30 March 2007

Friday Five: Holy Week, Batman!

Well, the Clergy Superbowl is almost upon us, and so, I offer up this Friday Five (with apologies for the irreverent title):

1. Will this Sunday be Palms only, Passion only, or hyphenated?
This year we've been calling it "Palm & Passion Sunday." It seems to capture the importance of both. I still encourage our members to come to all the Holy Week services, but I know that's not a possibility for everyone, so the reading of the Passion on Sunday doesn't bother me. This year we're doing a dramatic reading and I only have one line, so I get to step out of the way of the story and let the words be what they are without my input. That's a rare occasion and one I hope will be beneficial to our congregation.

2. Maundy Thursday Footwashing: Discuss.
It's never been done in any congregation of which I've been a part, clergy or lay. Growing up among Swedish Lutherans and now serving even more stoic Norwegian Lutherans, I think the intimacy of the service is, in a word, pretty frightening (and I mean that in the most tender way - I don't want to demean the folks I serve in any way, for in this respect I am one of them). Beloved and I have taken part in footwashing services on YouthWorks mission trips and it's always an intensely intimate experience. Peter's first response to Jesus in John makes absolute sense to me. That's one of the crosses I bear - a fear of that kind of deep intimacy with people outside of my family.

3. Share a particularly meaningful Good Friday worship experience.
When I was in college the Lutheran Student Center had a Passover Seder at 7:00 on Maundy Thursday, then the Maundy Thursday service at 9:00, followed by an all night prayer vigil, culminated with a Good Friday service centered on the Seven Last Words and the hymn "Jesus, in Thy Dying Woes" (all 21 verses). The silence and holiness of that service have always had a profound impact on me. This year our church will be using the Good Friday liturgy from our new Lutheran hymnal, which focuses more on the cross and less on Jesus' words from the cross. We will do the Bidding Prayer and Solemn Reproaches to close the service, but I will miss the Seven Last Words service I've grown to love.

4. Easter Sunrise Services--choose one:
a) "Resurrection tradition par excellence!"
b) "Eh. As long as it's sunrise with coffee, I can live with it."
c) "[Yawn] Can't Jesus stay in the tomb just five more minutes, Mom?!?"
I choose A, without a doubt. In my hometown, the sunrise service was always an ecumenical service, so we got to hear other preachers and worship with other friends and families (except for the Missouri Synod Lutherans, of course, but I hear that is changing a bit). Since I am now the President, Sergeant-at-Arms and Treasurer of our Barrett Ministerium of One, I do miss that collegiality and ecumenical experience. But we have our own Sunrise Service and it's a nice experience.

5. Complete this sentence: It just isn't Easter without...
Smartass answer: uhhh, the empty tomb? Hello? :-)
Serious answer: the hymns, the hymns, the hymns. I find that Easter sermons are pretty forgettable: how can you interpret the Resurrection and make it more wonderful than it already is? But the hymns say so much that sermons can't say - on Easter our worship team always plugs in every "Alleluia" we can find. This year I purchased a number of organ fanfares for our organist and asked her to see if she can work them into the service - hopefully it'll be an experience to remember.
Sentimental answer: Easter breakfast. My home church did an omelet feed, since my hometown was also the hometown of the M.G. Waldbaum company, one of the largest egg producers in the world. In my present call, it's been the tradition to do an Easter brunch between services. The chance to just sit, eat well and be in fellowship with my friends and family is one I enjoy much.

Bonus: Any Easter Vigil aficionados out there? Please share.
Beloved and I went to an Easter Vigil service last year and enjoyed it, though I think it was more because we could just worship and not LEAD worship. I hope to have a chance to develop a Vigil service somewhere in a future call; something tells me that our present location wouldn't produce the numbers required to make the time well-spent.

28 March 2007

Baby Ainsley 365: Playing in the Floor Mat

For some reason she LOVES that giraffe. ???

Save Studio 60

Beloved and I love the NBC show "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip." There are rumours it's going to be cancelled soon. If you like the show, sign the petition to save it.

Wise as Serpents

The Wittenburg Door newsletter sent links to a couple of stories about people who watch and challenge television "ministries" like Paul & Jan Crouch and Benny Hinn. Thank heaven there are people who want to expose the truth about most TV preachers. Here are the links:

ABC News story on MinistryWatch
Virginia Pilot story on Pat Robertson (YOU SUCK, PAT!)

27 March 2007

Baby Ainsley 365: Hangin' with Mom

We had a great day yesterday. Mondays are my day off (quiet, you), so we stayed home with Ainsley. The weather was beautiful - I did my five mile run in shorts and a t-shirt, and also finished in 48:25 while going against the wind both ways (shifting breezes) and working through a number of hills. After lunch I finished reading the Sunday paper and worked on stuff around the house while Beloved took Ainsley for a nice long walk around town in the stroller. She was a bit fussy when they got home but managed to calm down on her own for a nap in the swing.

Just after we snapped this picture, Beloved left for a meeting at her church and Dad & Ainsley had three hours on our own. The first hour was a crying jag - man, does our little girl have some good lungs! After she calmed down & had her evening bottle, I bundled her up and walked down to Roosevelt Hall for auditions for this summer's production, "Inherit the Wind." I think I might get the role I was hoping to get - woot! Ainsley started another crying fit just as I started reading for my part, but my fellow Prairie Wind Players were troopers and kept her occupied while I finished up my audition.

After I finished reading, I chatted with PWP friends for 20 minutes or so with Ainsley asleep in my arms, then we bundled her into the stroller for the walk home. Once we got home, I got her down to sleep before Beloved returned from her meeting. A great day all around.

I've decided to get back to more writing here and less reporting on baby stuff & memes, though I do enjoy that stuff and will continue to do some of them. I'll be posting a writing on wilderness later today and will hopefully be getting back to a weekly reflection now that life with Baby is getting a little more settled. If you're looking for good writing, check out Don't Eat Alone in my blogroll; Milton is a wonderfully talented writer and always has something thought-provoking to say.

26 March 2007

Baby Ainsley 365: Out for a little Jog

Okay, well, it wasn't a jog - we just wanted to try out the jogging stroller late Friday night. It was great until we were headed back home, looked down and realized that Ainsley's eyelids were getting blue. Apparently it wasn't as warm for Baby as it was for Mom & Dad. Oops. But she didn't cry and slept really well Friday night, so I guess all's well that ends well.

Your Ecological Footprint

Wonder how you impact the planet? Take this quiz and find out. You might be surprised - we are a recycling, composting family and didn't do well at all.

Monday Meme: My Firsts

I'm lifting this from Mark's blog: My Firsts

1. Who was your first prom date?
Uff - great one to start on. Her name was Jennifer, I met her at Music Camp, and she was everything Allyson Hannigan was NOT in American Pie. Wow, what a disaster. I spent all day cleaning up my dad's new pickup, and the first thing she said was "it smells like pigs." (he'd only had it for a month or so - that's some nose, huh?). The night just got worse from there. Both my junior and senior proms were terrible nights - maybe we could file that under "first experiences of abject humiliation?"

