Batter up!

Batter up!

Dear Friends,

I didn’t grow up in a “sports” family. Living in rural Iowa, always with plenty of work to do on the farm, there was no opportunity to either participate in or attend sporting events.  That said, I often cheered at home football and basketball games as part of the marching and pep bands. (Ask me how often we played “Sweet Georgia Brown.”) Being unaccustomed to stadiums full of raucous fans, my first experience of “real” sports was in 1983, when I served my seminary internship in Rockford.

My supervisor was a gregarious, colorful, second-career pastor, a beer-drinking, cigar-smoking, unrepentant White Sox fan. Comiskey Park was holy ground. He was horrified to learn that I had never been to a real game, and diagnosed my lack of exposure to professional sports as a lack in my education. That’s why, on a sweaty September Friday afternoon, he loaded up the cooler with beer and his shirt pocket with cigars, and we drove into Chicago for a game. It was overwhelming. I was like a kid in a candy store, not knowing where to look first. The vendors! The tailgaters! The fans! The dug-out! The outfield! The infield! The pitcher! The catcher! My supervisor’s unlit, shredded cigar!

Every once in awhile I would remind him that I was there, and that I had no idea what was going on. He would take the cigar out of his mouth, grab a fresh beer, and do a quick review of what was happening on the field. But he couldn’t take his eyes off the game, so I was soon again on my own. I left that, my first major league game, knowing less than I had before. Who knew I would have needed an interpreter for a baseball game?

I am always surprised at the memories unearthed as I study scripture for Sunday preaching. One might imagine the study process to be holy, back-lit and accompanied by choirs. But for me, scripture study is a contact sport as I pursue conversation and questions, follow tangents, and take my own temperature—how do I feel as I study? what in the text troubles or excites me? what people or events come to mind as I work?

That’s why, in preparing to preach on the Third Sunday of Epiphany, I remember that first major league ball game, and my need for an interpreter. What’s the connection?

The Old Testament reading (Nehemiah 8.1-10) describes the moment when, after decades apart from public worship because of the exile and the destruction of the temple, God’s people were assembled in the courtyard of the completely-rebuilt temple to hear the word. Their enemies had not only razed the temple and scattered the people, but had also been relentless in destroying all the holy things of the temple—including the scrolls containing scripture. When, in restoring the temple, a torah scroll was discovered in the wreckage, it was cause for celebration.

On a steamy morning, Ezra, the priest, assembled all the adults in Jerusalem in the temple courtyard and started to read ancient words. They were standing on holy ground—for hours in the hot sun. But, as moved as they were to hear the word of God for the first time, many of them had no idea what it meant. Moses? Commandments? Wilderness? Ezra could as easily have been rattling off baseball statistics, that’s how little sense it made.

So, in two easily-overlooked verses (verses 4 and 7), we see a small army of interpreters—elders and priests—moving through the crowd, answering questions and interpreting the ideas. The text says, “The elders gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”

More than once I have been informed by a person who does not belong to a church community, “I tried it once. I sat in the back. No one spoke to me. I had no idea what was going on. I’ll never do that again.” Somehow, we imagine that we can wade unaccompanied into congregational life and public worship.  Not so! Imagine deciding on the basis of one major league baseball game that baseball was a pointless exercise?

Whether you are a lifelong believer or new to the sport, the Christian life needs to be interpreted. Like a baseball game. Like any activity worth pursuing. Who did that for you? Who will do that for those who have not yet heard?

It was years before I was invited to a major league ball game again—apparently its clear upon meeting me that me and “sports” don’t belong in the same sentence. But that changed on a hot October day in Atlanta in 1991. I was in my office at the church I was serving when a member of the parish stuck her head in my door, “I’ve got an extra ticket to the Series. Come on.” So I went. Unlike my first experience, this time I was in the hands of seasoned interpreters. My friend and her companions surrounded me in the stands, answering all my questions, interpreting all the action. I learned more about baseball in that single afternoon than before or since. Turns out, I’m not a complete idiot about sports—I just need an interpreter.

Thank you for your commitment to our ministry at Ascension, for both asking hard questions of me and for interpreting our work in the world. Faith in Jesus Christ and congregational life is as opaque to neophytes as a baseball game was to me. We all need an interpreter. Maybe that interpreter of God’s activity in the world is you?

