What Shall I Write?

What Shall I Write?

Dear Friends,

Writing is a refuge for me. Sitting down to a blank screen, my mind full of words and wondering, is as restful and invigorating to me as running is to an athlete or cooking is to a chef. The inability to write, to put keys to keyboard or pen to paper, is always a sign that something is out of whack with me. Only this morning did I realize that it has been weeks since I’ve written anything but “work” related projects: sermons, reports, emails, notes. When is the last time I sat quietly for hours at a time, undistracted, creative, calm? I can’t even remember.

Fortuitously, I have been asked to contribute to a national religious publication this spring so I will soon be forced out of my malaise. And, of course, Sunday’s sermon has yet to take shape—maybe this week the writing will be life-giving for me (and for you) rather than burdensome, as it has been recently.

What is your refuge? In what project can you get lost? Where do you retreat for restoration?  If, like me, you write, I extend an invitation to a brief Lent writing project.

Four area Lutheran congregations will produce a collaborative Lent devotional this spring. We are inviting writers of any age (eight from each congregation) to participate in this project. Our end result will be a complete printed devotional resource for Lent, with a daily email option, from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday.  Each writer will be given a one-word “prompt” around which you will write a short reflection. The writing pattern will be 1-1-1: ONE Bible verse of the writer’s choosing, ONE 3-4 sentence reflection, and ONE prayer of 1-2 sentences. More information will be shared with writers once our docket has been filled. Please let me know by Wednesday, January 27, if you’d like to join our small stable of writers.

Here’s what I’ll be considering as I write Sunday’s sermon. In these tender post-inauguration days of recovery from violence and division, on Sunday we will read about God’s call to follow. Not a political leader or pop idol, not an ideology or fad, but Jesus—the world-changing, sin-forgiving, plain-spoken human form of God in our midst. The Prayer of the Day sums up the texts’ trajectory:

Almighty God, by your grace alone you call us and accept us into your service.

Strengthen us by your Spirit, and make us worthy of your call . . .

We are called not because of our intrinsic value, disarming charm or area of expertise. We are called to follow even though (or perhaps because) we are weak and unworthy. I wonder what words will land on the preaching page about God’s unusual strategy for assembling an entourage.

Often when I cannot write, I read good writing. Today I’m inspired by the stirring words crafted by inaugural poet Amanda Gorman in “The Hill we Climb.” Her reflection begins:

When day comes we ask ourselves where can we find light in this never-ending shade,

The loss we carry a sea we must wade. 

We have braved the belly of the beast.

We have learned that quiet isn’t always peace,

And the norms and notions of what just is isn’t always justice.

And yet, the dawn is hours before we knew it.

Her words thrum in my brain (and stir jealousy). Perhaps when day comes I will have found the words to say, the ideas to pursue, the image that will rouse us all to follow Jesus. All I know today is that God is calling each of us. To what? For what? We’ll pursue answers to those questions together.

“See” you Sunday,
Pastor JoAnn Post

God’s Power

God’s Power

Dear Friends, 

In a week during which we witnessed extraordinary exercise of power—for both good and for evil—it is somehow prescient that Sunday’s texts address the exercise of power, as well. God’s power.


I am late writing to you this morning. Images of domestic terrorists scaling the walls of the nation’s capital, worry over a friend hospitalized with Covid-19, our ongoing efforts to be a vital congregation while absent from one another, occasional impulses to indulge in righteous rage—these things make it hard to still my mind, to slow my heart, to steady my words.

With all these images and thoughts and fears crowding around me, around us, on Sunday we will read of God’s enormous power. Power that, in any other hands, could be used to destroy, demean, dominate. But that is not God’s way.

We begin in the beginning with Genesis 1. When there was nothing—no stars, no creatures, no time—there was God. And what did God do with the blank slate of the universe, the endless possibilities at God’s fingertips? God tamed the deep. God created light. God pursued goodness. 

Psalm 29 praises God who is powerful enough to snap cedars, make mountains skip rope and shatter the sky with lightning, but who chooses the path of peace.

In Acts (19.1-7), the apostle Paul comes upon a handful of disciples, isolated by geography, who have not yet experienced the promised Holy Spirit. With a touch of his hands on their heads, the Spirit pours over them and they speak and sing and prophesy like professionals.

