Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Spirit tending

Today, I had the opportunity to reflect with my spiritual director on an image that I've loved for a long time--"Tree of Life" by Kristin Gilje. I have a copy of Kristen's beautiful painting in my office and a photo of that painting on my laptop so I see it nearly every day.

The image shows the tree of life with its roots firmly planted in the river of life. There's a rainbow in the water's spray and the tree is lush--with the twelve kinds of fruit and the leaves for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22). Within the trunk of the tree is a human image, an image of the divine One perhaps.

It is a beautiful and life-giving image for me, reminding me of what's important in our busy days--to cling to that tree, to firmly plant our roots in living water, to take in nourishment from the One who is our source so that we might bear fruit.

As you consider next steps in your life, God give you refreshment and all that you need to sustain you,
Pastor Joy

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Earth Year at LSTC

This lush tree is across the street from my home and as we walk by it each night, we've imagined that its name is "Elwood." We speak to it--hang in there through the winds of stormy nights; thank you for your shade; you are beautiful and grand.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to read a moving article in the most recent edition of Spiritus--by Mary Frolich called "Under the Sign of Jonah: Studying Spirituality in a Time of Ecosystemic Crisis"--I recommend it highly. I was moved by the themes of the article to spend the evening at the shore of Lake Michigan.

The summer feels like its coming to an end--classes will soon be in session again--and with that, there is both grief and joy. We will welcome students back to campus! The days are growing shorter once again but peaches are in season. The warmth of the sun will fade but we will have the opportunity to enjoy the harvest, cultivated in its rays. And, at LSTC, it is the beginning of our Earth Year! If you're on Facebook, check out Earth Year at LSTC: 2009-2010.

Pastor Joy

Saturday, August 15, 2009

on the brink of big decisions...

In the midst of our church making decisions together, I pray for each of you who contemplate seminary and leadership/service in the church. I turn again and again to the story of Esther and her mentor/uncle Mordecai's call and question to her to step up on behalf of her people, "Who knows? Perhaps you are in this place and this time for just such a time as this."
Her response? In paraphrase: I will go and if I perish, I perish.

This is a time when leadership in the church is critically needed. We need people willing to take risks--even to put their life on the line on behalf of God's people. Could you be one of those who God is calling for "such a time as this?" Leadership as a pastor or rostered leader will certainly not be glamorous, as we might imagine Queen Esther's to have been or as we might imagine some past incarnation of "pastor" to have been... but that does not make the need any less great.

The future of our church body, our institutions, our congregations is not altogether certain but God's faithfulness is unending. God is still calling leaders into service. God sends the Holy Spirit to gather, enlighten, enliven and santify the church, the body of Christ--and perhaps the way of the church will radically change as we go into the future, but the One who died and was raised accompanies us on this journey... through whatever may come.

In the One who died and was raised to new life,
Pastor Joy

Friday, July 24, 2009

dreaming awake

To prepare for the ELCA Youth Gathering in New Orleans, I attended a film showing of "Trouble the Waters," an independent film. It showed not only the hurricane and breaking of the levees at the time of hurricane Katrina but the aftermath over the course of two years. Some of the things that I learned in this film, I had not heard before.

The prison was not evacuated. Workers took the TVs out before the storm began, then locked everyone in their cells. For days, there was no food or water, just a locked prison. The hospital was not completely evacuated. Some people were simply left to die in their beds. When people from the ninth ward realized they were going to have to get themselves out--they would not be rescued--they were told by the Coast Guard to go to the Navy base (but no one aparently communicated that to the Navy base) because at the Navy base (where there were hundreds of empty beds), the men kept the people out at gunpoint. They received an award from President Bush for mitigating what "might have been a violent interaction."

Story after story showed how this was not a natural disaster but a disaster of human failure upon failure...from the failure of the levees to the failure to meet promises made to people who suffered through this ordeal.

Now, I'm here in New Orleans, mostly protected from the realities of that time by a sparkly French quarter, beautiful hotel and a massive Convention Center. However, amidst the fun, there are moments for engaging the realities. Youth and adults are donating their blood and their hair for those who need it. There is the opportunity to walk through a FEMA trailer and to learn at a Freedom School. And, we are entering hurricane season. It's muggy hot and thick with humidity. Each day, it's rained in the middle of the afternoon.

That's maybe part of why I dreamed this morning that it was happening to us. In the dream, there was a smell and we looked outside at the swelling river and cried out, "The levee's breaking." We started running, we were calling out for family and friends. Although I tried, I couldn't fall back asleep after that. The fear was too real; my heart was beating too fast.

