Thursday, June 27, 2013

What's in a name?

Michael and I just adopted a new kitten and while the name that she was given was okay (Phoenix), we wanted to name her for ourselves.  The naming process can become fairly involved as we  both threw out all kinds of names.  We wanted something that fit her personality and looks (she's a calico), something that was easy to use when we had to yell: "no, kitty, get down from there" and a name that we both liked.  While we tried out all kinds of names (Conundrum, Delilah 2, Mixie,etc.), we think we have finally setting on Kaboodle (as in she's the whole kit n' caboodle). 

What about your name or that of your kids?  How was your name determined?  Was it a family name?  A unique name?  A popular name?  A name that reminded you of someone else?  Or did it just somehow sound right as it issued forth from your lips or that of your parents?

My parents just liked the name "Jennifer" (and this was just before it became popular) and my middle name is the same as my mother's ("Elaine").  And interestingly enough, if I was a boy my name would have been "Michael".  And then, our last names often will make those connections to our families.  For instance, my last name at birth was Manske which connected me to my birth father and family; it was then changed to Dyer when my mom married my 2nd dad, identifying us as a new family; and then changed again when Michael and I got married, lifting up the family that we are together.

Names are very important in scripture as well.  To name something was to claim the person or place.  Names often had significant meanings like Isaac which is the "laughter" that Sarah brought forth when she was told that she would bear a child even though she was barren and old.  His son Jacob's name got changed to Israel signifying the one who strove with God.  In the New Testament, Saul's name was changed to Paul as a sign of the ways in which his life was turned around.

What is in a name?

The most significant naming in the Bible is that of God.  When Moses first encounters God in the burning bush, he asks what should he tell the Israelites when they ask your name?  God answers enigmatically, "I AM WHO I AM...tell them I AM has sent me to you."  It is where we get the Hebrew Yahweh (YHWH).  In this peculiar naming, we are told more about who God is rather than just his name.  God is (period).  In John's Gospel, Jesus fleshes his being out more as he says that he is the "bread of life", "the resurrection and the life", "the Good Shepherd", among others.  God is (period).

We  are called to not take God's name in vain in the Ten Commandments.  When we use the name of God we are, in a sense, laying claim to God.  To misuse God's name is to misuse our relationship with God.  We can never own God, but God offers himself through Jesus to claim his relationship with us.  God IS the one in whom we live and move and have our being.  We are because God IS.

In naming ourselves, we not only identify with family, we are named and claimed as children of God.  It places us in relationship not just with God, but with all of God's children.  This name says something about whose we are and who we are.  It gives us not only identity but lifts up the characteristics and ways in which we are to look at one another and at the world.  As children of the One who IS, our very being (body and soul) echoes God's being.  And the One who is I AM names us "beloved".

How does that name strike you?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

On the rise

Over the past year or so, I have found myself baking more.  While it used to be whatever was easiest out of the box, I now like the truly homemade.  There is something about putting all those ingredients together and having something so very yummy produced out of the oven.  While my chocoholic self loves the brownies and chocolate chip cookies and my hubby has an affinity for a vegan banana bread recipe I discovered (and yes, honey, I will make some later), what I really enjoy making is our family recipe for Swedish molasses bread.

First of all, there is nothing better than the warm aroma and melt in your mouth goodness of bread right out of the oven.  Even more than that, it  is a family recipe that my great, great grandmother, Amanda Peterson Almquist brought with her when she emigrated from Sweden, ultimately settling in Hutto, Texas.  This delicious bread is a part of my heritage and I feel connected to my family as I mix all those ingredients together.

As I gather the flour (white and rye), molasses, and the like, it is as if I am bringing together parts of my family, past and present.  As the dough begins to form, I reflect on the ways in which my own life was formed by each of them, directly and indirectly.  Without one of those ingredients, the bread wouldn't be good.

