Not in Chicago Anymore

Not in Chicago Anymore

Dear Friends,

I couldn’t stand it anymore. Not seeming him was killing me. So, I hopped in my car Tuesday morning and made a run for it. The pandemic has robbed us of many things, so the minute a window of opportunity opened, I jumped through it.

I’m writing you from North Carolina, where I revel in being Grandma to Theo, and helping my daughter and son-in-law for a few days. I took all necessary precautions as I travelled. Made as few stops as possible. Always wore a mask. Washed my hands until they cracked.

It was odd to leave the safety to the Chicago area, where physical distancing and mask-wearing are standard. When I crossed the state line into Indiana, it was like entering another world. I felt oddly unsafe and exposed, as people went about their business bare-faced, standing close together, behaving as though the virus had never infected their air. The politics are different, too—I eavesdropped on a conversation among three West Virginia DOT workers at a truck stop. “What are they going to take down next? The Washington Monument? Thomas Jefferson’s house? &*%# northern liberals.”

But I am safely here, doting on my grandson, conducting church business by zoom, trying to find a time to brush my hair and teeth (with separate implements) so I am presentable enough to record Sunday’s sermon.  And guess what gospel reading I’ve been studying, as I nuzzle my sleeping grandson’s ginger hair? “I have not come to bring peace to the earth but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother . . .”  (Matthew 10.24-39)

Though I have mostly shut the door on the world while at my daughter’s house, it keeps creeping in. Jesus is no help. His words to his disciples are a painful reminder of the cost we might bear for choosing to follow him.  For his disciples, these were warning words as they set out on their first tour of duty, tasked with curing and feeding and preaching and casting out demons. For us, these warning words take us to task for turning our backs on our central mission, allowing ourselves to be trapped in the partisanship and selfishness or tribalism of these difficult days.

I’m not yet sure where the sermon will take me, but I hear Theo stirring, so I’m going to leave you for now and tend to him. And rather than dwell on the warnings in Sunday’s text, I will keep my mind on the promises found there. Promises to West Virginia DOT workers, and &*%# northern liberals, and small children, and people on the front line of the Covid-19 fight: “Have no fear. Even the hairs of your head are all counted.”

“See” you Sunday,

Pastor JoAnn Post

Time Enough

Time Enough

Dear Friends,

8 minutes and 46 seconds is a long time.

I was unable to join the Black Lives Matter Protest in Northbrook on Monday afternoon, but I did pause at 4 p.m., when it began, to mark the moment. And because if I had knelt that long I would have had to call a crane to lift me from the floor, I sat. In our safe sanctuary, with the afternoon sun streaming across the floor. I set the timer on my phone to keep track of the time, and had to force myself, again and again, to stay focused on the reason for my silence. It was least I could do, to sit silently and remember George Floyd’s last minutes. To remember all the lives—particularly black lives—taken by force. It felt like forever.

Even though we have known for decades, if not centuries, that our country is wildly divided by race, there is, suddenly, an urgency to this moment. The inequities and injustices we have been able to justify to ourselves, are no longer justifiable.  And all it took was 8 minutes and 46 seconds?

The church is officially in the time we call “Ordinary.” Not because it is typical or dull, but because this summer we count time with “ordinal numbers,” in order, by the Sundays after Pentecost. Sunday is, therefore, the Second Sunday after Pentecost, and marks our return to our regularly scheduled programming—the gospel of Matthew.

Previously in Matthew’s gospel, while we were occupied with Lent and Easter, Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7) and performed a series of ten rapid-fire miracles (chapters 8-9). Now, as he pauses to take a breath and look ahead down the road, he realizes that the work ahead of him is far more challenging than the work behind him. Was it a punch in the gut? A weight on his shoulders? A moment of regret? A budding opportunity? We don’t know. But we know that Jesus suddenly realized he could not do it alone. (Matthew 9.35-10.8)

With the urgency of a coach calling plays, Jesus huddled the disciples and sent them. “Go. Now.” And he gave them very specific tasks: “Proclaim the good news. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.”

Though the world has been overrun with sickness and death and disease and evil for millennia, suddenly the world’s sorrow overwhelmed even Jesus, and he could wait no longer.

8 minutes and 46 seconds is a long time.

It is never easy to rise from our regular lives to take action against evil. Whether that injustice occurs in our home, neighborhood, congregation or country, we always find excuses to put it off a little longer. The Covid Curtain has only added to our lethargy, making even ordinary tasks feel burdensome, and advocacy for others a weight even Hercules could not lift.

