A Child, a Dandelion, and God

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IMG_0775 dandelions

My granddaughter Zoe is now eight years old. She has touched my life with memorable moments, including the one described in this sermon from Trinity Sunday, May 30, 2010.

If you would know something about the eighth chapter of the book of Proverbs, spend time with a child. Proverbs 8 speaks of wisdom. Or rather, Wisdom speaks. This is one of the places in the Bible where “wisdom” does not refer to sayings or stories that instruct in good living. Rather, “Wisdom” here is a living being. Because the Hebrew word for wisdom is in the feminine form, it is sometimes translated “Lady Wisdom.”

Drawing upon Eugene Peterson’s “The Message,” here’s a portion of what Lady Wisdom says: “God made me before anything else. And so I was there when God created the earth, the oceans, the mountains, the sky. I saw all things come into being. Day after day I was there, with my joyful applause, always enjoying God’s company, delighted with the world of things and creatures, happily celebrating the human family.”

“Lady Wisdom” tells us she was present at the beginning of all things, and saw God’s creation unfold. Of course, I did not see the beginning of God’s world. But I have been watching the creation of Zoe’s world. And in doing so, have seen something of “Lady Wisdom” and God’s creativity.

Zoe is my granddaughter, age one year, four months, eleven days. I spend a few hours with her each week. And recently, she showed me something of Proverbs, chapter 8. She and I were going for a walk. I said, “Zoe, there are no sidewalks here, so you absolutely must hold my hand.” She’s not always happy about that; she sometimes bolts and goes her own way. But this time she was very good about it. She never let go, not even when she suddenly stopped, leaned over, and picked a dandelion that had caught her attention. She carried the small flower as we continued our walk. A bit later, we turned around, and headed back the way we had come. When we reached the spot where she had picked the flower, she stopped, knelt, placed the flower on the grass, and gently patted it into the ground.

Given my overactive theological imagination, I could see her looking at me and saying, “There, that’s where it belongs! God planted it, we borrowed it for awhile to enjoy, and now it’s back in its place.”

Of course, I have no idea what Zoe was thinking. But it seems fair to say that something about the flower caught her attention and brought her delight. And it was fascinating that she put it back in the spot where she found it.

Spending time with a child opened my eyes anew to the eighth chapter of Proverbs. I was shown something of  “Lady Wisdom” and her delight in God’s world.

Proverbs 8 is a reading for Trinity Sunday because this day we stand in marvel before the mystery and marvel of God. The Feast of the Holy Trinity reminds us that we know only a tiny bit of the grandeur of the God we name One-in-Three, Three-in-One. This is a day we are reminded that no matter how old we may be, there is always more to know, new things to experience, and surprising joys to behold.

Sometimes I forget that. Sometimes I feel tired and old. Sometimes I lose sight of the mystery of the Trinity, and the marvel of creation. But a walk with a child opens me again to the delight and wonder that is all around us.

Seminary professor William P. Brown writes, ” . . . [A]ll knowledge and insight never arrive within a giving lifetime. The aged still have much to learn. As Wisdom’s growth begins in joy, may the wide-eyed delight of children never be lost on the wise. For in Wisdom’s eyes there are really no grown-ups. The quest for wisdom is ever ongoing, and progress on the path will always be marked with baby steps.”

Sometimes we fail to see the wonder of the world, and the One who made it. When that happens, walk with a child. Or at least, walk with child’s eyes. And you will be opened anew to the wonder of God.

To the joyous and astonishing mystery of the God we name Holy Trinity, be all honor and glory and power, forever and ever. Amen.

Front is Moving, Clouds are Breaking

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This hymn text, the first in a new blog category called “Nature/Raptor Writings,” was first sung in the summer of  2011 at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Orwigsburg, PA. Dedicated in honor of hawk watching friends Laurie Goodrich and Ron Homa, it makes use of images drawn from many years of visiting Hawk Mountain. The text may be sung to Beethoven’s tune “Hymn to Joy.” 

Front is moving, clouds are breaking,
winds are coming from northwest
Birders wake up all attentive:
“These days are among the best.”
Climbing rocks of ancient making,
dancing from the rattlesnake;
Watching chipmunks run and scatter,
coming to the owl who’s fake.

