Thursday, March 31, 2016

Rise! Shine! Wake Up!

Sermon preached Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016

Texts: Luke 24:1-12

            “Love Is All Around” Sonny Curtis (Mary Tyler Moore Theme song):
            So this may have caught you a bit off-guard, particularly on Easter Sunday morning, maybe striking you as a little inappropriate.  Take some comfort in knowing that at least I did not use the Husker Du version of the song (
            The Mary Tyler Moore show was set in Minneapolis.  It was about a young woman from a small Minnesota town taking a job as an associate producer for a television news station in the Twin Cities.  Though a sit-com, it was ground-breaking in many ways, particularly in depicting a strong, single career woman.  But life is not always easy for Mary.
            In one episode of the program, Mary is feeling discouraged about her life.  Things seem to have become dull and routine.  Mary is desperate enough to take advice from Ted, the self-involved, less than Einstein, news anchor at her station.  Ted: “You want to change your life, Mary, I’ll tell you how to change your life.  I’ve known you for six years now, and I know exactly what’s wrong with your life.  You wake up.  You eat breakfast.  You drive to work. You say hello to your friends.  You work at your job.  You go to lunch.  You work some more.  You say goodbye to your friends.  You drive home.  You have dinner.  You sit down.  You watch television.  You read a magazine and you go to sleep.  Am I right?”  Mary nods.  “You want to change your life completely this is what you’ve got to do, starting tomorrow.  Wake up!  Eat your breakfast!  Drive to work!  Say hello to your friends!  Work at your job!  Go to lunch!  Work some more!  Say goodbye to your friends!  Drive home!  Have dinner!  Sit down.  Watch some television.  Read a magazine and go to sleep.  (
            This morning’s sermon title, “Rise, Shine, Wake Up” may lead you to think that Easter is all about positive thinking, about waking up, eating your breakfast, driving to work….  Is that all there is to Easter?  Is today about nothing more than positive thinking?  Is it just about turning the world on with a smile?  And all because of a past event?
            I don’t think so, and frankly, we need more than that.  Positive thinking matters and has its place.  It may be all that we need if our only problems are feeling that our lives are a little dull and routine, though it is often the case that such feelings are but the tip of an iceberg of a deeper existential depression.  Existential depression, distinct from clinical depression, is a penetrating feeling that we are not quite alive, that our lives have little meaning, little joy.  It is something more than can be resolved in a thirty-minute sit-com.
            Positive thinking may be adequate if we are just feeling a little blue, that our lives are a little dull.  If our despair sinks deeper we need more.  When we look at our world we know we need more than positive thinking.
            Just this week, Brussels joined Paris and San Bernardino in lists of places that remind us of the depth of violence in our world.  Our daughter Beth was flying into Kosovo the same morning we heard about Brussels.  We are so grateful that she is fine, but our hearts ache for those whose children or family members were killed or maimed.  For the past number of years, I have on Good Friday listened to a piece of music composed in remembrance of the events of September 11, 2001 – John Adams, “On the Transmigration of Souls.”  (  It reminds me of how complex and difficult and sometimes violent our world is.
            Friday, UNICEF released a report saying that nearly 87 million children age 7 and younger have known nothing in their lives but conflict.  Children living in such situations are often exposed to extreme trauma, putting them at risk of living in a state of toxic stress, a thus inhibiting brain cell connections -- with significant life-long consequences to their cognitive, social and physical development.
            We could say so much more.  There is a persistence of poverty in our nation and in our world.  Racial and tribal divisions still plague humankind.  Addictions imprison too many, with heroin addiction tragically on the rise here in the U.S.
            In such a world, positive thinking is not enough.  We need more.  We need the more of Easter.  In Easter, death, despair, injustice, oppression are not brushed aside with the advice to simply accentuate the positive.  Easter acknowledges a difficult, complicated world, acknowledges death, despair, injustice, oppression, but all are overcome.  Life, joy, hope, healing, reconciliation, repair and love, seemingly buried, burst forth into life, burst forth in ways that can almost seem to be an idle tale.  Why look for the living among the dead?  God is a God of life, and the way of God is the way of life, joy, hope, healing, reconciliation, repair and love overcoming the very real death, despair, injustice and oppression of our world.
            Theologian Jurgen Moltmann writes well about this in his recent book The Living God and the Fullness of LifeEaster is a festival of freedom (193).  But the festival of freedom has another effect as well….  When freedom is near, the chains begin to chafe.  When the Spirit of the risen Christ lays hold of men and women at the center of what oppresses them, they become aware of their loneliness.  When they become aware of their diminished life, then the celebrated life awakens the hunger for real life, and the celebrated freedom awakens the cry for true liberation.  Then a remembrance of this festival emanates into everyday life….  It acts as a counter-image to the lonely and reduced life, awakens the will for an uprising against the oppressions, and gives courage to the hope for change. (195) 
Underlying this dynamic of the energy of Easter emanating out is another idea Moltmann puts well.  Joy is the meaning of human life.  Human beings were created in order to have joy in God (195).  Life in joy is already an anticipation of eternal life; the goodly life here is already the beginning of the glorious life there; fulfilled life here points beyond itself to the fullness of life there.  In joy over the hoped-for-future, we live here and now, completely and wholly, weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice….  Life in hope… is a whole life awakening in the daybreak colors of eternal life. (190)
Positive thinking tends to wither under the real pressures of a difficult world.  It wilts under the barrage of bad news.  It retreats when the pain and hurt become too intense.  Easter, and the God of the risen Christ, releases an energy into the world that strengthens us, that gives us the hope and courage to live with joy – a whole life awakening in the daybreak colors of eternal life.
The novel, The Shipping News is about a man named Quoyle.  Deeply hurt in a first marriage, Quoyle seeks to escape all of that by moving with his two daughters from New York State to a small town on the Newfoundland coast.  At thirty-six, bereft, brimming with grief and thwarted love, Quoyle steered away to Newfoundland, the rock that had generated his ancestors, a place he had never been nor thought to go. (1)  Quoyle gets a job with a local newspaper, and tries as best he can to be a good worker, a good person and, most of all, a good father.  But he does not want his life opened up much – too much hurt and pain there, better to live narrowly.
The novel tells his story wonderfully, and it ends beautifully.  Eventually, Quoyle’s life opens in fits and starts, a relationship develops, and the ending is an Easter moment.  Quoyle experienced moments in all colors, uttered brilliancies, paid attention to the rich sound of waves counting stones, he laughed and wept, noticed sunsets, heard music in rain, said I do….  It may be that love sometimes occurs without pain or misery. (337)
This is more than positive thinking.  The God of Easter, the God of the risen Christ, through Easter, releases energy into our lives and into our world.  We can hope and work courageously for love and justice and reconciliation and repair, trusting that none of our work is in vain, for this is the very work of God in the world, and God is with us in the risen Christ.  We can know joy as the meaning of life, even as we see all the pain and hurt in the world.  We will weep, but we will also dance, and God weeps and dances with us.  Because of Easter, we can live a whole life awakening in the daybreak colors of eternal life.  Because of the energy, the Spirit let loose in Easter we can experience moments in all colors, utter brilliancies, pay attention to the rich sound of waves counting stones, laugh and weep, notice sunsets, hear music in rain.

