Sunday, September 11, 2016

Lost... and found

 Luke 15

In Luke the story of the lost sheep is just the first of three stories in a row about something or someone who’s lost. These three stories are a response to grumbling at Jesus about who Jesus eats with… sinners, tax collectors… distasteful people of both the low and high class. And in response, Jesus tells stories about one sheep in a flock of 100 who goes missing. A wise shepherd, of course, goes and finds that sheep and celebrates the find (sheep are valuable)… The second story is about a woman who loses one of her ten precious coins. She sweeps every nook and cranny until she finds it and celebrates (coins are valuable). The third story is about a son who leaves home with his inheritance, spends it all, experiences famine and when all is lost, when he finally comes to himself and decides to return home, his father runs to him in celebration (children are valuable).

Lost stories

Some pastors gathered around a table Wednesday morning… to talk about lost things.

A lost sheep, a lost coin… a lost boy from Minnesota whose bones were finally found, after his disappearance and tragic death 27 years ago.

And at our table, there was deep grief for everything and everyone… lost.

We all have our “lost” stories.

On this fifteenth anniversary of September 11th, 2001, we remember … some of us were there in New York, many others can remember where they were in the moments they heard the news and how it impacted them that day and in the days and weeks and months that followed. It’s a “lost” story—loss of lives, loss of a certain sense of security and invulnerability…

When we try to hold all those lost stories by ourselves, they become overwhelmingly heavy. But at that table of conversation and grief, here are some of the ways forward that we imagined together:

Yes, we all have “lost” stories, but we also have “found” stories… some we might even remember that were connected to that day, Sep. 11th, neighbors who looked out for each other in new ways, an outpouring of support for firefighters and others who rush in to find when others are rushing out, people gathering together throughout this country and throughout the world for vigils out of their grief and love. There were some ways that we found one another again in the days after feeling so lost…


Found stories

What are your “found” stories? When have you known that someone, that God, sees you, knows you deeply, loves you even more deeply?

On Friday, I found myself at Luther Seminary to meet some of the 95 new students entering the Christian Public Leader program… at least one of whom plans to join us this year at Christ. I had no sooner announced that we still had openings for a seminarian when Rev. Bitrus Bamai, from Nigeria, said, “I will be your student. I will come to Christ.” As we chatted, we found we had children of similar ages… but Bitrus was also drawn to this context because he has never worked under a woman. So, immediately, we found both places of connection and places where we will have work to do as we learn one another’s cultures.

It is such an honor and privilege for us to have international seminary students each year at Christ. It gives us the opportunity to stretch and grow. It helps us to ask the question, “What are our patterns of sameness and what could we do differently?” Although we are a multicultural congregation already, these relationships can help us to grow from a place of de-emphasizing difference (a belief that we are really all the same essentially) to more deeply comprehending the beautiful diversity that God created and loves and somehow, miraculously brings together here… and as we do that, as we comprehend how different we really are, we start to really see and know each other, and potentially find that we are deeply known. This takes work, but it is good work, it is life-giving work, it is visionary “tree of life” work.

Where do you feel lost?

What are some of your own stories of being found?

This week, think about these stories… are there certain stories that you come back to again and again? I know there are for me… And what would it mean for us to release into God’s care some of those lost stories and shape our storytelling, shape our lives around the ways that we’ve been found?

Would re-telling our stories, and especially the stories of how God finds us, help us to have more energy to reach out, build community, act as the body of Christ?

I’ll never forget one of the storytelling events that Humble Walk hosted a few years back. My friend Nate Houge shared a story about the grief-filled process of giving up on a dream. He wanted to be a full-time professional musician, and he described in detail his last tour… a tour where few fans showed, and finally he decided to give it all up. He ended the story saying something like this, “So now, I’m baking bread... and on Wednesdays, that’s where I can be found.” The way he said that, “that’s where I can be found…” hit me very deeply, it was very deeply true, full of possibility, the Holy Spirit was there… after this vulnerable story of feeling like a failure, this ending had this little spark of life. It was hopeful.

Some of you know the rest of the story since then… Nate and Micah not only continued but expanded their bread-baking. They have their own bakery, and on Wednesdays, we have bread deliveries here from Brake Bread.

We don’t want to lose anyone or anything we care about… we don’t want to fail, we feel crushed, we can’t see the way forward, we get lost…

But Jesus challenges us and stretches us in this story because too often, our imagination is not as big as God’s imagination.

God is not only the Good Shepherd, but is Our Lady of the Broom. God is that Father that runs out to meet and welcome home the child that was lost. And we sometimes grumble about that because it’s hard to believe that God is that deeply compassionate… we would sometimes rather have God just be fair, particularly in the face of evil, we don’t know what to do.

We weep. We become angry. We resist. We despair.