Sitting down upon the lookout,
optics raised up to the eyes–
Patient waiting for what’s coming
soon to dot the sunny skies.
Coopers gliding, sharpshin flapping,
falcon racing through the sky.
Broadwing climbing, vulture rocking,
many birds to please the eye.

Eagles golden, and bald also,
make our hearts begin to race;
And the redtails now are coming
keeping up their steady pace.
Monarchs flitting, sometimes landing,
decorations on a tree;
And upon ground voles are skipping,
feasting on a meal for free.

Watch for showers here and there now,
leading to a rainbow sky.
Red and yellow; green and violet;
promise from our God on high:
“I have made this good  creation
that I vow not to destroy;
So I tell you, treat it gently,
precious gift now to enjoy.”

God’s creation filled with glory
of which Wisdom had first sight;
We may join with Wisdom also
in the laughter of delight.
So we lift up songs of praises
to the Holy Trinity:
“Thank you Father, Son, and Spirit
for the gifts of what we see.”

 

Thank you, Col. Arlean Miller

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IMG_0725 St. Peter Plainfiel Plaque

This plaque is in the church yard of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Plainfield Township (near Pen Argyl.)I’ll be at St. Peter’s on May 28, presiding at two worship Services, and participating in a ceremony at the plaque between the Services. In my sermon, printed  below, I’ll remember Col. Arlean Miller, United States Army Nurse. I was privileged to be Arlean’s pastor during the final years of her life. 

In the church year, today is called the Seventh Sunday of Easter. I think of it as a kind of in-between time. You see, this past Thursday was the church’s  festival of the Ascension. Although Ascension Day has fallen out of popular usage, it’s one of the church’s principle festivals, recalling the return of Jesus to the Father in heaven. At the time of the Ascension, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to the church. When the Spirit came, Jesus said, the church would be empowered to tell and live his good news. The promised Spirit came ten days after Ascension, on what we call the Day of Pentecost. During those ten days of in-between time, the followers of Jesus, says today’s First Reading, were constantly devoting themselves to prayer.

When I was a parish pastor, I would sometimes encourage my congregation to use these ten days of Ascensiontide as a time of prayer for the church’s mission. I would urge them to think about what we have received as the people of God, and how we might live faithfully as God’s people today.

This year, in the midst of Ascensiontide, falls the American civic holiday called Memorial Day. It, too, is a fitting time for thoughtful reflection, as we recall our nation’s heritage, and think about how we can live as responsible citizens.

This coincidence of Ascension and Memorial Day falling together cause me to ask, What’s the relationship between love of country and faith in God? How do the two fit together?

For some people, there’s an easy answer: God and country are the same thing. God favors us above all others.

That’s the answer many Americans gave in the years 1861-1865. Northerners said, “Slavery is an evil institution. God is on our side.” Southerners said, “Slavery is a divine institution. God is on our side.”

But at least one American, Abraham Lincoln, had trouble with such simplistic answers. In his Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln, speaking of the two sides in the Civil War, said, “Both read from the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes the aid of God against the other. . . . The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has his own purposes.”

Lincoln’s words remind me that a patriotism too sure of itself, too certain of itself, is a patriotism out of touch with the God of the Bible. For in God’s eyes, all people are beloved.

And so I find myself asking questions like: Is my patriotism too simplistic? Is it so centered on my own nation that it excludes the worthiness and value of other nations? How do I express patriotism in a way that both loves country and trusts God?

A few years ago, in attempting to deal with such questions, I wrote a hymn text for the occasion of the Day of Pentecost falling on Memorial Day weekend. The hymn attempts to lift up themes of both days. Also inspiring the text (especially the third stanza) was a conversation with a serviceman about the difficulties some soldiers have in transitioning back to civilian life, including those who suffer from post traumatic stress syndrome. The hymn as a whole is plea for peace in our troubled world. It says:

O, Spirit’s gentle power,
Come to our hurting earth
And fill the whole creation
With joy of your new birth.
Grant soon the prophets’ promise,
The way that you intend:
An earth filled with your justice,
Shalom that has no end.

Lord, we would honor heroes
By seeking what is right:
And so we pray for new times,
When nations cease to fight.
And for the men and women
Whose lives are on the line,
We pray they safely come home
To families left behind.

