Are we having fun yet?

I hope that y’all can understand where I’m coming from when I post this article:

Not here to have fun

It’s utterly brilliant, and it finally gives a name to the frustration I’ve felt for years and years over the direction of worship in so many places. By blurring the line between R&R-type fun and worship of the Triune God, we do both a grave disservice.

“Making church fun” is making it like everything else in our lives: consumer-driven. Market-driven. It leaves no room for us to confront and engage with the dark sides of life. And that means it leaves no room for us to be truth-tellers about the dark sides of life, and about the glimmers of hope that persist in spite of the darkness.

Most of the people I talk with don’t come to church to have fun, but are looking for Jesus. For the divine. That doesn’t mean that some parts of the morning WON’T be fun – but it also doesn’t mean that some parts won’t be painful, or sad, or introspective, or thoughtful, or really really uncomfortable.

When worship can incorporate and encompass ALL of human experience, then it is most authentic.  Different seasons, days, times, events  – all will call for a particular combination of those aspects of the human experience.  But worship that sits only in one place or another, blinds its participants to the assurance that God walks with us in the suffering just as much as in the joy.  It perpetuates our society’s utter refusal to deal with death in any healthy way.  And it robs our people of knowing that this church is acutely aware of the roads we walk, and is committed to honest and respectful accompaniment on those roads – not pretending they don’t exist.

No, I’m not here to have fun.  I’m here to meet Jesus.  But I don’t think that’s a either/or – I think it’s a both/and.  Maybe it’ll be fun today, or maybe not.  But what I do know is: it will be full, because our encounter with the risen Christ is full.  Embracing the breadth of human experience together with others in worship has the potential to shape us all for service in the world – the real world, not a fake one.

In these difficult times, that is good news indeed.

 

Change for good – or not

Changing elements of worship can be refreshing, if they reflect the characteristics or themes of a particular church season – or if they speak to a common concern, a particular observation, or a crisis of some kind.

But change in worship can also be unsettling, and has a long history of causing conflict.  I think I’ve lived through at least three iterations of the so-called “worship wars” – arguments in the last 30 or so years that have really revolved around style instead of substance.  These arguments have even split congregations.

I’m really fortunate to work with people in my synod (geographical area of organization in my ELCA Lutheran church) who ascribe to a variety of style preferences, but who all agree on some basic guidelines: our pattern of worship is generally Gather-Word-Meal-Send, we begin with Scripture, context is EVERYTHING, and so on.  We don’t change things without good and compelling reasons.

Sometimes in my church-musician identity, I get bored.  I feel like changing things up in liturgy simply because I’ve heard it a zillion times.  But that’s the time I need to remember, more than ever, that it’s not about me but rather the assembly – the folks gathered to worship.

What are their joys, sorrows, concerns, hopes?

How can our worship together give voice to the voiceless, and call us to the love of God that transforms?

As I talk to younger people than I – say, the 18-40 year-olds – they aren’t necessarily impressed by what in the theatre we called “production values.”  Smoke and mirrors, fancy lighting, and other technology ring very hollow for them if there’s no substance.  The questions these friends ask are more along the lines of “so what kind of difference do you seek to make in this neighborhood?”

Such questions remind me of the great advice given by Kelly Fryer and Dave Daubert at a conference some years ago.  They feel that the essential formula for being church is simply:

Be Who You Are – Use What You Have – Do What Matters.

Don’t try to be the big church down the street.  You do you.

Don’t bust your budget accumulating stuff (example: expensive sound & video systems) that will only incur an ongoing maintenance budget and will cause more headaches than they’re worth.  We actually have more to work with than we realize.

Direct your energy to the things that need to happen, the things that matter, both in your congregation and in your neighborhood.  Don’t undertake service projects with a subtext or ulterior motive of thinking you’ll “get them” to come to your church.  If there’s a need, meet it.  End of discussion.  (Otherwise, it’s not a gift but a bribe.)

Change for the sake of change is inward-facing.  But change for the sake of the world that God loves – that is outward-facing.

Change is never easy.  But we all have stories about how some kind of change was ultimately a precious gift.

THAT’S the story to share.

Blessings as we enter Holy Week.

 

Changes in worship…..but not the ones you might expect

This Sunday is the Third Sunday in Lent, and perhaps you’ve noticed that worship in your community is a little different these last couple of weeks.

I hope it is.

