The Lord is with you

Genesis 39

It is impossible, and maybe even irresponsible, to read this story on this Sunday, after the conversation that has been going on nationally this week and for some months, and not take some time to acknowledge the painful reality of sexual violence and the injustices that can occur when there is an imbalance of power between two people.

In Joseph’s story the genders are likely the reverse of what we typically hear about in reports of assault, but again, the power imbalance is recognizable. A majority person with social, racial, and economic privilege, in this case an Egyptian woman, the wife of the captain of the guard, Potiphar, in our context more often a man with similar privilege, attempts to take what they believe they have ownership of or access to, the body and agency of a minority person, in this case an enslaved Israelite man, while in our context it is most often a woman or a person who is a part of a racial or sexual minority.

The situation, sadly Scripture tells us, is not new. And I wish, I so desperately wish this story, or really any story in the Bible spent a lot more time declaring what I am sure we all agree on – – This is wrong. This is sinful. This is contrary to anything God desires for humanity. Even when the story turns out good in the end, it is not because God is using assault to prove a point. And I wish, I so desperately wish I didn’t have to say that in 2018, but I do because there are people out there who will say the exact opposite – that God will put someone through a sexual assault to make them stronger, make them better able to help others, or even to punish them. But that is false, and that is the kind of dangerous faith-based talk that keeps some people from speaking up sooner.

If there is anyone in this room that has been made to think that about the violence inflicted upon them, hear me now. That is false. God’s love does not work that way. God’s love believes you. God’s love sees you. God’s love weeps with you. And God’s love desires and works for your healing and wholeness. There is nothing more sure to me than this. You are not at fault, and if you ever need a place to share your experience of what makes you able say “me too” I will listen. Me too.


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Ministry snapshot: Put the paper down

In the post of my first sermon in my new congregation, Fox Valley Presbyterian Church, I said I’d write soon about this transition.  I remember having a brilliant thought to share that I would get down just as soon as I could. Four weeks later, I have zero recollection of 15171257_10209751498398636_2282619785055001217_n-1what that brilliant thought might be.  That shows it’s brilliance, I believe.

This Sunday was my installation into this position.  One little girl in the church, after
hearing her mother try to explain what would happen, decided to call it my “inauguration.” The preacher for the worship services this morning, my dear friend, mentor, and church match-maker, the Rev. Carol McDonald, called it my naming day (which reminded me of my favorite baptism book, Water, Come Down, by Walter Wangerin, a book my new church gives to each child being baptized). Whatever we call it, it was a wonderful celebration, and I am still floating a bit on a cloud of gratitude.  Not a bad cloud to ride. Continue reading

In It Together: a sermon on Deuteronomy 6:1-9, Luke 18:15-17

Deuteronomy 6:1-9
Luke 18:15-17

At the playground once with my children, I saw a dad waiting with his son for some space to clear up on the jungle gym. The only parent in that area, while helping his son wait 10341608475_6d6a865355_mpatiently, he also helped some other children make their way safely to the top. Even after his little boy had reached the high platform he kept helping the others, spotting them so a potential fall wouldn’t be so dangerous, giving a hand to steady them if they got a little wobbly. Another dad came jogging up when he saw his daughter getting some assistance. He thanked the first dad and apologized for not being there, but the first dad simply smiled and shrugged, “Hey, we’re all in this together!” Continue reading

The Shared Path – a sermon on Psalm 139

Psalm 139:1-18

A small group of us met and walked the labyrinth together last Monday. The evening was warmer than I anticipated. We all commented on that actually. It was warmer than we anticipated, but the shelter of the trees on the path and an occasional breeze made it a pleasant night to walk together.

The labyrinth at the back of our property gets a lot of use during the week. A whole lot. Maybe you didn’t know it, but we have some of the most prayerful deer in St. Croix County. They walk the labyrinth often twice a day. This year, it seems, a doe had triplets and they can be seen walking on and around the labyrinth just about every afternoon.

But deer aren’t the only ones who use the labyrinth. Even before our labyrinth was revealed to be the site of two supply gathering stations on an augmented reality game played with smart phones, it was a stop used occasionally by walkers in our community. I don’t know who they are. I don’t know how often they come. I don’t know how or if they pray while they walk, but people come to walk on our peaceful garden labyrinth and I trust their experience blesses them as my walks bless me.

