Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Looking Through the Lens of God’s Easter Promise

Christ Crucified is all of the hidden, private, tragic pain of history made public and given over to God. Christ Resurrected is all of that ungrieved suffering received, loved, and transformed by an All-Caring God. The Cross is the banner of what we do to one another and to God. The Resurrection is the banner of what God offers us in return.                      
Richard Rohr, on the Holy Resurrection of Jesus Christ

In a world where things are not always experienced as they should be or I/we would like them to be (injustice, indifference, selfishness, despair), the Resurrection of Jesus offers a lens through which we can see how life is intended to be lived. Through God’s Easter Promise, Jesus overcomes the sting of death, the sting of our/my pride and selfishness, so that once again we might begin anew.

Paul’s Lenten blog on little deaths and resurrections reminds me of this promise. Each time I/we offer forgiveness, let a nagging thought go, answer God’s call, offer compassion, and/or open ourselves to prayer and the mystery of new life in God, we are opening ourselves to ‘something new.' The Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ speaks of God’s eternal love for and relationship with us. Created in the image of God, we too can offer our own personal ‘deaths and resurrections’ in our daily walk and relationship with God, and with ‘our neighbors.'

As we travel along our own journey(s), individually and communally, we can practice and live into God’s Love….through forgiveness (as we have been forgiven)…..through compassion (as God first loved us)…….through mindfulness (we are made in the image of God)…and through reverence (in prayer and by the power of the Holy Spirit). God’s Easter Promise through the Resurrection offers the chance to transform and heal brokenness. We are given a lens to see beyond our individual concerns and become open to new possibilities.

Today, may we once again hear our name being called, recognize Christ in the breaking of bread, cast our nets again, and know the good news that the Lord is risen. Alleluia!”–Rev. Brian McLaren


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Messy Love

Maundy Thursday
Here is the source of every sacrament,
The all-transforming presence of the Lord,
Replenishing our every element
Remaking us in his creative Word.
For here the earth herself gives bread and wine,
The air delights to bear his Spirit’s speech,
The fire dances where the candles shine,
The waters cleanse us with His gentle touch.
And here He shows the full extent of love
To us whose love is always incomplete,
In vain we search the heavens high above,
The God of love is kneeling at our feet.
Though we betray Him, though it is the night.
He meets us here and loves us into light.
                Malcolm Guite

It’s the day of the Last Supper. The day of betrayal. The day of tears in a dark garden. It’s the day before Jesus’ death. On this day, Jesus gives his body and blood. He knew he was going to die. Holy Week is not for the faint of heart.

Today, we remember some of Jesus’ most poignant acts at the very end of his life. He washed the feet of his disciples. And then he ate his last meal of bread and wine, saying, “Remember me.”

What will your last days be like? Will you take care of others the way Jesus took care of his disciples? Will you practice some act of humility? Have you loved your neighbor as yourself?

Humility and service to others is the best expression of love. It’s easy to sit in your ivory tower, picking and choosing tasks that you think are important, respected, or alluring. But Jesus chose the lowliest of tasks, usually left to servants. He was a leader and a teacher and he was not only willing, but prepared himself to do this service to his people. Even Judas, his own betrayer, felt Jesus’ gentle touch on his feet.

Life is messy sometimes, isn’t it? We pray the Lord’s Prayer – “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” I have a hard time with this… I say I forgive, but in my heart of hearts, I’m not sure if I really do. Or better, when I am pretty sure forgiveness has been granted, but then I think about the situation or person again, and feel that resentment and bitterness bubble up. Could I wash Judas’ feet? Could you? Jesus forgave Judas. Before the betrayal even happened! Loved him enough to wash him, knowing full well what was about to unfold.

If we’re to follow Jesus, we MUST be humble and love one another! It doesn’t have to be perfect; we don’t have to live in complete harmony. But love does have to be real and honest, even if it is messy. Love is complex, hard, blood, sweat, and tears. True love is scary and tedious.

I wonder what Jesus felt as he practiced love out loud that night. Was he afraid for (or of) Judas? Did he shed tears, seeing Peter’s tears to come? Was he completely at peace, knowing his destiny, and that in the end everything was going to be all right? Did he recall moments of tenderness and laughter and openness with his friends? Did Jesus really, truly know that by bleeding on the cross the next day, that his love would unfold millions of times over, thousands of years later? Heady stuff.

