Worship ~ May 1st

Audio Recording

Reflection – Shawn Mai

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Shawn and I’ve been a member here at West Denmark for almost three years.  I am also a called Lutheran pastor to specialized ministry.   My role in ministry is as a chaplain and chaplain educator.  My call is through the Minneapolis Area Synod of the ELCA to Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, MN. 

As an educator,  I work with students from all different faith traditions…I’ve had students who are all kinds of different expression of the Christian faith, Jewish, Buddaist, Humanist, Muslim, Ba’Hai, Pagan who want to be professionally trained spiritual care givers.  The role of a professional spiritual care giver has shifted from a religious role years ago to an emotional and spiritual support for patients, families, and staff.   My context is in a hospital, so the people I see and my students see are going through some kind of health event. 

I also serve as Chair for my national professional association, ACPE.  We are a roughly 1200 member organization of psychotherapists and CPE educators.    In a week we will commence with our annual conference with the theme: Freedom, Wonder, and Liberation: Anti-Bias Practices of Spiritual Care and Education. 

As I prepared for some conference addresses and today’s worship service, I found some interesting cross sections between the conference and our scripture reading.  Let me say more:

There is a bed rock ethic that is articulated in many of the major religious traditions throughout the ages.  

In Judaism, the Torah commands, “Love your neighbor as yourself-I am God.

The Hindu wiritngs instruct, This is the sum of duty; do naught onto others what you would not have them do unto you.” 

Muslims learn from the Quran, “Serve Allah, and join not any partners with him; and do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer you meet.”

“Love your neighbor” is almost universally ascribed to. 

The poet Mary Oliver said “Love yourself, then forget it. Then love the world.”   For a person who had no declared religious identity, that sounds prophetic and lines up with the universality of love your neighbor.

Today’s biblical reading in the narrative lectionary is the Story of Saul’s conversion.    It is a story animated by “love your neighbor”, in the least it is two very different people coming together in a moment of transformation.

Saul had a vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus.  After the blinding light and being struck down, Saul was instructed to go into the city and wait for what was to come next. 

Annanias was instructed to go to Saul, who he knew violently persecuted followers of Jesus.   The focus of Saul’s life was to do away with the likes of Annanias.

This is two very different people coming together with an unknown outcome.

Doesn’t this sound like a story for our time.  Saul saw himself as one to purify the temple, bring integrity to the faith.  Annanias is one of these new Jesus followers who is seeing the world from a very different vantage point.

This story in Acts reminds me of our societal culture today.   We see and are fearful of the violence we saw in Minneapolis around the killing of George Floyd.  We see and are fearful of the violence we witnessed at the United States capitol on January 6th.   Unfortunately, this dynamic between Saul and Annanias is all too familiar.

Annanias’s prayer and Saul’s transformation reminds me today of my own work examining prejudices and the impact of my life on others.  I may not be actively out killing those who I disagree with, but how does my indifference to the suffering of others’ bring about violence to the oppressed.

What am I blind too?  What scales need to fall off of my eyes?  How do the ways I see the world bring connection and where do the way I see the world keep me “safe” but disconnected.   I bodily feel disconnection when I walk into the downtown Minneapolis Target through a sea of African American men who feel threatening.  I bodily feel disconnection when I stop at a stoplight and the person with a sign is staring at me.  I come up with all kinds of reasons not to roll down my window and give the person some money. 

The stories that run through my mind are quite creative.  I can make up all kinds of stories about who I am and who they are.  Most of them are rooted in fear and always get me off the hook in the end.

No doubt Annanias had some of those same stories going on in his mind when he went to Saul.   The Saul and Annanias story is a conversion story AND it’s a story where some force moves Annanias to overcome his fear.  What is that energy that draws us toward the other?  What ultimately causes us to behold one another?  Why do those moments of connection feel so different that feeling left fearful, angry, and separate?

There was an experience recently where I felt a different response.  Chuck and I were walking through the skyway with our grandkids on one of our Fridays and there was a disheveled dirty young man with a sign about being homeless.  I could feel the tension in my stomach.  Here are the kids, how are they understanding this?  Before I could come up with my usual story about why not to engage, Chuck stopped, brought George and Sylive with him and asked the young man about his story.  Chuck not only offered money, but he offered friendship. 

