A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

How life has changed November 29, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 11:47 pm
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One of the joys of this week for me has been spending time with my wonderful, smart and adorable nieces. They are ages 5,4, and 20 months so we have been busy and on a schedule. We have to feed them at the same time every day, all day. We have to schedule activities and outings around naps and said eating schedule. We have to allow for melt downs (they don’t very often as they are really good girls but they are little) and for just plain old preschool behavior. After a couple of days of this, I realized how much of this sort of parenting I have forgotten and how much I take for granted the wonderfulness that is having teenagers.

As someone who has a degree in elementary education and early childhood, ran a preschool and LOVED having little children, I honestly was concerned about the teen years as a parent. You see, I was a pretty good mom of little ones: we made our own playdough and ooblik, had a sand and water table, every art supply you could buy, cooking projects, rain walks, weekly trips to the zoo or children’s museum, and the list goes on. But then Kayla turned 13. Now what?

Turned out, all kinds of things. My kids still love art, but now we can take them to art museums and get more sophisticated art projects going. We still cook, only they can do almost all of it and it’s really tasty! We can go for longer walks, we can go to nicer restaurants, we can go to history museums and the kids sometimes know more than Mike and I do! We don’t have as many meltdowns (ours mostly revolve around needing to keep teenagers stomachs full) and a bathroom break no longer involves me. We talk about real literature (now don’t get me wrong, I love a Sandra Boyton book as much as the next person) and have inside jokes about novels such as “The Old Man and the Sea.” We can talk about politics and watch the same tv shows-and I don’t mean Dora or Barney.

Traveling is most definitely where I notice the difference. I no longer worry about two year old Andrew running off and trying to board a plane for London (happened at Sky Harbor in Phoenix pre-9/11, sigh) or making sure that we all sit together. Heck, I checked us in for our Southwest flight this morning and Andrew is even in a different seating group and Mike and I just laughed about how he will have to board after the rest of us. Pretty funny when you think about how he tried to board a plane without us 12 years ago.

I always thought I would miss having really little children because I loved that phase of parenting so much. But I have to admit that I am really loving this phase as well and it has so many perks as compared to having young children. Such as I am writing this blog post at 3:30 in the afternoon and can do so uninterrupted while my brother in law deals with crying preschoolers. Life has definitely changed and I think it’s awesome and wouldn’t want it any other way.

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I am grateful for friends, family and strangers

Filed under: Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 5:51 am
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So, as I wind down this month of blogging, I have to admit my plan for today was to take the “easy way out” and write about what I am grateful for. And I do plan to talk about that but perhaps not in the way I had originally intended. As I blogged about yesterday, I am grateful for so much in my life and this gratitude is the basis for experiencing and knowing pure joy in our everyday lives. I could give the litany of what I am grateful for but I am going to narrow it to relationships past, present and future.

As I wrote about early in the month, my grandma died a month ago. When my family and my sisters family made our Thanksgiving plans in September, we had assumed grandma would be a part of our celebration. While she was not physically present today, she was most definitely present in other ways. My mom is still in the process of sorting through her things and she has found a refugee family from Africa to give her furniture, she found a single mom with two kids to give away food, and the rest has come back to her house. Today she brought out my grandma’s everyday jewelry for my sister, daughter and I to look at. Now my grandma had nothing of real value but she LOVED to wear dangle earrings and matching necklaces. She also had some beautiful scarves. My sister, daughter and I picked out a couple of things (the rest will be shipped to my aunt and her daughter) and told stories of grandma.

When we gathered around the table this year it was wonderful that my parents had both of their children as well as all of their living grandchildren present. The cousins got along (my children are a lot older so they just do whatever the little girls want) and had a great time drinking hot cocoa and eating pie. My daughter goes to college next year so who knows when all of the cousins will be together again?

The family gathering alone was great but I was also honored with several text messages, emails and Facebook messages from friends from the past, friends from my congregation and friends who are also colleagues of well wishes for this Thanksgiving day. I was struck by how many people I intersect with and how they each bring an important relationship into my life for different reasons. God has brought all of these people into my life and I am more than grateful, I am joyous over their presence. It also reminded me how if I sat and texted or emailed everyone in my life who brings me joy, it might take me more than a day! I have a friend who decided to pray through her list of Facebook friends this year. She would contact each person and ask how she could pray for them that day. When she contacted me, I was so moved and grateful for her prayers that day.