The gospel reading (Mark 1.4-11) situates Jesus at the Jordan River, checking his watch, chatting with others, apparently unaware that God is about to open a whole can of WOW on him. Suddenly the skies are torn open, a dove-like Spirit dive bombs him and a heavenly voice says, “You! I choose you!”

That this God, who snaps trees like toothpicks and directs the dance of the stars, chooses to use this limitless power for creativity, for peace, for good, is music in our ears.

Meanwhile, the world’s wild dance continues to leave us breathless, frightened and confused. “What can we do?” you ask. One of the things we are doing at Ascension is schooling ourselves on the ways in which we are complicit in the misuse of our power, and gifted with the opportunity to do good.

On Sunday, after live zoom worship, we invite you to stay on the line for our January Vitality Talk. We will introduce you to our ambitious, focused and unflinching plans for reading, watching, advocating and acting in ways that address systemic racism and pervasive inequity.

Click here for information about our next All Ascension Reads. Our assigned book “Stamped” will open up conversations and offer insights meant not to punish we who have power, but to speak the truth of an unjust system in which we are often unwitting participants.

Later today I will get a first look at our year-end financials, and projections for our 2021 ministry budget. Even before we dig into the numbers, I know that you have been extraordinarily faithful and generous to our ministry and to all those in our care. I often get personal notes of thanks from our community partners for the ways we support their work. Earlier this week, I received a personal call from the ELCA’s director for World Hunger—Ascension is in the top 50 of ELCA congregations (there are over 10,000 congregations in the US) for financial support in 2020. Who knew? I did. Ascension is always working to use our power for great good.  

In a week during which we witnessed extraordinary exercise of power—for both good and for evil—it is somehow prescient that Sunday’s texts address the exercise of power, as well. God’s power.

Thank you for your faithfulness in these difficult times. Thank you for exercising your personal power for good. Thank you for trusting God’s power to be greater than all else.


“See” you Sunday, Pastor JoAnn Post

Seen and Sent under the Stars

Seen and Sent under the Stars

Dear Friends,

I was surprised at the number of conversations sparked by last Friday’s eblast in which I recounted an unpleasant encounter with a rude stranger at the UPS store. To refresh your memory—an unmasked, package-laden interrupter broke into the long line of people waiting to ship packages. In response to my meaningful throat clearing and steady stare, the person muttered, “Get over it,” and I went silent.

What should I have done? You had thoughts. Some thought I should have been more assertive, that I shouldn’t have allowed a bully to prevail. Others applauded my restraint— “you never know who has a gun.” Many of you told your own stories of watching bullying behavior in a public place, and being either proud of or pained by your own response.

I’ve been thinking about that chance encounter and your reflections. And I’ve done some research. Bullies have always existed—their presence among us is not new. Remember Skut Farkus, the yellow-eyed, raccoon-hat wearing town bully in the movie “A Christmas Story?” Of course you do. He was terrifying. And far too familiar. Farkus’ appearance on the screen frightened children everywhere; standing up to him was certain death.

Though bullies are not a new phenomenon, their current brazenness is breath-taking.  Whether mocking a hijab-wearing train passenger, or taunting persons because of skin color or gender identity, or flouting mask recommendations, or weaponizing social media, a bully is born every minute. And they move among us shameless and unchallenged. (“You never know who has a gun.”)

In the movie, Ralphie Parker’s dad encouraged him to fight back, to protect the younger kids, to give Skut what he deserved. Turns out that was bad advice. It usually is. So, what should Ralphie have done? What should we do?

Current research on bullying advises that when we witness bullying behavior, we ignore the bully, and tend, instead, to the one being bullied. Instead of standing up to a potentially dangerous assailant, it is wiser to stand beside the victim, to humanize them, to tend to their needs. Depriving the bully of attention and granting the victim agency is, some say, a far better strategy.  “See the victim not as a victim, but as a person,” one commentator advises. “And deprive oxygen to the bully’s fire.”

To see the vulnerable other as a person worthy of our attention, our protection, is a skill worth learning, a sensitivity worth cultivating.