So rise!  So shine!  So wake up!  Christ is risen.  And because Christ is risen, we might just turn the world around with our smiles, smiles radiating the joy of a love that is indeed all around, a love more powerful than any grim, bleak stuff life can throw our way (Anne Lamott), a love which raised Jesus.  Amen.

Strange Fruit

Sermon preached Good Friday, March 25, 2016

Texts: Tenebrae readings from John’s gospel

            Do you ever consider some of the events that took place in your birth year?  In 1959, yes, that is sounding longer ago all the time – in 1959 Hitchcock’s North By Northwest and Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot were released into theaters.  A few seminal jazz albums were released: Miles Davis, Kind of Blue; Dave Brubeck Quartet, Take Five.  Buddy Holly died in 1959, as did three famous jazz musicians: Sidney Bechet, Lester Young, and Billie Holiday.
            If you know the music of Billie Holiday, you will never forget her voice.  She has a way with a song, and one song that she made famous was quite unusual, “Strange Fruit.”  The song is unusual because it is about racism in the United States and includes startling imagery about lynching. 
Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

            The song, penned in 1937 and recorded by Holiday first in 1939 was intended to raise consciousness about race relations in the United States.  It has been put into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
            A song about lynching has a strange relationship with today, for the story we tell is about a death, a death that was also a miscarriage of justice.  Jesus was executed by an empire threatened by his popularity and by his challenges to both political and religious authorities.
            But I want to take the idea of “strange fruit” in a different direction for just a few minutes, before we hear the story again.  I think we tell this story because it has and continues to produce “strange fruit” in the world.  When someone is executed unjustly, we would expect that injustice to produce the fruits of anger, rebellion, vengeance and violence.  Our world tears itself a part because of the fruit of violence enacted, the fruit of revenge taken.  Shiites in Iraq, long repressed by Sadaam Hussein in turn mistreat Sunnis, and some of those Sunnis are now the backbone of ISIS.  It is an old, old story.
            Jesus death produces a strange fruit, though.  Instead of vengeance, compassion is produced.  Instead of the narrowness of anger, this death often leads to a wider perspective.  While this death reveals how awful human persons can be, it also shows how deep love can go, and how strong and courageous it can be.  That’s why we tell this story again and again, because of the power it has to produce seemingly strange fruit.  This story still has the power to send ripples of love, ripples of justice, ripples of joy into the world.
            Lawrence Ferlinghetti, a poet famous in the 1950s, published in 1958 his well-known book A Coney Island of the Mind, and in that book was a poem entitled “Christ Climbed Down.”  The images are from both Good Friday and Christmas.  Let me share just a few lines.
Christ climbed down
from his bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary’s womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody’s anonymous soul
He awaits again
an unimaginable
and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the very craziest
of Second Comings

            When we hear this story again, we also remember that Jesus does not stay crucified, dead and buried.  He climbs down from his bare tree, rises up from the tomb leaving it empty, and produces strange fruit in those who follow.

            As we hear this story again – wrenching, piercing, puzzling – may it dig deep into the soil of our souls.  May that soil be turned over, ready to receive seeds that will produce fruits of love, justice, joy, reconciliation – strange fruits for a death to produce, the very craziest of Second Comings.  Amen.

