Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus...

Luke 24:13-15: "Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them." Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we too are on a journey together, with Jesus walking right beside us. Come find in your heart and soul the awakening spirit and presence of the risen Christ as we worship together Sunday morning at 10 a.m.

Allelulia! Allelulia!

"Allelulia! Allelulia! Hearts to heaven and voices raise; Sing to God a hymn of gladness; Sing to God a hymn of praise!" Rise early Easter morning and join the Craftsbury community at the 6 a.m. sunrise service on Echo Hill Road. The 10 a.m. Easter worship service at the Church on the Common includes special music, "Swing the Gates Open," by the Collinsville Choir, and a message of promise in Christ's resurrection, from Pastor Kim. Everyone is welcome!

Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord

"Join all and sing his name declare; Let every voice resound with joyous acclamation! Hosanna praise ye the Lord! Blessed is him who cometh to bring us salvation." Paster Kim's reflection today is titled "Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord." We remember Jesus' entry into Jerusalem with scripture, and in singing "The Palms," and are reminded of his passion on the road to the cross. As Holy Week begins, come all to worship and hear God's word on this beautiful Palm Sunday morning.

First Blossoms of Spring..

"People come first" is Pastor Kim Larose's reflection for our worship service this morning, based on the story in John's gospel about Jesus's healing of the blind man. In this season of Lent, will eyes open to God's word like the soon to open first blossoms of spring? "One thing I do know," said the blind man to the crowd of people who questioned his healing, "that though I was blind, now I see." Come be a part of our worship, starting at 10 a.m. and experience the awakening spirit of new life in God's people!

You Who Are Thirsty, Come to the Well...

“You who are thirsty, come to the well and drink from waters flowing. You who are hungry, come to the bread and eat of his holiness. You who are tired, find rest. You who are weak, find strength.” On this beautiful last day of winter, we welcome Kim Larose, from Danville, as our new pastor. "Drink from the Rock" is the title of Kim's reflection this morning. Jim Currier will provide special music. Please join us at the service at 10 a.m. and our fellowship coffee hour immediately following to meet Kim and welcome her to our community!

Surely, Goodness and Mercy

Peter... knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, "Tabitha, get up." Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. - Acts 9
 

God is my shepherd;  I shall not want. God makes me lie down in green pastures... - Psalm 23

Dear friends,

When spring begins to peek around the corner, it does so shyly, like a child in her parent's arms. She smiles at us tentatively, then hides behind a safe shoulder or skirt, not certain whether it's safe to reach out.

If we persist gently, we might make friends, and the shyness and reluctance will give way to open-hearted curiosity, the seed of love and friendship.

Ahhh, spring. Right now, in its infancy, it is to be celebrated without reserve. It's still too early for the craziness of all we have to do when the lawn and the garden begin to sweep us up in busy-ness. The time will soon come when we might be too busy to contemplate miracles, even as miracles are bursting forth all around us.

The Book of Acts tells us of the time just after Jesus' death, resurrection, and re-appearance to his disciples. This week's reading tells of a new miracle; a miracle effected by Peter, who, only a few weeks ago, was a betrayer of the same Jesus who first taught his friends about miracles. Tabitha, or Dorcas, was a good woman. She is the only woman in the New Testament who is accorded the title of disciple, although we are pretty sure that there were many women in Jesus' circle who so qualified. Tabitha, whom the story tells us  "was devoted to good works and acts of charity", has died. Peter is called to her funereal bed, and he brings her back to life.

Oh, great, we say. Another inexplicable bit of ancient magic that might not square with anything that we have experienced.  Is there anyone among us who wouldn't love to have someone we love who has died, brought back to life?  Why do we have to keep reading these stories that tell of miracles we wish could happen to us?

What do we do with such stories, other than grieve for the absence of such miracles? What do we do when we are so caught up in the busy-ness of our lives that we can't see the miracles that are happening all around us?

With a little bit of good fortune, some heartfelt prayer, and some humble reckoning, we find "goodness and mercy" in what our lives, and the lives of others, offer to us.  Maybe our Tabitha won't come back to life, but her devotion to "good works and charity" will live on beyond her death. It will reside in our hearts. She will live among us in lives comforted, changed, and restored by her goodness, and by the example of our own lives, enriched at the feet of the Tabitha's we've known and loved.

God smiles on charity, on goodness, on our ability to understand stories not for their factual truth, but for their gentle nudge. Most of us know the 23rd Psalm, which we will read and sing tomorrow. "Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life." Our Tabitha may not spring back to earthly life, but she is a disciple, and invites us to be the same. She will always be that disciple. She will follow us all the days of our lives. Her new life, restored by Peter, a bumbling, growing, learning disciple, will continue to be among us and to teach us how to live.

Meanwhile, spring's miracles remind us that looking for them urgently blinds us to them. New life springs from the ground; from surprising resurrections. Let us pray that we don't' get too busy to notice this. Let us pray that we will be surprised by them.


Share your miracles in community, or hear stories of such miracles if you're wondering whether they are real. They are; God showers us with them - maybe especially in a tentative, at-first-shy-but-finally-welcoming springtime. The God who is our shepherd really does restore our souls. And the pastures are green. How sweet this is.

Sabbath blessings-
AFP

 

Who Are You, Lord?

[Saul] asked, "Who are you, Lord?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. - Acts 9

Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?", because they knew it was Jesus. - John 21

[Jesus] said to [Peter} the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." - John 21

Dear friends-

As a new person - brand new, actually - came into the life of our extended family yesterday, I've found myself thinking about what those first few moments in the wide world might be like for a newborn person. Since we will probably never know the exact nature of those first thoughts, I've let my imagination take hold. Please bear with me.

