The Weekly Meditation is offered by Dan Schmiechen,
a member of Linden Hills United Church of Christ.
REMEMBERING GOD’S LOVE IS STEADY
January 22, 2020
I too, get worked up over what goes wrong in our world. One reaches limits and for me it was the nefarious, clandestine, unbelievable shocking revelation that my favorite sport, baseball was scandalized. I believed baseball was pure, pristine, unsullied and all American.
The Astros, a Texan professional baseball team stole the opposing catcher’s signals to the pitcher from a camera in center field, and radioed them to the home dugout. Then some players beat signals on a trash can to let their hitters know what pitch was coming. Why not light a fire in the bull pen and send up smoke signals to let their hitter know what pitch was coming in. Is nothing sacred anymore?
St. Paul tells us “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice…….And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” These are good words to live by given the state and condition of our world.
These words tell me God’s love has the last word how to live in our world. It seems our country takes one step forward and three steps backward. We are invited to step into the darkness of our world and be a light to see, to improve and to protect. In these fearful times, God’s love is steady and holds on. Our world cannot give that assurance because it relies on human ingenuity which has its limits. On all sides, we are told how to get ahead; that we can solve any problem which comes our way; and why we need enemies to keep us safe from the unknown.
The world is not going to hell but struggling to breathe in wellbeing and inclusive good. Yes, the world prefers war over peace. Yes, the environment is an easy target to exploit. Yes, refugees, the homeless and the poor are cast aside. Now we are at the start of the national impeachment trial in Washington DC.
In spite of all that our faith brims with hope over fear; forgiveness over isolation; justice over white privilege and mercy over hate. The cynicism of fear always attracts audiences. All the more reason to believe this is still God’s world. We are invited to seek the common good.
Nobody said it was easy living the Christian life. We live solely on God’s grace because there is new life beyond our lives. Jesus said: ‘’Be of good cheer I have overcome the world.”
O God, we affirm the name of Jesus Christ which means he was born into our kind of world
opening doors for a new world that our world cannot give.
EGYPT IN OUR LIVES
January 14, 2020
The story goes like this: “An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up and take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him…..When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel for those who are seeking the child’s life are dead.” Matthew 2:13,19.
The flight to Egypt by the Holy Family is one of the biggest information gaps in the Christmas story. We don’t know much about it. Joseph flees with Mary and the child from Herod, a homicidal despot who eliminates members of his own family in fear of losing the crown. He then launches an ethnic cleansing of the first- born males of Israel.
We don’t know what town, or city the Holy Family lived in Egypt. We don’t know how long they stayed. All we know is that when Jesus is born, a death warrant is put on his head and an angel of the Lord tells Joseph “get out of town now.” Years later, an angel appears to Joseph to go back home because the death threat is over.
Egypt means safety and refuge. Egypt means a place to rest, to recuperate, and a return to normal. Egypt means a decision to find a safe harbor to heal my life.
Years ago, I went to Egypt after an emotional crash. I symbolically stayed there until I was ready to go back home again. God was with me as I sought refuge. There in Egypt I made changes in my life.
We go to the Egypt to seek a safe place when we are hurting to claim a new perspective. I needed to think through my priorities; and make decisions to live a healthier life. Egypt may mean dealing with a job loss; dealing with the death of a loved one; dealing with a health issue or a strained relationship. I need to stop whatever I’m doing and seek renewal.
Going to Egypt is a deliberate decision because I need to take better care of my body; or deepen my faith or gain a new perspective in mind and soul. One simply goes.
Egypt means something in my life needs immediate attention. May God walk with you to your Egypt; there may you experience renewal and return home refreshed in God’s love.
O God, for the Holy Family, Egypt was a safe place to begin anew. May it be for us. Egypt is not a magic all ends wells land but a safe place to find new life to return home and begin anew. O God be with us on these Egypt journeys down and back. In Christ’s name.
JOHN’S CHRISTMAS STORY
January 7, 2020
Yes, I realize we are in the Epiphany season of the church year running until Ash Wednesday February 26, beginning of Lent. The word Epiphany means to reveal or to show God’s love for the world. The emphasis is neighborly love.
However, due to an electronic meditation newsletter misfire, I want to share the gospel of John’s Christmas story. John’s Christmas story is different than Matthew, Mark and Luke. The words get dense, the language is poetic and the thoughts go deep about God. There is no holy family, wise people, shepherds or angels here. Here are some different expressions for the story.
John’s gospel works on two levels – the one you read and the one underneath stirring the imaginations of heart and mind. No wonder the symbol for John’s writing is an eagle. The words soar. The words come unannounced breaking through our defenses. John’s gospel is addressed to the world of his time.
”In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God.” The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” This is an echo of the Genesis story when the world was created. There is nothing more invincible in our world than goodness of God’s love. The world tries its hardest to stamp out the light of goodness. It is powerless to do that. Goodness stumbles and falls down. Then it gets to its feet and rises again. God comes to us in the life of Jesus Christ.
Where has the light of God’s love shined in your life? Where does it need to shine more? How can your flesh and mine give witness to that goodness?
“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” Where can I give thanks for the constancy of God’s love in my life? Where can I wait for new life to come into a new year? Jesus came for all peoples, all nations. John’s Christmas story says there is no room for hate. There is no room for fear. There is no room for lies.
God’s love created the world and became flesh in the life of Jesus. John’s language speaks to the deepest yearnings of the human heart.
May the words find a home in your heart.
O God help us not to resist the Light yearning to shin into the empty dark places of our lives. Break down the walls we create so your Light may shine inclusively for all people. Amen.
THE CHRISTMAS STORY
December 23, 2019
Zechariah, an elderly country priest is chosen by lot to preside in the Holy of Holies in the temple. There in the dark, he bumps into the angel, Gabriel. He is told that his wife Elizabeth is going to have their first baby. Stunned by the news, he is literally speechless. When did you ever hear a clergy go speechless? Did Zechariah invent Charades?
Mary, a poor, unmarried, uneducated teenager is told by Gabriel; she too, will have a baby boy. Joseph and Mary are not married. They are off to a terrific start. What does Mary do? She bursts into song singing her child will be an advocate of the poor, and the forgotten of the world. God’s love, forgiveness and justice are hallmarks of the new Kingdom.
Poor Joseph is flabbergasted by the news. He is told by the angel not to leave Mary in disgrace but to care for her which he does. Too bad, we don’t hear much more about Joseph.
Joseph and Mary go to Bethlehem to register. There is no room for the child. Joseph improvises finding a condemned dilapidated smelly barn next to the city dump one block from the garbage disposal unit. Jesus is born in poverty and begins his life shutout.
Angels announced the birth of Jesus to the graveyard night shift cleaning up the Vikings People’s Stadium. Naming the pole barn People’s Stadium - isn’t that an oxymoron?
Wise people from world banking centers search for the child. They meet a homicidal King who begs them to tell him where the child is born. Herod, fearful losing his crown launches a program to eliminate children two years and younger. Children are always the most vulnerable in our world too, aren’t they? Warned in a dream, the wise people detour Herod’s palace and return home using gravel and pot holed county roads.
Joseph is warned in a dream by an angel to take Mary and the baby Jesus down to Egypt. Jesus begins his life as a refugee. Only God could come up with this story! A bright hope filled Christmas to you and your loved ones.
O Holy Child come in gentle peace; come in fierce love, come in fair justice, come to bring all your people together. Amen.
Matthew Chapters 1 and 2 and Luke Chapters 1 and 2
WHO YOU ARE ADVENT 4
December 18, 2019
With the impeachment trial of the President now moving to the US Senate, what more drama do we want as we near Christmas? Despite the claims of a consumer society promising new life with goods and stuff we don’t need, we come to a quiet stable where a Child is to be born.
Living in such turbulent times, it seems unreal for our country to cut back the number of refugees seeking citizenship next year. Yet it doesn’t. Jesus was born into our kind of world.
Before we come to the manger this week, remember your DNA means you were wondrously and mysteriously created in the image of God. It has nothing to do with one’s status in life, or who society claims you should be.
It has everything to do who you are created by God. Being created in the image of God is very hard to prove. I carry no documents in my wallet that says that. I have no evidence to confirm that. All I hold on to is this: I was baptized in the name of Christ. God loved me and loves me still no matter how old I am. When I come to morning worship, or say my prayers or read the Bible or reach out to help my neighbor, I am affirmed once again as a child of God.
I believe we are blessed to be a blessing to friends, family and my neighbor. There is only one question: how can we give thanks to God for the gift of our lives? How do I act out love, forgiveness, and fairness to those I meet in my prayers and everyday life?
As we light Advent Candle Four, remember we were created in the image of God. It’s the most important personal identification we have. The manger scene invites us to step into silence and mystery, to live our lives as never imagined anchored in God’s love.