“See” you Sunday,

Pastor JoAnn Post

Midwest Nice

Midwest Nice

Dear Friends,

I don’t often look at social media; it’s a dangerous place for me. I have the attention span of a gerbil, so if I make the mistake of opening Facebook or Instagram, its all over. What starts as a quick perusal of friends’ news quickly turns into a bottomless pit of arcane intrigue. It was on one of those time-sucking rabbit-hole-dives that I discovered the host of “Manitowoc Minute,” Charlie Berens. Mr. Berens is a Wisconsin comedian who, though from a competing state, describes my Iowa life with uncanny accuracy. (Spoiler alert: if you are a Bears fan, you might find him offensive.) In a recent recording, “Midwest Nice, Part 3,” Mr. Berens goes over and above, way above what might be required because, after all, he’s from Wisconsin. If you have a minute to waste, you might take a listen: (1) Midwest Nice Part 3 – Bing video

His rabid neighborliness merits the open-to-interpretation comment, “you’re too much.” Because, though those of us who suffer from a bad case of Midwest Nice hate to hear it, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. To be too helpful. Too gracious. It is possible to be too nice.

Though Charlie Berens and Jesus have probably never appeared in the same sentence before, it’s happening today. Because Sunday’s gospel reading might be titled, “Jesus, You’re Too Much.” In the familiar reading about the Wedding at Cana (John 2.1-11), Jesus’ mother ordered him to fix a problem at a wedding reception. It seems the wedding planner had underestimated the amount of wine the guests would drink, and the kegs were running dry. She said to Jesus, “They have no wine.” Jesus said, “Not my problem.” She said to the servants, “He’ll take care of it.”

He did. Jesus knew better than to mess with his Mom.

In turning about 150 gallons of ordinary tap water into kegs of unbelievably good wine, Jesus committed a Midwest Nice. He went too far. Way too far. And he didn’t have to.

Only Mary, the disciples and the servers at the wedding knew of the impending shortage. And, if it had been known, no one would have expected Jesus to step in and solve the problem. Had Jesus and his friends stepped quietly out the side door, no one would have noticed. In short, there was no reason for this miracle. It was too much. And not his problem.

The wedding planner was clueless; he had no idea how close he had skated to the edge of disaster. That’s why, upon tasting the (Jesus Cellars) wine recently uncorked for his approval, he sought out the groom to congratulate his extravagant offering, “This is great wine! The best yet! But why did you hold this back? Why waste this fabulous vintage on guests who are already three sheets to the wind? They won’t know the difference.” Under his breath, the wedding planner muttered, “What a waste. This is too much. He must be from the Midwest.”

The Miracle of Water to Wine is the first of seven signs Jesus performs in John’s gospel, each of them an epiphany, a revealing of Jesus’ true nature. What does this, the first of his signs, reveal? Jesus can be too much. Way too much. Perhaps you have experienced this little-seen character flaw.

You’ve been loved beyond reason.

You’ve been forgiven beyond deserving.

You’ve been welcomed beyond expectation.

You’ve been gifted beyond desiring.

You’ve been healed beyond possibility.

Sometimes Jesus is demanding, unforgiving, impatient, hard-nosed. But sometimes, as at the wedding at Cana, he is unnecessarily, embarrassingly,  extravagantly nice. And hardly anybody knew.

If you’re looking for a good winter read, pick up “The Lincoln Highway” (Amor Towles, 2021). One of my favorite characters is an understated Nebraska farm girl named Sally, who takes care of her father and the farm after her mother’s death. Sally is always going above and beyond for her father, her neighbors, her community. In a soliloquy early in the book, Sally reflects on the accusation that she is “too kind,” for all the things she does for others.  She muses, “What is kindness but the performance of an act that is both beneficial to another and unrequired? There is no kindness in any of that (daily chores). Kindness begins were necessity ends.”

Jesus could have said that. He certainly did that. For us and for all the suffering world. And Jesus expects us to do the same. To give without repayment. To forgive without reservation. To trust without proof. To love without limit. To go way beyond even Midwest Nice.

In this Epiphany season, Jesus is revealed in a variety of ways. On Sunday he is revealed to be too kind, too generous, too eager to please. You could do worse.

See you Sunday,

Pastor JoAnn Post

Epiphany Wondering

Epiphany Wondering

Dear Friends,

Was it bitterly cold as the Wise Astronomers, brilliantly dressed and oddly hopeful, knocked on the door of Joseph and Mary’s home?

