I renounce them

I renounce them

Dear Friends,

She has been rehearsing all week.

Testing different volume levels:

Earnest.

Humble.

Confident.

Questioning.

Practicing the proper inflection:

I renounce them.

I renounce them.

I renounce them.”

On Sunday morning our sister Izzy will affirm her baptism, echoing the words her parents Bill and Kristin spoke on her behalf 13 years ago at a font in Dallas. She will both claim what she believes, and renounce, in ever-tightening circles of specificity, those things that thwart God’s work in the world and in her:

Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God? (That is, everything in the multi-verse that stands against God’s desires.)

Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God? (That is, everything on this planet that opposes the powers of God.)

Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God? (That is, everything in Izzy’s heart and mind that keep her from being all God created her to be.)

To each question she will answer, “I renounce them.”

Izzy’s words take on even great import after this week’s stark evidence of all the powers that defy God—out there in the cosmos and in the human heart. The powers that defy God now have human faces and voices. I have not slept peacefully since last weekend when evil erupted in Charlottesville. A torch parade. A weaponized automobile. Armed marchers chanting epithets against Jews and African Americans. Unfiltered hatred. Equivocating on the part of our leaders. I have feared that the “path of totality” refers not to Monday’s solar eclipse but to the relentless march of evil. But, of all the voices that have attempted to either explain or explain away the present unrest, a fourteen-year-old girl will speak the clearest word:  “I renounce them.”

The appointed texts for Sunday could not be more well-timed. It’s almost as if we planned this confluence of Izzy’s affirmative faith and scripture’s clear admonition about the scope of God’s love and our responsibility.

The prophet Isaiah writes to God’s people recently returned to their homes after a generation in exile. (Isaiah 56.1,6-8)  They had dreamt of that homecoming for years, imagining that their homes and neighborhoods would be just as they left them. Instead they returned to Israel from Babylon to find their country populated by “foreigners” living in their homes, working in their businesses, farming their land, teaching in their schools, worshipping in their temple.  They were saddened. And enraged. And confused. But God was not. God welcomed them home as warmly as God had welcomed the “foreigners” who had settled in their absence:

And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord . . .

these I will bring to my holy mountain . . .

for my house shall be a house of prayer for all people.

We continue to study Paul’s argument that God has not rejected the Jews, but continues to regard them as inheritors of the promise, even after the arrival of Jesus.  (Romans 11.1-2a,29-32) Paul could not be clearer in his affirmation of God’s trustworthiness and faithfulness to all who have believed: “For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” Jews are not our enemies. They are our brothers and sisters in the expansive love and welcome of God.

Jesus himself is forced to rethink his biases when confronted with a Canaanite (i.e. pagan) woman who begged him for a miracle. (Matthew 15.21-28) She interrupted his third attempt to rest and re-group after the death of John the Baptizer, shouting at him like a reporter at a press conference, “Have mercy on me! My daughter is tormented by a demon!” Jesus initially brushed her off, claiming that he was called only to the People of Israel. But she pressed. And pressed. And begged. And Jesus finally had to admit that he had responsibility for her, as well.  He said, “Woman, great is your faith!” And her daughter was healed instantly.

If Jesus himself needs to be reminded about the breadth and depth of his ministry, it should not be surprising that we do, too. We forget that we have a responsibility to and kinship with the “foreigner,” with our Jewish brothers and sisters, with those who look to us for healing, regardless of artificial obstacles of language, color, orientation, income, education or creed. More than that, we have a responsibility to defend those Jesus loves who are endangered by both orchestrated hatred and unthinking privilege.

Please join us for worship this Sunday.  The world is unsettled. Our teeth are on edge. The least among us live in fear. We need to be together. To sing. To pray. To repent. To renounce. To affirm.

Sunday will be a special day for us as, to misquote scripture: “A teenage girl shall lead them.” Izzy, we await your witness.

Confessing the faith that we share,

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

Only Jesus Walks the Waves

Only Jesus Walks the Waves

Dear Friends,

One of the most ancient images of the church is that of a boat.   The early church imagined baptism to be the Ark on which Noah and his family floated to safety. (1 Peter 3.20-21) Peter’s faithful and foolhardy attempt to walk on water was redeemed when Jesus hauled him into a boat. (Matthew 14.32)  It is believed that the image of a ship’s cross-shaped rigging was a “gang sign” to other 1st century Christians. To this day, churches are built in the shape of a boat—the area in which the assembly sits is called the “nave” (Latin “navis” which means “ship”), the vaulted ceiling of the sanctuary an overturned keel.