All Y'All

Sermon preached Holy Thursday, March 24, 2016

Texts: Luke 22:14-27; John 13:1-17, 34-35

            When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him.  A meal is happening here, a holiday meal.  “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”
            If the internet is any guide, holiday meals can be their own kind of suffering.  I typed “How To Survive a Family Dinner” into an internet search, and found some fascinating results.  Many centered on Thanksgiving, but the advice might apply to Easter meals, too.  I came across a photo, part of a billboard for a liquor store: “If your family is coming over Thursday you’re going to need some booze.”  Probably not really good advice for surviving family holiday dinners.  There was some better:  avoid controversial subjects, accept criticism gracefully, seat people strategically, leave early – that’s a lot easier if you are not hosting the dinner, give challenging relatives an assignment, invite buffers – though I am not sure people would appreciate knowing they were being invited as “buffers” - - - they might begin to act out, defeating the whole purpose of having them present as “buffers.”
            Holiday dinners can be difficult.  This last dinner with the disciples takes place under the shadow of conflict in Jerusalem, and the threat of death (22:2).  Earlier in Luke, chapter 22, we read, “Then Satan entered Judas.”  That’s rather ominous for a dinner companion.  Later in that same chapter, just after Jesus shares bread and wine, the disciples dispute about who might be the greatest.  Sometimes the disciples are not the sharpest tools in the shed.  Right after that, Jesus tells Peter that he will betray him.  This is the table around which Jesus gathers for Passover.  Talk about your potentially dysfunctional holiday gatherings.
            But in the midst of all this, Jesus does something special.  In Luke, as in Matthew and Mark, Jesus, following the meal, takes bread – blesses it, breaks it, shares it as symbolic of his own life.  He takes a cup – blesses it, shares it as symbolic of his own life.  In John, something different happens.  In John, Jesus last meal is not a Passover meal, but occurs in the days of preparation for Passover.  Here he takes a basin and washes the feet of his disciples.  He brings it all together with simple, yet powerful and memorable words.  “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.  By this will everyone know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
            The people Jesus brings together are ordinary people, people like you and me.  We might have the ability to be difficult meal guests sometimes.  We have our issues and struggles.  Yet we find our unity in sharing simple gifts of bread and water and wine.  In these simple gifts, our souls and spirits are nourished and nurtured, for we find Jesus in the sharing.  In sharing bread together, and in feeding others, Jesus becomes more real to us.  In sharing water together, in caring for basic needs, in offering refreshment, Jesus becomes more real to us.  In celebrating together with the wine of joy when there is healing, new life, redemption, Jesus becomes more real to us.
            Jesus works with us and in us, and brings us together to do some work as well.  The quality of our community life together says something deep and real about the quality of our spirituality.  By this will everyone know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.  In many ways, that is what this night is all about, simple gifts, shared together, and the creation of a more loving community, in the name and spirit of Jesus.  It is about making Jesus more real in our lives and in our world.
            One of the most helpful stories about being the kind of community Jesus invites us to be is a story I first heard in a Scott Peck book.  I’ve told the story before, but it is a story worth hearing again, “The Rabbi’s Gift.” (The Different Drum, adapted)
            The story concerns a monastery that had fallen upon hard times. It was once a great order, but because of persecution or neglect or disinterest, all its branch houses were lost and there were only five monks left in the decaying central house: the abbot and four others, all over seventy in age. Clearly it was a dying order.
In the deep woods surrounding the monastery there was a little hut that a rabbi occasionally used for a hermitage. The old monks had become a bit psychic, so they could always sense when the rabbi was in his hermitage. "The rabbi is in the woods, the rabbi is in the woods" they would whisper. It occurred to the abbot that a visit the rabbi might result in some advice to save his monastery.
The rabbi welcomed the abbot to his hut. But when the abbot explained his visit, the rabbi could say, "I know how it is".  "The spirit has gone out of the people. It is the same in my town. Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore." So the old abbot and the old rabbi wept together. Then they read parts of the Torah and spoke of deep things. When the abbot had to leave, they embraced each other. "It has been a wonderful that we should meet after all these years," the abbot said, "but I have failed in my purpose for coming here. Is there nothing you can tell me that would help me save my dying order?"  "No, I am sorry," the rabbi responded. "I have no advice to give. But, I can tell you that the Messiah is one of you."
When the abbot returned to the monastery his fellow monks gathered around him to ask, "Well what did the rabbi say?" “The rabbi said something very mysterious, it was something cryptic. He said that the Messiah is one of us. I don't know what he meant?"
In the time that followed, the old monks wondered whether there was significance to the rabbi's words. The Messiah is one of us? Could he possibly have meant one of us monks? If so, which one?
Do you suppose he meant the abbot? Yes, if he meant anyone, he probably meant Father Abbot. He has been our leader for more than a generation. On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas. Certainly Brother Thomas is a holy man. Everyone knows that Thomas is a man of light. Certainly he could not have meant Brother Elred! Elred gets crotchety at times. But come to think of it, even though he is a thorn in people's sides, when you look back on it, Elred is virtually always right. Often very right. Maybe the rabbi did mean Brother Elred. But surely not Brother Phillip. Phillip is so passive, a real nobody. But then, almost mysteriously, he has a gift for always being there when you need him. He just magically appears. Maybe Phillip is the Messiah.
Of course the rabbi didn't mean me. He couldn't possibly have meant me. I'm just an ordinary person. Yet supposing he did? Suppose I am the Messiah? O God, not me. I couldn't be that much for You, could I?
As they contemplated, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the chance that one among them might be the Messiah. And they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect.
People still occasionally came to visit the monastery in its beautiful forest to picnic on its tiny lawn, to wander along some of its paths, even to meditate in the dilapidated chapel. As they did so, they sensed the aura of extraordinary respect that began to surround the five old monks and seemed to radiate out from them and permeate the atmosphere of the place. There was something strangely compelling, about it. Hardly knowing why, they began to come back to the monastery to picnic, to play, to pray. They brought their friends to this special place. And their friends brought their friends.
Then some of the younger men who came to visit the monastery started to talk more and more with the old monks. After a while one asked if he could join them. Then another, and another. So within a few years the monastery had once again become a thriving order and, thanks to the rabbi's gift, a vibrant center of light and spirituality.
            God’s love in Jesus is for each of us.  The offer of Jesus own life and spirit is to each of us.  God’s love in Jesus is also for all of us together.  The quality of our community says something deep and real about the quality, the health and well-being, of our spirituality.  By our love will people know that we are disciples of Jesus, and that love is meant to be open.  There is always room for more in the community of Jesus, at the table of Jesus. This community is an “all y’all” community, and the quality of our life together says something deep and real about the quality, the health and well-being, of our spirituality.
            A few years ago a new worship song was written that expresses this all so well.  I want to end by sharing a few of the words of that song with you.
            For everyone born, a place at the table, for everyone born, clean water and bread, a shelter, a space, a safe space for growing, for everyone born, a star overhead.  For everyone born, a place at the table, live without fear, and simply to be, to work to speak out, to witness and worship, for everyone born, the right to be free.  And the chorus rings out: And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice and joy!

            Something happened that night – bread, wine, water, the beginning of a community where everyone might visible and valued and respected, where everyone might have a place at the table, a community of love, of justice and joy.  May something happen tonight – in bread, wine and water, the continuing of a community where everyone is visible and valued and respected, where everyone has a place at the table, a community of love, of justice and joy.  Amen.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Good Grief