2. Who was your first roommate?
Not counting my brother, my first roommate was a guy named Brady at Music Camp. A great friend throughout my sophomore, junior & senior years of high school. I can't remember my first college roommate's name, but he was cool - we were both smokers and he had that giant poster of marching hammers from "The Wall" above his bed.

3. What alcoholic beverage did you first drink?
Not counting the occasional beer I snuck out of my parents' fridge, my first alcoholic beverage was a mixer of Seven-Up and Bubble Gum Schnapps. No, I wasn't at a sorority party - it was all my friend Aron could scare up before the Valentine's Day dance my senior year of high school.

4. What was your first job?
Box taper at Big Red, the egg packaging plant just outside of my hometown. Run the box through the taping machine, stack the box on a pallet: sixty cases to a pallet, thirty dozen eggs to a case. At least I didn't have to work in the chicken houses like my brother.

5. What was your first car?
A 1977 Buick LeSabre. Man, I loved that car. 350 V8 with a 4-barrel carbuerator - smooth sailor. I had a tape deck & everything!

6. When did you go to your first funeral?
I remember going to my Great-Grandma Spangler's funeral when I was 4 or so, I think. The first funeral I remember really well was my Grandpa Janke's funeral; I was 12, had just placed second in the county spelling bee, and the pastor told me that Grandpa had said he was very proud of me. That was a heck of a thing for a pastor to remember; he was a good guy.

7. Who was your first grade teacher?
Mrs. Sharpe. At the time I thought she was pretty mean, but by the time I graduated from high school I liked her quite a bit. She was a good teacher.

8. Where did you go on your first ride on an airplane?
When I was 14 my family drove from Nebraska to Seattle to visit my Aunt Phyllis & cousin Karen, stopping at Yellowstone and a number of other spots along the way. My Grandma & Grandpa Johnson flew out to Seattle, then they drove our car back & we flew home. Phyllis worked for Northwest Airlines at the time, so she was able to get some pretty cheap tickets for all of us, though I imagine we probably flew stand-by. I remember we connected from Seattle to Omaha through Las Vegas, and there were slot machines in the airport. Dad got to go play but we didn't. No fair!

9. When you snuck out of your house for the first time, who was it with?
Considering we lived three miles out of town, we didn't really sneak out of the house with anyone. I did sneak out once when I was really in trouble with my folks. I climbed a tree & hid up there, twenty feet off the ground, while my dad came looking for me. Stayed up there for about an hour or so, then came back to the house & took my medicine.

10. Where was your first sleepover?
My friend Anthony's house, about a mile away from our farm. During kindergarten & first grade, it seemed like every Friday one of us slept over with the other; we watched "The Dukes of Hazzard" Friday night & played football all day Saturday with our little brothers. Good times.

11. Who is the first person you talk to in the morning?
My daughter, though the conversation is generally one-sided.

12. Whose wedding were you in the first time?
I was the ring-bearer for my Uncle Ken's wedding when I was five. I remember the tuxedo shirt had ruffles and it didn't fit right; the photographer commented on my pants being really baggy and she was really mean. But my Aunt Arta's little sister was the flower girl and I remember thinking she was really cute.

13. What is the first thing you do in the morning?
Try to navigate our narrow, steep stairs to get my daughter without falling on my head. Then I usually make coffee. Though I'm now a morning person, I still don't wake up quickly.

14. What was the first concert you ever went to?
Amy Grant - the "Unguarded" tour. 4th grade. How sad is it that I thought an Amy Grant concert was REALLY LOUD?

15. First tattoo or piercing?
I made a deal with myself that I could get a tattoo for every marathon I finished. Unfortunately, I did not make that deal with Beloved. I'll keep you posted. I suppose you could say my first piercing was when I ran my foot into a pitchfork in a feed trough while chasing pigs when I was 13.

16. First celebrity crush?
Hmmm - first that I can remember was Joanne Whalley-Kilmer in Willow. I've always been a sucker for redheads.

17. First crush?
Kelly E. Redhead. Our kindergarten teacher actually called our parents and warned them that we were spending way too much time together. I have a picture in my scrapbook of the two of us holding hands, leading the Halloween parade. I told my family that I was going to marry Kelly and we would have six kids. Beloved just smiles when that story comes up.

18. First TRUE love?
Wow - I really thought I was in love with Kelly. First time I went ass-over-teakettle in love was probably Jody when I was a sophomore in college. What a horror story that one turned out to be - by the time it was all over I could have probably been arrested for stalking. Not pretty at all: I nearly lost a couple of dear friends during the blowback after the breakup.

19. When was your first detention?
Sixth grade. How classic is this - we were making spitwads. I flicked one that landed on Kristen M's desk and she promptly ratted me out. That wasn't quite as dumb as the boys who stole those big silver thumbtacks from the same teacher, stuck them into the soles of their shoes and scraped their way up and down the tile floors of our school hallways. I mean, hello?

20. What is the first big trip you remember taking?
I remember taking a trip to Denver to visit my Aunt Lois, Uncle Gordy & cousin Joe when I was around 12 or so. We had gone to see them in Des Moines several times when I was younger, but never for more than two days or so. We were in Denver for a week, long enough for me to get hurt riding horses at the home of some of my dad's distant family and spend the rest of the trip in a splint on my right arm with busted glasses. I also got lost in Casa Bonita, this huge Mexican restaurant in Denver. But we got to go to Garden of the Gods park, which I thought was the COOLEST place ever - we climbed all over the place out there.

Smiley Boop Game

Beloved has discovered how much fun it is to make our little girl smile.

25 March 2007

Thursday Three (plus two)

From Bro's weblog: Name three books on your "To Read" list:

1. The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene. It was suggested to me during seminary by either Mike Rogness or Gracia Grindal, each of whom led courses I took on theology and literature. I've owned it for a few years but haven't read it yet - in my apparently never-ending quest to actually read everything I own, this will be a next step.

2. Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections between Sexuality and Spirituality by Rob Bell. Yup - you read the title correctly. Rob is pastor of a congregation in Grand Rapids, MI and directs the Nooma videos some of you have likely seen floating around the church. My father-in-law picked this up for us at the National Pastors' Conference this January; at the very least it will hopefully make for interesting bedtime reading.

3. Confessing Jesus Christ: Preaching in a Postmodern World by David Lose. Another of my "I own it and have skimmed it but haven't really read it" books. Dr. Lose was my homiletics professor at Luther Seminary and is now Dean of Academics there as well. I've always valued his teaching but haven't made time to read his first book - hopefully by the end of the summer that will be rectified.

Baby Ainsley 365: Workin' With Dad

Friday morning I ran home after Men's Breakfast and brought Ainsley back with me to the office so Beloved could get some of her own work done. We've done this a couple of times now and it usually works just fine. Friday it didn't, really - she slept for about 30 minutes, then cried and fussed for an hour until I gave up and took her back home. At which point she promptly fell asleep in the swing for four hours. Grrrr. How can someone so small be so contrary and so adorable at the same time? (Don't answer that, Mom.)

Today has been a nightmare for Beloved. Ainsley wailed and screamed for an hour this morning, the one time when I can't tag in to help out. She did the same for a good portion of the afternoon, until we took her to the Meatball Supper at the church for two hours, where she was really pretty good. Then when we brought her back home it was back to being fussy. Makes you wonder if she just doesn't like staying at home.