“Remembering the stable where for once in our lives Everything became a You and nothing was an It.”
For the Time Being – W.H. Auden
O God, the task is to be true to your image seen in our lives.
May we live in a freedom that invites promise,
and hope as a Child comes once again. Amen.
WHAT DO YOU NEED FOR CHRISTMAS? Advent 3
December 10, 2019
I know it is a bit presumptuous for me to ask: What do you need for Christmas? Maybe it is a bit nervy. The reason I noted it this way because the consumer world actually makes that claim.
We are told what it is that makes us healthy, wealthy and wise. Try this on, ring up this purchase and before you know it all your needs are pre-supplied for Christmas. You are now prepared to visit the stable of Jesus.
I’m not going to let my consumer life overpower me this time of the year without asking, “What do I really need for Christmas?”
Doesn’t it depend upon the person who asks the question? For example, voices say: I need clothes. I need food. I need a safe neighborhood. I need a safe place to live with my family. I need a job. I need a home.
Questions from another perspective can be ask. Do I need to act more kind? Can I offer forgiveness in a broken relationship? Am I able to share love? Do I need to learn the art of being humble? Do I need to place myself in the path of someone who grieves or struggles daily?
I’m not talking about the light of Wall Street. Nor am I talking about the light of a political philosophy. And I’m not talking about the light of self-improvement. They all have their places in our lives. I’m talking about a child who is to come bearing gifts for the world to live by and find new life.
Lighting a candle every Sunday in Advent seems on the surface a dumb thing to do.This Child surprises us with a fresh peace; surprises us with a fresh reconciliation; and surprises us with the face of our neighbor. We stand before a life changing gift. Choose wisely. What do I need for Christmas?
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5
Prayer: O God so often it comes down to a choice. May my choice on what I need for Christmas include clear self-examination, a dose of penitence, mixed in with truthful resolve as we wait to receive the Child who is to come. Amen.
THE DARKNESS Advent Two
December 3, 2019
As the sun tilts away from the earth, we enter a winter of darkness. It means shorter days and less light. We celebrate the four Advent Sundays called “the coming of Christ.” We begin to lean toward a Child whose Light overcomes the world on Christmas Day.
I want to say a good word for darkness. That may sound strange but darkness has a good side to it. Darkness can hide motives and unhealthy acts. I don’t deny that. But there is another side of darkness that speaks of promises to come into your life and mine. Darkness can offer a time to observe what was done in our lives for one day.
Darkness can help us what can be seen in the coming days. This time it can become a faith rhythm to our lives. Darkness is natural as light. Darkness can only help us see the sorrow in the world and in our own lives. Darkness can offer a new walk into what a new day may be. Darkness brings a benediction and a promise to come.
Light two candles in your home to not only hold back the night but a time to welcome the night, to rest from our labors, to sleep and rise to a new dawn. Let God work within.
“God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.”
O God of promises, hold us tight to the darkness to see what needs to be seen
so that the Light may enlighten our hearts, minds and souls. Amen.
WITNESSES TO THE GOOD ACTED OUT BEFORE US
November 25, 2019
I feel intoxicated running on the fumes of marinated news stories telling me “the country is divided.” There is no end in sight but division. Impeachment hearings divide. Races of people divide. Walls divide. Politics divide. Neighbors divide. Friendships divide. Dogs and cats divide. Spinach and broccoli divides families. Even gold fish divide. With the fish, I don’t know how but I know it. I get weary of it all.
I am not yearning for a silver lining or a fix it up feel good approach. No, sometimes the good news of God’s love stands in front of us and we don’t recognize it. I believe God wants us to pay more attention to what is quietly acted out before us.
In our morning worship, people are invited to share their personal stories and written words. I carried their stories of faith to help me live out my faith. What do I want to witness to? Who do I want to become as a child of God?
That’s a fresh breath of God’s love mixed in with the doom and gloom forecasts. But there is something else working here I did not see.
The congregation has spent a lot of time discerning who we are as a people of God and where we want to go. People in Linden Hills have contributed mightily to ask where God is leading us into the future? But I missed a new ingredient for God’s hope.
Pastors Lawrence and Eliot have modeled for me how two people from different races, different cultural backgrounds and different personalities can live and work together.
We see in their witness what it means to love one another, work together, share a common vision in Christ in our church family. I recall from my past life it is very hard for clergy to work together. Why? Because there is a clash of egos, competitive natures and high stakes affirmations. In spite of these leadership hazards, I give thanks for the inspiring witness of our two pastors.
I also give thanks for the witness of other people in our church family who made a public testimony and shared their faith with the written word. When I come to church groggy and beaten down from the news divisions of the week, I see a new way to act in the name of Christ. I have no control over dividing news but I do have control how to witness to God’s good in the world.
“They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
John 12: 21
O God, I am buoyed to live fully, inspired by words of lived resurrections to go forth into the world as a disciple of Christ.
I give thanks this Thanksgiving for our community of believers. Amen.
LIVING BY TWO SETS OF WORDS
November 12, 2019
The new provocative code word today is Quid Pro Quo. The news media is choked full of these words. Some people in Washington DC say they believe in it and others say they don’t believe in it. Careers and reputations hang on the interpretation. Initially, I thought the words came from a lost language in the Babylonian culture. I was corrected, it was Roman. I repeat them four times a day to feel up to date.
I am told the words mean “something for something” or “this for that.” I asked a lawyer friend what the words mean and he said: “Extortion.” If these words help interpret the times we live in – fine and good. The older I become I want more clarity in my life even if it means talking funny.
I thought of words a friend offered me year ago. We were talking about mistakes we made in our lives and where we are now. My friend said: “Dan, God loves you to begin again.”
Those words always stuck with me. God loves us deeper than Quid Pro Quo. I suppose these three words have a place in our scheme of order. God’s love is what I want to pay more attention to because it affirms my neighbor and I. God’s love keeps one going.
God loves you means it is steady even when I am not steady.
I’m sure each one of us can recall when days were plain hard; when people were difficult to deal with; when despair crowded in; and when mistakes overwhelmed.
God loves you means these daily affirmations:
We give thanks where hope has risen; where friendships were recognized; where forgiveness was practiced; where courage was enhanced and where the light of God showed a new path.
I prefer God loves you over trying to figure out what Quid Pro Quo means or is it Pro Quo Quid? God help us.
Remind us O God, when we wake up every day, this is your world. Wake us up to live in your love and forgiveness. Amen.
JESUS WANTS US TO SERVE THE WORLD AND NOT FLEE
November 5, 2019
There is a caricature of the teachings of Jesus by fellow Christians. It becomes embolden and cheered on every day. It goes like this: 1) Demonize vulnerable minorities who threaten the white way of life; 2) Encourage violence against refugees. Separate refugee children from families; set up inhumane camps and place children into metal cages; 3) Minorities are enemies of the people with the blessing of God. This is a travesty against the gospel of Jesus Christ! God should sue them.
In my life, I never seen such blatant hate slip into the lexicons of acceptable vocabulary. The public issues of the day are laid out in an either/or world. We ignore gay people or we see them. We punish minorities or we learn to live together. We pollute the environment or we learn to assist the environment. We blame poor people for our problems or we assist them to live a stronger life.
Words of faith become trivialized. Forgiveness is a gift from God and it is not earned. Love is not based on a conditional acceptance but it is freely given by God. Justice is not a nice word tacked on to citizenship but rests at the foundation of a shared common good. Mercy is never an option but a requirement to live. Hope is an open door not a new found fear. Hate is still called hate and not paraded as an option.
The Christian faith says be faithful living the teachings of Jesus. Do not shut down the conscience but let it flourish. Do not close your eyes but truly open them and see. Do not shut down the soul but enlarge it.
Our neighbors were not created in our image but God’s image. This is not our world but a gift from God to welcome all.
Jesus calls us, o’er the tumult Of our life’s wild restless sea; Day by day his voice sounded, Saying, “Christian follow me.”
An old hymn
- Dan Schmiechen
GIVING THANKS DOESN’T COST ANYTHING
October 22, 2019
Jesus tells a story of ten lepers. Nine lepers were Jews and one was a Samaritan. All ten were healed. But only one healed leper returned to give thanks to Jesus. The background to the story is that Palestine and Samaria did not get along as neighbors. Years ago, Palestine were carried into captivity by Assyria. Samaria was left alone. A deep cultural and religious schism existed between these two countries. Jesus tells us it was the Samaritan who returned to give thanks and not the others.
The ten lepers were outcasts, labeled as undesirable misfits to be avoided at all costs. Jesus gives the Samaritan new life. He is saved in his faith and healed in his body to live.