Though not exactly an instance of bullying, the presence of the Angel Gabriel in Sunday’s gospel reading is startling. (Luke 1.26-38) (I once described Gabriel’s sudden appearance as an assault on Mary. It was an unfortunate image which I won’t commit again.) Swooping in on an unsuspecting Mary, the angel announced a perplexing truth: “Greetings! God favors you!” In other words, “Hey, Mary! God sees you!”

Here’s the funny thing about this story. Mary was largely unruffled by this angelic encounter, taken back instead by two seemingly innocuous pieces of information. The first unexpected data point? God saw Mary. “Greetings, favored one!” Me? God sees and favors me? It was perplexing.

The second thing that caught Mary’s attention was not the amazing identity of the child she would carry, or that he would continue the ancient Davidic dynasty or that he would be a king, but that she would be pregnant at all. “Wait, Gabriel. Pregnant? Not possible.” It was a conundrum.

The Angel Gabriel gave a couple of odd First Christmas gifts.

Mary was seen. That’s the first gift the angel gave.

And the second? “God has plans for you.”

I am eager to pursue this familiar text with you on Sunday. After three Advent Sundays of apocalyptic doom and more John the Baptizer than anyone really needs, we finally arrive at the main event. God sees us! God has plans for us!

Awkward Segue to follow . . .

Speaking of seeing, on Monday evening we have opportunity to see something no one has seen for 800 years. I’m attaching a link to an article in the Chicago Tribune:  ‘Christmas star’: Jupiter and Saturn align on Dec. 21 – Chicago Tribune about this celestial event.

Though astronomers at the Adler Planetarium have hard data to support their scientific findings about the “Great Conjunction” of Jupiter and Saturn, some wonder if this fabled phenomenon might be what the Wise Ones saw after Jesus’ birth. Might the Christmas Star have been the Great Conjunction, a once-in-a-millennium stellar event? I’ve marked my calendar for Monday, December 21, during the Winter Solstice, to step outside just after sunset to witness the “Great Conjunction.” And if, as the stars align in the night sky, their brilliance causes me to remember Jesus’ birth and its cosmic implications, I will consider it another gift from God.

The Fourth Sunday of Advent brings simple gifts from God. We are seen. We are sent. Stars still shine.

“See” you Sunday,

Pastor JoAnn Post

I Am Not

I Am Not

Dear Friends,

They’re calling it V-Day across the pond. The “V” stands for “Vaccination,” and was celebrated on Tuesday in Coventry, England. The first life-giving needle stick was granted to 90-year-old Margaret Keenan; the second to 81-year-old William Shakespeare (not THAT William Shakespeare) from Warwickshire. Though all of Great Britain shouted a big “Woohoo!” at the news, health experts were quick to point out that though these first vaccinations are important and worth celebrating, the pandemic is not over. Not even for Margaret and William.

“This is an incredibly important moment on the march out of this pandemic,” said a health minister, “but we’ve still got a long march to go this winter.”

Sometimes it is as important to know what something is not as what it is.

If John the Baptizer’s message to us last Sunday was “not yet,” (Mark 1.1-8), this Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent, he offers another negative assessment: “I am not.” (John 1.6-8,19-28)

Why the negative self-assessment? After all, John the Baptizer (JB) was many things: outspoken, poorly dressed, bombastic, quick-to-judge, eloquent in an edgy way.  He was almost as famous as the “one whose sandals I am unworthy to untie” whom we know as Jesus. Almost.

But people wanted JB to be something he was not. Cities and towns emptied as people ran to the Jordan River to check him out. “Maybe? Maybe its him?” they asked each other. But, no. He was not the vaccine against sin and darkness that so many had hoped. So, before they got their hopes up, JB had to tamp down the expectations: “I am not the Messiah. I am not Elijah. I am not a Prophet.”

Then who the heck was he? He was a Voice. That’s all. Just a Voice, directing our attention to the only One who can cure our diseases, forgive our sins, and restore our hope. JB was only the first shot in the arm; Jesus is the cure.

You might be disappointed by JB’s humble self-assessment, but I find it refreshing. The pandemic has forced us all to face our limits, our failings, our inability to affect meaningful change for ourselves or others. And whether than punish ourselves for our powerlessness and weakness, we might do well to give thanks for all the things we are not.

