April 29, 2007

Faith Like a Child

Sunday, April 29, 2007
Youth Celebration Sunday
John 21:1-19

When you walked in this morning, you might have noticed some things that are different. Colorful balloons float in the air, posters adorn the walls, some of the furniture has been slightly rearranged. In general, things are a little bit brighter and more cheery and more open.

Yet we continue with our worship service as normal. Even with a few things different, we find comfort in the things we know, the things we have come to expect – there will be a great piano duet from Fran and Hilton, there’ll be scripture and a sermon, and some hymns. We will take a long time to pass the peace and greet one another. And that regular rhythm of worship can be familiar and comforting. Even when a few things are new and different.

That comfort is what the disciples are looking for in this morning’s scripture. Their world has been turned upside down and back again. Jesus was condemned to death, crucified on a cross, and laid to rest in a tomb. Jesus’ body was missing and there was news he had been seen by Mary. And then Jesus himself appeared to the disciples and offered them his peace. But then, in a whirlwind moment, Jesus was gone again.

What do the disciples do now? Who will lead them? How do they find a way forward? They return to what is comfortable. They go back to what they know. They head out to the sea and pick up their nets and fish.

It’s what they’ve done for most of their lives. It’s what they were busy doing when Jesus first called them to follow him. It’s familiar and takes little thought. But the night does not bring a good catch. Even that one thing that was familiar and routine to them does not bring comfort.

Until Jesus appears again. It’s his third appearance to the disciples. Perhaps things are a little foggy that morning or the disciples are weary from the events of the past weeks and the long night of unsuccessful fishing, but the disciples do not recognize Jesus.

Nevertheless, he calls out from the shore: “Children, cast your nets on the other side. Try one more time before coming in for the morning.” And the disciples give it a whirl. Why not?

And they are overwhelmed by their nets that overflow with fish. Tons and tons of fish. And once again, their eyes are opened to recognize and see their savior and friend.

“It is the Lord! That’s Jesus standing on the beach. He’s appeared to us again!”

And I love Simon Peter’s reaction. He throws on some clothes. (I guess one usually fishes without them on … ) But he throws on some clothes and then dives right into the sea to start swimming back to shore, to get to Jesus, to get there as quickly as possible. In his exuberance and excitement, he can’t wait for the boat to row its way to shore. He has to do something right away to get himself to Jesus.

It’s not very logical. The boat could probably be rowed to shore just as quickly, though maybe not with the huge catch of fish. It’s not very sensible. Simon Peter and his clothes will be sopping wet by the time he is standing on the beach. It’s not very understandable or reasonable. He will only get there a little bit quicker than the boat, if at all.

In fact, Simon Peter’s actions, they’re downright impulsive and childlike. But Simon Peter is so eager to see his leader and friend again. In his mind, there is no other option but this exuberant greeting.

It’s a greeting that’s familiar to anyone who’s worked with or spent time with infants and young children. Last year at seminary, I spent two days a week with Amelia, an adorable little girl who’s almost two now. And we would read and play and giggle and sometimes cry (Amelia if she was hungry and myself when she refused to go down for a nap).

We generally had a great time together rolling around on the floor. But when Amelia’s mommy came home and she heard that voice and those footsteps, Amelia would crawl excitedly or run wobbly over to her mommy, forgetting all else.

And that’s pretty similar to Simon Peter’s impulsive action of jumping into the sea and racing toward shore when he realizes it’s Jesus standing there. As a matter of fact, it’s his childish behavior and childlike faith that drew me to his passage. Because it’s something that I think we grown-ups need to hear and remember and embrace.

For though grown-ups were once children, few of them remember it (Saint- Exupéry). O we remember the stories of childhood memories and can picture the neighborhood friends all right, but we don’t really remember that childlike outlook on life.

We’d prefer, as CS Lewis states, “to put away all childish things” and just be very grown up, to follow society’s standards for proper behavior.

Author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry illustrated this point so well in his book The Little Prince. While flying over the Sahara Desert, a man’s plane crashes. He is in the middle of nowhere. While attempting to fix the engine and make the plane usable to leave the desert, a small person appears as if out of nowhere. And the man is introduced to the little prince.

The little prince is the most extraordinary small person, with golden hair the color of wheat. He has the questioning innocence of a child coupled with the wisdom of one wise beyond his years.

The little prince, originally from Asteroid B-612, tells grand stories of the people he has met in his travels. They have all been grown-ups and sadly they have not understood what the matters of true importance are. The little prince explains, “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.”

Like how a mass of scribbles of some color is a magical kingdom. Or how the couch can become a fort in the wilderness. Because why wouldn’t it be?

And so, few grown-ups remember that childlike trust and belief are actually a gift. To be satisfied with simple answers, to not have to have everything proven by numbers and facts and proper sources.