Giving thanks doesn’t cost anything. It relies upon the heart of our faith. We can look back in our lives when family, friends, work colleagues and neighbors spoke a heartening word of thanks to us. We were buoyed up. We were affirmed. We were remembered.
Returning thanks can mean someone was helped. Returning thanks can mean someone remembered a kind act. Returning thanks can mean I can’t live without the support of other people. Returning thanks can mean I do not live my life in isolation. Returning thanks can mean I recognize what was given with good intentions. Returning thanks can mean I’m vulnerable to the gifts of another person. Can I offer words of “thank you?’’
Luke’s tells us, we can’t live in a vacuum void of human relationships. Luke asks us - can we return to give thanks for God’s love and also thank someone who cared about us?
Go ahead. Thank someone for a remembered kindness o r a word of support.
Read: Luke 17:11-19
AN ASTONISHING DINNER INVITATION LIKE NO OTHER
October 15, 2019
The most unusual dinner invitation I ever heard of was when a friend who directed community services in Madison, Wisconsin decided to host a dinner party. The dinner was held at a community center. This was the invitation list: company CEO’s from the area, other business people, people on welfare single moms and alderperson from the district.
After the dinner party I asked my friend, “How did it go?” He made two responses. All people at the table felt oppressed because they believed they were taken advantage of. Secondly, at the end of the evening, guests got a better understanding of each one’s world.
When we come to morning worship or gather around the table to receive bread and juice, we do not have to show our health insurance card, a driver’s license, papers on our housing agreement, credit cards, or social security numbers. The so called “treasures of the world” are not valid for admittance to worship or communion.
Luke’s gospel tells the story of privileged people invited to a great banquet. They gave excuses why they could not come. I say these same excuses myself. I don’t have time. I have more important things to do. Maybe I don’t want to look into my soul.
The message is crystal clear when we sing the first hymn or come to the table once a month. If you want forgiveness then you forgive. If you want peace, then be peaceful. If you want love, then love. If you want to be cleansed of privilege? Then we must look your neighbor in the face.
The invitation is always open to come to morning worship and the table. If we don’t want to come, that’s our decision. And now the invitation list radically changes. Those who who feel ostracized and shut out because of social ranking and class divisions are also invited to receive God’s love and forgiveness.
All are welcome. No matter who you are and what you did – you are still welcome. God does not give up.
Read: Luke 14:15-24
- Dan Schmiechen
WHAT HOLDS US TOGETHER?
October 2, 2019
Visiting our youngest daughter in Alaska in September, we ate at a downtown eatery in Anchorage. While there, I spotted a framed hand drawing of a salmon. What was unusual about the picture was the drawing depicted only the bone structure, the skeleton of the fish not the flesh. It attracted me because of attention paid to the internal structure of the fish. In other words, what held it together.
Sadly, our society sees and hears the tragic stories of people in the public who have lost themselves. The center did not hold. They made poor choices in their lives that were ill advised and foolish. The inner resources of their lives failed to cope with
The word for you and me is what is the moral center? Does it hold? Here are some reflective questions to ask ourselves.
I am not casting blame or bawling anyone out. Where is the center that helps us navigate the private and public waters of our lives?
What resources of the Christian faith steer my life to be a faithful disciple of Jesus?
Read Psalm 46
A MAP TO GUIDE NOT CONFUSE
September 25, 2019
Psalm 121 lays out a journey of faith and no one knows where it goes. The over riding theme is no matter where, God will be with you. There will be hazards and difficult times couched in perils of that time – a long journey through unknown country, heat stroke and fear of moon - all fades with the knowledge God is our companion.
I have learned as a wilderness canoe guide how to read a map. I am not being funny but one has to know where one is going. There are two rules to reading a map: know your starting point on the map and two, check your direction either by sun or compass.
My President over read a weather map where a hurricane was striking the coast of Florida marked up with a pen. People in Alabama were alerted to be on the watch but the weather forecast never said that.
Fall begins a journey for each of us. New beginnings, new hopes and new opportunities. However, when we map our journey, we are not dead sure how the journey will go. We can guess. We have hunches. We may even be a bit fearful.
There is a cost. Never underestimate the cost. Discouragement. Overconfidence. Self-doubts. But there is surety in these words: “The Lord will keep you from all evil…..The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time and forevermore.”
The bedrock assurance with Psalm 121 is that it promises new beginnings. We are not alone for God will be our guide. There is security knowing we may not know how and where our faith journey will go this Fall, but we know who our guide is. What more do we want?
Read Psalms 121
Inscription for the Statute of Liberty, New York Harbor 1883
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddle masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore
Send these, the homeless, tempest-to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Neighborliness According to the Gospel of St. Matthew
“Come, you that are blessed by my son of the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick, and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.
Then the righteous will answer him, Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you or naked and gave you clothing? And when was that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?
And the King will answer them, Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
St. Matthew 25
Last third of the first century
August 12, 2019
A recent news story was about three U of Mississippi students posing with guns by a sign commentating the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955. Emmett Till fourteen years old was accused by a white woman of flirting and whistling at her. Those charged with his murder were declared not guilty. The woman who brought the charges later recanted. The Till Foundation declared they would erect a new bullet proof sign. It was unclear if the three students caused the damage. The case is being investigated.
No one can bullet proof racism. One can only bullet proof a sign. Would eliminating racism in our country be that simple.
When I read the story what came to mind was racism never goes away. We never get used to racism. It rears an ugly head in new shapes and forms that belittle human beings. Now is not the time to pull back or leave it to the next generation to deal with. God asks one question: “Christian, what will be your response?”
Each generation struggles with their humanity relating to people of different color, cultures and beliefs. This is an eternal battle for the soul. Does that mean we give up? No. We faith God’s love into new shapes and forms for the inclusive good. We live out that belief because Jesus was very clear on who my neighbor - any human being who crosses my path is my neighbor.
We carry on not because we have the prophetic will to eliminate to racism but because God has the prophetic will and determined power to overcome racism. This is God’s world and each of us is given space to live in. We are to be reconciled with our sisters and brothers in community. The power to do that does not come from us but rather God. The uncomfortable and radical call of Jesus Christ means no one stands outside the pale of God’s reconciliation for the world. Those who take the name of Christ are invited to join in God’s cause for the good of all. We are to continually made a witness when people are treated as inhuman; where people are denied their God given rights and where people are ostracized and cast as nobodies and expendables. New visions, new conversations, new speeches, new actions are called for by us.
God created all humans equal but God never gave us a bullet proof sign but the power of the Gospel to overcome the violent hatred of racism. With God’s help, it’s up to us.
“Therefore, if any one is in Christ, one is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us he ministry of reconciliation; that is God was in Christ reconciling the world……and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”
II Corinthians 5: 17-19
Our God comes and will not be silent- Psalm 50:3
August 8, 2019
"Silence is golden" "Children should be seen and not heard" From the earliest days, some of us are told to be silent.
I get it. I know ho hard it is when I'm trying to have a conversation and I get permissively interrupted by my child. We haven't been raising her to be silent, you see.
So she interrupts, She interjects her thoughts. She will not be silent, even if it might be more convenient for the adult around her.
"Our God comes and will bot be silent," the psalmist says.
We are called to follow God. Following God means that the goldenness of silence isn't about silencing. It's about listening.
Even when we feel like we have something more important to say.
God- we are willing to listen. We will risk our voices. We will honor the roar of your voice.
- Kaji Dousa for UCC Devotional
KEEPING FAITH AND INTEGRITY INTACT
July 23, 2019
After sadly reading stained integrity stories of public officials at their worst, what came to mind was the Seven Deadly Sins of the Christian Church. We have them paraded daily in the news. The Seven Sins is making a roaring comeback. No, I am not hallucinating as an 86 year old Christian who believes public trust of our leaders has evaporated off face of the earth.
I could only name three of the seven deadly sins so your assignment before you read further, is to look them up on the computer. Vice lists have their advantages -be on guard and disadvantages - why that sin and not others. The deadly list was shaped in the 6th century. Talk about being up to date.
I have read enough stories of lapses consciences, dishonest practices, inhuman behavior, sexual confusions, shameless actions and racial discrimination by our leaders. I would prefer to see how you and I keep faith and integrity intact living the Christian life and seeking the common good.
I believe there is something deeper moving here. We live in God’s world and this is not our world. This is God’s world and we are guests. God must be taken seriously. Not anything goes. How seriously do we take the common good for ourselves and others? I am not moving into a hell, fire and damnation sermon.
The image of God is seen in the daily practices of Christ in our daily lives. The image of who we are and to whom we belong comes from God. Love one another. Forgive the other. Show mercy. Affirm justice. Be merciful to one another. Pray for your enemies. Reach out to your neighbor. Honor your name as a child of God from your baptism blessing.