In the 17th verse of the story today, Annanias not only prays for Paul but he enters and calls him brother.   This kinship language emerges throughout the New Testament.    Brother, sister…Everyone who belongs to Christ belongs to everyone.   So this connects with the three words I mentioned at the beginning.  Freedom, Wonder, and Liberation.  Here is how this story forms my definition of these words:

Freedom

Freedom is living into the truth that I am not a separate self.    There is more that connects us as human beings than separates us.  We share the earth, we breathe the same air.  We can pretend to be separate but that is not sustainable.

Wonder

Wonder is how connectivity works.   How I behold the other with dignity, care, and love leads me toward freedom.   When I live out of curiosity and love I open myself up to authentic connection.   Reminds me of that Plato quote:  Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a battle.  Appreciate how universal struggle is. 

Liberation

Untethering from the chains that bind me means letting go of the fallacy of separateness.   Liberation is letting go of fear and loving with abandon. 

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is shawn and i’ve been a member here at West Denmark for almost three years.  I am also a called Lutheran pastor to specialized ministry.   My role in ministry is as a chaplain and chaplain educator.  My call is through the Minneapolis Area Synod of the ELCA to Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, MN. 

As an educator,  I work with students from all different faith traditions…I’ve had students who are all kinds of different expression of the Christian faith, Jewish, Buddaist, Humanist, Muslim, Ba’Hai, Pagan who want to be professionally trained spiritual care givers.  The role of a professional spiritual care giver has shifted from a religious role years ago to an emotional and spiritual support for patients, families, and staff.   My context is in a hospital, so the people I see and my students see are going through some kind of health event. 

I also serve as Chair for my national professional association, ACPE.  We are a roughly 1200 member organization of psychotherapists and CPE educators.    In a week we will commence with our annual conference with the theme: Freedom, Wonder, and Liberation: Anti-Bias Practices of Spiritual Care and Education. 

As I prepared for some conference addresses and today’s worship service, I found some interesting cross sections between the conference and our scripture reading.  Let me say more:

There is a bed rock ethic that is articulated in many of the major religious traditions throughout the ages.  

In Judaism, the Torah commands, “Love your neighbor as yourself-I am God. 

The Hindu wiritngs instruct, This is the sum of duty; do naught onto others what you would not have them do unto you.” 

Muslims learn from the Quran, “Serve Allah, and join not any partners with him; and do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer you meet.”

“Love your neighbor” is almost universally ascribed to. 

The poet Mary Oliver said “Love yourself, then forget it. Then love the world.”   For a person who had no declared religious identity, that sounds prophetic and lines up with the universality of love your neighbor.

Today’s biblical reading in the narrative lectionary is the Story of Saul’s conversion.    It is a story animated by “love your neighbor”, in the least it is two very different people coming together in a moment of transformation.

Saul had a vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus.  After the blinding light and being struck down, Saul was instructed to go into the city and wait for what was to come next. 

Annanias was instructed to go to Saul, who he knew violently persecuted followers of Jesus.   The focus of Saul’s life was to do away with the likes of Annanias.

This is two very different people coming together with an unknown outcome.

Doesn’t this sound like a story for our time.  Saul saw himself as one to purify the temple, bring integrity to the faith.  Annanias is one of these new Jesus followers who is seeing the world from a very different vantage point.

This story in Acts reminds me of our societal culture today.   We see and are fearful of the violence we saw in Minneapolis around the killing of George Floyd.  We see and are fearful of the violence we witnessed at the United States capitol on January 6th.   Unfortunately, this dynamic between Saul and Annanias is all too familiar.

Annanias’s prayer and Saul’s transformation reminds me today of my own work examining prejudices and the impact of my life on others.  I may not be actively out killing those who I disagree with, but how does my indifference to the suffering of others’ bring about violence to the oppressed.