In Isaiah 43, we read:
"Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you."
This word--from the God who created us, who formed us.

We were asked in the mass gathering at the start of this event to bear witness (to see, to hear, to experience) and to tell the truth about what was experienced here in New Orleans. How God was here through the flood, present with those for whom the water was up to their neck. Present as neighbors reached out to one another and gave help. Present, wearied and grieving, as humans failed one another.

God is present with you, too, as you consider next steps in your life, as you listen for God's call. If you are overwhelmed, hold on to this. The One who created you and who forms us in community is with you--you are precious in God's sight and honored and loved. God will make a way out of no way.

Wade in the water, for there, God can hide you & protect you--and on the other side is freedom.
Pastor Joy

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

first course: dignity

Trinity Lutheran Church
Volunteers serving the homeless
First course: dignity

Read the story behind the ad.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

theology in a nutshell

Today, I had reason to remember that conversation years ago on my NE Iowa Candidacy Committee when they asked, "What's the gospel in a nutshell?" I gave an answer somewhat similar to the words in John 3:16... God loves us and because God loved us so much, God gave us Jesus who gave his life for us. My answer didn't meet their expectations and they encouraged me to work on it. Somehow, by the grace of God, I eventually spoke some word that reassured them that I could be approved for ordination and make the promises to preach and teach in accordance with the holy scriptures, the creeds and the Lutheran confessions--that my theology was Lutheran. "We are saved by grace through faith and that is not our own doing but is a gift of God."

I've never been very comfortable with pat answers for complex questions. That said, I can understand why people ask. What we believe about God, God's role in the world, sin and evil, our role in the world as flawed and amazing human beings--all of that is important. And we especially want to know where our leaders are coming from on these most important matters.

In ministry, though, it's surprising how seldom one is asked "What's your theology?" More often the questions come in other forms. Why did God allow that to happen? What am I supposed to do with my life? What does the Bible say about ____? Does God love me? And even then, if I fall into answering, those answers are not always most helpful.

What I do know is that God has given a variety of gifts... some of us are passionate about stunning articulation of profound truths, some of us can speak a real and concrete word of God's love for the sinner and transformation of lives, some of us cling to the wonder and mystery of the God of all creation, some of us hear the voice of Jesus speaking right to our hearts, some of us are working for God's reign of justice and peace to be realized more fully. We see Jesus as lord, savior, friend, teacher/prophet, lover. It seems to me that all these ways of sensing God's presence in our lives are needed--not only broadly among people of Christian faith--but even among Lutherans. God created a body with a beautiful diversity.

Perhaps one of my strongest convictions is that God has created us to love us. Jesus showed us who God is and loved us even to the point of dying but God raised him from the dead. When Jesus' earthly life was done we received an Advocate--the Holy Spirit who calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies. We are broken vessels but God continues to work, a patient potter, to mold us--into those who love God and one another. I'm still not sure I've got that "gospel in a nutshell" answer right (maybe you feel that way too) but God is not finished with us yet.

As we grapple with theology on the way,
Pastor Joy

Monday, May 04, 2009

you have come down to the lakeshore

You have come down to the lakeshore... I love this hymn about how Jesus seeks not necessarily who we might expect but the one who has just a little, just a small boat, and who is willing to leave even that little to follow Jesus wherever Jesus calls.

Recently, I had the opportunity to be in the great northwoods of Wisconsin, and to sit at this lakeshore and admire the light of the setting sun on this group of small boats.

I can get caught up in many things--and it was good to sit and ponder a simple scene, an abandoned beach, and to listen quietly for God's voice. I don't like waiting but waiting is certainly a part of call. Waiting for something to emerge, waiting for God's voice to become clearer, waiting for the time to be right... thanks be to God that in this season, we experience not only waiting but buds unfolding, leaves unfurling, flowers opening. This is a season when something is happening; even if we do not yet know the end, things have begun.

Blessings as buds unfold,
Pastor Joy

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Spring in Chicago

Psalm 23 - words from Bobby McFerrin

The Lord is my Shepherd, I have all I need,
She makes me lie down in green meadows,
Beside the still waters, She will lead.

She restores my soul, She rights my wrongs,
She leads me in a path of good things,
And fills my heart with songs.

Even though I walk through a dark and dreary land,
There is nothing that can shake me,
She has said She won't forsake me,
I'm in her hand.

She sets a table before me, in the presence of my foes,
She anoints my head with oil,
And my cup overflows.

Surely, surely goodness and kindness will follow me,
All the days of my life,
And I will live in her house,
Forever, forever and ever.