Practice your faith and keep your integrity intact. Live out the Beatitudes and not the Seven Deadly Sins.
READ SCRIPTURE: Matthew 5: 3-12 The Beatitudes
CHANGING HABITS: PROCRASTINATION
July 16, 2019
Summer is a good time to work on changing a bothersome habit. You can change an unhealthy habit and so can I. I’m working on procrastination. I don’t know what a bothersome habit is for you but I hope you can replace it.
Sometimes I postpone eating vegetables, reading good murder mysteries, phoning relatives and friends, stalling on my health directive and letting my devotional life go stale.
One can move into deeper procrastination issues: holding back forgiveness and denying friendship to someone. Refusing to see the face of my neighbor. Neglecting my faith. It can be when you and I go silent over a prejudice that needs to be challenged, or forget someone who is denied fairness.
Procrastination can also mean continuing careless judgement call on somebody I don’t agree with religiously or politically whether friends, family or neighbors. It may even be delighting in the mistakes of other people. It could also mean continually calling someone an enemy because of a hurtful act.
The danger of procrastination is that it so easily becomes a practicing habit. It can become a cocoon I climb into and ignore people God wants me to enjoy and be in community with. The other danger of procrastination is that my soul can shiver up and deny me good health in body, mind and spirit.
There is nothing magical changing this unhealthy habit. I can’t take a pill, read a book or go to a seminar how to correct it. There comes a time in one’s life when we need to give ourselves a good shaking up. “God, what I am doing is ridiculous. Give me the strength to change this bothersome habit.”
“I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my supplications.
Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.”
- Dan Schmiechen
ORDINARY TIME CELEBRATES THE ORDINARY
July 3, 2019
The Christian calendar of the Church Year places us in what is called Ordinary Time. Lent is past. Holy Week is past. Easter is past. Pentecost (birthday of Christian Church) is past. Ordinary Time stretches from Pentecost to the first Sunday before Advent. The first of the church year celebrates the Church’s wider service to the wider world. The second half emphasizes a faith to live by helping one’s neighbor.
Towns and cities in our country celebrate ordinary events to be recognized and stand out with distinctive events like marathon races, music concerts, food fairs and art festivals. Towns seem to offer the most variety ranging from trained diving vultures diving to snapping turtle races (did you know they can’t turn corners - ideal for races) to snowmobile races across open water to admiring acres of poison ivy to pig racing contests.
My favorite is not a festival but a sign outside a town in northern Minnesota. The sign says “Cotton was founded in 1913 and has been dumbfounded ever since.” The message sounds like a conflicted history. I can see a town put up a sign that says ”Sorry folks, we have nothing to celebrate but come in for a cup of coffee.”
Ordinary Time means we live out our lives quietly and faithfully in witness to God’s love. It’s a time giving thanks and affirming what we have – our lives, our friends, our families and our neighbors
We are in Ordinary Time. God gives us the gift of time. It’s not a matter of trying to see how clever we are filling up the days and making them worthwhile. God already has filled them with graceful wonders to see, use and share.
Hurrah for Ordinary Time!
“The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.”
- Dan Schmiechen
Down with Chaos!
May 29, 2019
More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters, more majestic than the waves of the sea, majestic on high is the Lord! - Psalm 93:4
Before there was something there was nothing. The proto-physicist(s) who imagined the creation of the universe "in the beginning" described a formless emptiness. To the Ancients, water—especially the sea—was a symbol of chaos, understood as disorder, tumult, and confusion.
I once visited a friend of mine in the hospital who had just suffered a stroke. I asked him how he was and he answered, "It is all tohu wa-bohu," which is the Biblical Hebrew translated as "formless void." He had grown up in Beirut and spoke Arabic, which has a very similar term for chaos. My friend likened his mind's confusion and sense of disorder to the primordial chaos of Genesis 1.
We all from time to time experience chaos in our lives. Sudden changes can throw our world into disorder. Daily we witness on the news confusion and disorder in our country and among the nations.
Psalm 93 begins a series of psalms that proclaim the absolute sovereignty of God. Our passage for today asserts God's sovereignty by proclaiming that God's majesty is mightier even than the waves of the sea. In other words, God has control over chaos.
How, when, and where God exercises that sovereignty remains mysterious, but we are assured that ultimately God will be up and chaos will be down. May it be so!
God of majesty and might, bring order to chaos, understanding to confusion, and your sweet peace to every place of disruption
-Richard L Floyd from the UCC Devotional website
THE SWAMPS IN ONE’S LIFE
May 21, 2019
I remember years ago my President said “He was going to clean out the swamp in Washington D.C.” It was something to that affect. One could quickly identify with those words because a city far away on the east coast of our country with people who cannot be trusted was identified as “a swamp.” And secondly, a new reformer was going to bring about change. I’ll let you decide if that happened.
I forget as other people do that the swamps we love to talk about in Washington D.C. are also in Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Bloomington, Brooklyn Park, and St. Paul. It’s a common condition. We, too wrestle with the same issues and sometimes don’t do any better than cities we call “swamps” like Washington D.C dealing with public schools, health care, police reform and environmental protection.
There is a question to ask:
“Create in me a clean heart, O God and put a new right spirit within me……
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.”
Psalm 52: 10 and 12
WAIT TO LISTEN
May 15, 2019
This is an old spiritual discipline. It goes like this.
Every day during this week choose a scripture passage from the Bible. Choose your favorite passage or choose a passage from the weekly scripture lessons posted in the Linden Tree.
At the beginning of each day and throughout the day keep repeating the chosen scripture passage. Do this wherever you are: at work, driving the car, sitting at home, shopping at a store or taking a walk – anyplace.
At the end of each day, ask yourself: “What thoughts keep rising within me?” “Do I need to listen to them? “Where am I being lead?”
Don’t give up – it may feel strange to do this but stay with it. Just like we learn to write by writing; hike by hiking; being a friend by offering friendship – so with this practice.
There are no guarantees what will happen if you try this spiritual discipline. There are no prizes, food coupons or phone calls offering a free cruise trip to the South Pole. This is an invitation to open your life to God’s presence. Listen where you are lead.
Daily Scriptures: You choose
A TREE: REMINDERS OF OUR LIVES
May 8, 2019
The next time you walk down the street where you live or go to a nearby park, look at a tree. There are needle and leaf type trees. Trees are in many ways like humans.
Scripture tells us each one of us is “wondrously made by God.”
WISDOM AT ANY AGE
May 1, 2019
The well-known writer, Jewish Rabbi Harold Kushner was interviewed on Minnesota Public Radio about his new book “Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned about Life.” The Rabbi who has served congregations most of his life has written helpful books on good and evil, love and forgiveness. His new book is about what he has learned at eighty years old.
What intrigued me about the interview was a question the interviewer asked the radio audience: “What one important thing have you learned in your life?” It’s a good question to ask. No matter what your age, all of us have gone through experiences that have been good and bad, helpful and difficult, satisfactory and regretful.
So at your age what you have learned? I’m not going to tell you mine but ask you to share with yourself during a prayer time or a daily reflective time – one or two insights you have learned?
Some people mistakenly believe one has to be a certain age to distill wisdom. I have come across astute wisdom from a kindergarten child to a high school sophomore to a young adult up the age ladder into the nineties. Sadly, I have discovered some people exhibit early signs of turning into fossils. Growing up is a lifelong process. It is a continual on-going formation.
I don’t believe each one of us suddenly reaches a magic “a-ha moment” and becomes wise. The woman of my life can testify that does not happen. It’s more like an unfolding of one’s life.
Here is a suggestion: get a piece of paper and pencil and write down one or two essential things you have learned in your life. Move your own words into a prayer.
“Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” Matthew 11: 19
BE A WITNESS FOR GOD’S GOOD
April 24, 2019
It seems nobody is shy being a witness today. Sadly, to the surprise of many, unacceptable and uncontrolled vitriolic hate spilling into public life has gone mainstream. Also, many of the opinions we hear today believe in an elite, and privileged society. America is a nation for the few.
Some people believe a vile vocabulary is called for in these fearful times to support mean and selfish ends. Some believe class privilege should be used to beat up the poor. Others are putting their bets on walls to keep undesirables out. Some believe Jesus is white and only blesses whites. The Lady standing in the harbor of New York City wonders if she ended up at the wrong location. Neighborhoods are commodities; children and senior citizens are expendable. This is not the America I knew and grew up in.
Together, can we witness to the common good? Sure we can disagree. We who embrace the Christian faith need to witness stronger to God’s love in Jesus Christ. Why let these voices of hate have the last word?
O God, help us to be:
*More forgiving and understanding with family, neighbors and friends.