On Sunday, we will share the weight of that heavy lift, as together we mark a new commemoration in the ELCA: “Commemoration of the Emmanuel Nine, Martyrs.” Though the commemoration day is June 17, we want to include it in our Sunday worship, at the time when we are all together. (We will share more information on Sunday for your own observance.)

Soon, our Congregation Council will be inviting you to join a special project with Holy Family School, a long-time ministry partner of Ascension, and a community caught in the cross-hairs of poverty, violence, food insecurity and virus. We cannot address all the world’s ills, but we can join hands and hearts with ministry partners who have enriched our lives, and who challenge us to be more faithful disciples.

There is no time to waste. As Jesus shooed his disciples off to change the world one kindness at a time, he told them, “The harvest will not wait. The workers are few. Go.” It is still true.

And if you have not paused for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, I urge you to do so. Sit. Kneel. Stand. The posture is not as important as the act. It took that long to take a life. Perhaps it will be time enough to change one, as well.

“See” you Sunday,

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet To Be Realized

Yet To Be Realized

Dear Friends,

I’ve been keeping a close ear on local and national black leaders, training myself to listen deeply to their insights, their fears, their anger, their hope. Earlier this week, in an interview on WBEZ, The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, pastor of Trinity UCC Church in Chicago, used the phrase, “these-yet-to-be-united states.” I assumed, because I am poetry-illiterate and because he is a powerful orator, that the phrase was his. But, just to be sure, I did some digging.

Pastor Moss was, in fact, quoting the poet Maya Angelou, who penned those words in 1990. 1990. Thirty years ago. Her words are as damning now as then. An excerpt (the “you” is the United States):

They kneel alone in terror

with dread in every glance.

Their nights are threatened daily

by a grim inheritance.

You dwell in whitened castles

with deep and poisoned moats

and cannot hear the curses

which fill your children’s throats.

In the interview, Pastor Moss went on to speak of the “idea” of America, and his commitment to it. In spite of the suffering of their lives and communities, he and other black and brown clergy, writers, politicians, organizers and educators continue to love this country, pray for it, work to strengthen it. Pastor Moss believes fully in the “idea” of America, even though that brilliant experiment has yet to be fully realized in millions of lives.

On Sunday, we mark a liturgical festival unlike all others. Most festivals on the church calendar mark an event in the life of Jesus or the early church. Christmas. Epiphany. Transfiguration. Easter. Pentecost. And each festival brings its own beloved image. The Holy Child. Regal Wisemen. Gleaming Moses and Elijah. Empty Tomb. Language and pyrotechnics.

But Sunday? On Sunday, we gather around not an event, but an “idea.” An idea of God, an imagining of God, a reaching for God yet-to-be-realized. Sunday is Trinity Sunday, and we grapple with texts that ache toward explanation, but each time fall short.

“Trinity” is an idea, a way of speaking of God who, unlike the multiplicity of gods to whom others cling, is a single God with many attributes. On Trinity Sunday we use the names, “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit.” But there are other names. So many other names. So many other images. All of them faithful, poetic attempts to worship and praise the One to whom we have entrusted our lives.

As is true of the experience of many in our country, that the “idea” of America is elusive, we sometimes find God elusive, as well. Especially in these tense times as voices long silenced clear their throats to speak, and the privileged learn to listen. God is an experience, a pulse, a truth. God is One. God is Three. God is our Creator. Our Savior. Our Advocate. Our Rock. Our Companion. Our Ruler. God is . . . What image, what experience, what idea of God intrigues you?

On Trinity Sunday we lean into that idea, that yet-to-be-realized but deeply-felt experience of God who defies explanation, and, yet, is as near as our own breath.

I ask you to keep listening with me. Not to our own voices—we have been talking too long. But to the voices of those who, to quote Angelou, kneel in terror, whose nights are threatened daily, whose inheritance is grim. And I ask you, with me, to keep listening for God’s voice, as well.

Many believe that these are the hardest days in our country in at least a generation. I am among them. So, even as we dig in with our hands and our hearts, as we open our ears and eyes, straining to realize the “idea” of America for all, we use our hands and hearts, our ears and eyes to seek God in these hard days.

Being apart from you is always difficult, but even more so in the last two weeks. We remain united in hope, in love, in our confidence that God, impossible to pin down but always present, is guiding and keeping us still.