We pray for all the wounded
In body or in mind,
We ask your Spirit’s blessing,
In mercies that are kind.
Renew the scarred and broken,
Calm thoughts that will not rest;
Soothe bodies full of fever;
Bring peace to minds distressed.

Oh, hasten the time coming
When peace is drawing near,
And drive from ev’ry nation
The curse of war and fear.
O, Holy One, the Spirit
Save us from conflict’s strife,
And lead us into sharing
A Christ-like way of life.

After writing the hymn, I dedicated it in memory of Arlean Miller. Arlean had been a career Army nurse, retiring with the rank of Colonel. In retirement, she lived in her home town of Orwigsburg. During the final years of her life, I was privileged to be her pastor. We had many conversation, and I learned early on that she had been a nurse during the Viet Nam War. I always pictured her nursing wounded soldiers several miles behind the lines.

But one day, in another one of our talks, she was telling me the story of the time she was in a helicopter that was being shot at. I stopped her and said, “Shot at?” “Yes,” she said matter of factly. I still recall how shaken I was when she told me that. It’s  one thing to read stories about war. It’s another to sit face-to-face with someone who has experienced its danger.

Arlean died at the age of 85. I presided at her funeral, during which I said, “Arlean was a dyed-in-the-wool Orwigsburg Lutheran. She was proud of the town in which she grew up. She never wanted to be from anyplace else.

“And she was dedicated to being a Lutheran. She never wanted to be anything else. She was firm in her beliefs, and certain of where she was from. Yet she had this wonderful ability to move comfortably among people of other places and other beliefs. For example, she spoke often of her visits to her Baptist friends in Alabama. And locally, she volunteered in a Roman Catholic hospital, becoming great friends with the nuns.

“Arlean was patriotic to the core. Yet hers was not the thoughtless patriotism that assumes ‘My country is always right.’ Arlean was not afraid to be critical, and own up to the nation’s mistakes. Such patriotism is the best kind there is.

“She was deeply committed to the military, and to the men and women who served in it. Yet because she had seen first-hand what war does to minds and bodies, she knew the best solutions are not always military ones. On any given issue, you couldn’t assume what her opinion would be. She was not afraid to think things out.”

That’s who Arlean was: a faithful Christian, and a dedicated patriot, who gave deep and prayerful thought to what it meant to be both.

This weekend of Ascension and Memorial Day gives us much to think about; much to ponder what it is to follow Christ and to be loyal to country, and how those two allegiances fit together.

And during this time of prayerful thought, I give thanks for people like Colonel Arlean Miller, who struggle with issues of faith and patriotism; who know that love of country is not a blind love, but a love that calls for thoughtful discernment.

May we all be people of such discernment, seeking to build peace and understanding among the differing peoples of this world.  Amen

 

Baptism at the Stream

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In this eighth and final sermon of my series called “Jensi’s Story,” Jensi’s child is baptized in the presence of family and friends, who represent a variety of races, cultures, and faiths.

IMG_0612 Stream

We’ve been hearing the story of Jensi, who is expecting the birth of the child to be born to her and her late husband. I’m happy to announce that early one morning Jensi’s great-aunt called their pastor and said, “The baby is here, arriving late last night.”

         The pastor quickly set aside what he had been doing, and drove to the hospital. He knew he had to visit today, or he would miss Jensi. They don’t keep Moms and new-borns as long as they used to. And he really enjoyed visiting mothers who had recently given birth. They were exhausted, yes; but there was a glow about them that was delightful to see.

         During the visit, Jensi said, “Pastor, I have a request that may seem a bit strange. I was wondering if instead of having my child’s baptism at the church, we could have it at the stream along the trail?”

Jensi made that request because the voice of Jesus had spoken to her at the stream. The pastor didn’t know about that, though. Other than Aunt Elizabeth, Jensi had told no one about the voice.

         But from previous conversations, the pastor knew the stream was an important place for Jensi. She had many fond memories of special events that had occurred along that trail.

         He replied, “I’ve never done a baptism at a stream before. But I have taken confirmation classes there to renew our baptismal vows. So, sure, we can have the baptism there.”

         A few Sundays later, after worship at the church, several car loads of people made their way to the trailhead parking lot. There the procession to the bridge began. It was led by the pastor, a crucifer carrying a cross, and two acolytes carrying banners that moved in the gentle breeze. Then came Jensi pushing the stroller, with Aunt Elizabeth by her side.