Love God, love people. Simple as that.

May you rest in love today.

Monday, April 14, 2014


This blogging business always seems like such a good idea when I agree to do it, and such a bad idea when I have to open a vein and bleed. But I did agree and can procrastinate no longer, so here goes.

‘If I only had six weeks to live...’ is our Lenten theme, and the question of the day is: Who do I need to forgive and/or reconcile with?

Myself, primarily, for being so judgmental, though I don’t like to admit that I am. For being envious of others. Though I don’t like to admit that I am often that, either. For holding grudges, and for severe impatience. For not accepting people for who and how they are rather than who and how I want them to be. I hate having to admit that I, too, often think and want to say, ‘Build a bridge and get over it all ready.’ Or, ‘Put on your Big Boy boxers and deal with it.’ Or ‘How long have you thought you were God?’

In those following moments of humiliating self-awareness and self-reflecting, I picture God shaking his head and laughing with long and sorely test exasperation at me, and Jesus, sighing yet again and saying, ‘Well, at least she didn’t say it out loud this time.’

And then there are those inadvertent offenses. Clueless as I often am, I blithely sail on, completely unaware that I have offended, or hurt, or demoralized someone with my words, my actions, or my lack thereof. I can get so focused sometimes that I become totally oblivious to who and what is around me and how what I do or say comes across to them. So, I probably need to reconcile with more people than I am aware of and it is highly improbable that I would be able to do it in six weeks’ time.

But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. Which brings up another question posed for this Six Weeks Lenten theme: What needs do I have before I die?

We’ll talk about that next time.

May your life be a sacred journey.

Janet M.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Such Profound Ministry in so Little Time…

This Lent we were invited and challenged to think about how we would live differently if we only had six weeks to live. And in the context of that theme, we reflected on the Seven Last Words of Christ. In other words we looked at how Jesus used the last six HOURS of his life, even on the cross, to bring healing, life, and ministry to those around him. It's been a thought-provoking theme and I've appreciated the conversations I've had with members of our congregation around this theme.

I'm always amazed and moved by the Seven Last Words of Christ. I never grow weary of hearing them. For me, the Seven Last Words of Christ help me understand a little better - as I enter Holy Week - why we adore Jesus, why we love him so dearly, and why we worship him. Even though entire books cannot exhaust the meaning of the Seven Last Words of Christ, I'd like reflect on a few of those Last Words of Christ that spoke to me in particular this Lenten Season, in the context of "six weeks to live."

If I only had six weeks to live could I forgive those who have hurt me? Jesus did. In the last six hours of his life Jesus forgave those who crucified him. Not after they repented or showed any signs of remorse, but while they were crucifying him he forgave them. Wow. I find forgiveness to be a lot easier when someone has said they're sorry or when they've changed their ways, but this is not the kind of forgiveness Jesus modeled from the cross. Jesus forgave unconditionally, when there was great personal cost for him. Lord, who do I need to forgive unconditionally so that I can be set free from the anger and bitterness?

If I only had six weeks to live could I still minister to others who are hurting? Jesus did. In the last six hours of his life Jesus, in the midst of his suffering, found the love and compassion to care for his mother and his beloved friend and disciple, John. How incredible that in the midst of his own pain, Jesus saw their pain and had to be sure that they would both be taken care of. I find that ministry comes easier when life feels balanced, all the bills are paid and everyone's healthy. Again, a stark contrast from what Jesus modeled from the cross. Is it possible that we can minister to others even more powerfully when we ourselves are hurting? Lord, who do I need to care for, even in the midst of my own life challenges and heartaches?

If I only had six weeks to live would I have the love and compassion to tell others about the kingdom of God? Even those who are less lovable, or those who seem to be doing just fine without God in their life, thank you very much? Would I have the courage and concern to talk to THEM about God? Once again, Jesus did. In the last six hours of his life, Jesus, the one who lived a fully obedient life, showed mercy on a condemned criminal hanging on a cross next to Jesus, in the very last hours of his life. Jesus could have judged the criminal, along with the rest of society, but instead had compassion on him, and invited him into the kingdom of God.