The most important and significant part of bread making is the yeast, of course.  While, we can make breads without yeast (such as the forementioned  banana bread), the yeast gives all the other ingredients a way to live into the fullness of their textures and tastes, bringing them altogether to do that which that were gathered to do.

I suspect, you may already see where I'm going with this.  In many ways, the yeast that gets placed into the bread dough can be compared to the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit brings life and purpose.  The Spirit brings out the fullness of life that God intends for us, helping us to live into that fullness.  The Psalmist wrote "Taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8) and Jesus said, "I am the Bread of life" (John 6:35).  The loving presence of God is what nourishes and sustains us, that brings us true life.

In the devotional book by Macrina Weidetkehr (mentioned in earlier blogs), wrote this: "It is  becoming clear to me that Christians are meant to be leaven for our society...Hope is like yeast and baking powder.  It has an energy that makes things rise."

We are given the hope of the Holy Spirit to help raise up the world, to bring nourishment to a world that is hungry for something more.  We are called to let the yeast of God rise within us that we may feed the world with God's love and grace.

So whether you are making your own bread or taking a slice out of a package, think of the ways in which God's Spirit is rising within you.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

On tiptoes...

My sister as a child was one who always walked on her tiptoes (even sometimes now, she will catch herself doing it).  While sometimes this tendency does point to potential health problems, for the most part it is a short term pattern that usually seen as "cute".

There are times when I find myself walking on the tips of my toes (even today) - such as when I am walking through wet grass or puddles and don't want to get my whole foot soaking wet.  Other times, I will strain upwards on my toes to try  to see better.  Standing on my tippy-toes has me yearning towards a goal, towards a possibility.

In my devotions this morning, I was reading an entry in a book called "Seasons of our Heart: Prayers and reflections" by Macrina Wiederkehr in which she wrote: "Standing on tiptoe is not a children's game of balance.  Rather, it is the beautiful prayer of balancing God's promises with my joyful expectation."

Standing on the tips of our toes is about HOPE.  It is that longing towards a goal, towards a purpose.  It is desire and action rolled up together that draws us up as we seek something more, better, different, new.

We can stand firm on the ground, established in place.  We need this assurance of support for balance that sustains us.  Yet, like a flower that turns towards the sun, yearning for nourishment and life, we took can be rooted and yet draw ourselves up, turning ourselves towards the Son who gives us life, who offers us more than roots will allow.

Hope is what feeds our  lives, that sustains us when we are weary, that leads us forth towards something more.  Standing on tiptoes is hope rooted in grace.

Macrina Wiederkehr shares this poem/prayer:

On tiptoe we stand, Lord Jesus
eagerly awaiting
your full revelation
always expecting you
to come some more.

Our hands and hearts
are open to your grace.
Our lives are still waiting for
the fullness of your presence.
We are those who have been promised
a Kingdom, and we can never forget
Yet we have a foot in both worlds
and we stumble.

But still we stand
on tiptoe
owning our kingdom-loving hearts
and our earth-eyes
We lean forward
and hope.

Monday, June 10, 2013

What's the latest...

As a PK (pastor's kid), I could usually predict what my dad's sermon was going to be about the week after he came back from confirmation camp, annual Nat'l Guard training, synod assemblies, etc. or after he had just finished a book.  Whatever was currently going on in his life made its way into that Sunday's reflections - and yes, that often then involved me and my siblings as well.  Even now as I write this, I am rolling my eyes at his predictability.

However, its only half an eye roll as I have to stop and look within myself as well.  For you see, I find myself doing the same thing.  I might include a story or quote that was shared at our recent synod assembly, an experience from going to the Youth Quake with some of our 7-8th graders, a Facebook posting, blog or something else I've been reading.

It was just yesterday that I had my "PK half eye roll" moment as I began to share about one of the most recent books I've been reading.  It was (almost) as if I was channeling my dad as I talked about the book.  When I start to talk about a particular book, especially one that gives me a lot of food for thought, I feel as if I am trying to "sell" the book to others (too bad I can't get commissions for these sermonic book recommendations).