I leave you with another bit of poetry, which we will pray on Sunday:

Almighty Creator and Ever-living God:

we worship your glory, Eternal Three-in-One;

we praise your power, majestic One-in-Three.

Keep us steadfast in this faith.

Defend us in all adversity.

Bring us at last into your presence.

(Prayer of the Day for Trinity Sunday, ELW)

“See” you Sunday,
Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

 

A Two-Part Pentecost Miracle

A Two-Part Pentecost Miracle

Dear Friends,

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. (Acts 2.4)

On Tuesday afternoon, I participated in a Shavuoth Zoom teach-in called “Torah for 12” during which a rabbinical friend was a featured guest. For 12 hours, rabbis addressed various aspects of the call to “love the neighbor”—a virtual, biblical dance marathon. My rabbi friend and I have taught together over the years, always in interfaith settings during which we were careful to avoid the jargon, shortcuts and inside humor we might have used in a strictly denominational audience. Because of that, I like to consider myself relatively fluent in Judaism (such hubris), and expected to participate easily. I was so wrong.

I was the only goy on the call; my friend was in his rabbinical element. Speaking as often in Hebrew as in English, referencing both Old and New Testaments, the Talmud and Midrash, he led us in a fast-paced, intellectually stimulating session that challenged all my conventional thinking about “neighbor.” At least I think that’s what he did. I couldn’t keep up with his intellectual leaps or his language, but others nodded and laughed and questioned with the ease of old friends. I pretended to follow along, finally turning off my video so they couldn’t see the confusion in my eyes.

I was blessed to sit at my friend’s feet as he spoke; my work was only to listen.

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. (Acts 2.4)

Like shots fired from a rooftop, we have been assaulted with the depth of the racial divide in our country. Ahmaud. George. Christian. Breonna. These are the names of African American siblings who in recent days have paid a very high, very public price for our inability to address the hatred and discrimination baked into our society.

I have no wisdom to offer about how to heal these centuries-old wounds. I cannot fathom the fear and stress that accompany daily life for persons of color. I will not add my uninformed opinion to discussions of law enforcement and economic inequity and healthcare disparities.

Words need to be spoken. Not by me. Not by you. But by those whom we have silenced. I can try to listen. I can try to hear. But it will not be easy.  Because if I felt confusion listening to a trusted friend speak in a language I could not understand, what will it be like to listen to those who speak to us in their own words, from their own wisdom about a broken system of which I am a part? A system that alternately privileges and punishes because of the color of our skin.

It is time for the silenced to speak, and the rest of us to listen.

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. (Acts 2.4)

On Sunday, we celebrate the Festival of Pentecost, the end of the 50 Days of Easter. On that first Pentecost in Jerusalem, frightened disciples were unable to withstand the onslaught of the Holy Spirit. They opened their mouths to protest and instead spoke languages foreign to them. They taught with the wisdom of rabbis though they were illiterate fishermen. They were propelled from fishing boats on to a world stage from which the Jesus movement was launched into the stratosphere.

That first Pentecost was a miracle not only of speaking, but also of listening. Many visitors in Jerusalem were willing to listen to the disciples as they spoke of God’s deeds of power, and then carried that message back home with them. But, as is always true when we are uncomfortable, others closed their ears and opened their own mouths. Afraid to hear a word that questioned their conventions, they mocked the disciples’ lack of education, questioned their sobriety, hurled racial slurs. (“Stupid Galileans.”)

But the Spirit will not be stopped. No matter how hard we try. The Spirit is always speaking through unlikely individuals, in words that make us uncomfortable, creating a reality that lifts up the lowly and, to our dismay, brings the mighty down from their thrones.

I pray for us in this frightening time of pandemic and division, that the Spirit will perform a Pentecost miracle among us—the dual miracle of speaking and listening. I pray that, when moved to speak, our words will be of “God’s deeds of power.” I pray that, when others need to speak, our ears will be able to hear their experience, their wisdom, even their anger.

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. (Acts 2.4)

Some spoke. Some listened. It is the Spirit’s work to determine when it is our mouths or our ears that ought to be opened.

“See” you Sunday,

Pastor JoAnn Post

PS Thank you for your kind, generous greetings and gifts on the occasion of my 35th ordination anniversary on Pentecost. Parish ministry is the only thing I know how to do, and I am honored and humbled to be doing it with you.