Sermon preached Palm/Passion Sunday, March 20, 2016

Texts: Luke 19:28-40; Luke 23:32-49

            Type “Famous People Born in Minnesota” into an internet search engine and you get an interesting list of names: Judy Garland, Jessica Lange, Jessica Biel, Bob Dylan, Prince, Garrison Keillor, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Jessie Ventura.  On any list of famous people born in Minnesota you will find Charles Schultz.  Schultz is a Minnesota treasure. The cartoonist, best known for Peanuts and its cast of characters – Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, and Snoopy, was born in Minneapolis in 1922.  Just last year The Peanuts Movie was released to generally favorable reviews.  One critic said that the movie “feels like the return of an old friend.”
            Schultz thought cartoonists should say something with their work.  If you do not say anything in a cartoon, you might as well not draw it at all.  Humor which does not say anything is worthless humor.  So I contend that a cartoonist must be given a chance to do his own preaching.  (Short, The Gospel According to Peanuts, 7)
            Lucy is talking with Charlie Brown.  It is a bit of a reversal.  Afterall, Lucy is the one with her own “business” – “Psychiatric Help, 5¢”.  Here she is sharing with Charlie.  “Sometimes I get discouraged.”  “Well, Lucy, life has its ups and downs, you know…”  “But why?  Why should it?  Why can’t my life be all Ups?  If I want all Ups, why can’t I have them?  Why can’t I just move from one ‘Up’ to another ‘Up’?  Why can’t I just go from an ‘Up’ to an ‘Upper-Up’?  I don’t want any ‘downs’!  I just want ‘ups’ and ‘ups’ and ups’!” (Short, The Gospel According to Peanuts, 84)
            Wouldn’t we like to go from up to up to up?  Don’t we just want to go from Palm Sunday to Easter, from a Palm Parade to an Easter Parade?  We want ups and ups and ups.  But then someone decided to make Palm Sunday also Passion Sunday.  Then someone else made a decision to examine “challenging emotions” for Lent and today that challenging emotion is “grief.”  No going from an up to an upper-up for us.
            As Jesus rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road [Sorry to say, Luke has no palms on palm Sunday].  As he was approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” (Luke 19:37-38)
            And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts (Luke 23:48)  This is an acknowledgement of loss.  It is a gesture of grief.  We all know grief because we have all known loss.  We know it well, because loss and grief are part of the human experience.  Since 2009, in our family, we have lost, among others, my dad, Julie’s mom, my grandma, a little dog.  My uncle is struggling with the loss of his sight.  As a congregation we have grieved many beloved people.  Sometimes I look out from here and remember just where many sat.  I know the grief some of you have gone through, and are going through, and I thank you for the courage it takes to examine grief, even as it feels so fresh.  Someone once described grief to me as like the chorus in a Greek play – always present, sometimes center stage, but often not, yet it does not simply disappear.
            Grief is the experience of loss, of feeling loss, of mourning loss.  Feeling grief is an indication that we care, that we love.  Many wise people have linked our capacity for grief with our capacity to feel other, more “up” feelings, and we will hear from them in a bit.  In II Corinthians, Paul writes about “godly grief” (7:9-10) by which he means feeling bad when our consciences have been moved.  That is a different kind of grief than we are discussing this morning, but I think we can also think about godly grief.  All good grief, that is, grief felt and worked with well, all good grief is godly grief, because all good grief helps us grow.  In the words of St. Irenaeus, “the glory of God is a human person fully alive.”
            So in this week in the church when we will go from celebration to grief and back to celebration, lets explore good grief, godly grief – grief felt, listened to, worked with well that ends up growing us.
            Therapist Francis Weller, whose work is a rather recent discovery for me, writes that we would do well to re-conceive grief.  Grief is less an event in our lives, a period of mourning, though it is that, but even more, grief is “an on-going conversation that accompanies us throughout life.  Grief and loss are with us continually, shaping our walk through life, and in some real way, determining how fully we engage our lives.”  (The Wild Edge of Sorrow, 4).  Weller is trying to put us in touch not only with the deep losses that move us to enter periods of mourning, but with the smaller losses that are also a part of life.  We age, and lose some capacities.  We lose opportunities.  We lose jobs, either by changing jobs or by retiring, and retirement has a dimension of grief to it.
            Sometimes stages in grieving are identified.  If you have ever taken a class on death and dying, you know the Kubler-Ross stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.  These can be helpful, but we need to know that grief is often messier than this, not always so neat.  One of the ways thinking about grief in this way has been helpful to me recently is in thinking about our society.  Have you noticed how much anger there is in our society, how much anger has become a topic of discussion in our politics?  Injustice can invite anger, but so can grief, and I have been wondering lately how much of the anger in our politics is a part of grief over a world that we seem to have lost – a simpler world.  Yet anger is not meant to be a permanent landing place in grief, and I think we could use some good grief work, along with political analysis.
            In our individual lives, anger can be a part of grief, too, but is not meant to be a landing place, but a stage.
            So grief has many dimensions, even if they are messier than denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  And back to the most important point, good grief can grow us.  While grief is difficult, it is good that we feel grief, because it is a part of feeling love.  If we did not love, if we did not care, we would not grieve.  We also would not live very fully.  Here are those words from wise teachers who have helped me understand the connection between grief and growth.
            Elizabeth Lesser, The New American Spirituality, 180: The opposite of happiness is a closed heart.  Happiness is a heart so soft and so expansive that it can hold all of the emotions in a cradle of openness.  A happy heart is one that is larger at all times than any one emotion.  An open heart feels everything – including anger, grief, and pain – and absorbs it into a bigger and wiser experience of reality….  We may think that by closing the heart we’ll protect ourselves from feeling the pain of the world, but instead we isolate ourselves even more from joy….  The opposite of happiness is a fearful, closed heart.  Happiness is ours when we go through our anger, fear, and pain, all the way to our sadness, and then slowly let sadness develop into tenderness.
            Francis Weller, The Sun, October 2015:  The work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other and to be stretched large by them.  How much sorrow can I hold?  That’s how much gratitude I can give.  If I carry only grief, I’ll bend toward cynicism and despair.  If I have only gratitude, I’ll become saccharine and won’t develop much compassion for other people’s suffering.  Grief keeps the heart fluid and soft, which helps make compassion possible.
            Good grief, godly grief, is keeping the conversation with our lives, including our losses, going.  It is the courage of the heart and soul, sustained by God’s Spirit, to stay present to our grief, to feel its many dimensions, but not get stuck along the way – not get stuck in anger, not get stuck in a depressive sadness that paralyzes us.