         Right behind them were Jensi’s parents: white, Lutheran, of European ancestry. Next to them were Jensi’s father and mother-in-law: black, Roman Catholic, of African ancestry.

         In the procession were many members of her congregation, along with many of Jensi’s friends. These included Clint and Matt, the married couple who were actively involved in social outreach at a near-by congregation. Her next door neighbors, wearing traditional garb of their Hindu faith. Her child’s pediatrician, bearded, and wearing the turban of the Sikh religion. The Buddhist woman, from whom Jensi had learned the value of daily meditation. The Jewish rabbi who lived down the street from Jensi’s parents. The Muslim couple, who owned a store where Jensi shopped; she had first met them years before when her church had sponsored them as refugees fleeing from terror.

         And there was the children’s choir, skipping and hopping as they joyfully sang a baptismal song.

         Enjoying the spirited song, the procession made its way down the trail, and then at the bridge, stopped next to the stream.

         The Pastor looked at everyone, and said, “As I look out at this assembly today, I think of words spoken by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He was preaching at a town above the Arctic Circle in Norway, in 1991. He said,

‘At home in South Africa I have sometimes said in big meetings where you have black and white together, ‘Raise your hands!’ Then I’ve said, ‘Move your hands,’ and I’ve said, ‘Look at your hands—different colors representing different people. You are the rainbow people of God. And you remember the rainbow in the Bible is the sign of peace. The rainbow is the sign of prosperity. We want peace, prosperity and justice and we can have it when all the people of God, the rainbow people of God, work together.’”

         Then the pastor said, “The rainbow people of God. What a wonderful image! We see it alive here, in this gathering. Most of us here for this baptism are Christians, but not all. Yet you have come to celebrate with Jensi and her child. Thank you for your presence. Thank you for being with us.

“Join us in the prayers as your conscience allows. And when you cannot with integrity join aloud in those prayers, pray silently in whatever way you can, asking God’s blessing upon this child.

         “And if what we do today seems puzzling, feel free to speak with me afterwards, and I’ll try my best to explain our rituals and actions to you.”

         Then the pastor went on to say, “Today Jensi’s child is joined to Jesus through the word and water of Holy Baptism, and so receives the command to follow Jesus. On the mount of Transfiguration, the voice of God spoke to Peter, James, and John about Jesus. The voice said, ‘This is my son, my beloved. Listen to him.’

         “When we listen, what do we hear?  When the disciples wanted to dismiss a hungry crowd, Jesus said, ‘Do not send them away. You give them something to eat.’

         “When Jesus was asked, ‘what is the greatest commandment?’ he replied “Love the Lord your God with all your might and soul and strength.” That is, we are to be drawn ever more deeply into God.

         “And Jesus said, ‘A second commandment is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ And your neighbor, said Jesus, includes your enemy. And so we are to work to break down barriers which would separate us from one another.

         “And Jesus said, ‘Look at the birds of the air; they neither toil nor reap, yet your Father in heaven provides for their need.’ And so we are to join with God in the good work of caring for creation.”

         As Jensi listened to the pastor, she recalled that the voice of Jesus had spoken to her at this stream, telling her that the child had a special role to play in God’s work, and that Jensi had a role to play in raising the child.

         When the pastor had finished speaking, he and Jensi, who carried the child, entered the stream. Scooping up water, the pastor poured it over the baby’s head three times, saying, “Jessica Corinne, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

         And so Jessica was joined to Jesus and to the community which bears his name. She would never hear the voice of her earthly father, who had died before her birth. But she will come to know her heavenly Father; she will hear the voice of Jesus; and she will be touched with the power of the Holy Spirit who will move her to draw people to God; to care for creation; to feed the hungry; and to build bridges that bring people together.   Amen.       

        

New Friendships

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In this seventh part of Jensi’s story, coincidental meetings at a gas pump and a restaurant lead to new friendships.

One morning, Jensi stopped at a gas station. Because she was always confused by the “pay at the pump with your credit card” business, she preferred to pay with cash. But she had none with her that day, so the credit card was her only option.

As usual, it didn’t go well. Did the card go in with this side up—or the other side? Which end had to go in first? And which of those buttons on the gas pump must she push, and in what order?

She put the card in one way, and pushed a button. Nothing happened.

