work in the world. Instead, Jesus’ parable comes out snarling and barking—a tiny little ineptly-named Namaste in biblical drag.

This Sunday, the kingdom of heaven is compared to an ill-tempered king who expects large crowds at his son’s wedding. When the invited guests disdain his invitation, the king murders them and burns their villages. Unwilling to present his son to an empty banquet hall, he instructs his servants to drag people into the party—good and bad, willing and unwilling, ready or not. If the parable were not ugly enough on its own, Jesus tops it off with an inexplicable statement of judgment and banishment to the outer darkness—where demons howl and the damned are tortured. A bloody wedding banquet. The gospel of the Lord?

I honestly don’t know what to do with this. The world around us is dark enough, without Jesus adding to the gloom. God is a vengeful king? Guests who fail to show can be executed? Dressing poorly gets you tossed into hell?  A dog named Namaste is more likely to attack than to wag? What does any of this mean?

Regardless of my homiletical readiness, we will gather, remotely, for Sunday Worship to hear the word of God and wonder at its meaning for our lives.

 

I also invite you to remain on the line after worship for a fascinating Vitality Talk about what it means to be citizens of a political world. Dr. Paul Nelson, recently retired Professor and Chair of the Religion Department at Wittenberg University, will offer a compact introduction to the ELCA’s newest social message, “Government and Civic Engagement in the United States: Discipleship in a Democracy.” The message is uniquely timely, and Paul brings deep experience as a teacher and interpreter of the faith. The Vitality Talk will launch at 10:45 a.m., after 10 a.m. worship, on the zoom link include below.

Though the name also belongs to an aggressive little dog, I bow to you, humbly grateful for the privilege of living these turbulent times with you. And I trust that, when we are together in Jesus’ name, things will be as they seem, as they ought to be.

Namaste,

Pastor JoAnn Post

Please Join Us for Sunday Worship and Vitality

On Sunday morning at 10 a.m., we host live Zoom Worship. (Meeting ID: 899 7267 2648, Passcode: 195368) and wait for the host to give you access) Worship will be recorded and posted later on Sunday, for those who are unable to join us live.

Following worship, at 10:45 a.m., we invite you to join us on the same zoom link for a Vitality Talk with Dr. Paul Nelson.

The Notorious JC

The Notorious JC

Dear Friends,

My eyes filled with tears as I watched live coverage of events honoring the late, great Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I’m a sucker for well-done ritual, and a great admirer of Justice Ginsburg. But more than the events themselves, I was moved by the kindness and generosity expressed by her colleague justices. Though for almost three decades the justices daily challenged and disagreed, questioned and confronted, they share an underlying respect and affection palpable across the miles. And the aisles.

Who does that anymore? Who disagrees so agreeably? Who respects so respectfully? Who places the higher good above their own needs? Though I imagine the differences among the justices are deep and wide, at the end of the day, at the end of the session, at the end of a life, they regard one another with warmth, respect and genuine affection.   Who does that?

As we prepare for Sunday worship, I can’t go where Matthew’s gospel wants to take us. (Matthew 21.21-32) The text reveals open disdain for Jesus from the temple leaders. While he was teaching, chief priests and elders interrupted Jesus mid-sentence, regarding him with jaw-dropping disrespect. “Who gives you the right?” they challenged. “What makes you think you’re so smart?” I couldn’t read any further. That’s as far as I can go. We see that sort of disrespect and disdain daily in our political systems, and I just can’t go there today.

So, I flipped the page, looking for something more comforting, less discouraging, and found this:

If there is any encouragement in Christ,

any consolation from love,

any sharing in the Spirit,

any compassion and sympathy:

be of the same mind, have the same love, being in full accord.

Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

(Philippians 2.1ff)

Who does that?

The apostle Paul was writing to the congregation at Philippi, a congregation for which he had shameless affection. I think it is fair to say he loved them best. Rather than tearing them down, belittling or mocking them, he loved them, praised them, opened a window on to a new view of the world. Rather than finding fault he applauded excellence.

Perhaps there were deep divisions in the congregation in Philippi. But if there were, those deep divisions never overshadowed their common purpose and obvious love for one another. Rather than racing to be first, they fought for last place, “regarding others as better than yourself.” They longed to serve rather than to be served.

