Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday Five: All About Allergies

My nose started feeling sneezy as soon as I saw the picture of the ligustrum bush on this week's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five.  Mary Beth is highly allergic to them and I am too.  We had ligustrum bushes all around our house in El Paso because they grew so easily there.  That was the first thing I discovered I was allergic to.  So, here's my Friday Five about allergies:

1. Do you experience any season allergies?
Yes, I'm allergic to spring things, especially white flowering trees and bushes. 

Pascal Restaurant: Flourless chocolate cake
Not allergic to chocolate!  (this cake is flourless)

Do you have any other allergies?  Yes, sadly -- aspirin, sulfa, keflex and penicillin as well as adhesive tape. It's not technically an allergy but wheat and gluten are not my friend.

2.  What kinds of symptoms do you experience during your allergic reactions? 
Let's just say it's not pretty.

3.  How do you manage your allergies? 
In my dreams, I'm on a cruise for May and June every year. In reality, I take Singulair daily, keep an inhaler for possible asthma emergencies, avoid all of those drugs as well as wheat and gluten.  I don't avoid going outside, but I would not knowingly go anywhere near a blooming ligustrum!

4.  What is the strangest allergy you ever heard of? 
Aren't some spouses allergic to each other? I think I've heard that, and that would be strange. (Had to google it to see; edited to add link)

5.  How do you feel about school policies banning peanuts and other allergens? 
I'm out of the school child loop, so I don't know about those policies.  In general, it would be challenging to ban everything that might be potentially harmful to someone else.  

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Happy Birthday, Frank Oz!

Bert & Ernie
Bert and Ernie
Today is the 67th birthday of creative genius Frank Oz.

How do I love him? Let me count some of the ways:
With gratitude, a very Happy Birthday, Frank Oz!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sunday Sermon: Taste and See!


Growing into Salvation
1 Peter 2:2-10
May 22, 2011 -- Jerusalem UCC

It’s always a special day to celebrate Confirmation.  Alissa, we rejoice with you today as you make public your affirmation of your baptism as you keep on taking steps of faith throughout your life.

Those of us who have already made Confirmation promises remember today our own Confirmation Day and the special moment it is to get up and say, in front of God and your church, that Jesus is -- for me and for you -- the way, the truth and the life.

On this Confirmation Day, the Word of the Lord comes to us from Peter, that disciple of Jesus who was the first disciple to proclaim “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”

Peter got it right, you see, in that moment.
And in the very next moment, he made a fool of himself by trying to protect his “Messiah” from the suffering and death that would come.  
Peter goes from head of the class to being called “Satan” in the blink of an eye.
Yes, that’s Peter!  
The one who declared that HE would NOT be the disciple who would deny knowing Jesus.
“Not me, Lord!” Peter swore.
Jesus knew better.  Not once, but THREE times, Peter denied Jesus to save his own skin.

Yes, that’s Peter!
Faithful disciple and faithless coward -- all in the same body.
Powerful preacher and pitiful example -- all rolled up into one.

The name “Peter” ironically means “rock.”
And it is on THIS rock -- Jesus said -- that he would build his church.

Real live people are the rocks -- the living stones of the church --
People like Peter and like you and me
Who, in our best moments -- in our high church moments surely --
KNOW the good news of Jesus Christ
KNOW God in Christ Jesus is alive
KNOW that the heart of the gospel -- the good news --
is simply that Easter proclamation:
“Christ is risen!”

We are as qualified as Peter
And as UNqualified as he was
to be claimed by God as God’s own
so that you and I and we
“may declare the wonderful deeds of the ONE who called you out of darkness
into God’s marvelous light.”

In Christ Jesus, we are the town criers -- we are testimony tellers -- about the reality of God in the real world of our lives.

How often do we talk about what God is up to?  

