Each Weekly Meditation is offered by Dan Schmiechen,
a retired minister and a member of Linden Hills United Church of Christ.
BEING TRUE TO SELF
August 14, 2018
Why does the bad news, the scandalous news, the shocking news receive more prominent page space in the newspapers? Have neighborly acts and kindly deeds disappeared in our society? Do we have to strike up the band and give special recognition when we recognize it?
At our independent living home, I was in the elevator going down to the first level when an accompanying passenger came on board. The person turned to me and asked, “Dan, how have you been feeling these past days?” I responded. There was a warm feeling in my heart that someone recognized me and asked about my well being.
When you and I reach out to help someone we offer a glad witness for caring - one is not after applause. Most of the time our neighborly acts are done quietly. Only the recipient, you and God see them. We don’t need any more witnesses. And we don’t need any justification. We simply do them.
There is a deep satisfaction sharing neighborly acts that no one can take away from us. We do not need a certificate of recognition or thundering applause. It is a core Christian value. And it makes no difference if such neighborly acts come from other faith traditions either.
It resonates from a giving heart. It comes from the depths of welcoming God’s love in our lives so that love flows into the lives of others. We are being true to the life core God has given.
No one can remove that core Christian value in our lives. We simply do these acts of grace because we are followers of Jesus Christ. Neighborly acts means seeing God in the face of a person even though it’s a struggle to see it.
We do neighborly acts of grace because God has acted graciously in our lives. We witness to the good because we have experienced the good. What we have received is to be shared.
Who said it would be easy? Jesus didn’t.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Luke 12:34
CONFESSION IN AN HARASSING SOCIETY
August 7, 2018
I am not making this up. I read a story in the local newspaper about an Oregon man who was arrested harassing a bison in Yellowstone National Park. He had a past history of harassing bison.
I admit I have not been sleeping well when I read the story. Does harassing a bison mean standing 30 feet away and using racial slurs? Was the man protesting the bison’s use of the highway meant only for cars? Or was he challenging the bison “mano to mano” in a head on duel – white males are powerful over all?
If there is not enough harassment of people in our society maybe this man is on to something. I know I am stretching the story but imagine he is struggling not to voice words of bigotry to another human being. His approach is a non-destructive way to voice prejudice. He rids his soul of prejudicial anger against a bison though I would prefer a beaver. The down side is spending a lot of time in the hospital. I can picture busloads and trains of people traveling to Yellowstone Park to be freed of their racial hate against bison rather than verbally assault humans. It sounds so simple and it is.
I can release my anger and hate toward a bison but wouldn’t confession to God be better? Seriously, where can one go to rid one’s soul of crass anger against a neighbor and begin afresh? What does my faith tell me to do?
Psalm 51 speaks of “create in me a clean heart, O God and put a new and 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.”
One is talking about restoration. This is a prayer for deliverance. I believe what’s going on in our society is that some people don’t know where to take their burning racial hate. Also, that means they don’t want to take responsibility for their actions. There is almost an innate pleasure keeping prejudices alive rather than shaping a life cleansed of hate by receiving God’s forgiveness.
How do I redirect my anger into something positive? How do I channel hateful energy into good energy? How to I use my life to give glory to God?
Remember this: we don’t have to drive to Yellowstone Park to vent our prejudices at a bison. We can come to worship at Linden Hills United Christ of Christ or in private confess them to God. Besides it is free and safe. I know I stretched this story but again, forgiveness is not. It is called free grace.
WE DON’T WANT TO HEAR IT: LOVE YOUR ENEMIES
July 31, 2018
I regret to inform you and myself that Jesus is so clear on this teaching about “loving your enemies” there is no middle ground. There are no choices. There it stands in Matthew 5: 43-45 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
The tone of some people in our government and society is that we need enemies to exist. Adding new names to their hate lists week by week gives one direction and meaning in life.
1. This is a command from Jesus to his disciples. Jesus speaks for God and brings examples of God’s love to us. This is not our doing. God’s commitment is for a new earth and a new community is beyond our imagination. God’s love is more generous than ours recognizing.
2. Believe it or not, enemies are part of my life. Yes, there are people I don’t like and I don’t get along. They may be my family and relatives, my work colleagues, people in my church, the next door neighbor and in public life remembering.
