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. 

Namaste?

Namaste?

Dear Friends,

Things are not always as they seem. Not even dogs.

While checking out at my local grocery store, the clerk admired the very expensive dog treats I was buying for my picky-eater dog. “My dog loves these, too!” she said.  As is typical of dog owners, we quickly fell into the predictable canine conversation: what breed is your dog? what is its name? how old is your dog? what’s s/he like?

The clerk owns a cute little four-year-old mutt whose name is Namaste. “What a great name!” I exclaimed. “Is she as peaceful as her name?” The clerk shook her head sadly. “No, she’s a horrible dog. She’s mean to everyone but me. Its so embarrassing when my dog lunges at another dog and I have to shout, ‘Namaste! Stop it! Down, Namaste!”

By this time, the patron behind me was laughing out loud, as was the bagger. The image of a tiny little dog whose name echoes the Sanskrit greeting, “I bow to you,” barking like a demon at another dog was just too funny. All week, I’ve been imagining encounters between the gently named Namaste and the shocked, cowering dogs and their owners whom she threatened.

Things are not always as they seem. Not even “namaste.”

I shudder to think about the sermon that will emerge from another innocently named “kingdom of heaven” parable on Sunday. (Matthew 22.1-14) We have grown accustomed to Jesus’ parables of the kingdom—seed, pearl, net, treasure—so we expect to be lulled into slumber by another bucolic image of God’s work in the world. Instead, Jesus’ parable comes out snarling and barking—a tiny little ineptly-named Namaste in biblical drag.

This Sunday, the kingdom of heaven is compared to an ill-tempered king who expects large crowds at his son’s wedding. When the invited guests disdain his invitation, the king murders them and burns their villages. Unwilling to present his son to an empty banquet hall, he instructs his servants to drag people into the party—good and bad, willing and unwilling, ready or not. If the parable were not ugly enough on its own, Jesus tops it off with an inexplicable statement of judgment and banishment to the outer darkness—where demons howl and the damned are tortured. A bloody wedding banquet. The gospel of the Lord?

I honestly don’t know what to do with this. The world around us is dark enough, without Jesus adding to the gloom. God is a vengeful king? Guests who fail to show can be executed? Dressing poorly gets you tossed into hell?  A dog named Namaste is more likely to attack than to wag? What does any of this mean?

Regardless of my homiletical readiness, we will gather, remotely, for Sunday Worship to hear the word of God and wonder at its meaning for our lives.

 

I also invite you to remain on the line after worship for a fascinating Vitality Talk about what it means to be citizens of a political world. Dr. Paul Nelson, recently retired Professor and Chair of the Religion Department at Wittenberg University, will offer a compact introduction to the ELCA’s newest social message, “Government and Civic Engagement in the United States: Discipleship in a Democracy.” The message is uniquely timely, and Paul brings deep experience as a teacher and interpreter of the faith. The Vitality Talk will launch at 10:45 a.m., after 10 a.m. worship, on the zoom link include below.

Though the name also belongs to an aggressive little dog, I bow to you, humbly grateful for the privilege of living these turbulent times with you. And I trust that, when we are together in Jesus’ name, things will be as they seem, as they ought to be.

Namaste,

Pastor JoAnn Post

Please Join Us for Sunday Worship and Vitality

On Sunday morning at 10 a.m., we host live Zoom Worship. (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.

Following worship, at 10:45 a.m., we invite you to join us on the same zoom link for a Vitality Talk with Dr. Paul Nelson.

The Notorious JC

The Notorious JC

Dear Friends,

My eyes filled with tears as I watched live coverage of events honoring the late, great Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I’m a sucker for well-done ritual, and a great admirer of Justice Ginsburg. But more than the events themselves, I was moved by the kindness and generosity expressed by her colleague justices. Though for almost three decades the justices daily challenged and disagreed, questioned and confronted, they share an underlying respect and affection palpable across the miles. And the aisles.

Who does that anymore? Who disagrees so agreeably? Who respects so respectfully? Who places the higher good above their own needs? Though I imagine the differences among the justices are deep and wide, at the end of the day, at the end of the session, at the end of a life, they regard one another with warmth, respect and genuine affection.   Who does that?

As we prepare for Sunday worship, I can’t go where Matthew’s gospel wants to take us. (Matthew 21.21-32) The text reveals open disdain for Jesus from the temple leaders. While he was teaching, chief priests and elders interrupted Jesus mid-sentence, regarding him with jaw-dropping disrespect. “Who gives you the right?” they challenged. “What makes you think you’re so smart?” I couldn’t read any further. That’s as far as I can go. We see that sort of disrespect and disdain daily in our political systems, and I just can’t go there today.

