Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year, New Journey

I love my body. my body.

I body.

I love my...body.

I love my body.

No, I'm not vain (at least I try not to be). No, the truth is that the above statement is false. I don't love my body. I don't think I have ever loved my body.

Whether it has been struggles with weight, hair styles, glasses, braces, big feet, big hips, wide knuckles, broad shoulders...I feel like I've criticized, picked apart, and cried over it all. Over the years, I've found many ways to hide the things I find most appalling about my body...including having a big personality so that that is what people would notice, and not my body.

And, the frustrating part, is that I feel like I've tried to do things about it: I first started dieting in 6th grade, trying to get my weight to match that of my friends. I've gone to the gym. I was an athlete as a child and can still hold my own on the Frisbee turf. But nothing ever seemed to "work."

I hated my body, and so any time I ran on the treadmill or ate an apple instead of a potato chip, I was doing it to get rid of the body I hated. And, the more it didn't "work" the deeper and deeper I would sink into the hatred of my body. At this point, I feel like even my big personality isn't able to hide my insecurities. I don't look forward to big events because I don't look forward to seeing pictures of myself and I dread the process of picking out what to sucks!

I don't want to do this anymore! I want to love my body! I want to exercise because I love my body. I want to eat well because the body that I love will be best served by a healthy diet. And, ultimately, my faith teaches me that my body really is a gift from God to be loved and cherished.

In some ways, I know that my hatred of my body is on me; but, I also recognize that some of the hatred I have for my body is on society, culture, and even religion. So often, the message we hear is that bodies are bad, bodies cause trouble, bodies are dirty, bodies need to be controlled. It's a skewed message, it's a harmful message, and it's not a message I want to perpetuate in my life and lifestyle.

I want to love my body.

And so, this is my New Year's Resolution: to love my body.

I don't know if it will work, but I want to try. And, I want to try to love my body emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

It's going to be a journey, and I'm so excited to see what it will bring.

I'm going to try to blog about my journey here...for those of you who may read this, your prayers of love and support a greatly appreciated.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Living into the "both...and"

A Stewardship Sunday Sermon
Texts: 1 Kings 17:8-16; Psalm 146; Mark 12:38-44

One of the things I’ve always appreciated about our faith is that we tend to be more of a “both, and” faith and not so much an “either, or” faith, or “neither, nor” faith for that matter.

Jesus is both human, and divine. The bread and wine at communion are both simply elements, and the body and blood of Jesus (which grossed out the confirmation class on Tuesday). We are both sinner, and saint. We can both be faithful to the message of Christ (the good news), and have doubts. This “both, and” attitude has given our faith an air of exploration and a sense of inclusion rather than exclusion and parochial repetition.

I like this aspect of our faith so much, but I have to admit that it’s sometimes hard to remember. For instance, I have been struggling with our Old Testament and Gospel readings for today wondering: am I like the widow with Elijah, or am I like the widow with Jesus? It’s common, when we read scripture to identify with a character and once we do to try to find the meaning in that identification.  But I was struggling with this one. Am I the widow with Elijah or the widow with Jesus?

What’s the distinction?

Well, from reading the two, it looks like both widows approach a similar idea but from different angles; the idea being stewardship, right? How do I give of what I have.

When Elijah asks the widow for water and a morsel of bread, she looks at him and basically says: “I can’t give you anything because I have nothing to give. I only have enough for my son and I to get by before we die.” But Elijah encourages her saying “Do not be afraid, God will provide,” and she trusts him, returns to her home and finds that God did provide and she was able to give Elijah something to eat and drink.

The widow in Mark’s story takes place in the temple, the religious center of her community, surrounded by the rich people and scribes who tended to be the most influential people of their time; and, when it’s her turn to give to the treasury the widow, the example of the most vulnerable in society, gives two copper coins, which Jesus tells us is “everything she had, all she had to live on.”  While there is some debate among scholars as to whether this woman is giving of her own free will or not, the message that has been told so many times is that this woman sacrifices all that she has for God.

These are stories of uncertainty versus trust; reservations versus complete turn-over; scarcity versus abundance. Am I the widow with Elijah? Or, am I the widow with Jesus?

I have to admit, I immediately identified more with the widow with Elijah. I am a 27 year old woman with debt from college and am accruing debt from my seminary graduate studies. I’ve decided to move to this area which has a higher cost of living than some places, and don’t even get me started on the price of gas! Not for nothing, I’m familiar with feeling pinched for cash. And, I feel like just recently Elijah asked me for water and bread: well, not specifically Elijah, but when hurricane Sandy hit almost 2 weeks ago, bread and water were hard to come by. I hear every Red Cross advertisement on the radio and television and see Facebook posts about what the ELCA disaster relief agencies are doing and I know how that woman felt – to an extent – about wanting to give, but feeling like I don’t have much to give.