This leads me to ponder who I have yet to meet that will grace and bless my life? How can I be prepared for their presence and be prepared to be a blessing in their life as well? How does God open us up to the stranger for relationship? As a military brat, I have been the new girl more times than I can count and I am acutely aware of how hard it is to break into established groups even if you are invited in. Regardless of how well you get along, or how wanted you might be, just the fact that you are now there changes everything for those established relationships that were there before you. This is true even in places or systems that claim to be inviting or welcoming or whatever hospitable word you use, which in my experience would be church. We say we want new people and we welcome, call, send a letter, invite to a class or into a ministry and we may mean it when we invite, until they cause us to share our established friendships, or change how we move in our daily lives. Human nature causes us to not like to be uncomfortable or uncertain of our primary relationships and so when this happens our tendency is to pull in and draw tight boundaries to keep the newness and change at bay or in control.

We are all guilty of wanting status quo and opening ourselves up to a bit of chaos and change is daunting for even the most bold risk taker-especially when it comes to new relationships. So as we are grateful for the familiarity around our dinner tables today-and we should be!-how can we be grateful for new people yet to be met, for the changes they might bring, for the presence of God that they will be in our lives and for how they might change our lives and maybe God’s world.

 

Facebook, gratitude and joy November 28, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 5:31 am
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I have to admit that I have kinda rolled my eyes all month at the 30 days of gratitude on Facebook for November. I know, I know, this makes me a bit unfeeling and callous. I don’t disagree. If you don’t know me well, let me clue you in here that I am not the most touchy feely person you will ever meet. It’s not that I am completely heartless but I am not given to spontaneous emotional outbursts and I am not by nature one to be overly affectionate. And as my best friend will tell you, I don’t cry in public. Ever. Period. And if I do you know it’s really bad. REALLY BAD.

Being thankful for the little and big things in your life is fine and a good thing. But one of the reasons I didn’t jump on that band wagon (and believe me it would have been easier than this whole blog post a day stuff), is that to me it can sound a little self righteous or smug. I didn’t want to be posting on how I am grateful for my smart children or great house or great job. I mean I have all those things, but do I need to put it on Facebook?

But then I also saw on Facebook today a saying, “The root of joy is gratitude.” It occurred to me how much I take for granted, little things and big things. What am I joyful about? Do I focus too much on what is not going well versus what is? Do I tell people how much I appreciate what they do? Do I offer grateful prayers for all that I have? Do I take for granted my creature comforts? On a day to day basis, I suspect so. Maybe the point of the 30 days of gratitude is to help us to keep perspective in our lives. I know that I can lose perspective pretty quickly. I can lose joy pretty quickly as well.

What is ironic is that there is so much that I am grateful for and so much that brings me pure and simple joy. (Emotional outburst alert!) My children, my husband, a sunrise, a sunset, seeing deer on my morning runs, meaningful work, supportive and loving friends, serving my community, neighbors and so much more! One of the aspects of life that I have actually been more aware of over the past few years is that of moments of pure joy in the midst of the ordinary, beauty in the everyday and the sense of God’s love that I believe undergirds all of humanity.

So maybe this gratitude thing is less about what we have and more about where we find our joy, beauty and love. Where is you joy? What brings you a sense of deep satisfaction makes your soul sing? What makes you notice God in your neighbor? These are things to truly be grateful for.