She put the card in another way, and pushed a button. Nothing happened.

She took the card out, holding it helplessly while trying to make sense of the instructions on the pump.

She tried once, twice, three times, and nothing worked. At the next pump was a man in his thirties who noticed her. Approaching her with a smile, he said, “I know how confusing those things can be. They used to fluster me every time, til I got the knack of it. May I help you?”

“Please,” laughed Jensi, “or I’ll be here all day.”

The man deftly worked magic—or so it seemed to Jensi’s eyes. The pump came on line, ready to dispense gas.

“Thanks so much,” she said.

“No problem,” he said. And as he walked to his car he wished her a great day.

Jensi thought, “What a kind act. That starts the day off well. I think it will be a great day!”

It turned out to be a really great day. Work went well; she and her colleagues labored diligently to solve some pressing issues. And at end of the day, their boss gave them a wonderful surprise. He said, “These last few months you have all been doing a fantastic job. The company is recognizing your efforts with gift cards you can redeem at local restaurants.”

So when Jensi got into her car for the trip home, she decided to stop for supper at the local Crackerbarrel.

As she walked through the front door, she saw the man who had helped her at the gas station; he was waiting in line with another man. He smiled at her and said, “It’s good to see you again. How was your day?”

“It was great, just as you wished it would be. One of the good things I received is a gift card to Crackerbarrel, and I’d like to share that gift with someone. Can I treat the two of you to supper?”

The man replied, “That’s very generous.” Then he introduced himself saying, “My name is Clint, and this is my husband Matt. We’re honored to be your guests.”

They sat at the table, examined the menu, and placed their orders. While waiting for their meals, they chatted. Jensi asked Clint and Matt how long they had been married.

Matt replied, “Not quite two years. We were married at St. Barnabas Church on June 27, 2015.

Jensi gasped, and a tear started rolling down her face. As she wiped the tear away, she said, “Excuse me for my emotion. It hit me because that’s the same day I was married.” Wiping the tear from her face, she told them about the death of her husband, and that she was pregnant with his child.

“Wow,” said Clint. “That must be difficult. Grieving such a recent loss, and soon to be a first-time Mom.”

“It’s hard at times. But I’ve got a great support system. My church is very supportive. My friends are understanding. Best of all is my great aunt Beth; she has a real knack for lifting my spirits.”

“We’re willing to help, too,” said Clint. “If you want to, feel free to call upon us. Here’s our number.”

Just then their food arrived. As they ate, they chatted about all sorts of things, like the weather, the local sports scene, and favorite spots to go hiking biking, and birding. And when they parted, they promised to keep in touch.

As she drove home, Jensi pondered the time she had spent with Clint and Matt. She recalled that the voice of Jesus had promised to give her people who would help in raising her child. “I wonder,” she thought, “if Clint and Matt are to be among those people. I have a feeling they will be. I sense in them a friendship, a love, and a compassion that I want my child to have.”

A few days later, Jensi made her regular Tuesday evening visit to her great Aunt Elizabeth, and told her about her dinner at Crackerbarrel.

Elizabeth said, “What a small world! I know Clint and Matt. They’re active in the social outreach and caring ministries of their church, St. Barnabas. I volunteer there once a month, reading stories to neighborhood children. St. Barnabas is alive with Christ’s Spirit. When the county moved the Senior Citizens Center from their area to a more affluent neighborhood, the congregation stepped into the breach, and started a drop-in center for those who needed a hot meal and companionship. It’s a congregation that isn’t afraid to reach out and welcome those who are different. Once a month they get together with a local mosque, seeking to build bridges of understanding between Christians and Moslems. They have a food pantry that serves dozens of families.

“They also sponsor something called ‘Theology and Beer’ at a local bar. I’ve never been to it, but I hear they have engaged in conversation with people of many faiths, as well as people of no faith at all. It’s a lively time of honest talking and listening.

“They have an interesting way of describing ‘Theology and Beer.’ They say, ‘A Christian, a Jew, an atheist, a Buddhist, a Moslem, and a Hindu walked into a bar. They had a great time, laughing, being friends, sharing beliefs, and enjoying one another’s company.’”

“It sounds,” said Jensi, “like they are building lots of bridges. You know, one of the things the voice of Jesus said my child will do is create bridges between people who are different. One of the ways we might prepare the child for that ministry is by involving Clint and Matt in our lives.”