But God invites us to another set of practices, another way of life so that we may know that we are truly known, that we are beloved, that we are free, that we are found… this is what God does and invites us to join in:
We hope. We forgive. We gather together. We receive communion. We sing. We pray. We serve. We advocate. We act. We seek. We find. We draw in. We belong. We look for the reign of God breaking in. We practice.

I’ll end with this blessing from Jan Richardson – Beloved is Where We Begin[1]

[1] “Beloved is Where We Begin,” found in Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons by Jan Richardson

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Like a tree planted by water

Deuteronomy 30, Psalm 1, and Luke 12  - Cosmos Sunday 

Who are you?

It’s Labor Day weekend, so we might answer the way so many North Americans answer… with our jobs. I’m a pastor. I’m a lawyer. I’m retired. I’m an artist, a musician, a writer. I clean houses. I work in a hospital. I work for 3M or Boston Scientific. Or maybe since it’s back-to-school time, we might answer, I’m a teacher. I’m a student. I’m a weary parent…

Who are you?

Last Sunday, I was in Decorah, Iowa because a college friend had died and in trying to understand what had happened to her, I realized that other close friends were going through major life changes in that same congregation… the whole Decorah community reeling from horrible flooding, our friends packing up boxes after 15 fruitful years there, their pastor grieving the loss of her best friend. It was a kairos moment—the opportune time to be a friend, to be present, to share a meal, to pack some boxes… to reflect on who we have been over the years, crossing paths with them. And then at Monday’s funeral, I kept looking at the family of my friend who had died suddenly—her husband, her kids—and I kept thinking, “Who will they become in view of this deep loss?” True… people are often so much more resilient than we can imagine, life goes on, but I cried a lot looking over at Sarah’s 16-year-old daughter, Anna, and younger Maren and little Stefan… and I’ve been carrying her little leaflet around in my purse. She selflessly ministered to others… and now she’s dead.

Who are you?

It’s Cosmos Sunday, so maybe our imaginations get a little bigger, imagining who we are on this tiny but (as far as we know) uniquely life-giving planet. Who are we in view of the whole cosmos, all God’s handiwork? In one way, we could see ourselves as no more important than a speck of dust, but then… I think of Madeleine L’Engle, an American writer of young adult fiction who won a Newberry Medal for A Wrinkle in Time, whose writings reflected both her Christian faith and her strong interest in modern science. In some of her novels, the characters travel in time and space. In others, they travel to the most microscopic places of the human body. These books captured my imagination, noticing our God who is not only present in the widest parts of the cosmos but in the tiniest mitochondria.

It is with all this in mind, that I hear in these Bible readings for today questions about our identity, “Who are we?”

Who are we in view of the words from the prophet in Deuteronomy—

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days…” and what would that mean to choose life? Well, to this prophet it meant to follow the Torah, the instructive law, the way of God.

Who are we in view of Psalm 1, which is the Psalm for this Sunday and goes like this:

Psalm 1

Happy [“enviable”[1]] are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; 2 but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on God’s law they meditate day and night. 3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. 4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous, 6 for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

What does wicked mean here? Judging life according to their own standards.

What does it mean to be in the company of the righteous? Being with those who rely on God…. until we get there, too.

And right in the middle of that 1st Psalm—there is an image again (this image that we’ve been focusing on all year, this image that is repeated over and over again throughout the Bible) of the tree, a tree planted by water, roots drinking it in & being nourished, lush leaves, bearing fruit in season…

Who are we? Do we delight in God’s ways? Do we meditate on God’s word day and night?

A Danish Lutheran said, “To meditate on the psalms is … to be ourselves before God, to sing full-throated songs of praise when that is appropriate and to give honest articulation to our despair when we are sad. To present our very ordinary selves, our daily selves, to God, that is the advice of the Psalm.”[2]

Who are we in view of this challenge from Jesus in the words from Luke—

“Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

Jesus invites followers to form their identity in full view of death and loss, the loss of everything… but this is not just counting the cost…

Caroline Lewis says this:

“When it’s all about cost, it’s all about what you give up. What you sacrifice. What you deny. When faith is cast as cost, we become rather ignorant of the fact that life itself is costly, not just faith. Life is full of choices, of counting the costs, weighing the costs. The cross is not unique but representative of what life is. To carry your cross is to carry the choices and burdens and realities of a life that has made a certain commitment -- a commitment to a way of life that is committed to bringing about the Kingdom of God here and now. That’s certainly what it meant for Jesus.”[3]

“So, carrying your cross is a choice and ironically, it is a choice for life and not death.”

Who are we today? Who will we be?

[1] Rolf Jacobson, Sermon Brainwave, for September 4, 2016
[2] Paraphrasing Kierkegaard, Paul K.-K. Cho, Commentary on Psalm 1 from, accessed 9/2/2016
[3] Caroline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, accessed 9/2/2016