Jesus in Our Boat

Jesus in Our Boat

Dear Friends,

I’m sure you don’t remember, but when I arrived at Ascension seven years ago, I sported a very short haircut. It suited me fine—haircare has never been a priority for me. But when my new hairdresser gently broached the subject of a change, I was reluctant. I successfully fended her off for several months, but, finally she took the plunge: “Your hair cut is perfect. For 1987. Can we try something new?”

I was surprised at my visceral reaction to her professional (and accurate) assessment of my antiquated hairstyle. Was she criticizing the work of the wonderful woman who had cut my hair for the previous ten years? Was she making fun of my look? Had others been making fun of my look? Had I turned into the elderly family friend whose enormous hair-sprayed beehive hadn’t been ruffled by wind or opinion in 75 years? If I was so wrong about my outdated “do,” what else was I wrong about? And what’s wrong with 1987? It was another couple of months before I acceded to her request, and another two years to grow my hair from stubble to the style I now sport. (I’m still not sure about it.)

But what was so upsetting about it to me? She’s the expert on hair, not me. What harm could it do to try?  After all, its only hair. What was I so afraid of?

Sunday’s gospel reading (Mark 4.35-41) is about many things—weather, wind, sailboats—but it is, finally, about fear. Fear of something far more significant than hair. Fear that is irrational and unreasonable. And I am reminded of other things we have feared.

In the 1970’s, women sought equal access to employment, healthcare, self-determination and a host of other rights that are now (mostly) mainstream. But the word “feminism” came to mean not empowerment and access, but danger. Feminists would abandon their families and marriages. Feminists would advocate for all sorts of sexual abominations. Feminists would threaten the very foundation of democracy, Christianity and decency. None of those accusations was accurate or fair, but, to this day, a movement that positively changed the lives of millions—including this feminist—is, in some circles, associated with selfishness and depravity. What are we so afraid of?

The same has been true of many social and cultural movements in our lifetime. Remember when “divorce” was an unforgivable sin, and “divorcee” was a slur? Remember when our gay and lesbian siblings were deemed mentally ill? Remember when “historical critical method,” a literary tool for the study of scripture, divided the Lutheran church beyond repair? What were we so afraid of?

We never seem to learn, do we? Wise and reasoned advice from health care professionals about the value of mask-wearing during a pandemic, has erupted into dangerous conspiracy theories and, last week, murder in a Georgia grocery store. An academic discussion called “critical race theory,” has been taken completely out of context and is now deemed a threat to public school children and the rule of law. Fearing “critical race theory” is akin to fearing “the theory of relativity.” They are discussions, lenses, ideas, questions, not public school curricula. We have much to learn and much to consider, in every avenue of our lives. What are we so afraid of?

Meanwhile, Jesus was sleeping in a boat while his disciples fought hurricane-force winds and bailed sinking ships. They were terrified. Jesus was comatose. They roused him with an accusation, “Don’t you care about us? We’re drowning over here!” What was Jesus supposed to do? He wasn’t a sailor or a meteorologist. But their fear drove them to irrational accusations and unreasonable expectations.

Grumpy from having been so rudely awakened, Jesus stretched, stood, scanned the horizon and shouted at the sea, “Stop!” To the wind he roared, “Shut up!” And they did. Mark writes, “Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.”

Suddenly, the disciples’ fears about the storm seemed small and short-sighted. It wasn’t the weather they had to fear, it was Jesus and his limitless power. Mark writes, “They were filled with abject fear, and said to one another, ‘Who is this, then, that even wind and sea obey him?’”  And they were left to row their listing boats, through the “dead calm,” to the other side of the sea, casting terrified glances over their shoulders at Jesus. “Who is this guy?”

Whether it is a change of hairstyle (modest) or a change in our understanding of race (world-changing) or any other change, our failure to pause, to ponder, to imagine another possibility leads to all sorts of irrational accusations and unreasonable expectations. What are we so afraid of?

As Jesus’ disciples, we have nothing to fear. Except, maybe, Jesus himself. After all, if Jesus can still the sea and stop a storm, if Jesus can cast out demons, raise the dead and forgive the unforgivable, imagine what he can do with us. I suppose, we should just keep rowing, trusting that we will be guided safely through the storm.