What am I blind too?  What scales need to fall off of my eyes?  How do the ways I see the world bring connection and where do the way I see the world keep me “safe” but disconnected.   I bodily feel disconnection when I walk into the downtown Minneapolis Target through a sea of African American men who feel threatening.  I bodily feel disconnection when I stop at a stoplight and the person with a sign is staring at me.  I come up with all kinds of reasons not to roll down my window and give the person some money. 

The stories that run through my mind are quite creative.  I can make up all kinds of stories about who I am and who they are.  Most of them are rooted in fear and always get me off the hook in the end.

No doubt Annanias had some of those same stories going on in his mind when he went to Saul.   The Saul and Annanias story is a conversion story AND it’s a story where some force moves Annanias to overcome his fear.  What is that energy that draws us toward the other?  What ultimately causes us to behold one another?  Why do those moments of connection feel so different that feeling left fearful, angry, and separate?

There was an experience recently where I felt a different response.  Chuck and I were walking through the skyway with our grandkids on one of our Fridays and there was a disheveled dirty young man with a sign about being homeless.  I could feel the tension in my stomach.  Here are the kids, how are they understanding this?  Before I could come up with my usual story about why not to engage, Chuck stopped, brought George and Sylive with him and asked the young man about his story.  Chuck not only offered money, but he offered friendship. 

In the 17th verse of the story today, Annanias not only prays for Paul but he enters and calls him brother.   This kinship language emerges throughout the New Testament.    Brother, sister…Everyone who belongs to Christ belongs to everyone.   So this connects with the three words I mentioned at the beginning.  Freedom, Wonder, and Liberation.  Here is how this story forms my definition of these words:

Freedom

Freedom is living into the truth that I am not a separate self.    There is more that connects us as human beings than separates us.  We share the earth, we breathe the same air.  We can pretend to be separate but that is not sustainable.

Wonder

Wonder is how connectivity works.   How I behold the other with dignity, care, and love leads me toward freedom.   When I live out of curiosity and love I open myself up to authentic connection.   Reminds me of that Plato quote:  Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a battle.  Appreciate how universal struggle is. 

Liberation

Untethering from the chains that bind me means letting go of the fallacy of separateness.   Liberation is letting go of fear and loving with abandon. 

When I can move toward vulnerability, I move toward freedom.  When I am liberated from judgement, I am liberated from fear.  AMEN! 

October 24th Worship

This week, worship was led by the Sunday School – from beginning to end! The audio recording of the service is below, followed by one of the many reflections offered during the service.

Audio Recording

Reflection

by Mercy Wetzig & Abel Wetzig

Hi! We are kids. We like to ask lots of questions. 

How come?

Well…asking questions is a good way to learn about stuff.

Why’s that?

Uhhh, because…I don’t know!

Why don’t you?

I’m never going to have kids.

Why not?

Ugh…you’ll understand when you’re older.

When will that be?

In your case, I have no idea.

Here’s a question I have. In the story we read for today, we heard about the room being full of people listening to Jesus, and they must have seen the four friends carrying the paralytic man. Didn’t they see him coming? With so much need? Why didn’t the crowd move aside to let them in?

I think it was a pretty crazy idea that they came up with, for getting into the house. Who came up with that one? Where did they find shovels to break through the roof? Did they have rope to let him down? 

They must have been really great friends, to do all that digging for their friend in order to get him to Jesus, because it must have taken a long time and effort to gather the tools and dig through the roof.

What was it like in the room with Jesus when they were working their way through the roof? It must have been loud. Maybe things even dropped from the ceiling. I bet it was dusty at least. Did Jesus stop teaching and listen? Did the people in the room run for cover?

If it was my house, I would have stopped them from putting a big hole in the roof. I wonder if anyone tried to stop them. Or got angry with them for doing that.

Once they let the man down, Jesus says to him, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Why did he say that, instead of telling him to be healed?

It sounds like Jesus was asking for trouble. The way he forgave the man, even though everybody in the room knew that only God could forgive sins. He was putting himself next to God. If Jesus wanted to stay friends with the people in the room, he should have just said, “Be healed.” Why was he getting into trouble like that?