3. I pray that the meditations of my heart see my enemies as new neighbors. I can pray for my enemies to have their hearts changed by God, too. I can civilly disagree with those of another persuasion without name calling and crass disrespect where all of us can work for the common good. Neighbors and enemies can live together in neighborhoods. Enemies live outside of neighborhoods. Building neighborhoods is one definition of democracy believing.
4. We all need redemption. When I speak of redemption, I speak of a change of heart where God’s loving reconciling mends heart and soul. I honor other definitions where people can trust one another and commonly work together for hope. All of us including my President are redeemable realizing with a start.
5. If I keep stuck on hating someone, what prevents me from becoming like them? If every week, I work myself into a quiet rage and white anger against a real or imagined enemy – what good does that do me? I’m no better than them. Jesus speaks directly to you and me – and there is no getting around it – love your enemies.
- Dan Schmiechen
THE POWER OF LETTERS
July 18, 2018
In the movie, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, we see the actress Francis McDormand play a widow who is deeply grieving the murderous death of her daughter. She is angry, angry, angry and out for justice. She shocks her small Missouri town by renting three billboards heavily criticizing the unsolved murder investigation by the local Sheriff. She becomes an outcast.
The film tells the story of how the lives of people are affected and changed – the wife of the Sheriff, the widow who lost her daughter and a wacko racist Deputy Sheriff.
We learn the Sheriff is dying from cancer. Before his death, he writes three letters – one to his wife, to the widow and his Deputy Sheriff. The voice of the deceased Sheriff reads each letter as the three people silently read their letter. The power of grace shines through the letters.
I don’t know if letter writing is in the vogue anymore with all the electronic stuff we have around. I do know the letters read by the Sheriff to those he cares for are filled with strong hope and bright affirmation. His wife is affirmed for her love to him, and their two children. Do well and carry on. The widow who lost her daughter is asked to let the healing process begin and go on from there. The racist Deputy Sheriff is told he is a good man and he can change for the good.
I write a letter to my five grandchildren every two to three weeks. But the hardest letters for me to write are to friends whose world has collapsed, who is deeply grieving over loss and whose future looks bleak. I write a draft and sit on it for several days. I ask God for help in writing the letter. I make changes in the letter. And when I am done, I give thanks to God for the words of hope given to me to support someone.
A caring letter can make a big difference in the life of someone who is overcoming loss and grief. I have received such letters in my life. Those letters carried powerful support. Maybe you have written such letters. If not, try it with the help of God.
Read Galatians 6: 7-10
- Dan Schmiechen
July 11, 2018
Every summer weekend there seems to be a festival or an historical event a town or city is celebrating. Some of these festivals stretch one’s credulity. We go from a 25 yard dash of snapping turtles (did you know they can’t turn – ideal for races), to poison ivy festival (fields of the plants growing on a south hill from a town), to trained vulture diving contests – well, it goes on and on. I have enjoyed some of these festivals.
On Highway 53 coming into the town of Cotton, MN, a 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.”
The Christian calendar of the Church Year places us in what is called Ordinary Time. Lent is past. Easter is past. Pentecost (birthday of the Christian Church) is past. Ordinary Time stretches from Pentecost to the first Sunday before Advent. The first half celebrates the Church’s service to the wider world. The second half emphasizes a faith to live by helping neighbor.
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. There are no special events to celebrate other than Stewardship, Reformation and All Saints Sundays.
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! Yes, check out a few weekend festivals but don’t go overboard.
Scripture: “The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.” Psalm 121:8
June 28, 2018
Arriving at the public landing on the west arm of Burntside Lake, Barb and I noticed the red and white buoys were not placed on rocks and reefs. The buoys are plastic hollow canisters about 4 feet long, 12 inches diameter - the body painted white with a red top anchored to a cement block.
Over the years, I memorized the location of the buoys marking the reefs and rocks. Last Memorial Day weekend, the buoys were not out - people were afraid to boat. Now the buoys are back in their familiar locations.
One has to be alert to other boating hazards on the lake not marked by buoys. There is boat traffic – kayaks, sailboats, paddle boards, pontoon boats, canoes, fishing boats, speed boats, and row boats. One needs to be aware of wildlife swimming such as otters, weasels, ducks, loons, deer, bird life, beavers and even a rare sight of a lynx. There are storms. It’s the unmarked dangers one needs to be more attentive to than the buoys.