*More faithful in opening up conversation not to change minds but to learn from others.
*More willing to serve than be served.
*More aware of the wider world we live in seeing disparities among races and working for all.
*More truthful in my speech.
*More loving of the unlovable.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27
EASTER SAYS GOD HAS THE LAST WORD
April 18, 2019
Sometimes my world is not going according to order. I get stuck shaping better faith habits. I am staggered by the inhumane public actions of my political leaders. How much despair can one handle seeing how the people treat people.
Easter says God has the last word. But let me say what it is not. Easter is not feeling good. Easter is not hoping for a happy ending. And Easter is not looking for a silver lining in the clouds. Where chocolate Easter bunnies came from - I don’t know. They are not mentioned in the Easter story.
Easter pulls one out of the life’s darkness into life’s light. I learned:
1) What happens to us in daily life, we still receive God’s love for us and for the good of the world. God has the last word.
2) God’s love overcame hate and violence in the life of Jesus Christ. The world cannot overcome hate and violence because it does not have the power to do that. The world is powerless. There is another alternative in the face of human cruelty – that if forgiveness and reconciliation. No one says it is easy. We carry on believing God’s love is constant and God has the last word.
3) We are called to witness with acts of compassionate justice and merciful caring no matter we feel or think. This power is not our power; it only comes from God in Christ. You and I am called to witness to that power because God has the last word.
Somehow God’s love triumphed over what the world offers. Somehow a motley group of first century disciples became a community of believers testifying to an inclusive grace that overcomes the world. I am thankful to live in such a life-giving community of faith at Linden Hills congregation.
“They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road,
while he was opening scripture to us?”…….. Read Luke 24: 13- 35
PALM SUNDAY: WHAT DO WE DO WITH JESUS?
April 9, 2019
Palm Sunday is the most political Sunday of the church year. I’m not talking about the Republican, Democratic, Green, Independent Parties or the countless Flat Earth Societies. Jesus rides into the city of Jerusalem as he rides down the isle of our sanctuary. The question is: What do we do with him?
The gospel of Luke gives us a more subdued picture of Palm Sunday than Matthew, Mark and John. The disciples and followers call him”the King who comes in the name of the Lord.” His supporters throw their cloaks on the road to honor him. There is no waving of palms because there is no mention of palms in Luke’s story.
What do we do with him? He comes with a message to walk paths of God’s love overcoming hate, forgiveness offering second chances, and reconciliation bridging separations.
In some ways, Palm Sunday came early for the people of Linden Hills UCC. As a congregation we decided to discern how we can better order our life in Jesus Christ. I believe good news of God’s love flowered. We decided: 1. As disciples of Jesus we want to be more responsive to the present and future. 2. We chose to be a sanctuary congregation. 3. We are planning to strengthen our pastoral staff.
This is where Palm Sunday gets political. Where and how does his message find root in our personal and public life? Where does Jesus’ message of gracious love, healing forgiveness and bridging justice live? The word salvation literally means “healing”, “being whole” and “made well.” So we are talking about bringing salvation’s witness into “the public square” of our lives. My faith in Jesus Christ is both personal and social – they are united together in a full gospel of “Good News.”
What do we do with Jesus? The disciples didn’t know what to do with him. The crowd of followers didn’t. The Pharisees didn’t. His family didn’t. Herod didn’t. Pilate didn’t. Do we know what to do with him when he comes?
Scripture: Luke 19: 29-40
LENT: LISTENING TO A RIVAL
April 2, 2019
Our society tells us don’t talk to the enemy. There are good guys and there are bad guys. Of course, I am one of the good guys. There are people who are plagued with the leprosy of wrong belief. These are confused and muddled people in their thinking. And then there are people like me – clear headed with correct beliefs. The word is clear in our culture: don’t consort and don’t listen to enemies but I prefer the word rivals.
I finished dinner with Barb at Independent Living Dinning Room in Parkshore. As I was leaving the room, I saw Bob (not his real name.) Bob is confined to the wheelchair, an ex-veteran who is a a spirited and boisterous defender of the President.
I don’t know what got into me but when I saw Bob, I stopped and walked over to his table. He knew me and responded, “Hello, Dan.” I replied, “Bob I have an offer to make. I would like to invite you out for coffee or lunch sometime to talk politics. I know we differ in our positions but I would like to hear where you are coming from.”
He lighted up and said, “Yes, Dan. Let’s do that. I took a risk and added: “Can we agree there will be no throwing of knives, plates and chairs?” Bob laughed and said, “Let’s do it.” Now some people may call that invitation futile and ridiculous. I don’t. I have a coffee date with Bob.
I offer some suggestions I have found helpful listening to a rival on whatever subject one talks about. Listening is more important than hearing. Hearing is listening to words. Listening is talking to the whole person and seeking understanding.
* Listening means don’t run away. This may be a new experience for you and me. Stay with it. One is going deeper than words but maybe a relationship can be formed even though we don’t see eye to eye. Something new can come through listening.
*Listening means be patient. Remember this is not a debate. This is seeking understanding why the other person believes and thinks the way he or she does. This not the time to line up a stout defense or memorize my arguments for self-justification and why I am right.
*Listening expands relationships and understanding. There is the danger of talking past each other. What feelings as re coming through from the other person? Be comfortable with silence.
God speaks to us in expected ways. This may not be my way. Can a door be opened to see a rival as a person with thoughts and feeling like I do? What can we find in common? Maybe our conversation may be with a family member, a neighbor, a work colleague or a fellow Christian?
St. Paul said, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or or rude.
It does not insist on it’s own way; it is not irritable or resentful.”
LENT: ICE OUT FOR THE SOUL
March 26, 2019
According to the Minnesota DNR ice out has three definitions. One is all the ice on a lake (must be over ten acres of water) is completely clear. Another definition says one can motor from one end of a lake to the other even though the boat pushes through slush. A final description of ice out is that 90 percent of the lake is open.
Where we live in Parkshore in St. Louis Park, there is a small pond at the back of the building. The question is “when will the ice go off?” All the ice has pulled back from the shoreline and we are waiting for a wind to do the final clearing. We did not park our car on the pond which is often a traditional guessing contest when the car breaks through the ice and sinks to the bottom.
Ice out has always been intriguing to me as we come to the end of the Lenten season because of this reason. When sunlight penetrates the ice, the water is warmed beneath like a greenhouse. Ice melts beneath the surface not from above. As water pushed up, the ice warms, breaking down the cell structure weakened by the heat it absorbs.
The ice looks dark when it doesn’t reflect much sunlight – this is called “rotten ice.” It may be 18 inches thick but it is not safe to walk on. Rain can help the process. Wind is also a factor in deteriorating ice and speeding up the melting.
Hopefully, the Lenten season has been a time in your life and mine where a frozen faith, a frozen attitude, a frozen compassion is opened to new practice. I am not saying these life breathing changes cannot occur during the actual season of Lent.
As we approach Palm and Easter, fresh opportunities to practice love and forgiveness, compassion and mercy, neighborliness and community can find new ways to sprout in your life and mine.
Change comes within when you and I make a steady decision to try new habits, learn new acts of responding to God’s love and forgiveness.
What will ice out means for my faith and life with my neighbor.
“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10
LENT: LAZARUS AT THE STOPLIGHT
March 19, 2019
Lazarus is at the stoplight I pass every Monday afternoon when I go home from the Food Shelf. Lazarus may be in a wheelchair. Lazarus may be standing – a man or a woman. In the cold and bitter, winter Lazarus is bungled up in layers of clothing holding a sign that says, “Help.”
I’m sure some people when seeing Lazarus go through a stock speech. Why don’ t you get a job?” “If I give you money, how do I know it won’t be used for drugs and booze?” “I had a hard day at work and I’m not going to let you ruin my day.” I’m tempted to lock the car doors and stare straight ahead. On the other hand, some people offer money, energy bars, wool caps and stockings.
Why does Lazarus make me feel so uncomfortable? I believe it’s because Lazarus reminds me he is part of Christ’s community and he is our neighbor.
Who is Lazarus? Jesus tells a story in Luke’s (Luke 16: 19-31) of a poor man named Lazarus who eats the crumbs off the table of a rich man named Dives. Dives seemingly has it all – access and privilege. Lazarus is a bum, a nobody living on the streets. The name Lazarus means “one who God helps.”
Here is where the story becomes very uncomfortable. Both men die and are ushered into the final judgement. Dives is stuck with his worthless access and privilege and is isolated in misery. Lazarus is cared for in the arms of God. Jesus tells us the final judgement will be decided on how did we share food with the hungry? This simple act can liberate my soul. How broad is our invitations sharing soul food at the table of Christ with the poor and homeless?