But the partial eye roll was not a "stop, you are becoming your dad" moment, but rather a different kind of insight or perspective.  Sure, there as a predictability about these kinds of sermons from my dad.  But on the other hand, as I look back on it this many years later as a pastor, I see that this is about much more than just sharing the current events of his life, but rather the ways in which his life and faith were impacted by that particular book or experience.  It was his way of sharing his own journey of faith.

I thought about the kind of enthusiasm and reflections that others share about their own experiences, books, blogs or Facebook posts.  This too can be how they are sharing their faith.   And this is a wonderful gift that I have been blessed by through their sharing.

This is what faith and witness are all about - making those connections between the current events, books and experiences in our lives with God and how God is impacting our lives.  It is about being deliberate in recognizing  the connections for yourself and others.

In some ways, it is "easy" for the preacher because we are always on the lookout for sermon illustrations (and I've often contended that just about anything can become fodder for a sermon).  We've been taught to make those connections so that we are ready for that week's sermon, if nothing else.

My challenge is to look not just for sermon material, but for the ways in which God is using all these tools and resources to get my attention, to draw me closer in relationship with him and to be a more faithful witness of the Good News.

What is the latest in your life?  Where is God in the midst of it all?  How might you share that with others?

BTW - the book I referred to on Sunday is "Holding your Faith Together: 5 simple steps to help bring your family closer to God and each other" by Rich Melheim.  And no, I do not get a commission if you purchase it, but you will benefit from it.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Blurry days or Blessed days?

Did you ever have a day or even a week that was just a blur?  Maybe, the question should be not "if" but how recent did you have a day like that?  Our lives can get so filled up with activities, responsibilities, errands and the like that our minds cannot even process what we are doing.  Not matter how many "shortcuts" are provided by today's culture, it only seems as if we have less time and not more.

One of the songs  from the musical "Rent" sings of "525,600 minutes - how do you measure a year?" 

While there are days went those minutes seem to drag - like a teenager waiting for the last bell of the last day of school to ring or the interminable ticking of the clock as you wait for the results of a medical test - still there are no more and no less minutes than the day before.  Or on those days when it seems as if summer vacation is over before it really began or when the time spent with a seldom seen friend or family member has come to a close - still then, we have the same number of minutes.

How are your minutes measured?  What do you do with the gift of time that God has blessed you with?

Look at your calendar and reflect on the amount of time you spend in particular areas such as work, errands, chores, in the car, in front of the computer/TV, etc.  How do these minutes reflect your own priorities?  Are these minutes lived as a blur, a burden or a blessing?

In Ecclesiastes 3, the teacher proclaims "for everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven", time for birth and death, war and peace, weeping and laughing, mourning and dancing, seeking and losing, speaking and silence.  All these minutes and moments are gifts from God.  Too often, we pay too little attention to time.  Now, I'm not saying that we all need to become clock-watchers.  I stopped wearing a watch on vacation over 15 years ago and have yet to put one back on. 

No, I mean do want to live life in a blur or in blessing? 

In reflecting on how we spend our time, we may find that there are things that are not life-giving but life-stealing.  What are those things that we need to omit from our lives?  What are ways that we can re-prioritize how use live  our moments?

I know that this can be easier said than done.  And I can also hear all the  "but, Pastor, what about...".   There are not necessarily "easy" solutions; hard decisions might need to be made.  Yet, in doing so, we may find that time is a blessing rather than a burden or a  blur. 

We are given these 525,600 minutes to live each year, how will you live them?

Here are a few more of the lyrics from the song from "Rent" which is called "Seasons of Love":
In Daylights - In Sunsets
In Midnights - In Cups Of Coffee
In Inches - In Miles
In Laughter - In Strife

In Truths That She Learned
Or In Times That He Cried
In Bridges He Burned
Or The Way That She Died

How about love?
Measure in love