“That’s an excellent idea,” replied Elizabeth. “They are two of the most compassionate people I’ve ever met. God’s Spirit is truly with them. They live the words of Jesus, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven….Be perfect, therefore, as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

Jensi said, “Wait a minute! How can we be perfect like God? We’re human; we can’t be right all of the time.”

Elizabeth replied, “No, we don’t always get things right. But I don’t think that’s what ‘perfection’ means here. I think it’s more about being the kind of people God wants us to be, heading toward the goal God intends. Just as God is always working toward the peace, justice, and wellbeing of the world—what we sometimes sum up in the Hebrew word shalom—so we, too, are to be persistent in working toward that end.

“Clint and Matt have told me that the folks at St. Barnabas keep encouraging one another with the slogan ‘Aim to be who God is calling you to be.’ They created that slogan from a study of the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus calls his people to be light for the world and salt for the earth; shining forth God’s mercy for friends and enemies alike. That vision drives them to build bridges of understanding with others. In doing so, they are faithful children of God.

“Their witness can help your child—and all of us—grow into the people God wants us to be.”

Amen.

The Rainbow Christmas Tree

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IMG_0522 Rainbow Christmas Tree

In this sixth part of “Jensi’s Story,” a child’s drawing inspires Jensi to write a poem about God’s desire that we care for creation and love our neighbor.

While visiting her great-aunt Elizabeth, Jensi noticed a yellowing piece of paper enclosed behind the glass of a picture frame. On the paper was a sketch of a Christmas tree, with a rainbow sitting atop the tree.

Jensi asked, “Aunt Beth, this Christmas tree, with the rainbow at its peak: Who drew it?”

Elizabeth smiled and replied, “I did, when I was seven years old. My grandfather asked me to make it. He said he wanted the rainbow atop the tree because tree and rainbow together remind him of God’s mercy for the world. The Christmas tree, he said, celebrated Christ’s birth, while also drawing attention to the tree of the cross on which Jesus died, as well as the tree of life in the book of Revelation with its leaves of healing for all the nations.

“My grandfather said that the rainbow reminded him of two important stories Christians tell. The first story is God’s promise to Noah to care for creation. As a sign of that promise, God placed a rainbow in the sky. And the rainbow’s many colors he said, point to a second story: God’s love for all the peoples of the earth, a love we see coming to the world in the birth of Jesus. He told me that when he was a child he had learned this song:

          Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world;

         Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight;

         Jesus loves the little children of the world.

         Ev’ry color, ev’ry race, they are covered by his grace,

         Jesus loves the little children of the world.

“Wow,” said Jensi, “that’s pretty neat. I like it.” And with her cell phone, she snapped a photo of the Rainbow Christmas Tree

And over the next several days, Jensi kept thinking about that Tree. She realized that it pointed to two of the things that the voice of Jesus said her child would do: encourage people to care for creation, and create bridges of understanding among people who differed from one another. As Jensi pondered these things, she found herself writing a poem, which when completed went like this.

The Rainbow Christmas Tree                    
Is a reminder of God’s intention   
To cherish the life of all creation.

In the Noah Story,
God looked, and felt deep grief at what he saw:
An earth made for beauty and harmony

Was not in unity. 
Evil ran deeply in harsh and hard hearts;
Foul mouths spoke aloud the mind’s ugly thoughts. 

Bullying—war—abuse—
Violence—terror—greed filled ev’ry land,
And God regretted the work of his hand.
 
So in deep grief God said,
“No more. It cannot continue this way;
I will end it, and begin a new day. 

“I will destroy it all,
Except for Noah, his kin, and a pair
Of every living creature of earth.” 

The rain came, the flood rose,
And all died in the water’s raging dark
Except those who were safely in the ark.

But now God felt new grief.
God said, “Toward evil human hearts are bent;
Yet the answer is not the flood I sent. 

“Never again will I 
Destroy my whole creation. As a sign
Of my pledge to people and all creatures 

I set a bow in sky,
A reminder to be gentle with earth,
To seek a better way for life’s rebirth.”

In the fullness of time,
God decided the better way would be 
The birth of his Son, the Nativity. 

In the Christmas story 
A young Galilean girl hastens off
To visit an old Judean woman. 