Wait. I just thought of a great question. Is forgiveness free or isn’t it? They sure did a lot of work in order to get to the place where Jesus could meet them. Was that necessary or could they have just waited for Jesus on the street outside the house?

Yeah. Are we supposed to do the work of coming to God or do we need to wait for God to come to us? Or…something in between?

How about this one. It says Jesus healed the man on account of his friends’ faith. Did the paralytic have any faith of his own? Did he need any? Or was it enough that his friends had faith, and that’s all Jesus needed to cover their friend’s need? 

Did the healed man thank Jesus? It just says that he gets up and walks out. I think he should have shown some gratitude at least. Or maybe he was just stunned?

And how come all of a sudden there’s room for him to walk out, when no one wanted him to walk in? So the people who wouldn’t let him come in when he was paralized definitely parted for him. Maybe they too were stunned at what they had seen Jesus do?

And what I want to know is, who fixed the hole in the roof? 

Yeah. And did it leave a scar? 

Then everybody would remember what had happened there.

August 22nd Worship

Today we had a Matins service led by Christy & Jeff Wetzig. Below are the scripture readings as well as their reflection.

Reading 1: Exodus 16

Bread from Heaven

16 The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.”

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’” 10 And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11 The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12 “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’”

13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. 16 This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.’” 17 The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. 18 But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed. 19 And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over until morning.” 20 But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. And Moses was angry with them. 21 Morning by morning they gathered it, as much as each needed; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.

22 On the sixth day they gathered twice as much food, two omers apiece. When all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, 23 he said to them, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord; bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning.’” 24 So they put it aside until morning, as Moses commanded them; and it did not become foul, and there were no worms in it. 25 Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. 26 Six days you shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is a sabbath, there will be none.”

27 On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, and they found none. 28 The Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and instructions? 29 See! The Lord has given you the sabbath, therefore on the sixth day he gives you food for two days; each of you stay where you are; do not leave your place on the seventh day.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day.

31 The house of Israel called it manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. 32 Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, in order that they may see the food with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” 33 And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the Lord, to be kept throughout your generations.” 34 As the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the covenant, for safekeeping. 35 The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a habitable land; they ate manna, until they came to the border of the land of Canaan. 36 An omer is a tenth of an ephah.

Reading 2: John 21: 1-14

Jesus Appears to Seven Disciples

21 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.


Reflection

A lot of us sitting under this tree have gardens, and this is a time of peak harvest. You might have colanders full of produce waiting for you to deal with when you get home from church. Thanks for coming to church anyway.

Our two passages for today deal with two very different harvests. We heard first about the Israelites, who, wandering in the desert, found themselves without food. Although they usually get a bad rap for complaining a lot, I think we can all understand how they felt. They couldn’t have had gardens, there were no foodtrucks, and any food they could have brought with them from Egypt was long gone by now. Their children were crying with hunger; I think anybody would complain.

And because God is good, and like any loving parent used to hearing their children complain, God provided this stuff for them to fill their bellies, this food that seemed to condense out of the air with the dew every morning. It tasted good plain, but you could boil it into a porridge or bake it into bread; plus, poultry wandered into camp every evening, so it could have been way worse.

The free food came with conditions. The manna was a test of the people’s trust in God. God had told them they would find it outside their tents every morning. Canning, dehydrating, freezing, pickling was unnecessary, because God had promised to provide food every day. If you trusted that promise, you kept nothing for tomorrow; you ate every crumb in the cupboard every day.

It’s not what happened–people squirrelled manna away, as any prudent person would do as a caution against unforeseen events. But even if you pressure canned the stuff, or baked it and set it in the window sill, you woke the next morning to a stink, and to worms all through the stuff. And to a fresh crop of manna, covering the ground outside your door.

Strangely, mysteriously, even if you sent everybody in your family out with bushel baskets, you’d only have enough for your family for that day. But if you were only able to gather a little that day, you’d still have enough for your family. God seemed to be putting a finger on the scales. No matter what you wanted, worked for, deserved, God gave enough. 