My ancestral family lived on the North Sea, their churches’ ceilings festooned with miniature replicas of ships on which the congregation’s sailors were saved from peril.  We are privileged to have launched such a ship at Ascension—the “Danmark,” a gift from AG Krone’s sea-faring Danish family, sails at the entrance to our sanctuary.

Though the Good Ship Ascension is almost five land miles from the waters of Lake Michigan, on Sunday we will float.

But before you don a life vest, I introduce you to a man for whom water was but a dream—the prophet Elijah. Sunday’s Old Testament reading (1 Kings 19.9-18) finds the great prophet despondent and alone. After performing a miracle of heavenly fire, slaughtering all the prophets of the local god Baal, and heralding the end of a three-year drought, Elijah was not elated but terrified—Queen Jezebel wanted to kill him. In a miracle of wind, earthquake, fire and silence God tried to coax Elijah back to courage.  The results were mixed. Like Peter whose faith faltered as the waves rose, Elijah couldn’t free himself from his fears.

We continue reading in Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Romans 10.5-15).  In chapters 9-11 Paul addresses “the Jewish question”—what of the Jews who first received God’s promise of salvation? Had the promise of salvation been stripped from them and transferred to believers in Jesus?  Paul quotes scripture to assure his readers that, in fact, the promise to the Jews was still intact. But that did not relieve the early believers of responsibility to tell their Jewish neighbors of the New Covenant, the New Promise, the saving power of Jesus Christ.

Now, for the life vest. Last week Jesus fed 5,000 men and their families with next to no food. After supper, he sent them all home and continued in his pursuit of a quiet place to pray and to grieve the death of John the Baptizer. (Matthew 14.22-33)  Jesus’ reverie was interrupted—again—by his disciples’ struggle against the waves of an incoming storm. Jesus walked toward them on the water. Peter begged to imitate the miracle. But unlike Elijah, who was unmoved by the wind and noise, Peter panicked and began to sink. (What did he think was going to happen?)  How does the story end?  Peter was wet to the bone, but alive and believing.

Though we will not board boats on Sunday we will admit to the wind and the waves around us, the ever-present dangers of our lives—whether close at hand or as far away as North Korea.  Please join us as we sing and pray and turn our eyes to Jesus, Stiller of all our Storms.

During worship we will also bless and pray over three of our recent High School Graduates who are college-bound this fall. Even though they already have one foot out the door to their new lives, they covet the protection and encouragement of this, their faith community, their lifeboat.

And on Sunday we cannot help but sing one of my favorite hymns, often called the Navy Hymn: “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.” As you negotiate the wind and waves of your day, listening for the sound of Jesus’ voice over the world’s noise, you might consider humming this prayer for all in peril on the any sea:

Eternal Father, strong to save, whose arm has bound the restless wave,

Who bade the mighty ocean deep its own appointed limits keep.

Oh, hear us when we cry to thee for those in peril on the sea. (ELW 756)

Ahoy!

Pastor JoAnn Post

Enough Already

Enough Already

Dear Friends,

There was always food enough at my mother’s table.

We were a family of ten, so our kitchen table was long and wide, surrounded by a mismatched collection of chairs and benches. How my mother fed all of us—enough and often—is a mystery to me. Almost a miracle.  But it wasn’t just us tow-headed Post kids and our Dad that she fed.  All guests to our farm were welcome at her table. Feed salesmen. Hired men. Doc Stock, the veterinarian. Neighbors buying eggs. Aunts and uncles who “just stopped by.” No matter the time of day or the abundance (or emptiness) of the pantry, my mother invited her guests to sit at the table and eat.

It was many years after I left home that I recognized the extent of her welcome.  Before every meal we prayed, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest.”  The words were so familiar I paid them no attention. But I have come to realize that my mother’s hospitality extended not only to hungry children and visiting neighbors but also to our Lord.  Jesus always had a place at our table. He was my mother’s guest.

Sunday’s Old Testament (Isaiah 55.1-5) and Gospel readings (Matthew 14.13-21) tell of similar abundance, but it is not my mother who invites the guests to sit. It is, in Isaiah’s case, God who invites Israel in exile to eat until they were stuffed, to drink until they drowned. In Matthew’s case, it was Jesus who, exhausted and grieving the death of his colleague John the Baptizer (cf Matthew 14.1-12), invited 5,000 men and their families to stay for supper. After a full day of teaching and healing, Jesus ordered his hearers to sit on the grass and sent the disciples among them with food—five loaves and two fish were broken and broken and broken until all were fed and 12 baskets of leftovers were collected.