Unafraid with Jesus in my boat,

Pastor JoAnn Post

Turn off that light!

Turn off that light!

Dear Friends,

My first night hike! I was thrilled and terrified. What if animals came out at night? What if I fell? What if I got lost? What if I got separated from my companions? What if animals came out at night? (Or did I ask that already?)

I arrived at the meeting point for my first night hike incredibly over-prepared. Socks? Check. Boots? Check. Long pants? Check. Bug repellant? Check. Hat? Check. Bandanna? Check. Flashlight? Check. Head lamp? Check. Warming blanket? Check. Granola bars? Check. Mosquito net? Check. Hand-crank emergency radio? Check. Even in the dark, I could hear my companions’ eyes rolling: “Who invited this rookie?”

As we set off down the trail, weighed down like a Sherpa on Mount Everest, I switched on both my headlamp and flashlight. The leader blocked my path and said, “Turn them off.” I was stunned. “Turn them off,” he said, a bit more gently. “You’ll see better in the dark if there is no light.”

Single-file we moved through the woods, him coaching me quietly the whole time.

“Slow down,” he said.

“Don’t try so hard.”

“There is nothing to worry about.”

“Listen.”

“Don’t look at things directly. Let them appear.”

This last instruction made no sense—how would I avoid the tree roots and exposed rocks on the trail if I didn’t look at them? But he was right. When I looked directly at something in the dark—the trail, a tree, a rock—it disappeared from my vision. But if I gave it a sidelong glance, the way ahead became surprisingly clear. Something about the way the rods and cones in the human eye function in low light, means that peripheral vision is far more effective in the dark than a direct view.

“Don’t look at things directly. Let them appear.”

On this, the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus invites us to turn off the headlamps and flashlights, release our need to understand fully, to see clearly, and, instead, view his world indirectly, peripherally.  On Sunday, he invites us to “let things appear.”

On Sunday, Jesus will speak to the crowds and his disciples in parables. (Mark 4.26-34) Jesus is trying to teach them about the Kingdom of God, which has drawn near, but when they tried to consider it head-on, they were unable to hear it, unable to understand it, unable to see it. It was too much to take in all at once.

That’s why Jesus teaches in parables. “The kingdom of God is like someone who randomly scatters seed, with no idea of how or if they would sprout.” Or, “the kingdom of God is like the mustard seed—ubiquitous, invincible and nearly invisible.”

The crowds were irritated. Why can’t you just tell us what the kingdom of God is like without obfuscation? Why the parables, the images, the sidelong glance? Because, as Jesus explains at the end of Sunday’s gospel reading, “You can’t hear it yet. You can’t look at it directly. Wait for it to appear.”

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that events unfold at their own pace, information emerges in increments, forcing a situation produces nothing but frustration.

If Jesus has taught us anything, it is that the kingdom of God—that reality in which wrongs are righted and the hungry are fed and peace blankets the earth—unfolds as it will. In God’s time. In God’s way. Like seeds that sprout of their own volition. There is no way to understand the ways of God with us. There is no way to force the emergence of the kingdom of God. We can only approximate it, imagine it, regard it with a sideways glance.

I am delighted to invite you to worship with us in person Sunday morning. We have lifted the cap on the number of persons who can be in the building, and discontinued the reservation system. We will, however, ask you to “tag in” when you arrive, and to wear a mask when on our property. Our Godly Play children will gather on the lawn at 10 a.m. to reconnect with one another in a playful way before joining us in the sanctuary for Holy Communion. For those who can’t join us in person, live zoom will be available, and a recording of worship will be released Sunday afternoon.

Though, for months, we crafted and refined elaborate plans to resume in-person worship and congregational life, when the time was right, we knew it. We had to wait for events and intuition to unfold and converge so that, when it was safe to open the doors to this tiny outpost of the kingdom of God, we would know it without having to be told. Our frontal assaults on the issue, while important for our planning and preparation, proved less effective than the advice of the experienced guide:

Turn off the klieg lights.

Slow down.

Don’t try so hard.

There is nothing to worry about.

Listen.

Don’t look at things directly. Let them appear.