No buoy can tell me what harmful food to stay away from. No buoy can tell me what friends to make or how I treat my neighbors. No buoy can tell me what are harmful influences in my life.
Despite my age, I am still attracted to the production of pills that help be to be more humane. For example, I wish I could take a pill to make me more tolerant of different people. I wish I could take a pill to be a better parent to four adult children and five grandchildren. I wish I could take a magic pill to make me a better husband, a fisherman or a Christian. Sadly, it will not happen.
I know deep down that we were created in God’s image with freedom to choose good or ill, freedom to care for neighbors and freedom to affirm God’s world. It is hard work shaping a faithful life.
This summer then is a good time to develop our prayer and devotional life, to be faithful in Sunday morning worship, to really see our neighbor who is there but unrecognized. This summer then is a good time to be alert to harmful influences in our lives and seek to soak in the good.
Prayer: O God, you alone know where I need to do some remodeling in my life yet to be. Give me the strength and perseverance to do it. Amen.
LOSING ONE’S HUMANITY
June 14, 2018
It doesn’t take much to lose it – one’s humanity that is. Today it seems with the constant degrading of someone’ character or discounting of someone’s humanity – a common plague is let loose. Whether sexual identity, racial background or nationality is disparaged – human beings are expendable and disposable today.
Language is always the first casualty. What was considered unspeakable and uncivil years ago, now finds common acceptance. Tragically, some political leaders who rage hateful words and divisive actions hardly sets a neighborly standard of behavior. We see children separated from their parents, undocumented immigrants; black athletics degraded as human beings and people casually labeled “animals” and “losers.” It goes on and on.
What is forgotten is that the name callers who damn the humanity of others, also lose their own humanity. This kind of sick behavior comes at a high cost. Heart, mind and soul are irreparably damaged. Is that the way one wants to live life?
Our Christian faith warns us against such behavior because before you know it, you damn God who gives life to all people. One is then pleased to “damn God.” Our Christian faith gives us the strength and courage to speak the truth against untruth and support the ostracized. This is not an option.
Arrested neighborly acts can be changed to a grander vision of neighborly love. Where do you and I stand when someone is denied their human rights? Where do we make witness in the name of Jesus Christ?
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 be advocates of good will in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
SUMMER: OPENING UP ONE’S SOUL
June 7, 2018
Our family has a cabin on Burntside Lake near Ely, MN. With advancing age, we hire a contractor to open up the cabin for summer use by friends and family. Opening up means taking windows shutters off, carrying chairs and tables outside, launching a boat, positioning kayaks and flat boards down by the water front and general tasks.
Opening up a cabin can also lead into opening up one’s soul. A new summer beckons – a time of the year when the earth shines and blooms with colors and designs.
Can I open up my soul to see the daily struggles of a homeless person?
Can I open up my soul to see someone in grief over the loss of a loved one?
Can I open up my soul to see a constant struggle against depression by a friend?
Can I open up my soul to see a friend or family member need an encouraging word or a big hug?
Can I open up my soul to see where I need to change some of my habits for a healthier life?
Can I open up my soul to really see what is of worth and value in my life?
Can I open up my soul to see why I need more quiet and solitude?
Can I open up my soul to see the “real world” Jesus wants me to see?
Opening up one’s soul can bring snatches and glimpses of thanksgiving.
Reflection: In the endless race and pace of life, O God help me see summer time can be a time to be refreshed and surprised by your grace in my life and in the lives of those I meet. Amen.
MEETING GOD ON THE INTERSTATE
May 24, 2018
Barbara and I were merrily driving interstate 94 to Madison, Wi when I saw the sign. It was a billboard proclaiming in bold letters: You Will Meet God In Heaven. Then followed a phone number to call for more information. I struggled to maintain control of the car. Sadly, I did not get the phone number.
If I had, I would have called the number and said: “This is God calling. Who gave you permission to say, you will meet me in heaven on Interstate 94 going to Madison, WI?”
The message of the sign defined and confined God to a three- tiered – pre-scientific universe of hell, earth and heaven. Jesus and St. Paul provided little information about life after death. They messaged more about love of God and neighbor and living in a grace filled community. I am more drawn to meeting that God in my everyday life.