When worship takes on a different look, feel, or sound – or taste or smell, to include all the senses – it naturally piques our interest, and we sit up and take notice.

A change in the church year’s seasons is a good time to experiment.

(Side note: my laptop’s “o” key sticks so it typed “god time.” Very appropriate.)

Here is how the senses are shifted for my congregation’s Lenten worship this year:

LOOK (sense of sight) – some of the dried palm fronds from Palm Sunday last year are in a large glass vase in plain sight.  Different banners are up.  We’ve added a descriptive paragraph for the day to the bulletin.  But we also see the signs of spring beginning outside a little earlier than usual, because we’ve had so much rain.

FEEL (sense of touch) – this was most present in our Ash Wednesday service, when we felt someone’s touch making the sign of the cross with ashes on our forehead. We also can feel the thick grass under our feet, if on a sunny day we kick off our shoes and tread our grassy area that is a “neighborhood park” welcoming those around us.

SOUND (sense of hearing) – we are using silence intentionally this season, in our confession and at other places in the order of service as well.  Outside of worship, the birds seem to have renewed voices this spring.

TASTE (sense of taste) – this will likely have to wait until the Vigil, when our wine will change from the usual dry red wine.  But we may also be treated to spring fruits after worship – the strawberries are already turning up fully ripened in the stores.

SMELL (sense of smell) – we don’t have a shift in smell in worship, but as soon as we step outside after worship, the explosive scents of budding springtime are all around us.  And those strawberries smell great!

I think of the Lenten gospel acclamation, “return to the Lord, your God; for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”  That steadfast love is manifest in these markers of Lent, lodged amid the ever-returning spring.  While we observe a season of reflection, at the same time all of creation is bursting at the seams.

And so we mark the time of Lent, enjoying the Wednesday evenings spent together in food, fellowship, worship, and learning.  Even though today is the first day of spring, we’ll take time to savor a different rhythm and different ways of engaging our senses.

Blessings on your Lenten journey.

 

Ash Wednesday

For the rest of the Lenten season, I’m committing to blogging once weekly on the topic of change in worship – and yes, I’m defining that broadly.  Worship is something that shifts within a contextual reality but at its core stays the same.

This poem comes from a friend of a colleague.  It made me think about how I will spend this Lent, which is coinciding with a time of great transition for me.

Blessings as you begin this journey – again.

 

Ash Wednesday     by Cheryl Lawrie

So the day comes around again
and we find ourselves surprised
again
by the truth
that we are mortal

The stuff of dust and ashes.

Our egos and esteem are held up
to the brutal mirror of the finite:
Know that you will end.
The world will continue without you.

And it’s only with our vision so narrowed
that we are again
able to see
all that lies beyond us:
Know that you are not God.
Know that all the things that make heaven and earth
reach way beyond you.

Live today with faith in your humanness
and let that lead you to life.

Welcome to Lent.

God-flavors and God-colors

Sermon from February 5, 2017 – Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Encinitas, CA.

Text:  Matthew 5:13-20

Welcome to the second installment in the Sermon on the Mount from the gospel of Matthew.  Today’s message is brought to you by the Morton Salt Company, and by the Knorr Candle Factory in Del Mar.

(Just kidding.)

So we began last week with the Beatitudes, one of the best known passages in all of scripture.  Blessed are the poor in spirit, and so on.  I’ve been working on tweeting those this week; I’m an amateur at it, so it’s been a little sporadic.  If you’ve been tweeting, I hope that has gone well for you!

I love how Jesus begins this teachable moment, this Sermon on the Mount, in a rather unorthodox manner.

He doesn’t start with a syllabus, or an outline of any kind.  No due dates for ridiculously long papers – footnoted, of course – or requirements for web forum postings.  Office hours – who knows.

No, he starts elsewhere.  He starts by validating and lifting up not only his listeners’ existence, but their experience.

He calls them blessed.

As I considered this story, I thought about the great teachers I had throughout my school years.  I thought particularly of Clayton Liggett, who for years was the drama teacher at San Dieguito High School.  The performing arts center at San Dieguito Academy is named in his honor.

Mr. Liggett didn’t operate by the model Jesus uses.  He ran his classroom with discipline and order.  We were all a little afraid of Mr. Liggett.  But boy, if you got an A in his class, you knew you had earned it.  When he was ready to give praise, you knew it was authentic.  And so in spite of our fear, most of his students would say today that he was the single most influential teacher they ever had.