Knowing our place, knowing who and what we are not is, in fact, a gift. We are relieved of the burden to always be strong, to always be right, to always see the way forward. That burden belongs to others. In the case of the pandemic, it belongs to the scientific researchers, policy makers and medical professionals whose life’s work is to save lives. That is not our responsibility. What is our responsibility, we who are not so many things? Ours is to be, like JB, only a Voice. A Voice—of kindness, of caution, of hope.

I was on the receiving end of some unpleasantness this week—a harried UPS customer, mask dangling under their chin, broke into the line (which extended out the door and down the sidewalk), arms filled with unwrapped packages. When they cut into the line I cleared my throat meaningfully, hoping to draw attention to me and my fellow customers, but the person sniffed at me, shouldered into the line and muttered, sotto voce, “Get over it.” Like you, I’ve been biting my tongue a lot lately, forcing myself to be patient with others, as I hope they would be patient with me. But this was almost too much. I could feel nine months of frustration and anger burbling into words. And had I launched at this clueless, selfish person, everyone in the line would have secretly cheered. But I quickly reminded myself of who I am not. I am not That Person—That Person who treats people like trash, who says whatever hurtful thing comes to mind, who cares nothing for the needs or lives of others. So, I swallowed my scathing judgment, my clever comebacks and withering wit, in order to not be all the things That Person was. And I waited a little longer to send my packages of good cheer to friends and family across the country.

I’m looking forward to that third Advent candle on Sunday—just a little more light in a dark world. Please join us for Worship, either by live zoom or by watching the recording later. Please stay on the screen after worship Sunday for a Vitality Talk, during which we will tell you more about our Advent Challenge with The Night Ministry.

Today I give thanks for Margaret and William, and for the thousands of others like them who have donned a mask, rolled up their sleeves and taken the (needle) plunge. We have been patient for a long nine months, and we are being asked to be patient a little longer. We can do that. Because, though the end of the pandemic is far away, the end has begun. But that first vaccination was not the answer to anything, only a hopeful hint.

This Advent “V” stands for Voice. JB’s Voice. Our Voices. Patient Voices lifted in praise of the One for whom all the world is waiting.

Blessed Advent,

Pastor JoAnn Post

Anonymous Generosity

Anonymous Generosity

Dear Friends,

The Salvation Army (Tri-Cities Corps) announced Wednesday that it had received a gold coin and a gold bar in two separate bright red kettles. Each gold piece was valued at about $1,800—far more than a single kettle collects in coins in a day. This generous, anonymous gift is not limited to the Greater Chicago area—the Salvation Army receives gifts of gold in cities across the country each Christmas. I have questions. Is it the same person dropping coins in kettles in Bremerton and Huntsville and Indianapolis? Who keeps gold coins and bars just lying around? Is this a “thing” of which I am unaware? Why do the donors choose to remain anonymous? How cool is this?

Anonymous generosity is not limited to gold-collecting supporters of the Salvation Army. On Sunday we will mark not only the Second Sunday of Advent, but also the Feast Day of Nicholas, Bishop of Myra. While many believe Bishop Nicholas is the model for the jolly figure we call St. Nick or Santa Claus, he was, in fact, a beautifully-robed bishop in a prosperous Turkish town in the 4th century CE. The town’s public prosperity hid its private poverty. But Bishop Nicholas saw it. He was credited with tucking gold coins in the shoes of poor children while they slept, or providing dowries for three young girls trapped in the sex trade, or delivering food to families who had none. But no one ever saw him do it; no one could pin these random acts of kindness on him. And he preferred it that way.

Anonymous Generosity. Have you ever committed such kindness?

For years, I was a regular blood and platelet donor through the American Red Cross. But when we moved to Illinois, I fell out the habit—the rhythm of donating blood or platelets every 56 days was broken. But I was snapped out of my sloth by an urgent request from the Red Cross for blood donations during the pandemic. The number of donors had plummeted, but the need had not. So, on Wednesday afternoon I donned my mask and rolled up my sleeve to give an anonymous gift to a stranger. As soon as I got home, I went on-line to schedule my next donation. Its not exactly a Bishop Nicholas-level gift, or a gold coin in a kettle, but that pint of blood makes a world of difference to someone I will never meet. I forgot how satisfying that is.