 I have begun to walk the labyrinth quite frequently – usually at least once during the day and often once in the morning well before I come to work and once in the night when I have to use a flashlight to see where I am going. I walk during the day when I am stuck – when I can’t find a hymn that is just right, when a sermon doesn’t seem to know where it’s going, when my body has been sitting in one place too long and my mind can’t create anything but what it has already created. I walk in the morning and evening because it is a safe and familiar place to go a long distance without having to worry about making decisions about where to go. I’m never far from home, and yet I’m covering a lot of ground. The path is compact, contained, but it isn’t necessarily short. “You hem me in, before and behind,” the psalmist says of God.

Labyrinths, I remember learning when we were preparing to have ours installed a number of years ago, were created by ancient people on every inhabited continent. They are older than the relatively recent resurgence they have had in Christian spirituality. Actually, they are older than Christian spirituality itself, some dating up to four and half thousand years ago. How labyrinths have been used across time and space is not always known, but what seems to be true is that across culture, religion, and in walking a single circuitous path humankind has found meaning, maybe purpose, maybe peace.

In the medieval Christian tradition labyrinths were sometimes used a part of or even a substitute for a pilgrimage. Either built at a holy site or made to represent the holy land, pilgrims would make a journey to a labyrinth in devotion to God, walking to represent the journey of life and faith. Sometimes at the end of a long pilgrimage the faithful would even complete their trek walking the labyrinth on their knees in humility and gratitude before God who had brought them safely to their spiritual destination.

A labyrinth can represent a walk with God – a single prayer or a lifelong journey. There is one single path toward the center in a labyrinth. It is a not a maze with decisions to make or dead ends that stop a journey. It is not intended to confuse or deceive the one who walks. Yet with its twists and turns, as it moves closer to the center at times and farther away at others it can represent the relationship we have with God or the Body of Christ, the church, a relationship that isn’t always easy, isn’t always clear, isn’t always a straight and direct path.

But in answer to the psalmist’s questions, “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?” the labyrinth says for God, “I am here. I am with you. I hold your journey.” The sacred circle surrounds those who make the prayerful journey. They cannot depart from the spirit of God. They cannot flee from the divine presence. The labyrinth itself holds our path, knows our coming and going. The labyrinth is acquainted with all our ways and does not force our steps, but welcomes them, guides them, and points us, knowingly to the center.

As I said at the beginning, a few of us gathered on Monday evening to walk the labyrinth together. The labyrinth as a communal spiritual discipline is somewhat different from other acts of faith we might do together as the body of Christ. When we worship or pray together we often join our voices, speaking or singing together in unison or in holy, responsive conversation. When we serve together we join our gifts and our actions with others in order to affect some sort of change together or produce some kind of good. When we pray the labyrinth together, the together is not so much a time of working together, as it is a time of simply sharing space, sharing the experience, and knowing that we are not on this walk alone.

The four of us who were there to pray on Monday night gathered at the entrance to the labyrinth. I opened our time together with a spoken prayer before we began our walks. Following the amen, the first pilgrim stepped onto the path. Quietly – – but not silently – – she took slow, deliberate steps forward to the first left hand turn. When she had traveled a little further the second pray-er began the journey, then eventually, the third, and finally I took my steps onto the path. The gravel crunched under our feet as our steps moved us forward on the way – each of us walking in conversation with God, each in our own prayer, and yet always together within the sacred circle, within the care and provision of God.  

One of the things I noticed as a we walked is that because of nature of the labyrinth path, the way it winds back and forth from one side of the circle to the other, the way it moves closer in and farther away from the center without concern for whether you are at the beginning, middle, or end of your journey, you can’t tell who is in at the front of the line and who is at the back. At any given moment we were pointed in all different directions, some going seemingly forward while others looked to be going backward. The one closest to the center was sometimes the last, while the one who appeared to be near the end was actually the first. We would pass each other on adjacent paths going in opposite directions

Until this one moment somewhere in the middle of our time together. In this one moment I looked up and saw all four of us on the southern half of the labyrinth, all four of us facing west, all four of us going in the same direction. It lasted for a short period, for enough time, before one and then another of us, and eventually all of us took a turn on the path and our journeys were again our own, but still within the reach and the realm of God.

