Monday, December 08, 2008

Advent Hope

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime;
therefore we must be saved by hope.

Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.

Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.

No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.

–Reinhold Niebuhr

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

thank you

Meister Eckhart wrote, "If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough."

Pastor Joy

Friday, November 21, 2008

youth in mission

This week, I had the opportunity to be grateful again for my summer with the "Serving Christ in the World" immersion program, part of LSTC's Youth in Mission programs.
On Wednesday we had a Youth in Mission "Fiesta," complete with great food, music and conversation. We shared quotes, stories, a video, photos and even a sermon from the youth who have been involved in these amazing programs. Their words have stuck with me all week--about how we need community when there's tough work to do and how God will continue to work, even when we can't see why or how.

watch the video

Thanks to God for these amazing young men and women--the leaders they are and the leaders they will be.

Pastor Joy

Friday, October 17, 2008

Trying something new

Will you please let us know if you receive this "taste" of my newest blog entry? We're testing a new way of sharing postings with you who are subscribers--in an effort to draw you to the blog sight--and we'd like to know what you're receiving. The whole entry, the photo, just a taste?
Thanks for your comments and suggestions!
Pastor Joy

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Beside the lake

My friend and mentor Rochelle once told me that whenever she needs to make a big decision, she goes to the lake shore. Somehow, the immensity of Lake Michigan helps clear her head... puts things in perspective... gives a feeling of immensity that is clarifying.
Me too.

Calm to the waves, calm to the wind, Jesus whispers, Peace be still. Balm to our hearts, fears at an end, be still and hear God's voice.

Pastor Joy

In the garden

This past Saturday, I was part of Women's Day 2008 at LSTC with the theme "Fertile Ground: Women, Spirit & Sustainability." It was an amazing day with conversation about urban gardening, reminders to do no less than what helps you come alive (even in cases where you didn't know you were dead), and annointed singing from the LSTC gospel choir. My workshop was around themes of Creation & Vocation. Here are a few tidbits from that workshop.

"Nobody sees a flower, really, it is so small. We haven't time - and to see takes time like to have a friend takes time." Georgia O'Keefe
I love this quote and the invitation to pause, look, really look... and hopefully see some detail that we might otherwise miss. I had the opportunity on an unexpected walk last week in St. Paul to walk with my camera in hand and see gardens that I would otherwise have missed. I breathed deeply and experienced unexpected sabbath.

How about you? What are your experiences in gardens? The season for gardening is coming to a close...temperatures are dropping... but I think there may still be a few days left for walks outside to watch the autumn leaves change. To pay attention and give some time to really look.

Pastor Joy

In every breath

I thank thee
(from the book Graces)

For diamond-studded velvet
behind a silver moon
For music of the nightwinds,
A nightingale's sweet tune--
For whispering trees
And darkening peace--
I thank thee.

For mountains carved of sea pearls
For clouds that shroud their heights
For pristine air like nectar
And ghostly northern lights
For misty vales
And secret dales--
I thank thee.

For fiery fuchsia ribbons
That stream across the sky
For opalescent sunsets
And mornings dipped in dye
For mornings pale
And day's finale--
I thank thee.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

love and justice

The summer of seminarians visiting camps as "Outdoor Ministry Ambassadors" (OMAs) has begun! Read the reflections of Adam and Rebecca at our partner blog "The Seminarian's Sojourn."
Henry David Thoreau wrote, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." I think you'll find that lots is being learned in the woods this summer.
Happy reading,
Pastor Joy

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

guide our feet

I have done a lot of walking these past months... through Germany and Switzerland, walking where the Reformers walked, and then in Mexico and Texas with the "Serving Christ in the World" Youth in Mission program. It has been a tremendous journey. And, today, I had the opportunity to talk with a prospective student who has just been in Jordan, Israel/Palestine and Egypt and now finds Jesus leading her to LSTC. There are so many connections between these places we've walked: Germany, Jerusalem, the borderlands. Each one has walls/barriers and in each place, God is working to bring people together across them. We may stumble and even fall, but we continue to pray that God might work in, through and in spite of us.
while we run this race,
Pastor Joy

Saturday, June 28, 2008

compassion and grace

A poem by Julian of Norwich -

I understood that
our sensuality is grounded
in Nature, in Compassion
and in Grace.
This enables us to receive
gifts that lead to
everlasting life.
For I saw that in our sensuality
God is.
For God is never out of
the soul.

photo taken outside the Church of Reconciliation, Berlin, Germany

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Alleluia! Jesus is risen! We have been on a journey. And now, the journey of Lent—with its powerful encounters, with its building drama of challenges and conflicts—is finished. Now, the journey through Holy Week and the Three Days—the final walk through Jesus’ turbulent life, betrayal, cross and burial—is complete. But the celebration of new life and resurrection has just begun.