One of my questions of the Gospel reading is  this, “What’s the real miracle here?”

Is the miracle that Jesus found the energy to teach and heal while deep in grief? Or is the miracle the unlikely-to-impossible distribution of five loaves of bread and two salty sardines?  Or was it that the crowds were fed at the disciples’ hands? Or is the miracle the fact that Jesus regarded the crowd not as a nuisance to be dismissed but as guests to be fed?

Please join us Sunday for worship, where you will receive abundance like that described in Matthew 14. You will be welcomed and fed and forgiven and loved without question or hesitation.  Our weekly gathering around the Lord’s Table is a miracle itself.

My mother and father now live in a nursing home (my father calls it “heaven’s waiting room”); my mother’s “feeding the multitudes” days are over. On a recent visit with them, I realized that it was almost 3:00 in the afternoon—tea time on the farm. But my mother has neither the tools nor the ability to make a pot of tea anymore. So I poked my head into the nursing home kitchen and asked if they might be able to provide a pot of tea for my parents and me.  It was not long before an aide appeared at the door of my parents’ room bearing a tray heavy with tea and cream and sugar and cups and cookies and napkins. And love.  Though my parents are paying customers at the nursing home, on that afternoon they were guests of the kitchen. In the same way that Jesus invited his “guests” to sit on the grass, Jesus’ disciples who work at the nursing home invited us to a similar repast.

When we gather for worship our blessings multiply as bread and fish. We are hosts. We are guests. We are hungry. We are full. Jesus invites us to be his guest even as we open the door and invite him in. What’s the real miracle in all of that?  All of that. There is always enough.

See you Sunday,

Pastor JoAnn Post

No, Jesus, I Don’t See It

No, Jesus, I Don’t See It

Dear Friends,

Jesus is full of pithy parables these days. Last Sunday he told the complex parable of the farmer who planted good seed, only to find the field choked with weeds he did not plant. What can it mean?

This Sunday Jesus teaches his disciples with four familiar but opaque parables about the Kingdom of Heaven: the kneading woman, the man who buried treasure, the pearl merchant and the deep sea fisherman. (Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52)  At the end of his soliloquy, Jesus looked at the disciples and said, “Have you understood all this?”  They lied, nodding their heads.  The disciples had no idea what Jesus was talking about, but were afraid to admit it.

So he followed up with a fifth. “Great. Then you’ll understand when I say that the Kingdom of Heaven is also like a man with a big house, who collects both antiques and contemporary art.”  What?

The purpose of parables like these is to illustrate a point that is difficult to make directly. Sadly, Jesus’ parables sometimes seem to us like a parent who has “the sex talk” with a child by telling them about the birds and the bees. What?

I find myself thinking in parables these days, as my parents’ health continues to decline. My father has wondered out loud with me what heaven will be like, and all we have are parables. “Heaven will be like city whose streets are paved with gold.” (My mother overhead this and said quietly, “Gold streets would be slippery.”)  Heaven will be like a reunion with long-lost loved ones. Heaven will be like a garden, like a mansion, like a river, like a pasture.  No one knows—all we can do is imagine.

But Jesus’ parables aren’t just an imagining for another day, wondering about “what it will be like when . . . “ According to Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven is already here, though mightily difficult to spot.  As disciples we are not deterred by the difficulty of the task. We seek for signs of the kingdom already here—patience on difficult days as one is patient while waiting for bread to rise, diligence in pursuit of the treasure buried in each other, recognition of something precious like a pearl among stones, abundance when we feel impoverished.  The Kingdom of Heaven is like that.

On Sunday, in addition to song and prayer and word and meal, we will wash. We celebrate the baptism of Jakob Kleehammer (You may know Jakob’s mother Natalie Clinton, and his grandmother Linda Clinton). His parents’ faith, Jakob’s innocence, our promises to pray for him—all these are small signs of the kingdom of heaven already here.

I am returning from two weeks of vacation and am eager to see you Sunday. We had intended to spend our time away in Washington, visiting my  husband’s family and our friends, but my parents’ health is too precarious for me to be that far from home. So, instead of relaxing on Puget Sound, we  looked for ways to celebrate the small puddles of joy all around us every day—our safe home, our good neighbors, our important work, our faithful friends. The Kingdom of Heaven—that promised place of peace and wholeness—is already all around.