I roll down my window and offer a gift to a homeless person. I say, “Use it well.” I really don’t know how the gift will be used by the homeless person but I do know this in my heart. It is a remedy against selfishness. My soul answers not in guilt but in serving. What more could I ask?
Next time you drive around town, Lazarus will be at the spotlight. How do I practice God’s love?
LENT: Playing With Fire
March 12, 2019
Several months ago Barbara and I saw the play, Frankenstein – Playing with Fire at the Guthrie theater. Mary Shelly wrote the story of Frankenstein considered the first work of science fiction at a party where people were challenged to write the best ghost story. And she did.
With the named and to be named congressional investigations in Washington D.C. I wonder how many public officials who are called to testify are asking themselves: “Why on earth did I do this?” ”Was I addicted to insatiable cravings for more power, self-improvements and personal gain?” “Why didn’t I ask more questions of my conscience and faith?”
The play, Frankenstein turns out almost like an old catechism approach where a question is asked and the answer is given. It becomes a conversation between the scientist and his creature. What does it mean to be human? What does integrity mean? Am I living out my full humanity that God has given me? What is love? What does it mean to forgive?
You and I face the same questions raised by the scientist and Frankenstein. And yes, we face the same questions many public officials are being asked, “Why did you do what you did?”
Let’s not get waylaid here. No, I don’t conduct secret experiments in a laboratory in the back room of our home. The questions cut to the heart of our motives. “Are you sure you want to do this?” This is the forgotten question our society does not ask in the rush toward personal selfish advantage and fleeting self-preservation.
I have made dumb decisions in my life trying to demonstrate how articulate I was and how adept I was solving people’s problems. I wanted to be highly thought of by all. It was a dead-end run – I crashed. By God’s grace, I entered into life changing habits of faith.
Playing with Fire helped me reflect once again that when second chances come around in my life – choose them and live them. One cannot Play with Fire all the time by misusing God’s given gifts. What is wasted is wasted. “Who is the person I am meant to become?”
I’m reminded how one of many catechisms asks the question:
“What is the chief end of human life?
“To love God and enjoy God forever.”
- - Dan Schmiechen
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO CONFESSION?
February 27, 2018
Does anyone know what confession is anymore? Do we live in a time where the word confession is non-existent or Orwellian banned in a “ brave new world?”
Confession sounds like a swear word today. I did not do it. I do not take responsibility, It just happened and I happened to be there when it happened. It sounds like there is some kind of plague upon your house if you consider confessing. I’m sure some people will claim confession is a form of socialism.
The forthright words of the Psalmist tells us: “Create in me a clean heart, O God and renew a right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence and do not take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and sustain in me a willing spirit.” Psalm 51
Confession can make one human again. Confession can be freeing. Confession can get one’s soul back on track again. Confession means I can look at an unruly past and ask God for forgiveness.
Soon, we come to the season of Lent, a lengthening of 40 days not counting Sundays to restore heart, mind and soul. Caricatures are easy to make of Lent. I am giving up broccoli for Lent and I not watching any Twin Cities sports teams on television or going to games. A healthy Lent can be more than that.
1. Lent can be: this is one of the first times in my life this year that I was honest with myself.
2. Lent can be: I just can’t ask God to forgive me. Did I ever try?
3. Lent can be: I can see who my neighbor is clearer than ever before.
4. Lent can be: I needed to read scripture to hear a Word beyond my words.
5. Lent can be: I realized I need a community of faith to live in – I can’t live wrapped up in myself.
6. Lent can be: I gave thanks to God for my life and am realizing who I can become.
7. Lent can be: Thank God I don’t have to be perfect.
8. Lent can be: Thank God, I can see who were strangers can now be my neighbors.
Thanks be to God.
- Dan Schmiechen
LISTENING WITH THE HEART
February 20, 2019
The other day I was talking to a new friend. There was a warm compatibility between us. He had moved into Parkshore Independent living where we live.
Suddenly, the conversation shifted and he became very personal. He began talking about the recent death of his wife. He recounted how they met, their family life and all the strong ways she impacted and influenced his life.
Then he spoke of the final hours of her life in the hospital. He climbed into bed with her and held her in his arms. Tears flowed. He went on to say how thankful he was for their life together.
I kept quiet as he told me his deep sorrow. When he finished, he made a slight apology for bringing up the story. I simply thanked him.
I have a hunch many of us have listened to such stories with a family member, a friend or a neighbor. Coming unannounced, someone shared a story about sadness, grieving or a struggle in their life. We listened.
We are glad we were there. No problems were solved. No advice was given. We listened with the heart to someone who was hurting.
I also have a hunch we were glad we were there at that time. Listening with the heart was really we all could do. Someone hurting deep down needed a listening ear.
All I can do is to thank God for those times when we were there and listened.
“Love….bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” I Corinthians 13:7
The Minstrel Show: Losing One’s Humanity
February 13. 2019
My Dad served an Evangelical and Reformed congregation in a German neighborhood on the south side of St. Louis in the late thirties. The congregation had an artistic streak performing skits and plays on the stage in the social hall.
At one performance, fourteen white men with blackened faces were seated in a semicircle. In the middle of the semi-circle was a white man whose faced was not blackened. He led the group singing songs, and telling jokes degrading black people. Afterwards, I asked my Dad what was going on?
He said what I saw was a form of theater when years ago travelling musicians and actors traveled to cities and towns performing songs, skits and telling stories about the times they lived in. This Minstrel Show remembered a time in American history when black people were slaves of white people. Black people were racially caricatured as nobodies and they were stereotyped as less than human.
Fast forward to 2019 and we still can’t get rid of these sorrowful pictures of hate and prejudice. We heard the news that several Virginia politicians painted their faces black as young men and participated in racial hate.
The deeper issue is not only denying one’s neighbor their full humanity but at the same time, losing one’s own humanity. This kind of prejudiced behavior comes at a high cost. Heart, mind and soul are irreparably damaged. Is that the way one wants to live one’s life?
Today human beings are expendable and disposable. Witness separating immigrant children from their parents at the southern border; poor people marginalized; black athletics degraded as less then human and other people casually called “losers” and “animals.”
Such behavior ends up damning God who gives life to all people. Jesus was very clear when he said: “love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no middle ground and there are no handy options to fall back on. We are commanded what God wants us to do.
My Dad told me God loves all people and God wants to make sure we do, too. The next year there was no Minstrel Show in the congregation.
Prayer: O God, words of friendship and acts of neighborliness are never out of style in your world.
Help us to never give up to being advocates of good will in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
WRITE YOUR OWN STATE OF THE SOUL REFLECTION
February 6, 2019
This week was the State of the Union Address by President Trump to the nation. No, I’m not going to evaluate the speech or highlight what he said. I’m going to challenge each one of us to do something more difficult. I want to raise this question: Will you and I write our own state of the soul reflection back to God?
Hear me out. Why not consider writing to God what is the condition of your soul as you moved deeper into a new year?
This is a private conversation of the soul with God. No one evaluates. No one intervenes. No one is privy to what you write down. One does not read your speech to a neighbor, friend or family member.
One can start writing your speech by asking: What is the state of one’s soul? How honest and self-searching can I be? No shadowboxing. No staying away from the shadowed valleys of one’s life. Write with your true heart. Did I say what I wanted to say?
How is the condition of my soul? Is this my reflection of the soul or what people think of me? The challenge is this: do I want to open up my soul and be exposed to God’s healing love? What is it that drags me down in my life? Why is my soul hampered giving full exposure to God?
When you have finished your state of the soul, pray over it. Reflection over it. Maybe you want to add some new thoughts. You decide when to read your state of the soul reflection back to God.
“Search me, O God and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139: 23
HOLD FAST TO GOD’S GOOD
January 29, 2018
I don’t know about you but I’m getting tired having the media and news industry tell me how badly divided our society is. It gets wearisome being told we live in depravity because people can’t get along with one another. I ask when haven’t you and I lived in a divided society?
If my memory is still working, I can recall the uncertain and turbulent times over the years when our country struggled over such national and local issues as civil rights, homelessness, human sexuality, homosexuality, corruption in government, poverty, and our involvement in wars overseas to name a few. The practicing of democracy is a struggle to find the common ground within a diverse society.
What I am saying is this: Jesus never promised following his way of life was going to be easy. Jesus never promised standing up for the Good News of the Gospel will be convenient. Jesus never promised witnessing in his name will keep you out of trouble with the status quo.
In these chaotic times, the staying power of faith does not come from ourselves but from God’s love in Jesus Christ. I believe the word is: Hold Fast to Your Faith. I’m going to find a place in my life where I can witness in the name of Christ. You and I have to decide where to make that witness.