 

Shopping and the kingdom of God November 27, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 4:24 am
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We’ve all seen the Facebook articles or news sound bites, “Stores are open on Thanksgiving-will you boycott?” Or “These stores will not be open on Thanksgiving to allow their families to be together.” We all then think: ‘Oh those evil corporations making people work on Thanksgiving,” or “Good for those other businesses who have the correct morals and values.” But then comes the dissenting point of view: what about those who won’t get paid for missing work on Thursday? If you are an hourly employee (as are most retail workers), then a day off equals no pay. Happy Thanksgiving?
As usual, the issue of stores being open or not on Thanksgiving is not black or white, right or wrong. Shocking. We have a consumer culture; we want what we want, when we want it-which is now and for a good price. I am not necessarily critiquing that fact. I am as guilty of that as the next person. I am aware of the complexity of all of this. Our global market makes this all the more overwhelming. Do we buy what we can afford even if the company doesn’t have the most ethical worker practices or do we spend three or four times as much for the same item? For some in our society the latter is not even an option. Do we condemn them as unethical? Do we assume that their morals are not as high as our own? We might, but I would suggest removing the log out of our own eye before removing the sliver from our neighbor’s eye.
I think that the problem is bigger than a store being open on Thanksgiving or not. It’s bigger than Black Friday deals and “door buster” sales. In our rock throwing at corporations and malls, we are avoiding what is really going on: we continue as humans to try and fill our emptiness, uncertainty, self doubt and insecurity with stuff. Again, not pointing the finger at anyone but myself. The stores would not be open or even thinking about being open if they thought that no one would come. But we will come, even if we don’t on Thanksgiving or Black Friday out of a false sense of self righteousness. It’s not like I am not buying Christmas gifts. I am as sucked into the cultural misnomer of what Christmas should actually be as the next person. As much as I would like not to be and in some ways eschew the societal norm of a consumerist Christmas, I am as part of the problem as much as Macy’s, Kohl’s or any of the other department stores.
What will it take for us to be filled by global hunger, poverty and illness being eliminated? What would the world look like if we all operated from a theology of abundance (enough of everything: food, housing, clothing, love, grace and mercy) instead of scarcity? What would the world look like if we all truly believed that our worth was simply as children of God? What would the world look like if we all trusted one another to care and love each other as Christ has first loved us? Is this the kingdom come of God in the world? How are we participating in God’s mission of all of the above in the world? How are we participating in God’s reconciliation of all of creation which is why God became incarnate? I think these are the questions and blog posts that we should be discussing. For the record, I will not be shopping on Thanksgiving or Black Friday. I will probably just wait for cyber Monday, I need something to do after staff meeting.

 

“Nice sermon pastor.” Really? November 26, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 6:54 am
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I am always amazed and surprised when someone says to me that they actually listened and got something out of my sermon. I usually figure that they are just being kind or are mistaken. Yesterday was my turn to preach in the rotation that my senior pastor and I set up. I have a love/hate relationship with preaching. I love it in that I am nerdy and love to read, think and explore a text. I love to delve into what people much smarter than I have thought about the text, the intricate meaning of words in Greek or Hebrew, the cultural milieu in which the scripture was written and read how the texts have been applied to people’s daily lives. I love this part and usually I am very adept at stretching this research piece further than I should or have time for.
But then the deadline draws near (read here Friday) and I realize that I need to actually say something about this biblical scripture. Preferably something coherent and meaningful. This is when I hate preaching. All of my self doubt and academic anxiety rises to the surface. What if I have nothing meaningful to say? What if I say something wrong or worse damaging to someone? Yes, I have many friends who say things to me like “The Holy Spirit will guide your words and that won’t happen.” These people clearly underestimate my ability to thwart the Holy Spirit.
I preach about every three weeks and so this anxiety bubbles up with some regularity. I had hoped that as I preach more, it would go away. But in the four years I have been preaching, that has not happened. I am positive each time I preach that I am about to lose all credibility, reveal for all to see how crazy I am and how little I actually know about anything. Each time I stand up to preach, I get nervous like when I was five and played my first piano recital.
And that drives me crazy. I can intellectually tell myself that it will be fine and it is silly to be nervous. I am 41 years old with a masters degree for crying out loud. It’s not that different from the teaching that I do ALL the time and with little to no anxiety. And yet, this Sunday I stood up to preach and thought my shaking hands would drop my iPad.
I greatly admire people who can do this every single Sunday and say that they love it. I want to love it and as I said, I do love aspects of it. But the few times when I have had to preach several weeks in a row, I was completely wrung out after about three weeks. For some reason preaching is an emotionally exhausting endeavor that leaves me drained for the rest of the day.
I love hearing about other preachers processes for writing a sermon and I have gleaned some helpful advice. I know one pastor who does some reading, takes a nap and then writes her sermon. Some people always write it on Saturday and don’t worry about it. (That does not work for me for obvious reasons.)
Yet, I have to admit that there is something about knowing that someone actually listened or thought about what I said that is bolstering. It doesn’t lessen my anxiety for the next time I preach but it gives me something to hold onto for a few days anyway. What do I hope for when I preach? What do I think people will do after a “really great sermon” (whatever that might be)? What do I think is really going to happen if I don’t get it right? Now this is where I think the Holy Spirit comes in. I pray that if I do say something stupid that the Holy Spirit would give wisdom to all with the misfortune to be in earshot to know that I am full of BS.
I am grateful for the supportive community that I serve and that I do get feedback. I appreciate both the positive and the critical comments. The critical comments are often the most useful honestly and against conventional wisdom, criticism doesn’t seem to add to my overall anxiety but actually can give me a direction of what NOT to do. Maybe someday it will be less stressful for me but all I know is that I have to do this again in three weeks. I should start worrying now.