Even on the Sabbath, when God rested from sending manna, the people had enough, because a double portion precipitated the previous day, a super generation of manna that didn’t spoil overnight. So on the Sabbath the people could eat and also rest from gathering and cooking, if they had trusted God the day before and did their double work.

They called it manna, which means, “What is it?” The whole 40 years that they ate only manna and quail, they never came up with a better name for it. No scientific name, no cookbook terminology. It remained a mystery, a miracle, and they kept a sample of the stuff for every generation to see, a physical manifestation of trust in a good God, who sends enough, to everybody–every day, enough. 

Here’s another harvest in the Bible. 

Some of Jesus’ disciples had been stewing away, spiralling on about Jesus’ resurrection, his mysterious appearances and disappearances since his death, and finally they just needed to blow off some steam. “Let’s go fishing,” they said, looking for solace in the familiar, the old days, the wide open sky, good work to do with their bodies, and hopefully good fish to fill their bellies when they were done. Although they fished all night, they got skunked.

Until this stranger calls out to them from shore to try it a different way. When they do it his way, they suddenly find themselves hauling in a boatload of fish. Something jogs their memory. Something seems familiar about this. This plenty, this magnitude, they’ve only experienced with one person: Jesus. They had seen him take bits of bread and satisfy a multitude; he had healed crowds of sick people and never run out of potency; he had preached a kind of love that never gives up, and had lived that love and acted out that grace every day of his life, even when it killed him. In their lives, this kind of plenty had always only come from Jesus, and that is what they recognize, not his face or even his voice.

When they get to shore, they find Jesus with a fire already started, and he already has fish on it; he even has bread too. He lets them contribute from their sudden abundance, but he doesn’t need their fish. (How did he get them? they wonder.) Jesus would have fed them breakfast with or without their miraculous catch. Here, maybe, is the real miracle, this food out of nowhere. The bounty that came from the sea only opened their eyes to the real miracle before them, on the shore.

Jesus breaks the bread for them, distributes the fish amongst them, and he eats some himself, just to dispel those rumors that he’s a ghost. They sit around the fire and eat together, there on the beach in the rising sun, their backs casting shadows on those nets full of fish. They have plenty. Their bellies are full and their nets are full and here, sitting beside them, is Plenty itself.

When we started our orchard 8 years ago some of the first plants we put in the ground were hazelnut bushes. We wanted fruit from our orchard, yes, but we also wanted protein, and hazelnuts seemed to be a good answer.

Most of the country’s hazelnuts are grown in the Pacific Northwest, where they grow these giant, beautiful nuts in giant monocultural groves. Maybe you’re not surprised to hear that a disease called hazelnut blight is wiping out the groves in that region.

So it turns out that a big topic of research currently in Minnesota and Wisconsin, where we have small native hazelnuts, is to breed a larger nut to replace the production of the Pacific Northwest monsters.

So we began shopping around the experimental hazelnut nurseries in the region to find the best, most blight resistant, hardy, tasty, large nuts we could buy. We ended up with seedlings grown from the nuts of the best, most blight resistant, hardiest, tastiest, largest nut bushes around. We put them in the ground and waited.

As we mowed around our six expensive little baby hazelnuts, we noticed a curious plant coming up on the edges of the orchard. A wild woody bush with very similar leaves to our little hazelnuts. You guessed it. We had mowed a whole bunch of wild hazelnuts bushes to plant our six expensive, well-bred specimens. 

For the purposes of scientific experimentation, we let the wild plants grow alongside the nursery-bought ones.

Eight years later, our expensive hazelnut bushes are six feet high and the wild ones, because we had mowed them several times by accident, are only 5 feet high, but bushy and thick. This summer, we watched our 6 precious plants with anticipation because most of them were growing those hairy, ruffley, lime green hulls that surround the hazelnuts. A nut here on this branch, a nut cluster over there on that branch. It was a pleasure to watch them grow, like a parent watching a child learn to walk, it filled us with pride. But then, when you turned around to look at the wild hazelnuts on the edge of the orchard, you saw it was covered with clusters of nuts, weighed down with them, bursting with clumps of nuts.