Years ago, there was a popular hymn, “We Meet You O Christ In Many A Guise where Christ is present in the faces of strangers, families and friends. I would add these words to the hymn.
We meet you, O Christ in a hungry, homeless person.
We meet you, O Christ in someone struggling to make sense out of life.
We meet you, O Christ in the final days of a friend whose life is coming to an end.
We meet you, O Christ in the pained and angry faces of those denied equal rights and fair justice.
We meet you, O Christ in the face of a child filled with wonder and mystery.
We meet you, O Christ in the face of a grumpy neighbor and a lonely family member.
If you find yourself driving on an interstate and come across such a sign, please don’t call the phone number. “Seek first the Kingdom of God” and all those you meet in the name of Christ.
MAKE WAY FOR THE IMAGE OF GOD
May 17, 2018
In one of Pastor Eliot’s sermons, he told the story of a Roman Catholic priest leading a village procession in Mexico to their church for the baptism of a baby. These were the words he said as the worshipers walked to the baptismal font in the church, “Make way for the image of God.”
“Image” is a word in the Christian faith we do not often use. The word is used in the Bible to speak how we humans are like God. Scripture is very clear we are not God but created in the image of God. We are to be advocates for the good and build up community in God’s world.
Let’s get practical. What that means is this:
When you and I hear gossip about someone, we will have nothing to do with it.
When we hear racial snipes and put downs of peopled of color, we challenge it.
When we see violence and brutality advocated, we reject it.
When we observe environmental laws weaken and disregarded for personal benefit, we say stop.
When we watch adults beaten down and forgotten because of who they are, we resist.
When we are advertised to death over physical stuff, we ask “how much is enough?
The Sunday I heard the sermon, Pastor Eliot baptized his granddaughter, Holly May. “Make Way For The Image of God.” The child’s parents were ready to parent the faith; family and friends were ready to witness to their faith and the congregation was willing to stand by them. Let’s all stand up “making way for the image of God” no matter age, race or creed.
THE LIMITS OF SECURITY
April 26, 2018
Sometimes we let our imaginations run into fearful overdrive. They don’t do us any good. We want safe neighborhoods, good schools and strong health. We want to love our neighbors as ourselves. Notice how quickly one can shift from the desire for everyday safety, to a false safety that only results in fear.
We are told to be afraid of immigrants, bad neighbors overseas, and racial groups. Then there are those folk who struggle with their sexual identity. Supposedly, we need more protection but it is never made clear – why? It never ends does it?
As Christians, we affirm we live in a world created by a loving God. But we do not follow the ways of the world. As Christians we are called to overcome hate with love, greed with sharing and fear with resurrection. We live in a resurrection world believing God’s love provides an alternative way of life.
If one only listens to the ways of the world, there is never enough security. There is always someone or a named group as the enemy. They are up to no good.
God created us to live with a strong resolve to live faithfully not fearfully. We are not alone because our final trust rests in God, not the ways of the world.
“I will lift up my eyes to the hills –from where will my help come from? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth……The Lord will keep you from all evil; the Lord will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forever more.” - Psalm 121
WHAT’S HAPPENED TO WORDS WE USE
April 19, 2018
I am not in mourning. I do not feel lost. Nor do I search for the guilty and condemn. Have you noticed how once familiar words have lost their meanings today? Often they are twisted into meanings never intended.
Here are some words I think of. What do you place on your list?
Peace is not a happy ending but seeking a peaceful end.
Reconciliation is not accommodating but harmonizing.
White nationalism is not democracy but tyranny.
Adultery is not an affair but betraying a relationship.
Immigrants are “not a plague on your house” but dispossessed and displaced people.
Love is not sentimental maple syrup but seeking the good in a person.
Sin is not blaming someone else but acknowledging I and I alone missed the mark.
Salvation is not God especially blesses me but how Christians live soundly in body, mind and spirit.
Social awareness is not capitalism blesses me but how all people share in democracy.
Poverty is not a lack of initiative but denied opportunities.
TWO UNFORGETABLE HIKES
April 12, 2018
This is the story of two hikes with two contrasting out comes. The first story is about a hike Barbara and I took years ago. The second hike story is one we all took. I’ll get to that shortly.