And that’s the model we’re a little more used to, isn’t it?

So this story might seem a little off.  Jesus AS USUAL is going against the grain.

But it’s not against the grain in our Lutheran theology.

No, this is a perfect example of a core tenet for us: GOD MOVES FIRST.

Let me repeat that:  God moves first.

We don’t choose God.  God chooses us, ALL of us.

So Jesus’ telling the disciples and the others gathered that they are blest, and that they are salt and light, is an endorsement of their worth as beloved children of God BEFORE THEY’VE EVEN HAD A CHANCE TO DO ANYTHING TO EITHER EARN IT OR PROVE IT.

If that isn’t being set free, then I don’t know what is.

They are set free to be the people God has created and called them to be.

I’d like to re-read this passage, but from a different translation.  It’s really more of an adaptation or paraphrase than a translation.  It’s called the Message, and was put together by scholar Eugene Peterson.  He figured it would be helpful to have a version of the Bible that was instantly understandable and accessible.  He says, “when the prophet Isaiah was writing, the Israelites in exile didn’t have to go to the library to research what he said, they just understood it.”

Here is the salt part.

Matt. 5:13   “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.”

Salt-seasoning.  He writes it as a hyphenated word.  It’s kind of like those blended sea salts you can get at Trader Joe’s: you get the good sea salt in the grinder, but you might also get garlic.

Now, you put a little of that with some harissa and rub it on your chicken before grilling or pan-frying – I guarantee you that will bring out the God-flavors in that chicken.  And we are called to do the same for the world.

One thing that intrigued me about this reading was this whole idea of losing saltiness. I’m all, pretty sure that’s not a thing.  So I went to my kitchen and pulled out my container of MarkenSalz, which I purchased in Salzburg, Austria in 1987.  Yes, I still have it and no, I haven’t used it.  Don’t judge.

I tasted it, and believe me, it is just as salty as the day I bought it.  Turns out salt doesn’t lose its saltiness and remain salt.  So why does Jesus say this?  This is long before the era of alternative facts.

I wonder if Jesus is speaking from a place of knowing full well that salt doesn’t lose its saltiness – rather, he is subtlely making the point that God’s covenant with God’s people doesn’t LET anyone get thrown out or trampled underfoot.  God has created us for this purpose – God has made us “salt” – and God isn’t going to abandon us in the midst of that purpose.

Throughout human history, salt has been an essential element for seasoning, for preserving, and for a host of other things.  If each one of us is the salt of the earth, then we are indispensable to the carrying out of that covenant relationship with God and with God’s creation itself.  If we never open that pour spout and let our saltiness bring out those God-flavors – if we don’t spread that salty love – then we are, as Paul says, just a noisy gong.  Losing our saltiness is actually bottling it up tight.

Peterson has this to say in his paraphrase of the passage about the light:

Matt. 5:14   “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill.  15 If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand.  16 Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”

“Going public.”  That has got to be one of the best ways I’ve heard to explain what it means to live our life in and as the light of Christ.

You see, dear friends, the gospel is not good advice.

It’s not a “Dear Abby” column to be read with detachment and considered with indifference.  No indeed.

The gospel is not good advice.  The gospel is good NEWS.  It is the factual reality that God loves us no matter what.  And it is also the factual reality that because of that love, Jesus calls us to go public.  To keep open house.  To be generous with our lives.  To open up to others.  To live into the implication of our baptism:

“Let your light so shine before others so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

 I like these words.  We repeat them at every baptism as a commissioning of sorts to the newly baptized.  But I’m afraid that my default setting isn’t quite so noble.  I would like it to be, but I seem to mess up pretty regularly.  Perhaps you find yourselves in that place sometimes too.

Our default setting leans toward comfort, conformity, and complacency.  Deep down, we know that if we are the salt Jesus needs us to be, what it REALLY might do is sting.  If we are the light – it just might expose what we do not want to see.  We might have to get uncomfortable.  We might have to rise up and follow where God leads.

We hear Jesus’ next words about the law, and we might feel that sting a little more.  But I wonder if what Jesus is really doing here is beginning his distinction between the letter of the law, and the spirit of the law.  If what he’s doing is challenging that default setting.

Here is how Peterson brings it:

Matt. 5:17   “Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures—either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama.  18 God’s Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground at your feet. Long after stars burn out and earth wears out, God’s Law will be alive and working.”