 

 

 

 

Jesus’ Kitchen Table

Jesus’ Kitchen Table

Dear Friends,

I cannot begin to imagine how complicated my parents’ lives were when all eight of us children were still living at home. Between farm chores, house work and feeding/clothing/educating all of us, there would have been no time to talk, to even finish a sentence. But I came to learn that they did talk to each other—late at night, after all of us were (ostensibly) in bed.

I remember a night when I was in grade school, unable to sleep. I wandered downstairs, assuming the house would be dark and quiet. But as my foot touched the last stair, I heard voices and saw a faint light from the kitchen. What could it be? No one would have been awake at that hour. Burglars! Someone had broken into the house and was quietly plotting against us!

Creeping quietly on stocking feet, searching the darkness for a weapon, I paused near the kitchen door. I recognized those voices! I smelled Lipton tea! Was that the sound of spoons on ice cream bowls? These were not murderers, but my parents, enjoying quiet, adult conversation without the usual audience. (And it probably wasn’t as late at night as it seemed to me.)

I don’t know how long I eavesdropped on them or what they were talking about, but I remember having the good sense not to interrupt them. I crept back to bed, a little confused about why they would stay up late to talk, and a little relieved that we had been spared harm.

Now, as an adult, I know exactly what they were doing. I know that those late night conversations, after the house has gone to bed, are when adults talk about what’s really on their minds. All the things children are not supposed to know.

I thought of my parents’ kitchen table conversations as I studied Sunday’s gospel reading. (John 17.1-11) In a scene recorded only in John’s gospel, Jesus talks to his Father—at night, in the dark, as honestly as if no one is listening. Though the disciples are. And so are we. We learn what was really on Jesus’ mind on the night before he was crucified.

We overhear only the first part of this much longer conversation on Sunday—11 confusing verses about time and eternity, danger and truth, absence and presence, God’s world and ours. This section of John is most often called “the farewell discourse,” but it could as easily be dubbed “John’s greatest hits”—all the themes of Jesus’ ministry are smashed into one chapter. And buried in this theologically dense late night discussion are two “asks.”

“Glorify me, so that you (Father) may be glorified.”

“Protect them, so that they may be one.”

On the eve of destruction, this is what is on Jesus’ mind? God’s glory? Our safety?

And did Jesus know, centuries ago, that he would be praying those same prayers, making those same asks even now, for our sake?

The current crisis has shortened our horizons. We see no further than the next news cycle, the next trip out of the house, the next night’s fitful sleep. Jesus prays that our horizons be longer, broader, brighter.

Jesus prays that even when we are afraid, we trust God’s power. Jesus prays that even when we are confused, we trust God’s wisdom. Jesus prays that even when tomorrow seems bleak, we trust God’s future. Jesus prays that even when we are divided along political, cultural, theological lines, we trust God to unite us.

How comforting to know that, after we have gone to bed at night, Jesus stays up late. Like a good parent. Like a trusted friend. Jesus stays up late to pray. For us. Because Jesus knows things that we, his children, cannot understand or should not know.

Perhaps next time you have a sleepless night, wandering around the dark house in stocking feet, you might pause to listen, to seek that faint light. Perhaps you will hear Jesus staying up late, praying. For you. Sleep well.

“See” you Sunday,

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Known and Unknown?

Known and Unknown?

Dear Friends,

I’ve been there. I’ve been at the very place referenced in Sunday’s first reading (Acts 17.2-31). Here’s what it says, “Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said . . .”

Four years ago, my husband and I had the privilege of traveling to Greece to return a rare biblical manuscript to its rightful mountain-top monastery home. Before ascending the mountain, we spent a few days in Athens, acclimating to the time change and seeing the sights. It was a cold December morning when we made our way to the famous Areopagus, the ancient Athenian center of religious worship and political power. It was on that rocky outcropping, littered with the ruins of temples and libraries and government buildings, that Paul had, 2000 years before, challenged the whole religious system of the region.

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

In other words, the Athenians were hedging their bets. Statues and shrines to various gods and goddesses peppered the landscape. Castor and Pollux. Persephone. Rhonbos. Hera. Zeus. Too many to name. But in a religious climate that feared angering those gods and goddesses, they erected one “fail safe” statue: To an Unknown God. In other words, “We don’t want to miss anybody, so we’ll also revere the gods that might exist but with whom we are, as yet, unfamiliar. Our apologies.”