Recently -- a lot!  The past few days we have heard more about what God MIGHT be up to than usual, thanks to a doomsday message by Family Radio International founder Harold Camping.  His prediction of the apocalypse gained a foothold in the media and with certain groups of people.  People of faith and people of no faith have been hoping -- or dreading -- that God would fulfill history by bringing on the rapture -- yesterday -- at 6:00 p.m.  

A preoccupation with the end times is nothing new.  The early church had more reason THEN than we do NOW to believe that Jesus would return soon and very soon.  Peter turns every one's attention away from a super-natural rescue mission by God to the marvelous things that God has already done and what God is NOW DOING in the lives of resurrection people.

If nothing else was proven by all of this rapture talk these past few days, it is that the preoccupation with what God MIGHT do -- and the fascination with what ONE MAN proclaimed God WOULD do -- these are things that people are captivated by somehow.

The world is looking for God.  The world needs good news -- the gospel -- that resurrection people have to proclaim.  

I don’t have to tell you that people are hurting.  I don’t have to tell you that the environment is suffering.  I don’t have to tell you that stress is causing mental and physical pain in people’s lives.  I don’t have to tell you that way too many people in our wealthy country are food insecure.  You know.  So, really it’s no wonder that people who don’t even claim to be people of the Christian faith were sort of caught up in the idea that yesterday at 6:00 p.m. God would DO SOMETHING BIG -- maybe God would give us the break we crave and just scoop us up and show us some heaven.

People are hungry to know that God is alive.
People need to see where God is at work
People need to hear where God is alive
People need to be shown that God’s love is real.

And they are looking to people like us -- those of us who say that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life - the son of the LIVING God -  those of us whom God has called LIVING stones -- so that we “may declare the wonderful deeds of the ONE who called you out of darkness
into God’s marvelous light.”

The beautiful light of the day of our confirmation -- the beautiful light of the day of our baptism -- there is nothing like those days -- for the one who is baptized or confirmed -- and for the church.  TODAY is the day that we know we will taste and see that God is alive here.  God showed up and is claiming us and especially claiming Alissa today, but not just Alissa.  For when the Holy Spirit is poured out, we are all splashed on by power of God.

We call that “salvation” my friends.  Well, WE don’t always call it salvation in the United Church of Christ, but let’s do call it “salvation” today because big time, very real salvation is what the world is so very hungry for.

So, let me tell you about salvation so that you will know what salvation is and not be distracted by what salvation isn’t.

If you are getting nervous about this whole line of preaching, well so am I. There’s nothing that puts me in either a cold sweat or a bad mood worse than some well-meaning person in my face about my salvation.  “Are you saved?” some will ask. “How do you know?”  I can help you with this -- here’s the answer.  You can memorize it.  The answer to the question “Are you saved?” is “yes, no, and not yet.”

The “yes, I am saved” part is what has already happened to each of us.  There are different ways to describe that:  We have had an encounter with the risen Christ.  God is real to us.  If nothing else, you know that the Holy Spirit was poured out on you at your baptism and your confirmation.  Peter says, “Now that you have tasted that the Lord is good . . . “ (1 Pet. 2:2) There are different ways to describe it, but “yes” salvation DID happen to you in your past if the love of God in Christ Jesus is part of who you are.

The “no” part is that we HAVE been promised a day when God will save all of creation.  That day did not happen yesterday.  Don’t look for it or try to predict it.  No one knows the day or the hour so it’s not really a thing to spend a lot of time trying to nail down. No, God hasn’t saved the world yet. God’s history has not been fulfilled yet.  No, God’s kingdom has not come on earth as it is in heaven.  No, we are not saved in the way that God ultimately desires.

The part we live in every day is the “not yet” part.  Are we saved?  "YES," because of our baptism; "NO"because God’s fulfillment of history has not happened; and “NOT YET” because we -- who live between what DID happen and what WILL happen are the “works in progress” -- we are BEING saved all the time.

I like what author Maya Angelou says about this.  When someone says to Maya Angelou “I’m a Christian” her response is “Already?”

