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.