So, I flipped the page, looking for something more comforting, less discouraging, and found this:

If there is any encouragement in Christ,

any consolation from love,

any sharing in the Spirit,

any compassion and sympathy:

be of the same mind, have the same love, being in full accord.

Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

(Philippians 2.1ff)

Who does that?

The apostle Paul was writing to the congregation at Philippi, a congregation for which he had shameless affection. I think it is fair to say he loved them best. Rather than tearing them down, belittling or mocking them, he loved them, praised them, opened a window on to a new view of the world. Rather than finding fault he applauded excellence.

Perhaps there were deep divisions in the congregation in Philippi. But if there were, those deep divisions never overshadowed their common purpose and obvious love for one another. Rather than racing to be first, they fought for last place, “regarding others as better than yourself.” They longed to serve rather than to be served.

Who does that?

Here’s their secret. The congregation at Philippi didn’t invent humble service, or common purpose or sincere compassion. They learned it. They learned it from Jesus who, Paul continues, “did not equate equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, and became obedient.”

Most often, the world around us feels like the scene Matthew describes in Sunday’s gospel: pugnacious, delighting in another’s downfall, quick to find fault. And though we might be hard pressed to find models for faithful discipleship in the temple that day or among us now, we are not without opportunities to see, to live, to disciple differently.

Perhaps, like me, you find inspiration in the hard-fought cohesion and collegiality of the Supreme Court.

Perhaps, like me, you find inspiration in the loving, serving, mindful congregation in Philippi.

Perhaps, like me, you find inspiration in the model Jesus makes—servanthood, obedience, single-mindedness.

Who does that? Well, we do.

Following the Notorious JC,

Pastor JoAnn Post

Good Things Fall, Too

Good Things Fall, Too

Dear Friends,

We like to imagine that people “get what they deserve,” whether for good or for ill. We like to imagine that “bad” people come to bad ends (eventually) and that “good” people always win (eventually). I hate to break the news to you, but such a world view is hopelessly naïve and, even worse, potentially dangerous.

Consider the fires and smoke, the winds and waves, the victims of pandemic and economic emergency around us—verifiable “bad” things. Regardless of where we lay blame for these natural and financial catastrophes, the catastrophes themselves have no agency. Fire burns where it finds fuel. Smoke billows where wind carries it. Hurricanes roar where atmospheric conditions create them. Viruses attack without regard for one’s station in life. Even a financial crisis as deep and wide as the one we are experiencing, falls like a blanket on all landscapes. That some are more deeply impacted than others is a discussion for another day. But there is nomorality, no intention, no judgment on the part of the crisis itself. “Bad” things can happen to any of us.

Now that we’ve settled that (as if), my mind turns to Sunday’s gospel reading (Matthew 20.1-16), which argues the same point from the opposite direction.

Jesus adds an eighth “the kingdom of heaven is like . . .” parable on Sunday. In this case, the kingdom of heaven is like a vineyard owner who plucked workers from the local labor pool in the same way those day laborers would pluck grapes from his vines. It seems the vineyard owner is a poor manager, since he fails to hire enough pickers on his early morning foray to the labor pool. At 9 a.m. he hired more laborers, again at noon, at 3 and at 5 p.m.

Rather than criticize the vineyard owner’s quirky hiring practices, Jesus focuses on the unorthodox way he structures his compensation package. At the end of the day, the owner summoned the 5:00 hires first and peeled a thick wad of bills—a full day’s wage—from his pocket. The late-comers were both surprised and delighted, since they received far more than they deserved. The early birds saw the wad of bills that exchanged hands and began to salivate. “Hmm,” they calculated, “if the pluckers who showed up at the end of the day get the usual daily wage, imagine how much we will be paid, we who have been working from sunrise to sunset.”

Remember the lack of agency on the part of “bad” things? The early pluckers are about to learn that there is a complete lack of agency on the part of “good” things, too. Jesus’ fictional vineyard owner counted the same number of bills into the hands of all his day laborers—those who worked 15 hours and those who worked 15 minutes.  Each laborer went home with the same paycheck that night. A “good” thing happened to each of them, regardless of their deserving. Infuriating, right?