Weather-permitting, this is where I’ll be on Easter Sunday, after we’ve sung our alleluias throughout the morning. I’ll be in a garden, sharing a meal, with neighbors I barely know. One host is an artist and dancer, who makes art from junk he finds in the dumpsters and who has the most amazingly wild corner garden I’ve seen in Chicago. Another host is an artist of another kind--she bakes incredible “sugarkist” desserts. And other neighbors invited promise to be a motley crew because these two artists invite with abandon.

And I will be there, for the Easter egg hunt and egg decorating and potluck… but that’s not all. I will be there as one “chosen by God as a witness, one who has eaten and drank with Jesus after he rose from the dead.” What does this mean? I will be in a garden, sharing a meal... Might I see the one Mary mistook for a gardener? Might I be called upon to share some good news of resurrection, since I am a witness?

My most favorite “title” I’ve ever been given came from a friend, who was introducing me in a group where I think he sensed “pastor” might feel alienating. He introduced me as a “soul artist.” And, I’m pretty sure that this articulates the Spirit’s invitation on this day when God has acted. The Spirit sings, “Join with me in this creative endeavor.”

How might we share the good news of Jesus with creativity, joy and artistry? With love & delight? As those who have shared a meal with Jesus, who have received forgiveness through Jesus’ name, may we recognize the Gardener, who calls each one by name.

Alleluia! Jesus is risen!

Creative God, on this day, you have acted. Forgive us for the ways we fail to recognize you and fail to proclaim deep joy. Thank you for accompanying us on the journey and for leading us into the future. Alleluia!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


I wish that God's call was as easy to hear as the photo I have of officially receiving the call to serve Galilee Lutheran Church in Pewaukee, WI (my first call). In that photo, I'm standing in the classic red phone booth of the UK. I happened to be in Nottingham, England the day the congregation voted. So, there I am, in the red phone booth, on the phone, "called." It's a fun photo. I'm smiling. I kept it so that I'd remember on the tough days, I really was called...

But so much of the time, as you already know, it's so much less obvious than that. What's next, God? One of my colleagues describes a moment in his life where he was offered two drastically different jobs, literally, a fork in the road. He chose one and then spent 6 very low months, wondering and wrestling. Did he make the right choice? After that time, though, he says, "I've never looked back."

Most of the time, for me, life has been a series of seeing only the next step. Not at all seeing the end or the total picture of how this is all going to fit together. I have needed to remind myself... there is no bad choice here, just taking the next step in faith that God will be able to work, within and in spite of us. And, that God works (thanks be to God!) even when we sleep.

In thanks for God's presence and promises,
Pastor Joy

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Meant to shine

Meant to shine—2 Timothy 1: 1-7 a sermon preached at Gustavus on February 14, 2008

To make a long story very short, there was a big snow storm in Chicago last week so a short flight home from San Antonio, TX became a 13-hour travel day where I flew to Denver then to Minneapolis and never actually did make it home to Chicago. It was Ash Wednesday. I had the opportunity at the beginning of the journey to talk on the phone with a good friend and mentor—and because he seems to be spiritually grounded so much of the time, when he said, “Hmmmm… stuck in an airport, there’s lots of sermon material in airports,” I paid attention.
So last Wednesday, while you were (perhaps) being marked with a cross of oil and ashes—a sign of our humanness & brokenness & blessedness—I was sitting and eating a vegetable sandwich and watching the myriad of people gathered on the holy ground of the Denver airport. In the course of my travels that day, I read a beautiful sermon from this book Earth & Word, about the body of life-giving, life-sustaining, baptism-evoking waters also called Lake Michigan. And I thought of our church’s renewed focus on baptism during this season we once called a “dry” season…
And I read and re-read 2 Timothy—our text for today—with you in mind. What is it that God wants to say to us today—in the midst of a cold February, in the beginning of Lent, on Valentine’s Day, on one more day of discerning our life’s journey?