Because there is no concrete proof for faith in God. There are a lot of grand stories and tales of miracles and reasons to believe, but there’s no absolute, 100%-guaranteed proof. Because that’s the nature of faith – depending with childlike trust on what cannot be perfectly explained or seen with the eyes, saying “yes” to holy mystery that cannot be fully clarified.

It’s that moment of coming to the edge of all that you know and trusting that one of two things will happen: there’ll be something to stand on in that next step or you will be taught to fly, to soar with the faith of a child. It’s that moment of seeing your savior across the sea and jumping into the water to swim to him as fast as possible.

And then it’s helping others to do the same. After a picnic on the beach of fresh fish and some loaves of bread, Jesus says to Simon Peter, “Do you love me?” And Simon Peter replies readily, “Yes Lord, you know I love you.” “Well then, feed my lambs, care for my sheep.”

Jesus asks this question not once, but three times. And by the third time, I can picture Simon Peter, with his childlike exuberance from moments before, standing up and saying “Lord you know everything. So yes, Jesus, I love you this much,” flinging his arms wide open as children are prone to do.

Yet after answering Jesus’ question three times, Simon Peter also understands. If he loves Jesus “this much,” that love has to be put into action so others can know and love Jesus “this much” too.

And in the church that means we teach the faith, we grow in our knowledge and understanding of God, and we tend for the sheep and the lambs, the children and the least of these, the “have-nots” in a world of “haves.”

As a church, we’ve done that this past school year. Some of you have spent time with a child reading a book and discussing it or listening to an older child read back to you. Some of you have taught Bible stories and played games and done crafts and assisted with the Christmas pageant with the elementary youth. Still others have prayed for these ministries and supported them with your offering.

And in doing so, we have tended for the sheep, cared for the lamb and perhaps learned from the innocence and awe and longing of a child.

May those lessons not stop today.

May you embrace some childishness and take a balloon home with you. May you find ways to tend for the lambs among you. And most importantly, may you live with that trusting, easily believing, exuberant faith – faith like a child.

In the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer; Amen.

April 26, 2007

Joy and Life

I love to dance. I danced at a studio for 13 years growing up.

When I started at internship church, a member told me about a worship dance program at another church on the other side of town. I made contact and was welcomed to visit. I visited and continued to drop in when I could.

This past Sunday was the year end Worship Dance Celebration. It brought me such joy and life to dance in one of the pieces and to assist backstage.

Here I am with my fellow angels.

April 24, 2007

Some learnings

So things have picked up again after the post-Lent break. The admin assistant is on vacation this week. Here are some of the (not-so) fun things I've learned already this week:

  • Bugs, specifically grain weevils, lay eggs in cardboard boxes in food plants. These eggs lay dormant for a long time and we never even know they are there. Until ... boxes of pasta sit on the food pantry shelf at the outreach center for too long. Then when someone walks in and is really quiet it sounds like milk hitting Rice Krispies. Snap, crackle, pop ... ewwww! Lots of pasta got tossed. Lots of dead bugs on the floor and on the shelves and probably in other unseen locations. We are now storing pasta in the freezer.
  • The church is getting a new pest control company. The old one wasn't always showing up every month. So the church is getting bids from five different companies over two days. I showed one of the guys around today. He was checking out the kitchen area. I told him that we had found boxes with corners chewed off a few months ago, but hadn't seen any problems recently. He opened up the cupboard under the sink, took one look, and said "See that. Rat poop. He's still around." Nice ...
  • The church has a building that it used to rent to a health clinic. The clinic left it a mess and the church is ready to utilize the space again. So that building, first and second floor, got demoed last week. Only problem is the plans the demo crew was using were not completely accurate and they started to bust through a load bearing wall. A plank is supporting the area that got knocked out before the crew realized what it had done. It does not look good and the church has got to get someone in there soon to fix it.

That's it for now. I think that's enough.

April 08, 2007

Hearing is Believing

Sunday, April 8, 2007
Easter Sunrise Service

John 20:1-18

It is the third day.

For Mary Magdelene and the other disciples
time might have been flying by
or slowly marching onward
as they continued to contemplate
what they had seen and heard over the past week.

How did it all fit together?
Had only a handful of days passed?
Had it all really happened?

How could Jesus,
the one who had healed so many of the sick and lame,
the one who had come into town on a donkey,
the one who had just broken bread with them,
how could that Jesus really be dead?

But he is.
“It is finished.”
His body has even been laid in a tomb.
A stone has been rolled in front of it.

But it is the third day,
and Mary, who has risen while it is still dark,
(much like us today)
is drawn to the tomb.

Perhaps she goes to anoint Jesus’ body with more oils;
or to continue her period of mourning;
maybe she just wants to sit outside the tomb and keep watch.

Regardless, she expects to find death there.
But she finds something that seems even worse –
the stone has been rolled away.

The stone that was supposed to protect Jesus’ body.
Who could have done this?
Who would do such a thing?

