March 31, 2007

The Lull Before the Storm

Today was a wonderful Sabbath for me. Lots of lounging around and reading. Watched some movies on tv. Got my haircut.

This past week I only worked 40 hours. It was nice. I also find it hard to believe since the "Clergy Superbowl" is almost upon us.

But Maundy Thursday service is planned, including liturgical dance that is already choreographed and has been practiced with musician and soloist.

Easter Sunrise Service bulletin is completed. Sermon/meditation is outlined.

For right now, I'm enjoying the lull before the storm ...

March 26, 2007

A Way Through

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Isaiah 43:16-21

Have you ever had to make your way through the jungle? Cutting back the brush, holding back the limbs, searching for a path of least resistance? Looking for a way to let some light into the habitat that is so thick and dense that it blocks out all of the sun’s rays.

Think George of the Jungle. Fighting through the thick of untended vegetation. Finding a new path in the wilderness of creation.

No? Well, I haven’t either, but I imagine its hard work. (Harder work than even Ed and Bill and Tom had yesterday as they tore down the fence that has become entangled in the bush on the corner of 13th Street. And that looked like really hard work.)

So, maybe we haven’t had to fight our way through the Amazon jungle …
but what about the jungles of life? Or the wilderness of Lent?

Have you ever been in that dry place, in that desert? And when you look around, all around you, all you can see is miles of hills of sand – an unchanging landscape. No relief. No trees to offer shade and a place to stop and rest. No water to cool you and strengthen you for the journey. Nothing but dryness and sand as far as the eye can see.

My family found itself in that figurative wilderness about 12 years ago.

My dad woke up one Sunday morning and had a little difficulty moving his left arm and leg. He stayed home from church while my mom took my brothers and I to Sunday School and worship. When we returned home, my dad’s whole left side seemed to be paralyzed. He had a difficult time moving his arm and leg at all by this point. My mom and dad rushed to the emergency room and my brothers and I were shipped off to the neighbors’ house.

And so began our desert living; that would be the trend for many weeks to come. My parents at the hospital, as my dad endured test after test and visit after visit from a variety of specialists; and my brothers and I getting shuffled around to family and friends and neighbors – not too sure or clear about what was going on.

And the tests would continue, and the answers would not come. And my mom would come home at night and weep on the kitchen floor, crying out to God to do something, anything … because living in the wilderness of not knowing was too hard.

It was not a place we wanted to stay. But as we glanced around, the terrain all looked the same. More pricks and pokes, scans and prods. And still no answers. Another night in the hospital. More tests and still the bafflement of what was happening in my dad’s body. Desert living – it’s not very enjoyable. But there’s no easy way out.

Eventually, the doctors would decide to do exploratory brain surgery. And when the doctors started to poke around in my dad’s brain, they discovered a tangled web of blood vessels; and we had a name for what was happening – a cavernous angioma and with the name, a little bit of water in the desert. Some relief.

Those blood vessels had probably been in my dad’s brain since birth, but that fall they had started to bleed on my dad’s motor strip, causing the abrupt, unexplainable paralysis and our sudden wilderness surroundings. But the doctors were able to remove it successfully and my dad began the slow process of recovery.

Rivers began to spring up in our wilderness. Hope began to blossom.

And that’s the same hope the writer of Isaiah is conveying to the people of God: today’s Scripture passage is a “proclamation of salvation” – it’s scandalous good news! It invites us to remember what happened the last time the Lord’s people found themselves in a dry wilderness.

It was during the exodus from Egypt. Difficult times indeed. But …

God showed up. God provided. God listened. God was there.

When all the exhausted Hebrews could see ahead was wilderness, God offered them some water. When all the worn out and worn down people could see behind was a land of slavery, a land that started to look good again, God offered them some shade. When all the chosen people could do was complain and sulk, God was there.

God was there providing nourishment – enough water and manna each day;
God was there providing leadership – through Moses and Aaron.
God was there intruding into their lives –
into their messy, often ungrateful lives –
providing a way where there was no way. A way through to the other side.


The Hebrew people didn’t have a non-stop ticket to the Promised Land. They had some layovers. Forty years of layovers in the wilderness to be exact. But, that wilderness was the way to the Promise.

Through it.

Because sometimes the only way out, or on, or forward is through.

And as I’ve been thinking about this all week – finding a way through –
a song with motions came to mind. Are you surprised?
It’s the childhood song “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.”
Do you know the song I’m talking about?
Did you learn it as a child in preschool or at camp around a campfire?
If not, it goes like this
(you can join me if you know it, it’s a repeat after me song)

We’re going on a bear hunt. We’re going on a bear hunt.
We’re going to catch a big one. We’re going to catch a big one.
Oh, oh! Grass. Oh, oh! Grass.
Long, wavy grass. Long, wavy grass.
Can’t go over it. Can’t go over it.
Can’t go under it. Can’t go under it.
Can’t go around it. Can’t go around it.
Gotta go through it. Gotta go through it.
Swishy, swashy, swishy, swashy.