I’m the widow with Elijah.

O, but there are times, aren’t there? Times when I’ve given when I didn’t have much to give – whether it was money or time or talents. Yes! Memories began to flood my mind of such times when I really gave something my all and I began to think: maybe I am the widow with Jesus!

Ah, here’s that “both, and.”

I had been looking at it the wrong way: I had been thinking that I was either the widow with Elijah or the widow with Jesus. But the truth is, I am both the widow with Elijah and the widow with Jesus. I am at times nervous and skeptical and at other times freely willing and able to act. And why not? Both of these stories are in our holy scripture. Why was it so hard to realize that I was “both, and” and not “either, or?” Well, to be honest, “both, and” is a counter-cultural idea.

A month ago, we wouldn’t have said “both the Tigers and the Giants will win the World Series,” we said “either the Tigers or the Giants will win”…and then we got to say that the Giants were in fact the sole winners of the series! A week ago, we wouldn’t have said “both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will win the presidential election,” we said “either Romney or Obama will win.” “Either you or I will get the job,” not “both you and I will get the job,” at least that’s how it goes most of the time.

Our society tends to lean a bit more towards “either, or” doesn’t it? We live day to day in that “either, or” society, but when we read our scriptures and come to church on Sundays, we are challenged to think of our lives as “both, and.”

You know Jack Benny? Some of you might remember him – for the generations that don’t, he was a radio and television comedic actor from the 30’s to 60’s and he was always known for being, well…stingy with his money. There was a skit where Benny was being held up: the robber says “your money or your life.” Long, Jack Benny pause, the robber says again “I said, your money or your life” and Benny yells, “I’m thinking it over!”

It’s great and timelessly funny. Benny, who cared so deeply about his money, was actually contemplating whether he should give the robber his money or his life in the heist! It’s funny, because we get it: we highly value each thing too!

Here again, we face another example of an “either, or;” and we’re challenged even more greatly than Benny was from that robber, not because we’re stingy with our money; but, because when Jesus asks us to give it’s a “both, and:” “your money and your life.” After all, that’s what Jesus did: “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

“both, and”…”either, or”

I’ve been reading a book by a woman named Lynne Twist called The Soul of Money and she describes our “either, or” culture in a similar way: she describes it as the “you-or-me” culture.  She says there are three myths that support the “you-or-me” culture that perpetuate our society: 1) There’s not enough, 2) Moore is better, and 3) That’s just the way it is.

She notes that so much of this comes from evolutionary understandings of existence: Darwin’s idea of the survival of the fittest. But Twist acknowledges in her book that there are many scientists who say that Darwin’s idea was a little off: the idea of evolution stands, but it wasn’t this battle of the fittest being eliminating the competition. That’s not how nature functions: rather than “survival of the fittest” scientists think it’s more accurate to say “survival of the cooperative and collaborative.” Nature expresses itself in balance: a lion kills what it needs to maintain itself and no more than that. It doesn’t go on killing rampages to show it is the fittest. Different species of plants and animals coexist, each providing something essential. Think of bees and the pollination process.

In this case, nature does not function in a “you-or-me” survival of the fittest kind of way like we thought, rather we exist in a “you-and-me” collaborative world and we must work together.

If we allow ourselves to get caught up in this “either, or”/”you-or-me” culture, we’ll find ourselves caught up in in the belief that there really is never enough, and we find ourselves living in fear, mistrust, envy, greed, hoarding, competition, separateness, judgment, and entitlement.

But if we allow ourselves to break past this, and live into the “both, and”/”you-and-me” culture that is not only possible but is really what Jesus is calling our attention to in so many of his parables and lessons, we may find ourselves living with gratitude, fulfillment, love, trust, respect, integration, wholeness, responsibility, and resilience.

Well, I wonder if, in some ways, I’m preaching to the choir. Because, to be honest, my short time here at Prince of Peace has exposed me to a congregation that not only believes in a “you-and-me” culture, but lives it!

You are generous in what you give to this church in terms of your time, talents, and treasures. You are good stewards of the gifts God has given you both individually and as a congregation. And the expressions of that generosity are not limited to the walls of this sanctuary nor are they limited to the grounds of our church campus: they spread to the street, down the street, around the corner, and to the far reaches of God’s great creation.

And, even in your “non-church” lives. You give your time, talents, and treasures to charities, schools, research organizations, social clubs, and so much more. You are very busy people; and, sure, sometimes it may feel hectic, but what I’ve learned from so many of you is that your busy but you’re feeling enriched by what you do. Amen to that!

If you’re a visitor, spend just a week here and you’ll see it in action. When I ask many of why you do what you do? Why you participate in the things you participate in? Why you contribute what you contribute? I hear the same answer over and over: “God has blessed me with many things and this is my way to give back.”