Glory be to our Mother, and Daughter
and to the Holy of Holies,
As it was in the beginning, is and ever shall be
World without end. Amen

Thursday, March 26, 2009

seeds of call

"Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit... those who love their life lose it... now my soul is troubled." Jesus as described in John 12:24, 25, 27

It's heart-wrenching. It's true. Creation and even the One who according to John "was in the beginning with God" dies in order that new life/fruit might spring up.

But it's not suicidal, it's not a giving up on life or a turning inward so that he can't see anything but death. Jesus loves life. Jesus loves people and wants to be with them... so no wonder his soul is troubled as he looks to the cross. It's one thing to be compared to the healing serpent in the wilderness, it's another to face the "lifting up" that will mean death on a cross. God loves the whole creation so much that God gives us Jesus who walks with us even to death--and somehow, doesn't beg to get of out of it... doesn't run away... says to disciples who can't even bear to think about the cross "when I am lifted up from the earth [on which I love to walk], I will draw all people to myself."

And so we're drawn in... to the story, to Jesus' stretched out arms, to Jesus' loving embrace.
And the seeds of the Spirit's calling are planted... and wait to sprout and grow.

In this fertile season,
Pastor Joy

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

what kind of greeting?

Today is the day of the Annunciation of Our Lord. I've read so many good nuggets about this day when an angel messenger, Gabriel, came to Mary with the words, "Greetings, favored one. The Lord is with you!"
And she pondered what kind of greeting this might be.

Smart girl. People of faith sometimes look at Mary as simply an obedient servant, acquiescing to God's will. However, I notice her questions. "What does this mean? How can this be?"

Before she says the courageous "let it be," she looks at Gabriel with the quizzical eyes of a teenager. But because she trusts God, she's game.

Right between Lenten Sundays four and five, where Jesus describes in more and more detail God's love for all people and his willingness to face even the cross for us, we look back to the story of Jesus' conception--when Mary heard how a call from God that would change her whole life, heard who she would bring to birth and somehow passed on these seeds of this "yes" to her son.

As we go through these days of life and death and messengers from God (however cleverly disguised), may we be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit to say in response to God, "let it be with me according to your will"... even with our questions along the way.

Pastor Joy

Friday, February 27, 2009

Jesus in the wilderness

Mark 1:9-14
Preached at Bethany College

I’m not sure there is any gospel more like a film than Mark. And this is one meant to change your life.

Mark’s gospel reads like an action-thriller and you can read the whole thing in about the same time as you could watch an action film. The first scenes feature John—a wild man—in the wilderness, plunging his hand into the beehive and plucking critters off the ground to get something to eat. Living in the wilderness changes people… and it made John a radical. He preached such a provocative message that by 10 minutes into the story, he’s been arrested.

Then comes Jesus’ baptism by John. Jesus has an amazing experience coming up out of the water—something dramatic happens in the sky and the Spirit descends on him and a voice speaks to Jesus, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” But the same Spirit that descends like a dove is not just a peaceful presence—without time to take a breath, that Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness.

Jesus spends 40 days there. Hmmm… forty days, like the days and nights of the flood—that Noah and his family and all creatures spent on the ark. Forty days, the time that Moses spent with God on Sinai. Although we don’t know exactly the significance, 'forty days and forty nights' is a common duration for great transitions.

During this great transition, Jesus experiences temptation by Satan, lives with wild beasts, and angels serve him. We don’t know exactly what the temptation was like or how Jesus felt surrounded by the wild things—was he afraid for his life or was it more like the vivid painting by Stanley Spencer where a grizzled Jesus is meditating on a scorpion cradled in his hands?
Angels served Jesus… we don’t know what messages or ministering they brought, but throughout the biblical drama, most often, angels say… “Don’t be afraid” so we can imagine that they are voices of reassurance during the isolated, sparse, thirsty wilderness time.
So we get a glimpse of how 40 days in the wilderness prepared Jesus for the ministry to come. And why, when John was arrested, Jesus was ready to step in & begin right where John left off, proclaiming saying—“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
These are the first public words of Jesus and they flow right out of his time in the wilderness.

Wilderness changes people and that’s why we’re invited to the wilderness journey of Lent. If you were baptized, someone traced the sign of the cross on your forehead and said, “You are marked with the cross of Christ forever.” At the end of your life, someone may again anoint you with that same cross. And in between, we have annual Ash Wednesdays—like the one just past—where we’re marked with ashes and oil and reminded that we don’t go on this wilderness journey alone.