“Growing into salvation” -- you can also call it discipleship; you can call it following Jesus.   This is the life-long movement of our faith -- what we do together as the community of faith called teh church -- we are growing into salvation.

The apostle Peter says it this way in verses 2 and 3 (1 Peter 2:2-3)
“Now that you have tasted that the Lord is good, crave pure spiritual milk, the way that newborn babies do, so that by it, you may GROW into salvation.”

Getting stuck in the past --or being preoccupied with the future -- is to miss the opportunity to live in the good news and to proclaim good news for TODAY!

What Peter tells us about this is every bit as real -- maybe more so -- than looking to the clouds or to an earthquake to produce evidence of God’s real life salvation.

This is what Peter says to us:
Be like a newborn baby about it.
Crave the spiritual milk so that by it you may grow into salvation.

Now this is graphic if you take Peter seriously.  Because we know that Peter was not really talking bottles and formula.  

Peter gives us a very mother-like image of God.  If you are a mother, or have been close to one, with an infant, you know that Peter is talking about something very very real.

When it comes to milk newborns are relentless!  Do you want to be a hungry newborn?  REALLY?  Think about it . . .

When a newborn is hungry -- he is not all that cute.  She screams persistently. Baby knows who has the milk.  The baby gets close and can smell it. Baby gets all excited about it - baby roots around, little head bobbing all around -- almost breathless -- so eager sometimes that hungry baby makes it even more difficult to get the milk that is so badly wanted.

In a very real way, it is a cooperative effort between Mom and baby -- Mom needs to give milk to the baby and the baby needs the milk.

Once feeding the baby is vigorous and enthusiastic -- single minded -- concentrating on the milk only looking up to look into the mother’s eyes.

The newborn doesn’t quit taking in that milk until she or he is good and satisfied.  And a well-fed baby is peaceful, sleepy (or asleep), relaxed, happy.
We look at THAT baby and say “Aw … isn’t she cute? or isn’t he cute?”  Yes, for about 2 hours and then that precious baby is crying for that milk all over again!

THAT’S the way Peter is asking us to approach the “pure SPIRITUAL milk” that we are to have.

What is that pure spiritual milk?

It is what God has to offer us -- different from the imitations that we so often settle for
The pure SPIRITUAL milk is tasting that GOD IS GOOD,
the spiritual things that only come from God -- for our growth and nourishment.

It would be a misunderstanding and a mistranslation to hear that this milk is specifically the Bible words found in the book we call the Bible.  I want to convince you of the value of being fed by your Bible -- but the word “word” is not found here.  If you see this translated as “the milk of the word” that is a mis-translation.  The Greek word is an adjective not a noun, and that’s all you need to know unless you want to know more. But if you are going to feast on the milk of things that feed you, and if the Bible does feed you, and I hope it is ONE thing that does, then I want you to know what you are feeding on!  

Peter uses vivid colorful language here to make a point:  Peter calls us living stones.  Peter tells us to taste -- regularly -- that the Lord is good -- and to be relentless in pursuing that tasting -- like a newborn in search of milk.  Spiritual practice is what we call that in the Christian faith.

Peter pretty much calls God a nursing mother, ready and able and present with us to show us where the nourishment we really crave is to be found; God is ready to hold us in our anxiety and need; God is -- even now -- giving us exactly what we need to grow us into salvation.

God has literally spread a table before us -- in the life we have -- in the people, the situations, the circumstances -- even in the presence of our enemies -- even in tragedy -- Gods’ mighty acts are there to be seen and tasted -- and to be told.  And, of course, always in the church.  These rocks of the faith all around you are living stones, hungry newborns, not stuck on the birthing table, but still growing into salvation.

This table is ready.  Have you tasted that the Lord is good?

Keep on craving what God has to offer YOU
So that by accepting the gifts of God, you may grow into salvation, today and forever.  Amen.