Perhaps you could mark the Feast Day of Nicholas by being anonymously generous. Tuck a chocolate kiss in the shoe of a sleeping child. Drop a coin in a kettle or a bag of groceries at the pantry. Straighten the wind-whipped wreathe of an elderly neighbor or make a double-batch of soup and share it. That single kiss or bag of groceries, that ordinary kindness or ladle of soup may not seem like much, but we bring hope to the world one gift, one kiss, one smile at a time.

We invite you to join our congregation’s generosity for The Night Ministry this Advent. Who will wear those warm socks or enjoy that hot cup of coffee? God knows. We don’t need to.

Today, at the end of the First Week of Advent, I give thanks for your steady generosity—known and unknown—to our congregation, the organizations we care about, and all the people whose lives you change every day.  Bishop Nicholas would be proud—were he not so self-effacing.

One more reason to smile. My grandson, Theodore James, celebrates his first birthday today. Actually, he’s not celebrating—he’s too young to understand the pile of gifts and beaming grandparent faces on Facetime. But we are celebrating his birth and his presence in our lives. Happy Birthday, Theodorable! You make the whole world smile.

Blessed Advent. “See” you Sunday.

Pastor JoAnn Post

Too Much

Too Much

Dear Friends,

Is there any such thing as a blessing too big? A gift too great? A kindness too cosmic?  Yes, and I first experienced such a blessing, such a gift, such a kindness on a Thanksgiving almost 50 years ago.

I grew up on a story book Iowa farm. We raised all manner of livestock (ovine, bovine, equine, swine, canine, feline, leporidae) and fowl (exotic and ordinary). Even though we were surrounded by nothing but farms, our farm was the destination for field trips from grade schools near and far.  Where else could you go to milk a cow by hand, ride a horse, pet a sheep, eat homemade cookies on a hay rack in a sunny pasture?

 

In the fall, my father raised turkeys for our neighbors’ Thanksgiving tables. He always kept the best one for our family, butchered and plucked it himself as a gift to my mother. We were a big family, so no ordinary turkey could feed us all, but one November my father outdid himself. He had been keeping a secret from my mother—a 40-pound turkey lurched and gobbled in a coop behind the barn. A feathered Chris Farley. My father loved to surprise my mother—this gigantic turkey would be the perfect holiday surprise.

 

I remember the crisp, cold afternoon he walked into the kitchen, holding the enormous naked bird aloft by its scaly feet—an offering to the gods of Thanksgiving. He was certain my mother would swoon with delight. Instead, she was horrified. The bird was big as a bushel basket, almost freakish. “How will I ever get that in the oven?” she blurted. His face and shoulders fell; even the bird drooped. Without a word, he left the house, dragging the rejected bird behind him. The next sound we heard was the revving of a chainsaw in the garage. My father cleaved that enormous bird in two, in the same way my unsuspecting mother had taken a chainsaw to this heart.

 

Though my father’s gobbling gift served its culinary purpose, Thanksgiving Dinner that year was not quite the same. We were all aware that our main course’s Better Half pouted icily in the basement freezer. The blessing had been too big, the gift too great, the kindness almost cosmic.

 

The pandemic has highlighted the lack in our lives, losses too many to name, too painful to acknowledge. We fear the wound in our hearts will never be filled. And though the promise of a vaccine is promising, it is yet distant, too good to be true. We will not allow our hopes to be dashed again.

 

But, in the church, we stand on the edge of a new year, another Advent of hopeful longing. On Sunday, the first candle of our Advent wreath will flicker in the darkness: “We light the Advent candles against the winter night.” On Sunday, the first notes of our ancient longing will float in the air: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” On Sunday, the prophet reminds that God “did awesome deeds that we did not expect.” (Isaiah 64.1-9)

This Advent, one of the darkest we have known, promises blessings too big, gifts too great, kindness too cosmic. The light will shine. Our lives will sing. God will, again, do marvelous things. Our hearts, sawn in two, will be restored, resewn, renewed.

Thanksgiving was more than a federally-mandated holiday on the farm. It was a sigh of relief—the harvest was in, the barn was dry, the pantry was full, our house was warm, our family was safe. Though I have heard my father sing in decades (and I doubt St. Peter has invited him to sing in the heavenly choirs), I can still hear his tuneless, gravelling voice rise and fall in grateful praise during Thanksgiving worship in our country church:

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;

He chastens and hastens his will to make know.