And that’s what stewardship is, isn’t it? Stewardship is the gift of being able to say thank you – the gift of being able to say thank you to God.

Sometimes, we may feel more like the widow with Elijah than the widow with Jesus…and sometimes we may feel more like Jack Benny! But in this you-and-me congregation, the spirit of collaboration and the spirit of stewardship, means that everyone gives what they can, and that every contribution is an equal asset.

For all of your expressions of stewardship that are given this day, from your pledge cards to your time and talent sheets and beyond, let me, in that spirit of stewardship, say thank you. Thank you.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Gratitude Attitude

One of my professors in seminary started every class with an opportunity for students to share a “Gratitude Attitude.” You could share anything you wanted to; the purpose was simply to encourage you to share something for which you were feeling grateful that day.

It was such a positive way to start a class and it was such an enriching way to get to know my fellow classmates. So much of our time was spent worrying about tests, papers, and getting all of our homework done that we rarely took the time to share with each other the joys and celebrations we were experiencing.

It reminds me of my grandmother: she starts every day by saying “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” My grandmother lived with us when I was younger and would remind me of this passage from Psalm 118 every day as I would walk out the door. I would generally smile and say “yep, thanks Grandma!” and head out on my way.  My life then, like my life in seminary, was constantly busy and rarely was there time for reflection and prayer.

Even though the pace of life doesn’t seem to have slowed down all that much, I can’t help but be overwhelmed with a sincere sense of gratitude as I sit to write this month’s contribution to our newsletter.

I’m sure that part of the reason is that November means that Thanksgiving is on its way: a day when we purposefully take the time to surround ourselves with family and friends and give thanks for all of the many ways God has blessed us. We may do this by coming together for a meal and enjoying each other’s company; or, we may volunteer our time to serve a meal to others who may not have the same blessings that we have. In either case, there is an aspect of self-reflection and thanks-giving when that third Thursday in November comes around – an opportunity our normally busy lives don’t usually allow.

So, if I might share my Gratitude Attitude for this month, I would say that I am grateful for you, each of you, and the incredible blessing being at Prince of Peace has been for me: the blessing to share my ministry with you and for all of you to share your ministries with me.

As the Thanksgiving decorations start rolling out in the stores and we start preparing for the holiday season, I hope that I can live each day with the grateful demeanor of my grandmother and remember that this is the day that the Lord has made, and I can rejoice and be glad in it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Re-formation or Reconciliation?

Reformation Sunday Sermon
Texts: Jeremiah 31:31-34, Romans 3:19-28, John 8:31-16

I have such incredibly fond memories of Reformation Sundays from my youth. At my church growing up, our youth are confirmed on this day and I always loved helping our altar guild blow up red balloons – and then of course suck on the helium after worship and sing the hymns in an Alvin and the chipmunks voice. It was always such a festive day.

As I’ve been thinking about today, though, I’ve been wondering: What’s the deal with reformation? Why do we remember it?

Don’t get me wrong, I know that this is a monumental day in terms of the history of the Lutheran and Protestant churches, but what is the relevance of the reformation to the church today?

I know that some people believe that the Reformation was an event in the past and that’s it: it was monumentally important, but we’ve learned all that we needed from it then. What Luther and his colleagues did was an event in history that changed the church.

Some people wonder whether Luther would have reformed the Catholic Church if he was part of it today – in other words, the Roman Catholic Church has changed quite a bit from what it was in the 1500’s and how it practiced in Luther’s day and many people wonder if Luther would have had the same arguments with the Church today? So, in this case, what is the relevance of continuing to celebrate the Reformation?

Still others think that the reformation is on-going: that the church is constantly being re-formed. I think that I’m more of this camp. Luther’s nailing of the 95 theses ignited a spirit of reformation that has continued to this day. Perhaps not always to the same extent as it did with Luther’s Reformation, but still being formed and re-formed on a daily basis.

In the midst of thinking about the current significance of the Reformation, I read an article on the Huffington Post entitled “Why Christianity is Dying while Spirituality is Thriving.”  Initially, it was the title which grabbed my attention – the church is dying? It is written by a man named Steve McSwain who dubs himself as a voice for the “spiritual but not religious.” Have you heard this term? I hear it a lot from a lot of my peers – they often describe themselves as spiritual but not particularly religious. As you read McSwain’s article, when he says that they church is dying he means the Church with a capital “C” and not necessarily faith or Christianity as a religion. His article makes some interesting observations about this camp of people – the spiritual but not religious – which he says are based on his own observations and those most recently published by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

You may have heard about the results of this report because they’ve been all over NPR and some of the other news media outlets. This study’s results grabbed the attention of many Americans because it states that one-fifth of the U.S. public identify as unaffiliated – in terms of religious affiliation – and that’s the highest percentage of people who so identify in Pew Research polling history. It’s a jump from five years ago when the percentage was only 15%.