A vast panorama.  What a great image for the fulfillment of the law.

You might remember that elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is, and he replies that there are two: first, love God; and second, love your neighbor as yourself.  It’s like the story of the rabbi who refers to those commandments as the essence of Torah.  “The rest,” says the rabbi, “is merely commentary.”

What if Jesus’ intention is for us as disciples to imagine and live into an attitude of the heart, a righteousness that makes the kingdom of heaven possible?

What does such imagination and living-into look like?

Our presiding bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, tweeted a prescient observation earlier this week.  “In the Good Samaritan story,” she said, “the lawyer asks, who is my neighbor.  But Jesus asks, who ACTED as neighbor.”

Perhaps this is the key.  Maybe here is where our imaginations are ignited, where our living-into begins making God’s peaceable realm possible.  It begins with Christ’s “attitude of the heart”, his righteousness, given to us in God’s grace, whereby our attitude of the heart is activated and enlivened as we then act as neighbor.

Instead of sitting passively, just acquiring knowledge about who is our neighbor – which, by the way, is full of judgmental overtones – we are called to be actively seeking out those to whom we might act as neighbor.  No vetting required.

It is knowledge accompanied by action.  In other words – discipleship.

You see, knowledge without action is a barrier wall against the Kingdom of heaven.  Knowledge without action is what perpetuates the existence of racism in our world.  Knowledge without action keeps us quiet about sexism and ageism.  Knowledge without action overlooks the hungry and keeps folks in the margins.  Knowledge without action is also against the grain: against the grain of God.

But I think we know a little bit about knowledge WITH action.

Remember our stewardship chair’s slide presentations on stewardship?  When we saw all the ministries of Bethlehem appear one by one in a word cloud?  And he then said, “thank you for your stewardship”?

That stewardship, those ministries – this is knowledge coupled with action.  It’s not only stewardship, but discipleship.  Together with the Beatitudes’ blessings, Jesus begins to lay out the blueprint for building the Beloved Community – the way of discipleship.

There’s a reason that this particular Isaiah text was chosen several decades ago to be read alongside this Matthew gospel lesson every three years.  The Isaiah text is before us today because it is the essence of that vast panorama of fulfillment of the law.  It is the most flavorful of all salts, it is the brightest of lights.  It is the way of discipleship.

As we heard read:

“If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness…..and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; …..you shall…..be called…..the restorer of streets to live in.”

Knowledge and action.        Salt and light.

Dear friends:  Be that salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this world.

Be that light that brings out the God-colors in this world.

Go public.  For this gospel is not good advice.  It is good NEWS.

 May it be so among us.

Do Something

 

This coming Sunday is New Year’s Day.  The choices for those of us who use the Revised Common Lectionary are many:

Christmas 1 – The Holy Family’s flight (as in fleeing as refugees) into Egypt and the Slaughter of the Innocents

Name of Jesus – The naming of Jesus at his circumcision and a look ahead to his dedication, when we hear Simeon’s Song

New Year’s Day – Matthew 25 text about “the least of these”

We decided to go with observing the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.  This was not an easy decision.  Both of the other sets of texts center around exhortations and situations that are either frighteningly present in our world or speak directly to the state of our world.

Had we used the New Year’s Day set of texts, we would have explored what it means to be a Matthew 25 church: doing for “the least of these.”  We are considering studying this for the entire year, reflecting on Luther’s call to vocation and service of neighbor (and of course putting that into action!).  But not knowing what our attendance will be on New Year’s Day – it is generally low – we will instead use this text more intentionally throughout the year.

The Christmas 1 texts, to be honest, are not pretty.  Being told to run for your life is not an impromptu vacation.  Little children being killed is horrifying.  We don’t need to look far to see this exact scenario: there are over 14 million refugees from the Syrian Civil War either internally displaced within the country’s borders or scattered around the world.  The estimated number of children killed is nearly 15,000.  We remember the riveting photograph of the little boy sitting stunned in an ambulance.

omran-syrian-boy-injured-in-war

We came to the conclusion that the only way we could deal with the horror that is all around us, and the uncertain future facing us, was to ground ourselves this New Year’s Day in basics.

So we are reading the texts appointed for the Holy Name of Jesus.

Shakespeare asks, via Juliet, “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet…”  It’s the person or the thing, not the label attached to them, that is the essence of who or what they are.