What has appeared is a community of faith that is hopeful, joyful, eager for God’s future. What has appeared is a seed randomly planted, a weed stubbornly growing, a promise slowly appearing.

See you Sunday,

Pastor JoAnn Post

No Ordinary Time

No Ordinary Time

Dear Friends,

On Sunday, we enter the season called “Ordinary Time,” the Sundays between Pentecost (May 23) and Christ the King Sunday (November 21). They are “ordinary” not in a ho-hum kind of way, but in a counting kind of way. They are “ordinal,” numbered, sequential: Second Sunday after Pentecost, etc. 

Also, on Sunday, we resume in-person worship, after a 15-month absence from one another. As you can imagine and appreciate, we have set some limits on our gathering. But we trust that, as we grow more accustomed to worshipping in a post-pandemic world, some of those limits might ease. For now, please know that you will be asked to mask when on the church grounds and in the building, that our numbers will be capped, that live zoom and recorded worship will be offered, though not in as intimate a fashion as before.

I invite you to read my reflection on the texts for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, which was recently published in The Christian Century, the “flagship magazine of U.S. mainline Protestantism.” It is a privilege to be an occasional writer for this fine magazine, and I thought you might want to read what I wrote. You can read the essay here: https://www.christiancentury.org/article/living-word/june-6-ordinary-10b-1-samuel-84-20

People always ask me if my stories are true. The answer is “yes.” Life is endlessly interesting to me; I have no need to make things up or borrow other writer’s work. So, before you spend time scratching your head about who I might be referencing in this essay, please know that the character who “didn’t read the fine print” is real, though not a single person. When a story is not mine alone, as is the case in this essay, I protect an individual’s privacy by combining similar experiences into a single character. Thus, the main character in this article is a composite based on many such experiences. However, on those occasions when I tell another person’s story in a way that might expose their identity, I always get their permission. My gauge of the need to do that is a simple question, “Is this my story to tell?”

After 15 months apart—a time that was anything but “ordinary”—we all have stories to tell. I look forward to the opportunity to hear your stories, to catch up on all that we have missed while apart, to “lay eyes on you.”

“See” you Sunday?

Pastor JoAnn Post

Trinity Sunday Reflections

Trinity Sunday Reflections

Dear Friends,


This Sunday calls us to a festival unlike all others on the church calendar: Trinity Sunday. On this festival, a week after Pentecost, we celebrate not an event (Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, etc.) but an idea: God is One. God is Three.

I invite you to read my reflection on the texts for Trinity Sunday, which was recently published in The Christian Century, the “flagship magazine of U.S. mainline Protestantism.” It is a privilege to be an occasional writer for this fine magazine, and I thought you might want to read what I wrote for Trinity Sunday. You can read the essay here.

Blessed Trinity Sunday.Pastor JoAnn Post

A sigh will do

A sigh will do

Dear Friends,

POWER! FIRE! WIND! SPEECH! CHAOS! These are typical Pentecost themes, as we read of an impossible event in Jerusalem, 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection. (Acts 2.1-21) The city of Jerusalem was filled with pilgrims from across the known world, gathered to celebrate Shavuot, an annual celebration of the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. Shavuot (also known as “Pentecost”) was one of three mandatory pilgrimage events in the life of Jewish men. Like the Haj for Muslims, Shavuot was occasion for festivities and reunions and crowds and holy mayhem.

Shavuot is the reason the disciples were all together in one place. Shavuot is the reason devout Jews from every nation under heaven were in the city. Shavuot is the reason the Holy Spirit decided to descend in that place, on that day. Major bang for the Spirit’s buck.

POWER! FIRE! WIND! SPEECH! CHAOS! These are typical Pentecost themes for us. But what actually happened on that day had less to do with capital letters and exclamation marks than with fear and weakness and confusion. The witnesses who later recounted their experience were still trembling when interviewed on the evening news.  “It was like . . . It was like . . .” They couldn’t quite describe what they had seen. Fire? Wind? Dove? It was “like” that.

