These are Holy Days

These are Holy Days

Dear Friends,

This evening, Maundy Thursday, we will hear: “God never wearies of forgiving sin and giving the peace of reconciliation.”

Tomorrow evening, Good Friday, we will sing: “Ah, Holy Jesus, how hast thou offended, that we to judge thee, have in hate pretended?”

Sunday morning, Easter Day, we will greet one another with the improbable claim, “Christ is risen! Risen indeed!”

Around the world, these are holy days.

The fire at Notre Dame in Paris has drawn surprising attention to the need for the “holy” in our lives. Even those who profess no faith in Jesus Christ regard the cathedral a sanctuary, an inspiration, a sign. Donations flow in from around the world to restore its place in our hearts and imagination.

The 20th anniversary of the shooting at Columbine ricochets the grief and horror we first felt upon hearing news of murder in a school building. Though a few troubled souls still worship at the altar of that carnage, we choose to remember those who died and were injured, those who ran to their aid, heroic efforts to curb such violence and its underlying causes.

Our Jewish brothers and sisters are, at this moment, ridding their homes of chametz (leavened grain) and preparing the kiddush (prayers over the wine) and celebratory meals during which they recount the first Passover and God’s protecting love. This faithful observance has continued almost without interruption, around the world, for centuries.

And we who profess faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God? We receive forgiveness. We wash one another’s feet. We share a simple supper. We grieve at the foot of the cross. We believe witnesses who find an empty tomb. This God whom we love stoops to greet us, to love us, to free us—even from death.

Please join us for our Holy Week and Easter celebrations:

Maundy Thursday, April 18, 7 p.m.

Good Friday, April 19, 7 p.m.

Festival of the Resurrection, April 21

Worship at 8:30 and 10:30 a.m.

Continental Breakfast, 9:15 – 10:15 a.m.

Easter Egg Hunt (9:45 a.m.—on the dot)

Sunday School Choir rehearsal, 10 a.m.

(Godly Play will not meet)

 

These are holy days for the whole world. Please multiply our joy by joining ours.

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

An Enormous Orchid Difference

An Enormous Orchid Difference

Dear Friends,

Sometimes it doesn’t take much to make an enormous difference.

The phone rang at the office yesterday morning while our Office Manager was away from her desk, so I answered. The caller, whose voice I did not recognize, asked for Pastor Post. I hesitated to identify myself—telemarketers often ask to speak directly to me, so I was suspicious. Pausing, I said, “This is she.” The caller said, “This is Helena! Remember me! You helped me in December! I want to see you—just for a minute. Are you in today?”

Sadly, my petty-self surged, and all I could think about was how busy my day was, and that I was not willing to give her any more assistance, and when will I learn to let phone calls go to voicemail. But my better angel prevailed, inviting her to drop by any time.

Not five minutes later she was at my door, carrying an enormous, brilliantly blooming orchid and a broad smile. “You changed my life. Your congregation changed my life. Your help meant I could pay my rent for two months until I found a new job. I have a new job! My son is graduating from the University of Iowa in May! I have health insurance again! I cannot thank you enough!” She and the orchid enveloped me, and then she said, “I can’t stay. I have a job to do!” I’ve never seen anyone so excited to go to work.

The assistance we provided through my Pastor’s Discretionary Fund was not large, but was calculated to make a difference, to tip the balance in her favor, lighten the load until her life stabilized. And it did. As it does for so many. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to make an enormous difference, to help people through a rough patch.

We are entering the holiest of times in our common life. From the Palm Procession that launches this Sunday’s liturgy to the last trumpet blast on Easter morning, in the coming week we will immerse ourselves in the Passion of Our Lord, the story of his suffering, crucifixion, death and resurrection. The liturgies of Holy Week are not heavily subscribed—like me, your days are packed, your tolerance for interruption is low, and you calculate the time you have for all the demands on your time. But I invite you to consider the difference Holy Week might make to your life.

When was the last time you sat silently and let a story wash over you?