What did Mary say, when she opened the door to this tribe of professors, speaking another language, their camels spitting and snuffing behind them?

What did Mary do with the gifts they brought—gold because the child was a king, frankincense because the child was a god, myrrh because the child would die.

There is much, factually, that we don’t know about the Visit of the Wise Ones. But we do know what it means.

Yesterday we celebrated the Festival of Epiphany—a minor festival for us, but for Orthodox and Hispanic believers, a high holy day. Typically, we regard the Epiphany of Our Lord little more than a Christmas carol. “We three kings of orient are . . .” But the arrival of the Wise Ones is more than a waltzy tune or a  children’s tale. Their visit, and Mary’s welcome, shifted the ground under our feet.

The Wise Ones were not Jewish. They were most likely Zoroastrian priests, who studied and followed celestial signs. No one in Jesus’ small town would have ever seen their likes. Their presence in a Jewish home would have been an abomination. It’s a wonder Mary didn’t slam the door and scream for help. But the child she was raising, by now a toddler rather than a baby, had already broken every norm and amazed everyone who met him. I suppose if your pregnancy had been announced by the Angel Gabriel, and that same baby’s birth was heralded by angels and attended by shepherds, you would learn to roll with surprises. But Zoroastrian priests on camels, unannounced, bearing gifts fit for royalty? It might have been a stretch, even for Mary.

Yesterday was also the anniversary of the Insurrection at the Capital. The events of January 6, 2021 are being compared in magnitude to the events of December 7, 1941 and September 11, 2001. In each of these events, the surprise attack on targets we had believed were unassailable left us reeling, grasping, terrified. Their meaning is still unfolding.

“Epiphany” means “to reveal,” “to be made known.” In the case of the Wise One’s visit, what was revealed was a truth even Mary would struggle to understand. Her child, born in a Jewish family in the land we call “holy,” belonged not only to her and her people, but to all people. All nations. All languages. All belief systems. Mary did not slam the door on the Wise Ones because she recognized what their visit meant. She recognized that all were welcome in her son’s life. The expansive of God’s love was revealed to Mary and, through her, to us.

And what do the events of Epiphany 2021 reveal? What do they mean? And will we recover? Those questions have yet to be answered.

On Sunday morning, we will read and sing of the Epiphany of Our Lord. We will welcome Bishop Yehiel Curry, bishop of the Metro Chicago Synod (ELCA) as our (pre-recorded) preacher. We will mark the doors of our church home with an ancient symbol: 20 + C + M + B + 22. (You’ll learn what that means Sunday morning.) We will remind one another that all are welcome in our home, and more important, in God’s love.

What does Epiphany mean for us? How willing are we to welcome the stranger whose language, belief system, race and ethnicity differ from ours? And how willing are we to listen to those who differ from us politically, culturally, philosophically?

The Epiphany of Our Lord means many things, but today, in the shadow of yesterday’s painful remembrance, it means that welcoming the stranger who knocks on our door is not optional. As Mary opened the door to people she did not know and could not understand, our doors must be open to the world, as well.

Our days are further challenged by rising covid case counts and hospitalizations, from a viral mutation that spreads like wildfire. At Ascension, we are taking every precaution to keep one another safe. But if you are feeling unwell, if you are uncomfortable in groups of people, know that you may worship with us remotely. One day we will be able to fling the doors open, welcoming both friend and guest into our church home, as Mary welcomed the Wise Ones. But not yet.

In these bitterly cold days, when the only person knocking at my door is a heavily-muffled Amazon delivery person dropping packages (probably not gold, frankincense and myrrh), and the only animal I see is my “I’m not going out in that cold” dog, I still wonder sometimes what it all means. What is God revealing to us in these days? In the same way that I believe it is always Advent somewhere—someone is  always waiting—I am coming to believe that it is always Epiphany somewhere—God is always revealing something new to us.

Come and See,

Pastor JoAnn Post

Pitching a tent

Pitching a tent

Dear Friends,

I miss them already. My daughters and grandson were home with us for a week at Christmas. Though I am regularly in contact with my daughters when they are away from me in their own homes (Durham, NC and Brighton, MA), and though my grandson loves to Facetime with Grandma, their physical presence is a gift beyond measure. Hugging them good-bye at the airport earlier this week (O’Hare and Midway) was physically painful.