If the events had confused them, the words that had tumbled unbidden out of their mouths were even more troubling. These twelve illiterate fishers and tax collectors, who knew only their own regional dialects and maybe a smattering of Aramaic, preached in languages they didn’t even know existed. That hurricane of language is why pilgrims from Parthia and Crete, Phrygia and Pamphylia learned of God’s power in language they could understand. It was like . . .

Perhaps this year on this festival, our second Pandemic Pentecost, we might forego the bombast and chest thumping, to admit our fear, our weakness, our inability to adequately express God’s deeds of power and our powerlessness.

We will read from Paul’s letter to the church at Rome. (Romans 8.22-27) Paul hears the whole world crying out in pain. He admits to the inadequacy of our words. He trusts the Spirit to provide “sighs too deep for words” when we don’t have a prayer.

We will read from Jesus’ final discourse. (John 15.26-27, 16.4b-15) Borrowing language from legal proceedings—advocate, testimony, judgment, condemnation, truth—Jesus promises his soon-to-be-orphaned disciples that the Spirit would plead on their behalf. Were they to stand defenseless before the world, they would surely fail. But the Spirit will guide them to and through a future that, if it were revealed to them prematurely, would be too much to bear.

If you, like me, have grown weary of the world’s noise, you might understand why on this Pentecost I am listening for the Spirit’s sighs, trusting the Spirit’s counsel, abandoning attempts to convince anyone of anything. On Pentecost, pilgrims from across the globe will gather in churches and on zoom screens to hear of God’s deeds of power. Not OUR deeds of power, but God’s. And what are those deeds? In small letters and loosely structured sentences, we learn of God’s desire that all would be saved; we learn that our pain is known and our silences blessed; we learn that we are protected by the power of the Spirit.

Try these words on for Pentecost size: sigh groan amaze patient hope weak sorrow. These simple, lower-case words speak softly to my troubled soul this Pentecost.

Please join us for another Pandemic Pentecost—whether you join us with shouts of joy or sighs too deep for words.

“See” you Sunday,

Pastor JoAnn Post

He Will Return

He Will Return

Dear Friends,

We last saw each other in person 18 months ago, before the pandemic fell, never dreaming it would be our last visit. My old friend, Irma, died in March, after a brief illness, at the age of 85. Her death was a tremendous blow. But one of the ways in which I am comforted is confidence that she and I will be reunited in the life to come. How will that work? What will we look like? No one knows, but I am confident we will be reunited.

That said, I hadn’t expected to see her so soon. On Tuesday afternoon, I opened a letter her widowed husband had sent, and a photograph of my friend fell out of the envelope. And there she was! My old friend just as I remember her—smiling, kind, beautiful. I dropped the envelope as though I had been burned, and burst into tears. I had not known how much I had missed her, how hard her death had been, how much I longed to see her. Until I saw her again.

Somehow, seeing her face when I did not expect, was as much of a shock as her unexpected death. Somehow, seeing her face when I did not expect, brought back a flood of fond memories, and I cried tears of both joy and sorrow.

Yesterday, the church celebrated The Ascension of Our Lord, 40 days after Easter. While Ascension Day is considered a minor festival, rarely remarked, it serves as a letter, a promise from an old friend. On Ascension, we are reminded that we will see Jesus again. Just as he said.

The Ascension is an unusual event. Following the significant drama of the Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion, death and resurrection, the Ascension is easy to miss.  Standing with his disciples on a hilltop outside Jerusalem, Jesus offers a few parting remarks to the disciples, and then the gospel writer Luke writes, “When Jesus had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” (Acts 1.6ff)  Just like that, like candle smoke ascending from the flame, Jesus rose and was gone. Poof!

The disciples couldn’t quite believe their eyes; they just kept looking at the sky. Where did he go? Later, they remembered that the last they had seen of their risen Lord was the bottoms of his feet. Two men in white robes (the same two men in white robes who had been lounging in Jesus’ empty tomb?) snapped them back to reality: “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come to you in the same way you saw him go into heaven.”

Jesus’ Ascension is an odd little imagining of what it will be like when we see Jesus again, and perhaps, when we will see one another again. Maybe that grand reunion will be underwhelming in its ordinariness—like a puff of smoke, like a sunbeam through a cloud, like a smile we had almost forgotten. With the church, we long for that day when Jesus will return, in the same way we saw him go. And, with the church, we long for that day when our loved ones will be restored to us.