But, she's finally falling asleep now. We're listening to Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue;" never too early to start her music education, right? Next week it'll be Chet Baker, "My Funny Valentine." And Storyhill - lots and lots of Storyhill. :)

23 March 2007

Friday Five: Rivers In The Desert

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43:19, NRSV
As we near the end of the long journey toward Easter, a busy time for pastors and layfolk alike, I ponder the words of Isaiah and the relief and refreshment of a river in the desert.

For this Friday Five, name five practices, activities, people or _____ (feel free to fill in something I may be forgetting) that for you are rivers in the desert.
1. Running - I started running seriously during my second year at Luther Seminary, when I was so heavy (270 lbs and a 40-inch waist) that I had to start by running three minutes and walking two. Over time I began to get past worrying that I was going to pass out and to really enjoy going for a run to relieve stress. A year later, running helped me keep a modicum of sanity through divorce and an internship that changed drastically due to my supervisor being called up as an Air Force chaplain following the destruction of the World Trade Center. In the space of that first 18 months of running, I lost 90 lbs and 8 inches off my waist. I'm up a bit from that now, but I ran my first marathon last May and plan to run another this spring. Even though my knees often ache and I've had a tough time keeping energy levels high since Ainsley's birth, I still love to run.

2. Music -
Music has been my constant companion my whole life long. I long ago decided (as if I had any choice) that if I were to lose any of my senses, the one I could least afford to lose would be hearing - how Beethoven managed it is beyond me. I have eclectic tastes; right now I'm running to Celtic & Folk, but I love jazz, rock, classical, even some country (the Dixie Chick's album Taking The Long Way is incredible, for example, and I've already blogged here about my love for all things Statler Brothers). Luther is rumored to have said, "He who sings, prays twice." If it ain't true, it oughta be.

3. Reading - Again, a constant companion that can refresh my soul. For America Reads a few weeks ago, I was invited to read to an 8th grade homeroom by a good friend, so I grabbed my copy of The Hobbit and read a goodly portion of chapter 1. I also brought the books I've read this year; they were impressed. There's nothing better than a free afternoon/evening with good coffee, a good book and good music on the stereo. Well, nothing better that you can do by yourself, that is.

4. Yardwork - With spring arriving here in Minnesota, my seasonal affections are changing. If this were December, I would have said Baking, but it's soon time to get the mower & rake & potting soil ready for another year. I'm starting a garden this year and very excited to see if we can actually grow edible food. Homemade salsa, anyone?

5. Family Time - Last night, Beloved and I got Ainsley down in her crib at the end of Grey's Anatomy, then we watched the tape of Wednesday's Survivor episode. But the best part of the day, for me, was the ten minutes of conversation we had in bed before we went to sleep. I'm amazed that I can still enjoy talking with my wife after being together, both dating and marriage, over four years. I love planning things around "our family" instead of just my own schedule. Perhaps the source of my joy is the delayed gratification aspect: I wanted to be a parent as early as possible, but had to wait until I was 32. Regardless, Family Time, no matter how it happens, is a source of great joy for both of us - even on days like today, when AJ was an absolute pill at the office and I was forced to bring her home. We're together; that's the important thing.

PS: In regard to great music, I want to plug Marc Gunn's Irish & Celtic Music Podcast and his latest compilation album, "Victims of Irish Music." Marc promotes small, mostly independent artists and has an interesting biweekly podcast. You'll find a link under the "Music Links" section on the right. And, as always, you can't go wrong with Storyhill or The Wild Clover Band!

Baby Ainsley 365: Baby Brigade

It's the Baby Brigade from Beloved's church in Alexandria, MN. Quite the collection of Mommas & Mommas-to-be.

Aaand then there's this one from day care. Yeah, I don't understand the hat, either. But Beloved insists it's cute. Hokay...

21 March 2007

Baby Ainsley 365: An Afternoon Snooze

Yup - first it's the double fisted drinking, then it's passing out on the floor at daycare and snoring like a lumber truck heading uphill. She is definitely her father's daughter.

Today (Wednesday) Ainsley is two months old! She went to the doctor to get shots as a way of celebrating. That was great. But Ainsley is 11lbs 11oz., 23.5 inches long and very, very healthy. Her measurements put her in the 50-75th percentile for growth, making her above average. And that's the news from Lake Wobegon. :-)

20 March 2007

A Day In The Life

3:30 a.m. (otherwise known as O Dark 30)
... wha? ... time for what? ... oh, okay: Ainsley is squirming and it might be time for a feeding ... okay, have fun, honey ... oh, you want ME to feed her ... okay ... *yawn* ... all right, all right, I'm up ...

6:00 a.m.
Okay, Ainsley's squirming again: it's up and at 'em for Super Daddy! So we start the day with the usual: 4oz breast milk for baby, 8oz coffee for Dad. And a banana.

7:30 a.m.
I've gotten Ainsley fed, changed, dressed, mopped up from spit-up, dressed again and into the car seat. Beloved is off to teach water aerobics and AJ goes without much struggle. Now it's upstairs with a bowl of Raisin Bran to do a quick blog, check e-mail and other computer stuff.

8:15 a.m.
Oh. My. Stars. That. Hurts. I was going to run this morning, but all of a sudden my neck has decided to lock up on me. I seriously cannot turn my head to the right without shooting pain. I feel like my friend Nate's cat, Kitty Crooked Head. This really is going to put a kink in the day (pun definitely intended).

9:00 a.m.
Thanks to Jan's excellent link to a Washington Post article on knots, I'm now running a titch behind. Quick shower (neck still hurts even after five minutes under the shower massager) and even quicker decision to save a few minutes and go without a shave today. Coffee mug & nalgene bottle filled, mail ready for the post office, I'm out the door by 9:30.

9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
At the office doing pastor stuff. Phone calls, email, worship planning, sorting the mail, scheduling visits, checking stuff on my computer. The quilters are here today, but I skip coffee with them to keep up on the momentum. My neck still hurts, so I decide to go home and apply the heating pad while reading Christian Century. When I mention this to the quilters they remind me what a cushy job I have. Don't I know it - but I'm still going home for lunch and a neck treatment.

12:30 - 1:30
A quick lunch & an hour on the easy chair with a heating pad & Christian Century allow me to move just a little bit better. For now. Started reading the Borg & Crossan article on Jesus' last week but it was just a bit too thick for a day when I'm distracted by my body. Maybe tomorrow afternoon?

Upstairs doing sermon prep via my Bible and Textweek.com. Some nice stuff to read, both for the Isaiah passage and the gospel reading from John. I've never preached on this particular Gospel reading before - at least, I don't think I have, since there are neither notes nor manuscript in my file from three years ago. So this will be interesting. Thinking of going with "Dinner on the Devil's Doorstep" as a sermon title.

Hymn planning meeting back at the church. Neck hurts again, but it's survivable. We only get Holy Week and the 2nd Sunday of Easter planned before Organist's piano lesson kids show up. But it's a lot to plan in one hour - we can get the rest of April next week.