My own mother used to say, when her brood of eight children and our entourage descended on her home, “I love to see you come. I love to see you go.” I understand that sentiment more now than I did before. As much as I welcome the extra laundry and dirty dishes and late-night conversations and chaotic card games that come with houseguests, I also welcome the organized quiet of my house after they leave. 

But to be physically present with one you love—there is no substitute. Or cure for the pain.

It is that irreplaceable physical presence that we celebrate in this Christmas season. God didn’t come to us as an Idea or a Spirit or a Feeling or a Dream. God comes to us in human form, as a child. As Martin Luther wrote, “To me there is no greater consolation given to humankind than this, that Christ became human, a child, a babe, playing in the lap of his most gracious mother.” (Roland H. Bainton, Ed., Martin Luther’s Christmas Book [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997])

On Sunday we will read the “birth story” in John’s gospel. (John 1.1-18) John’s birth narrative includes no shepherds, angels, virgins or even a baby. John’s story of Jesus begins with the birth of the Word. But John is not making a philosophical argument or positing a theoretical claim. The Word, which we know as Jesus, came to “live among us.” The verb John uses to describe this Word that “lives among us” can be crudely translated, “pitched a tent.” That is, in Jesus, God has “pitched a tent” among us. God shows up in flesh and blood, in physical presence, in a person whom we can see and touch. And God intends to stay.

After all, to be physically present with one you love—there is no substitute.

Even as I write this, I am keenly aware that physical presence with one another is sometimes dangerous. The emergence of new viral variants has sent us scurrying into hiding again. More people joined us remotely for Christmas Eve worship than in person. More people attended a Thursday funeral by zoom than in person. While YouTube and Zoom make it possible to be together while we are apart, there is no substitute for actually being in the room, in proximity, in community.

The pandemic is not the only thing that prevents physical presence. Some of us are separated by disagreement or distance. Some of us would love to be together, but cannot afford either the time or expense of travel. And some of us have been torn from a loved one by death—the longing for that person’s body is a “missing” that never goes away.

That’s why God chose to “pitch a tent” among us in sending Jesus. God knows that we need each other in person, not just the idea of the other, but that person’s physical presence. Jesus meets our need for face-to-face, heart-to-heart, hand-in-hand relationship. Jesus’ physical presence is the first and best gift of Christmas.

Please join us for worship Sunday as you are able. I am very pleased to note that our worship attendance is as strong as it was before the pandemic—when we count those who occupy our pews and those who tune in remotely. Who could have imagined?

I am already making plans to see my daughters and grandson in person again. I cannot bear to be apart from them for long. I am sometimes tempted to “pitch a tent” in their backyards, but that overbearing impulse passes quickly. Instead, we remain in communion with those we love, across time and space, in the Word that came to “pitch a tent” among us.

When next we see one another, the calendar will have turned to a new year. To misquote my mother, “I loved to see 2021 come. I love to see it go.” With you, I give thanks for all the gifts we received in 2021, and look ahead with hope to 2022. But whatever the new year brings, we will receive it together, pitching our tent with the One who lives among us.

Blessed New Year,

Pastor JoAnn Post

Not the first Christmas . . .

Not the first Christmas . . .

Dear Friends,

I remember a childhood Christmas that ended with my mother stepping quietly away from the family festivities to cry. Her tears were not for joy, but for sadness. I realize now, at the remove of decades, that we were poor in those years. “Farm poor,” to be more specific—we had food and clothing, land and a house, but no money. I remember that my grandfather had delivered a Christmas tree to the house—my parents couldn’t afford to buy one. I remember that we each received one gift, rather than many. I remember my mother sewing late into the night, so each of us girls could have a new dress—there was no money for store-bought clothes. I remember thinking it odd that Mom separated herself from us for a time, but now I understand. It was not the first impoverished Christmas we had experienced. And probably not the last. And that she had already shed more tears than I knew.

This is also not the first snow-less Christmas we have known.

This is not the first Christmas which finds us separated from those we love.

This is not the first Christmas on which disease has haunted our homes.

It is in the midst of trouble—poverty, climate change, estrangement, disease—that the Christ Child is born to us. And because of the trouble which surrounded his birth and the trouble in our lives, the light shines even brighter than before. As Isaiah promises, “To those who live in a land of deep darkness, the light has shined.” If ever there was a time of “deep darkness,” this is it.