Sunday morning marks the Seventh Sunday of Easter. We will read from Acts, about the selection of a disciple to take Judas’ place, and we will overhear Jesus pray for us. After worship, we invite you to remain on the zoom call for “All Ascension Reads: Redlining.” It is a fascinating book and, even if you’ve not been able to read it, you are welcome to listen in.

Today, in the afterglow of Jesus’ Ascension, I give thanks for the promise of reunion—with Jesus, with loved ones who still live in our hearts. Today, we trust the Easter/Ascension angels: “You will see him come just as you saw him go.”  But, will the bottoms of his feet still be dirty?

“See” you Sunday,

Pastor JoAnn Post

Enraged Elmers

Enraged Elmers

Dear Friends, Elmers everywhere were enraged.

 For decades, ham radio operators had had to demonstrate proficiency in Morse Code in order to move beyond the most basic licensing level of “technician.” On a dare, I had studied for that first license and, much to everyone’s surprise, passed with flying colors. KB1MPM (my first call sign) was on the air! I lingered at the “tech” level for months, terrified of having to learn a language composed of only dots, dashes and spaces in order to advance. But my Elmer (the person who mentors a new ham radio operator is called an “Elmer”) convinced me I could do it. I purchased the practice software, and night after night, for three months, I tapped my answers back to the on-line prompts. Dots and dashes haunted my sleep, but I was determined—as was my Elmer—to attain the “general” license, with all the rights and privileges thereunto pertaining.   

But intrigue was afoot. Even as I sweated through my exam prep, the FCC was re-evaluating licensing for ham radio operators. After a lengthy period of study, they determined that Morse Code would no longer be a prerequisite for the higher license classes. They determined that Morse Code was not as useful as it had once been, and served as a barrier to greater engagement with ham radio. I was delighted.

Elmers everywhere were enraged. “So now just any idiot can be a ham?” they bellowed in on-line chat rooms. “Does the license mean nothing anymore?” they moaned. “This is the end of ham radio!” they wept. (All of this was tapped out in Morse Code, of course.) 

My delight didn’t last long. My Elmer made a convincing argument that I would always feel like a fraud if I operated my radio with a general license, without actually knowing Morse Code. Though I would gladly have felt like a fraud if it meant I didn’t have to take the exam, he persisted. And I passed. Barely. By about two dots and a dash. But I passed. I earned my general license the hard way, the old-fashioned way, the right way. My Elmer and all the old guys in my ham radio club snapped their suspenders with pride. 

In fact, removing Morse Code from the general licensing exam was a tremendous boost to the hobby. Requests for study and licensing materials doubled in the months following the change in the rule. But more than a few of the old duffers died and went SK (Silent Key) without ever forgiving the FCC, or accepting those lazy hams who obtained their licenses the “easy way.” 

Does anyone welcome a change in the rules, a perceived “relaxing” of the standards, abandonment of the cherished ways we’ve always done it? 

Please join us Sunday to learn about the ways the early church “relaxed” the rules. Though neither ham radio nor Morse Code had been invented in the 1st century CE, there were other ways to irritate the old timers. Shortly after Pentecost, as more and more Jews were being welcomed into the first faith communities, somebody threw a wrench in the works and invited Gentiles, too. (Acts 10.44-48) Did that mean almost “any idiot” could be a disciple? Jesus himself, on the night before he died, upended the rules, refusing to be called “Master” by his disciples, preferring to be their “friend.” (John 15.9-17) What sort of movement calls their leader “friend?” Doesn’t somebody have to be in charge? 

Speaking of movements, I suggest a “change the rules” about another cherished tradition: Mother’s Day. While I am deeply grateful for my own mother and all the women who have been as mothers to me, the observance presents an opportunity for a deeper message. As part of your Mother’s Day observation this year, you might take time to read two very different “Mother’s Day Proclamations.” The first was written by Julia Ward Howe in 1870, a post-Civil War call for mothers to unite for the sake of peace. (click here). The second was printed in The Chicago Tribune on Wednesday, a call for mothers to unite against violence in our streets. (click here) With Julia Ward Howe and Nortasha Stingley and women everywhere, I pray for an end to violence. As Howe wrote, “We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.” 