Angels come to two men:
An old priest offering the ancient rites,
A carpenter asleep after day’s work. 

And to shepherds, thought by
Many to be unclean, with uncouth views,
Comes a surprise announcement of good news. 
 
But the greatest surprise 
Is the foreigners who come from afar,
Scientists who were guided by a star 

To see the new born king.
With faces odd, with clothes and accents strange,
They enter the house: Mary welcomes them. 
 
In the Christmas story 
Male, female, native, alien, young, old,
Religious, secular: All hear good news.
 
These of Christ’s birth story
Foreshadow Jesus’ coming ministry
Of embracing the world’s diversity.  

That’s why the rainbow sits
Atop the tree. It is a sign that God’s 
Love is not given for one kind alone.  

The Rainbow Christmas Tree
Roots us deeply in Messiah Jesus,
Calling us to partner in God’s good work.

Thus we pay attention 
To the beauty of the natural world,
And seek to treat it gently and kindly.

We protect open land;
We preserve endangered species, valuing 
Them because they are created by God. 

Taught by birds of the air,
We live simply, content with daily bread,
Striving to keep our carbon footprint low.
 
We support policies 
That keep air clean, rivers pure, streams sparkling,
Fields fruitful, fish spawning, forests growing.
 
We are people of the 
Rainbow Christmas Tree, called to bear good fruit,
Caring for the gifts of God’s creation.
 
As people of the Tree,
We also seek to love one another,
Whatever our race, gender, or color. 
 
Heeding John’s warning word,
We beware the danger of too highly
Exalting our own kind. So we humbly

Attempt to build bridges
With those we may not know nor understand.
Through listening and through conversation
 
We seek common respect 
Among gay and straight; Hispanic, black, white;
Liberal, conservative, moderate.
 
We build relationships 
Between atheists and Christians and Jews,
Among Moslems, and Buddhists, and Hindus. 
 
The prophet Isaiah 
Spoke of a time lion and lamb will lie down
Together in peace. We yearn for that day.

Walking the Jesus’ Way,
We use our minds, and our skills, and our wealth
To support causes promoting civic health. 

We oppose any “ism”
That would divide or tear people apart,
For such actions bring grief to God’s holy heart.

The Rainbow Christmas Tree 
Reminds us of God’s commitment to earth,
His desire for its ever-new re-birth.

May the Rainbow Christ Tree
Inspire us to value creation,
As well as peoples of ev’ry nation.

                                                      Amen.

Bread for All

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There is a huge gap in our world between rich and poor, and many people go to bed hungry each night. That’s a political, economic, and social problem. And for Christians, it’s also a spiritual problem, for Scripture witnesses to God’s desire for economic equality. That’s the message of this sermon, the fifth in the series called “Jensi’s Story.”

         After church, Jensi said to her great-aunt Elizabeth, “Did you hear the words from Isaiah today? They brought together some of the things we’ve been talking about lately, like light in the darkness and the role of humility in the life of faith. And they also mentioned something else I’ve wanted to talk with you about: feeding the hungry. That’s one of the things that the voice of Jesus said the child in my womb would focus on. I know, Aunt Elizabeth, that hunger ministry is important to you. When did that begin?”

         Elizabeth said, “More than 50 years ago, when I was in college. I saw pictures of hungry children that have never left my mind. I determined then and there to support food pantries and hunger appeals.

         “My commitment was intensified a few years later by our pastor. He had a unique way of encouraging support of our church wide hunger program. He was a hawk watcher, and he asked us to make a financial commitment for each migrating eagle he saw during the fall migration. Every Sunday morning, he would stand in church, and do this: ‘Okay, everybody, arms out. It’s time for eagle flaps. Here we go. How many eagles did Pastor see this week? Count it down with me. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Stop. That makes a total of 87 eagles this year. But what’s most important isn’t the eagles I see, but the gifts you make to the Hunger Appeal. Thank you for your generosity!’

         “That pastor’s been gone from our congregation for many years now. But we caught the spirit, and continue to give generously to the Hunger Appeal.

         “So the photographs and the pastor’ somewhat unusual method initiated my commitment to hunger ministries. But what really kept me going is Scripture. Because the social issue the Bible most often talks about is economic security for all people. For example, there’s these words from Leviticus, chapter 25: ‘Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.’