Fortunately for us, God is that foolish vineyardist. At the end of a day, at the end of a life, God does not regard us as we regard one another. Good or bad. Faithful or unfaithful. Worthy or unworthy. In a fit of foolish generosity, Jesus teaches and we believe that God is gracious to all. And that God’s magnanimous nature toward one doesn’t diminish God’s magnanimity toward another. God’s pocket is bottomless. Each of us receives from God not what we deserve, but what God chooses to give. And God chooses to give wildly, lavishly, generously.

Does that bother you? Does that seem somehow unfair? Apparently, Jesus’ hearers thought so. He reprimanded them, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Are you envious because I am generous?”

In a country that drips with “bad things” for so many, I am choosing to bask in the kingdom of God in which “good things” fall on our heads like cooling rain. I am loving God’s seemingly random generosity.

Jesus’ parable is a gift of cooling rain on my parched soul. There is “good” all around us, though it is often hidden behind a screen of smoke, a hurricane of horribles, a crush of crises.

Today I pray good things for all of us, regardless of who we are or what we have done. When God does the plucking, we all get picked.

Pastor JoAnn Post

God Intends It For good

God Intends It For good

Dear Friends,

“Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.” (Joseph, Genesis 50.15ff)

It was a bold statement on Joseph’s behalf. After decades of mistreatment at the hands of his brothers, all the while overseeing the explosive growth of Egypt’s economy, Joseph was able to take a God’s-eye view of his life. But it was only in retrospect, after years of anger and fear and confusion, that Joseph saw God at work. Even in this.

“Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.”

Today we mark the nineteenth anniversary of the unspeakable tragedy of terrorist attacks on American soil. We all remember where we were when the first airplane struck the World Trade Center. Some of us know those who died. Some of us can tell stories of having only narrowly missed being there that day. To use an overused adjective, the events of September 11, 2001 were “unprecedented” in our history. Is nineteen years long enough for us to see God’s good intentions at work. Even in this?

“Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.”

How many years will go by before we are able to see God’s good intention in our current “unprecedented” national tragedy? Years from now, after the dead have all been named and numbered, after the economic trauma of the pandemic has been tallied, after the liars and the truth-tellers have all been identified—will we then be able to see God working good among us?

I have chosen to preach on this complex text in this complex time on Sunday morning. Joseph’s willingness to forgive his brothers, coupled with his ability to see God at work in tragedy are both perplexing and inspiring to me. Please join us for worship—our first attempt to Zoom on Sunday morning. All the information about the morning—our 9:30 a.m. Vitality Talk, 10 a.m. Worship, 10:45 a.m. Coffee Hour—is included below.

As I sit down to write Sunday’s sermon, I am mindful of those who among us for whom this day is a day of mourning. We remember with you. I am mindful of those among us for whom the pandemic is more than an inconvenience. We see you. I am mindful of the chasm of political opinion growing daily wider in our country. We clasp one another’s hands across that divide.

I have learned, as have those of you who have suffered tragedy or turmoil, that we cannot make meaning out of our circumstance while in the midst of it. It is only after the fact, after we have suffered sleepless nights, gritted our teeth and forged ahead, leaned on one another for support, that we might be able to catch a glimpse of some God-intended good emerging from the harm we have suffered. Today I pray a glimpse of God’s good intent for you, in whatever sorrow or anger or fear or tragedy troubles you.

And perhaps we will one day be able to join Joseph in the bold claim, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.”

Pastor JoAnn Post

A Full Zoom Sunday

On Sunday morning we will gather for faith formation, worship and fellowship “live” by zoom.

We invite you to join us on Zoom at 9:30 a.m. for a Vitality Talk, during which we will launch our Holy Family Fall Challenge. We will take a brief break at 9:50 a.m. to give you time to prepare for worship.

At 10:00 a.m. we will launch Worship on that zoom link, our staff and worship leaders joining us from both the sanctuary and their homes. Also, for the first time in this pandemic season, we will offer Holy Communion during worship–virtually. In preparation for worship, you might consider creating a “sacred space” in your home. Bread and wine or juice. A candle. 

At 10:45 a.m. we will launch Zoom Coffee Hour, a 30-minute opportunity to see one another’s faces and chat. If the group chooses, we may break into chat rooms for easier conversation.

The Vitality Talk and Worship will be recorded, and posted later today for viewing by those who cannot join us “live.” Please use the Zoom link below to participate in any or all of Sunday’s events. You may join our activities at any time between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m., when the Zoom link will be active.