Though Elmers everywhere are enraged, ham radio has made changes necessary to keep the hobby vibrant and vital for another generation. The same was true in the early church, among Jesus’ disciples, on Mother’s Day, and in the life of our congregation. Our eyes must be focused on the future, not on a fondly-remembered past or an uncomfortable present. After all, we can trust Jesus, our friend, to lead us well. ­ ­

–……– ­­ (Best regards)

Pastor JoAnn Post (KD9HXX)

We Are All Connected

We Are All Connected

Dear Friends,

We are all connected.

Last night my husband and I learned that a professional colleague in India, teaching in a Lutheran seminary in his home state of Faridabad, has contracted the corona virus, along with countless members of his community and family. While news reports of unspeakable Covid-19 sorrows in India—for both the living and the dead—daily shock us, my family can now put a face on the suffering.

We are all connected in suffering.

My neighbors are Pakistani Muslims, among the first home owners on our street, 40 years ago. Ordinarily, during Ramadan, their home is the place where all their friends and family break the daily fast. Ordinarily, during Ramadan, their driveway is filled with cars each evening, their deck overflowing with laughter. But not this year. This year my neighbors break the fast each evening quietly, in the same muted way our Jewish and Christian neighbors celebrated a remote, isolated, quiet Passover and Easter.

We are all connected in celebration.

President Biden’s address to Congress on Wednesday evening connected the dots between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, urban and rural voters, citizens of every hue. He spoke of our common concerns for women and children, for peace and prosperity, for health and safety. Though much divides us as a nation, even more unites us—if only we will put down our weapons and our rhetoric and consider the ways we are connected, rather than the ways we have been dispersed.

We are all connected in citizenship.

On Sunday morning, we will read from Jesus’ Final Discourse (John 15.1-8), in which he names himself “Vine.” “I am the true vine, and you are the branches,” he tells his soon-to-be-abandoned disciples. How will they remain connected, after Jesus is no longer physically present with them? They will bear fruit. They will live for the other. They will curb their own desires to care for the needs of the other. They will stay connected with each other, and all for whom Christ died. Like a branch clings to a vine, that’s how disciples cling to Jesus.

We are all connected in service.

On Sunday morning, after live zoom worship, we will welcome a member of the Northbrook Board of Trustees to our Vitality Talk, to tell us about Northbrook’s recent affordable housing initiative. She comes to us as part of our year-long discussion of racism, and our most recent focus on “Racism: A Chicago Perspective.” While “affordable housing” has been falsely maligned as the certain ruin of our pristine and privileged neighborhoods, it is, in fact, a way to make it possible for the firefighters and police officers and nurses and teachers who work with us to also live with us.

We are all connected in neighborhoods.

After a long, isolated winter, Ascension is inching back toward in-person worship and congregational life. Months ago, our staff and leadership agreed on a set of principles and protocols to guide our deliberations; we agreed to put aside our personal desires and intuitions for the sake of a mission- and data-driven greater good. And though it seems that Covid-19 infections and deaths might be on the decline, the fact that some still contract the virus, that some still suffer and die, affirms our decision to be deliberate. In that cautious-yet-hopeful spirit, we invite you to join us in a first step toward in-person life together, by joining us for “Come as You Are Communion,” every Saturday in May at 4:30 p.m. Please bring a lawn chair, a mask and appropriate weather gear (we will meet rain or shine) to share the Lord’s Supper. I thank you, in advance, for respecting and understanding our cautions and our precautions. Our necessary distance from one another has been both burden and blessing for us all.

We are all connected in communion.

With Covid-sufferers world-wide, with neighbors across the street, with citizens across the aisle, as a branch is to a vine, we are all connected.  As Jesus told his disciples on the night before his crucifixion, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

It is still true. Apart from Christ and his mission to love, to serve, to die for the other, we are Nothing. Instead, connected in and through Christ, we are Something. Something Faithful. Something Kind. Something Hopeful. Something Fruitful.

We are all connected.