Back home, change into shorts and running shoes for a quick 3 miles on the treadmill. Nice easy workout on account of my aching neck - just a 10:00/mile pace, some grade changes during commercials of last night's "How I Met Your Mother." The last scene of the show is a riot, but not suitable for blogging here, unfortunately.

Supper and dishes. I also fold/hang up the basket of clean laundry, wipe down the counters, put away the junk on the coffee table and leave a note for Beloved to watch HIMYM when she gets home. "I can bring home the bacon / fry it up in a pan..."

6:00 - 8:00
Prepare and deliver tonight's Genesis to Revelation class, with Power Point downloaded from Dr. Craig Koester at Luther Seminary. We work through the basics of Ezekiel and do a quick survey of God and Suffering in the Old Testament, leaving Job for next week (and possibly following weeks as well). I'd forgotten what a crazy visionary Ezekiel was; trying to distill it down into a one hour discussion group leaves a lot out. But it's a survey course and hopefully no one felt cheated.

8:00 - 10:00
Come home for the night to find Beloved & Ainsley already home. I get Ainsley into her PJs, give her a bottle, give her ANOTHER when she won't stop squirming, then finally get her sleeping and into the bassinette. Beloved and I watch "24" from last night while I savor a nice Schell Caramel Bock. Hopefully the alcohol will take the edge off of my still-aching neck.

This has been such a great day that I think I'll blog about it. Now I've done so. Now it's off to bed, where I'll read a chapter or two of The Brothers Karamazov until I fall asleep.


Baby Ainsley 365: Family Photo

From our visit with friends on Friday afternoon:

Also, Jan E from A Church for Starving Artists linked to this cool article on knots from the Washington Post. Beloved commented the other day that my blogroll includes many friends she doesn't know; I had to remind her that I haven't met many of you either. But links to cool stuff like this is one of the many things I've really come to enjoy about being a blogger.

19 March 2007

Baby Ainsley 365: Another Baby!

On Friday afternoon we took Ainsley to visit friends in our congregation whose daughter and son-in-law just had a baby boy of their own. But of course, Ainsley needed to meet our hosts and determine if they're worthy of her affection. I think she approved in the end...
We were so excited to meet Baby Noah! But we were also thankful - Noah was as big at birth as Ainsley was at 1 month. Beloved was a bit more thankful than I was, as you can imagine. But isn't he a cutie?
Gosh, a guy could get used to having all these babies around...

18 March 2007

You know the Bible 100%!

Wow! You are awesome! You are a true Biblical scholar, not just a hearer but a personal reader! The books, the characters, the events, the verses - you know it all! You are fantastic!

Ultimate Bible Quiz
Create MySpace Quizzes

Yes! Because the Bible is only about knowledge! Faith isn't important! It's really hard to be sarcastic on a weblog!

Sermon for the 4th Sunday in Lent - "Hired Hands, Slaves and Children"

Preaching Text: Luke 15.1-3, 11-32

These are your words, Lord. Your word is truth. Lead us into the truth. Amen

When I was about seven or eight years old, my brother Brian and I decided that the state of things in our family needed to change. Mowing the lawn, vacuuming the house and cleaning up our rooms for the pittance in allowance we were given seemed manifestly unfair to us. So we went on strike.

I can’t remember if it was the air traffic controllers or the Hormel workers or someone else in the news who had gone on strike and inspired our own labor stoppage, but whoever it was, going in strike sounded good to us. We felt that our demands for fair compensation hadn’t been met and that the only way management (our parents) would give in to our demands would be a strike. So we got the lawn chairs out of the garage and went on strike. Not the cheap, upright lawn chairs, mind you: we got the reclining chairs. After all, if going on strike wasn’t about taking it easy, then what was the point?

We lasted on strike for about three hours. Eventually we got hungry and decided to go inside for some cookies and lemonade, at which point we were informed that people on strike didn’t make any money and we’d just have to fend for ourselves. Needless to say, at that point negotiations started up again, and this time they were decidedly short and one-sided. I would have blamed my youngest brother, Kevin, for crossing the picket line, but he was only three and not devoted to the cause. At any rate, we were soon back to work and order was restored in the household. We didn’t even have time to make signs.

A child who thinks he or she can go on strike is a confused child. In the telling of the gospel parable of the prodigals, Jesus told a story about another set of brothers who were confused about their family and their place within that family, and the pain and grief they both cause to their father, who isn’t confused at all but rather frustrated by and devoted to his children.

The younger son asked for his inheritance from his father, which is the same as saying, “Dad, I don’t want to wait for you to drop dead: gimme what’s mine now, would you?” After living for the moment, blowing the entire inheritance in an unknown number of years and having the misfortune to run out of money just as a famine hit the part of the world in which he lived, the son realized his sin and wanted to save himself somehow. But rather than throw himself on the mercy of the father he abandoned for dead, the son decided that he would make a conditional return to his family. In Luke 15.19 the son said, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son: treat me like one of your hired hands.” The younger son’s confusion led him to believe he could make his way back into his father’s good graces by being a hired hand.

The older son, upstanding, responsible lad that he was, remained home and worked diligently for his father. He managed the farm and the livestock and his father’s affairs well, becoming the child every parent hopes to have. But when the younger son, his brother, returned from his years of reckless wandering and irresponsible living, we find in the older son another sort of confusion. The older son’s confusion made him claim he’d been working like a slave for his father, that all his years of effort and toil hadn’t been out of gratitude, but out of some kind of servitude, and an ungrateful servitude at that.

Can you imagine the pain of the father of these two confused men? Here is a father who has lived a dual life for years. On the one hand, he watched his baby boy wander off into faraway lands, and he must have yearned for his boy’s well-being every day he was gone. No parent can watch a child charge recklessly into such a life without a great deal of pain, suffering and self-doubt. On the other hand, the father proudly watched his firstborn grow and mature into a fine gentleman, a businessman whose responsibility and integrity seemed beyond reproach. No parent can see such maturity and character without feeling justifiably proud of the raising of such a child. So the father was torn between his fear for the one, his pride in the other, his love and devotion to both, and his frustration at the situation in which his family remains, even after the return of the one who was lost.

The father doesn’t want hired hands or slaves: the father’s unrelenting, passionate desire is for his sons to be his children, to live as a family. This was always the father’s desire: that his boys would be brothers to each other and children to the family in which they were raised. This parable is not a parable about sinners getting off easy and the righteous dealing with indignation: this parable is about the reunification and creation of a family in which all are loved and welcomed, and the past is no longer given power over the future. Will there be consequences for the sins that were committed? Absolutely – but the family will face those consequences together, without recrimination or reproach for what has happened in the past. The family is reunited – the lost has been found – all should gather together and rejoice, for what was fractured is once again whole.

Jesus told this parable to more fully illustrate the point he was making about repentance, forgiveness and mercy. A group of Pharisees had been grumbling because tax collectors and other sinners had been coming to hear Jesus teach, and Jesus had welcomed them. After hearing them grumble, Jesus told the Pharisees three parables: the first about a sheep who had been lost and found, a coin which had been lost and found, and a family which had been lost and found. After the parables regarding the lost sheep and the lost coin, Jesus said, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance,” and “Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Sheep and coins cannot find themselves, and they cannot change their minds about being lost, yet God and the angels rejoice when sinners repent. This tells me that repentance and forgiveness are not about working our way back into the good graces of God by changing our minds: repentance and forgiveness are more about realizing and accepting what God has already done for us, looking around and realizing that we are already home, already forgiven, already welcome where we have always belonged.