1. Hold fast means forgiving love can cross barriers; merciful grace can overcome hate; and neighborly acts can bind. Witness somewhere.
2. Hold fast means rivals (not enemies) can live together; common problems can be compromised and worked out. Witness somewhere.
3. Hold fast means to be kind, tolerant and civil. Witness somewhere.
4. Hold fast means neighbors can share trust and live in community. Witness somewhere.
5. Hold fast means bridge building and helping one another has not gone out of fashion. Witness somewhere.
6. Hold fast means God’s love in Jesus Christ does hold and holds fast.
The New Testament sends us forth with these words
“God forth into the world in peace; hold fast to that which is good; render to no person evil for evil; Support the weak, stand with the fainthearted; love and serve the Lord rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.
PREFERRING A TABLE OVER A WALL
January 14, 2019
A wall is a wall.
A table is a table is a table is a table is a table is a table is a table.
A wall walls up democracy with a callous approach to humane issues.
A table spreads democracy to be inclusive.
A wall says separate and divide.
A table says share together in negotiations – diplomacy still works.
A wall offers no future – it is dead end.
A table offers a new beginning because you can see the face of a neighbor.
A wall speaks of division.
A table speaks of possibilities to live together despite differences.
A wall announces keep out strangers and foreigners.
A table announces who is my neighbor?
A wall speaks of exile and isolation.
A table speaks of a place for strangers and sojourners.
A wall promises a false safety and promises more walls to come.
A table promises more room to sit together and hear one another.
A wall says I don’t want to meet the world.
A table says meet the world and you will be saved from isolation.
A wall reminds me of who is worthy and eligible.
A table reminds me of those seeking a safe place.
Sit politicians from both major political parties around a table and keep them there until immigration issues are resolved.
CHOOSE A TABLE OVER A WALL.
“A Cold Coming We Had Of It….Such A Long Journey”
January 9, 2019
The English poet T.S. Eliot places these words in the mouth of one of the wise people searching for the Christ Child. We are not told much about the wise ones. Only that they are following a star in search for meaning in their lives. In fact, St. Matthew does not say much about them. We know nothing about their personal lives. Racial background is not mentioned. No names are given. And there were not three “wise men from the East.” All we know is that wise people were on a search.
As a youth, I never could figure out how these regally clothed travelers with their glorious garments could be so clean and tidy after battling wind storms, sand storms, snow storms, rain storms and heat storms riding camels. They must have stopped at a dry cleaners before visiting the Christ-child.
Why were they lead all that way? Why were we lead all that way? This is a good question for us as we continue our journey of faith into a new year.
T.S. Eliot continues “We returned to our places, these Kingdoms, But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation.” What do we seek? A stronger faith? Better family relations? Better meaning in my job? More peace and reconciliation in the world? Being a more forgiving and caring person? May we learn new Christ like habits that we never imagined before. Guided by God’s grace, we journey into new country.
“And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.”
St. Matthew 2:12
STEAL BABY JESUS OR FOLLOW HIM
January 2, 2019
If there isn’t enough wackiness in our world, the latest breaking sensational news is that Baby Jesus thefts have occurred from outdoor manger scenes in Alexandria, and St. Cloud, Minnesota and around the state of Minnesota. Is baby Jesus being held for ransom? Will the budgets of cities and towns crash economically paying high ransoms?
I ask: Why steal Baby Jesus and not Mary? I would steal Mary which means in all probability Joseph has to raise Jesus. I think he would do a good job.
Deeper questions arise. Is stealing Baby Jesus seeking redemption for past mistakes? If I stole Baby Jesus and set the figure up in my living room would he help me lead a more faithful life?
Why steal Baby Jesus in the first place? Is this a practical joke? Does a symbolic figure of Jesus give me the power to love and forgive in my life? Will I be the first blessed on the block to steal a Baby Jesus?
Sad to say, stealing a Baby Jesus won’ do it. Since we Protestants don’t have the holy host array of calendar saints as our Roman Catholic friends do, is this a poor person’s way of finding a grace substitute with a Baby Jesus shrine in one’s backyard?
No, I would rather follow Baby Jesus rather than steal him. Following the Jesus from a child to a youth to an adult proclaiming the coming of a new order of peace, love and reconciliation is harder to do.
Where was forgiveness practiced? Who do I include in my family beyond family of origin? Where can fairness be practiced? Can love see the light of day? Is mercy possible?
Let’s not steal Baby Jesus but follow him into a new year.
O God, it’s far easier to steal a Baby Jesus from my next-door neighbor’s nativity scene than follow him. Let the Light of Jesus’ life shine strong in my life so I become who I was meant to be.
A hopeful and strengthening new journey into a fresh new year.
O LITTLE TOWN OF WASHINGTON D.C.
December 26, 2018
“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in you tonight.” These words are never out of date. The past weeks our country has experienced an economic shutdown, change of national leadership and countless refugees are at our border looking for a home – these actions brought stunned reactions from all political persuasions. The little town of Washington D.C. is giving one of my favorite professions a bad name. Politicians can do better for the common good than what they are doing.
The gospel writers tell us the coming light from a Baby is stronger than the light our world can give. The world’s light is a weak light and it shines among the privileged and powerful. The Christmas stories tell us in story after story the world is turned upside down. Elizabeth beyond child bearing years is to birth John the Baptist. Mary, an unmarried teenage peasant is to birth Jesus. The fathers are stunned and one cannot talk. Good news first comes to the graveyard midnight shift, the hourly paid shepherds and not to the Chamber of Commerce. Even King Herod a pathological homicidal king is shared the news by wise people tired of tending stocks and bonds and looking for a new life. They are warned by God to go home on the pre-Interstate system – dirt roads and flee King Herod. Joseph takes mother and child to safe Egypt.
You and I are asked by God to change our lives and sometimes we don’t want to. What that means is this: a helping hand is preferred over a harming hand; a welcoming voice is preferred over condemning words; a clear word of “I forgive you” opens new roads to travel; an embracing acceptance wins over turning one’s back and walking away; a resolve to throw out a life line to someone is better than a festering resentment; and a vision that says God loves all defeats a dead end nationalism.
“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in you tonight.”
Peace and Power to you this Christmas,
REFLECTION: WORSHIP LITERALLY MEANS LIFE
December 18, 2018
I can think of no more appropriate response than to come to God in prayer to seek justice for a more humane world. Initially one is stunned to season imagine Sunday morning worship around the clock. The Advent reminds us this is not a free ride or a free lunch. We are invited to see the world as God sees the world. Sometimes we don’t want to heartache justice and sometimes we want to see Jesus justice for all. Let these days remind us we do not walk alone on this path and we do not rely upon our own strength. God is always present no matter what. see That is one reminder of the Second Sunday in Advent.
Your Reflection (Daily Scripture Reading)
Sunday, December 16 - Mathew 11:2-ll
Monday, December 17- Mark 13:1-13, 24-37
Tuesday, December 18- Luke 21:25-36
Wednesday, December- 19 Revelation 1:-8
Thursday, December 20- Ezekiel 34:1-10
Friday, December 21- Luke 12:35-48
Saturday, December 22- Acts 1:1-11
PRAYER: Amid the contrasts of joy and sorrow, heartache and hope, love and hate, O God help us to shape a faith to guide, a witness to enlighten so that we may trust Christ’s love for the world. It’s not that we don’t have good intentions but it’s the darn follow through. Move us from the world’s darkness to the Gospel Light this Advent. Amen.
Advent 4: THE DARKNESS
December 17, 2018
I’ll never forget it. I sat in a canoe with a friend at twilight on a lake in the upper reaches of Quetico, the Canadian wilderness. Night was falling. No wind. No loon or owl calls. A deafening silence enveloped us. My friend suggested we open our mouths to listen to the coming night. We were mesmerized.
I want to say a good word about darkness. Darkness can hide unwise motives and unhealthy acts. I won’t deny that. But there is another side of this Advent darkness that speaks of promises to come into your life and mine. Darkness can offer a time to observe what was done in our lives for one day.
Darkness can help us imagine what can be seen in the coming day. This time can become a new faith rhythm to our lives. Darkness is as natural as light. Darkness can offer a new walk into what a new day may be. Darkness brings a benediction and a promise to come.
Lighting a fourth candle in our home can be a time not only to hold back the night but a time to welcome the night, to rest from our labors, to sleep and rise to a new time. Let God work within. “God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.” Genesis 1:5
Advent 3: Silence and Prayers of Linden Hills People 2018
December 12, 2018
Low sun in Minnesota means longer shadows. Less sunlight also means weaker light. The December days are more cloudy. Deer eat five pounds of food for every 100 pounds of weight. Now they browse on twigs from sugar maples, red-osier dogwood shrubs, and northern white cedar trees. Snow cleans the landscape. Frost patterns appear on windows. Listen to black capped chickadees and downy woodpeckers.