Pastor JoAnn Post

The Best Shepherd

The Best Shepherd

Dear Friends,

I lived in a majority-Roman Catholic city in the early ‘90’s when the “priest scandal” broke over all our heads. You may recall that, like an errant asteroid, accusations of sexual abuse at the hands of priests and other religious exploded on the church. Decades of pent-up anger and fear and confusion rained down on the church, providing a long-denied arena for those harmed by the church to be heard and believed. The guilty and their protectors are now punished; restitution is attempted; changes continue to be made. But the stain remains. There is no excusing or explaining away the abuse perpetrated by the church and some of its leaders.

You may also recall that the justifiable and overdue outrage was broad-brush and unnuanced, often painting all religious groups and all religious leaders as predators and posers. It can be difficult, in the heat of the moment, to distinguish between those organizations and individuals who act with callous and dangerous disregard, and those organizations and individuals who are faithful in their calling. And, to those who have been harmed, those distinctions are meaningless.

Do religious organizations and pastors cause harm? Absolutely. Do those corrupt organizations and pastors represent all religious organizations and pastors? Not by a country mile. But all of us are affected by the violence and depravity in our ranks. And all of us who lead in Christ’s church, even those who have not caused or covered harm, bear responsibility for the corruption among us. Though few may have committed a crime, many are complicit.

The results of the Chauvin murder trial in Minneapolis threw me back into those dark days of the sexual scandal that rocked the church, decades ago. Though only one person was on trial in that Minneapolis court room, it has been difficult to avoid painting all law enforcement officers and agencies with the same broad, unnuanced brush of corruption and violence. Do law enforcement agencies and officers cause harm? Absolutely. Do those corrupt agencies and officers represent all agencies and officers? Not by a country mile. Those of us who both support law enforcement officers AND decry the ways some misuse their authority bear responsibility for positive change and honest disclosure. Though few may have committed a crime, many are complicit.

On Sunday morning, we will read a familiar and often misunderstood gospel reading, in which Jesus names himself “The Good Shepherd.” (John 10.11-18) That he names himself “good” leads us to the immediate assumption that some shepherds are “bad.” In addition to the implied “bad shepherds,” Jesus names other potential perpetrators of harm against the sheep. He warns of “hired hands” who do not care for the sheep and who, predictably, run at the first sign of trouble. He warns of “wolves” whose only interest in the sheep is as lamb chops on the supper table. Jesus even indicts the “owner of the sheep,” whose interest is purely financial. The sheep are unaware of the mixed motives of those who circle around them, but Jesus knows the danger they face. And he knows that he is the only trustworthy shepherd among them.

With concerns about corruption in all human institutions—including church and law enforcement—I find myself wondering about those sketchy characters in Jesus’ story. Might he be speaking of us? Are we the sheep or the wolves? Are we the good shepherds or the bad? Are we weak-kneed hired hands or profit-driven owners? Though we know, with perfect biblical hindsight, that Jesus was speaking of corrupt religious organizations and leaders, Jesus’ hearers had no idea what or who he was talking about. John writes, “Again the Jews (i.e. religious leaders) were divided because of these words.”

Were some among Jerusalem’s religious elite Canis lupus in costume, licking their lips in anticipation of loin? Had some of them been sent by a temp agency, interested only in a pay check? Were some of them stock holders, who regarded those in their care a matter of mere profit and loss? Were some of them the “bad shepherds,” who shirked their duty with blithe disregard?

Certainly, not all the religious leaders to whom Jesus spoke were corrupt, nor was all Temple practice shameful and scandalous. But some of them were. Some of it was. And it was Jesus’ task, as the only “good shepherd” in the room to do what was best for the sheep.

At Ascension, we continue to study and explore ways to be more faithful to all the sheep in our care, and to confess that we are part of systems that fail to do so. Please join us for Worship on Good Shepherd Sunday, to hear more about the “Best Shepherd.” Please remain on the line for “All Ascension Watches,” as we screen and discuss a 27-minute documentary about the jobs/housing mismatch in Chicago. After all, not all the sheep have a place to sleep.