Tonight we gather—in-person or remotely—to hear of similarly troubled times. Isaiah will promise the end of war (all the boots of the tramping warriors . . .) and to slavery (the rod of their oppressor . . .). The familiar story of Jesus’ birth is over-shadowed by the political machinations of Emperor Augustus.

Please know that I give thanks for many gifts this Christmas, none of which can be contained in a gift-wrapped box. Because of you, a refugee family has a home. Because of you, Chicago’s homeless find shelter. Because of you, children in North Lawndale have a safe school. Because of you, the world is a kinder, more generous place. Christ the Savior is born among us. We strain our eyes to see the light in the darkness—and tonight we see it. Blessed Christmas.

Christmas Eve

Friday, December 24, 2021

Please join us for worship on Christmas Eve at 4:00 and 7:00 p.m. The services will be identical (no Children’s Service), and will include Carols, Communion and Candles.

Please join us for live stream worship on Christmas Eve here. If you can’t watch at 4 p.m., a recording of worship can be found on our YouTube channel (click here).

The worship folder can be found here.

Pastor’s sermon manuscript can be found here.

The First Sunday of Christmas

Sunday, December 26

Because of heightened concerns about the transmission of disease in these days, we have decided to cancel our planned joint worship service at St. James the Less Episcopal Church on Sunday.

Instead, to keep with the spirit of the Episcopalians hosting the first Sunday of Christmastide, we invite you to watch the Livestream of the Sunday worship service from the Washington National Cathedral: https: cathedral.org/worship/ or you can follow this link: https://youtu.be/J3JkGBho6WA

This is not the first Christmas on which unexpected, sometimes disappointing,  things happen. In fact, Christmas is all about welcoming the unexpected: angels, shepherds, a child in a manger. Blessed Christmas.

Pastor JoAnn Post

An Iowa Kind of Wind

An Iowa Kind of Wind

Dear Friends,

I grew up in Northern Iowa, where the wind always blows. The wind there has a life of its own—mild and refreshing in the spring, searing in summer, crisp in the fall, deadly in winter. When winter winds blow, uninterrupted, across hundreds of miles of flat, barren fields, they threaten both life and livelihood. That’s why miles of snow fence line road ditches to keep drifts from crossing and closing roads. Farmsteads are protected on the north and west by enormous forested windbreaks. Interstate highway on-ramps are guarded by barricades that are quickly lowered to prevent foolish travelers from entering. School superintendents rise early on winter mornings, testing the wind to determine if it is safe to invite children to school. Iowans are used to the wind—in all seasons.

The wind started blowing Thursday midday in Western Iowa, and did not let up until livestock was scattered, trees uprooted, bridges destroyed and power lost in thousands of homes. I was in touch with friends and family in Iowa all day, as unheard-of December warmth and wind brought much of the Midwest to a halt. Late that night, Iowans reported smelling smoke in the air—evidence of Kansas wildfires already in the atmosphere. This was a wind unlike all others, harbinger of a rapidly changing climate. While my elders boasted of walking to school in snow drifts higher than their heads, our children will remember walking to school in December in flip-flops and cut-offs. Iowa winters may soon be short on snow. But the wind will always blow.

Since I grew up in such a windy landscape, you would think wind would no longer concern me. And it doesn’t mostly. Unless it is the Spirit’s wind, even more unpredictable than Iowa’s.

On the fourth Sunday of Advent, the Spirit, which had already upended both Elizabeth and Mary’s lives with unexpected, unlikely pregnancies, blows again. (Luke 1.39-45) Young Mary, newly pregnant, ran to visit her elderly relative Elizabeth, herself six-months pregnant. When Mary stood outside Elizabeth’s door and shouted, “Liz, it’s me, Mary! Open the door! I’ve got news!” the Spirit elbowed Elizabeth, and her baby danced. Luke writes, “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child (i.e. neonate John the Baptizer) leaped in her womb.”

The Spirit’s wind created recognition—recognition that the previously impossible is entirely possible.

Tomorrow morning, the Spirit’s wind will blow a young Afghan mother and her five children into our lives. The details of their circumstance are unknown to us, but we know that they, like thousands of other Afghans, fled their homes in August in fear for their lives. Before that, they had already endured decades of war, economic unrest, and untrustworthy alliances within the country and without. I cannot imagine the fear, the sorrow, the loss they have endured. A small welcoming party will greet them at O’Hare, before they are escorted to the apartment we have prepared. If you would like to be part of that welcoming party, please let me know and we will get information to you.