You, also, are signs of God’s presence among us. When you forgive. When you share. When you welcome. When you pray. Can’t wait to see you Sunday, in our little corner of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Pastor JoAnn Post

Dirty Beans

Dirty Beans

Dear Friends,

I grew up on an Iowa farm that was more successful and profitable than the one Jesus describes in Sunday’s gospel. (Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43)

My family raises corn and soybeans, hay and alfalfa. When I was a teenager, one of our summer jobs was “walking beans.”  A city friend laughs at the phrase, imagining small collars and leashes around bean stalks, walking beans as one walks a dog. But it was we who walked acres and acres of beans, up and down the rows with hoes in summer heat, uprooting weeds that would interfere with the beans’ productivity.  Since then, millions of farm teenagers have been put out of work in the bean fields, now that farmers can control weeds more efficiently with seed hybrids and herbicides. But we spent days and days each summer, improving our tans while making sure the bean fields were weed-free. We were proud of my father’s fields—they were always “clean.”  And what did we call neighbors’ bean fields clogged with weeds? “Dirty beans.”  There was no worse slur than that.

Jesus’ farmer friend had “dirty wheat,” fields choked with weeds that not only made the fields look bad but also dramatically diminished the yield at harvest time. But Jesus’ point in telling this agrarian parable was not to comment on the “look” of a field, but comment on the insidious nature of evil in the world—the weeds in his parable.

One of the books on my summer reading list is “What Shall We Say,” by Tom Long, an examination of the ways preachers might approach the persistent issue of the presence of evil in the world.   As with Jesus’ parable, the answer at the end of the book is really no answer at all.  What shall we say about the presence of evil? Jesus’ disciples thought they might just dig the weeds out, asking permission to disentangle the weeds from the wheat, but Jesus would not allow it. “No, for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grown together. Until the harvest.”

It is the way of our lives, as well. No matter how carefully we plan, how faithfully we live, weeds appear in our wheat, the fields of our lives are “dirty.” Illness. Sorrow. Disagreement. Fear. Poverty. Disappointment. What a pleasure it would be to simply take a machete to those “weeds,” to cut them down and fling them into the fire. But both Jesus and Professor Long come to the same conclusion. “How can you tell? How can you tell where the evil ends and the good begins? How far would we have to dig to find the root of the problem? And what good might be damaged in the process?” It is an impossible task.

Instead we wait patiently with the God the Farmer for the harvest, when all will be sorted properly. Good wheat into the barns and noxious weeds into the fire. One day all that is evil, weedy, dirty will be destroyed and all that is good, wheaty, clean will thrive. That bracing reality is one of the reasons we gather weekly to worship. We are strengthened for our lives in the world, for the hand-to-hand combat we do with the weeds all around us.

I don’t miss walking beans—it was a loathsome task. But I do miss being able to look down the long rows at the end of the day and seeing nothing but beans, beans, beans—clean, green  and growing, readying for harvest when they will feed the world.

It is a privilege to walk the fields of our lives together, to encourage the good and fight against the evil. We’ll do it until the day of the last great harvest, when Jesus will look down the rows of our lives and say, “Clean beans!” (Or something like that.)

Pastor JoAnn Post

Hagiography

Hagiography

Dear Friends,

As my parents age, we encourage them to tell us stories of their childhoods, and of our grandparents and great-grandparents. We want to hear the stories that live only in my parents’ memories. Both sides of my family came to the United States as immigrants after the Civil War. They came from Germany (specifically from Ostfriesland) to escape poverty and mandatory conscription. (Fun fact: our elder Edith Botkin’s ancestors are from the same region.) My parents tell stories of travel from Germany through New York, from there to Illinois and then on to Iowa where we have lived for four generations. In recent weeks I’ve learned the names of my grandfather’s farm horses, the circumstances of the farm purchase, the endurance they demonstrated in building farms and homes and our church. Though I am sure there are scoundrels in our family’s past, the people my parents remember most fondly are hard-working, self-sacrificing, God-fearing people.

There is a “church name” for that kind of conversation. It’s called “hagiography,” the “study of the saints.” For centuries, the church has venerated and acknowledged our ancestors in the faith who exemplify some noteworthy aspect of a faithful life. It is similar to the family stories we tell of a grandparent or uncle, a neighbor or teacher whose life was exemplary in some way. “Live this way,” is the underlying sentiment.