It was a blazing hot, high humidity summer day as Barbara and I began a hike behind Zupanish Supermarket in Tower, MN. We planned to hike to Hodoo Point on Lake Vermillion. We walked a short distance when we came to a fork in the path – there were no signs. As the late Yogi Berra, a baseball player said; “Take the fork.” We took the fork. We walked and walked. No Hodoo Point.
Then I began to get crabby to Barb. “Whose idea was this anyway?” “Why didn’t we bring water?” Other than miles of exercise, the hike was a disaster because we dead ended into a gravel pit. I don’t want to talk about the hike home.
The second hike all of us took. Luke tells the story. Two disciples took a seven mile hike to a village called Emmaus from Jerusalem. On the trail, they were joined by a stranger. He was Jesus but they did not recognize him. The Jesus movement had collapsed after the crucifixion and all these two disciples could do was take a hike – get away from the shocking days of betrayals.
We have taken those hikes, too. Our world caves in too, like the loss of job, a dear loved one dies, a friendship withers away, or a deep disappointment covers us. All we can do is take a hike.
The disciples invite this stranger (Jesus) to have lunch with them at an inn near Emmaus. “When he (Jesus) was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.”
Looking back on the experience they are able to say, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening scripture to us.”
When we look at the losses in our lives, we are reminded we were never alone in our failures, and setbacks. God’s comforting and strengthening presence was there. Friends and family cared. We were not alone in our pain and grief. Maybe we did not recognize God’s presence but maybe later.
God can help us overcome darkness. Hope can find lodging in our hearts and love holds on. These unforgettable hikes to Emmaus can walk us into new beginnings.
Read An Unforgettable Hike: Luke 24:13-35
EASTER: The Good in God’s World
April 5, 2018
Where is the good in God’s world? Why are we attracted to the trivial, and the mundane that dead ends into a blank?
After we overdose on the latest sensational, shocking and bizarre news stories - what are we left with?
Despair and cynicism.
What do we affirm as Christians? Why it’s all in front of us all the time!
Forgiveness carries the day.
Mercy is colorful.
Love is steadfast.
Jesus overcomes evil.
Peace stands strong.
Hope holds on.
Friendship is rock solid.
Did you see God today?
Scripture: John 1:1-13
THE CLEAR MESSAGE OF EASTER
March 30, 2018
“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to that is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal; be ardent in spirit serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not replay anyone evil for evil but take thought what is noble in the eyes of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.
If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink…..Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Selections from St. Paul’s Letter to Romans, Chapter 12
PALM SUNDAY: What Is Going On?
March 22, 2018
Palm Sunday is a familiar Bible story because everyone loves a parade. When a parade is planned the organizers usually are clear what they are celebrating and why.
Even our President wants to stage a parade – a military parade without tanks to damage the streets. Others are not sure of its merits. In fact, why have a military parade in the first place?
All the main characters in the Palm Sunday story have mixed motives over what is going on. The disciples are confused. The Pharisees (a religious order of priests) want to get rid of Jesus permanently. The crowd catches whiffs of national freedom from Rome. The Roman authorities are on high alert. Pilate is irritated over the celebratory festival. And Jesus is silent.
The symbolism on Palm Sunday is layered in sharp contrasts. Jesus rides on a donkey, not a chariot. The crowd waves palm branches not guns. The disciples wander around. The Pharisees go into hiding. We see the end of Jesus’ public ministry. A new order of God’s love, forgiveness and justice is to be announced.
Let’s face the hard reality of Palm Sunday. Jesus offers love but the world wants revenge. Jesus speaks of bridge building and the world wants war. Jesus sides with the down and out and the world selects who is worthy. Jesus says live simply and the world says consume and consume. Jesus speaks of forgiveness and the world considers that wishy-washy. Jesus speaks of peace and the world says separate. Jesus says all humanity is made in the image of God. The world says people are disposable.
So join us in the Palm Sunday parade this Sunday with children, youth and adults walking with Chip the donkey as we wave our palms. The question of Palm Sunday remains: “Who and what do we commit ourselves to.”