When this is broken down by age, 32% of 18-29 year olds say that they are religiously unaffiliated, whereas in the 65+ age group, the number is only 9% who consider themselves religiously unaffiliated. I’m not so sure about you, but it wasn’t as surprising to me that these were the numbers the Pew study found – is it surprising to you? I mean, while 20% of the population identify as unaffiliated, this still means that upwards of 80% are affiliated in some way shape or form to a religious practice. That’s a staggeringly high amount of people. But still, this 20% unaffiliated had news outlets and even Mr. McSwain talking about this.

So, I wonder where does this come from? What has brought us to this point? Perhaps the abuse scandals in churches like the Roman Catholic Church and others have contributed to a sense that churches are unsafe. People have been excluded from places of worship for a multitude of reasons, no doubt contributing to a sense of alienation. There was another recent study that polled young people, and the first things they thought of when someone said the word “Christianity” were judgmental, hypocritical, too political, and anti-gay.

No wonder 20% of the population – which the study has dubbed the “nones” – are feeling a bit distant from religion. None of that really sounds all that great, does it?

This scenario really does make me think of our Old Testament lesson this morning from Jeremiah. The people in Jeremiah’s context were feeling quite distant from God. The nation of Judah was in economic disarray and threatened militarily by the larger, more powerful nation of Babylon. Throughout the book of Jeremiah you often hear the people yelling at Jeremiah asking “where is God? Why won’t God do something?” and you often hear Jeremiah telling the people “you’re the ones who strayed from God and so this is why these things are happening!” It’s not the most upbeat of books – but true to the prophetic tradition of the time.

But in the middle of the book of Jeremiah, we get our reading from today – from a selection of chapters often referred to as the “Books of Consolation.” Amidst the finger waving – on both sides – comes this incredibly powerful message from God: “the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah” God needed to make a new covenant because the older one was broken by the people, “this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people…from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”

This is a serious game changer in the lives of the Israelites. God is covenanting – making a promise – with the Israelites that God will be their God and they will be God’s people, which is not actually a new covenant, it’s the same covenant that we hear in the earlier books of the Bible. But, this covenant will be written in their hearts – not on a paper, not on tablets, not in some book that some have the authority to read while others must merely follow. God’s love is written on the hearts of the least to the greatest – no middlemen and no institutions necessary: just a divine relationship untarnished by authorities and power.

For a people as torn up by what was happening around them and feeling so alone – how incredible, that at their time of greatest need, God acknowledges that the relationship between the Divine and humans is so incredibly intimate that not just are we God’s people on paper, God’s love is in our hearts – our hearts!

I can’t help but think of those “nones” again. I’m not trying to put words in their mouths, but I think there is still a stinging pang in the hearts of some of those folks where the covenant from God abides. Another Pew study, along with PBS, found that that 20% unaffiliated, while less religious than the public at large, are still religious or spiritual in some way. Two-thirds of them believe in God, more than half feel a deep connection with nature and the earth, and one-in-five say that they pray every day.

That’s quite a different picture than what was initially painted isn’t it? Again, I don’t mean to put words in other people’s mouths – this was not part of the study – but I have to wonder about that covenant that God put in the hearts of the Israelites all those many years ago. Figuratively or literally, there is an intimacy with our God that doesn’t just go away so easily.

I even wonder if at times I would have identified with this unaffiliated group. I’ve always identified as Lutheran and attended a Lutheran church, but my piety, my spiritual practices sound close to what those unaffiliated describe.

In fact, I wonder if most of us could identify a time when we felt somewhat distant from the church: maybe because there was a lot happening in our personal lives that seemed to taking up a lot of our time and there just wasn’t room for church then; or maybe we lost someone too young, too quickly, or too painfully and we’ve questioned God’s presence and role in our lives. There’s bad, hard, difficult, troubling things that happen in our lives and sometimes it is hard to feel very connected.

But, we have good news! It’s not new news, it’s gospel – gospel comes from a term that means good news! It comes in the form of a prophet who, amidst pain and fear, tells us that God has written a covenant on our hearts. And, it most certainly comes in the form of a man named Jesus, who was the Son of God, and who lived so that we might live, but who died so that we may have everlasting life.

The story of our relationship with God and with Christ isn’t always so great and it isn’t always so easy. Luther’s 95th thesis – on that sheet that he nailed to the door almost 500 years ago – said “and thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace.” It may not sound like the most comforting message initially, but I like it because it doesn’t dance around the idea that being a Christian is hard. That being a Christian doesn’t mean that life is always going to be easy or perfect. No, being a Christian, being human, is going to be hard; but, God’s covenant is in our hearts.