The letter to Timothy begins “To Timothy, my beloved child”—and evokes Jesus’ own baptism where a voice from heaven says, “You are my son, the beloved.” Then Paul describes a whole legacy of faith—Paul’s own faith-filled ancestors, the mother & grandmother of Timothy. These are the ones who went before, who prayed and cried with joy and planted the seeds of sincere faith. Now, Timothy is growing up—maybe just as strong in faith as ever, maybe needing some encouragement, maybe full of questions, maybe full of doubts and fears—and so this encouragement comes… “rekindle again the gift of God in you. For God has not given a spirit of cowardice but of power and LOVE and self-discipline.” Why? Because “God has called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to God’s purpose and grace.” [2 Timothy 1: 9]

That’s also why we, as ELCA Seminary Admissions representatives, come to visit you—because we are convinced that God is calling, not just some of us but everyone.
That’s why representatives of numerous outdoor ministries are here—because God may be calling you to rekindle the gifts that are in you… to go with faith into a summer of ministry with youth & families, in the midst of God’s creation. A place where you might sit as I did last summer around a campfire & a cross, looking at a star-filled sky, hearing God’s word in a whole new way. God is calling.
That’s why we are present from the ELCA seminaries, because God has called each of us with a holy calling that will lead some to seminary to prepare for a whole variety of ministries—ordained ministry of word & sacrament; lay rostered ministries of word & service, preparation for delving deeply into study & research to prepare for a vocation of teaching; theological training to prepare to work for justice & peace through all the world; and more…
And whether you are thinking of coming to camp or seminary or not… we are interested in hearing your stories because the chance to witness (to see and hear) YOU fills us with joy. These are the kinds of encounters that are possible today—as we share our stories with each other—conversations that rekindle the gift of God that is within not just some of us but everyone.
You may have heard this quote before but somehow, each time I hear it, it always seems to be right on time… first written by Marianne Williamson, it was most famously paraphrased by Nelson Mandela:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves: Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world…
We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

This past weekend, I watched the movie Evan Almighty. I know this film’s been out for awhile but I just saw it so for any who have not yet… it’s the story of Noah (or Evan, in this case) coming literally true in our day. Evan Baxter is a political candidate who has been elected on the promise of… you guessed it, change! His plan is to change the world and at the prompting of his wife, Joan, he prays… “God, help me change the world.” And that sets off a course of bizarre events—a tool box & huge loads of wood delivered to his door, animals in pairs following him everyone, God (embodied by Morgan Freeman) appearing again and again with the message—build an ark. “But this wasn’t in my plans!” Evan argues and God laughs. Maybe I’ve never liked that saying—when we make plans, God laughs—because it sounds a little menacing… but it was clear in Morgan Freeman’s portrayal that really it is the laugh of a generous God, One who has a sense of humor, and a view of the bigger picture that we’d like to be able to see.
Well, Evan finally wears down, not without a struggle, and starts construction. Of course, everyone thinks he’s nuts. And although God promises that he “only asks us to do something because he LOVES us,” when things get bleakest, Evan does shout—“if you’re only doing this because you love me, could you love me less?”
At this point in the movie, I start speaking my questions aloud to the screen. “How is Evan going to be vindicated in front of his mocking neighbors?” “But, if everyone else gets drowned, how is this going to be a comedy?” “God, you can’t just talk to the man in the family, you need to tell the woman what’s going on!”
And as if on cue, God does just that, meeting Joan in a restaurant and asking her questions about her theology…
When you pray for courage, do you think God gives you courage or an opportunity to show courage? When you pray for patience, do you think God gives you patience or an opportunity to practice patience? When you pray for a closer relationship, does God just make it so or give you the circumstances where that can grow?
In true comic fashion, things turn out pretty well—Evan does change the world, not at all in the way he imagined—and is filled with a new sense of purpose and priorities… somehow, through it all, the gift of God is rekindled in Evan… not a spirit of cowardice but of powerful love—the love of God for all creation.

Change the world? Do you dare to imagine your future in those terms?