The Spirit’s wind has uprooted them from one home and plants them in another. I pray we are worthy of their trust.

Like winter storms that blow where they will, as Advent draws to a close we feel those same winds gathering around us. Those of us who grew up in always-windy climes, know that there is a way to walk in heavy winds so that we are not blown over, that there are ways to build in heavy winds so our structures are strong, that there are ways to know when the wind is favorable or unfavorable, and that a sudden shift in wind direction is to be respected.

The Spirit’s wind is blowing. Around Elizabeth and Mary. Around a young Afghan mother and her children. Around our congregation. Around our lives and our world. As one with experience living in the wind, I invite us to trust the Spirit’s direction. To learn to walk, to build, to discern, to pay attention to the direction the Spirit blows.

Pastor JoAnn Post

No more. There’s more.

No more. There’s more.

Dear Friends,

How hard does your life have to be, for bad news to be regarded “good?”

A friend who struggled with alcohol addiction through his teens and twenties, woke one morning on the doorstep of a building he did not know, in a neighborhood he did not know, with no wallet, no shoes. By the time he found his way home, his wife had packed his bags and set them on the curb. “No more,” she said. “No more. I cannot live this way.” In an attempt to free himself of the addiction, he also saw a physician, who leveled, “If you keep drinking this way, you’ll be dead in five years. You’re killing yourself.”

I knew him many years after all this bad news had been laid at his feet. By the time I met him, he had been in recovery for 30 years. He and his wife were still married. He was employed. He was healthy-ish. He was a leader in our congregation. Most surprising, he was alive. When he reflected on the fact that he came within a whisker of losing everything, he is humbly grateful. Grateful for the hard news that saved his life.

How hard does your life have to be, for bad news to be regarded “good?”

On the Third Sunday of Advent, John the Baptizer drops bad news on the heads of his listeners. (Luke 3.7-18) And they love it. They can’t get enough.

“No more,” he shouted. No more hiding behind Abraham and Sarah, as though sharing strands of DNA with their famous ancestors made them somehow special or exempt.

“No more,” he scolded. No more hoarding of wealth at the expense of the poor. “If you have two coats, give one away.”

“No more,” he warned. No more abuse of the tax system, that enriched the Roman treasury and the wallets of tax collectors, but emptied families’ resources.

“No more,” he threatened. No more shaking down business owners and making false arrests to make a few extra bucks. “Who do you think you are? John Gotti?”

And then, he lowered his voice, “There’s more. Another is coming, greater than me. And he’ll burn this whole system to the ground.”

Luke concludes this text by saying, “So with many other exhortations, he proclaimed good news to the people.”

Good news? How hard does your life have to be, how desperate do you have to be to consider horrible news, good news?

Like my alcohol-addicted friend who was drinking himself to death, like entitled people stripped of their pedigrees, like the wealthy freed of their wealth, like tax collectors and soldiers exposed in their deceit, sometimes bad news is good. And necessary.

What is the good news John the Baptizer preaches to us this Advent? “Good” news that may feel like loss, or shame, or criticism? I don’t know what that hard word for you might be, but perhaps you are waiting to be told the truth, to be told the “good news of the gospel.”

Please join us Sunday for worship, during which we receive a bracing, honest gift from John the Baptizer. Please remain after worship for Coffee and Cocoa in Fellowship Hall. We will take a few moments of your time to remind you of all we have done in pursuit of “Love Your Neighbor: Welcome the Stranger,” and thank you for being good news in the lives of refugees whose lives are unbelievably hard. We continue to receive pledges of financial support for our 2022 Foundational Ministries, and to Close the Gap. Thank you for your generosity.

My friend died a few years ago, of illness unrelated to his addiction. He died with his wife and children at his side. He died peacefully, grateful for the hard news that saved his life. After all, there’s more.

“See” you Sunday,

Pastor JoAnn Post

Let the messenger be

Let the messenger be

Dear Friends,

“Don’t shoot the messenger!”