The Athenians lived in fear, in both senses of that word. “Fear” as in respect and awe. “Fear” as in terror and trembling.

Whom shall we worship? Whom shall we trust?

As we continue to practice physical distancing, we also struggle to know whom to trust. Epidemiologists? Economists? Governors? Business owners? Protestors? Though these figures are not exactly “gods,” we want to make sure we are hitching our hopes to the proper authority figure. We don’t want to make a mistake, listing too far toward either timidity or bravado. We fear these figures as the Athenians feared their gods: with both respect and terror.

What if virologist Richard Bright is right, and we are facing the “darkest winter in modern history?” What if the lawsuits against governmental regulation are spot on, that we need listen to nothing but our own experiences, our own intuitions? Is there another voice, another opinion, another answer we are missing? Shall we erect a Facebook page “To an Unknown Expert” just in case?

Paul offered the Athenians a single option, “The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, . . . nor does he need anything.”

In other words, Paul wanted to introduce them to the One True God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who didn’t need to be appeased or entertained. Merely trusted. It was a tough sell.

Their world, even more than ours, writhed in chaos. An incestuous ruling class fed on itself. Epidemics decimated whole populations. Invading armies planted their flags on a whim. Inequities between rich and poor were stratospheric. Half of their infants died before a first birthday. There were no protections for women or workers or those who did not “conform.” There were many reasons to be afraid.

Four years ago, on a brisk December day, the whispers of those ancient worshippers floated on the Athenian air. They filled my ears and piqued my imagination. And I realized what a bold claim Paul made that day, that in an environment drowning in fear, there was only one they could trust. Only one they needed to trust.

Paul’s message to the ancient Athenians rings true for us, as well: “We are God’s offspring,” Paul promised. “God is not far from each one of us.” It is “in God that we live and move and have our being.”

Though fear is all around, we need not adopt it. God is known to us, but more important, we are known to God.

“See” you Sunday,

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

 

 

 

Home is Where Jesus Is

Home is Where Jesus Is

Dear Friends,

Raise your hand if you’ve heard this text at a funeral, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”

Okay. You can put your hands down. I stopped counting at 743.

This text, Sunday’s gospel reading (John 14.1-14), is among the most-requested and best-loved images to which we turn at the time of death. When the one we love is no longer physically with us, when we strain to see into the next life, we comfort one another by imagining what is, for many, the safest place we know. Home.

Would you be disappointed to learn that when Jesus spoke these words, on the night before he was crucified, the only death he was pondering was his own? But only he knew what the next hours would bring. Instead, he was sharing a supper table with disciples who believed it to be a night like any other night, who would look back on that night and shake their heads, “Should we have seen it coming? Did you understand what he meant? Could we have done something differently?”

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” Though they could not understand it in the moment, Jesus was promising them safety, welcome, shelter, all those things that “home” means for us. But not “Someday.” He was promising “home” in this life. He was promising “home” post-resurrection, when he would return to give Easter gifts of peace, forgiveness and purpose. (John 20.19ff) At the moment it seemed all was lost, he would return with “home.”

Yes, the image of a Father’s house with many rooms is a wonderfully comforting image for what waits for us when this life ends. But Jesus’ first intent was to bolster his disciples for this life.

We are as confused as Jesus’ disciples were with regard to the long-term impact of the pandemic. Yes, we know it will be a long time before we are back to our routines. Yes, we know this has been hardest on those least able to bear it. Yes, we know more about the novel corona virus and all its iterations than we ever cared to know. But none of us understands what it means. None of us can absorb the real impact of this medical, economic and spiritual crisis. It will be only in retrospect that the reasoned medical insight of Dr. Fauci, the calm explanations of Governor Pritzker, the urgent counsel of Mayor Lightfoot will make sense to us. Hindsight is not 2020, but 2021 and beyond.

“Should we have seen it coming? Did you understand what they meant? Could we have done something differently?”

Religious leaders across the globe are in conversation about when and how we will restore our faith communities to activity. The vast majority of leaders, across the religious spectrum, are respectful of stay-at-home orders and rightly cautious about returning to public worship. But some religious leaders, who regard themselves immune to both the laws of the land and the laws of nature, have already flung the doors open. “My house, my rules,” they boast.

I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind when Jesus promised his disciples a home. I don’t think he intended for his people, his church, to be a fortress against which no enemy could prevail.  “Home” is not an impenetrable fort. “Home” is not a place free of trouble. “Home” is not a castle ruled by a despot. “Home” is not a piece of real estate.