            The final week of Jesus’ life is a story of courage – coming to Jerusalem, letting the joy of people show, staying true to his mission of teaching and healing, facing mocking and finally, death.  The story of the final week of Jesus’ life is also a story of tenderness and compassion, which are particularly evident on Thursday.  From Jesus we can draw courage to engage our grief well, and engaging grief well leads to compassion, tenderness, a larger heart, new life.  And that is the promise that comes with our willingness to courageously work with our challenging emotions, that there is new life on the other side, that there is resurrection, that Easter is coming.  Amen.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

In a Stew

Sermon preached on March 13, 2016

Texts: John 12:1-8

            Dear Abby: Ten years ago, when I lived in California, I dated the love of my life, “Tammy.”  We were perfect together, and I was often amazed by how much I loved her, which was palpable.  After about two years we broke up, and I moved 3,000 miles away.  My rebound relationship lasted a decade and produced a beautiful baby boy.  After it recently ended, I reached out to Tammy.  We hadn’t communicated in 10 years, and I learned that she is married with three kids and she’s miserable.  She said she misses me and has never stopped loving me.  We talk on the phone often, and she says she wants to see me.  I have no idea where this is going, but I’d love to see her.  We have decided that we will abide by your advice.  What should I do?  Nostalgic in New York
            What a lot of feelings – nostalgia, longing, unhappiness, concern, sadness, angst, maybe love.  Emotional life is turbulent, writes psychoanalytic psychologist Michael Eigen (Coming Throught the Whirlwind, 178).  Another psychologist, Charles Spezzano, writes: The meaning of life lies precisely in the apparently insane mix of emotions such as love, loneliness, and rejection that characterize all relationships (What To Do Between Birth and Death, 49)
            The letter to Dear Abby, which appeared in Friday’s newspaper is filled with a mixed-up confusion of emotion.  I had considered calling this sermon, “Mixed-up Confusion” after a really early Bob Dylan song.  I was worried, though, that you might take mixed-up confusion and expect a sermon on our contemporary presidential politics.
            Mixed-up confusion, an emotional stew.  Such things can be found not simply in the “Dear Abby” column in the newspaper, but also in our Scriptures, like this morning’s Scripture reading.
            Look at all that is going on here.  Jesus comes to Bethany, the home of  Lazarus, the man who Jesus raised from the dead.  They gave a dinner for him. Martha served.  Now isn’t that just like Martha, except the story of her serving is not found in John, but only in Luke (10).  Anyway, Martha serves, Lazarus is at the table, and his other sister, Mary takes a pound of costly perfume, made of pure nard, and anoints Jesus feet, wiping them with her hair.  The fragrance radiated through the entire house.  Here we have joy, and welcoming, and deep love.  There is an objection, though.  Judas Iscariot, the keeper of the common purse thinks this extravagant and a waste.  “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?”  We get a side authorial note.  Judas does not really care about the poor.  He is skimming money from the common treasury, and is angry that an opportunity for more money is being missed.  We have feelings of anger and deceit, and perhaps a modicum of guilt coming out sideways.  Jesus stands up for Mary, grateful for her kindness in the face of his impending death.  There will be other opportunities to help the poor.
            This is quite an emotional stew, isn’t it?   There is an awful lot stirring around here.  Our own lives might often be found in an emotional stew.  Emotional life is turbulent in many ways.  Our emotions don’t simply arrive one at a time, clearly and distinctly.  Emotions can come at us wave upon wave, simultaneously pulling us in one direction and another.  What do we do when we are in an emotional stew?
            Additionally, matters become more complex when we also come together in groups.  The emotional stew described in John 12 is a group stew.  To be sure, Judas has multiple emotions going on inside him – his feelings of disappointment at not being able to get his hands on more money, the guilt feelings knowing he was being deceitful, and perhaps some genuine feelings of concern for the poor.  We wonder if anyone else at the table thought Mary’s actions too extravagant, if not financially, perhaps emotionally.  There may have been annoyance.  How could you possibly smell good food amid all that perfume?
            That we feel is a good thing.  Our emotions are an important part of who we are, and a vital part of God’s good creation.  Yet our emotions can be challenging, especially when they come at us in waves.  Our emotions can be challenging, and sometimes we need to not only feel and acknowledge them but also challenge them.  So what do we do when in our lives feelings come wave upon wave and we find ourselves in an emotional stew?  What do we do when we are in a group that is in a stew, or potentially so?
            One lesson from the gospel reading for today is that we concentrate on what is central, focus on what is most important.  The reading begins, “Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany.”  He had been traveling about, apparently.  We don’t know just where he came from, but shortly after the story ends, we know where he is going – Jerusalem.  Jerusalem is where Jesus will meet his end, death by crucifixion.  He seems very aware of the dangers.  John 12:27: Now my soul is troubled.  And what should I say – “Father, save me from this hour? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.
            The situation around Jesus is an emotional stew, but he is able to work with this because he remains committed to his mission, focuses on what’s most important, stays centered in what is central.
            When we are in an emotional stew, it is helpful to find just a bit of breathing space and remind ourselves of what is most important, of what matters most, and of what God might be calling us to.  God has a call for each of our lives.  I don’t think it is terribly helpful to think of that narrowly. God’s call can have a breadth to it.  God’s call is more a direction than a set of specifications.  God’s call in our lives may not be a specific vocation, or living in a specific place, or having a specific relationship.  God’s call is about each of us using our gifts, our skills, our experiences and growing, and helping the world be better – more just, more peaceful, kinder, gentler.  When emotions threaten to overwhelm, keep moving in the direction of God’s call.
            That is just as true for churches as for individuals.  Church consultants will often tell you that churches tend to risk more conflict when the lose focus on their mission, their purpose, on moving in the direction of God’s call.  Little things matter, but sometimes little things should matter a little.  They get out of hand, the emotional stew comes to a boil, more often when we forget what the big things are.  The big things for the church are helping people come to know God in Jesus Christ in ways that heal and free.  It is being the kind of community that helps love people into life.  It is being a place committed to helping people know God’s love and show God’s love.
            The other potential emotional stew that can come to a boil is the potential conflict between good things.  As a church, we want to do good in the name of Jesus Christ.  But we need to remember that there is more good that could be done than what we can do.  I have to say “no” to people who come to my office looking for money.  The need may be real, and my mixed-up confusion feelings in saying “no” are real.  But we do not have the capacity to manage distributing funds directly to people, so we give money to the Gabriel Project at CHUM.  We cannot do all the good that needs doing.  Yet, we try to do the good that we can, and do the good that we are good at.  A couple of weeks ago, someone called looking for help – for food.  We have some Ruby’s Pantry food still around, so I delivered a bag of groceries.  We keep moving in the direction of God’s call, of doing the good we can do.
            The other way to work with emotional turmoil, with being in an emotional stew, is to remember that love is always at the heart of God’s purpose.  Mary’s act was an act of deep love which Jesus received graciously.  Love given generously, and received graciously always seems to be part of God’s purpose in the world.  Jesus was not going to get caught up in an abstract debate at that moment about the poor.  It is clear from the Gospels that Jesus cared deeply about the poor.  It is a care grounded in love, and love, whenever it is generously offered and graciously received enlarges the heart, and the poor, and all who are down and out, will benefit.
            I have read the Bible through a number of times, and have read many parts of the Bible countless times.  It seems there is always something new to discover.  I will never forget the feeling, though I cannot remember the exact time frame, but the feeling I got when I encountered what has become one of my favorite verses of Scripture.  It was certainly not the first time I had read it, but this time is found a deep place inside.  It is about love and it is from I Corinthians, but it is not in chapter 13.  Rather it is this simple verse, I Corinthians 16:14: Let all that you do be done in love.  In the midst of any emotional stew, remember that.
            Dear Nostalgic: I’m glad you asked, although I doubt you will heed my advice.  Here it is: You and Tammy should postpone any reunions until she has resolved her marital situation because there are more people involved now than just the two of you.  Whether she remains unhappy in her marriage is anyone’s guess, but if you step in now, it will only add to her troubles.
            Dear Abby is telling Nostalgic in New York to focus on what’s most important and that is that it is no longer just about he and Tammy – the love of his life who he somehow dropped ten years ago.  If he really loves Tammy, he needs to let her deal with her current marriage.  I don’t doubt that Nostalgic cares for Tammy, even loves her, but his own emotional stew needs some work as well.