I picture those first impressions as being, among other possible feelings, pretty frightening. Warmth, evening-like and comforting dark, and safe enclosure suddenly give way to light, wide-openness, and something like cold. Yes, birthing rooms have become friendlier to newborns than perhaps they once were, but still... It has to be a great shock. Even basic nourishment, a given in the womb, now becomes an urgent concern, with nothing but a loud cry to tell the world of the first pangs of hunger.

And I dare to imagine that, if words were possible, the first ones would be, "Do you love me?" "Will I be safe and tenderly cared for here in this bewildering world?"

Jesus has returned, resurrected, to his friends. John's Gospel tells of his third appearance among them. They are gathered - maybe huddled is a better word - by the lakeshore. Peter, the disciple who betrayed Jesus three times in Jesus' time of trial, decides to do what many people who are confused about what to do next have decided; he goes fishing. His equally confused friends join him. Maybe the familiar task will ease their sorrow and confusion.

Peter and his friends fail badly at fishing, until a stranger on the shore gives them some advice. Suddenly, their nets are full, almost to the point of tearing. They return to the shore, discover who the stranger is, and Jesus invites them to breakfast. What follows is one of the most tender moments in all of Scripture.

Three times, once for each betrayal before the cross, Jesus asks Peter if Peter loves him. Not just once, but three times. Surely, we can understand why Jesus might not be certain of this love. Few of us, I imagine have escaped moments like this, when we turn to someone we love, at the end of a difficult day, and asked for such assurance. When I do this, I can usually only get away with asking once.

Jesus asks for the same assurance, not unlike the way a bewildered newborn might wonder if he or she can trust that the new faces around him or her will really love them, will really help the child to 'feed the sheep' that are one's own self and the others in the flock he or she has just joined.

Both John's Gospel and the reading from the Book of Acts, quoted above, share the question, "Who are you?" The circumstances are quite different, but the uncertainty is a common thread in both questions. We are not as certain as we would like to be, either of God's love for us, or that of those with whom we share our time and space in living.

"Who are these people, and will they love me as I need to be loved?" This might just be our very first question. It is surely one we ask again and again. It seems as if even God, who is both all-powerful and, as shown by Jesus the Christ, completely vulnerable to our human frailty, has this question in mind about us. Jesus himself dares ask this.

How shall we answer God, and what does that reply look like as we live in a Creation shaped by just that love, waiting to be made real for all of God's children? The answer is the same one we give to the new child, ready to live a beautiful life and wondering if others will join us.

It's the right question, and the answer changes the world - for a newborn, for us, and for Godself.

Sabbath blessings-
AFP

Oh, Thomas; We Know Thee

But [Thomas] said, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."  A week later ..., although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!"

Dear friends -

My son, who does not follow me to church, quotes to me an old adage, one with which Jesus might have an interesting argument to listen to: "The believer is happy; the doubter wise."

In reminding me of this ancient and conflicted wisdom, my son stands as a proxy for many, many people I love, and gives voice to a rich way of seeing the world. It's a wrestling voice that has the sound of my own words, doubts, and questions, in chorus with others. Most of us have a hard time believing things we can't or haven't seen. At the very least, we have our own customized filters for what we accept on faith. Jesus is a puzzle like this.

Even if we had sat at Jesus' feet while he was alive, and had embraced his life-refreshing, if difficult, teachings, it would still be hard to take in his words when he re-appeared as a resurrected soul. Like Thomas, we'd probably have to see to believe.

Much has been written by scholars of the Bible about what the word we read as "believe" really means. In a culture that has grown around religions which insist that, "You must BELIEVE this, or else ___ [Fill in the blank]", it can be very hard to stand up to the priest or pastor and say, "I want to be happy AND wise. I need to believe AND doubt." Far too many faith leaders have replied by saying, "No Communion cup for you, faithless one."

But the Communion cup is not a reward. It is an offering. It is an embrace. It is a sign that, while Jesus, in the voice of God, may chide us, he never rejects us. Jesus did the "tsk, tsk" thing to Thomas, for being unable to believe without seeing. But he didn't throw him out of the room.

God knows that we're not there yet - wherever 'there' might be. It seems pretty clear that God has had enough time to figure out that we have a lot of questions and doubts. Some of those questions are really, really hard ones. But most of us know that there are a lot of moments of "Aha! Now I understand that!" along the way to full understanding.

A silly example: in the garden, I came to know the delight of understanding how to deal with witch grass. It felt great. Then the crab grass came up; I'm still working on that. But I can re-live the joy of what I've learned, even as I bang my head against the garden fence about what I haven't yet learned. If we can't "believe" something, we can still belove it.

Somewhere this week, I read someone's words: "God is a question, not an answer." This flies in the face of many traditional "understandings" of God (who is, by the way, pretty much incomprehensible). Yet I think God delights in our questions. God certainly prefers our questions to watching, broken-hearted, as we walk away in disgust, frustration, or sad resignation.

A faith life of questions and doubts may not be the easy, groaning table filled with steak tips, shrimp cocktail, potato salad, and fresh cherries we'd like to sit down at. But there is bread and cup at that table, and all comers are welcomed.

We'll serve this holy meal this Sunday. The welcome includes you. Remember; it's not a reward. It's an offering - a gift - an embrace. It is, in its mystical way, the Body of Christ, right before our eyes. Thomas knew that, and that was enough. It took him time to figure this out, but figure it out he did.

We call out to him across the centuries: "Thomas, we know thee; we understand."

For us, for now, it's also enough. And there will be more when needed.

Sabbath blessings-
AFP

An Idle Tale?

They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat... - Isaiah 65

Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who toldthe apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. - Luke 24

 

Dear friends -

Pardon me if I substitute "Day of Resurrection" for the more common word "Easter" here. It's just that I Googled "Easter" yesterday, looking for a resonating image for this mysterious Holy Day. And all I got was pictures of rabbits and colored eggs. This experience put me off my feed a bit. I love eggs, and I love bunnies, but there is more to this sacred time than fuzzy, cuddly indulgences.