When Jesus promised “Home” he was speaking of us, of people, of a gathering of the faithful who make room for all. Sunday’s epistle reading (1 Peter 2.1-12) speaks of God’s people as a house of living stones. Until that day when we see Jesus face-to-face, when we take up residence in the house with many rooms, we are that house.

These days of absence from you are growing more difficult for me. More than you can know, I long to see you again, to sing beside you again, to share the Lord’s Supper with you again, to hold your strong hands. I understand the temptation to return to ”normal.” But, as much as I love our church building, it is not the building I miss. It is you.

God has made of us a house, with room for all. “In my Father’s house are many rooms, with a place for you,” Jesus promised. So, in these days of distance, we still lean into one another, we still take comfort in one another, we find shelter in our love for one another. And Jesus? Jesus is present among us always, everywhere. He is our true Home.

“See” you Sunday,

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

A Brownie and a Cup of Tea

A Brownie and a Cup of Tea

Dear Friends,

I dreamt about my Mom two nights ago. It is the first time she has appeared to me in a dream since her death ten months ago. As with so many dreams, none of the details fit together, but my Mom was completely herself. If the “herself” is the Mom I knew before age and illness and memory loss crept in.

In the dream, she appeared at the door of an apartment I shared with three others, bearing brownies and her soft smile. I was delighted to see her, but not surprised. We talked for a bit, had a brownie and a cup of tea. And when I turned to pour her another, she was gone.

I’ve talked with many of you over the years about our dreams of deceased loved ones. For some of us, those dreams magnify the loss—we wake missing them more than before. For others, the dream is an opportunity to talk again, to laugh again, to walk again. For me, the dream of my mother left me grateful. Of course, I miss her. But the dream reminded me of the gift she was to me and my brothers and sisters. Though not a powerful or important woman, she shaped us all, teaching us patience and gratitude and compassion. (I miss her more writing to you about her now than I did when I woke from the dream.)

What do you suppose prompted that dream?

Of course, we’ve all been having weird dreams and interrupted sleep these days—our minds processing in sleep what they cannot comprehend while awake. Isolation. Unemployment. Illness. Grief. Fear. Anger. Disappointment. Boredom. All those things we suppress during the day stomp through our sleeping like Maurice Sendek’s Wild Things.

Or it could have been that I discovered an on-line auction for a neighbor from the farm. Scrolling through the photos of her possessions was like being in my parents’ home, her belongings were so like theirs. (Sadly, I lost the bid on a box of marching band uniforms. Who doesn’t need a box of high school marching band uniforms?)

Or maybe it is that, as is typical in my line of work, I’ve been immersed in a scripture text all week in preparation for Sunday preaching. The Fourth Sunday of Easter is called “Good Shepherd Sunday” because we always read from John 10—sheep and shepherds, gates and gatekeepers, thieves and bandits.

In the text, Jesus names the religious leaders, the would-be gatekeepers of religious and civic life, “thieves and bandits.” And himself? Later in John 10 he will name himself “good shepherd,” but in the verses we will study he names himself “gate.” “I am the gate of the sheep,” he tells the “thieves and bandits” in flowing robes.

I am the Gate. Unusual image for a leader, for a teacher, for a savior, don’t you think?

In addition to weird dreams and scripture study and zoom meetings (spare me another zoom meeting), I’ve been thinking about those who lead us through this current crisis—the elected leaders and medical professionals and economists and analysts and theologians who seek to guide us through this unprecedented chaos. Some of them, many of them actually, are performing heroic, selfless, honest service. Others ought not be given a public platform or newspaper column ever again. Some of them I would follow into battle; others I wouldn’t trust to walk my dog. Some of them are “Shepherds” and others “Thieves and Bandits,” to quote Jesus.

Back to my dream. Perhaps the dream of my mother was simply my brain processing all this week has held. Memories of life on the farm. Biblical images of shepherds and sheep, gates and gatekeepers. Public leaders tasked with ordering our common life. My own struggles to know how to be your pastor in absentia, how to lead our congregation into a future filled with promise and peril in equal measure.

Or maybe my sleeping self knows a truth my waking self is too sad to imagine—that what I really need right now is a brownie and a cup of tea with my Mom. It would do us all good.