As Christians, are we listening for the good news? As the church, are we telling the stories of good news with passion and enthusiasm? Perhaps, on this Reformation Sunday we should think not just about how the church forms and is re-formed daily – I’m sure we could think of ways we could re-form the church to be different – perhaps, instead, we should think about reformation as reconciliation. Reconcile ourselves to our stories of good news. Reconcile ourselves to our relationship with a God who puts God’s love intimately in our hearts.

In our gospel today, in the good news, Jesus is having a conversation with people who believed in him but who were questioning him – a boat many of us have been in. And Jesus assures them that if they continue in his word then they will know the truth and the truth will set them free. When they ask from what they’re being freed, Jesus tells them that they are slaves to sin.

This is sometimes the language that gets uncomfortable for folks – we are slaves to sin – it doesn’t really sound like good news, but what does it mean? If we only ever think of sin as being the seriously bad things we do, then we may not think we are slaves to that kind of behavior…just maybe slip every once in a while. But, that’s not how the gospels describe sin, that’s not how the Bible describes sin: sin is all the things that distance us from God. Well, then, if that’s the case, I can kind of see how I might be caught in that web.

Jesus goes on to say that those caught up in sin are troubled, but those who are caught up in him are free – the actual word in the lesson is most closely translated to “abide.” Those who abide in sin are stuck, but those who abide in Christ are free. Abide in Christ – walk with Christ – be near to Christ – engage with Christ – and be free. That is good news.

What we do with that freedom – well, perhaps that’s a sermon for another day. But today, reconcile yourself to hearing the good news and being set free by it. Reconcile yourself to the covenant from God that is in your heart. Abide in Jesus and be willing to take the journey.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

St. Francis of Assisi Day

LaSalette Christmas Lights Display

In my hometown, Attleboro, MA, there is a Roman Catholic shrine dedicated to Lady LaSalette. The shrine acknowledges an appearance of the Virgin Mary in the countryside of France in a town named LaSalette. There are a small number of priests and nuns who live and work at the shrine and people can also hold retreats there. But the largest attraction to the shrine is the Christmas lights display. Every year, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, the shrine decorates its property with hundreds of thousands of lights. People come from all over – even Canada – to visit the shrine during the Christmas season to see the lights. It’s really a festive event – they pipe Christmas carols throughout the display, they sell hot chocolate, and sometimes even have concerts of singing groups and that sort of thing. It’s a great way to get into the Christmas spirit.

When I was in high school, I got a job in the shrine’s gift shop. We sold all sorts of religious things: cards, crucifixes, nativity sets, rosaries…you name it, we sold it (if it was religious). It was during this time that I became familiar with the saints – not the football team – more specifically, the ones officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. This was my first real exposure to this sort of thing. I was a good Lutheran girl – we didn’t really talk about saints much outside of Santa Lucia which our Swedish family celebrated near Christmas. (Italian saint, Swedish holiday…I never really understood that)

Many of the guests were very interested in getting medals or other kinds of saint-memorabilia. People seemed to know exactly what they were looking for: a medal of Saint Christopher to hang in their car – the patron saint of safe travel; a statue of Saint Joseph to plant upside down in their gardens to help sell their houses; and Saint Jude for anyone going through a crisis.

I developed a real fascination with the saints – and a real knack for being able to identify them by appearance.

Perhaps this is why, when thinking about St. Francis and Blessing of the Animals Day – while very excited about having our animals join us in worship on Sunday – I became very intrigued to learn more about this St. Francis guy. How did he get so lucky as to get the honor of being associated with the blessing of the animals?

So, I went to the web – I wanted to see what was out there about who this guy was. I’d like to share with you a bit about Francis.

Francis lived in Assisi, Italy from 1181-1226, he was born into a middle-class family who sold textiles. And, that’s what Francis did: he sold textiles to help his family and so he did not attend school; he has described himself as “illiterate and uncultured.”

At a young age, he joined his region’s army and went to war. It was this war-time experience that is initially credited with causing Francis to lose his taste for worldly things (as a nation still recovering from two wars I think we can relate). When the war was over, he apparently traveled to Rome and instead of visiting the normal pilgrimage sights, Francis begged with the poor people at the doors to the basilicas. There’s very little I found that explained why he did this specifically, but, when he returned to Assisi, he vowed to live a life of poverty.

In all of this, Francis never left the church; but, he did do something rather radical: he changed the commonly understood image of Christ. And, this is the lasting gift that Francis gave to us and the church.

You see, Francis saw Christ as the perfect model of selfless love and suffering and this, for him, was the message of the gospel. For Francis, the crucified Christ – crucified God, was the concrete embodiment of the message of the gospels.