            Let all that you do, be done in love – love generously offered and graciously received.  Amen.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Jealous Guy

Sermon preached March 6, 2016

Texts: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

            John Lennon, “Jealous Guy”
            I shared a bit of this story from my life last week, but here’s the dramatic version.  I had a wonderful opportunity in my life to pursue a doctorate, a Ph.D. in religious studies.  I was a pastor in Roseau, Minnesota and enjoyed that work, but there was something I still felt I wanted to accomplish educationally.  I was accepted into the Ph.D. program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.  I thought that if I successfully finished the program, I would pursue a teaching career in a college or theological seminary.  So we moved from Roseau to Dallas, moved ourselves, and my first time ever driving a truck and a stick shift – but that’s another story.
            We met a lot of wonderful people in Dallas.  I met some great people in my program, one of whom was a student from Nigeria who was also interested in religious ethics.  We worked together in some independent study classes.  I appreciated him very much.  As the time for graduation came, Simeon secured a tenure-track teaching position at Wake Forest University.  When no teaching jobs were forthcoming for me, I asked for a pastoral appointment back in Minnesota and became part of a pastoral team for seven, mostly small congregations, on the Iron Range.  Wake Forest, Northern Minnesota.  When Simeon congratulated me, I was gracious on the outside, but felt a less pleasant feeling within.  I was genuinely happy for him, and genuinely envious of him.  I was a jealous guy.  It probably did not help when I heard from him a few months later and he had spent his first Thanksgiving at Wake Forest with Maya Angelou.
            So what does that story and the song that preceded it have to do with this lovely story from Luke – the story of the prodigal son, of the loving father?  It is such a tender and joyous story, but let’s dig a little deeper.
            We would like to be like the father in the story – loving, forgiving, generous, kind.  We would like God to be like the father in that story, and certainly Jesus hints at that kind of connection.  We may know what it is like to be like the son who wanders off.  Perhaps there have been times in our lives when we have made some bad decision, found ourselves lost in some significant sense.  I think of the words to the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” – prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.  While we would not like to emulate the younger son, we may know his experience in life, and we yearn to find the kind of welcome he found when he returned home.
            There is a third important character in the story, the older son, the one who never left home, but stayed and worked faithfully, day after day, for and with his father.  No one wants to be like him in any way.  We don’t want to recognize ourselves in him, though we sometimes do.  This man is a jealous guy, and in an ugly way.  His brother returns.  There is a grand party, and he is angry and refuses to join the celebration.  Even as his father “pleads” with him to join, he remains recalcitrant.  Listen!  For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!  The words are cutting, accusatory toward the father, and distancing from the younger brother.
            In many ways, this older son is the crucial character in Jesus’s story, for he is telling it in response to criticisms from the scribes and Pharisees because of who he was eating with.  He’s just a jealous guy.
            Or maybe the more proper word is that he is an envious guy, but I couldn’t find a song for that!  Some suggest that envy is the better term here, feeling bad about good things happening to others, wishing it might be you instead of the other who was receiving the good.  I don’t want to quibble about that this morning, and use the terms interchangeably.  Whatever you call it, I think the writer and scholar Joseph Epstein has it right when he says, “Of the seven deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all” (Envy, 1).  Epstein wrote the book on envy for a series on the seven deadly sins for the New York Public Library.  He goes on.  “Little is good about envy, except shaking it off, which, as any of us who have felt it deeply knows, is not so easily done” (3).  The German philosopher Schopenhauer, not known as a really fun kind of a guy, wrote:  Because they feel unhappy, men cannot bear the sight of someone they think is happy….  A human being, at the sight of another’s pleasure and possessions, would feel his own deficiency with more bitterness. (in Envy, xxi).  Is that who we are?  Schopenhauer was a pretty unhappy person who may not have been able to enjoy the happiness of others because he felt so little himself, but sometimes we may be a little like him.
            Envy or jealousy is a bit like disappointment.  I think it is a mirror emotion, but unlike disappointment, what it tends to reveal is kind of ugly.  Disappointment reveals that we care, that we dream, that we take risks – good things.  That was last week’s sermon.  Envy perhaps, at most, hints at some of our aspirations for doing well, but this is only a sideways glance.  When we experience jealousy over the good fortune of others, what is often mirrored is our own unhappiness, some of our own shortcomings in our ability to empathize.  There is a German word that captures this negative experience rather well, Schadenfreude.  It means taking a measure of delight in someone else’s misfortune.  It is a kind of jealousy.  We envy someone and then are pleased a bit when the “mighty fall.”  Studies have been done which indicate that people “would agree to make less total money so long as they make more than their neighbors” (Envy, 33).  Think about that.  Think about the role of envy in our culture.  Joseph Epstein suggests, insightfully, that “the entire advertising industry… can be viewed as little more than a vast and intricate envy-creating machine” (xxiv).
            So when we feel jealous, when we experience envy, we need to ask, “What’s going on in my heart, mind, soul?”  We need to seek some healing.  Envy is no fun at all.  The best we can do is be self-aware and find ways to grow beyond envy.  Let me offer two suggestions for jousting with jealousy.
            The German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who no one probably considered a barrel of laughs either, did have an insight into envy better than Schopenhauer’s.  While he thought it a part of the human experience, he thought it needed to be struggled with, and saw that one of its opposites was gratitude (Envy, xx). 
            Anne Lamott writes so well about gratitude.  Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dove-tails into behavior.  It almost always makes you willing to be of service, which is where the joy resides.  It means you are willing to stop being such a jerk.  When you are aware of all that has been given to you, in your lifetime and in the past few days, it is hard not to be humbled, and pleased to give back….  When we go from rashy and clenched to grateful, we sometimes get to note the experience of grace, in knowing that we could not have gotten ourselves from where we were stuck, in hate or self-righteousness or self-loathing (which are the same thing), to freedom.  (Help, Thanks, Wow, 56-57, 61)
            The older son could not really see what he had to be grateful for.  He was blinded by jealousy.  Sometimes jealousy is called “the green-eyed monster.”  It prevents us from seeing more truthfully.  The older son seemed to have a pretty wonderful father.  I can’t imagine him not being generous to this faithful son.  This older son lost sight of that.  There was a party happening.  The older son seemed to be missing that.
            A second way to grow beyond envy or jealousy is to remember the serenity prayer and its wisdom.  God, grant me the grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, the courage to change what should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
            Some things cannot be changed, and that includes the past.  We cannot change the past.  We can understand it more deeply.  We can relate to it in the present more healthfully, but we cannot change it.  The older son does not understand that.  Had his brother squandered his inheritance?  Yes.  Had he engaged in dissolute living?  Yes.  You can’t go back and change that, but how do we move forward?  One can be angry and bitter, or one can let go of that and try and find some new life.  We can’t change the past but we can do something in the present and be wise about it.
            Joseph Epstein argues that “the feeling of envy isn’t likely to increase one’s capacity for happiness” (15).  He goes on.  “Whatever else it is, envy is above all a great waste of mental energy” (97).  Theologically speaking, envy, jealousy, block the flow of grace.  Envy narrows our vision, and constricts our hearts.
            These past four years I have served on a denominational committee with a professor from Wake Forest University, Tom.  One time when we were meeting, I asked Tom about Simeon.  He is still at Wake Forest.  I hope he has had a good time, a good life, and that he has enjoyed his teaching career.  I know in the last twenty-two years I have known extraordinary moments of grace.  I have come to know wonderful people, and I am looking at many of them this morning.  I like my life.