The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.

Sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own.

With all our farmer neighbors, he gave thanks for blessings too big, gifts too great, kindnesses almost cosmic. None of us is forgotten. Not one.

I am eager for Advent and its invitation to unreasonable hope. Come, Lord Jesus, come soon.

Blessed Thanks Giving,

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

It Matters

It Matters

Dear Friends,

She laughed when she said it, but I think she was serious. “Unless it matters to me, it doesn’t matter.” If a stranger had said that to me, I would have written them off as terminally selfish or narcissistic. But this is a person I know who is, ordinarily, kind and thoughtful. But it seems the “kind and thoughtful” switch has been turned off, and she now does, says, thinks whatever seems best for her, regardless of the consequences. I don’t quite understand what has happened.

“Unless it matters to me, it doesn’t matter.” She is not the only one who feels that way.

Recently, a famous body-builder and virus-minimizer was hospitalized with Covid-19, hovering near death for weeks. He is now everywhere on social media, posting “before” and “after” photos of his once ripped body now ravaged by virus, begging people to take the virus seriously. “It happened to me! It could happen to you!” Suddenly, it mattered—because it mattered to him.

We are all myopic in our own ways. We are all most concerned about our own concerns. But what would it take, what would it mean, if we cared about what others care about, if we tended to the needs of others before our own? What would happen if, when it mattered to you, it mattered just as much to me?

Sunday is celebrated as the Festival of Christ the King, a “newbie” to the church calendar, established by Pope Pius XI in 1925. What was happening in 1925 that occasioned a new occasion? Those turbulent years between the two great world wars saw the steady rise of dictators and nationalism. As political leaders across Europe demanded absolute and unquestioning allegiance, the church wanted to remind the world that there is only one Ruler, only one King and his name is Jesus. How troubling that political events that spawned this festival a century ago make it still relevant in our time.

Christ the King Sunday begs us to consider what matters to others, specifically what matters to our King.

“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,” the King said.

“I was naked and you gave me something to wear,” the King reminded.

“I was in prison and you visited me,” the King thanked.

What sort of King lives this hungry, naked, incarcerated life? Our King. Our King Jesus, who is found not on a throne or in a palace, but in the world’s lowest place. Because, though our King loves us all, there is a soft spot in the King’s heart and a special place in that kingdom for those whose lives are most difficult, who go often unnoticed, those whom we disregard.

Though Jesus is the Ruler of Nations, Son of God and Savior of All Creation, though he could easily have delegated compassion to someone on his staff, Jesus decided to care, to notice, to make the world’s sorrows his sorrows, to regard the world’s poor his siblings, to befriend those who are strange to us. Why? Because when it matters to us, to any of God’s children, it matters to God.

We were all saddened to learn that Illinois has been, necessarily and wisely, returned to Covid-19 High Alert. We are re-thinking our Thanksgiving plans. We are weighing greater and lesser risk. We are considering the safety of those we love. And though being apart is painful, we honor the rules, we curb our enthusiasm, we put aside our own needs. Why? Because if it matters to someone else, it matters to us. (Masks matter.)

We gather remotely for Worship on Sunday to celebrate Christ who is our King. We invite you to drive by on Sunday between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to deliver your pledge of financial support and receive a pie in return. Pledge and Pie! What could be better? (Pledges may also be mailed in, or delivered to the office in person during office hours.) Thank you for your generous support.

Why do we go to such extreme measures to worship together, to carry on our ministry, to care for the world’s poor, to protect the vulnerable? Because the King has modeled our way of life. If someone is hungry, we feed them. If someone is frightened, we comfort them. If someone is in danger, we protect them. If it matters to someone else, it matters to us. And all of us—woke and reluctant, rich and poor, healthy and weak—matter to God.

“See” you Sunday,

Pastor JoAnn Post

Failed Waiting

Failed Waiting

Dear Friends,

If I’ve heard it once this week, I’ve heard it a hundred times, “Why is it taking so long?”

You may assume that this bleak bleat was prompted by the current protracted ballot count, but we are waiting for more than an end to our electoral angst.