And yet…..the name of Jesus carries associations, emotions, weights.

It’s been used to calm and soothe, but also to intimidate and oppress.

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he invokes the name of Jesus as “the name above all names.”  It is clear Paul sees Jesus’ name as a signal to people that here is God Incarnate, the God who loves us beyond our words.

I think in our day, it’s not the name of “Jesus” that turns people off.  I think it’s the name of “Christian.”  And we do a lot of hand-wringing about how to change that.  Here’s an idea:

What if, this year, we were intentional about living into the name of Jesus?

We pray “in Jesus’ name” all the time; what if we were to DO in Jesus’ name, all the time?

Then we might find ourselves living that Matthew 25 text.  We might find ourselves standing up to sponsor a Syrian refugee family.  We might find ourselves dipping our fingers in the waters of the baptismal font and letting that cool splash remind us of who we are, and send us out reminded of whose we are.

Such an assurance of grace gives us the freedom, ALL the freedom, to DO in Jesus’ name.

It’s what our sending phrase really means:  “Go in peace.  DO SOMETHING!”

I wish you all a blessed, ACTIVE New Year!

All In

So much for that “daily post through Advent” plan!  Ah well.  Perhaps in another season.

At Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Encinitas, CA., we worshiped on Christmas Day with an invitation to come in our jammies or a Christmas sweater.  We had DOUBLE the number of folks we usually do for Christmas Day worship!  I’m not sure if it was the jammie invite – though lots of folks did wear their PJs – but it was great fun.

I was the preacher for the day, and our text was John 1:1-14.  This passage is a creed of sorts – a statement of faith.

My thoughts on, and reaction to, this profound text are below.  May you have a blessed and merry Christmas!

Sermon for Christmas Day, 2016 – Bethlehem Lutheran Church

Mary Shaima, Diaconal Associate

starofbethlehem_1400

 

John 1:1-14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,full of grace and truth.

Grace and peace to you this Christmas Day, from our loving God through his son, Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

That greeting, which precedes so many sermons in the world, is really a summation of the gospel lesson we just shared.

It’s a gospel lesson in the form of poetry.  Poetry like the type that American poet Wendell Berry tends to write.  Both broad and intimate in scale.  Speaking truths that touch our souls’ depths.  Berry writes:

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

(Wendell Berry, “What We Need Is Here”  http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/what-we-need-is-here/ )

Contrast this with John’s gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him

… And the Word became flesh and lived among us, … full of grace and truth.

What we need … (gesture to crèche & manger) is here.

The Word became flesh, and lived among us.

Yes, this part of John’s gospel, considered a “prologue” to the rest of it, is beautiful poetry.  It also has a broad-yet-intimate scale to it, but I think of it more like the scale of the photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope.

stars-in-the-small-magellanic-cloud

 

This is the Small Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way.  The sparkles of light in the center of the photograph are baby stars.  That’s the actual term NASA uses:  “…baby stars that are still forming from collapsing gas clouds and have not yet ignited their hydrogen fuel.”

The photographs from Hubble are the visual manifestation of the word “cosmic” – seemingly beyond anything we can understand. Not unlike this gospel passage!  And yet – our astronomers and space scientists continue to watch and study.  They seek the truth about what they see through the lens.  We also seek the truth, though we find it not expressed in numbers of galaxies and spans of time far greater than we can even comprehend.  Kneeling down next to the manger, we find it in a baby, in the most vulnerable of creatures.  A baby, still forming, whose “fuel”, so to speak, may just be starting to ignite.

We understand babies to be vulnerable in terms of helplessness.  But here’s the thing in this text to really ponder: GOD as a baby takes on that same degree of helplessness.  God becomes dependent on US.

Even in the context of this gospel passage, this is a head-scratcher.  But I would invite you to consider the word “vulnerability” from a different angle.

Last week, when we heard the story of Joseph and his encounter with the angel, Pastor Laura spoke of vulnerability.  She told us about the woman who, while fighting her own cancer, stepped in to pay the medical bill for another patient without the same resources.  Responding to vulnerability with vulnerability.

This is the essence of the incarnation.  God responds to our vulnerability by becoming vulnerable.  But it’s not quite the same kind of vulnerable.

Most of us would define “vulnerability” as “weakness.”  Personally, I have issues with vulnerability.  You’ll notice I’m not wearing my jammies; that would be too vulnerable.  I chose the Christmas-sweater option.