            That’s sort of the thing with God, and with God’s grace.  With God’s grace there is always some kind of party going on, and all envy or jealousy does is keep you on the outside stewing.  And in the end, don’t you want to join the party?  Amen.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Where Have All the Cowboys Gone

Sermon preached   February 28, 2016

Texts: I Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9

            Paula Cole, “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?”
            This is a song about disappointment.  “Where is my John Wayne?  Where is my prairie sun?  Where have all the cowboys gone?”  This morning’s readings are also about disappointment, though they are challenging texts to work with.
            Let’s do some work with them.  In I Corinthians, Paul is working with some stories from the Hebrew Scriptures, what we often call “The Old Testament.”  Here the disappointment seems to belong to God.  Some of the Hebrews who were with Moses did not live up to expectations so they were struck down in the wilderness.  Some engaged in sexual immorality and 23,000 fell in one day.  Others were destroyed by serpents. Yikes.  God, it would seem, has a particularly harsh way of dealing with disappointment, though I think we need to do a little more thinking here.
            Paul’s point is not that you better watch out because God is going to get you.  His point is this.  Think about people who were with Moses, with Moses!  They must have had some incredible experiences of God.  Yet even some of them lost their way.  “Take care, people,” Paul seems to be saying.  “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.”  Paul is writing to a group of people who were often very proud.  It was as if nothing bad would happen to them, they were so spiritually attuned.  There would be no challenges, struggles, disappointments.  Paul is trying to tell them something else.  Sometimes things get hard, but God is with us.  One side comment.  I think verse 13 is often used as a justification for the idea that “God never gives you more than you can handle.”  I don’t think that way of putting things is helpful.  The particular context here is about falling away from faith.  There is nothing that happens that you cannot, with God, make it through.  The idea that God never gives you more than you can handle is too superficial sometimes when people are in the midst of tragedy.
            In some ways, Luke is a good corrective to too superficial a treatment of the idea that God never gives someone more than they can handle, and it provides some fodder for deeper thinking about tragic events.  Jesus is presented with two tragic events, cruel treatment of Galileans by Pilate, and the fall of a tower.  Some seemed to be saying to Jesus that such suffering must have occurred because of how terrible these people were.  Jesus rejects that, rejects the idea that God was punishing people, or even testing people through such events.  Instead, Jesus invites those who are coming to him with questions to think about their own lives.  Then he tells a story about disappointment.
            The owner of a fig tree finds no fruit on it and orders his gardener to cut it down.  It has produced no fruit in three years.  This man is disappointed in the tree.  The gardener, on the other hand, though he may share in the disappointment, urges patience.  More can be done – a little digging, a little manure.  Let’s see what may happen.
            Disappointment.  It is part of our experience of life and it is a challenging emotion.  Experiences sometimes let us down.  Other people sometimes let us down.  We let ourselves down.  We disappoint others.  We disappoint God.  All of these are dimensions of disappointment, and in the rest of today’s sermon I want to dance with some of them just a little, explore them with you.  How as people of faith do we deal with disappointment?  My focus will be on our own experiences of being disappointed, though I will touch on other dimensions as well.  Disappointment will happen.  The super-spiritual Corinthians were wrong to think otherwise.  How do we deal with it in ways that help us grow in faith, hope and love?  Where is God in the midst of our disappointments?  Those who came to Jesus were wrong in thinking that disappointment and tragedy were somehow always the result of people’s own mistakes or sins.  Disappointment happens even to the nicest and best people.
            I have shared with you before a particularly disappointing time in my life.  Following my first pastorate in Roseau, MN I went back to school to earn a Ph.D.  I really hoped to move into teaching.  I love to read.  I enjoy writing.  There was something very attractive about academic work to me.  My family and I moved to Dallas, TX.  I earned my Ph.D. and there were no teaching positions.  A friend with whom I graduated – same program, same degree, a man who grew up in Nigeria, was hired in a tenure-track position at Wake Forest.  I ended up being part of a pastoral staff on the Iron Range working with seven United Methodist Churches, most of them rather small.  I may re-visit some of this with you in a couple of weeks when I preach on jealousy.  For now, let me simply say I was disappointed.
            So what good is disappointment, if it is good at all?  Disappointment is a good mirror emotion, by that I mean it reflects something important.  Disappointment reflects that we care, that we dream, that we risk.  It is good that we care and dream and take some risks.  Disappointment is not really a good in itself, but it says something good about us – that we continue to care, that we continue to dream, that we continue to take some risks.
