Monday, February 23, 2015

Ash Wednesday

Psalm 51, Ash Wednesday B, February 18, 2015

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

This is the day when our sinfulness is most apparent. On this first day of Lent, this worship service seems to hold up a mirror and reflect back to us all of our wrongdoing. No matter how good we are, we need Christ’s forgiveness. 

It is on this day most of all when we consider the cruel words that we wish hadn’t escaped our mouths, as well as the kind words that never got out. Today we consider how we could have better spent our time, when we laughed at people struggling in the snow or on the street instead of giving a helping hand. 

We have deceived our neighbors for our benefit. We have given in to the corruption around us, especially when we profit from it. When we turn away from our neighbor, we are turning away from God as well. 

Psalm 51 has something to say about this. In fact, this psalm has some of the most profound descriptions of our sinfulness, contrasted by God’s divine goodness. According to this psalm, we are rebellious in our transgression. We know what is sinful yet we do it anyway. We were born sinners, doing evil from the beginning. Our lives are dark and miserable because of the poor choices that we make.

But just as cruel as we can be, God is gentle. Our God shares steadfast love with us, true loyalty that we do not deserve. God gives us compassion and tender mercy. God’s word is justice revealed. God is pure, God is truth, God is wisdom. God is greater than we could ever imagine, and God is more kind than we could ever deserve.

So, despite our lack of righteousness and despite our lack of moral sense, God is good to us. God rescues and delivers us from the perils of evil. God cleans us of our sins, but possibly not quite how you imagine. God does not snap his fingers and, Voila! our sins are removed. No, the word here for “wash” does not mean to throw laundry in the machine with a Tide pod. 

It instead means to clean by treading, kneading, and beating. Without any soap, the Israelites washed their clothes in this way, by using a wash board to scrub their clothes clean. And with a similar intimate, hands-on process, somehow God makes us purer than snow. God gently but firmly kneads our hearts until they are crushed, breaking our spirits. God does this not to destroy us but to bring us to the point of renewal. Like a phoenix, we arise out of the ashes of our former selves. We are now a new creation in Christ. 

Once God has removed our sins, then we can finally be filled with joy and gladness. Then our days can be a bit brighter. God completely transforms us when God purges us from our sins, yet God does not change. God continues to be true, just, and kind no matter how far or short we have fallen from grace. God doesn’t want any empty rituals or meaningless sacrifices. Instead, God wants us to have a clean heart and a right spirit.

If only it were that easy! Even so, we try our best to shout out praises and share our joy with everyone. We cannot contain the profound release experienced with God’s forgiveness! So, we teach God’s ways to each other even as we hope that we can follow what we teach.

It is all too easy to give in to temptation. It is often simpler to sin. It is easy to watch ourselves do wrong and yet not be able to stop. No wonder some of these verses are so famous. As we are heading down the wrong path, we cry out, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me…”

Throughout this Lent, may you find time to reflect on your need for Christ. Consider how God uses the cross to purge you of your transgression. Then, forgiven and renewed, on Easter morning we may once again shout joyful praises. May it indeed be so. Amen.

Passing on the Mantle

2 Kings 2, Transfiguration B, February 15, 2015
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
I have had many mentors over the years. Certain clergy have touched me in special ways. Some couldn’t help it - they were assigned to me in seminary. Yet even they went out of their way to encourage me and challenge me.

Linda was my youth leader. She has this subtle boldness that I admire. Somehow, she can quiet a room of twenty teenagers without raising her voice. When I wanted to be just like her, she challenged me to become an ordained pastor - something she couldn’t do when she went to school in the 60s. Linda taught me what it really means to be a disciple of Christ.

Another Linda was assigned as my teaching parish mentor. She went above and beyond to continue to care for me long after her obligation was finished. We shared many long lunches sharing the joys and challenges of ministry. Pastor Linda showed me what devotion to God looks like. 

Fred mentored me when I needed it most. On my internship, Fred and I were the perfect team. Not only did we share ministry leadership, but we also shared the same theological mindset. When problems arose within the congregation, Fred and I were each other’s main support. Pastor Fred guided me into the parish with help from the Holy Spirit.

These are three of my mentors. I have spent many long, wonderful hours talking to each of these three about my life and my ministry. Even more important, I observed these talented clergy in their congregations. They trusted me enough to join them in leading their flocks. I would not be who I am today without their influence.

And so it is with each of us. We each have special people who have gone out of their way to form us into who we have become. Maybe your mentors have helped you in your job. You might have had some of your own pastors who have helped shape your faith formation. Maybe you found inspiration in someone unexpected.