“Shooting the messenger means blaming the bearer of bad news for being responsible for that bad news. In ancient times, messengers were sent to impart official news, and these messengers sometimes incurred the wrath of the one receiving the bad news. The sentiment was also expressed in Sophocles’ play “Antigone,” (c 440 BCE): ‘For no man delights in the bearer of bad news.’” (www.quora.com)

This sentiment is ancient. And needs to be repeated. Don’t shoot the messenger! Because it happens.

Journalists, worldwide and in our country, are under daily threat from individuals, organizations and governments determined to suppress a free and fair press.

Health professionals, worldwide and in our country, are dismissed, derided and threatened for providing sound medical evidence and reasoned advice.

Educators, at all levels, teach with a host of sometimes dangerous critics looking over their shoulders, bent on controlling curricula and undermining educators’ authority.

And, of course, religious messengers, worldwide and in our country, are still persecuted for speaking the truths imparted by their faith.

Sadly, sometimes “shooting the messenger” is more than just a metaphor.

Messengers come to us on Sunday, via scripture, with missives both troubling and comforting. Don’t shoot!

The prophet Malachi (the title means “messenger”) warns the temple priests in the 5th century BCE that they will soon be punished by God for their lack of attention to their work and role in the community. They will be refined with fire, and scrubbed with fuller’s soap—an alkaline product applied with copious amounts of water and abrasion. In other words, this anonymous “malachi” warned that God’s punishment would be hot and abrasive. (Malachi 3.1-4)

The writer Paul, often an angry messenger, gushed over the church in Philippi. He expressed joy, confidence, partnership, longing and love. The message in this love letter is wildly different from Paul’s messages to other communities of faith, which were often accusatory and strident. It must have been a relief for both Paul, the messenger, and the congregation, the recipient, to share this deep affection. (Philippians 1.3-11)

Because it is Advent, we are inflicted with two Sundays of texts about the forerunner to Jesus Christ, John the Baptizer. He was wild in appearance, abrasive (like Fullers soap), angry, and unrelenting. Sunday’s gospel reading opens with a recitation of all the powers looming over Israel (political, regal, religious), and then shrugs, “And then there’s John, son of Zechariah.” John the Baptizer’s only credentials are that his dad was a priest, and that some believed him to be the fulfillment of prophecy: “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.” (Isaiah 40.3) Otherwise, he was a Nobody taking wild swings at all the Somebodys.  Which meant he was a messenger with a target on his back. (Luke 3.1-6)

How do we regard the messengers in our lives? Whom do we trust to convey important information? From whom do we accept a hard word, an honest word?

I have been deeply grateful for your willingness to receive challenging messages about the needs of the world, specifically, the needs of refugees and immigrants. I am often asked by colleagues and friends, “How much push-back are you getting?” The answer is, “almost none.” I believe the generosity of spirit and openness of your hearts is because we have been listening to trusted messengers—authors, academics, experts, ministry partners, experienced members of the congregation—who carry messages of both need and opportunity to us. Thank you for both the inquisitiveness and kindness with which you have engaged conversations that, in other congregations, might have turned into a brawl.

Please join us Sunday for worship as we interpret messages from ancient messengers.

Please remain after worship or join us by zoom for a discussion of our All Ascension Reads selection, “Refugee High.”

Please, if you have not done so already, submit your pledge for financial support for our 2022 foundational ministries and perhaps even a “close the gap” gift. Your generous financial support of our ministries and our ministry partners is a powerful message of its own.

It is, apparently, an ancient impulse to harm the one who brings an unwelcome message. It was true for the prophets, the apostles, both John the Baptizer and Jesus, himself. We have chosen to suppress that destructive impulse, and, instead, to fling the doors wide open—receiving words of both challenge and comfort as gifts from a trusted messenger.

See you Sunday,

Pastor JoAnn Post

Grateful

Grateful

Dear Friends,

A nursery school director in a former parish once told me that one of the most difficult concepts for small children to grasp is “grateful.” She said, “Children who have never lacked, have a hard time understanding why we would give thanks for things. Like mittens. Or lunch. Or parents. I think its only if you’ve never had these things that you realize how important they are.” She was not implying that our nursery school students were spoiled or entitled. But they were being raised in families that were able to provide for their needs.

Over time, the director shifted her approach, and instead of starting with “grateful,” started with “empathy.” (Though she didn’t use the word.) She wanted the children to imagine the lives of other children who might not have ordinary things—mittens, lunch, loving parents. It was then, in the context of imagining the needs of others, that “grateful” began to make sense.