Mary turns on her heel and leaves to tell the others.
They are little help.
Simon Peter and the other disciple race to the tomb.

The stone really has been rolled away.
They peer in and see that the tomb really is empty.
But then they return home.

And in the early hours of the third day,
Mary is left alone … outside the tomb … weeping.

For everything she sees points to
a friend who is dead and whose body is now missing:
a stone removed from the tomb;
the linen wrappings lying there;
the cloth that had covered a sacred head there also;
two angels in white.

And it all just adds to her weeping and her grief and her mourning.

Until a word – the Word – shatters the illusion.
“Mary,” Jesus says.
It’s enough to make her turn around
and take a second look at the gardener.

It’s a voice she knows.
And with that one word, Mary recognizes him.

Suddenly, she knows; she really knows.
It isn’t the gardener standing before her.
This is her Teacher; this is her dear friend; this is Jesus!

And Mary begins to see.
Hearing has helped her to believe.

Jesus is alive!
Christ has risen from the dead!

It wasn’t what she expected, even though he talked about it.
It wasn’t what she anticipated that early morning.
This is something genuinely new and radical,
and only possible with God.

Those things she had seen earlier –
the empty tomb and the linen clothes and the head wrapping –
they didn’t mean that someone had stolen the body.

They were signs that God had defeated death.
Christ had been raised from the dead.
And now that Mary gets it,
she wants to hold on to him.

But Jesus tells her no.
His place is on the right hand of the Father.
And Mary knows that is true.

She sets off to find the other disciples.
To tell them what she has heard,
the thing that has enabled her to believe her eyes:

“Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!
And he called me by name!

“He knew I didn’t yet understand what had happened;
and he called my name to make sure I got it.
Christ has been raised from the dead!”

Indeed, Christ has been raised from the dead!

And that Christ who appeared in the garden outside the tomb
and called Mary by name that first Easter morning,
is the Christ who still calls us by name.

He is the one who knows his own –
each weeping woman, every doubting disciple;
each tired follower, every joyful worshipper –

Christ is the one who knows each of his own
and calls out to them,
calls out to us.

Christ calls each one of us by name.
And with that single word,
we, who were nobodies, have been named and called anew –
we are children of God.

Children of God who have heard the voice of Jesus –
the voice of the One who knows us and calls us.

Calls us to celebrate and sing and dance.
Calls us to worship and praise and honor God.
Calls us to remember and hear the story anew.

But Jesus does not call us here for just a single revelation;
Jesus also commands us to go and speak –
to become proclaimers of the Word –
like Mary that first Easter morning.

And in so doing, Jesus not only calls us by name, but also calls us on.
Calls us on to Easter living.
Calls us to spread the Good News.
Calls us to tell the story so others may also hear the call,
that hearing may lead to believing.

In the name of our Risen Lord and Savior;
Alleluia. Amen.

April 07, 2007


I like silence.

I'm an introvert and I enjoy good periods of being silent (especially if I'm reading while it's silent).

But I also really like silence in worship services.

I had the privilege of staying a week at the Taize community in France a year and a half ago. I loved attending worship three times a day there because silence is such an integral part of it. There was sufficient space to just be in the presence of God. Words were minimal. And the space was holy.

The pastor and I tried to craft holy, silent space at the Maundy Thursday service. People were pretty good at entering in silence. The narthex and sanctuary were lit by candlelight and the pianist played some beautiful prelude selections that helped people meditate or just be quiet. At the end of the service, there was no benediction and the bulletin indicated that people should exit singing the last verse of "Were You There?" and then leave in silence. The pastor and I walked down the aisle during the verse in hope that people would follow. We then circled back around to the sanctuary - no receiving line/greeeting time. People did follow, but they were not silent once the verse was over. There was lots of chatting and calling across the narthex to others. I was in the sanctuary starting to extinguish the candles. A congregant came up to me and offered to do that so I could go greet people. I politely told him that I was okay extinguishing the candles because I would prefer that people would leave in silence.

When we so often fill so much of our time and space with words, how do we teach others to honor silence?

April 05, 2007

Living into Holy Week

I'm having trouble living into Holy Week.
  • My pastoral intern mind is thinking about Easter Sunday and what the weather will be like at 6:45 in the morning.
  • I've started to plan for the 4th Sunday in Easter when I will preach next and have to incorporate a celebration of youth into the service.
  • I'm starting to think about the 5th Sunday in Easter when I will dance in worship with at least one little girl from the congregation.

And so, I'm having trouble living into Holy Week.

And these are some of my favorite worship services of the year. Last year I showed my church nerd colors by attending and liturgizing at a noonday Holy Week Service on Wednesday, attending a Maundy Thursday service done house church style with a meal, a Good Friday service on the seven last words of Jesus, an Easter Vigil (a first time for me and I loved it!), and an Easter Sunday service.

So this is my hope and prayer - that I will stop at some point over the next few days and live into that day of Holy Week.