When was the last time a song made you weep for joy?

When was the last time you admitted your failures, trusting you would be forgiven?

When was the last time you let someone bathe your feet?

When was the last time you contemplated the depth of God’s love for you?

I invite you to join us Saturday for the “One Tree Many Branches: Quattro Voce” concert at 4:30. This is an amazingly gifted ensemble, and a wonderful way to launch Holy Week.

Worship begins Sunday morning with the Palm Procession in Fellowship Hall. In addition to the dramatic reading of Jesus’ Passion according to Luke, we will welcome a graduate of one of The Night Ministry’s outreach programs, to share their story of homelessness conquered.  I am eager to hear about those things that made the difference in this person’s life, the small things that made an enormous difference.

And then, we are off! The train that is Holy Week will have left the station, wending its slow, relentless, purposeful way through our lives.

I am still smiling about Helena’s gift to me. Not just the orchid (which may have a short life span in my black-thumbed care), but her joy. She has known tremendous despair and fear. Now, at least for a time, her life is full and her smile never stops.

Sometimes it doesn’t take much to make an enormous difference. She has made an enormous difference in mine. As do you.

Blessed Almost Holy Week,

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

 

 

I do miss those shoes

I do miss those shoes

Dear Friends,

Nostalgia. Sunday’s texts are filled with nostalgia for a past that may or may not have been as remembered. But who ever said our memories have to be reliable?

I’m thinking this morning about an elderly friend whose old-man years bear no resemblance to his young-man years. Once an award-winning athlete, successful businessman, in-demand consultant, life-of-every-party he is now confined to a recliner, the days differentiated from one another only by the color of the comfy cardigan his caretaker selects for him. He is not bitter or morose, but nostalgia for his past-life is a constant companion. “I used to be able to do anything, go anywhere, solve any problem without thinking about it twice. But now,” he pauses, “now it takes most of the day to find the TV remote. Where did that other man go?”

When my friends and I were younger, we promised one another that we were not going to get “like that,” like our mothers and aunts and grandmothers who got older and softer and wore sensible shoes. Guess what? We are exactly “like that” now, and grateful for it. But we all remember the other “us.” We used to wear such beautiful shoes. Sigh.

Sunday’s Old Testament text sets the nostalgic tone for the day, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.” (Isaiah 43.16-21) Isaiah was writing to the people of God in exile in Babylon, unwilling immigrants in a foreign land. We can assume, from Isaiah’s caution, that they did a lot of “remembering the former things,” that they spoke longingly of their neighborhoods and friends, their jobs and bowling leagues back home in Israel. But Isaiah knew that such nostalgia paralyzes, makes it difficult to see the “new thing,” the future God might hold out for them.  “God is doing a new thing,” he promised. “Already it springs from the earth like water. Look for it! And leave the past in the past.”

The writer Paul shares similar musings with the members of the congregation in Philippi, a congregation for which he had enormous affection. (Philippians 3.4b-14) You may recall that Paul, formerly “Saul,” had been a big deal in his previous iteration. “If anyone has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more!”  But Paul had to let all of that go—all the power, the fame, the notoriety.  He had to let that past Saul go in order to become the evangelist, the witness, the theologian God needed him to be. With a hint of nostalgia, he wrote to them, “For Christ’s sake I have suffered the loss of all things. So that I may be found in Christ.” Did I hear a wistful sigh at the end of that sentence?

The nostalgia in Sunday’s gospel is a little less holy. (John 12.1-8) Six days before Jesus’s crucifixion, he was enjoying dinner in the home of friends. During dinner, one of his hosts, a woman named Mary, knelt before Jesus, poured a jug of burial oil (we assume it was oil she no longer needed since her brother Lazarus was no longer dead) over Jesus’ feet, and then dried them with her hair. It was an act of great beauty, intensity and intimacy. And so wrong. To touch a man who was neither husband nor brother, to expend wildly expensive ritual oils on such a brief experience was a new thing. And not entirely welcome. Many around the table longed for the old ways, when women were silent servants and men smoked cigars uninterrupted. Mary changed all that.