God has not created us to be hired hands. Hired hands negotiate, they earn, they labor for what is not theirs to receive payment that they spend elsewhere. Hired hands may take pride in their work, but only because good work produces a greater reward. Hired hands are rewarded for good performance and punished for poor performance. If a hired hand makes a mistake, the boss may offer forgiveness, but usually with the warning, “Don’t let it happen again.” And eventually, if the hired hand makes enough mistakes or wanders away for a long enough period of time, the hired hand is no longer welcome to work for the boss. This is not the image in which God has created us. Far too many churches operate with the understanding that we are all hired hands, and the reward we receive from God will be proportionate to the amount of our good works. God has not created us to be hired hands.

God has not created us to be slaves. Slaves are property, expendable, with no position or value to the owner except for the work they have done. We know from our own national history that slaves weren’t even considered human by their owners: they were beasts of burden worthy only of the minimum amount of care and feeding necessary to keep them functioning normally. Slaves could be changed as easily as a gear in a machine. God has not created us to be slaves in this sense.

God has created us to be God’s children. Children belong. Children are cherished. Children are nurtured, blessed, raised and instructed to carry on the legacy of the household and their parents. Children are joined to their parents by blood, and so we are joined to God our Father through the blood of Jesus, our brother. But in light of today’s parable, we must remember that children are each treasured and cherished individually, even though they can be vastly different people. In the family of God, all belong because all have been made in the image of God, and there are no slaves or hired hands here, but only siblings in whom God wants us to take delight. Whether you are the wandering reckless child who has returned after years of absence or the dutiful, responsible child who has never strayed, God loves you because you are God’s child. What is past is past, and all that matters in God’s eyes is the future, where the family of God will be reunited and whole once more. As Paul says, “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!...in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting [our] trespasses against [us], and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us…”[1]

Do not be confused about who you are in this season of Lent. You are not God’s hired hand, earning wages of righteousness with your good works. You are not God’s slaves, property wearing your fingers to the bone for a God who can and will discard you if you are not producing enough work. You are God’s child, beloved and cherished, and you are welcome in God’s family today. In fact, God’s throwing a feast for you, right at this table: taste and see the great love God has for God’s children, and take your place at the table. Amen.

[1] 2nd Corinthians 5.17, 19-20a. The [bracketed] pronouns have been changed from “their” and “them” to [our] and [us] to more fully emphasize the reconciliation we all experience in Christ.

17 March 2007

Baby Ainsley 365; The Return of the Camera

As you probably guessed, the camera was sitting out in plain view after all. We were just so zombie-fied due to poor sleep lately that we didn't see it. Oh well.

It's been a nice weekend here in Barrett - the weather is cool but not cold, and even though I was pretty productive at the office this week, I've had some time this afternoon to catch up on work at home before Beloved and I have our first date since Ainsley was born (well, okay, we did go out to dinner once, but this will be far from home and for several hours).

Since I'm a few days behind on pics I'll catch up two at a time. Yesterday afternoon we had the NCAA Tournament on while doing some stuff 'round the house. Ainsley, being her father's daughter, got sucked into the action:

Today Momma & Ainsley headed out for a nice walk while I stayed home to peruse the Saturday paper. Off we go!

16 March 2007

Bush Creates Department of Faulty Intelligence

One wonders if said Department will be housed in Fawlty Towers and if the chaplain might be Bishop Aringarosa...

Read the story at The Borowitz Report.

Friday Five: Whatcha Doin'?

From RevGalBlogPals
Well friends, this is one of those weeks when I simply must work today, which is normally my day off. I know, I know. We may tut-tut all we want, but the fact is, some weeks are like that. So, this week's F5 is simple.

Name five things you plan to do today.

Bonus: If today is about "have-to" for you as well, share up to five things you'd like to be doing today.
I should preface this by saying that my 'have to' items are things I generally enjoy as well. I'm one of the lucky few who have found a vocation that gives me great joy more days than not. So pre-marriage counseling is a pleasure for me, as is writing a sermon. Well, most weeks, anyway.

Five Things I Plan To Do Today: (completed items marked with a [check]
1. Write Sunday's sermon.
2. Meet with a couple to begin their pre-marriage counseling. [check]
3. Take out the recycling and trash.
4. Visit a friend and her new baby boy.
5. Help our Property Manager install the new changing table for our Men's Room. [check]

Five Things I'd Like To Do Today:
1. Run 5 miles in 45:00, with energy in my legs. (I'll run today, but my legs just don't have any juice right now thanks to lack of sleep)
2. Curl up in my grandpa's recliner upstairs with a book and a cup of hot chocolate (I might actually get to this one if I'm lucky).
3. Sleep (probably not going to get to this one).
4. Write the Great American Novel (hey, why not dream big?).
5. Eat pizza, a Coldstone Creamery ice cream treat, drink a pint or two of a good dark beer and not gain an ounce (see above).

Late note: I didn't get my 5 miles in 45 yesterday, but I did get them in 47; best run in weeks. And I did eat the pizza & drink the beer; with no Coldstone, maybe the calories at least balanced?

15 March 2007

Baby Ainsley 365: Where the #%@! is the camera?!?!

So somehow we've misplaced the digital camera. Thus ends the daily picture until we get the camera located again. That means it's time for reruns! This one is a picture of Grandma M & Ainsley the weekend she was baptized.

"How I Met Your Mother" Quote of the Week...

Barney: "There are two steps to running a marathon. Step 1: Start running. Step 2: ... there is no step 2."

Besides being a great comedy, this quote from How I Met Your Mother is, well, technically correct. For all the shoes, gear, nutrition and other issues dedicated runners juggle, the sport itself is really quite simple. Start running. That's it.

I was reminded of this last night when Sweetie, LH's better half, emailed me, worried that I wouldn't be able to run the Lincoln Marathon due to my knees, which are on notice. I reassured her that yes, I was still planning to run (I've already registered, actually, so if I don't run I waste the $50). No, I probably won't meet my goal time of four hours or less, due to the complete lack of good sleep AJ is forcing on us. But Beloved told me the other night that I'll have so much fun hanging out with old friends and visiting old haunts that it won't matter how well I run. And do you know what? She's probably right.

So, I'll start running. 26.2 miles later, I'll stop. And it'll all be okay. Boston can wait, right?

14 March 2007

Focus On This, Dr. Dobson...

When I was growing up, Dr. James Dobson was a name to be trusted. I remember seeing copies of The Strong Willed Child and Dare to Discipline on my mother's nightstand. (Yes, I was the strong-willed one who needed the discipline) In my mind, at least, Dr. Dobson was someone my parents thought worthy of attention while they tried to raise me right. I'm sure that was Dr. Dobson's intent; to be one who helped parents instill Christian values in their children in a culture that was not always hospitable to them.