In these days set aside to be “grateful,” I wonder if some of us struggle with the concept, as do children. If, like the children in my previous parish, we have all that we need (not “want,” but “need”), are we able to acknowledge that all things—from mittens on little hands to the breath in our lungs—are, in fact, gifts from God?

I have learned that gratitude is a discipline to be learned, cultivated. It does not come naturally to us, especially those of us who have all that we need, and some to spare. Here is a simple way to start learning “grateful.”

Perhaps we could each take time this weekend to be grateful for small, ordinary things. When we put our feet on the floor in the morning, in homes that are safe and warm, whisper “thank you.” When we open the refrigerator and find food inside, whisper “thank you.” When the soles of our shoes are hole-free, when the neighbor across the street waves “good morning,” when the day ends without incident, whisper “thank you.” Over time, we will learn to whisper “thank you” to God for everything—small and large—and recognize all the gifts we have been given rather than the perceived lack in our lives.

On Sunday, we will light the first candle on our Advent wreath. We will read haunting texts, not of gratitude, but of warning—dark days lie ahead as we wait for God to act. We will receive pledges of financial support for our 2022 foundational ministries. And we will give thanks. For being together—in-person and on YouTube. For the luxury of gathering without fear of persecution. For work that matters—ministries of educating, feeding, clothing, housing and encouraging—through our foundational ministries of facilities, program, staffing and mission support.

My husband and I, out of gratitude and because we can, will both increase our “regular” financial pledge and make a “Close the Gap” gift to support our foundational ministries until, perhaps not for another year, all our members and friends are able to support our work to the extent that they would like.

Before we touch flame to the first candle on our wreath, know that today I give thanks for you. For your faithfulness to me, to our congregation, to all those in our care, to God. Though I am grateful that our nation has set aside a day of thanks-giving, every day is thanks-giving day for me.

Gratefully,

Pastor JoAnn Post

The shadow of the cross

The shadow of the cross

Dear Friends, our processional cross took a little trip this week. The processional cross was transported from our sanctuary, to a drop-off in a Steak and Shake parking lot in Oak Brook, to a megachurch auditorium in the Western Suburbs, to cast it’s protecting shadow over the funeral of a child.

The cross was borrowed by a pastoral colleague who is often in our church building, who admires the warm, simple elegance of our worship space and of our processional cross. When a much-loved child in the congregation died, after a months-long fight against cancer, there was no Lutheran church in the area large enough to accommodate his funeral. A nearby megachurch offered its space and services, but their worship space is more auditorium than sanctuary. How to turn a blank stage into “church?” They borrowed a paschal candle. They borrowed a baptismal font. They borrowed a pall. They borrowed our processional cross—its warmth and openness seemed to my friend to embody the warmth and openness the funeral would convey.

On Sunday, we will gather in the warm elegance of our sanctuary to celebrate Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of our church year. Though Christmas carols are being sung everywhere (I’m looking at you, 93.9FM), we discipline ourselves to wait. To remind one another that Christ did not come to give us an excuse to shop, or to be used as a weapon in an imagined “War on Christmas.” (Christmas will come regardless of supply chain delays or the much-ballyhooed generic “holiday” greetings at Starbucks.) Christ was born among us to forgive, to heal, to feed, to comfort, to save. On Christ the King Sunday we give thanks for Jesus who suffered death on a cross so that the world might live.

The crosses under which God’s people will gather may be as simple as ours, or as ornate as the processional cross at a parish I once served—40 pounds of gold and oak, hoisted on an eight-foot pole, that required a fitness test on the part of those who carried it. Whether simple or ornate, crucifix or bare, small or large, Christ’s cross speaks to us of suffering love, of God who knows our sorrows and carries our griefs.

Please join us for worship on Christ the King Sunday as we mark the end of our church year and remind one another of the power of Christ’s cross. I don’t know if our processional cross will have found its way home by then—its been a busy week for the colleague who borrowed it, but it is in safe keeping. We will give thanks for Christ’s dying love for us and for the whole world. We will give thanks for young Breckin, whose suffering has ended and who lives now in God’s presence. We will pray that those among us who suffer will find their burdens lifted by Christ, who suffered for us all.

In the name of Christ our King, who rules from a cross.

Pastor JoAnn Post