Jesus was touched. The other guests were embarrassed. His disciple, Judas, was angry.

Why was Judas so irritated? Under the old system in which he quietly cooked the books, siphoning money from Jesus’ ministry into his own off-shore accounts, that oil would have been sold on the black market for his own profit. Judas had a good thing going—for Judas—and this inappropriate woman was getting in the way.  Judas also longed for the “former” (felonious) things.

Please join us Sunday as we remember the “former things”—ancient texts and tunes that still speak to us today—and squint to see God’s “new thing”—opportunities for ministry that we may never have imagined. And as we know from our own lives, reaching forward for a new future means we have to let go the past. The same is true for congregations. The “new thing” is God’s thing—a future we can’t imagine or manufacture.

None of us will be the people we used to be. But what we are becoming is known only to God. “Do not remember the former things. A new thing is coming.” Promise.

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carry On, My Wayward Child

Carry On, My Wayward Child

Dear Friends,

Welcome to another episode of “Songs in my Head”—an informal, infrequent, not very interesting recap of the music that runs through my head. (I always have a song in my head.) A therapist colleague advises always listening to the songs in your head—they may reveal something recognized by your subconscious of which you are consciously unaware.

Here goes:

Carry on, my wayward son
For there’ll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don’t you cry no more 
(Kansas, 1975)

I was in high school when that song was released, and I think its accurate to say I’ve not thought about it much since then. But this morning, there it was! Why? What can it mean?

Here’s what is playing on other channels of my brain. On Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, we read one of the most famous parables in scripture: The Parable of the Prodigal Son. (Luke 15.1-3, 11b-32) Even non-bible readers know the story: a selfish son cons his gullible father out of his portion of the inheritance, runs off and wastes it; the selfish son finds himself homeless and hungry; he concocts a phony plea to be welcomed back as a slave; the father (still gullible) welcomes him with open arms, while the older (self-righteous) son pouts about the wild welcome his rotten little brother receives.

My therapist friend could write a book about the troubled family dynamics in this tortured tale. (By the way, where is Mom in all this?)

“Carry on my wayward son.”

There’s the connection!  The son whom scriptures names “prodigal” (definition: spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant) was clearly “wayward.” He ran as far from home as fast as he could, and spent the wealth his father had amassed over a lifetime in a debauched weekend of dissolute living. Clearly, this parable is a cautionary tale about disobedient children and poor estate planning. Isn’t it?

Except that we’re watching the wrong character. One key to the unlocking of a parable is to note the first character named, the subject of the topic sentence. In this case, the parable begins, “There was a man who had two sons.” A man? In fact, this parable is not about a pair of ungrateful brothers. This parable is about a man, a father, a dad who, for unexplained reasons, indulged a child who couldn’t handle a weekly allowance, let alone 50% of a family fortune. So, what gives? Was the father foolish? Soft-hearted? Soft-headed?

This is a parable—a pointed story whose meaning is easier to swallow because it is “fiction.” The father is a stand-in for Jesus who, as he told this parable, was mobbed on one side by (wayward) sinners and tax collectors and on the other by (self-righteous)Pharisees. Who would Jesus (aka Dad) choose? Who would Jesus punish? Who would Jesus praise?

When you read the parable more closely, you learn that Jesus/Dad loves both children, welcomes them both, indulges them both, forgives them both. The parable is about the generous, effusive, sometimes foolish love and mercy of Jesus for all, regardless of whether we regard them as “right” or “wrong.”

It may be time for a new song in my head.

This parable comes at a propitious moment for us in our Lent Challenge with The Night Ministry, which works with homeless, wayward sons and daughters who are far from home. We continue to receive financial gifts toward our $20,000 goal. Gift cards from our Lent Tree are pouring in. We have scheduled a Night Walk for Monday, April 8—you’ll hear more about it on Sunday. And on Sunday after worship we invite you to a lunchtime conversation about our All Ascension Reads selection “Miles from Nowhere” by Nami Mun. We will provide a bag lunch similar to that served by The Night Ministry, and dynamic, challenging discussion.