No matter what kind of understanding we bring to this preposterous idea of the bodily resurrection of Jesus - and there are many such understandings - the simple truth is that none of us understand it. If Mary, Mary, and the other women ran to us from the empty tomb and told us such a story, we would most likely, as did the other disciples, regard their news as an idle tale.


No we don't understand this astonishing story. Some of us take it as it's told, and we are in awe of the kind of faith that permits such an understanding. Some of us have had the mystical experience of knowing the presence of someone we love who has died. We might see this as an example of resurrection; yet no one I know of has been able to produce a photo of this departed person's physical presence So it is a resurrection colored with imagination, reverence, and holy hope. Nothing wrong with that. Others of us hear the story as a metaphor - a poem of abiding love. Others among us just scratch our heads and mumble, "What the heck is this about?" Probably that's what those bewildered disciples thought, at least at first.

But something happened on that strange morning of the Day of Resurrection. How else would the disciple Peter have changed from an uncomprehending, bumbling, fickle follower of Jesus into thegiant spiritual leader he became? How would Paul, who wasn't actually present during Jesus' life, have changed from an active and vicious persecutor of the early Christians into one of this new faith's earliest and most articulate teachers? How would Augustine have morphed from a self-indulgent cad into one of the greatest early Christian theologians? How else would Dietrich Bonheoffer have mustered the courage to stand up to Hitler against a tide of cowardly complicity? How else would have... ? The list goes on and on.

And the 'list' bespeaks a mystery beyond our understanding.

When we don't understand something, we often either dismiss it, or we call in the experts to help explain it. The richness of Christian faith can be walked away from, but it cannot be dismissed. Many have tried to do so; even many Christians have managed to wear the label even as they dismissed the depth of its call. How sad; how ultimately futile and wasteful.

But there are no experts to explain this thing we can't understand. Maybe the best thing is not to try to understand it, at least not in the way we commonly seek to understand. When we pull it apart to examine its individual parts, we can never get it back together; there will always be a few screws and washers and springs left over, whose absence render this mysterious thing unusable.

But we can sing about it. We can imagine that the resurrection's gift to us is a glowing ember of sureness that hatred, violence, and betrayal - the very essence of the evil cross - do not have the last word in God's Kindom. And we can ask, of ourselves and each other, how we are called to be in the world; how we are called to bring the triumph of kindness and forgiveness to a world that aches for just this, even as it acts contrary to the call of kindness.

And we can do this together. How sweet and rich our voices sound when we sing this vision as one voice.

Join us. Many will gather at echo Hill in East Craftsbury at 6:30 AM to sing this song to the rising Son. And we will gather again at 10 AM at the Church on the Common to sing again. And again.

And again. No matter how you imagine it, the Sun and the Son will rise. Sing to this Son with us. He is one of us. He is us. And he returns.

Resurrection Sabbath blessings-
AFP

Listening to Passion

Morning by morning he wakens—wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. - Isaiah 50
 

Dear friends-

Most of us don't want our religion - if we want religion at all - to be all about guilt Many, many people have fled from organized religion because it feels to them like a bludgeon, a place they go to get flogged for their failures. I have heard people from almost any faith tradition speak of how they learned about "Guilt; the Gift that Keeps on Giving". No wonder we/they flee. I fled church for many years, for very much this reason.

And the reason I came back? Come close; I'll whisper it. I was actually guilty of many, many things. Actually, there is much more to my return than that, but pretending that this wasn't a part of my aching need to return would amount to pretending I'd never done anything wrong. I've tried it; we all have. It doesn't work.

We approach the end of the season of Lent. If we've been paying attention to the season's call for repentance, self-examination, and humble prayer, we are more or less ready for some relief. (That's a pale, thin way of describing the power of Easter, but let it suffice for now.) There is one more stone in the road, however, and it's a big one. It's called Palm Sunday and Holy Week. The Sunday before Easter celebrates the day when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration - and for much more troubling times than his friends and disciples were willing to acknowledge.

Jesus had spent much time prior to his arrival here preaching, teaching, and healing. The word was out; he was a pretty amazing prophet - maybe even the Messiah. The crowds in Jerusalem hailed him as their savior; his parade into town rivaled, for excitement, the arrival on the other side of town of the Roman ruler, who had come to Jerusalem to keep the peace during Passover week. "Hosanna! Save us! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"

The celebration lasted a few hours; maybe a day or two. Then, the full force of Jesus' radical, world-changing Good News began to sink in. It was dangerous. It threatened the big powers. It asked people to change the way they lived, saw the world, and imagined their salvation. Everyone wants the world to change. Few actually want to change themselves. Not so slowly, the celebration turned into doubt, resignation, fear, and betrayal.

If we don't take the full measure of this all-too-common human reaction, then the miracle of Easter is nothing more than an occasion for chocolate bunnies, ham dinners, and the distant echo of a trumpet heralding a shallow elation.

So we read the story of what is called "the Passion." We listen to it. We imagine ourselves in the crowd, desperately wanting Jesus to change the world, and not wanting to change ourselves. It is a sober story. It is a big stone in the road.

But the stone will be moved. We will only comprehend the magnitude of that miracle when we walk around that stone. It is a really, really big stone.

But not as big as God's love for Creation - and the bumbling, beautiful human beings that area troublesome, but blessed part of that Creation. When we take the full measure of this love, the world changes forever. Because we change ourselves. That's what it takes.

Listen to what Passion really sounds like. We'll share the story at 10 AM. If we will open our ears and do not turn backward, as Isaiah invites us to do, we will be taught.