Today, my feelings have changed. I no longer trust Focus on the Family or Dr. Dobson, especially when it comes to raising my own children or commenting on parenting in the 21st century. Why? Because I get the feeling that Dr. Dobson is far more concerned with protecting his empire than actually protecting children these days. From the FotF bunker in Colorado, Dr. Dobson issues statements with all the authority of Pope Leo X, and all the effectiveness as well. From commentary on who will be the best president to demanding the resignation of a lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals, Dr. Dobson's tirades are growing tiresome and, I believe, more and more separated from the real world.

Jim Wallis and Brian McLaren have both written excellent commentary on Dobson's latest. For myself, I'm far more worried about the world Dr. Dobson would create than the straw men Focus on the Family has been setting up over the past few years. Methinks its time for a new focus.

12 March 2007

11 March 2007

Baby Ainsley 365: A Swingin Afternoon

Well, we're not sure what it is up there, but it certainly has our attention. Please note the patented "Johnson tongue" indicating deep thought or intense concentration.

On Notice!

1. DST - Like I have an hour of sleep to sacrifice with a seven-week-old in the house?
2. Mud - I can't run in it. I can't get it off my shoes. I can't keep it out of my house. I can't get it off my car. I HATE March weather.
3. My Knees - They suck. I got five miles in yesterday and had to quit because of severe pain. At this rate I don't know if I'll be able to finish the marathon in May. Thanks, Mom.
4. Minnesota Sports - T-Wolves? Suck. Gopher basketball? Suck. Gopher football? Suck. Vikings? Suck. Wild? Hockey. Twins? Trying to build a stadium and getting held up by a bunch of farmers holding their downtown lot until it screams. What's to like?
5. Share-It-Alls - Shut up. At some point, your ignorance is just going to reach critical mass and I'm going to friggin explode. Not every situation or item on an agenda needs your ill-informed and conjectural comment.
6. CNN - I'll start watching again when you stop looking so much like "Inside Edition" or "Access Hollywood." Seriously, weren't you once "the most trusted name in news?"
7. "Relevant" - If you're trying to be "relevant" you're trying to be something you're not. Stop it. Now.
8. "Contemporary" Worship - ALL WORSHIP IS CONTEMPORARY. If you don't like organs, that's fine, but unless the organist is playing in a time warp, that worship is "contemporary" as well.

Ahhh - that feels better.

Sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Lent - "Dangerous Confessions"

There’s an old joke about two campers out in the woods who startle a bear and wind up on the run with the bear in hot pursuit. One camper screams to the other one, “Do you think you really think you can run faster than a bear?” The other camper screams back, “No! – I just have to run faster than you!”

There is an element of this mentality in the questions Jesus was asked in Luke 13. “Jesus, wouldn’t you say that the awful way those Galileans died was proof of their great sinfulness?” You can almost hear the scales balancing in the heads of the people asking the questions: “We don’t need to stop sinning altogether; we just need to be holier than our neighbors to avoid punishment!”

The thing is, you can’t out-holify your neighbor any more than you can outrun a bear. A bear’s stomach will get full eventually, but our appetite for self-righteousness can be all-consuming. Let us pray: Merciful God, your patience is enduring and your love is steadfast. But we know that you desire repentance. We know that we have not met your intention for our lives, and we know we cannot meet that intention without your Spirit within us. We endlessly compare ourselves with our neighbors rather than filling our lives with your word and your promises. Raise in us the desire to turn away from that which kills us in our sins, and turn us toward your life-giving mercy and your promises of redemption and peace. All this we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Out of curiosity, I did some searching on a major news website as I was writing this sermon. If you search for “Anna Nicole Smith,” you’ll find 120 hits. Search for “Britney Spears” and you’ll get 303 hits. Search for I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former Vice Presidential Chief of Staff who was convicted of perjury this week, and you’ll get 45 hits. Nothing sells like a scandal, and business has been good over the past month.

In this life we are surrounded by danger. Stock markets crash. Planes run over their runways and burst into flames. Politicians raise millions for an election 18 months in the future, while the homeless freeze and starve on our streets and thousands of American children live without adequate medical insurance. Soldiers get sent overseas to fight a war no one wants to fight anymore, and when they are wounded they come home to hospitals filled with mold and vermin and never-ending bueracracy. But in the midst of all of this, we can take heart: at least we’re not as bad as Anna Nicole or Britney or Scooter. We aren’t as ignorant as President Bush or as corrupt as the Clintons. We aren’t as rude as the Donald or as outspoken as Rosie. So long as we’re staying ahead of the game, we’ll be all right. Don’t drink, don’t smoke and always wear your seatbelt: you’ll be fine.

Are we afraid? If so, it’s for good reason. We can tell ourselves that we’re okay by modern standards; like Garrison Keillor says “it could be worse.” But we also know, deep within us, two unassailable facts that cause us great fear:

1) Life is unpredictable and does not always follow cause and effect the way we think it should.

2) We are just as bound to sin as our neighbor because the standard is God’s law, not our neighbor’s sin.

Our fear of these two facts lead us right back to the false assumption that keeping ahead of the scandals can keep us ahead of the game itself. Because we are afraid, we surround ourselves with the right kind of people: folks who have it all together, who know that if you do right, you’ll be right. And so we go on protecting ourselves by ostracizing the wrong sorts of people and the unlucky and the sinners until we’ve created our own little kingdom where goodness thrives because we eliminate anyone or anything that shows the slightest bit of bad luck, trouble or sin. And we make our peace with this by telling ourselves that it was our neighbors’ sins that put them out of the group. We confess that our neighbors are in bondage to sin and cannot free themselves – but that’s not our problem.

When Jesus encountered this mentality in the gospel of Luke, he didn’t hesitate to blow it right out of the water, because it was poisoning the minds and hearts of his followers. When confronted with the dangerous confessions of a neighbor’s sin, Jesus reminded his listeners that they would indeed “get what’s coming to them,” but the only thing that was coming was death. Jesus told his listeners that there was no safety in hiding behind the terrible misfortunes of others; confessing a neighbor’s sin to mask one’s own sin was, and is, a terribly dangerous thing to do. Jesus wanted nothing to do with it.

Rev. Tony Campolo, who is the author of our Lenten video series “Curing Affluenza,” said that he was so grateful for a seminary education because it could explain away all the harsh sayings of Jesus. Well, I’m sorry to say that some of my seminary educators didn’t allow that to happen. One of the oldest questions a theologian has to face is the question of the “benevolent savage.” Imagine a native tribal family somewhere in the depths of darkest Africa. They’ve lived in a small village all their lives and they care for each other in the best way they are able to do. Father and mother honor and cherish their children, and the children dutifully care for their parents and grandparents when they are no longer able to care for themselves. In all their deeds they follow the law: they do not steal, they do not slander their neighbors, they remain true to their spouses, they do not kill, and so on. But they have never heard of Jesus. No one has ever come to them with the good news of Christ. And so the question is: what happens to these wonderful people when they die? No one ever gave them the gospel: is that their fault?

This is just another version of the dangerous confession of a neighbor’s sin, and it’s one of the oldest. When it came up in my Lutheran confessions class with Gerhard Forde and Jim Nestingen, they shot back with this confrontational answer: “Who are you thinking of, and what are you waiting for?” Contrary to popular opinion and outward appearances, faith is not an abstract, intellectual exercise. Genuine faith is a deeply personal experience that rises out of a mingling of human interaction and divine intervention. The benevolent savage of our story doesn’t exist: what does exist is a neighbor who needs the gospel – period.