 This labyrinth walk seemed fitting before I walked into a session meeting to inform the leaders of this church that God is calling me to serve another. The walk demonstrated what this whole experience of call and pastoring and church is about. I imagine each of us, and all of us, individually and uniquely knit together by the crafty and creative hands of God. Each of us, and all of us, fearfully and wonderfully made. I imagine God whose knowledge of our lives individually and our life together is complete, is wonderful, is so high that we cannot attain it. And I imagine this path, this way that we walk, that can never take us away from God’s spirit, that is never beyond the circle of God’s presence.  

We are called to walk this path together, but not always in unison, not all at the exact same place at the exact same time. As some are moving toward the center, others are turning away. As some are going left, others are going right. As some walk slowly others are speeding toward the next turn. We are called to walk this path together held by God, hemmed in before and behind by the crafty and creative hand of God, and at some point in time, for just the right amount of time, enough, we are all going in the same direction. 

Here are First Presbyterian Church we have been in that period of just enough time, of walking in the same direction, of moving forward in faith, of listening and responding to God’s call, for almost 9 years. The beginning felt like we were trying to find our way at first, getting our steps and directions aligned, and in some ways I imagine the end will, too, as we start to make turns and our directions change. But for almost 9 years we have been walking on this path and moving forward in love, held by God’s grace, and for that I could not be any more thankful.

Over these next few weeks, I pray that we will celebrate the journey we have shared. I pray that we will give thanks to God for his presence and blessing. I pray that we will practice trusting that God’s spirit will never leave us, that God knits our lives and designs our paths with her own hands. And I pray that we will continue walking together in faith and in love until our paths turn. Will you join me in this walk and this prayer?


The gospel is political.

I read the comments.  I know they say, “Don’t read the comments,” but I read the comments, and now I feel like I need to respond.  The current comments that I read were on a Facebook post under a link to a Louisville, KY news station’s report about the response of the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to a church asking for a review of Donald Trump’s membership in the PC(USA).  (Spoiler alert: Although he was baptized in a Presbyterian congregation, he’s not currently a member of a PC(USA) congregation, so there is no membership to review or, as the headlines are implying, revoke.)  Mulitple comments, however, didn’t even address this specific question.  Instead they made declarations like “…we as a church have no business in politics.” And that’s what fired me up.

PC(USA) Stated Clerk responds to questions on Trump’s membership.”Leaders at the Presbyterian headquarters in…

Posted by Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on Friday, December 11, 2015

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Deep breaths and a glass of red wine

I planned the first weekend of sabbatical for months. Months. I knew exactly how I wanted to spend those first 24-48 hours and nothing was going to force me to deviate from the plan.  I had a wedding to perform the Saturday before I didn’t have to go to work on Sunday, but as soon as the wedding party was gone from the church I was going to set my sabbatical message on my email, shut the lights out, and consider myself “off.” Dinner and games with friends that night, brunch the next morning complete with fancy crêpes (and maybe a mimosa).  It was all lined up well in advance, and the plan was carried out without a hitch.IMG_0646

It never occurred to me, however, to plan the last night of sabbatical. So here I sit taking deep breaths and drinking a glass of wine. Continue reading

One More Thing – A confirmation sermon on Acts 2:43-47

Acts 2:43-47

So last week I said something about “this one thing” – that if our confirmation students remembered, if any of us remembered nothing else about anything the church speaks into our lives, we can remember this one thing – nothing, absolutely nothing, not what we do or what we don’t do, not what we believe or what we don’t believe, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  And I stand by that.11568242776_42e80297ae

For the most part.  Because it is really hard to just leave one thing there.  Even a really good thing.  Even the thing that I believe is the best news of all.  Even the thing that I believe declares the core tenet of our faith.  Even then it’s hard to leave just one thing and say, “If you remember nothing else….” because sometimes it’s hard to remember even just that one thing.  Sometimes it feels like it is impossible to find comfort in even that one thing.

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Ministry Snapshot – Your mess is mine

I walked in my office this morning to find this:Pentecost mess

It should not have been a surprise since that’s exactly what it looked like when I walked out the door on Sunday after worship and fellowship.  These are what my mom calls “little ones out of big ones” – the scraps left over from the flames my daughter was diligently cutting out to help me get ready for an activity we were doing in worship.  It’s a mess, and a mess that needs to be cleaned up, but it is by no means the biggest mess in my office right now.  It also isn’t the mess that got my first attention today. Continue reading