That may sound a bit dreary, but in Francis’ day there was a different emphasis. The church wasn’t emphasizing the crucified Christ that resonated with Francis – their emphasis was elsewhere – more of the resurrected Christ rather than the crucified Christ: the victor over death, the ruler of the heavens. Francis’ life experiences helped him experience a different side of Christ.

Francis’ new lens thought which he saw the living Christ helped him to see the living God in all of creation. He came to believe that all creatures were truly our brothers and sisters. He had three specific reasons: (1) we all share a common origin, the same Creator; (2) we all share the same gift of existence and will share the same destiny of death; and (3) all things are symbols and bearers of Christ. Even the humblest of creatures hold the presence of Christ and the whole physical world was to him a sort of gigantic vision of the incarnate Word of God.

Because of this, Francis recognized God in all creation, even speaking to creatures as if they were “endowed with reason,” like humans.

It is no wonder then, that Francis became the patron saint of animals and the environment.

Reading all of this about Francis really got me interested and thinking about this idea of how God is imaged: how is God imagined? Now, don’t get me wrong – I know that the Ten Commandments say we are not to make a graven image and worship it as God. That’s not what I’m talking about: I’m not looking for a God substitute; rather, like Francis, I’m wanted to really think about how I saw, and see, God.

For me, it was helpful to go back and see just what these authors were talking about. And so, I went back to my web and began looking at how, as creation, we have depicted God and Jesus.

This is one of the oldest depictions – drawings – of Jesus. It is called “The Healing of the Paralytic” and depicts one of the healing scenes from the stories of Jesus. Art historians have dated this drawing to the year 235 CE.

This second picture is also dated to the 3rd Century and is entitled “Jesus the Good Shepherd.” The painting was found painted on the wall of a catacomb.

These are both very simple images of Jesus so far: the healer and the shepherd – two images of Jesus that we still have to this day. But, does that look like the images of Jesus that you know?

Just about this time, there was a great shift – both politically and religiously. In 313, Constantine (emperor of Rome) signed the Edict of Milan which decriminalized Christianity – it had been against the law to be Christian before that. Constantine is also famed for having converted to Christianity as well. With this big event – the image of Christ began to change

This is a mosaic depicting the image of Christ that came along with this monumental shift: Christ as emperor. He’s wearing military dress and looks more like a knight in battle. This mosaic is from around the year 500.

This is now starting to look like some of the images of Christ that we’re familiar with – notice Jesus finally has a beard? This is Christ as Pantocrator. Pantocrator means “all powerful” – some have translated it as “ruler of all.” This image of Christ (similar to the previous one) is the image that would have been most common during the days when St. Francis was around. This image can be found in Hagia Sophia and is dated to 1261.

Let’s compare these images to the depictions of St. Francis.

This is a fresco dating to 1280 by Cinabue. It’s estimated that this image of Francis may be the closest to his actual likeness considering people were able to describe Francis to Cinabue. Notice he has a halo which signifies his sainthood and that he’s holy. Pantocrator had that too. But Francis attempted to live in the image of God.

Here is a fresco depicting Francis with birds. You can visually see how radically different Francis is depicted compared to Pantocrator. It really isn’t a subtle change is it?

Seeing all of these images got me thinking: how do I image God? What are the images of God out there? So, I went back to the web and I googled “God.”

This is the first image of God that came up in my google search. It’s called “God the Father” by Cima de Conegliano and it’s from 1515. It’s the old white made with white hair and  a long beard. God has a halo like those earlier images of Christ.

This is the second image that came up. It is part of the fresco at the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo entitled “Creation of the Sun and Moon.” This is a different image of God – God the creator. But, it’s still an older white man.

I thought it was neat that by the time I got to the fifth image, I came across this one:

It’s called “The Eye of God” – this is actually a Helix Nebula – a dying star. But, this is quite a different image of God from that old white man in a beard!

So, I began to think: what are the images of Jesus? So, I googled “Jesus.”

This was the first image that popped up. It has no fancy title or artist that I could find. I’m imagining it’s part of the “Jesus is my homeboy” movement – more of a personal friend in Jesus idea.

This is the second image I got in my results – it’s the shepherd image again. Now Jesus has a beard, light skin, he’s wearing a tunic, he kind of has a halo. It’s neat that that image of Christ that we first saw in the 3rd century is still around!

I saw this one in the search results and had to include it – my church at home had this framed on the wall – do others recognize it?

This one is interesting. It’s from a BBC report called “Son of God” where historians attempted to recreated – as accurately as they could – what Jesus looked like. They based their guess on remains found in archeological digs and on old paintings from the time that Jesus would have lived. It estimates Jesus’s head shape, facial features, hair color and style, skin color, beard, etc. Is it what you expected?

So, I wanted to move out of what other people thought – or what google produced for that matter. I wondered “how do we, as Prince of Peace, envision God?”