Jesus didn’t come to offer hypothetical faith. God did not become incarnate in order to confirm our prejudice regarding our neighbors and our self-justification. The Holy Spirit will not reveal the reasons behind our neighbor’s misfortune. So it’s time to stop the dangerous practice of confessing our neighbor’s sin. Jesus couldn’t have been more clear: what happens to others happens to others, but your sins will find you out. It’s time for repentance, for a turning-away from our sins, and one of the sins from which we must turn away is confessing our neighbor’s sin.

Our reading from Isaiah this morning describes the consequences of confessing our neighbor’s sin:

“Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”

The dangerous confession of the sins of others is the spiritual equivalent of cotton candy laced with asbestos: sweet to the taste, but completely unfulfilling, and poisonous to boot. There is no way to climb to heaven on the shoulders of the sinners around you – Jesus won’t have it that way. The cross was the end of humanity’s attempt to justify itself. We killed the innocent Son of God because we could not stand the thought of God being merciful to sinners. The cross with which we are marked at baptism marks us with the death of Jesus as well as his resurrection, so that we will be saved in his name alone.

You almost have to pity those people who listened to Jesus teach that day on the road to Jerusalem. They wanted Jesus to say, “Nah, you guys are doing just fine – nothing like that is going to happen to you.” They came to Jesus afraid of the world around them, and they hoped proving that sinners get their just desserts would also prove that they would be protected by their own high virtue. But that’s not the way it works. Jesus wouldn’t let the false hope of self-justification overshadow the true hope of God’s mercy and steadfast love, even if it meant that the people who followed him had to be afraid before they could be saved. Barbara Brown Taylor, a religion professor from Piedmont College and an Episcopal priest, put it this way:

“While Jesus does not honor their illusion that they can protect themselves in this way, he does seem to honor the vulnerability that their fright has opened up in them. It is not a bad thing for them to feel the full fragility of their lives. It is not a bad thing for them to count their breaths in the dark -- not if it makes them turn toward the light.”[1]

God won’t leave us without hope, either. The hope God offers is not in avoiding the dangers around us or hiding behind our neighbor's sins; God offers hope in companionship through life’s journey and in the company of saints in the life to come. The hypothetical neighbor whose sins we love to confess will become our brother or sister in Christ who is, like us, struggling along the narrow way of discipleship, following after Jesus, sharing the burden of the cross with us when we cannot bear it alone. So we find ourselves seeking God instead of our neighbor’s sin, and as we return to God, we find our sins forgiven and our lives renewed. God be praised. Amen.

10 March 2007

Baby Ainsley 365: Two-fer

Since I neglected to post a picture on Friday, here's two.

Great - she's six weeks old and already she's a two-fisted drinker. No wonder she can't focus her eyes after she's done feeding...

This is what I do Saturday mornings instead of reading the paper these days. Today I finished the Saturday Star Tribune at 7:45 - PM.

09 March 2007

The Statler Brothers - Flowers On The Wall

Well, I can't mention the Statler Brothers without posting one of their best-known songs. Enjoy!

Friday Five: Matters of Taste

My mother loved figs.

I only like them in a Newton.

It's all a matter of taste.

Name five things you like a lot that some close relative or significant other did/does not like. This could be food, movies, hobbies, music, sports or whatever springs to mind.

Wow - this one will be fun!
1. The Statler Brothers. My brother and I both share this taste difference with our spouses. Granted, we grew up with parents who also loved the Statler Brothers, but hey, it's still great music! When we were young (me around 6, Brian around 4) we went to a Statler Brothers concert at the Nebraska State Fair. Apparently we were the remote feed for our nosebleed section seats; my mother says we stood on our benches and sang every song, word for word, with Harold, Phil, Don & Lew. In a moment of great schadenfreude last year, I gave my brother a cd 0f Statler Brothers tunes I downloaded from iTunes. For his car ride back home. A six-hour ride. With his Statler Brothers-hating wife. Ahhh - good times...

2. Moxie
This one is a bit of a reverse from the suggested format. My good friend LutheranHusker loves the stuff - I can't stand it. Read his blogging about Moxie here.

3. Reading I was the kid from whom teachers reluctantly removed books because I would read instead of doing math/social studies/etc. I've always been a voracious reader, and to this day I can't go to sleep without reading unless I'm absolutely wiped out. Beloved, however, isn't a reader. Matter of fact, she's severely dyslexic, so reading is a chore for her. It's been interesting living with someone who has no idea how I can be happy with a book, a cup of coffee and a free afternoon.

4. "The Mask" I've always liked this movie. I think it's a fun little flick that plays right into Jim Carrey's physical comedy skills without going completely over the top (i.e. Ace Ventura or Me, Myself & Irene). Cameron Diaz is, well, pretty easy on the eyes, too. But my ex-wife hated this movie, and I've yet to meet anyone who enjoys it as much as I do.

5. Comedians.
Exhibit A: George Carlin. I love George Carlin. I think he's a brilliant social commentator in addition to being pretty freakin' funny. My dad thinks he's the worst comedian ever. If I ever want to make him grimace, all I have to do is say, "Hippy-dippy Weather Man." It's awesome.
Exhibit B: Gallagher. I don't get Gallagher. I suppose this one doesn't count because I don't know anyone who does, but the guy's still selling tickets, so someone must think he's funny, right?
Exhibit C: Richard Pryor. I don't get Richard Pryor, either, but I know folks who do.
Exhibit D: Garrison Keillor. LutheranHusker & I love A Prairie Home Companion. Beloved is indifferent, while Sweetie (LutheranHusker's better half) can't stand a second of it. Maybe it's because she grew up Missouri Synod? They don't have much of a sense of humor, you know. :-)

07 March 2007

Baby Ainsley 365

This will be one I'll have to hold on to for the day when all we get as parents is the disgust and outrage of a fourteen year-old girl denied what she wants. Somehow it's hard to imagine this little one ever yelping, "But Da-a-ad! That's not F-A-I-R!"

06 March 2007

Baby Ainsley 365: Ainsley & Jake

AJ started day care today - here she is with Jake, son of the day care provider. One day a week only, but man, are we going to be a wreck when the first day of kindergarten comes around!

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent - "Living Between Trust and Anxiety"

These are your words, Lord. Your word is truth. Lead us into the truth. Amen.

Question 1: share with your neighbor about a time in your life when you were absolutely certain about something and you were wrong. What was it like?

Question 2: share with another neighbor about a time in your life when you had to trust that something was going to be okay, even though you were really anxious about it. How did things turn out? Did you survive that experience, or is it still haunting you?

The story of Abram and Sarai is a story of a family that learned to trust God in the midst of great anxiety about what God was doing. In Genesis 12, God speaks to Abram and asks him to leave his father’s land and family in the land of Ur and move to the land of Canaan. This move is most easily described today as a move from Baghdad to Jerusalem – a 400 mile journey, on foot, following the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers to the northwest, then coming down the land of Palestine with flocks and servants and their own families. It is the story of a move away from safety and the certainty of Abram’s inheritance to an unknown land where Abram will be a sojourner, surrounded by strangers and constantly dealing with different tribes, kings and other nomads. The story of the move by itself is astounding – the fact that Abram’s family worshiped the territorial gods of the Ancient Near East until God revealed himself to Abram is even more astonishing.