Passionate Sabbath blessings-
AFP

 

The Day the Manna Ceased

"The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year." - Joshua 5

Dear friends-

How would we define "real life"?

Some of us would say real life begins when we put our noses to the grindstone, shoulders to the wheel, etc., etc., etc. All those clichés that say, in essence, that real life begins when we assume full responsibility for our lives and do what is necessary to thrive, or at least, to survive.

Others might say that we waste too much of our energy bellying up to the buzz saw, scratching out a living, climbing the career ladder, or any of the still-long list of clichés that cast the life of labor in a less favorable light. This angle on "real life" says that we would do well to spend less of our time worrying about gathering things, accomplishments, and sort-of-proudly-worn blisters from our labors, and spend more time welcoming God's gifts into our life's landscapes. More time in prayer, contemplation, contentment with things as they are.

We can hardly imagine what "real life" looked and felt like for the people of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness for forty years after their liberation from slavery in Egypt. Living in a tent can be fun for a while, but dragging meager possessions across a harsh landscape for 2/5 of a century would, for most of us, feel less like a camping trip than like a sentence to Hell.

Sure, their daily food fell out of the sky, so they didn't have to spend any time planting, weeding, harvesting, picking potato beetles, praying for rain, putting food by, and wondering if the larder would hold out until more food came. But the tent thing still hung over their heads; at least that's how I imagine it must have felt.

Finally, after forty years, they arrived in the Promised Land. They celebrated their first Passover in their new home and, for the first time in so long that none had been alive when it was so, they had to turn to the land and its possibilities to wrest a meal out of the unfamiliar soil. Their food stopped dropping magically from the sky.

Which one was "real life"? The short answer is probably that both were real, again, in ways we can hardly imagine. But, of a sudden, their home was no longer a promise; it was there in front of them, full of challengers, beauties, sorrows, and joys.

Every individual, every family, every community, and every nation experiences times of promise, and then times when the promise becomes real and the "real work" begins. This is not to say that those forty years - or whatever time - do not have their challenges; surely the story of the Israelites in the Sinai tells of many such stones in the road. But then the road stopped at the gateway of a Promised, but unknown Land, and it was time to shape an enduring community; to make a home that would reflect the original promise.

Often, when we find ourselves at the point where the road of promise ends and it becomes time to fish or cut bait, we tie ourselves in knots devising strategies, rules, governments, and procedures to guide us along. To be sure, some part of this is important work; we do need rules and norms to live in community.

But the questions that a home of any kind ask of us are, finally, spiritual questions, not tactical or political ones. Will we love each other unfailingly? Will we do the hard work of forgiving mistakes and betrayals, and asking forgiveness when we are the betrayers? Will we live on the assumption that there is plenty for all? Will we stop our own self-focused work long enough to pick up and encourage the lost, the broken-hearted, and the wounded? Will we remember our common ancestors and their beautiful struggles?

We meet in voting booths and Town Halls to ask - and presumably, answer - the tactical questions that arise in community. it's important that we do so.

But we meet in worship to ask and wrestle the spiritual questions that lie beneath our practical problems. The Holy Spirit does inform. the Holy Spirit does advise. The Holy Spirit does comfort. The Holy Spirit does demand that we answer the hard questions honestly and humbly. If we tend to this work, the Promised Land does keep its promises. If we don't tend to this work, the promise slips away. We have only to look around us to see what happens when we don't tend to this work.

Join us. Each one of us brings the voice of the Holy Spirit to this essential, holy work. Every one of us. Ten AM; it's beautiful work, in a sacred place on the Common of our community.

Sabbath blessings-
AFP

That which is not bread

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. - Isaiah 55

Dear friends-

Most of the blessed souls who receive this weekly invitation/rambling are not regular churchgoers; at least not in Craftsbury. And a good number of these people rarely gather on Sunday mornings in any place of public worship.

Just so we're clear; this is not a problem, for the writer anyway. Every single soul I know well enough to say that I know them wants Creation to be a better thing than it now is. This truth, in my estimation, is all it takes to say that we live in a spirit-world - all of us. We live in a world that yearns to be gentler, kinder, more abundant, and more welcoming. Even if we don't act that way

I read something this week that struck me with force. It was about the Holy Bible. It said, 
“A book or text in the Bible cannot mean anything for us, unless we first realize it was not written to us.”

This brought me up short. I begin each of these invites with a snippet of text from Scripture. I spend a lot of time thinking about these texts; that's part of my job. And I am sometimes conceited enough to think that, if I drop these quotes here, their meaning will come clear to those who read them, even if they are sometimes not clear to me. My bad.

But...  but... there is a reason why these words hold such power. Whether or not we gather in shared worship on Sunday mornings, the Bible plays a vast role in defining the struggle we engage in our shared communal life. Isaiah, quoted above, is one of the richest, most challenging, most inviting texts of all.

He asks a people removed from our time by 2500 years why they spend their treasures on things that do not sustain them. He was talking to people who had an entirely different relationship to food and sustenance than we do - at least most of us. Most of us can fill our bellies without much effort. Yes; some - too many - cannot. And maybe it is those suffering souls to whom Isaiah best speaks across two and a half millennia. We can fill our bellies; can we fill our hearts?

We who live in a world of plenty are asked a different question by Isaiah's words. Are we nourished by the way we live our lives? Is God's glorious promise nurtured by how we spend our treasures? Anyone of us who takes a close, honest, humble look at ourselves in this season of Lent will likely be made uncomfortable by this question. We feast on plenty, even as we live and flounder in a culture that assumes there isn't enough to go all the way around the table

But the paradox is that, as Isaiah tells us, God really wants us to pull up to the table and "delight yourselves in rich food". God wants us to live abundantly - all of us. All. Of. Us. This may mean something different to us today than it meant to the souls to whom he spoke. But it means something powerful to every soul who lives, or has ever lived, in God's broken, gorgeous Creation.