A Reflection: When Worship Literally Means Life
A Protestant Dutch church has scheduled worship services every hour on the hour, twenty-four hours day for a month. Is this the result of an overzealous Board of Deacons? NO.
The congregation is trying to prevent the deportation of a family of five Armenians back to their homeland after living in Holland for nine years. A high court ruled it is safe to go back home. The family fears for their lives.
According to Dutch law, the police are not allowed to enter a church sanctuary where there are uninterrupted services. The family lives in the church building. Clergy from historic faith traditions lead worship, people provide food and moral support through worship. The congregation seeks citizenship for the family.
There is no more an appropriate response than to come to God in prayer, hear scripture and sermons to seek justice for a more humane world. In worship, we are always invited to see the world as God sees the world. Sometimes we don’t want see and hear human need crying out for help and sometimes we want to see Jesus justice for all. Let there days remind us we do not walk alone on the path and we do not rely on our own strength. God is always present no matter what. This is one reminder of Advent 3.
Your Reflection (Daily Scripture Reading)
Sunday, December 16 - Mathew 11:2-ll
Monday, December 17- Mark 13:1-13, 24-37
Tuesday, December 18- Luke 21:25-36
Wednesday, December- 19 Revelation 1:-8
Thursday, December 20- Ezekiel 34:1-10
Friday, December 21- Luke 12:35-48
Saturday, December 22- Acts 1:1-11
Prayer: Amid the contrasts of joy and sorrow, heartache and hope, love and hate, O God walk us on a clear path to the manger. It’s not that we don’t have good intentions but it’s the darn follow through. Move us from the world’s darkness to the Gospel’s Light. Amen.
Advent 2: Silence and Prayers of Linden Hills People 2018
December 4, 2018
Thousands of ponds and lakes are freezing over. Snow falls. Tree leaves are down. Remember it takes over 4 inches of ice in contact with stationary water for safe walking, cross country skiing and fishing. Breathe in the December air. Listen for wintering birds. Darkness descends.
A Reflection: We gasp at the mood, and meaning of the seasons. Moving from Thanksgiving to unapologetic greed on Black Friday, we now find ourselves waiting for the Christ Child. Plan for an alternative Christmas – here are some ideas:
*Offer child care to a family
*Read a book to someone
*Help out with Christmas Pageant
*Invite someone over for tea or coffee
*Give money to an environmental group
*Help out in a food shelf
*Have someone for breakfast or lunch
*Bake scones, and cookies as gifts
*Play a table game with someone
*Phone a lost relative
*Take a walk in a park
Let your imagination be creative for Christmas.
Your Reflection (Daily Scripture Reading)
Monday, December 10 Luke 1:5-25 57-80
Tuesday, December 11 Matthew 4:1-6; 28: 18-20
Wednesday, December 12 Matthew 3:1-12
Thursday, December 13 Isaiah 62
Friday, December 14 John 1:6-34
Saturday, December 15 Mark 1:1-8
Sunday, December 16 Luke 3: 1-6
As darkness descends covering more daylight, O God open a path for us to walk. May our walked paths this Advent be true and faithful to whose we are. Amen.
Add your own prayers.
Advent 1: Silence and Prayers of Linden Hills People 2018
November 26, 2018
As the sun tilts away from the earth, we enter a winter of darkness. Advent is four weeks before Christmas, It means "the coming of Christ." Each week, we move closer to the Light of Christ coming to lighten our darkness. May this Advent season enrich and grow our faith and lives.
* Find a quiet place at home. Light a candle. Read scripture.
*Pray the prayer and add your own.
Advent 1 Scriptures
Monday, December 3- Matthew 3
Tuesday, December 4- Colossians 1: 9-23
Wednesday, December 5- John 8: 33-37
Thursday, December 6- Isaiah 43: 1-21
Friday, December 7- Hebrews 10: 11-15
Saturday, December 8- Zephanian 3: 14-20
Sunday, December 9- Psalm 25: 1-10, Luke 21: 25-36
Clamorous, O Lord, is this season of your birth, this snowfall air with your love in it, this darkened time ablaze with more than light, this age of strife suddenly abound with peace, these days brim with innocence, this year upon its knees, this good time of preparation. O Light of Life, let us arise to know your mornings in our nights. In Christ's name. Amen
Add your own prayers.
THE TAMARACK TREE
November 19, 2018
One mile south from our family cabin up north is Tamarack River. The river is named after the tamarack tree stacked up in the bogs alongside the river. The tree is rooted in sphagnum moss, shallow in depth and short in size. The needles are twelve to twenty in a bunch and need the full force of the sun to survive.
In the fall the tree loses all its needles. The needles turn a smoky gold. Does the tree belong in coniferous or deciduous tree family? Tree experts can’t make up their minds but the fallen needles are an eye full of delight until the snow covers the landscape.
While humans do not shed their skin every year, the tamarack tree is a reminder for us to grow new habits over faulty ones; grow a deeper faith over a timid faith; grow a practice of forgiveness over a hesitant one and grow a compassion to include more people.
The Tamarack tree reminds us there is unfinished work to do in our lives that maybe we neglected during the past summer. You and I know what those unhealthy traits are because we have lingering regrets.
Was it dealing with a cantankerous family member? Was it struggling to listen to someone who was pouring out their heart? Was it balking to help someone or to include someone in our circle of friends? Was it seeing a demeaning racist act and being hesitant to speak out against it?
You and I can so easily postpone the changes needed in our lives. Only God knows that. As the Tamarack tree sheds all it’s needles every year, where can we begin to make changes in our lives?
“Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread…..but their delight is in the law of the Lord….they are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season.”
From Psalm 1
Looking for Grace
November 13, 2018
One takes no delight over the sex abuse scandal that has fallen upon the Roman Catholic Church. If the Roman Catholic Church ever needed the Protestant principle of confessional reform, it needs it now over misconduct by priests, bishops and cardinals.
The depth and intensity of such moral collapse staggers the imagination. Yet, I offer a word of caution of jumping into reforms too quickly without examining faith, heart and soul. Yes, reparations are needed to the countless abused. Yes, reform is needed. Yes, jail time is needed for the guilty.
Numerous redemption ideas have been offered ranging from ordaining women priests; bringing in outside professionals to offer their insights; empowering the laity to take a more active role ordering church life and the resignation of the entire American episcopacy. There is the danger of jumping into needed reforms too quickly without confession.
Here is a lesson for all Christians. We believe only God can bring about change through converted hearts. We are fooled into believing when a crisis or a problem emerges in the Christian Church, we set up a task force to reform. Yes, task forces have their place. But we are not talking a fire sale redemption and quickly get over it. Here the Christian Church must stay true to the message: confession means redemption from the basement to the roof for a house of faith.
Armies of lawyers and public consultants cannot do this. They have their place but the Christian Church majors in reconciliation placing itself in the hands of God. After all, that’s what we believe isn’t it?
What happened to the Roman Catholic stands as a warning to all Christians. God is not mocked by perverse human behavior in the Christian Church. New beginnings can only happen when confession leads to healing. Only then can one find grace again and breathe in life changing power.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from her presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.”
BE A WITNESS FOR GOD's GOOD
October 31, 2018
Nobody is shy being a witness today. The demons of uncontrolled vitriolic hate has gone mainstream where people are shot and killed in a Pittsburgh Synagogue; where leaders of a national political party are targeted for assassination and where two black people are shot and killed in a Kentucky grocery store. Frighteningly, America is becoming a nation for the few.
What is happening to America when filth laden hate is launched against cultural and racial groups? What is happening to America when self-appointed and privileged white people unleash rants and rages against the poor and underclass as “losers. What is happening to America when immigrants are labeled as criminals and undesirables. This evil brew of denying people their God given humanity leads to the twisted propaganda that Jesus was a white man and blesses only white people. Frighteningly, America is becoming a nation for the few.
Together, can we witness and stand for the common good? As a child in Sunday School, my favorite song was Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus. Well, that’s where Christians are now in these times. Stand up for Jesus by witnessing to God’s good. We who embrace the Christian faith need to witness stronger to God’s love in Jesus Christ. Why let these voices of purgatory hate have the last word? Why let some people attack the very tenets of democracy by prosecuting God’s love for neighbor? Let’s unashamedly be:
*More forgiving and understanding with family, neighbors and friends.
*More faithful in standing by those abused and made outcasts by hate.
*More caring to share in grief and support victims of racial hate.
*More loving of the unlovable.
*More willing to serve than be served.
Can we get witnesses for the common good in the name of Jesus Christ?
Prayer: O God may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight,
O God my strength and my redeemer. Amen.