In our first lesson, we see a very special example of this. Elijah - I’ll call him by his original Hebrew name Eliyahu - is the mentor. Eliyahu is a well-known and respected prophet in the region. He raises the widow of Zarepheth’s son from the dead (1 Kings 17). He proves to all the Israelites that Baal is a false god by praying that the Lord might burn the sacrifice offered (1 Kings 18). Eliyahu experiences the Lord in the silence (1 Kings 19). Then Elisha became Eliyahu’s servant and apprentice.

Elisha learns all that he can from Eliyahu. We see in our lesson how closely Elisha follows his mentor, traveling together from place to place. Other prophets that they meet warn them that Eliyahu’s time on earth is limited. When Eliyahu asks Elisha what to leave him, Elisha requests “a double portion of your spirit.” Here Elisha is asking for whatever authority the Lord has given Eliyahu to perform miracles. Elisha is asking for the Lord to be with him. Eliyahu cannot guarantee this, yet he hopes that it will happen.

When they reach the Jordan River, we see Eliyahu perform one last miracle. He takes his mantle, rolls it up, and strikes the water. The river immediately responds, splitting so that the two can cross on dry ground. Then in a windstorm coupled with a chariot of fire, Eliyahu is taken up into heaven. Elisha cries out in grief.

This is where our lesson ends, leaving Elisha grieving on the far side of the river. But the story doesn’t end there! Gathering up Eliyahu’s mantle, he strikes the water just as his mentor had done. The water parts just like before. This is the certain proof that the Lord is with Elisha just as the Lord was with Eliyahu. 

The prophets who witness this declare, “The spirit of Eliyahu rests on Elisha.” These men then look for Eliyahu but can’t find him, proving that Eliyahu truly is with the Lord. Then Elisha goes out and performs miracles of his own, including raising another woman’s son (2 Kings 4). He tells Naaman to wash in the Jordan so that the Lord might heal his illness (2 Kings 5). He continued to prophecy until the day he died (2 Kings 13).

This is an important story about passing on ministry. Yet what is most important is that we have little to do in this process. The Lord decides who will take up the mantle next. The Lord decides who will receive a double portion of the Spirit. The Lord decides, and all we can do is get caught up in the whirlwind. 

When we transfer a ministry from one person to another, we may not have the dramatic flourish of Elisha striking the water with his mentor’s mantle. Sometimes, the transfer is a bit subtler. Take when I left my internship site, for example.

During that year of internship, I did a lot. I created a digital library for them, I reorganized their photo board, and so much more. So, at my farewell brunch, I passed a few small tokens back to the congregation. I gave the DVDs from the digital library to one member. I gave photo board supplies to another. I gave all of my photos to the archivist. These were small ways for me to show a change in leadership.

Dennis Tucker describes this in beautiful words: “In some sense, every community of faith stands opposite Jericho with a mantle before it. Occasionally, in rare moments, those who have glimpsed upward and seen the whirlwind of God are compelled to bend down and pick up that mantle, believing that now is the moment for them to strike the waters. The voice of the prophet is rare indeed these days, not because all of the prophets have ascended into the heavens, but because few choose to see the whirlwind, and fewer still choose to live as though it has changed us.”

So too here. Yesterday, a few council mantles changed hands. Although no items exchanged hands, the leadership roles did:
The mantle of Council President was passed to Holly.
The mantle of Stewardship was passed to Pam.
The mantle of Worship and Music was passed to Rhonda.
The mantle of Property was passed to Alan.
The mantle of Evangelism and Fellowship was passed to Christine.

Even as ministry here is changing hands, the Lord continues to be active among us, inspiring our work and answering our prayers. Just as the Lord passed the Spirit from Eliyahu to Elisha, may the Lord do the same for we people of Zion. Amen.

Monday, February 2, 2015


Finally, I finished my cloak! It is a half circle cloak with hood. The outer fabric is wool, and the lining is a cotton plaid. The tatting is made with DMC thread, and I purchased the clasp at a renaissance festival. 

I used the Known World Handbook published by the SCA (2010, 4th edition) as a guide. I also got the shape of the hood from this blog: The tatting pattern is from p. 74 of a German book from 1921 - Tina Frauberger's Schiffchenspitze. You can check it out here:

This project took me many months because 1) I don't enjoy machine sewing, 2) I really don't enjoy hand sewing, and 3) I avoided the hand sewing as long as possible. I broke my sewing machine when I tried to sew on the hood. The tatting also took a while, but I let the project sit for a few months even after the tatting was blocked. Did I mention how much I despise sewing?

I'm sure you care much more about the photos than the descriptions, so here are some close-ups:

The lining was a little short, so I couldn't hem it in a few places.

The tatting is actually crocheted on - I made slip stitches through the fabric. That way, I can remove it before cleaning.

I also recently tatted a new chain for the pendant that I created a while ago. The three strands will help it to stay in place!