Why is it taking so long—to get my covid test back?

Why is it taking so long—for the doctor to get back to me?

Why is it taking so long—to get my air travel refund?

Why is it taking so long—to hear back from that job interview?

Why is it taking so long—for people to take the pandemic seriously?

Why is it taking so long—for my school to decide about in-person learning?

Why is it taking so long—(fill in the blank)?

If life was an Olympic competition, our worst event would be Patient Waiting. Not only would we never medal in that event, we would get booed out of the pool. But Patient Waiting is exactly the skill that is required of us, in every aspect of our lives. I fear we are failing.

The biblical equivalent of our pathetic pleading is this: How long, O Lord? And we hear it in each of Sunday’s texts.

Amos channels God’s frustration with corrupt and selfish religious practice: “How long do I have to wait for you to do it MY way? To let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5.18-24)

Paul comforts early Christians, anxious about the eternal disposition of those who had died before Jesus’ return: “We do not want you to grieve as those who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4.13-18)

Jesus, only chapters before his whole world comes crashing down, warns his disciples, “Keep awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25.1-13)

These dark lectionary warnings are prompted, not by pandemic or politics, but by the looming end of the church year. (Christ the King Sunday is November 22; Advent opens on November 29.) Should we consider it odd or comforting or eerily prescient that since ancient times, the future for God’s people—and the whole universe—has been dimly lit?

We continue to gather as best we can, to follow as faithfully as we can, even when so much conspires against our gathering and our following. Please join us Sunday for live zoom worship at 10 a.m., and remain afterward for our November Vitality Talk. Because even though no one can answer the question, “Why is it taking so long?” we are confident that when we are in one another’s company, the waiting is neither frightening nor fatal.

Like you, I am wearing out the “refresh” button on my laptop, eager for news of election results at every level of government.  As we wait for the answer to “Why is it taking so long . . . ?” I invite you to consider the words of our synod bishop, Yehiel Curry, in yesterday’s missive to the Metropolitan Synod of Chicago:

Siblings in Christ, will we be the church who is able to shatter the red and blue walls that divide us? Will we transcend parties and powers that polarize, demonize, and distort our perception of one another? And will we do this for the sake of Christ’s mission—a feast for the hungry and a world where prisoners are set free? Will we do this, or will we remain captive to the same spirit that is tearing the world apart? (You can read the whole text here: http://eepurl.com/hh5dp5)

 In these waning days of the church year and a political cycle, we wait together for the answer to our perennial questions, “Why is it taking so long?”  And, as Paul advised in 1 Thessalonians, we comfort one another with these words, “God knows.”

Honored to be (not so patiently) waiting with you,

Pastor JoAnn A. Post

What Time Is It?

What Time Is It?

Dear Friends,

I will be uneasy all weekend, anticipating the time change early Sunday morning (our clocks fall back an hour). Its not that I mind losing an hour of sleep in the morning—as an insomniac acquaintance says, “I can sleep when I’m dead.” What worries me is that the time change happens on Sunday morning—the first and most important day of my week. What if I forget to change the clocks? What I set them the wrong direction? What if I miss one of my clocks? What if I am late for church (or early, depending on the season)? It seems a foolish thing, I know. But I won’t relax until we are all in our places at the proper time Sunday morning.

Since the pandemic fell, time has lost its meaning. Every day feels the same. Routines have been long abandoned.  We sleep more some nights; less on other nights. A favorite meme announces: “Until further notice the days of the week are called Thisday, Thatday, Otherday, Someday, Yesterday, Today and NextDay.”

It is oddly fitting that time seems so completely fungible these days. On All Saints Sunday we surrender ourselves to God’s time rather than our own. On All Saints Sunday we reach back to an ancient prophecy from Revelation of a day when “they will hunger no more, and thirst no more, when God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7.9-17) The gospel reading promises blessings now (“theirs IS the kingdom of heaven”) and blessings in a future time (“they WILL BE comforted”). (Matthew 5.1-12) In our All Saints prayers we name the names of the beloved dead, as though they were still among us, and we lean toward our grand reunion when, again to quote the Revelation text: “I saw a great multitude that no one could count standing before the throne.”