Wilderness time is not easy but it is definitely clarifying. Like one of my colleagues said about Tiger Wood’s loss yesterday at his first tournament since surgery—it will only make him stronger. Wilderness means challenge, difficulty; it shows us where we still need to grow.

Ten years ago, I spent a year volunteering at Holden Village, a retreat center in the Cascade mountains in Washington state and throughout that year, I had some amazing experiences of wilderness—both incredibly rich experiences and incredibly challenging experiences. I remember hiking up mountain passes and down snowy trails. We saw bears (from a safe distance) and incredible mountain lakes. When we are face to face with creation’s beauty and immensity, it’s incredible detail, we have the opportunity to experience wonder at God’s magnificent work and humility that we are a small part of this great creation. Time in the wilderness can give us a vision of what’s most important in life and provide space and time to listen for God’s voice.

It can also be terrifying. I remember one night where we were camping. There was a full moon and a herd of horses grazing all around us in the mountain pass. Every so often throughout the night, they would gallop to a new grazing place and their huge shadows would cross through our tent and I would whisper, “They’re not going to trample us, right?” Horses don’t trample people, right?

At Holden, I also experienced another kind of wilderness—facing my own flaws and brokenness. The challenge of living in a close community and seeing myself completely mess things up with people… and then have to go on living right beside them. I experienced the loneliness of living in a remote place and deeply missing family and friends, another kind of wilderness. Together with many others, in this place apart, we wondered what God was preparing us to do next.

All of these are wilderness experiences possible during this season of Lent. Maybe you will experience the Spirit driving you to a new place. Maybe you will be tempted. Maybe you will experience wonder or fear. Maybe you’ll experience a loved one facing death. Maybe you’ll experience angels ministering to you. Maybe you’ll hear God’s voice in a new way. Maybe you’ll feel called to proclaim the good news. Maybe you’ll see that God’s kingdom is near.

Forty days and forty nights—it symbolizes a great transition—and maybe we’ll experience something like that—or maybe it will be a tiny awareness of how God’s Spirit is moving in and around us. The awareness of how we wander where Jesus has already led the way. The sense of how God’s kingdom continues to be near throughout these long, thirsty day s of Lent.

Whatever the result, one thing is certain. Living in the wilderness changes people and that’s why the Spirit drives us there—because the Spirit wants to change us… to melt us, mold us, fill us and use us—as God’s kingdom comes near.

Jesus is calling, “The time is now, the kingdom is near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Don’t be afraid. Come on the wilderness journey… God knows what waits for us there—and we will certainly not leave the same.

Pastor Joy

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Open the eyes of my heart, Lord. I want to see you. To see you high and lifted up, shining in the light of your glory. Pour out your power and love while we sing holy, holy, holy…

I would not call this one of my favorite songs.

Maybe it’s because it seems so individualistic or because I trust earthy visions of Jesus, son of man, a bit more than visions of Jesus “high and lifted up”—but on the other hand, this song does seem to express Transfiguration—this dazzling scene that we cannot fully comprehend. It’s a musical prayer that we might be open to seeing Jesus more clearly, a prayer that we might be moved to sing with the cherubim:
Holy, holy, holy... so may this be our prayer.

Two weeks ago on the campus of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, we hosted a conference on the power of Film & Faith—how each has the ability to reinforce and make deeper the stories of the other… and as a part of preparing for that conference, I watched the film The Whale Rider again… Maybe you’ve seen it—a story from the Maori people in New Zealand and about moment when there was a crisis of leadership.

[for the full text of this sermon about Transfiguration...]

Pastor Joy

Monday, January 19, 2009

an invitation to prayers of thanks

This image graced the bulletin cover at St. Paul and the Redeemer this weekend and it struck me--this is what HOPE means... it is not when victory is certain but when you pray from the jail cell.
I am continually challenged by the discipline of those who have gone before us--today, I remember especially the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.--in prayer, in clinging to hope, in envisioning God's reign spreading in spite of evidence to the contrary.
I hope that in the great cloud of witnesses beloved Martin and faithful Coretta as well as so many others who believed in and lived out the audacity of hope see their work as bearing fruit today, on the eve of an historic election.
No, it's not that I expect Obama to bring about a political utopia or that I expect him to be fully God's hands on earth--but it is remarkable to me that a man who proclaimed hope rather than fear has been elected and will be leading us. Hope--not prosperity, not individuality, not "us vs. them"--hope.
In these days of struggle--economically, ecologically, globally--may we pray like beloved Martin. May we cling to hope--not only in a president, not only in each other but in our God who is doing a new thing... that we might perceive it.

In awe and gratitude,
Pastor Joy