            Rabbi Harold Kushner a few years ago wrote a book about Moses.  He called it Overcoming Life’s Disappointments.  As he often is, Rabbi Kushner was wise about disappointment.  Nobody gets everything he or she yearns for: I look at the world and see three sorts of people: those who dream boldly even as they realize that a lot of their dreams will not come true; those who dream more modestly, and fear that even their modest dreams may not be realized; and those who are afraid to dream at all, lest they be disappointed.  I would wish for more people who dreamed boldly and trusted their powers of resilience to see them through inevitable disappointments. (3-4)
            Kushner is wise, but I think he misses one possibility for working with disappointment.  There are times when we should look at our expectations, and manage them.  Sometimes we set ourselves up for needless disappointment.  In his book Kushner identifies five elements of a complete life: family, friends, faith, work, and the satisfaction of making a difference (136).  He then goes on to say: It is probably unrealistic to expect perfection, not from Moses, not from Einstein, not from ourselves.  It is probably too much to expect ourselves or anyone to be equally competent in all five dimensions of the complete life.  But as a friend of mine likes to say, “You can have it all, just not all at the same time.” (152)  There is a new thought here.
            Sometimes we need to adjust our expectations a bit.  I think this is particularly true in our most intimate relationships.  Sometimes we come to expect that our partner will just know what we want or need, and are disappointed when they don’t.  In the course of a long-term relationship, not everything will always be wiz, bang, pop.  Sometimes they can be, but not always.  Sometimes the cowboys are just gone.  We live with the tension of dreaming, caring, hoping, risking, and of having some expectations that are rooted in reality.
            I also think that this dynamic matters to the church.  I remember when a woman with whom I was confirmed was telling me at a class reunion how she left her church because the pastor really wasn’t sensitive enough after her father died.  Now the person may have been really insensitive and her response appropriate, but it did cause me to think about her expectations.  I appreciate the Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber.  When she holds classes for new members, she speaks last and says: This community will disappoint them.  It’s a matter of when, not if.  We will let them down or I’ll say something stupid and hurt their feelings.  I think invite them on this side of their inevitable disappointment to decide if they’ll stick around after it happens.  If they choose to leave when we don’t meet their expectations, they won’t get to see how the grace of God can come it and fill the holes left by our community’s failure, and that’s just too beautiful and real to miss.  (Pastrix, 54-55)
            Sometimes we need to manage our expectations, yet we always need to care, to dream, to take some risks if we are to live fully, if we are to follow Jesus faithfully.  We will be disappointed along the way.  We will disappoint others along the way.  Yet, with God’s grace and a caring community around us, we can learn and grow.  We can understand ourselves better by understanding our disappointments.  We will often find that on the other side of disappointment, if we don’t allow it to close us off, to shut us down in discouragement, on the other side of disappointment, there are wonderful, and beautiful and unexpected things that happen.  Were it not for coming back to Minnesota and being a pastor on the Iron Range, I would have missed meeting some remarkable people, two of whom visited here last Sunday morning.  My Pd.D. work was personally rewarding, a wonderful time of growth.
            In 2008, I was part of the election process for bishop in The United Methodist Church.  I had been your pastor for only three years at the time.  I did well in the election, for a time having the most votes, though not enough for election.  Then I stalled, and made the determination, when the election had come down to two people, that the momentum was not going my way.  I withdrew as a candidate.  That was a challenging moment, a disappointment.  I also know that I disappointed some of you along the way, not in not getting elected, but it being part of that election process.  On the other side of that disappointment, we have done some beautiful and wonderful things together, and I am deeply grateful to you and to God.
            This summer, we will be in that same place again.  I have been endorsed by the Minnesota United Methodist Church as a candidate for bishop.  This time there are four open positions, and I expect there will be fifteen or so candidates.
            There will be no way to avoid disappointment this summer.  If I am not elected, I know I will feel disappointment.  When you put yourself out there, it is nice to have people say “yes.”  If I am elected, I will be disappointed.  We continue to do beautiful and wonderful things together, moved by God’s Spirit, and while I know you will continue to do such things if I am gone, I will miss not being a part of them.  And I really do not want to disappoint you.  It is a mirror of how much I care.  There are these two dreams fighting it out in me.  I have some gifts to help the church as a bishop at a critical time for our denomination.  It is a dream.  I dream of this church continuing to grow in vitality, in reaching out to others, in welcoming others in, and I am delighted to be a part of it.
            So I move forward.  We move forward.  Driving to the Twin Cities this week to preach at the chapel of United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, I was listening to the recently released CD by Lucinda Williams, “The Ghosts of Highway 20.”  The final song is “Faith and Grace.”  Just a little more faith and grace/Is all that I need.  Yes.

So I move forward.  We move forward.  We dig a little.  We spread a little fertilizer.  And God goes with us.  With God, with one another, disappointment need not mire us in discouragement, but can lead to unexpected beauty, wonder, faith and grace.  Amen.