Of course, I want everyone I know and love to gather in worship together every Sunday morning in worship; it's the nature of my work. But even if we don't, might we pray and imagine together? Might we ask what truly sustains us? Might we commit ourselves to "enough-ness"?

Doing so changes everything that is broken into something filled with hope, love, and plenty. The questions we ask ourselves may be different from the questions people asked of themselves 2500 years ago. But the souls of that time yearned for the same thing for which we yearn today; they yearned for life abundant. And that for which they yearned, and for which we yearn, is, as it always has been, within our grasp.

So we worship together, imagining how to make this blessed promise real. We gather at 10 AMon Sundays. You are more welcome than you might imagine. You are part of the answer to the questions God's children have been asking since we first started asking questions.

And of the answers to such questions, as Isaiah says, "Listen, so that you may live."

This is good advice. It was good counsel 2500 years ago, and it still is.

Lenten Sabbath blessings-
AFP

How Often Have I Desired...

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! - Luke 13

Dear friends-

I wonder what would happen if we introduced the idea of Lenten-style self-reflection and examination into the mix of our already tiresome Presidential election season.

Most of the people who seem to want to be our next President are eager to tell us about the importance of their Christian faith in the formation their platforms, views, and plans as prospective leaders. And we can hardly help but notice that many of these folks are jockeying to see who can sound the toughest - even the meanest - as they peddle their wares to the people whom they hope will vote for them.

This is jarring, to say the least. How many of these prospective leaders would embrace the image of "a mother hen gathering her brood under her wings"? More importantly, how many of us would embrace this image as a way of living in a world where compassion was the watchword? When someone stands up and asks us to let them be a leader, we tend not to want a mother hen; we'll go with a razor-clawed eagle, or maybe even a panther. Some fierce, steadfast being that will smite our enemies into submission.

What is with this yawning chasm between our professed or practiced faith and the profoundly humble and gentle faith of this man Jesus, whom we call our savior? What kind of fear and rage causes us to take this tragic detour?

We can hear the anguish in Jesus' voice; we can almost see the tears streaming down his face. "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it..." Such a profound lament this is. And well we might replace the name Jerusalem with any number of cities today: Washington; Riyadh; Tehran; Moscow; Beijing; Caracas; Nairobi; Cairo. And on and on...

But the Holy City of Jerusalem stands in for all such places. This ancient city; the spiritual home of the three great Abrahamic faiths; the city that stirs our hopeful hearts, and then breaks them with its own brokenness. For it is in this place, and many others as well, where we see the heartbreak of an offer of peace that we continue to refuse to embrace.

"How often have I desired to..." Let us complete this sentence ourselves. The Season of Lent is the time to practice this holy work of imagining the peace that we both yearn for and flee from. A time to challenge the fear and bitterness that infect not just our political leaders, but us ourselves.

"How often have I desired to..." There are so very many wondrous ways to complete this sentence. Let's imaginethem, and work in holy love to make them happen. This, and only this, will dry the tears on God's face.

Sabbath blessings-
AFP

Putting God to the Test

Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house. Deuteronomy 26

Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" - Luke 4

Dear friends,

I hope this isn't too weird a thing to invite you to think about, much less too weird to cause you to contemplate joining in worship. If it is so, please accept my apology.

That said, here's the thing. The headline jumped off the page at me; the  New Hampshire legislature is in the process of passing a law banning the sale or possession of artificial urine.

The practical, everyday side of my brain (if there even is such a thing) has no position on the merits ofthis proposed law. Until the other day, I had no idea that such a product even exists. Apparently there is a market for this substance, serving those who have various and urgent needs to pass drug screening tests.

The only thing that occurred to me as I read this jaw-dropping story was a picture that popped into my mind of God, looking down on this scene, putting head into hands and muttering, "These people are REALLY putting me to the test... How and where do I even begin to wrestle this absurdity to the ground?"

Bear with me for just a moment longer in this thought experiment, as God continues to muse on this. "I have given my people all they need: fertile soil, abundant clean water, countless opportunities to enjoy Creation and the joys of relationship with each other; music to lift their souls; art and sense of humor; the wisdom of poetry and self-reflection; yes, even glorious sunsets and adorable cat videos. And what are they doing? They are casting about for a sense of meaning, as if it were invisible or unreachable - or didn't even exist. They throw themselves off pinnacles, daring me to catch them, testing to see if I deserve their faith. They wallow in unutterable pain; they medicate themselves to numbness. They fail the very tests that they set up themselves; tests that they think are to measure MY merit. Then they give their remaining treasure to someone who has devised a way to help them cheat on the test. It's no wonder they are weeping. Can they ever learn the true nature of my love and hope for them?"

I won't belabor this bizarre story any more, except to apologize again for crudeness; and to hope that this is not read as demeaning to people with substance abuse issues - only one of many broken ways of being that God witnesses.

Allow me to move on by saying, "Thank God that Lent has arrived." We are invited during this sober time to look closely at where we have gone wrong, and what we might do about it. Not just where we ourselves have gone wrong, but where we have gone wrong as a human community.

The Israelites, finally freed from their bondage in Egypt by their faithful, listening God, spent forty years wandering in the wilderness; plenty of time to figure out what their new freedom made possible in their lives, and what kind of demons remained in their personal and collective souls that would prevent the holy exercise of this blessed gift of freedom. They were headed to a Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. Would their self-obsession and fear cause them to squander that gift, or would they be able to remember the source of that gift and the abiding love that gift represented?