All our hearts are troubled these days, as the Covid-case counts climb, and we anticipate a potentially contentious Election Day, and the days grow dark and cold.  I invite you to consider living by God’s Time, rather than our own. To reach back to promises made long ago, to embrace the gift of each day, to look forward to that time when all tears will be dried.

On this All Saints Day I am remembering those I love who have preceded us into heaven, giving thanks for their witness. Please join us for (zoom) worship this Sunday. Please remember to turn your clocks back one hour. And please consider living by God’s Time, putting the sorrows of this present time into holy perspective.

“See” you Sunday,

Pastor JoAnn Post

Penny for Your Thoughts

Penny for Your Thoughts

Dear Friends,

The penny is less than worthless, costing 2 cents each to create. In fact, in 2022, the US Mint will cease producing pennies, though they will remain in circulation for some time after that. How did we get to this place—spending two times the worth of a coin that no one even uses? There are many reasons, but one of them has to do with the face on the coin. And the state that claims that famous face. Many attempts have been made to eliminate the penny, but the state of Illinois is among those who have lobbied for its survival. After all, the penny bears the face of Illinois’ favorite son—Abraham Lincoln. How could we do that to dear old Abe?

By now, that $20 bill in your pocket should bear the face of Harriet Tubman, a former slave who freed other slaves from bondage. She would have been the first woman and first person of color to grace a piece of US currency. Though the design process was already underway, it was stopped abruptly for reasons that are not clear. Some say it is because the steps necessary to make the $20 bill impossible to counterfeit were not in place. Some say it is just taking longer to produce the quantity of bills necessary to be in meaningful circulation. And others say it is because Ms. Tubman was a black woman, whose face would replace that of former President Andrew Jackson, a slaveholder and architect of the Trail of Tears. A freer of slaves or an owner of them. Which bill would you rather spend?

What’s in your wallet? Though we attribute that question to Samuel L. Jackson and CapitalOne, it was first coined by Jesus in Sunday’s gospel. (Matthew 22.15-22) Surrounded by leaders from both the religious and political systems in Jerusalem, his interrogators were laying a trap for Jesus: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”

There was no way Jesus was going to answer to everyone’s satisfaction. If he said, “No, we ought not pay taxes,” the political leaders (Herodians) would have pitched a fit over his lack of patriotism and civic engagement. Had he said, “Yes, we ought to pay taxes,” the religious leaders (Pharisees) would have come undone—observant Jews were to have no financial dealings with Rome, not even carrying its currency.  You see, the coin in question bore the image of Emperor Augustus, who believed himself to be a god. That image violated the First Commandment: “you shall have no other gods.”

Instead of giving both opponents reason to accuse, Jesus sidestepped the issue. “What’s in your wallet? Show me the coin. Whose image does it bear?” The answer was simple, “The Emperor’s.”

“Well,” Jesus said, “things that have the image of the emperor on them, belong to the emperor. But things that bear the image of God . . .” You can see where he was going.

As we prepare for elections at every level of government, and as we tear each other to shreds over the proposed tax amendment to our state constitution, it would be tempting to turn Jesus’ word into a political endorsement. (Like the Pharisees and Herodians, we love to use Jesus for our own political purposes.)

But Jesus is not weighing in on tax policy, or advising the US Mint. Jesus is reminding us that we belong to the one whose image we bear; we belong to God. Easy to say, but would anyone suspect—by the way you spend your time, your money, your words, your affections—that you belong to God?

In fact, Sunday’s question is not “What’s in your wallet?” Sunday’s question is “Whose face is on your face?”  Abraham Lincoln? Harriet Tubman? Andrew Jackson? Emperor Augustus? Jesus Christ?

Funny that during the pandemic, we are advised to use no paper currency or coins at all, since are in short supply and are potential virus carriers. Instead, we present our plastic debit and credit cards for purchases large and small. Whose face is on that worthless piece of plastic? And does the way we use it say something about whose we are and what we believe?

Please join us for worship Sunday (remotely) as we seek to see the face of God in one another.

Pastor JoAnn Post

On Sunday morning at 10 a.m., we host live Zoom Worship. You may join us using this information: Meeting ID: 899 7267 2648, Passcode: 195368) and wait for the host to give you access. Worship will be recorded and posted later on Sunday, for those who are unable to join us live.