Because this is our first attempt at Zoom Sunday Morning, our efforts will be modest. Please be patient! If all goes well, we might gather by Zoom again in the future. “See” you later!

Sunday Zoom

Time: Sep 13, 2020 09:30 AM

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Meeting ID: 861 6871 4468

Passcode: 205154

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A Singing Farmer

A Singing Farmer

Dear Friends,

He sang at his own funeral. My uncle LeRoy, my mother’s youngest brother, died a few weeks ago, and on Saturday, sang at his own funeral. Sadly, I was unable to attend in person.

Uncle LeRoy sang in my home church in Iowa for weddings and funerals, Christmas and Easter, and always with the choir. His clear tenor voice was as lovely and gentle as his smile. I had not heard him sing in years, but on Saturday I “attended” his funeral on Facebook Live, and heard his voice again. Because of covid restrictions, there was no live congregational singing. So instead, LeRoy’s voice soared through the sanctuary on a recording of Malotte’s “Lord’s Prayer,” reducing us all to grateful tears.

Since his death, I often hear his voice in my heart. I woke one morning this week with the century-old Swedish hymn in my ears, “If I gained the world, but lost the Savior.” LeRoy sang it often. The text is based on Sunday’s gospel reading (Matthew 16.21-28), in which Jesus chastises Peter for trying to protect Jesus from his inevitable suffering and death: “God forbid it, Lord! This will never happen to you!”

According to Jesus, it is better to give one’s life willingly for the sake of the other, than to hold on to it for selfish gain.

The gospel reading dovetails nicely with the epistle reading (Romans 12.9-21):

“Let love be genuine.

Outdo one another in showing honor.

Extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.”

Though those words may be familiar, their sentiment has become foreign. Words I used to understand no longer mean what I thought they did.

“Enemy” is the word we use for anyone who disagrees with us.

“Liberty” is the word we use to justify our actions, often at the expense of other’s “liberty.”

“Safety” is the word we use to covertly signal our fear of our black and brown neighbors.

I am horrified by the violence around us—violence in speech, in action, in intent. The pictures of armed gunmen roaming the streets of Kenosha, not far from where some of our members live, nearly brought me to my knees. One of those men carrying a gun, self-identified as a “good guy,” killed two people. Is that what “good guys” do?

What is gained when we allow fear to overtake us; when we vilify our neighbors; when we meet our own needs and ignore the needs of others? What is gained when our speech and actions are so hateful, so small? And what is our witness to the world?

If you are looking for a better way to live, a more charitable way to think, a kinder way to move through the world, you need look no further than Jesus. You need do nothing but what he did. He was selfless. He was kind. He was generous. He loved his enemies.

How I long to hear my uncle sing again, a man whose song matched the way he lived. He was a man devoted to his family, generous with his friendship, patient in suffering, faithful even when the world was faithless. He sought nothing but to serve. And he taught us to do the same.

I leave you with one verse of the song that sings in my heart today. Imagine my uncle, a sun-burned farmer, wearing a crisp white short-sleeved dress shirt, tall and straight as a tree, singing his witness. Imagine my uncle LeRoy, disciple of Jesus who now sings again with my mom in the heavenly choir:

If I gained the world, but lost the Savior,

Were my life worth living for a day?

Could my yearning heart find rest and comfort

In the things that soon must pass away?

If I gained the world, but lost the Savior,

Would my gain be worth the lifelong strife?

Are all earthly pleasures worth comparing

For a moment with a Christ-filled life?

(Anna Olander, 1904)

Seeking to live as Jesus—and my uncle—taught,

Pastor JoAnn Post

Jesus’ Political Platform

Jesus’ Political Platform

Dear Friends,

If ever there was a contentious political platform, Sunday builds one.

If you are spending any of your screen time watching the two national political conventions, you are being rewarded with lots of partisan speeches about the goals and priorities of each party. For whom or what will they fight? Where will they invest our country’s capital? Who will they put in front of the camera? Who are their enemies? How far will they go to either attain or hold the Resolute Desk? Which party platform aligns with your personal priorities? But on Sunday, we won’t be talking about the platforms of the dueling political parties, each seeking our vote in the fall. We will be talking about the political platform on which Jesus stands in Matthew 16.

Here’s how the story starts: “Now, when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi . . .”