(The very precious photo above is courtesy of Amy at Anktangle and was published in her post called Growing and Gaining, which would have been an excellent sermon title for this one!)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday Five: Favorite Words

Picnic At Eureka Lake
Today's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five is inspired by the Spiritual Formation hour at Jan's church where they have been sharing special words with each other and the stories they inspire.  Jan has invited us to write about 5 words we really like and tell why you have chosen each word. These came to me today, in this order, when I was writing my 750 words to start the day.

Lagniappe -- (LAN-yap) a French word that means (my translation) "delightful extra things you didn't deserve"; it's the idea behind the baker's dozen of paying for a 12 donuts and getting 13.  Lagniappe represents the generosity and party atmosphere that characterizes both Cajun Country's "let the good times roll" and what I have known of God's grace.

Vocation -- from the Latin vocare meaning "to call" and  I know that because of a seminary paper I wrote at least 20 years ago!  I love this word because it inspires me and reminds me of why I do what I do when I don't remember.  It is also the antidote to un-church-like words like "hire" "job" and "volunteer."

Picnic -- I have always loved this word!  "Picnic" sounds like the party it is!  To declare "picnic!" is to set aside regular schedules and table manners, pack a basket, go outside, play games, eat finger food, take naps in the sun ... the list could go on and on.  And you have to add a crazy "K" before you add "-ed" or "-ing"!

Careful -- Word that inspires trust and comfort and sometimes slows me down in a good way.

Y'all -- The English language is bereft of a plural "you" and so we have made up our own.  My greatest linguistic prejudice (blush -- there are many!) is that I cringe every time I hear the northern plural slang of you -- "youse" or "you's" and sometimes "youse guys" -- my skin is crawling to even write those.  When I hear "y'all" I know I am close to people who get me.

Thanks, Jan, for the Friday Fun!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Recognizing Jesus in Life Abundant

Lakshmi Mandala of Wealth and Abundance
Lakshmi Mandala of Wealth and Abundance
John 10:1-10; Acts 2:42-47
May 15, 2011 -- Jerusalem UCC
Remember Easter?

Merely three weeks ago, we gathered here to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

Remember Easter?

Easter was a great celebration of the resurrection of Jesus the Christ.  Easter is more than a celebration of what happened to Jesus.  Yes, Christ is risen; he is risen, indeed.  But to paraphrase the old riddle about the tree falling in the forest:  If a Savior is risen and no one sees the Savior / no one recognizes the Savior / then IS he risen indeed?  Is the Savior alive if he’s not alive with us?  In other words, what difference does it really make what happens to Jesus, unless something happens to us, too?

Radical conversion is not the preferred style of Pennsylvania German Reformed Christians.  The style in this corner of the world is the way of the ancestors who settled this territory and of the old country from whence they came:  You are born into the faith; your parents were Reformed or Lutheran, or your mom was Reformed, your dad was Lutheran (or vice versa) and you were baptized into the faith (I’ve heard) of the same sex parent and then confirmed into that same faith when the time came.  A radical conversion experience is not required, nor is it expected.

Sometimes … sometimes … you might run across someone who is not born into the faith but who begins following Christ later in life. One such man began his Christ following at mid-life.  He was a successful businessman.  As a successful businessman, he picked as his church the flashiest church, the one that seemed most successful in his town.  He had a fancy car that he parked with all the other fancy cars in the lot on Sunday.  He fit right in and thought that this would be the right place for him. He figured these fine upstanding folk would help him to follow Jesus more and more.

And then some months later, this man went through some economic hard times. That’s not hard to imagine in our world today, is it?  This man lost everything, including his fancy car.

So, he started walking to church.  He was wearing the same clothes week after week.  He was no longer like the others in the congregation; he stood out as different from them.  