If not, what needs to be rekindled in you? A few weeks ago, I stayed with a friend whose heat supply for her home is a wood stove—so I had hands-on practice in rekindling. First, we had to open various doors and slots in the oven. Because whether you have glowing coals or are starting from nothing, to build a fire, you need fresh air. In airplane travels lately, I hear it at least twice a week “Put your oxygen mask on first.”
You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.

There are many things that we might fear… on Valentine’s Day, during Lent, as we attempt to look into and imagine the future... but how does it change things to know that God does not give a spirit of cowardice but of strength and LOVE and ability?
And here, just a word about Valentine’s Day… maybe one of the more hated holidays by at least half the population either because it’s been totally commercialized, totally over-rated, a day of dashed hopes & expectations, etc.
So, I’m confessing that in spite of all that, I love Valentine’s Day—and not because I’m a total sap or because it’s a day of flowers and chocolates, but because when I was a teenager, maybe the time when I felt most unloved & unlovely in my life… my Dad started giving me Valentines. A box of Crunch & Munch is the small gift I remember. A simple card. But it was unexpected and needed. And somehow, it’s propelled me to use this day say to “I love you”… “you are deeply loved” to those who might not expect it. Maybe this day works for me a little bit like these words to Timothy, reminding me how much we need to hear:
My beloved child—grace, mercy and peace to you
I am so grateful to God when I think of you…I pray for you every day
I long to see you because when I see you I’m filled with joy
Rekindle the gift of God that is in you—because God gives you
power and ability and LOVE.

Somehow, it makes sense that this day of LOVE falls in the midst of Lent—that it is immersed, flooded with the waters of baptism—which tell us the story of the deep love of God in Jesus Christ, a love that rekindles this fire, that fills us with oxygen, that reminds us “your playing small doesn’t serve the world,” for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather a spirit of power and ability and LOVE.

Pass it on.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Earth & Word

I've been reading this collection of sermons and essays on saving the planet, edited by David Rhoads (professor of New Testament here at LSTC). So far, the richest words I've read have come from Wendell Berry, describing what makes for "good work."
"It does not dissociate life and work, or pleasure and work, or love and work, or usefulness and beauty. To work without pleasure or affection, to make a product that is not both useful and beautiful, is to dishonor God, nature, the thing that is made and whomever it is made for..."
Berry goes on to describe how in the scriptures, there is a poetry of awe and respect and profound cherishing for nature. And that includes us. We are people made of dust and breath--together these make us living souls. "God did not make a body and put a soul into it, like a letter into an envelope." Instead, with God's breath, the dust lives. We do not embody souls but become them--"creatures of God, members of the holy community of creation."
This seems like a great re-focusing as we consider call, vocation, next steps. How might I continue to weave love and work, usefulness and beauty? How might I both breathe in the breath of God and honor the dust from which I was formed? And how might more and more people do this together so that we might honor together the whole community of creation?

In another sermon in this same book, Margaret Bullitt-Jonas gives this route to discernment--
1) Prayer roots us in the love of God that extends through all creation.
2) Prayer also gives us courage to share Christ's crucifixion, mourn the losses and feel the grief.
3) Through the spirit of the risen Christ, we are sent out to act, to do what we can to transform the world.

She says "There is good nourishment to be had in a life lived like that."

In prayer and gratitude,
Pastor Joy

Friday, January 18, 2008

a fresh start

When pressed to make a new year's resolution, I could only think of one--get blogging! So, after a long absence, I'm again committing to this once a week practice of sharing with you why I am blessed to be a witness.

I've noticed that's how God's call can be, too. Sometimes, there are periods of silence. Or, as is more often the case for me, there are periods of such constant activity that we get lost in it. In these times, it's easy to lose our way. Like in any relationship, you can find yourself asking--what am I doing? where am I going? I need to breathe.

In her book Breathing Space, Pastor Heidi Neumark shares a winter poem written by Burnice, a phenomenal woman who's conquered crack, abuse, depression, and intemperate weather morning, noon and night.

My daughter says to me
"Mom here's the school bus"
I say "I love you, have a nice day."
Then, as I walk
I see the sun on my left.
It's coming across the sky
To try and meet the moon
On this early cold morning

Now the dark sky is all gone
A new day has dawned.
The birds sing their morning song
And I thank God that I am alive
On this early cold morning.

Pastor Joy