Sharing the good news of Jesus with someone who is hungry for God is a joy. Sharing God's hope and peace with someone who seems hardened or angry at God can be difficult. But Jesus died for everyone. Lord, show me who needs to hear your message of grace and forgiveness. Please give me the courage and faithfulness to share your love, even with those who "appear" distant or uninterested in spiritual matters, remembering that we ALL have a deep need for your abundant grace.

So, if I only had six weeks to live, could I reflect even a glimmer of the kind of selfless love Jesus demonstrated from the cross? It's a very humbling question to consider. Truth be told, I know I miss opportunities every day to minister to others, to bring healing to others, and to advance the kingdom of God. I also know that this is why Jesus died for me. Because I fall short. Every day. But maybe, just maybe, I am a bit more aware of how God could use me TODAY, if only - by God's grace - I can pay closer attention to God's Spirit in my life and around me, and obey a little more quickly when the Spirit nudges me… for Jesus' sake.

Thanks be to God for the indescribable gift of his son, Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace,
Cara H.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Continuing Bonds - Our Legacy as Christians

What a “ride” this Lent has been for me with our 2014 Lenten theme: “If I Only Had Six Weeks to Live...," especially a chance to reaffirm my faith through continuing bonds with people who are important to me and with my understanding of God and Jesus who is in the fullness of God. 

Immediately after our weekly noon Lenten services, I have enjoyed facilitating a discussion on the meaning of our Lenten worship, including: the bell rung to call us to worship; personal stories shared by congregational members; meditations offered by one of our pastors; prayers and hymns; followed by a range of topics that emerged in a small group discussion in the adult education area on the meaning of dying and death.

For some of us there are “bucket list” items. Options for planning our own funeral or memorial service and making it easier on our loved ones, and the vital importance of completing a financial will and an ADVANCE DIRECTIVE (i.e., a “living will” and “power of attorney for health care”), were stressed. We also shared personal experiences we have had with dying relatives as well as some of the “continuing bonds” we maintain with them in the months and years to follow. 

A chance to share and compare life stories has a healing element and may even be an encouragement to complete an advance directive, as have so many in La Crosse...a national model of advance care planning! 

And then came an invitation to speak at Seekers Bible Study just last week on “The Meaning of Jesus.” I accepted and promptly edited the title to “The MEANINGS of Jesus” because our understanding of our Christian faith continues to emerge as we learn how to become active listeners in honoring our neighbors faith. 

Consider, for instance, how some of us “see” Christ-meanings in so many verses of the Old Testament text, while others of us do the reverse and “see” the meaning of Jesus life in the traditional Jewish cultural and religious setting of his time. Given this confusion, are we surprised that still others of us prefer to “see” the Spirit of God and the life of Jesus through personal devotional and meditative practices? 

And if this is not enough to ask... dare we acknowledge that each of us may well construct our own “meaning” when we think about, feel connected to, and act on the call of Jesus who is the center of our Christian faith? As Marcus Borg suggests, a faith that is rooted in basic trust in God who undergirds us; a faith that holds fidelity to Jesus and the Bible as the center of our Christian faith; and a faith that visions all of creation and the meaning of our lives as a way of being one with God, of loving God and all that God loves.

Being a Christian means to me that I integrate both of these worlds of experience - the meaning of dying and death AND the meaning of Jesus - as I continue to seek ways of being a whole person of faith in today's world.

So, Lent has been a real “trip” for me, a trip that has opened the door of my soul to sharing personal experiences of loss and growth, to sharing the challenges of the meanings of Jesus, and of my responsibility to be an active listener to what faith means to people in my world and at English Lutheran Church. 

Thank you, Vision Board, for the emphasis our congregation has placed on growing small groups during the past seven years!

Bob B.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Little Deaths and Resurrections

What is Lent all about anyway? Why do we “give things up?" What’s with the fish? Why do we throw this huge slow-down into the year, just when spring is beginning to show its little green head from the soil? Why do we always have to talk about death?

Good questions.

Questions for which I don’t have ready answers. Google can help with some of them I suppose. And this year, after a long and difficult winter, it is perhaps doubly exasperating to have a late Easter -- which drags Lent on WELL into April.

Last week’s blog by Jen is so eloquent. She is clear about what she likes about Lent. I fear I am not so clear, but lately I have been finding some resonance in the idea that life is a series of little deaths and resurrections. I am more aware of my own anyway. 