We gathered them all (and by we I mean the chipmunks and us), we gathered both wild and domesticated, and in the interests of science we (not the chipmunks) kept them separated to compare the harvest of each bush. 

Maybe you’ve guessed. There were two champion hazelnut bushes that we had planted, with largeish nuts, also dearly loved by the chipmunks, which means we only harvested a couple from each bush. The other four of our nurtured, cherished hazelnuts produced shrivelled nuts or barren shells or tiny, shrunken nuts with ghastly thick shells. 

The wild bushes made smallish nuts, true, but they were well formed and chubby and outweighed the domesticated varieties with their sheer number.

Sometimes we look for plenty and all we find is enough. Sometimes when we hope for enough we find plenty.

July 25th Worship

Greetings! For today’s service we’ll be using the Matins liturgy from the hymnal. The service is led by Shawn Mai with Barb Kass offering a reflection. The readings for today, along with a recording, are posted below. Check back later for the text of Barb’s reflection.

Audio Recording

Genesis 2: 15-17; 3: 1-13

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

The First Sin and Its Punishment

3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,[a] knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”

Mark 11: 12-25

Jesus Curses the Fig Tree

12 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.

Jesus Cleanses the Temple

15 Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; 16 and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written,

‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?
    But you have made it a den of robbers.”

18 And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. 19 And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

The Lesson from the Withered Fig Tree

20 In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 Then Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” 22 Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. 24 So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

25 “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”

Reflection

In reading the 2 texts for today, I was hard pressed to connect the two. The Matin’s committee had decided to look at Jesus’ encounters with nature this summer, and then a correlating Old Testament story. The encounter described by Mark is a harsh one. Why should the fig tree become collateral damage for not producing fruit during the off season! After reading a few commentaries on the passage, I realize it was a symbolic action about the temple which then Jesus went on to clear in dramatic fashion. Others said that even in the off season, fig trees would have had something edible on them, and the fact that this one had just foliage, meant that it looked good on the outside, but was not a healthy tree. Again, like the temple it needed to be cleared.  Finally, there is the discussion about the power of prayer. Where was the prayer for the fig tree?

Obviously the Genesis story is familiar and fig trees figure into it: Adam and Eve sewed leaves of fig leaves to cover their nakedness.  If you are looking in a garden for fabric and not fruit, this is your tree. The deeply-lobed leaves can be four to eight inches wide and as long as 10 inches. It’s an interesting fact to know and tell, but not very inspirational.

Again I read both texts, and several commentaries and finally found a thread: Walking! It’s one that Kristin Martin would be the expert to talk about! Walking is simple and profound at the same time!  Maybe I was drawn to this because of a devotional I read the week my mom was dying called May I walk you home. In our neighborhood, we always walked each other home from school, church or the playground. That simple custom offered protection and guidance as well as the opportunity to reflect on our day, our life experience. Extending the same personal companionship to those are on their final journey gives both the caregiver and the person dying comfort, courage and hope.

 In the Genesis story we hear how God is walking in the garden “at the time of the evening breeze”. The beauty of this image of a God who is present with us, walking with us, from the beginning is breath taking! The Old Testament is full of images of this accompanying God in times of great faith and also great faithlessness.

Barbara Brown Taylor has a chapter called ‘The practice of walking on the earth’ in her book: An Altar in the World. The following is the section that talks about Jesus and walking…

[text not included here]

I hope you will find time to walk this week with gratitude and the mindfulness that all around us is holy ground.   

June 20th Worship

Greetings! For today’s service we’ll be using the Matins liturgy from the hymnal. The service is led by Shawn Mai, along with music from Chris & Harry Johansen. The readings for today, along with Shawn’s sermon and a recording, are posted below.


Audio Recording


John 11: 17-27

Jesus Comforts the Sisters of Lazarus

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles[a] from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”


Sermon – Shawn Mai

Several weeks ago Linda preached about women in the Bible.  She started the sermon by reminding all of us of how race and racism have gained more awareness this past year after the murder of George Floyd. 

