Thursday, May 30, 2013

Blessed animals

Michael and I have begun to actively look for a kitten.  It has been about two months since our beloved Delilah's health failed to the point that we had to put her down (she was 17 years old).  Despite, Michael's original plea that we had to wait a year, I think he is finally ready (though he has never had a kitten before just my older cats).

We have looked on Craigslist and other on-line sources; we've been to the Danbury shelter and just yesterday, submitted our application.  When I last adopted a cat from a shelter, it  was a simple form and you got to take the cat home with you that day.  It is much more involved now - with a 5 page application including references and the possibility of a home visit.  On the one hand, it does seem to be a bit much - especially for a long time cat owner like myself, but after hearing horror stories about how some people have treated animals, I can understand their caution and thoroughness.

Animals of all shapes and sizes have had a varied role in the lives of people throughout the ages.  For some, it seems as if they are disposable or even a nuisance.  This viewpoint brings to mind all those creatures that are now extinct such as passenger pigeon, red gazelle, and the eastern cougar as well as those that are critically endangered such as Siberian  tigers, Asian elephants and lowland gorillas.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth and all that dwells therein.  In Genesis 22:18, God saw that it was not good that man should be alone.  First was created all the animals of the earth and then finally a woman who was a more suitable partner.  Just as we were created to be in relationship with one another and in communities, we were given the gift of animals in which to name and claim. 

Unfortunately, when we heard that we were to have "dominion" over these creatures, many viewed them as something to be used and not necessarily care for.  God places us as stewards and caretakers of creation and all its creatures.  They are placed among us for us to marvel as God's wonderful and sometimes "silly" imagination (think of the platypus or what other ones come to mind for you?).  They are given to us as food, but we are called to honor their lives (much as many a Native American tribe did).  They are a vital part to the very workings of creation.

So while the application for a kitten seems to be overly cautious, it serves as an example of the care and concern that we should have for all of God's creation.  For in the beginning, God did create the earth and all its inhabitants and proclaimed that "it is good".  And so, we celebrate and honor the goodness of God's creation.

BTW - this Sunday, June 2nd (5pm), we will be having our 3rd Annual Blessing of the Animals in our rear parking lot.  All are invited to bring their pets for a special blessing.  They need to be on leashes or other suitable carriers.  If they don't "play" well with others, you are invited to bring a picture of them.  Children may also bring a stuffed animal to be blessed.  Even if you don't currently have a pet, please feel free to come and celebrate the gift of God's animals.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sacred ground

I  hate to wear shoes.  One of the very first things that I do when I get home is to kick off my shoes (which are then picked up by our dog, Cooper and its then a search process to find them again).  Even in the cold weather, I  am apt to go barefoot, using our cat, Mickey to keep my feet warm as I sit with the legs tucked up on the couch.  I would be perfectly happy if I could go without shoes most of the time.

Maybe this is why I have such an affinity for the story of Moses and the burning bush in Exodus 3.  While he is tending his sheep, Moses comes upon a wondrous sight - a bush that is aflame and yet not consumed by those flames.  God calls  out to  him from the flames, telling him to "remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground" (Exodus 3:5).  The very place where Moses was tending sheep as he went about  his regular daily routine - this ground was holy.

Think about the holiness of the earth: God gathered the dust of the earth and formed us in his image, breathing his Spirit within us, giving us life (Genesis 2:7).  From the sacred ground and with God's holy breath, we are formed and made into God's beloved people.

Most of the time, we don't think much about the places that we stand.  They are just where we plant our feet - be it for one step or long waits.  The ground doesn't have much meaning; its just there.

Yet, stop and reflect on all those places that you find yourself in your daily life - from homes, work, school, and the like.  The relationships, the tasks and the activities that we engage in as we stand and walk in these places are holy as well.  The ways in which God  calls us to live faithfully and fruitfully where we stand are sacred and anointed by God.  God had called Moses from his sacred place of shepherding to another place where he served as God's voice that promised and delivered freedom.  It is not just the one space that we stand that is holy - but all the earth is holy and provides us the means to which we can live out our callings as God's people.

Here is a poem by Macrina Wiederkehr (from Seasons of Your Heart: Prayers & Reflections) that speaks of this holy ground:

The Moses in my heart trembles
not quite willing
to accept the prophet hidden in my being
wondering how much it will cost
to allow that prophet to emerge.

O child of unnecessary shoes
cast them off
and stand in readiness
on this holy ground.
For the Egypt in people's lives
demands that you see the burning bushes
all around you
burning wildly
calling you
away from the comfort
of well-protected feet.

The ground you stand on is holy.
Take off your shoes!
The ground of your being is holy.
Take off your shoes!
Awaken your sleeping prophet
Believe in your Moses
and go...

Thursday, May 16, 2013

In summary...

This past weekend, Michael and I traveled to Lexington, KY for a memorial service for the Rev. Dr. Homer D. Carter.  He was an instrumental mentor and pastor in Michael's own faith journey and beloved by many who were blessed to have known him. 

Whether I am attending a funeral or officiating at one, I am always struck by the difficulty in fully summarizing someone's life.  Many of my words seem to be inadequate in encompassing the totality of a person.  Memories of specific events and characteristics highlight pieces of them.   Pictures and mementos claim moments in their lives.  Obituaries give us a brief glimpse into their families, work and life history. And yet, each of our beloved family and friends are so much more than even the abundance of these memories, photograhs and words.

St. Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians that "love never ends" (I Corinthians 13:8).  This "love" chapter is most often used for weddings and more romantic occasions.  Yet, the fullness of this love is revealed, for me, most often at death.  Love encompasses not just the person that we are grieving, but even more, the God who revealed the magnitude and power of his love.

Death is often viewed as the rolling credits at the end of people's lives or even called that "final curtain".  Yet, for us as Christians, we see not the end but the continuation of lives that have been claimed by Christ.  Through the cross and the tomb, Christ raised the curtain of death to reveal eternal life.  And we experience this eternity through love.

I did not stop loving my fathers or grandparents just because I can no longer see them in this earthly life.  And their love is not buried with them under the earth.  Love never ends.  We continue to love.  We come to know and believe that even our deepest sorrow cannot erase our love for one another - because our love is received and given by the Greatest Love of them All, Christ our Lord.  Love endures, withstands and overcomes all the pain and sorrow of this world because it has raised the curtain on death and revealed the fullness of God's love for us.

We may not be able to put into words the fullness of a person's life, but we can know and trust that the true summary of their lives is in the love that God blessed us to share with one another and that continues on into eternity.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Lifted up

Today - May 9th is the 40th day of Easter (not "after", but "of") which calls us to remember and to mark the Ascension of Jesus.  This 40th date never falls on a Sunday and unless we choose to move its celebration to a Sunday, it often gets missed altogether.

And yet, the image of this scene is an incredible call to faith!

In my first parish (St. John's Lutheran, Elma, NY), there was a painting of the ascension on the wall behind the altar.  It actually was a wallpaper painting that then got touched up around the edges over the years (the exact same one could also be found at St. John's Lutheran Lancaster, NY).  I don't know if it was the persuasion of the salesman or what it was specifically about this painting that drew two local congregations to pick this particular scene from scripture, but I am happy that they did.

For you see, Acts 1:6-11 rarely comes up in our weekly lectionary readings; it gets skipped over for the more exciting Pentecost passage (Acts 2:1-12) with their tongues of fire and the gospel being proclaimed in so many different languages.

Still, this image is an incredible call to faith!

Imagine it in your mind's eye:  the disciples' are still filled with the joy and wonder of the rising of Jesus.  All their thoughts of his brutal death have been wiped away by his very presence among them.  He continues to teach them and do amazing miracles, all pointing to the power of the resurrection to transform the world in which they live and move and have their being.
On this one particular day, he is lifted up into the heavens, disappearing from their sight.
Their gazes follow him up, higher and higher, trying to keep him in view for as long as they could.  Is he coming back down?  Will we see him again?  What now?
As their eyes are still focused in the heavens, two men in white appear and ask "whatcha lookin' at?" (my "translation").  Their question calls the disciples' back to earth, back into the life that Jesus had prepared for them.  It is not back to life as usual, but back into the life that Christ has called us into.

We cannot keep our eyes trained on the heavens.  We need to watch where we are going - or we might miss something.  While Jesus did ascend into heaven and we are called to keep our eyes focused in faith on God, we are also called back into the world to be Jesus' hands and feet in the world.  We are to focus our vision on those who have fallen, who are struggling to stand, and who need to be lifted up.

Jesus was lifted up and we are given a vision about more than just a better place.  We are called to see the ways in which Christ lifts up the world through grace, forgiveness and hope.  We remember that "love builds up" (I Corinthians 8:1c).  Christ's love lifts us up to be transformed by his grace.

We do keep our eyes on God, but we remember that Christ's eyes are focused on all those who need to be lifted up.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Spirit is on the move!

The Holy Spirit is surely "up to something" here at Trinity - as evidenced, in particular by yesterday's worship service.

Often ways of addressing the day's biblical text for children come fairly easily to me. Many of the biblical stories lend themselves well to children's sermons.  Yesterday's text from Galatians (1:13-17, 2:11-21) didn't seem to lend itself as readily or as quickly with its emphasis on justification by faith.

I had decided to talk about "faith" in a more general way.   I asked the children what was faith and they quickly came back with "believing in something".  Then the Spirit really got to work as I asked, "what are some things that you believe in".  They each began to tell us their own statement of faith - that Jesus loves everyone, that our sins are forgiven, that God created everything and more.  Many of the phrases seemed as if they were directly from the Creeds of the church (and there were no comments about believing in Santa, the Easter bunny or the tooth fairy).

This was great in and of itself, but then the conversations turned to our need to take care of God's creation and that we should love and take care of other people with some examples of how we might do that.  Many of these responses were from our first graders.  I was blown away - not because they could use phrases like "Jesus forgives our sins" but that they put them into context and action!  They shared their own Faith Talks yesterday as they witnessed to their faith.  It was truly an amazing witness and we were blessed by them!

Then the Spirit had some fun as the choir did a bit line dancing (a la the Rockettes) at the rear of the sanctuary as we sang "What a Fellowship, What a Joy Divine", breaking into laughter as we were dismissed to "go in peace, share the good news" which they certainly were doing!   This was divine joy and fellowship and it was truly a blessing!

I've experienced the Spirit at work as well as our Church Council met on Saturday for our spring retreat and then as some of the parents of confirmation students gathered last night.  I've also seen the Spirit at work as we have met with our young people who are preparing to affirm their faith in a couple of weeks.

God is on the loose!  The Spirit is on the move!

I hope you all are ready!