It is my prayer that corruption in every organization, in every heart is exposed and extricated. It is my prayer that those tasked with promoting the public good do so without regard for skin color or zip code. It is my prayer that the “shepherds” among us are protected and provided with all they need to do their work. That said, there is only one shepherd whom we name “Good.” It is our privilege to follow him.

“See” you Sunday,

Pastor JoAnn Post

Too good to be true

Too good to be true

Dear Friends,

The last time I was able to visit my grandson, I hummed an old Frankie Valli tune to him as he drifted off to sleep, “You’re just too good to be true. Can’t take my eyes off of you.” Though the Four Seasons were probably not singing of a sleep-heavy toddler, their lyric put words to the melody in my heart. Some faces, some people, some events, some moments, are just too good to be true. It is certainly the case with my little Theo.

Many years ago, my family moved from Iowa to Connecticut, uprooting our then eight-year-old daughter from the only home she had known. The summer after we moved, we visited Iowa again to see family and friends after a year’s absence from one another. I had arranged a visit between my daughter and her best friend, Devin, without either of them knowing about it. On the morning of the visit, we walked up to Devin’s house and rang the bell. When the door opened, the girls gaped at one another through the screen door, speechless. The friend’s mother said, “Honey, its Madelene. You remember Madelene.” Devin said to her mother, “Have you ever wanted something so much that when it happened you were afraid it wasn’t real?”

You’re just too good to be true . . .

So much of the news around us seems too bad to be true, even though it is, sadly, very true. Usually a voracious consumer of news from both radio and newspaper, I have lately been turning the radio’s volume down and skimming the morning paper. There is so much sorrow in the world, in our lives—I can’t bear it for it all to be true.

This Sunday marks the Third Sunday of the Easter Season, and once again, Jesus has to prove himself to be true. (Luke 24.36b-48) We have had 2,000+ years to make peace with the idea of “resurrection,” but Jesus’ followers had three days. No one had ever been resurrected from the dead before, so even though Jesus had told them it would happen, when they saw him, they only gaped. Like long-time friends staring at one another through a screen door, they had no words.

On Easter morning, Jesus was, for some reason, unrecognizable to Mary Magdelene, one of his most faithful disciples. It was not until he said her name, “Mary!” that she allowed herself to believe it was him. (John 20.11ff)

On Easter evening, Jesus walked all seven miles of the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus with two disciples who, inexplicably, did not recognize him. It was not until they gathered at the table, and Jesus was asked to offer the blessing that they saw his face. (Luke 24.28ff)

Later that same evening, Jesus made an appearance to other disciples back in Jerusalem. In one account (John 20.19ff) Jesus emerged bodily through a locked door. It was not until the disciples saw the wounds that they would be convinced it was him. In another take on that same event (Luke 24.36ff), Jesus seemed to them a ghost; their doubt relieved only when Jesus ate something in front of them. “A ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

It was simply too much to believe. Jesus alive. Death defeated. (Cue Frankie Valli.)

Please join us on Sunday for live zoom Worship, as we remind one another that Jesus is alive; that death has been defeated; that some things are not too good to be true. Though violence and illness and disparity and willful ignorance roar all around us, we know a greater truth.

All the world is on the edge of its seat, as evidence of the pandemic’s gradual waning becomes more convincing. Though hot spots, like wild fires, continue to threaten, and it is far too soon to declare victory, the trajectory of the recovery—in terms of both public and economic health—is slowly moving in the right direction. And we are learning that as hard as it was for some to believe the virus and its violence were real, it is as hard for us to believe the crisis might one day be tamed. I find myself afraid to hope, as anxious now that our conversations turn toward a hopeful future, as I was when the days were so dark.

Our leadership teams and staff are in discussion about a gradual return to in-person worship and community life. Our staff and leaders are getting vaccinated—both for our sake and for yours. It is as though, like the door slowly opening between my daughter and her friend, the thing for which have longed is about to take place. What will we say when we see one another again? Or will we have no words? Only smiles? Only tears? Only song?

Forgive me for planting that ear worm Frankie Valli tune in your head, but, of all the songs to accompany our day, we could have chosen worse. To one another, to Jesus we sing, “You’re just too good to be true. Can’t take my eyes off of you.”

“See” you Sunday,

Pastor JoAnn Post