Linda did a nice job making connections with how patricarchal systems have had an impact on how we perceive power, gender, sexuality, and female identity.   This past year has given me a new understanding of how life limiting my experience of being white is in a white supremacist culture.  I’ve come to understand the impact of how much my own power and privelage have benefited me at the expense of other people.

Being more grounded in a faith that sees God as love, literally love, has implications about how I walk through this world.  If I believe in the core of Jesus teaching “love your neighbor as yourself”, my life demands I become more conscious about how I love others AND myself….ALL parts of myself.  Those I accept, those I don’t yet know, those I judge and try to cut off, and those I value as the best parts of myself.

 I chose the raising of Lazarus Gospel story for this morning because of the power of its metaphor.    We are born and baptized into our being and we enter into the world in our own unique belovedness.  This unique inner self encounters a world that includes violence, disconnection, and fear.  But our inner self is resilient and has ways of protecting itself.  Our inner self protects itself by developing  personas to defend it from annilation. 

We experience the trauma of being out of control so we become controlling.  We experience the trauma of being shamed for not doing it right so we become perfectionistic.   We experience the abusive hurt of others’ woundedness so we learn to be defended to keep us safe.

Eventually, these become our tombs.  Today as Jesus invites Lazarus out of the tomb, I invite you to hear those words yourself. 

I have come to bring you life.   

The death of Lazarus causes suffering.  Jesus own tears point to the poignancy.   However the story doesn’t end with Lazarus’ death, the story goes beyond just pausing and grieving.  It acknowledges a greater truth and meaning.

Jesus pointed us to this truth when after four days of Lazarus being dead in the tomb, Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb to life.

The story of Jesus raising Lazarus is a compelling metaphor about our life’s work.  God is “for us” to find freedom and spaciousness, not fear and isolation.  The story seemed fitting for a time when we are seeking greater freedom and acceptance through important race and inclusion work. 

Jesus said: I am the resurrection and the life!  He who dies, yet shall he live. 

I like the Greek which translates “yet shall he live as”:  will have a life active and vigorous, the absolute fulness of life.

Paradoxically we have this absolute fullness AND we have life patterns that become tombs that we have little awareness of. 

Growing up I always had a sense of being different.  Somewhere along the way I internalized something that told me I needed to keep something hidden.  Before I even put words around sexuality or difference I had a low level shame that kept me on guard for how I acted.

I think I knew for as long as I can remember that I was gay. I worked REALLY hard and intentionally to live a different truth.  I didn’t utter a word to anyone about my sexuality until I was 24 years old.  That is a goodly amount of time to build a tomb of reinforced brick, mortar, and to shore it up with some steel re-bar.

The external sources of tomb building were a belief system counter to God’s will for my freedom.  When I was in junior high, I perused the pastoral care books in my father’s library where it was clear that homosexuality was a sin.  The words of the church authors deepened feelings of shame that flooded my heart and mind. 

Paradoxically,  I loved church.   I found community, comfort, and joy in the church while also knowing that certain words in church books rendered me a fundamentally flawed person.   Somehow my naïve self was able to hold that paradox.    Eventually that paradox would evolve into a complicated call to word and sacrament ministry and a call to an authentic relationship that was gifted into my life.

1992 was a very weird and confusing year.  It was the year I was ordained and it was the year that my life-long partnered relationship began.  I had to just trust that both calls in my life were truth for me.    I didn’t know what else to do but to live into both of those calls.  I remember a book by Bruce Bauer called “A Place At the Table” published in 1992 where he said “live your life as though things have changed.”

And that’s what I did, I lived as though things had changed.  I took a call to congregational ministry in the city and I drove out evenings to our home in the western suburbs of Minneapolis to be a partner to Chuck and father to Anne and Blake.   

Living this paradox took its toll in shame and hiddenness.  Finally in the mid-90’s I began my process of coming out with friends and family.  It was a step in the right direction but it challenged the tomb I had built for myself around don’t be who you are, be who you perceive what others want you to be.

Fast forward to 2004 I began a journey of certification as a Clinical Pastoral Education Supervisor.  Along with coming out, my certification process as a CPE supervisor was the hardest and most life-giving journey I have ever embarked on.   The process is challenging because it required me to address issues of shame, authority, conflict, and integration. 