Ever heard of it? A region called Caesarea Philippi? I have. I’ve been there. Caesarea Philippi sits about 20 miles north of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. It has a storied political and religious past. First established as a monument to the god Pan, it became a magnet for worship of a multiplicity of pagan gods. To this day, you can see niches carved into rock that once protected statues of local deities. It also served as a summer home for wealthy Roman generals (think Lake Geneva for the Joint Chiefs of Staff) who, on occasion, entertained themselves there on cool summer nights by having political rivals or prisoners publicly murdered for sport. And then there’s the name: “Caesarea” for Caesar Augustus and “Philippi” for Emperor Philipp. (Wouldn’t you love to name a town after yourself? And, no, Postville, Iowa, is not my hometown.)

Think of it. As Sunday’s gospel opens, Jesus commands a political platform erected on ground saturated with pagan worship, political intrigue, royal hubris, military violence and innocent blood. And we thought our political fights were rough.

It is from that complicated political/military/religious platform that Jesus asks his disciples to claim their allegiance. First he asks, “Who do the people say that I am?” and second, “Who do YOU say that I am.” In other words, “Here, on this contested piece of real estate, who will you worship? Who will you trust?”

He might ask us the same. Who do we worship? Who do we trust? And how might our understanding of who he is impact the way we live, the way we vote?

Long ago, we lost the ability to differentiate “political” from “partisan.”  Those of us who are faithful to scripture cannot help but be “political” because Jesus was. Preachers struggle during election seasons like this because no matter what we say, someone will accuse us of using our platform for partisan purposes. I once, in a previous parish, said the word “president” in a sermon, and was lambasted at the door for foisting my political views from the pulpit. I once was accused of rewriting scripture for my own purposes when reading the Magnificat, “The powerful will be dethroned and the lowly will be lifted.” (Luke 1.52) “Socialism! The Bible doesn’t say that!” I was informed. Take it up with the Virgin.

The AAUW (American Association of University Women) draws the distinction this way: Political work can be characterized by shared values, working toward a common goal, and an end result that is best for the community as a whole. Partisan activities have a firm adherence to a party, faction, or person.

Jesus was not “partisan,” but he was shamelessly “political.” He was all about creating community, protecting the vulnerable, using resources for good. It was his highly political nature that got him in trouble with the authorities who wanted him to take sides, to align, to salute, to be partisan. Authorities, both religious and political, wanted him to adopt their platforms—a particular way of worshipping, of teaching, of living. But Jesus would not. And for shamelessly advocating and advancing God’s greater good, he was assassinated by both religious and political enemies.

These are exciting, fraught days in our common life. We both hope and fear in equal measure. We assess the political winds, hoping they will blow our country and communities toward health and peace and purpose. Whom do we worship? Who do we trust? Where does our allegiance lie?

I invite you to join me for remote worship on Sunday, where Jesus will climb the platform at Caesarea Philippi and preach.

“See” you Sunday,

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

The Kingdom of Heaven is like . . .

The Kingdom of Heaven is like . . .

Dear Friends,

On Sunday, we engage Jesus’ description of the Kingdom of Heaven for a third week. Already we have learned that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a sower who sowed seed everywhere, and a second sower whose good seed was compromised by weeds. This week Jesus throws five new images at us, all in an effort to describe what God’s work among us looks like: a mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, a merchant, a net. (Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52) Even Jesus struggles to describe it.

With your permission, I add another image to the conversation, an image of the Kingdom of Heaven that captures, for me, the significance of the seemingly insignificant, when used for God’s purposes.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a cup of tea.

For almost eight years, every Thursday afternoon at 3 p.m. in a previous parish, I visited my friend and neighbor for a cup of tea. The tea conversations began over shared congregational concerns: she served on our Mutual Ministry Committee and coordinated our Homebound Ministry. Initially, we met to discuss that work, but gradually those work conversations turned into a friendship, and we rarely missed our Thursday tea conversations. In eight years.

I realized, standing at the post office this week to mail her birthday gift, that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a cup of tea with a friend. Seemingly insignificant. Remarkably ordinary. Bursting with life and hope and strength. Over tea, she and I shared one another’s joys and sorrows, prayed for our families and friends, reviewed books, discussed matters both trivial and profound. Those tea dates were most life-giving in the year I was forced to practice social distancing because I was on medical leave for cancer treatment. My health was too precarious, my energy too diminished to risk engagement with the world. For a full year, I ventured no further than the treatment center and a few friends’ homes. I was physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually distant from most of the world.