“See” you Sunday,

Pastor JoAnn Post

The Oddest Places

The Oddest Places

Dear Friends,

Jesus shows up in the oddest places.

On Sunday, we will read one of my favorite resurrection stories—Jesus’ mysterious Easter evening stroll down the Emmaus Road. (Luke 24.13-35). Filled with intrigue and pathos, challenge and surprise, it is in the quintessential Easter story. It is the quintessential Jesus story, who shows up in the oddest places.

Each of the post-resurrection stories shows a side of Jesus we’ve not seen before. In each recorded instance of Jesus’ presence, he provides exactly what that individual needs in order to believe. Jesus is not a one-size-fits-all sort of guy, believe-it-or-forget-it, my-way-or-the-highway, you’ve-had-your-chance. Faith is bespoke, tailor-made, unique to each disciple.

What did Mary Magdalene need in order to believe the figure in the garden was Jesus? He called her by name. (John 20.11ff)

What did the scared-to-death locked-up-tight disciples need in order to believe? He showed them his wounded hands and side. (John 20.19ff, Luke 24. 36ff)

What did the first witnesses to the resurrection, those spice-toting women, need in order to believe? They took the angel at its word, “He is not here.” (Matthew 28.1ff)

What did back-in-their-boats disciples need in order to believe? Jesus filled their nets with fish and fixed breakfast over a fire. (John 21.4ff)

And, to my earlier point, what did the blinded-by-grief travelers on the Emmaus Road need in order to believe? He broke bread at their supper table. (Luke 24.13ff)

Whatever we need in order to believe, Jesus will do it. And he shows up in the oddest places.

Unlike most of you, who excel at personal discipline and resolve, I have the attention span of a gerbil, the curiosity of a Golden Retriever, the discipline of a squirrel. I have friends who have not left their homes in six weeks, obedient to the authorities and concerned for their neighbors. But me? I’m out every day, sometimes just to open the church mailbox or count the cars in Costco’s parking lot. Isolation and I are not friends.  But being out and about, masked and at a safe distance, gives me opportunity to see evidence of Easter in the oddest places.

During Sunday’s (zoom) staff meeting, I was moved to tears to see the faces of our musicians as we planned upcoming worship. “I miss you so much,” I cried. I work with such wonderful people.

On Monday my favorite rabbi left a voicemail, wanting to compare notes on the weirdest Passover and Easter ever. (I also spoke with my Muslim neighbors as they strung Ramadan lights and banners over their front door. “Weirdest Ramada ever,” they remarked.)

On Tuesday’s walk two children shouted from their front yard, “Look at us! Dad will pay us $5 if we pick up all these sticks. We’ll be rich!”

In Wednesday’s e-mail, a neighbor raised concerns about the significant uptick in demand at the Northfield Township Food Pantry and reminded us to buy extra groceries for the pantry. “I’ll deliver them,” she promised.

In Thursday’s mail I received generous personal checks from members of Ascension with a note, “There is so much need. You will know where this will make a difference.”

Perhaps these encounters don’t seem like Jesus to you, but his fingerprints were all over them. To love people so much their absence breaks our hearts. To hear from a friend whose voice makes the miles disappear. To watch children play. To feed hungry people. To be trusted with your generosity.

Jesus shows up in the oddest places. And sometimes he looks a lot like you.

Our staff and leaders remain faithful to their tasks, already planning for our return to “normal,” though life-after-Covid-19 will be anything but normal.

Your generosity with Ascension, with our ministry partners, and with your neighbors is breath-taking and life-changing.

Your faithfulness under duress is inspiring.

Your openness and honesty are humbling.

One day soon we will be reunited—as a congregation, as friends, as families, as citizens. Please know that while we are apart, you remain close in my heart and my prayers. And also know that, wherever you are, Jesus’ wounded, healing love is not far away. He shows up in the oddest places.

Missing you,

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Isolated for Love

Isolated for Love

Dear Friends,

I woke with a start at 6 a.m. yesterday. How did I sleep through the 5:30 alarm? Why hadn’t Maggie, my canine back-up alarm, wakened me for her morning walk? How would I get out the door on time?

And then I remembered. I haven’t set a morning alarm in more than a month. Maggie likes sleeping in on snowy April mornings. I don’t have to get out the door at all.  In fact, we are encouraged not to get out the door unless we have a toilet paper emergency or to wave “Thanks” to the delivery person.