What song shall we sing, now that we have renamed Sunday’s gospel reading “The Parable of the Foolishly Loving Father?” Here’s what we’ll be singing on Sunday:

Our Father, we have wandered and hidden from your face;

in foolishness have squandered your legacy of grace.

But, now in exile dwelling, we rise with fear and shame,

as, distant but compelling, we hear you call our name. (ELW 606, tune “O Sacred Head”)

In Jesus’ heart, God’s house, all children—wayward or steady, young or old, humbly repentant or simply desperate—are welcomed home.

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe the Gardener Gets It

Maybe the Gardener Gets It

Dear Friends,

It always happens. In the midst of terrible tragedy or an unexpected turn of events or inexplicable circumstances, some well-meaning person will say, “Everything happens for a reason. God has his reasons.”

I have no quarrel with the experience many of us have had that, given enough time and reflection, good things may emerge from bad, or important lessons may be learned, or that God can fashion blessings from the harshest of circumstances. But I can barely remember what I had for breakfast—to imagine we can read God’s mind or motives is a little bit above my pay grade.  In fact, in Sunday’s reading from Isaiah, we are reminded that “God’s ways are not our ways; God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.”

How does God think about things? What, if anything, does tragedy mean?

I have been having this conversation with Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 13.1-9) which seems to assign meaning or order to suffering in ways that make me squirm.

Sunday is the third Sunday in Lent; the cross is starting to emerge over the horizon; Jesus’ jaw is tight and his responses terse.  You can imagine that, knowing death lay only days away, he might have had little patience for petty chit chat.

A small crowd of breathless worriers assailed him with a question about a recent tragedy. Apparently, Pilate (yes, the same Pilate who would send Jesus to the cross) had murdered a group of Galileans—a far-right Jewish political group opposed to the Herod—and mixed their blood with the blood of the animal sacrifices they offered in the temple. Gruesome.  “What can it mean?” they wondered.

Jesus reminded them of another horror during which eighteen people were killed when a tower collapsed. Construction accident? Building code violation? Terrorism? Jesus doesn’t say. “What can it mean?” he echoed.

Of course, we can top Jesus’ tower with airplanes that fall from the sky, the murder of people at worship, or the loss of whole herds in winter/spring floods. The list of unimaginable tragedies is endless.

Jesus offered no satisfactory explanation for these random disasters, but invited his hearers to “repent, or you will all perish as they did.”

Perish as they did? In a bloodbath? Under a pile of bricks? No, I think Jesus, having intimate knowledge of the world’s wicked randomness, wanted them to be able to greet their final fate—whatever it might be—with a clear conscience and a holy heart.

I have always enjoyed the parable Jesus told following this troubling exchange—a parable about a gardener armed with a hoe in one hand and a bag of horse manure in the other, a gardener who always gave his plants one more season, one more chance, one more opportunity to bloom.  To the impatient owner of a fig-less fig tree, the gardener said, “Let me work with it one more season. A little digging. A little manure. Let’s see what happens.”

So why do horrible things happen—to both good and bad people? Hard to say, but Jesus would have us live each day so that, if it were to be our last, we would leave no unspoken kindness, no heartfelt apology behind. After all, we don’t want to die unrepentant, as too many do. And, Jesus promises time—another season perhaps, so the Gardener can loosen the roots of the weeds in our lives.

On that happy note, might I remind you to join us Saturday afternoon for Irish Singer and Storyteller Paddy Homan, a belated St. Patrick’s Day gift to us from our “One Tree Many Branches” series. The phone at church has been ringing all week with Paddy Homan fans, eager to hear him and his band. Come early if you hope to have a seat.