Who does that?

Here’s their secret. The congregation at Philippi didn’t invent humble service, or common purpose or sincere compassion. They learned it. They learned it from Jesus who, Paul continues, “did not equate equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, and became obedient.”

Most often, the world around us feels like the scene Matthew describes in Sunday’s gospel: pugnacious, delighting in another’s downfall, quick to find fault. And though we might be hard pressed to find models for faithful discipleship in the temple that day or among us now, we are not without opportunities to see, to live, to disciple differently.

Perhaps, like me, you find inspiration in the hard-fought cohesion and collegiality of the Supreme Court.

Perhaps, like me, you find inspiration in the loving, serving, mindful congregation in Philippi.

Perhaps, like me, you find inspiration in the model Jesus makes—servanthood, obedience, single-mindedness.

Who does that? Well, we do.

Following the Notorious JC,

Pastor JoAnn Post

Good Things Fall, Too

Good Things Fall, Too

Dear Friends,

We like to imagine that people “get what they deserve,” whether for good or for ill. We like to imagine that “bad” people come to bad ends (eventually) and that “good” people always win (eventually). I hate to break the news to you, but such a world view is hopelessly naïve and, even worse, potentially dangerous.

Consider the fires and smoke, the winds and waves, the victims of pandemic and economic emergency around us—verifiable “bad” things. Regardless of where we lay blame for these natural and financial catastrophes, the catastrophes themselves have no agency. Fire burns where it finds fuel. Smoke billows where wind carries it. Hurricanes roar where atmospheric conditions create them. Viruses attack without regard for one’s station in life. Even a financial crisis as deep and wide as the one we are experiencing, falls like a blanket on all landscapes. That some are more deeply impacted than others is a discussion for another day. But there is nomorality, no intention, no judgment on the part of the crisis itself. “Bad” things can happen to any of us.

Now that we’ve settled that (as if), my mind turns to Sunday’s gospel reading (Matthew 20.1-16), which argues the same point from the opposite direction.

Jesus adds an eighth “the kingdom of heaven is like . . .” parable on Sunday. In this case, the kingdom of heaven is like a vineyard owner who plucked workers from the local labor pool in the same way those day laborers would pluck grapes from his vines. It seems the vineyard owner is a poor manager, since he fails to hire enough pickers on his early morning foray to the labor pool. At 9 a.m. he hired more laborers, again at noon, at 3 and at 5 p.m.

Rather than criticize the vineyard owner’s quirky hiring practices, Jesus focuses on the unorthodox way he structures his compensation package. At the end of the day, the owner summoned the 5:00 hires first and peeled a thick wad of bills—a full day’s wage—from his pocket. The late-comers were both surprised and delighted, since they received far more than they deserved. The early birds saw the wad of bills that exchanged hands and began to salivate. “Hmm,” they calculated, “if the pluckers who showed up at the end of the day get the usual daily wage, imagine how much we will be paid, we who have been working from sunrise to sunset.”

Remember the lack of agency on the part of “bad” things? The early pluckers are about to learn that there is a complete lack of agency on the part of “good” things, too. Jesus’ fictional vineyard owner counted the same number of bills into the hands of all his day laborers—those who worked 15 hours and those who worked 15 minutes.  Each laborer went home with the same paycheck that night. A “good” thing happened to each of them, regardless of their deserving. Infuriating, right?

Fortunately for us, God is that foolish vineyardist. At the end of a day, at the end of a life, God does not regard us as we regard one another. Good or bad. Faithful or unfaithful. Worthy or unworthy. In a fit of foolish generosity, Jesus teaches and we believe that God is gracious to all. And that God’s magnanimous nature toward one doesn’t diminish God’s magnanimity toward another. God’s pocket is bottomless. Each of us receives from God not what we deserve, but what God chooses to give. And God chooses to give wildly, lavishly, generously.

Does that bother you? Does that seem somehow unfair? Apparently, Jesus’ hearers thought so. He reprimanded them, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Are you envious because I am generous?”