We are staying at home, working at home, shopping at home, worshipping at home, playing at home, eating at home, fretting at home. Isolated from one another and all our routines, through no fault of our own, everything has changed. Even our waking and our sleeping.

I am not complaining, only musing. I fully understand and support the need for this current state of affairs. And, because of the privilege of my life, I have no fears about keeping my job or making the mortgage or feeding my family. Not everyone enjoys those luxuries. And, for that reason, not everyone is as understanding or patient.

Even though my routine, like yours, has been completely upended, I continue to prepare for worship and preaching as though I would be seeing you on Sunday. And this week, studying the gospel text, I had an insight about why we might regard the stay-at-home orders, the assault on our economy so differently from one another.

The gospel reading on the Second Sunday of Easter? You need not ask. It is the same text every year—the Trashing of Thomas, Jesus’ temporarily absent disciple. (John 20.19-31)

You know the story. On Easter evening Jesus’ disciples were huddled in a locked house, lights out, trembling in fear for their lives. They had reason to be afraid. They had witnessed Jesus’ fate at the hands of religious and political leaders. And even though reliable witnesses had reported an Empty Tomb and a Jesus Sighting, they were terrified. Self-isolated for fear of their neighbors.

It takes no imagination at all to put ourselves in their place. Afraid of the unknown. Suspicious of strangers. Angry at the authorities. Cautious, even around those whom we love the best. Self-isolated for fear of our neighbors.

But, as one of my favorite Star Trek characters recently quipped, “Fear is an incompetent teacher.” (Jean Luc Picard, “Star Trek: Picard,” CBS All Access, March 26, 2020) Rather than being trapped in fear’s feedback loop, learning nothing but more fear, Jesus would interpret our self-isolation differently.

Jesus understood fear better than anyone. (Remember betrayal, denial, abuse and crucifixion?) He also knew that fear is completely self-defeating, an incompetent teacher. So instead of stoking his disciples’ fear of their neighbors, Jesus kindled their love. Go to them, Jesus urged. Offer them peace, Jesus said. Forgive them, Jesus invited.

Though I sometimes struggle with the same fear and anger as did the disciples, Sunday’s gospel helped me see that, if we adopt Jesus’ view, our self-isolation takes on new purpose. Following Jesus’ example, we can decide our distance from one another is driven not by fear of the neighbor, but by love of the neighbor.

Here’s what I mean. I wear a mask at the grocery store, not because I fear other shoppers, but because I care for them.  I keep my distance in conversation, not because I fear my friends, but because I want them to trust me. I accept the advice of our political and healthcare leaders not because I fear them, but because I respect them. I accept this open-ended absence from you not because I fear you, but because I love you. Though apart from one another for at time, this isolation and absence will make it possible for us to be fearlessly, joyfully reunited when this crisis has passed.

Jesus’ disciples isolated themselves for fear. We isolate ourselves for love.

All week long, our staff and leadership have been meeting (remotely) about what “normal” will look like in this abnormal time. Though we have no inside information, for the sake of planning we are imagining activities at Ascension will be suspended through May. If we are released sooner? Hurray! If later? We’ll talk.

While absent from one another, we will stay in touch through a layered communication strategy of phone, e-mail, meetings and prayer. You will receive electronic updates from us four times each week: a Sunday worship link, “Ask Ascension” on Monday, “Ascension Update” on Wednesday, and this blog on Friday. We ask you to continue your financial support of our ministries, and support our ministry partners as you are able. We are checking the mail daily, and our office manager has routed the church phone to her cell phone. (Please call the church office only during office hours. She has been awakened with random early morning and weekend church business calls too often.) All staff members are available by e-mail.  Vicar Julie Grafe and I welcome contact by phone or e-mail, and for any reason.

Though we must be apart from one another for now, our ministry continues. It may even grow.

Is it possible to shove fear completely out of our hearts and minds? Perhaps not. Remember the women who first found the empty tomb? An angel instructed them, “Do not be afraid!” (Matthew 28) Though they were not entirely successful at squelching fear, they obeyed the angel as best they could. Matthew writes, “They left the tomb quickly, with fear and great joy.” Notice, the joy was greater than the fear.

We are, for a time, isolated from one another and from the ease of in-person ministry. But even in isolation, we find ways to speak peace, to offer forgiveness, to enter peoples’ lives with hope. We do not fear our neighbors. We love them. Even as we are loved.

See you Sunday (sort of),

Pastor JoAnn Post