Pretty soon, two of the church elders asked to come and visit him in his home.  They arrived to find a home that had been emptied by the Sheriff and the debt collectors.  He was asked -- nicely -- please -- to find another church community because he “no longer witnessed to the abundant life” that members of the church were called to live! [This story came from the blog “I Am Listening” by Peter Woods; blog post "Jesus the Gate, and Paddy Plenty" May 9, 2011]

Sounds pretty awful doesn’t it?  We would never judge someone for not having a fancy car -- we would never notice that someone is wearing the same clothes over and over again -- we surely aren’t the kind who would say that the abundant life of Jesus is absent when someone doesn’t have a TV or even if they don’t have furniture.  I hope we might suspect that Jesus is calling us to an abundant life not measured by fancy things -- yours or mine.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Comforting the Disillusioned

Believe Out LoudMonday, I was shocked and disillusioned when I heard that Sojourners made the decision not to post on their blog a video ad made by Believe Out Loud (ad is on the right after you click).  It was "deja vu all over again" reminding me of the rejection by CBS in 2004 of the United Church of Christ "Bouncer" ad as "too controversial" when it demonstrated that all people should be welcome in church.  And then in 2010, CBS accepted an issue ad by a conservative group, Focus on the Family. CBS defended their flip-flop, citing the economy as the reason for accepting FoF's advocacy ad. 

Tuesday, I was overjoyed when I heard that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has voted to allow the ordination of openly gay and lesbian ministers. 

So, you never know.  Sometimes progressives take an unexpected giant step backwards and sometimes the church takes a long-overdue step forward. And sometimes it's hard to tell what exactly is going on.

This "controversy" about who is welcome in church and who isn't, and why, reminds me of something that happened at the first church I served.  After one Sunday morning worship service, a woman came up to me, out of breath and excited (not in a good way), to report that there was a new couple in church that day.  They were both men, young men, she said -- "a couple!"  I was secretly excited to think that a same sex couple would come to our church!  So I asked her how she knew that they were gay.  "You can just tell," she said, sour-faced. She went on to describe how they sat close together, even had their arm around each other at one point, and talked to each other in a way that you "could tell" she insisted.

I still couldn't imagine this in 1994 in our American Baptist church. I mean, why would a young gay couple think we would be a cool enough church for them?  At least that was my thought!  So I asked her what they looked like.  The woman then began to give a great description of my 17 year old son (whom she didn't recognize because he had shaved his head during that week) and his 19 year old cousin (who was a "stranger" in our midst with long curly hair at the time). They had grown up favorite cousins and didn't see each other often, so they were affectionate to the point of being labeled correctly a same sex couple, but not in the way that she assumed!

She was relieved. 

Really? What had changed?  The only thing that had changed was her own perception.

In the midst of my own disillusionment with Sojourners, and now in light of my delight with the PC-USA vote, my own perceptions are challenged by an inspiring blog post written by Katie Mulligan entitiled "Believe Out Loud and the Sojourners Kerfluffle."  Katie's challenge is to go beyond disillusionment with Sojourners and, I would add, beyond celebration with PC-USA, to self examination and local action.  Katie asks the very direct question: What about your church?
How would a queer person know they are welcome in your church? How would they know that they could come to the potluck and not have to endure another conversation on how the gay are ripping the fabric of America? How would they know they could come to Bible study and know that they could talk about the fullness of their life without people praying that they straighten out. How would they know that you won't look at them and their family as if you'd just eaten rotten fruit? Because it's not on your church websites, friends. I look, and it's not there. It's not on my church website either. We're all just pussyfooting around this whole welcome the gay thing--and golly, I'm a queer pastor!
We have a ways to go!  The church's welcome is still too often full of pre-conditions not limited to sexual orientation and gender identification.  Progress seems too slow.  My comfort:  the great cloud of progressive and liberal Christians who are disillusioned right along with me, and also determined.  Even when it's with baby steps and measured voices, we are still working for justice and full inclusion and the good news of God's love for all people.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Sunday Sermon: Recognizing Jesus at the Table

Luke 24:13-35; Acts 2:14a, 36-41
May 8, 2011 -- Jerusalem UCC (Palmerton PA)

The Child by the Church Door
The Child by the Church Door
Cleopas and his wife were confused. They were walking to the town of Emmaus, trying to sort out what had happened the past few days. In deep conversation they were, and then this stranger joined them -- seemed to come from out of nowhere -- and not only that, this stranger seemed to not know anything about the big news coming out of Jerusalem.