In a country that drips with “bad things” for so many, I am choosing to bask in the kingdom of God in which “good things” fall on our heads like cooling rain. I am loving God’s seemingly random generosity.

Jesus’ parable is a gift of cooling rain on my parched soul. There is “good” all around us, though it is often hidden behind a screen of smoke, a hurricane of horribles, a crush of crises.

Today I pray good things for all of us, regardless of who we are or what we have done. When God does the plucking, we all get picked.

Pastor JoAnn Post

God Intends It For good

God Intends It For good

Dear Friends,

“Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.” (Joseph, Genesis 50.15ff)

It was a bold statement on Joseph’s behalf. After decades of mistreatment at the hands of his brothers, all the while overseeing the explosive growth of Egypt’s economy, Joseph was able to take a God’s-eye view of his life. But it was only in retrospect, after years of anger and fear and confusion, that Joseph saw God at work. Even in this.

“Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.”

Today we mark the nineteenth anniversary of the unspeakable tragedy of terrorist attacks on American soil. We all remember where we were when the first airplane struck the World Trade Center. Some of us know those who died. Some of us can tell stories of having only narrowly missed being there that day. To use an overused adjective, the events of September 11, 2001 were “unprecedented” in our history. Is nineteen years long enough for us to see God’s good intentions at work. Even in this?

“Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.”

How many years will go by before we are able to see God’s good intention in our current “unprecedented” national tragedy? Years from now, after the dead have all been named and numbered, after the economic trauma of the pandemic has been tallied, after the liars and the truth-tellers have all been identified—will we then be able to see God working good among us?

I have chosen to preach on this complex text in this complex time on Sunday morning. Joseph’s willingness to forgive his brothers, coupled with his ability to see God at work in tragedy are both perplexing and inspiring to me. Please join us for worship—our first attempt to Zoom on Sunday morning. All the information about the morning—our 9:30 a.m. Vitality Talk, 10 a.m. Worship, 10:45 a.m. Coffee Hour—is included below.

As I sit down to write Sunday’s sermon, I am mindful of those who among us for whom this day is a day of mourning. We remember with you. I am mindful of those among us for whom the pandemic is more than an inconvenience. We see you. I am mindful of the chasm of political opinion growing daily wider in our country. We clasp one another’s hands across that divide.

I have learned, as have those of you who have suffered tragedy or turmoil, that we cannot make meaning out of our circumstance while in the midst of it. It is only after the fact, after we have suffered sleepless nights, gritted our teeth and forged ahead, leaned on one another for support, that we might be able to catch a glimpse of some God-intended good emerging from the harm we have suffered. Today I pray a glimpse of God’s good intent for you, in whatever sorrow or anger or fear or tragedy troubles you.

And perhaps we will one day be able to join Joseph in the bold claim, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.”

Pastor JoAnn Post

A Full Zoom Sunday

On Sunday morning we will gather for faith formation, worship and fellowship “live” by zoom.

We invite you to join us on Zoom at 9:30 a.m. for a Vitality Talk, during which we will launch our Holy Family Fall Challenge. We will take a brief break at 9:50 a.m. to give you time to prepare for worship.

At 10:00 a.m. we will launch Worship on that zoom link, our staff and worship leaders joining us from both the sanctuary and their homes. Also, for the first time in this pandemic season, we will offer Holy Communion during worship–virtually. In preparation for worship, you might consider creating a “sacred space” in your home. Bread and wine or juice. A candle. 

At 10:45 a.m. we will launch Zoom Coffee Hour, a 30-minute opportunity to see one another’s faces and chat. If the group chooses, we may break into chat rooms for easier conversation.

The Vitality Talk and Worship will be recorded, and posted later today for viewing by those who cannot join us “live.” Please use the Zoom link below to participate in any or all of Sunday’s events. You may join our activities at any time between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m., when the Zoom link will be active.

Because this is our first attempt at Zoom Sunday Morning, our efforts will be modest. Please be patient! If all goes well, we might gather by Zoom again in the future. “See” you later!

Sunday Zoom

Time: Sep 13, 2020 09:30 AM

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Meeting ID: 861 6871 4468

Passcode: 205154

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Meeting ID: 861 6871 4468