Scripture: The Palm Sunday Parade John 12:12-19 Luke 19:29-40 Mark 11:1-11 Matthew 21:1-11
Lent 4: Possessions
Before we moved into Senior Independent Apartments, I sorted out and threw away love letters, family letters, sermons, prayers, professional letters, family pictures and old newspapers. You name it and I did it.
After two years in our new home, the question never goes away: Why am I keeping more stuff? Does physical stuff provide me security? Does it give meaning in my life?
Someone can say that’s an easy task for an 84 years senior citizen to discard stuff. But it’s not. There is still a tempting temptation to accumulate and hoard. Is my worth as a child of God based on accumulation?
Lent asks good questions. How much do I need? Why do I keep comparing my life with others on the basis of possessions? Such stuff does not save us. You know it and I do, too. It does not give us an identity of faith. It’s only a quick impression of our lives and nothing more.
Anytime is a good time to sort out physical stuff in our lives now. Maybe we can give some of it away to family, neighbors and groups like Goodwill and Value Village. Thank God for what was and move on freed from stuff.
“Therefore I tell you do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap or gather in barns (apartments, houses and dwellings< and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Matthew 6:25-26
March 1, 2018
The front deck receptionist at Park Crest Senior Independent living announced her retirement. A farewell party was held in her honor in the packed and standing room only dining area. Barb and I were there.
I was standing at the back of the room leaning against a wall. An elderly woman seated with her husband saw me and said: “Why don’t you take my seat?” I assured her I was fine and thanked her. She persisted.
Again, I said: “No need, I am comfortable. Thank you.” This time she was more direct, “I want you to take my chair because you need it.”
Then she took me by the hand and seated me in her chair. I was dumbfounded. I never had this happen to me before. And then I realized this was an act of kindness. I was grateful.
I’m not going to gobble up space in this meditation how we live in a world going berserk with personal insults, and priding uncivility.
An act of kindness was shown to me by a stranger and I was unsettled. I am not saying Barbara, friends, family and neighbors don’t offer me kindness. But on this occasion – an act of kindness came out of the clear blue.
When I was seated, I asked myself: “Is kindness learned?” “What are the recognizable traits of someone needing kindness?” I know one has to practice habits of kindness otherwise you lose them.
Being kind to someone is almost embarrassingly simple. I mean you don’t have to read a book, hear a speech or watch a television program. You just do it.
Sometimes I worry and fret how my life is going. I can get tied up with myself. But that act of kindness spurred me on to offer quiet acts of kindness to others.
Scripture: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” St. Luke 9:24
OFF THE MOUNTAIN TOP
February 8, 2018
Jesus takes Peter, John and James to a mountain top. Suddenly, Jesus is transfigured before them. To add to the drama, Moses, the law giver appears as does Elijah, one of the prophets, both talking to Jesus. There Jesus is proclaimed as the embodiment of God’s love for the world.
Six days earlier Peter made a confession of Jesus as the Christ. Now on the mountain top, he and James and John are witnesses as God blesses and affirms the ministry of Jesus.
Can you recall those mountain top experiences in your life? Perhaps it was when you heard a sermon or saw a play or listened to a symphony or saw a glorious sunset. All of us can identify with such experiences. Maybe these experiences don’t come around that much but when they do we want to stay with them.
But notice how quickly the mountain top scene ends. Peter wants to stay up there and revel in the experience. He wants to build a retreat center complete with a spa and vegetable gardens. Jesus will have none of it. Retreat centers and garden have their place but not now.
Jesus leads the disciple off the mountain down the trail into a messy world. There they meet a father who asks Jesus to heal his son with “unclean spirits”. The boy has epileptic seizures - foams at the mouth and rolls on the ground. Jesus heals the boy.
Deep down you and I know we can’t stay forever on the mountain top. After a while we would get bored and restless. Jesus leaps the early disciples back into the fray of everyday with new power and bright hope. What that means is this: staying with a family concern; staying with the immigration issue; staying with a sick friend; staying with someone who lost their job; and staying with someone whose marriage is in trouble.
Mountain top experiences can lead our faith back into our daily world. The good news is this: God has given us new power to walk back home to be a disciple of Jesus.
Scripture: St. Mark 9:2-28
BEING TRUE TO ONE’S SELF
February 2, 2018
In these exciting times in God’s world, we are encouraged to express our views and opinions on countless subjects. Of course, there are voices that delight in telling people what to do and where to go which is not very helpful.