         “Hey,” said Jensi, “those words are on the Liberty Bell. I didn’t know they were from the Bible.”

         “Many people don’t,” said Elizabeth. “And many people take them to refer to political freedom. But in their Biblical setting, the words refer to economic freedom. God told the people of Israel to proclaim a Jubilee Year every half century. During Jubiliee, all people were to be set on the same financial footing, which in those day meant land was to be returned to the original family of ownership. And since the land had been divided equally when the Israelites first came to it, everyone would have the same amount.”

         Jensi thought a moment, and then said, “Didn’t our Pastor tell us a story about that in his email devotions?”

       “I think he did,” replied Elizabeth. Pulling out her cell phone, Jensi did a quick search of her emails. This is the story she found.

         Moses led the people of Israel to Mt. Sinai. There they received the Torah: stories of God’s mercy, and God’s instruction on how to live. Moses would go to the top of the mountain, and God would talk to him. Then Moses would tell the Israelites everything that God had said. Moses taught the people how God wanted them to live with one another.

         Among the people was a young girl named Yenna. Her mind was sharp; she enjoyed thinking, and she wondered about many things.

         One day she was wondering, “What would happen if some of our people did not have enough to live on?” It made her sad to think that one day her friends might not have enough to eat, and that they would have no place to live. It bothered her so much that she went to see Moses.

         “Moses,” she asked, “does God ever worry that the day may come when some of our people are hungry or without a home?”

         Moses smiled at her, and said, “Ah, Yenna, what a good and godly heart you have! If all the Israelites had a heart like yours, my job would be so much easier.

         “Yes, Yenna, God thinks about such things. God wants everyone to have what they need. Do you remember when we were traveling toward Mt. Sinai? We did not have enough food. That’s when God began to give us manna every day. Do you remember what I taught you about this manna?”

         Yenna replied, “You told us that every morning the manna would appear, and we should gather what we needed that day. You warned us not to take more than was necessary, for the excess would only rot. And you said that God was not only giving us food, but was teaching us that everyone should have enough, and no one should have too much.”

         Then Yenna stood still for a moment. Moses saw that she was thinking about something. Then Yenna said, “Will God always give us manna?”

         Moses said, “No. When our people reach the promised land, the manna will stop. Instead, every family will be given land on which to grow food.”

         Yenna said, “Farming is hard work. What if something goes wrong? What if someone in the family gets so sick that they can’t harvest the crop? Or what if fire or weather destroys the crop before it is harvested? What will they do for food then?”

         “That could be a problem,” said Moses. “Sadly, in some cases, a family may have to sell their land, or perhaps become slaves to other people. Over the years, then, some folks would have too little, and some would have too much. But God has a plan to keep that from happening.

         “It will work like this. Every fifty years, a special trumpet will sound. And a shout will go up, “It’s the Jubilee Year! Everyone is to return to the land their families first owned. Everyone who has become a slave is set free. In the Jubilee Year, liberty will be proclaimed throughout the land. It will be a time of great joy. For this is God’s way of making sure everyone has enough, and no one has too much.”

         “Wow!” said Yenna. “That’s really good news.”

         Then Yenna was quiet, and Moses saw her thinking. Finally he asked, “What are you thinking about?”

         She said, “I’m coming up with a way to tell everyone this good news.”

        Moses said, “How will you tell it?”

         “Like this,” said Yenna.

                           “Enough for you, Enough for me, That’s why God has set us free.

                           “Food for you, Food for me, That’s why God has set us free.

                           “Land for you, Land for me, That’s why God has set us free.

                           “Enough for you, Enough for me, That’s why God has set us free.”

         Moses smiled and applauded. Then Moses gave her a hug, and said, “Yenna, you have a heart to obey God. May your heart always be true.”

         After reading this story, Jensi said, “Aunt Beth, the world has never followed God’s plan of economic equality, has it?”

         “No,” replied Aunt Beth. “And it must make God cry every day, to see how so many of his children have so very little while some hoard much more than they need. Economic equality is as big a problem as it ever was. There is a huge gap between rich and poor. That can be viewed as an economic problem, or a social problem, or a political problem. It is all three. And for Christians, it is also a spiritual problem. For God’s justice is that everyone have manna each day. God’s justice is that everyone have daily bread.    Amen.