Here are some:

The death of my prejudicial ideas about people who were different than me when I went into the “big city” for college and met folks of all ethnicities, gender, sexual orientations and religions. The more I spoke with them the more I embraced the idea that we are all children of God and are all unique conduits for God’s love.

The death of my need to define myself by my job title or my annual salary when I chucked them both to start over after hitting burnout. I discovered I didn’t need the externals to define myself and found what mattered most to me was not achievable by title or money.

The death of my belief that I was invincible when my body turned against me and left me in a hospital for a week with no discernable cause. I was a little more humble and a little more careful in how I pushed myself.

There have been a few more deaths and resurrections along the way as well, along with the knowledge that there are some things that I …… perhaps need to work on killing! There are still some rough edges on the ego that could die. There is a rush to judgment that could be jettisoned. And more…

Every Lent, I feel challenged to set down and walk away from the burdens that weigh me down and to let them die at the foot of the cross.  So I embrace the Lenten journey, not so much to deny myself, but to defy my ‘self’ and resurrect more of the love of God into my daily life.

Paul S.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Jesus, Remember Me

I admit it. I am a Lent and Holy Week junkie. A lot of people embrace the quiet, watchful, yet softly joyful season of Advent. They rejoice at Christmas to finally announce “Born is the King of Israel! Christ the Savior is Born!” Easter brings the triumphant return of Lord – “He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!” But for whatever reason, Lent and Holy Week … well, they don’t go by ignored, although I don’t imagine a lot of folks out there revel in the season of Lent like I do.

I love everything about Lent. The somberness: gathering for midweek worship in a darkened sanctuary in the quiet evening. The physical: the mark of ashes, giving up (or adding something in) for these weeks, the waving of palms, the washing of feet. (Although I do NOT love the always annoying McDonald’s fish sandwich commercials.) I probably love these things because the season of Lent goes along nicely with my winter blues. I feel as though I can embrace my melancholy and depression; it’s welcomed here. Jesus is suffering right along with me… being faced with temptations, hungering in the wilderness, and finally, the heroic finale of giving his life.

When they came to the hill and crucified Jesus along with the criminals, Jesus prayed. “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.” They threw dice for his clothes, taunted him, toasted him with sour wine. “So you’re King of the Jews! Save yourself!” One criminal beside Jesus cursed him. The other criminal shut him up, asking if he had no fear of God, telling him that they deserved this fate, but that Jesus did not. Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.” Jesus said, “Don’t worry, I will. Today you will join me in paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43)

This confessed thief likely did not know scripture, understand theology, had probably never recited a creed nor joined a church or been baptized. At this point, he was incapable of turning his life around. He simply asked Jesus to remember him.

Our midweek worship theme is “If I Only Had Six Weeks to Live.” Thinking about death is not fun by any stretch of the imagination. Making plans, preparing your family (given the chance), wondering what legacy you’re leaving behind. Do you wonder what you’re learning? What your mission is? If you’re leaving behind something meaningful for your loved ones?

Most of us struggle with this… constantly wondering if we’re doing the right things, saying the right things, feeling the right things. I panic at not knowing my mission, and somehow missing it. Especially being a mom, I’m pretty sure I’m screwing something up. As a child, sister, niece, friend, colleague, stranger – yep, pretty sure I’m screwing up stuff there too. I constantly wonder, after I’m gone, what exactly people will remember about me. What is my legacy? Have I done anything worthwhile? I don’t feel like I’ve done or been anything great. I’m over here, leading my humdrum life, hiding in the corner, not wanting to be noticed. Yes, I do good and wonderful things with and in my life, but I know it’s not enough. I can do better. As for the few good and wonderful things I do, I’m sure there are MORE than enough not so good things to balance it out.

But as a Child of God, I am perfect. Jesus knows my imperfections and chooses to look the other way; grace is freely given, not earned. Even in the darkest days of Lent and melancholy, when I’m not sure I’ll make it through, Jesus does notice me. He comforts me, even when he’s the one I’m mourning. I am that criminal beside him. Jesus will remember me.

If you’re questioning whether or not Jesus will remember you when that time comes, fear not. Jesus knows you. All of you. Every freckle on your face, every thought you have, every deed you do.  He knows your legacy, and your loved ones will too (even if you never figured it out for yourself!). “Don’t worry, I will remember you,” Jesus says. He will welcome you with open arms in paradise.