In a like way, Jesus, fresh from his baptism, demonstrably blessed by God as a beloved, set forth into the wilderness for forty days of testing, sometimes referred to as temptation. How would he choose to deploy his blessedness? Would he use his magic touch to turn stones into bread to satisfy his hunger? He appears to have had the power to do so. Would he assume reign over all the nations of the Earth in exchange for worshipping the power that reign gave him? Would he test God's love and care for him by leaping off tall buildings?

Or would he trust God's grace and gifts in all things? Would he wear the mantle of power that is made known only by rejecting power as we know it, by being weak and vulnerable, as he had been when he was laid in that cold and musty manger?

We get to ask these same questions during Lent. The questions - and answers - can be life-changing; they shape how we live and love. The answers will also decide whether or not we are helpers in making Creation thrive as God wishes it to thrive. And God will notice both our questions and answers.

Like us, God REALLY wants to stop weeping about brokenness, anguish, numbness, and dispossession. God, like us, has much more beautiful things to imagine and toward which to labor.

We really, really need each other's help on this journey. Gather with us, as one of us, for this troubling, beautiful sojourn. We touch base in worship, Sunday mornings at 10 AM.

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AFP

How bright are we willing to shine?

When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them - Exodus 34

...Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. - Luke 9

Dear friends -

No doubt about it; the Bible is filled with stories that are simply supernatural.

Does the presence of such stories fill us with wonder and sense of mystery? Or do such stories just make us roll our eyes and say, "Oh, for crying out loud..."?

Maybe, just maybe, if I had been one of Jesus' disciples way back then (as opposed to now), and had been among the favored invited to climb the mountain with him, I might have witnessed this transfiguration, this glowing soul in front of me, clothed in the purest white of God's blessing.

But I wasn't, and so I didn't see it. So the image is, if not unbelievable, at least hard to imagine.

The closest I've come to seeing such a thing is when I have been on retreat at the monastery in Massachusetts that I (too seldom) visit. The brothers in that cloister, when they gather to pray and chant, sometimes seem to glow with a light that defies description. They don't always do so; sometimes, they, like all of us, are likely there because they are supposed to be. But when the spirit moves - or maybe it's the gentle, low light of the sanctuary, their souls seem to shine independent of their everyday flesh and blood.

I'd be willing to wager that all of us have seen someone glow. Perhaps it was with happiness. Maybe it was with love, like a madly-in-love couple at the marriage altar. Or maybe it was with aconfident sense of purpose, as they engaged in a task or diversion that simply made them come alive in ways that probably surprise even them.

W. B Yeats wrote a poem, "Prayer for My Daughter". One verse says,


Considering that, all hatred driven hence,
The soul recovers radical innocence
And learns at last that it is self-delighting,
Self-appeasing, self-affrighting,
And that its own sweet will is Heaven’s will;
She can, though every face should scowl
And every windy quarter howl
Or every bellows burst, be happy still.


 Could something like this sentiment have a hand in making us glow? It seems that so many of us - myself surely included - spend a lot of life with a cloak over our glow. It might be a cloak of shame or anger; of crushing disappointment or broken dreams. That soul of which Yeats speaks wishes urgently to glow both within and for the Creation in which our bodies live, but something hides it. Yeats calls it "hatred" that causes us to lose our "radical innocence". Hatred may not be the best word for our own experience; we all have some wound or obsession that shades and mutes the glow of the soul.

The disciples saw the bright shimmering of Jesus' uncluttered soul. It was breathtaking. And they wanted to bask in it for all time. Don't we all, even if "every face should scowl and every windy quarter howl"?

How bright are we willing to glow? What are we willing, ready, or able to let go of that mutes that glow? Wouldn't we love to show to our beloved and broken world the very source of that brightness? Wouldn't we love to be free of the clutter that obscures the shining of our souls? In our dreams, we say, "Of course we would!"

"Oh, but I just can't..." we mumble.

"Oh, but your sweet soul can," says God "That's exactly what Creation needs to come to full life."

So we keep practicing at it. We do so in our prayers, in our most private longings. And we practice it together. We call it worship, and we do that every Sunday morning - as in tomorrow. At 10 AM. We encourage each other when we do so, and our uncluttered souls shine brightly when we do so.

Join us. We need your light. The soul's "own sweet will is Heaven's will."

Sabbath blessings-
AFP

PS The painting below is of the first Last Supper. Since it wasn't actually the last one, we call it the Lord's Supper, or Holy Communion, or the Eucharist. We will celebrate this tomorrow. Talk about glowing...

Pluck and Pull; Build and Plant

"...Today I appoint you... to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant." - Jeremiah 1

When they heard [Jesus say] this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way - Luke 4

 

Dear friends-

When was the last time that your faith really upset your apple cart?

This isn't a quiz; it's simply a matter to ponder. In the language of Christianity, the question could be framed, as a colleague has done, as "When was the last time Jesus offended you?"

The Gospel story from Luke this week continues the telling of a time when Jesus stood before the people of his hometown and preached a sermon that, at first, amazed and impressed them. His message was that God has come to heal those who suffer. But, not content to bask in his community's adulation, he forces the issue. He then tells them, in essence, "I'm not here to do parlor tricks for you; I'm here to say that a life of faith is bigger than wonder and awe. It's also about patience, humility, and repentance."

It's been said many times that religion's task is to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." This phrase was actually coined by Finley Peter Dunne, a Chicago journalist who said this was the job of newspapers. He wrote a column for his paper in the early 20th century, speaking in the voice of the everyman, a fictional character named Mr. Dooley. At some point, spiritual leaders embraced the words, as a way of echoing an idea common in Scripture, as in Psalm 18: "For you save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down."

The people gathered in the synagogue in Nazareth, who heard their native son Jesus speaking with authority, had surely read or heard this Psalm before; the sentiment was not new to them. But hearing the humble son of the humble Mary and Joseph speak this way to them so enraged them that they were ready to throw him off the cliff. In one sermon, Jesus managed both to comfort and afflict those who listened to him.