Researcher Brené Brown*, however, invites us to rethink this assumption.  She asked people to finish this sentence:  “Vulnerability is                              .”  Here are some of the replies:

  • (Vulnerability is) Standing up for myself
  • (Vulnerability is) Trying something new
  • (Vulnerability is) Stepping up to the plate again after a series of strikeouts
  • (Vulnerability is) Asking for forgiveness
  • (Vulnerability is) Having faith

When she considered these responses, she concluded that what vulnerability REALLY sounds like is truth.  What it feels like is not weakness, but courage.

Courage, of course, has for its root word the French word coeur – heart.

This is the kind of vulnerability I see God entering when God comes to us in the person of Jesus – a newborn in a cattle hay rack.

It’s a vulnerability that is entered into by choice, with courage, from the heart.  The WHOLE heart.  It’s what is meant by the statement “I’m all in.”

God’s whole heart is laid in the manger.  God is all in – FOR US.  Not for God’s self, but for the world that came into being through God and the Word.

The NASA scientists tell us these infant stars “are still forming…and have not yet ignited…”  And the gospel tells us “all things came into being through him…”  It’s an already/not yet, isn’t it? – like so much of our life together with God.

Jesus in the manger is still forming…and we might say he has not yet ignited any fuel cell other than the ruach of his breath.  We sit down next to the manger knowing how this story ends – and yet it doesn’t end.  God’s story is ever unfolding, drawing us into the dance that is life.

Our stories are not ended either, of course.  We sit between the times that mark our lives.  We are still forming too.  How many times do we simply need to sit by the manger and look at the baby – this helpless little one – and wait for the dawn?

Pastor Laura and I have a friend and colleague who has waited a long time for the dawn.  Whether she and her husband would ever be able to have children was a question that stayed in the darkness of their lives.  The pain she carried with her was real and deep.  Earlier this year, she and her husband announced they were expecting.  She had waited for some time to announce this, and every week represented another step closer.  She knew at some point she ought to breathe easier, but she just couldn’t. She’s a pastor, but she’s also a person.  She waited for the dawn.

A couple of weeks ago, a number of our friends and colleagues also waited for the dawn.  They were gathered in the San Carlos area to remember the life of a close friend of our bishop – a pastoral colleague of ours.  As they raised a glass in his memory, the news came that our other colleague had been safely delivered of a very healthy baby boy.  The glasses were raised again – this time to give thanks for the gift of new life.

dietrich-martin-in-stocking

 

This is his Christmas picture.  Pretty darn cute.

All of these folks at the San Carlos gathering had been praying for this woman for months, and so to hear of little Dietrich’s safe arrival was a pinprick of light.  Perhaps the dawn would indeed come.

dietrich-baby-jesus

And last night, Dietrich made his debut across social media as the Baby Jesus.  Our friend is still on maternity leave but she couldn’t resist taking this picture.  Dietrich, too, is all in.

(Admittedly, that comes with the territory if you are a pastor’s kid.)

Dear brothers and sisters – this dawn has come.  It is the dawn of redeeming grace, as the hymn tells us.

And this is the hymn text that, guaranteed 100%, will ALWAYS make me cry.

Let me tell you, for years that has annoyed me no end.  Why did THIS one line tear me apart??  But some personal work this year has brought me to the place of asking:  does this hymn text probe where I am most vulnerable – where I see myself as weak, as unlovable, as not enough?

Well, this is precisely where God enters in, upending my assumptions to tell me to my face “I love you.  You MATTER.”

It’s where God’s incarnation as Jesus – as vulnerable child – invites me to re-define vulnerability.  In God’s terms.  And those terms include redeeming grace.

Before Jesus, God’s all-in, is incarnate and laid in the manger, our vulnerability is lodged in a place of uncertainty.

But once God is laid before us – we can claim vulnerability from a place of certainty.  And that certainty is that God loves us and trusts us so much that God would place God’s self into our care.  That God would be all in.

Wherever you are joyful this day – wherever you carry pain – wherever you are uncertain – know that God is all in with you, with God’s whole heart.

Love has come.  For you.  For me.  For the world.

What we need – is HERE.

Merry Christmas, dear friends.

starofbethlehem_1400

 

*Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.  Avery, an imprint of Penguin Ransom House, 2012.