 

When we have more questions than answers November 24, 2013

Filed under: sermon — bweier001 @ 8:35 pm
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There are many things in life that we don’t understand or that don’t make sense to us aren’t there? Things that just don’t quite jive or questions that don’t have a nice, logical and feel good answer. On Facebook this week there was a beautiful video on Huffington Post about a premature baby boy named Ward. Ward’s dad is a photographer and a videographer by vocation and so when he and his wife’s baby was born at 25 weeks at 1 lb. 5 oz. he began to record Ward’s life-however long it may be. On the one year anniversary of Ward coming home, he took all that footage and made a 6 minute video of Ward’s journey to date for his wife. There is no dialog, just some frames with a little background on the situation and a simple song by the Fray. It begins with the first time mom holds Ward at four days old in the NICU. She doesn’t speak even one word as she holds her tiny baby up to her chest but her facial expression speaks volumes. How did we get here? Why are we here? What did we do wrong? What will happen now?

The video goes on to document Ward’s fairly miraculous improvement in NICU, going home after 107 days and the transition to being at home. There are moments of pure joy, amazement and wonder along with the harsher realities of life with a preemie whose future is less certain than most babies. There are still questions and that hang over this little boy and his parents. Questions to which there are not satisfying answers. They daily live in the paradox of what they can know and what they can only hope for.

Our gospel text for this morning-Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday is the crucifixion of Jesus with two criminals. And these ten verses are also ripe with questions for which there are no easy answers. The women and other people who followed Jesus to the cross had to have been asking, “how did this happen? How did we get here? Jesus has not done anything to deserve this.” Essentially why do bad things happen to good people? We hear the soldiers questioning Jesus’ kingship-this is what a king looks like? Hanging on a cross with the common thief? And one of the criminals upon hearing who he was being killed with asked the rather snarky question of “Aren’t you the messiah? Then fix this!” And then there is the other criminal’s rebuttal question of “Don’t you fear questioning God since you have done something wrong and getting what you deserve?”

This short narrative encompasses our daily and real struggle with God in our life and what our culture thinks of God in the world. We struggle because on the one hand we think that in order to be faithful to the idea of Jesus as king, we have to lift up some sort of super hero image of Jesus for society to believe it. Jesus is the victorious king over everything and so therefore Jesus will save the day and my life will be all sunshine and roses. And if I don’t project that idea but question where this king is when I am suffering, then maybe I am denying Jesus as Peter did or I am not grateful.

Yet, as do all the people in this story-we have questions-deep, difficult, “long night of the soul” kind of questions. We read this story and can’t help but to wonder about suffering. We can proclaim to believe that Jesus did die, was raised again and rules this world but yet it can feel like that belief doesn’t put food on the table, finds a job, or heals cancer, or saves a marriage. Like the first criminal we ask: If you are the messiah then save me-fix this immediate mess. And we might even have friends trying to be helpful who say: ” You somehow messed up and deserve your suffering, don’t blame or question God! Aren’t you afraid of what God will do with your doubt?” Someone said to me once that it is ok to be mad at God because we have a big enough God who can take it.