Sunday finds us gathered in the shadow of the cross, where all our joys and sorrows mingle.  Children enjoy Children’s Music and Godly Play. In Worship we will scratch our communal head at scripture texts that leave more questions than answers. We will tell you more about our Lent Challenge with The Night Ministry.

So, as I draw closer to the need to put pen to paper for Sunday’s sermon, I’m thinking about senseless tragedy, unspoken apologies and horse manure. Please join us Sunday. I’m as curious as you are to hear how this all comes together.

What can it mean?

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hoping against Hope

Hoping against Hope

Dear Friends,

They lie around the house all winter like bored teenagers. When the weak winter sun shines in the direction of the two enormous tropical plants wintering in my house, they lean wearily toward the window, idly absorbing whatever rays of warmth they can. Usually by this time of the winter, they are ready to hitchhike to Florida. So when I woke yesterday morning to a 60-degree day and the promise of rain, I shooed them out on the deck to play. Perhaps it was my imagination, but I felt them relax immediately. “Ahhh,” Gardenia sighed to Ficus. “Fresh air.”  When I left for work, they were skipping Double Dutch.

I didn’t have the heart to tell them that by day’s end the temperature would drop precipitously, and they would be imprisoned in the house again.

My mother used to say, “If you don’t get your hopes up, you’re never disappointed.” My house plants wish they had heeded that advice. They’re still not speaking to me.

Lent is a mixed season of hope and despair, honesty and wishful thinking. The calendar promises Spring! but the wind says Winter. Our texts hint at Life but drip with Death. We would be wise not to get our hopes up.

Sunday opens with an odd selection from Genesis (Genesis 15.1-18), a reiteration of the promise God had made to Abraham back in chapter 12. Children! Land! But, Abraham and Sarah, long past childbearing years, continued childless, and the land they had been promised belonged to someone else. Abraham despaired of the promise, but decided to lean, like a winter-weary plant, toward hope. The writer of Genesis reports that “Abraham believed the Lord, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

Paul wrote to the congregation in Philippi (Philippians 3.17-4.1), embroiled in an internal debate about citizenship. Their concern was not our current wall-building, name-calling, document-checking xenophobia, but calculation about the location of their true home. Were they going to live as “enemies of the cross,” preoccupied with food and wealth and pleasure, or were they “citizens of heaven,” joyful, loving, strong? Would they cower in the life they already knew or reach for the life the gospel offered?

In the Gospel reading, Jesus got a tip that King Herod was out to get him. (Luke 13.31-35) This was no idle threat—Herod had served John the Baptizer’s head on a platter, and could easily make a Happy Meal out of Jesus, too. But Jesus was not threatened by Herod’s threat. He was energized. “You go tell that fox . . .” he taunted. While a lesser Messiah might have huddled with his strategy team to plot a new course, Jesus delighted in mocking Herod. And then he turned his sarcasm on the city of Jerusalem, “Jerusalem! Jerusalem! You kill every prophet who passes through your gates. You won’t get the best of me!”

The temptation to hope is so easily dashed. Just this morning, 49 people were gunned down in mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand—shot in the back as they knelt to pray. The violence is unimaginable. The rationale impenetrable. The damage endless. What are we to say to these brothers and sisters in their grief? Thoughts and prayers? Spare me. The hope toward which we lean has to be active and sometimes aggressive, not just a vague warm feeling.  The hope toward which we lean defies both the world’s powers and our hearts’ fears.

Also, this morning we read an article in the Chicago Sun Times about The Night Ministry, and its efforts to move The Crib to a new location. You might have missed  earlier publicity about neighborhood push-back in a heated, ill-informed public meeting that stoked fears without the interruption of information. We are fully in support of The Night Ministry, and this move for the sake of the homeless young people in their care. Please consider a gift to The Night Ministry through our Lent Challenge. https://chicago.suntimes.com/news/steinberg-night-ministry-crib-lgbtq-shelter-moving-lake-view-lutheran-church-bucktown-zoning-board/

In spite of the weather or the tenor of the texts or the crushing sorrow in the world, we gather joyfully each week at Ascension. Children’s Music begins at 9:30 a.m., followed by Godly Play at 9:45 a.m.  Worship sings with an Argentinian liturgy, accompanied by the Alloy Horn Quartet. We will also update you on our Lent Challenge. The liturgical calendar may say “Lent,” but Easter always lives in our hearts and voices.