It's likely that the people of Nazareth did not experience comfort as we are used to imagining it. We can well imagine their afflictions; probably less so their comforts. But we do know that each one of us experiences both affliction and comfort, in ways that transcend time and place.

There are times when our faith, whatever that might look like, feels sustaining, nurturing and yes, even joyful. We bask in such times; Creation itself appears to be working in our service.

Other times, not so much. Loneliness, pain, deep doubt, and exclusion from the blessings of community have visited most, if not all, of us at one time or anther. At such times, we need the balm of God's comforting words and blessings. If we show up at the synagogue in Nazareth on such days, we're really not eager to hear this young whippersnapper Jesus lecturing us.

There really is no way completely to resolve this tension. When we gather in worship, some of us are simply in better - or worse - shape than others. When we meet on the street or over a meal, the same is true. There is brokenness and wholeness in front of us and within us. In appointing a reluctant Jeremiah to be a prophet, God tells him that his task will be both to pull broken things apart and then rebuild them; to pluck up the dead stuff and plant something new and wondrous.

There is time for both in our own lives, prophets all that we are. In an honest life of faith, we will both challenge and comfort each other - and our own selves. One day we will offer the sweetest comfort to someone; another day, we will look around and see that something is desperately in need of repair. Like Jesus or Jeremiah, we won't necessarily please others in making such a challenge. But there will be time for that pleasing in another time.

Come to be comforted, or to comfort. Come broken or whole. Come somewhere in between these places. Come to pluck and pull; to build and plant. God always knows what to say. In a worshipping community,we are learning how to hear that, no matter what that voice sounds like. In the end, it is always loving.

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AFP

Law and Order... and Disorder

So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading... All the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, "Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. - Nehemiah 8

[Jesus] unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor." - Luke 4

Dear friends-

Ezra, the priest, stands in front of a large crowd at the Water Gate in Jerusalem. He reads to this crowd of "both men and women and all who could hear with understanding". He reads from the scroll of the law, from morning to midday. The gathered crowd listened intently, and "wept when they heard the words of the law".

I have a hard time imagining a similar crowd congregating in front of the State House to listen for several hours as our modern equivalent of a high priest reads the law. Much less can I imagine this gathering weeping with emotion upon hearing the law read to them. We might hear some cynical snickering; we might see a few listening respectfully, at least for a while; but mostly what I imagine is profound boredom, with much of the crowd slinking off to buy a coffee somewhere down the street. Or not showing up in the first place.

It's tempting to try to reduce the vast questions, dilemmas, and debates of faith life into something simple. If not a simple answer, then at least a simple question. This is a dangerous effort, but here's another try at it. It seems that one of the essential questions of the Spirit is this: do we live by a God of law, or by a God of love? Is God tallying up our failures and sins in anticipation of the big, final, harsh judgment? Or is God ever searching for ways to forgive, to shower us with grace, and to bless us with new life and new chances to shine in the Spirit-light?

This question has been framed, over the millennia, in some pretty ugly ways.One obvious, absurd, and destructive framing has been to say that the Old Testament God - the Jewish God - is an angry, judgmental God, and the New Testament God - the Christian God - is a forgiving, gentler God. But simple questions don't always yield simple answers. This simple answer is insulting to the Jewish faith and tradition, and has long been murderous in its application.

"The law", as set forth in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible - the Torah - was and remains a powerful and binding force in Jewish life. It is also a law infused with love; love of community, of shared self-protection; and of life itself. And it was the law that guided the life of the people of Israel, including Jesus himself; it held community together in times of great stress, misfortune, exile, and oppression. No wonder the reading of it in front of the new, yet unfinished restored temple in Jerusalem, from which the Hebrew people had been exiled for many years and had only recently returned, caused the people to weep and let their heads fall to the soil.

We human beings have always had a complicated relationship to the idea of law. Lifetimes are spent writing and refining laws; we hew to them closely when we are filled with fear and doubt. We shake the law book before the bad guys that make us angry, and we quietly tuck that law book into the drawer when the scofflaw is someone of privilege. We constantly make up new laws to cover new crimes - real or perceived.

But most of us harbor a certain resentment against a law-bound culture. We write carefully worded laws and then despise the lawyers who interpret them. We are often able, with clever rationalization, to excuse ourselves from observing laws that we feel certain that others should obey precisely. If Judaism has ever been guilty of being too legalistic, can we really say that Christianity has never fallen down the same rabbit hole?

A God of love seems to understand that we - no matter who we are or to what faith tradition we subscribe - need to make and live under some framework of laws. But God has always reminded us - Jew or Christian or whatever - that, as Nehemiah puts it so sweetly, "the joy of the Lord is your strength."

Jesus stood in front of his homefolks and delivered a short sermon, based on an old text from his Hebrew ancestor Isaiah. He didn't have to invent Good News for the poor; he simply had to remind his own people that this was their own Scripture - their own law: release of the captive; recovery of sight to the blind; freedom for the oppressed; and "the year of the Lord's favor".

At best, our laws are infused with a spirit of gentleness, forgiveness, and love. And our application of such laws is, at best, infused with the same. Jesus' Jewish sisters, brothers, and neighbors needed a reminder of that in his day, by this Jewish teacher who had already amazed his neighbors with his wisdom.

And we need a reminder of the same today. "Law and order", a phrase with which we are all familiar, is often not much more than an ever-tightening noose. And it usually leads to great disorder.

Law and love - the heart of the Jewish and Christian sense of who God is - invites us to remember why we are here: to proclaim God's favor, and to live in the joy of that strength and the strength of that joy.