This is the reality of our daily journey with God I think. We wonder, are amazed, question, wrestle, believe, doubt, sometimes all before breakfast! We live in the tension of our questions to God and the truth of the promise that is offered to us by the very one we question. In the midst of the chaos and tension, Jesus offers these words: Today, this day, you will be with me in paradise. Jesus doesn’t condemn the questioners or the questions or try to give pat answers but proclaims the promise of loving us so much that Jesus will be with us in our suffering, pain, even if it is self inflicted. Jesus wants to be with us no matter what and in that presence we can catch a glimpse of what paradise might be like: living in God’s eternal promise of hope and reconciliation.

There is nothing about proclaiming Christ’s reign in the world that is clear or simple. We proclaim a king that the world can’t grasp. Jesus’ kingdom has nothing to do with fanfare, parades, extraordinary buildings, wealth or earthly love of power but Jesus’ kingdom is in the ordinary: the sinners, the tax collectors, the poor, the sick and the lame. Jesus didn’t use weapons to proclaim his presence or power but used water, wine and bread-everyday stuff to show us that God is here. Like baby Wards parents, we are still caught in the brokenness of a creation not yet healed and yet we live in the hope of what we know to be true but can’t fully see, because we can catch glimpses of God’s presence and Jesus’ reign-this promise of paradise right here and right now. We see preemies who go home, food boxes distributed to hungry households, housing, meals and assistance for homeless families, food, water, medical aid, love and support to the people of the Philippines or the people of Illinois, who have lost everything including loved ones. We can wonder and ask why these things happen or why there is not a Disney happy ending for these situations and yet we can also proclaim that Christ’s reign is real in these places and times. We can point to the one who endured real suffering, real death and real resurrection and promises that reality for us all. Christ’s reign encompasses and holds all of these paradoxes in our lives together.

It’s not neat, it’s not clean, it’s not simple but it is real and God’s promises are true and come to us today-this day and everyday through the kind of king who loves us unconditionally and without a second thought is in the suffering with us, walks beside us, holds our questions and doubt and who promises that we will be with him forever. Thanks be to God.

 

The gift of this blog or how I have given up perfectionism for November

Filed under: Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 4:49 am
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I have done enough writing this week to complete a whole book I think. I have kept up with my daily blog posts on this page, completed my work for my other website (www.faithformationjourneys.org),wrote December confirmation curriculum and a sermon. I am a little over writing. But one of the reasons I took on the challenge of this daily blog writing for November was to write more often and hopefully improve my skills, hone my style a bit and learn something in the process. Since it is a daily blog, there is no time for serious research on a topic (I am sure you have all noticed that), any real editing and often not much fore thought. Essentially, I am putting thoughts and ideas out into the world with little to no close examination. Yikes! Yet, there has been a freeing aspect of that for me. I tend to be a perfectionist and no one is harder on me than me. But this blog has forced me to let go of perfection and just accept that good enough is good enough. I read a quote by Anne Lamott today on twitter about perfectionism: “Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend.”
Letting go of perfectionism in this small way this month has opened up for me the beauty in the mess. The creativity that is released because I won’t be perfect so who cares? Just say what I want to say and if you all don’t like it well…? While I have been doing all this writing this week, the creativity has not dried up. I have written some things that have not been great but it sparked how I could do something different in the future or led to positive changes in other pieces of my work.
I can always tell when I am getting caught in my own need to be perfect because it becomes difficult for me to take risks. So one of the paradoxes about me is that I can be a huge risk taker and I have a need to get it right the first time. Yes, that is crazy. In theory, those two things can balance each other out for healthy decision making. But when things get out of whack for me for one reason or another, I can be led to take risks without thinking it through or become paralyzed and not do anything for fear of messing up.
I think most of the time I can keep a fairly good balance and these two opposites come together in a way that leads to creativity that can realistically be done.
Being freed from the tyranny of perfectionism, even just in this small way, has been a gift of this blog. I am not always going to get it right, be perfect or even be close to perfect, but that does not diminish who I am overall as a person. If I mess up this blog post today-hey-I get to, have to, try again tomorrow! Maybe you will like that post better-or not. It doesn’t matter. Maybe my mess will spark something creative in you. That would be perfect! đŸ™‚