During that year of cancer treatment, I was not always able to keep our weekly appointment. But on those Thursdays when I had even a scrap of energy, I found my way to her kitchen table for tea. I was safe there. I was loved there. I could be honest there. I could laugh and cry there—sometimes simultaneously. It might seem like a small thing—a cup of tea—but if you have ever had such a friend, you will understand:

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a cup of tea.

As we physically distance from one another because of the pandemic, we find joy and courage from small things. On Sunday we offer such a small thing (weather permitting). We invite you to the Celebration of Life Garden for an opportunity to share the Lord’s Supper. Briefly. Simply. Keeping our distance. But I long for that meal now as I long for a cup of tea with a friend 1,000 miles away.

I trust you see the Kingdom of Heaven, evidence of God, in tiny things in your life. A cup of tea. An unexpected kindness. A “smeyes” (smiling only with the eyes while masked) from a stranger. A peaceful night’s sleep. What does the Kingdom of Heaven look like for you? That ordinary thing that reveals God’s extraordinary goodness?

Perhaps we will see one another on Sunday for Communion in the Garden. Perhaps we will be present only through our fondness for one another and our shared confidence in God’s goodness. Regardless of how or when we see one another, know that signs of the Kingdom of Heaven are all around.

Pastor JoAnn Post

PS Happy Birthday! I wish we could share a cup of birthday tea.

 

Jesus Goes Viral

Jesus Goes Viral

Dear Friends,

We sang with wild abandon. For the first time in four months, we sang. In public. Masks off. Hymnals in hand. Because I was on camera, I had to control my tears, but it was hard not to weep for joy.

Under what possible circumstance would someone be so irresponsible as to sing in a pandemic, spreading tuneful droplets into everyone else’s air? Don’t worry. We were absolutely safe.

I preached yesterday at a retirement community in our neighborhood, where a number of our members reside, and with whom I have a long and collegial relationship. The center hosts chapel for their residents every Thursday, though since early March the worship service has been live-streamed into resident’s homes and apartments. The chaplains have started inviting others into the facility to preach. “I think the residents are a little tired of our faces,” they said.

So, after threading the single, secure driveway on to the property, masking up, passing the temperature check, verifying my good health, signing in and slathering in sanitizer, I was invited into their chapel. The steps to entry were not as onerous as I had imagined. And it was worth it to enter their bright worship space to preach. To sing. To pray in the presence of three (strategically distanced) other worship leaders.

As we sang, I was conscious of the danger we posed. Studies indicate that aerosols launched by a singer can travel 26 feet through the air. Who could have imagined, even four months ago, that I would have at my fingertips scientifically-verified data about aerosol spread, contact contamination, social distancing, and the emotional/spiritual toll of isolation? But I do. You do, too. We have all become experts on viral spread.

How ironic that the text on which I was preaching was about just such a launch, just as wide a throw, just as dangerous an experiment. Just such viral spread.

“A sower went out to sow,” I read to the camera. “And as he sowed, seeds went absolutely everywhere. Hard path. Rocky ground. Thorns. Rich loam.” Like virus particles expelled absolutely everywhere, the sower in Jesus’ parable sowed with wild abandon. (Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23) But Jesus wasn’t launching illness, he was launching hope. Foolish hope that some of those wildly scattered seeds would take root and grow.

The 45-minutes I spent in the presence of others yesterday, spreading droplets with great joy, offered a different take on the familiar text of the Sower and the Seed. Throwing both caution and seed to the wind, Jesus’ farmer littered the earth and air with words of hope. And like the unmasked shopper who arrogantly roams the aisles of my local grocery store and enrages others, Jesus’ indiscriminate sower drove his hearers to madness.

What is he thinking? Why so wasteful? He is trespassing! Who knows what vermin these seeds will draw?  Who knows how much avian output (bird poop) will be dropped by the birds those seeds will attract?

It was just Jesus going viral. In a good way. A hopeful way. A life-giving way.

It will be some time before I have opportunity sing, unmasked again. But our leaders and staff at Ascension are crafting plans, imagining ways to be together again for worship (with limits), to spread the gospel like seed, like virus. Until we see one another again in person, I pray Jesus’ foolish launch sprouts in your home, your heart. That the good news of the gospel—unquestioning welcome, limitless forgiveness, passionate love—will float, virally, to you.

“See” you Sunday.

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

Not in Chicago Anymore

Not in Chicago Anymore

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

“See” you Sunday,

Pastor JoAnn Post