There's' no law that says you have to join us at church tomorrow at 10 AM. Thank God for that.

But we'd love it if you did. And so would God.

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AFP

Labor, Joy, and Gifts

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. - 1 Corinthians 12

When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (hough the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first... But you have kept the good wine until now." - John 2

Dear friends-

Okay, so there's this story, near the beginning of John's Gospel; even if we don't know it well, we know the reference of "turning water into wine."

Jesus goes to a wedding withhis disciples and his mother, whom John doesn't deign to name. A good time is being had by all, at least until the wine runs out. We may think we've been to an extravagant wedding or two in our lives, but in Jesus' day, a marriage was celebrated to the absolute limits of the family's ability to throw a party.

There is so much that is strange about this story. The "mother of Jesus", still unnamed, whispers to Jesus that there is no more wine for the guests to drink. We might think that this would be the host's problem; Mary - let's go ahead and name her here - thinks otherwise. Jesus replies not with a, "Yes, mother; thank you for telling me. I'll take care of it right away." That's just the kind of guy Jesus is, right?

But no; he kind of snaps at her. "Woman, what concern is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come." Now, if I had ever called my mother, "Woman", I would still be grounded. But Mary is undaunted; she instructs the servants to "Do whatever he tells you." This conversation and course of action are strange enough.

But then, Jesus turns what our best guess, given translation problems, tells us amounts to 180 gallons of water into wine. And it's not the cheap kind.. The image of servants carrying six thirty-gallon jars of nice, fresh water to the wedding feast is... well... "Bartholomew, where the heck is that fork lift when we need it?"

Where and how do we find God working in this story? It appears to be a tale of, first, reluctance. Our savior appears unwilling to make the effort, or at least, to show his hand. And second, it's a story of vast excess. The wine supply amounts to something like 500 bottles as we know them - and this is after the planned rations have run out. Is this an example of Jesus using his "manifestation of the Spirit for the common good", as in the phrase Paul uses to coax his friends in his letter to the church at Corinth? Puns about "the Spirit" aside, is this a good use of the Lord's gifts to perform his first miracle, or sign, as John names such acts?

Hard enough to find the Good News in this story for a gathering of grownups in a comfortable sanctuary, where many have heard this story countless times. It's yet a greater challenge to introduce this story to a gathering of young people, most of whom are likely hearing the story for the first time. We can probably all agree that a story about a drunken wedding isn't the kind of lesson we want to teach our children.

But here is a story of bounty; a story of a rich kind of communal joy; a story of celebration; and a story of how God offers the best to us when we least expect it. It's a story about our part, as a human community, in showing the world the strange but redeeming blessings of God's Kindom.

The daring - or foolish - pastor will attempt a small miracle in worship tomorrow, as a way of introducing this story to our youngest members. With God's help and some good fortune, we'll know something new about the odd, beautiful way that God tells us the story of how Creation is meant to be. I don't do wine from water, but I know a thing or two about what makes water taste really, surprisingly delicious.

And do I know that God wants us to have life and have it abundantly - to experience, and offer, reckless generosity. Not just a weddings, but in all of our life together. "A together" we've just begun to imagine.

Join us at 10 AM. Together, we might just quench a deep thirst.

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AFP

Filled with Expectation

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... - Isaiah 43

...When Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, ... a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."Luke 3
 


Dear friends -

Can we imagine the Heavens opening, and hearing the voice of God saying to us, "You are my child, with whom I am well pleased"?

Actually, I really believe this happens all the time, to all kinds of people. Sometimes we believe it. Sometimes, we mishear it and draw the conclusion that God really said was, "I am more pleased with you than I am with anyone else." Sometimes, we simply hear it and don't believe it at all - or don't even hear it above the noise of our brokenness.

But God keeps whispering it, to every one of God's children.

The heavy-hearted people of Israel, exiled to Babylon, had a hard time hearing these words of comfort. Little wonder; the prophet Isaiah had just finished saying, in verses just before his words as written above, that the people were banished in exile because they had abandoned their God. While there might be fair debate about whether God actually did so directly, Isaiah told his people a real truth: they had forgotten the holy favor - and challenge - that God had placed before them.

But God had not forgotten them.

I recently found myself in conversation with a parent whose childrenreally, really don't like attending Sunday School. The parent was anguished about this; did not want to battle with or force the children to attend. After listening to this anguish, I answered with my view that forced religious instruction is worthless; even a violation. We worship voluntarily; if we don't choose it, it isn't worship. We learn about God because we choose to, not because someone requires us to. And God is present in the public school - as everywhere - even if it's not the lace where we teach about God.

Jesus didn't have to be baptized. To put it really simply, baptism in his time was seen as a means of washing away sin. Since Christians tend to assume Jesus to be without sin, what point would there be to washing away something that wasn't there? Religious scholars have even gone so far as to say that the story of Jesus' baptism, which appears in all four Gospels, is actually embarrassing.

But maybe Jesus comes forward to take part in this sacrament as God's way of saying, "With you I am well pleased. I am glad to be among you - one of you - even in your brokenness. I'm not doing this because I have to, but because I want to be with you."

Why? Because, as God says, in the words of Isaiah, "I have called you by name; you are mine... [I will be with you wherever you are]."

A broken, grumpy, cynical, fear-filled world is healed by these words. Like the crowd gathered in Luke's telling of the baptism of Jesus, we are all "filled with expectation" about a different, better world. One where brokenness yields to wholeness; where grumpiness yields to joy; where cynicism yields to hope; where fearfulness yields to gentle courage.

God comes among us, by active choice, to invite us, in our turn, to make the same active choice. God keeps whispering, "You ARE my child, and with you I am well pleased."

Can we hear this? Do we believe this? How might this change us - and the world - if we really believed it?

We keep trying; we choose to keep trying.

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