Like my disappointed house plants, it is tempting to give in to my mother’s caution about not getting our hopes up. All the evidence points to endless, dark, wintry disappointment. But we trust that, like the inevitability of Spring, God’s promises to us are continually renewed. We encourage one another to live as citizens of heaven: joyful, loving, strong. We keep getting our hopes up, even when it seems foolish to do so.

Daring to hope,

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

If only . . .

If only . . .

Dear Friends,

My family teases me that I am far too casual about death and illness. When our girls were small, it was not unusual for the reporting of my day to include brief updates on the most recent hospitalization in the parish, a difficult death, a funeral that exposed every fault in a grieving family. Illnesses were described and symptoms analyzed. I didn’t realize how thoroughly my discourse was peppered with such fun facts until one evening when we had a grade school guest at the dinner table. As I delivered the nightly Death and Mayhem Report, my daughter’s friend turned to her and said, “Does your mother always talk about dead people at supper time?” My daughter simply nodded in embarrassed affirmation.

In spite of my seemingly cavalier attitude toward bodies and death (it’s a job hazard), Ash Wednesday is often a difficult liturgy for me. I love the solemnity, the honesty, the quiet of the texts and the hymns and the ritual. But the “ashing”—marking an ash cross on the forehead of the penitent—is sometimes fraught.

It is one thing to say “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” to a person who is strong and healthy, a person for whom “returning to dust” is more interesting concept that imminent reality. But etching that cross on the smooth skin of a toddler, or the papery forehead of an elder, on the feverish brow of one who is seriously ill, gives me pause. The ashes speak of death. To acknowledge mortality with a child whose life is only beginning or someone for whom this Ash Wednesday might be their last is often accompanied by a lump in my throat. And not easily discussed over dinner.

Our Ash Wednesday attention to the end of life is short-lived, however, as this First Sunday of Lent propels us from the grave to the wilderness. We always read about the Temptation of Jesus on this Sunday, this year from Luke’s gospel. (Luke 4.1-13)  When the story opens, Jesus is weak and loopy from a 40-day wilderness fast; his guard was down and his thought process slowed. The devil takes advantage of Jesus’ weakened state, with encouragement to doubt.  “If you are the Son of God . . . ,” the devil taunts twice. “If you worship me . . . ,” the devil promises.

As you know, anyone who begins a sentence with the conditional “if” is not to be trusted. “If you love me . . .” “If you trust me . . .” The devil is similarly an unreliable witness.

Did Jesus hesitate when confronted with the devil’s dangled doubt?  Was he even momentarily tempted to see what lay behind the Devil’s Door #2? Would you be?

At confirmation class last Wednesday night we discussed the nature of faith and its antithesis.  Many believe the antithesis of “faith” is “doubt,” but it is not so. “Certainty” is far more dangerous than doubt.  After all, if everything in our lives, our world is neat and tidy, properly filed and labeled, what need do we have for faith?  Jesus’ terse, biblical responses to the devil’s conditions speaks not of titillating doubt or arrogant certainty, but of but confident faith.

Please join us Sunday. Children gather for Children’s Music at 9:30 a.m., and move to Godly Play at 9:45 a.m. We launch our Lent Challenge with a Vitality Talk at 9:30 a.m. (coffee and donuts on the house), and with a Temple Talk during Worship at 10 a.m.  Also, don’t forget that we turn clocks ahead an hour Saturday night as we begin Daylight Savings Time.

I promise not to subject you to my infamous Death and Mayhem Report, but I will dig into doubt with you—in a faith-full way.  If only you will join us . . .

Pastor JoAnn Post