Integration is demonstrated in  hour and a half long committee appearances where the committee looks for a level of theoretical, relational, integrated  authenticity.  If you haven’t done the work, it doesn’t take long for the shame and hiddenness to show itself. 

In my first committee I decompensated.  It was horrifying.  The committee granted me entrance into the program with one of the committee members framing my having done good enough in this way: “You didn’t run away from the room!” The only reason I didn’t do that was I didn’t think of it as an option.

Eventually I made it far enough in the process to meet my associate committee in Memphis TN.     The day before the committee my grandmother died.  I also got a call from my presenter that day that my video for the committee presentation didn’t work.   Needless to say things did not go well.   

I flew back to Minneapolis, drove to Kansas for my grandma’s funeral, got back home in time to go to Urgent Care to be diagnosed with pneumonia and then went to bed for a week.  Two weeks later my 16 year old Sheltie died. 

You know what’s interesting?   I look back at that month as one of the worst and one of the best months of my life. 

The universe was telling me I needed to address the confines of my tomb.  Therapy helped me to sort out my shame and hiddenness that had been so painfully outed. 

My spiritual work was trusting Jesus words:  I am the resurrection and the life!  You will  have a life active and vigorous, the absolute fulness of life. 

I needed to step out of my tomb.  That meant owning who I was, owning what I felt, and living authentically.

I decided I couldn’t live in the “don’t ask, don’t tell” environment of the church…I needed to go and tell my bishop about my life and ministry.  I needed to claim the fullness of my call to both the church and to my many years long relationship that happened to be with a man. 

That may not sound like a big deal, but I’m the guy who never challenges authority.  I pride myself on being politically astute in the workplace and I’m a master at getting people to like me.  Going to the bishop was none of those things. 

I will never forget that day.  I can still feel the space that opened up in my heart as I risked all that was comfortable to welcome more of myself into the light.

The conversation with the bishop surprised me.   My energy ended up not being around coming out, my energy became focused on the grief I felt about the impact of the church’s policies on my children.  In the 20 years of helping raise my partner’s daughter and son, they had come to experience the church as irrelevant as it didn’t connect with the truth of their lives.

That day was transformational as I grew the space within me…what others didn’t see and what I didn’t see became seen.  That brought me deeper into the Shawn that God called me to be, my belovedness.

Gratefully I experienced the inclusive welcome of my bishop.  More importantly the experience opened me up to greater self-inclusivity.  I began to honor my thoughts, my feelings, and my identity. 

The journey of slavery to freedom in the promised land took the Israelites through the wilderness. 

WILD SPACES

Part of what I love about West Denmark is the setting.  Looking out the window, we are close to wild spaces.  Writer Anne Sutherland Howard talks about exploring our own wilderness as exploring our wild space.

Wild space is that part in each one of us that doesn’t fit our culture’s definition of the good life. She explains it to work this way: Imagine a circle. Within that circle is the dominant cultural model: white, male, middle-class, heterosexual, educated, able-bodied, Western, young, successful. Now, put your own model of yourself over that circle.

Some parts of you may fit, some parts may not.

The part of us that falls outside the conventional circle is our wild space. The parts that do not fit may be obvious: race or sexual orientation or physical characteristics. Other parts that do not match up with the conventional model may not be so obvious to others: surviving the death of a loved one, a lost job, struggle with addiction or depression, the vague disappointment about not “making it.” Anything that may be a source for feeling ‘not enough’ or causes us to question the definition of success is our wild space.

Our wild space is a source for transformation for both the world and us.  Our wild space is an opportunity to see a different vision of life.   Our wild space is where we find spaciousness, creativity, and imagination.

Where are those edges for you today?  What presses your buttons?  What leaves you unsettled?  Where are you resisting?  Look in those places because there is something there that needs hospitality.  Be patient, be kind, be affirming, and hold space. 

Faith tells us that God will move us through something huge and our lives will be broken open.  In the poetic words of Charles Wesley, we will be changed from glory into glory….lost in wonder, love, and praise.  AMEN