Little did they know that this was Jesus.  Jesus was the stranger who had joined them on their walk to Emmaus. It’s a funny thing: Cleopas and his wife knew all about Jesus.  They knew he was a man of God, a prophet, powerful in deed, amazing teacher, God’s own, popular with the people. They knew that Jesus had been tried and sentenced to death and was crucified. They knew -- and they were confused -- that some women -- that very morning -- had found an empty tomb where the body of Jesus should have been and now were claiming that angels had said that Jesus was alive. Yes, Cleopas and his wife knew all about Jesus; they may even have been with Jesus just a few days before; but when Jesus joined them on the road in a new day, they didn’t know Jesus.

Imagine having Jesus walking along beside you, talking to you and asking questions, and even teaching them everything there is to know about the very history of the Messiah -- and still -- not being able to recognize Jesus when Jesus is right there!

The only thing worse would be to stop expecting Jesus to show up at all. I almost gave up -- years ago -- encouraged by my Sunday School teachers -- or I should say DIS-couraged by some of my childhood Sunday School teachers. You see, as a child, I had no trouble believing the bodily resurrection of Jesus.  I had the faith of a child -- a faith that said if God decided to raise Jesus from the dead, then it was done.

My urgent question was: “Where is he? Where is Jesus? If Jesus is alive [as I knew he was] then where is he NOW?” The answer: “He’s in heaven” didn’t help me out. I was old enough to have some sense that this heaven where Jesus was, was somehow different than the sky. But … but … more than that, I knew that, if Jesus was alive, he wasn’t out in space hanging out on some faraway planet somewhere. I knew -- somehow I knew -- that Jesus was a lot closer than that because Jesus loved me -- THIS I did know. I also found out that there are only so many of those hard questions that a Sunday School teacher will tolerate before she loses her cool. I grew up somehow holding onto “Jesus Loves Me” even when, at times, my Sunday School teachers seemed to have run out of love in the form of patience.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Friday Five: Word Associations

Songbird, who blogs at Reflectionary, just got back from a most excellent vacation. Today, as host of RevGalBlogPals Friday Five, she foldly remembers five words from that vacation and invites us to play "Word Association"!  Great idea!  Here are those words, with the first word that came to my mind: 

Texas Rangers1) Airport - adventure

2) Baseball - Rangers

3) Art - children

4) Chocolate - heaven

5) Grill - party

Bonus: Tell us a story that comes to mind based on one of the word pairs.

CrayonsART - CHILDREN:  In my family of origin, there was not much emphasis on art.  We were all about the academics (dad was a high school principal, mom an English teacher) and I graduated from college as a science major, to become a med tech not a pastor, and thinking of "art" as an exotic thing for people who are not like me.

And then there were children!  I was blessed to be able to be a stay-at-home mom of three.  A most excellent thing about these children were that they were very responsive to play of all kinds.  Because it seemed like a fun thing to do, I kept an abundance of art supplies in the house, and on any given day, we were playing with play dough or finger painting or decorating the patio with sidewalk chalk.  My role was mostly the boundary-setter, encourager / art appreciator and cleaner-upper leader.

One day, I found the older two (at about ages 6 and 5) underneath the dining room table, painting the underside, Sistine Chapel style, with two bottles of White-Out liquid paper and the little brushes that come with it.

They are all grown up now, and all three are uniquely gifted artists and art savvy beyond what I ever could have imagined.  All are gifted writers.  All are culturally literate beyond my leading.  One is a beautiful dancer and draws; one is a writer by vocation (and does things that combine math and art!); and one has a great blog, crochets, and creates in the kitchen

I still keep art supplies handy, for any children who happen along and also for me.  Sometimes a girl just needs to get out the crayons or the water colors and have some fun!