We’re going on a bear hunt. We’re going on a bear hunt.
We’re going to catch a big one. We’re going to catch a big one.
Oh, oh! Mud. Oh, oh! Mud.
Thick, oozy mud. Thick, oozy mud.
Can’t go over it. Can’t go over it.
Can’t go under it. Can’t go under it.
Can’t go around it. Can’t go around it.
Gotta go through it. Gotta go through it.
Squelch, squelch, squelch, squelch.

And the song continues in the same manner,
as the bear hunters also travel through
a deep, cold river;
a big, dark forest;
and into a big, dark cave.

They travel through each of these physical barriers because there’s no other way forward – can’t go over it, can’t go under it, can’t go around it; the grass must swish at their legs, the mud must ooze between their toes, the river must rush over their feet. Because that’s the way to the bear. And so the bear hunters travel on and through.

And even though that’s just a silly childhood song
and we’re not going on a bear hunt through all sorts of terrain,
there's the simple message in it of having to travel through.

Because we also travel through:
Maybe not through thick, oozy mud or a deep, cold river,
But through the endless nights of worry;
Or through the lonely places of loss;
Or through the heavy days of grief and sorrow;
Straight into the depth of pain.


Through the illness, the changes, the divorce, the waiting, and the difficulties.
Through whatever it is that you may be facing this day.

We travel through this Lenten journey, also.
A journey that’s almost done.
Beginning in the wilderness and then on
through a parade of palms, a final meal with friends, a cross, and a tomb.

Through, but not alone.

For on the journey through whatever dry land
you or I have faced, or may currently face, or will face,
there is a gracious God with us:
a God who speaks and brings nourishment;
a God who acts and crafts a new future;
a God who creates something out of nothing,
a bright future out of a dismal present;
a God who is there.

For, in the desert and dry wilderness places of life, our hope is that God intrudes and walks with us on our way through. Water in the wilderness; a river in the desert. Our God does not abandon us in the wilderness or leave us to negotiate the difficult places alone. God is with us on the way through.

God was with my family on the way through – hearing our prayers, allowing our tears, enduring our questions, and carrying us through.

And God’s presence was not the only stream that provided some relief in the desert. There were also the prayers of family and friends, strangers and numerous congregations. Cards with prayers filled one whole wall of our kitchen. And the sight of that wall, that well of water in our parched land, helped us make our way through.

Through. It’s not the easy path. Over and around would certainly be better at times. Avoid the heartache and bypass the difficulties.

But that’s not the “proclamation of salvation,” that’s not the good news in the text this morning. The good news is that God provides a way through; makes a way where there is no way; opens our imagination to behold a new thing; and is our ever faithful companion on the journey.

For God cries out:
“Behold, I am doing a new thing! It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?!”
There’s a way through.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

March 08, 2007

O yeah ... I'm in Florida ...

Yesterday we had our staff meeting/lunch for the month. (When the only people in the office are the administrative assistant, the pastor, and myself, you really don't need official meetings too often).

We were making sure that things were set for Easter. We finalized the number of lilies and mums to order for the sanctuary from the local nursery. Then I asked if we would be getting some palms for Palm Sunday. At this point the pastor said, "Well yeah, we just go outside and cut them off the trees."

O yeah ... I'm in Florida ...

March 05, 2007

Sacred (and not-so-sacred) Moments

  • I assisted with the Ash Wednesday service a week and a half ago. I'm still thinking about it because there was something so sacred about dipping my thumb in a bowl of ashes, looking each individual in the eye, and saying "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return." Amen and amen.
  • I've made a lot of visits to homebound and nursing home members lately. As I pray aloud at the end of each visit, I am struck every time by these precious children of God joining me in the Lord's Prayer even though they don't know what day it is or where they are or who I am. But that prayer is lodged in their memory.
  • Yesterday the pastor, an elder and myself served homebound Lord's Supper to four individuals. It had been a long day of worship, meetings, and the CROP Walk. By the time we arrived at our last stop, it was 7pm. The last woman we were to serve lives in a memory unit of a facility. It was an interesting service. We had individuals interrupting us throughout and one woman shouting and swearing at us as we closed the service in prayer. Yet, there was also the moment when we asked the woman if she had any favorite hymns we could sing in closing. She burst into all six verses of some hymn that we struggled to find in our packets.