And Abram’s story of trust and anxiety doesn’t end in Genesis 12. In our reading today from Genesis 15, Abram confronts God with this fact: Abram has no heir to his flocks and possessions, and the great blessings God had promised Abram would go to a slave if Abram were to die at that moment. In Abram’s time, your legacy after your death came through your children; with no children, Abram and Sarai’s legacy would be poor at best.

The story of Abram & Sarai goes through many more twists and turns before their lives are spent. They changed their names: “Abram,” meaning “he is exalted,” became “Abraham,” meaning “Father of a multitude.” Sarai also changed her name to Sarah, bearing evidence that God’s covenant will indeed change the both of them. They tried to take the matter of an heir into their own hands by way of a slave bearing a son, Ishmael, to Abraham. They were promised a legitimate heir, and when Sarah laughed at the thought of becoming pregnant at age 90, God instructed them to name the child “Isaac,” meaning “She laughs.” Abraham & Sarah lived long lives and only began to see the blessings God promised to them, but their whole story is marked by anxiety and trust: anxiety because they didn’t understand the situations in which they often found themselves, and trust that somehow God would accomplish God’s goals, even when Abraham and Sarah got in the way by attempting to protect God and themselves by their own deeds.

Come forward in time, then, around 2,000 years. Jesus has been preaching teaching throughout Galilee on his way to Jerusalem. He was beginning to develop a great following: people came to be healed by his touch, to learn from his wisdom and to be his disciples. Even some of the Pharisees were amazed and intrigued by this roaming teacher from Nazareth. So when those Pharisees heard that Herod was seeking to kill Jesus, they grew anxious. “Jesus, get out of here,” they said. “Protect yourself,” they said. “Take the safe road,” they said. These Pharisees knew that Jesus was some kind of great blessing from God, but they weren’t confident that God would protect their blessing. So they warned Jesus to try and protect him – even though Jesus knew that protection and safety wasn’t where he was going.

It’s not an easy thing, to trust when you’re anxious. In fact, we’re not very good at it. The thing is, neither was Abraham, or any of the Old Testament heroes, for that matter. Abraham’s greatest mistakes were made when he didn’t have faith in God’s promises and tried to guarantee his own safety and security by himself. When King Saul was focused on God’s word, he was a good king, but when Saul tried to improve on God’s promises through his own work, he lost God’s favor. King David, Solomon, Moses – all of them are lifted up to us in our childhood as heroes of faith, but in reality they struggled with trust and anxiety as much as anyone else in the Bible. The same goes for Peter, James, John, Matthew, Andrew, Judas and all the other apostles and disciples in the New Testament. They knew that in Jesus they’d found something incredible, but Jesus wasn’t born to be protected; he was born to reveal the kingdom of God, and if I might paraphrase C.S. Lewis here, the kingdom of God “isn’t safe, but it is good.”

In our gospel reading today, Jesus takes the role of a prophet to God’s people. When he cries out, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,” Jesus is remembering the long history of Jerusalem’s pursuit of safety through other gods. Israel was supposed to be God’s people, but even in the days after God rescued the people of Israel from Egypt, the people’s anxiety kept them from trusting God first for their well-being. The world around them was an uncertain place, but rather than trusting in the certainty of God’s protection, Israel pursued money, political power and other idols to ensure their safety and protection. They did it so often that God was forced to walk out on altogether to remind them that only God can provide what they need – a desperate attempt to regain Israel’s attention and trust by removing their safety and security altogether.

Jesus himself, in today’s gospel reading, became an idol to be protected instead of a Messiah to be worshiped. Imagine that: a people dedicated to God protecting that God too much! But just like Abraham, just like King David, just like the disciples and just like us today, the Pharisees who wanted to protect Jesus didn’t understand that God is not concerned with protection: God is concerned with faith and salvation, and those require risk, vulnerability, and trust in anxious times.

Tonight a television show will be aired on the Discovery Channel. The show will claim that archaeologists have found the tomb of Jesus’ family, that the bones of Christ have been found and the resurrection is a hoax. Some in the church have already begun to protest this show. I’m not so convinced that we need to worry so much about what is going to be said on this show. As a pastor I know put it, “I’m far too concerned with what Christ means to me today to worry about the distant past or the distant future.” Our business is trusting in God in today’s circumstances, living between that trust and the anxiety that surrounds us and can drive us away from our trust in God.

Sometimes our desire for safety and certainty can be opposed to God’s will. When that happens, God’s words to us turn into lament. Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings!” That isn’t a critique of one group of Jews or another rejecting Jesus – it’s a lament that rises out of God’s heartbreak over our rejection of God throughout history. The greatest errors of the church have often been made in an attempt to guarantee safety and certainty. The Crusades, the forces working against the Reformation, the split between Roman & Eastern churches in 1100 A.D., the fierce debate over evolution in the 20th century; all these were moments when the church, in a desire to protect themselves and God, overstepped its bounds and began to work against God’s will. The Pharisees in today’s gospel reading weren’t the only ones guilty of protecting God too much – it’s happened before, and it will happen again, and we will be the ones guilty of that over-protection.

The point of Christian living is not certainty: it is faith. Certainty requires proof before a relationship of any consequence is granted. The walls of certainty may offer protection, but they also prevent any genuine interaction with the rest of the world. Absolute certainty eliminates all vulnerability, and without vulnerability no relationship is ever genuine and no love is ever authentic. Being vulnerable brings about anxiety, for we leave ourselves unprotected, but being vulnerable also allows us to learn to trust one another as real persons who follow Jesus. The point of Christian living is faith, and faith is what happens when we learn to live between trust and anxiety. “The picture [of] faith painted here is one that denies any surety of belief, other than that which comes from the relationship with the One who stands behind the promise. All ultimately depends on the faithfulness of the Lord. This passage does not portray doubt or anxiety as something foreign to the person of faith. Quite the contrary! We see in Abraham one who lives in the tension between trust and anxiety. Faith, which is reckoned to be righteousness, is precisely that.”[1]

May Christ shelter you under His wings and keep you safe, brothers and sisters, and give you the faith you need – the faith to live between trust and anxiety. Amen.

05 March 2007

Baby Ainsley 365: Meeting the Babysitter

Beloved is going back to work this week, so we will need a babysitter on Wednesday nights when we're both doing Confirmation. Hollie came over to meet Ainsley yesterday afternoon and we thought the occasion deserved a picture.

04 March 2007

Baby Ainsley 365: Sunday Morning with Dad

So, here we are, just before Dad leaves for the church and Mom & Ainsley leave for Alexandria. Cute outfit, huh?

Also, last night's moon was incredible. First, a full eclipse which I unfortunately forgot to photograph. But we did notice the beautiful moonlight when we were up with AJ for the 4:00 a.m. feeding. Earlier in the day I had made a snow angel after shoveling the walks again, so I snuck upstairs and snapped these shots I'll call "Angels by Moonlight."