We have chosen to engage in a little hagiography of our  own this Sunday with Mary Magdalene, Apostle. Her “feast day” is July 22.  We will not worship Mary Magdalene, but will instead read about and celebrate her role in receiving and telling the gospel of Jesus Christ. To prepare in advance, please read the appointed texts for the day: Ruth 1.6-18, Acts 13.26-33a, John 20.1-2, 11-18. Though there are many legends about Mary Magdalene (Did she and Jesus have a romantic relationship? Was she the woman who washed his feet? Was she the woman from whom seven demons were cast?) the truth of the matter is that she was an “early adopter” of Jesus, and the first to speak with him after the resurrection. What is the “live this way” from her life? Come and see.

As we prepare to tell the story of one of our ancestors in the faith, I invite you to remember and tell someone a similar story from your own life. Where is your family from? How did they get to the United States? Who is remembered for a “good” life, a strong faith, a great accomplishment, or a burden carried with courage?

I trust that the life you live will become part of a “hagiography” for future generations, that your life will be reason for celebration and imitation long after our lives end. We miss you when you are traveling this summer, but we remain united in bonds of love and service.

Remembering you with thanks,

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

Can’t Be Pleased

Can’t Be Pleased

Dear Friends,

An office manager in a previous parish was a little rough around the edges, notorious for her quick and sometimes coarse commentary on our congregation’s life.

After a lively summer ministry fair on the church lawn, she said, “I haven’t had that much fun since my little brother fell into the pig pen at the state fair.”

When we built a memorial garden in a secluded wooded corner of the church property, she observed, “Better put some lights or a condom dispenser out there, or we’ll be having lots and lots of baptisms in about nine months.”

Of a member of the congregation who simply could not be pleased, she said, “They wouldn’t be happy if you hung ‘em with a new rope.”

Not everyone found her amusing, but she was always interesting.

I was reminded of her “new rope” comment as Jesus complained about the similar “can’t be pleased” attitude on the part of his listeners in Sunday’s gospel. (Matthew 11.16-19, 25-30)  Fresh from having delegated the healing/resurrecting/exorcising work to his twelve disciples and back on the road himself, he was stunned to learn that his cousin and colleague John the Baptizer had been imprisoned for offending the emperor. Jesus was tremendously upset about this turn of events, and took his outrage out on the unsuspecting crowds who came to hear him preach. “You are like children who call to one another, we played the flute for you and you did not dance; we wailed and you did not mourn. You accuse John of having a demon and me of being a glutton.” It seems no matter what Jesus or John or any of their disciples did, it was the wrong.

Disgusted with the fickle crowds, he turned his attention to another audience: “Come to me if you are weary and carrying a heavy load.” Jesus was done with trying to please the masses that seemed to have endless time to evaluate and criticize; he instead pursued those who had neither the energy nor the desire to second-guess. “I will give you rest,” he promised the exhausted wing of his fan base. (Implying to the complaining crowds, “Go find a pig pen and fall into it.”)

Whether in the political or religious arena, we easily “get our knickers in a knot” (another of my office manager’s pithy illustrations) trying to please everyone.  How does a political party engage the far reaches of the political spectrum and hold the muddled middle? How does a congregation tend to the wide variety of tastes, temperaments and expectations of its members and friends? How do we speak gospel to the wings of our base: rich and poor, urban and suburban, conservative and liberal, energetic and overloaded, old-school Lutheran and still-seeking? Is there any way to please everyone?

The divisions among us usually stem not from malice or spite, but from differing versions of what might be “best.” I see it in my own extended family as we care for my aging parents. Should we treat health issues aggressively or let their old bodies rest? Should we actively engage in funeral planning now or wait until the time comes? Should we correct them when their memories are faulty or follow their lead no matter how meandering?  My siblings and I love our parents and each other, but in this instance as in so many others, there is no “right” answer, no “best” way, no “simple” answer. We are as faithful to God and to one another as we can be.

Please join us Sunday as we ponder the texts’ images of what it means to be not right or wrong, but simply faithful. (Hint: there is not a single way.) And if you are traveling or otherwise occupied, know that we entrust you to Jesus’ gentle care and easy yoke. Even when we are apart we are together in our concern for one another and for the world in which we live.

Pleased to be your Pastor,

JoAnn Post

P.S. Where but in this part of the world can July 4 parade-watchers stake out a spot four days in advance? I laughed to myself all weekend long at the growing collection of lawn chairs, blankets and beach umbrellas used to save places for the parade. It looks like the aftermath of the Rapture.