So, I asked the youth at youth group. We made a God Pinterest board – Pinterest is an online site that allows you to virtually pin ideas, images, etc. to a “board” like a designer might, to see how things go together (i.e. weddings, remodeling a room, vacation ideas, etc.)

The youth cut out images and words from magazines and pinned them to an actual board. Here are some images of what they made:

The whole God Pinterest Board

This is how they understand God – pretty cool huh?

This made me ask myself, where have I seen God lately?

I saw God at the ELCA youth gathering this summer.

I see God in nature – sunflowers are my favorite flower!

That's my God daughter Cassidy (and her stink face). She just turned one!

And this is my partner, Laura, and our puppy, Cinna – I see God in my family.

For just a moment, I encourage you to think about God – what do you think about? Where does your mind go? Now think about Jesus Christ – what images speak to you? What do you think about?

The big question is: What difference does it make? If you think of God as the father with the white hair or if you think more of the eye of God image, what difference does it make? If you think of Christ as Pantocrator – “ruler of all” – or if Jesus as your homeboy speaks to you, what difference does it make?

Maybe it doesn’t make a big difference at all to you. Or maybe it’s a monumental one. Francis’s difference was monumental – it changed his life – he lived differently because of how he saw Christ.

How might you live into your image of God? How is your understanding of Christ calling you to live?

May the courage of St. Francis be in your hearts as you continue to discern these challenging questions.


Much of my information about St. Francis came from two websites: The Franciscan Friars of California and Wikipedia. Much of the early information on the old depictions of Jesus came from Wikipedia.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Good--Very Good

God looked at all of this creation, and proclaimed that it was good—very good. 
Gen. 1:31 (The Inclusive Bible)

Sometimes, I wonder what those first few days of creation must have been like!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I know that the way creation is depicted in our Bible may not be exactly how it all went down. But, the authors of the Bible’s creation depictions tell stories of such beauty: a light shining out of the darkness and providing warmth, lush green trees forming forests, splashing waves crashing along the shore, animals of all shapes and sizes having their formation (one of which being humans), and all of this happening in a beautiful garden in which there is perfect harmony. Doesn’t it sound lovely?

As we engage with the Season of Creation this month at Prince of Peace, our readings and the images in worship tell these stories once again and remind us of the “good-ness” that God recognized at each step of creation: “God looked at all of this creation, and proclaimed that it was good—very good” (Gen. 1:31).

But, wait a second! It all sounds too good to be true! These stories seem more the themes from fairy tales and stories that end with “happily every after” rather than the reality we know today.

Unfortunately, when telling these stories we cannot forget the uncomfortable recognition that that perfect harmony which was found in the garden, oh so many years ago, has experienced some difficulties from then until now. Our relationships with other aspects of creation have become somewhat broken: we’ve used many of the world’s resources to excess; we’ve manipulated creation to provide what we want and not only what we need; we’ve not only allowed, but sometimes caused the extinction of certain animals; and our relationships with other humans isn’t always so peaceful.

Perhaps this is why I look with such hope and longing at the stories of creation in the Bible. Not that it allows me to ignore what is happening in the world around me; but, rather, it reminds me that there was a divine intent in the creation of the cosmos.

God was present in creation and God is present in creation today. What was once “good” is still “good” in many respects, but perhaps we should add: “needing repair,” the more church-y word might be “needing reconciliation.”

How can we repair our creation? How might we reconcile our relationships with God’s great creation?

Here at Prince of Peace, we’ve already started thinking about ways to minimize our carbon footprint by installing solar panels, we recycle our paper products, we welcome both four-legged and two-legged creatures into our worship space on a regular basis, and we provide for those in our community who need help accessing some of the benefits of God’s creation. This is all good—very good.

During this Season of Creation, may the “good-ness” of God’s creation inspire you to seek reconciliation; and, may the God who created all things, bless you in your endeavors to do so!

Monday, October 1, 2012

"Chillax, and know that I am God"

My sermon, preached on Sunday, September 30th. Readings for this week: Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29; James 5:13-20; and, Mark 9:38-50.

Have you been following the stories about the controversial video about Mohammed made by an American that has sparked many riots in the Middle East?

To me, it seems like another sad and frustrating story about our inability to respect each other as people and as people who have differing faiths. The talk about it in the newspapers and on radio shows is riddled with back and forth arguments about who and what is right and who or what is wrong. It even made its way into the presidential campaigns and has become a point of contention for both sides.

In response to all of this I’ve heard so many people try to define where they stand over-against someone or something else. So many Americans are attacking the man who made the movie saying he does not represent all of the American people. Many Muslims are chastising the rioting groups saying their actions don’t represent all Muslims. Christian religious leaders are distancing themselves from Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who seems to have played a large part in fanning the flames of this controversy by planning to show the video, by claiming his actions are un-Christian or that he is not representing the true Christian faith.

My goodness, what a mess!

The tough part is, this isn’t a unique situation – is it?

As a society we’re actually very comfortable setting up dividing walls, not because we necessarily want to exclude other people, but we feel a need to define ourselves, who we are and what we believe.

And, I get it, as I’m sure many of you do, because, let’s be honest, some of what people say and believe is hurtful, really hurtful. It may not be hurtful to us personally, but it is hurtful to others and that is hurtful to us.

Our readings for today tell us that this is not a 21st Century problem – our reading from Numbers tells us that even Moses struggled with questions of who was outside – literally, who was outside the tent – and who was in. Jesus’ disciples are very concerned that another person is performing deeds in Jesus’ name – and he isn’t even in their inner circle.

Both groups question the authority of others’ actions – what right do they have to do and say such things in the name of our faith? Sounds vaguely familiar doesn’t it?

And the crazy things is, both Moses and Jesus have very similar answers: do not stop them. Or as Dr. John Fairless writes: Jesus’ reaction is like saying “chillax.”

Dr. Fairless and Dr. Delmer Chilton are two Lutheran pastors who write a blog entitled “Two Bubbas and a Bible” – it’s great!

Dr. Fairless links this word “chillax” in his post to an urban dictionary website that defines chillax as: a combination of “chill out” and “relax,” to loosen or reduce the level of stress by employing a more relaxed and groovy (such a California word) outlook.

So, Dr. Fairless says that Jesus says “chillax disciples.” Moses goes on to say something similar: “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them.” Chillax.

Many of the gospels tell of Jesus reaching out to others; he has always cast the net fairly wide in terms of who is in and who isn’t – wider than his disciples were comfortable with and, let’s be honest, wider than many of us are willing or able to acknowledge. But Moses has always been a by the books – or should we say “by the stone tablets” – kind of person. To find such a similarity between these two prominent figures in our Bible is no small thing. This must be pretty important.

Jesus and Moses tell their followers that authority doesn’t lie with who is in the inner circle – the disciples circle or the elders in the tent – but there is a greater authority.

In the Lutheran tradition we often speak of the idea of the priesthood of all believers – meaning we all have gifts that can be used to praise and glorify God: this ability is not exclusive!

But, what about that pastor in Florida? Or, the pastor in North Carolina who encouraged parents to “beat the gay” out of their kids? What about the people who say horrible things?

Jesus, you said “whoever is not against us is for us” – but what about the people who really seem like their against us, against me, against each of you, against your friend, against your brother or sister? What about them? With all due respect, Christ, “chillax” might not do it for me.

For me…for me…where have I heard that…for me…for you…

This is the body of Christ, given for you. This is the blood of Christ, shed for you.

Luther thought that the whole gospel could be summed up in those two words: for you. Our words of institution that are spoken during worship remind us that Christ died for me, for you, and for all people – even those people I disagree with.

We spend so much time defining ourselves over-against others, we forget that there is a huge similarity that we all share regardless of our politics, regardless of our taste in music, regardless of the car we drive or the clothes we wear, regardless of whether or not we’re nice to other people! Christ died for all of us. We are all first and foremost children of God and that is a powerful thing.

In our baptisms, the power of the Holy Spirit was stirred up in our worlds so that we may journey with others on a path towards Christ - whatever that may look like for each of us. Along that journey, we are going to meet a lot of people who we agree with and seemingly more with whom we disagree.

I suppose, trusting in my faith, every once in a while, I could chillax.

One of my favorite psalm petitions is – “be still, and know that I am God.”

My heart may not be big enough sometimes for the people I disagree with or the people who hurt me. But, man, am I glad Christ’s is – because, Christ knows, that to some, I don’t fit in their hearts. We don’t fit in their hearts. Christ’s love, God’s love is so great. And when our hearts and souls are filled with that much love, our hearts and souls overflow, and we are called to love back.

Dr. Chilton – of Two Bubbas and a Bible – writes: “in community we are called to let go of power and embrace the spirit of God speaking in the community – even sometimes speaking to us through voices outside the community.

In community we are called to heal and be healed by reaching out to one another in humility and compassion, loving the community and trusting the community to love us back.

In community we are called to take the welfare of others, their faith and their life, so seriously that we are willing to sacrifice things that are good for us rather than injure or harm them.”

This can be so hard – but in Christ we can, and in community we can.

Charlie Brown once said (yes, the comic character) – “The greatest burden in life is to have a great potential.”

Christ has given us the great potential to be good disciples and at times it may feel like the greatest burden – to be nice to those who aren’t nice, to love those who seem not to love you back, to stand up for the love of God even when others will tell you you’re wrong – but, maybe you can remember that psalm I mentioned earlier but with a slight modification: “Chillax, and know that I am God.”