You and I were created in the image of God. I am not talking about “a new you” but being true to our baptismal vows keeping God’s faith in us.
Being true to oneself requires practice until we forget what we do until it becomes natural.
Being true to oneself honors the best we can be continuing God’s creation.
Being true to oneself means undeniably everyone needs love, forgiveness and hope.
Being true to oneself means God is the only one who sees what we do all day.
Being true to oneself means I see all people as neighbors in a neighborly world.
Being true to oneself is a faith commitment more worthy than money or success.
Who does God intend me to be? How do I witness to the life of Jesus? What words of help and healing can I share in various situations?
An adult baptismal vow says it all: “Do you promise by the grace of God, to be Christ’s disciple, to follow in the way of our Savior, to resist oppression and evil, to show love and justice, and to witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ as best you are able?”
Response: “I promise, with the help of God.” Order of Baptism for Adults, United Church of Christ
January 25, 2018
I almost fell off my chair. The Prime Minister of Britain appointed a Minister for Loneliness in her cabinet. Yes, you heard that right. A government agency would help establish a method of measuring loneliness and promote ways to develop resources addressing the issue.
I am not suggesting next Sunday we play musical chairs at coffee hour as we run from table to table in fellowship hall.
Loneliness – we all experience it. Sometimes it is more intense at certain times. We can be lonely because of hard decisions – at work, at home, in our families. Sometimes we feel lonely because of a past action or the loss of a loved one. Maybe we felt we were not heard.
Sunday morning worship helps me gain new understandings in my loneliness. I need to be there to wait for new life in my life. Can I share my loneliness with God?
In worship, I find there is a balance between myself and a community of people. I can sit and be quiet in worship. I can reflect. I can recall what I did the past week. I can also sing, listen, and pray. I can give an offering. I can listen for a word of hope and encouragement. Sunday worship is a rhythm that moves between my loneliness and the loneliness of other believers to build Christ’s community.
There are times when I need to push myself and say “hello” to someone. There are times when I need to see my life is not wrapped up in itself. There are times when I need to hear stories of other people. There are times when I need to send a thank you note to someone. There are times when I need to make a phone call of thanks to someone.
Loneliness can be an opportunity to see other people, and be with other people. I make no promises how to overcome loneliness. I know deep down in my faith God wants me to see people, and greet people in Christ’s community.
Loneliness does not mean I have a disease and there is something wrong with us. I believe loneliness can open a window to see who God intends us to be.
“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God: everyone who loves is born of God and knows God….No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and (God’s) is perfected in us.” I John 4
EGYPT IN OUR LIVES
January 18, 2018
One part of the Christmas story we avoid is when Joseph is warned in a dream to take Mary and the Child and flee to safe Egypt. King Herod, a homicidal despot has launched a pogrom to eliminate two year old children, the first born sons of Israel. Keep in mind this man killed his three sons fearful of losing his throne and eliminated other family members. All of a sudden we are jarred back into our kind of world where ethnic cleanings are on the loose again. Jesus begins his life as a refugee.
Egypt. We don’t know where the Holy Family stayed in Egypt or for how long. All we know is that they resided there until it was safe to return to Nazareth and resume their normal lives. In spite of such a dark and frightening picture about King Herod, I believe there is one side of the sojourn into Egypt that can speak to us.
What was the recent Egypt in your life and mine where we had to seek a place of safe refuge to stabilize our lives? Where did we have to step back and heal a disruptive wound in our lives?
I went to Egypt when I had an emotional crash in my life and stayed there until I was ready to go back home. God was with me as I sought refuge. There in Egypt I made changes in my life.
Where did we find God in our Egypt experiences? Was God present in an illness? Was God present in a painful family dispute? Was God present in a difficult work situation? Were we still grieving over a loss?
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 were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Matthew 2:13 and 19.
A CHRISTMAS SCENE DEBRIEFING
December 28, 2017
Imagine if you will all the characters (human and animals) in the manger scene ask only one question to us. What would that be? I tried it and here they are. I invite you to come up with your own questions from them.
MARY: What on earth is the Miss America Pageant all about?
JOSEPH: What does it mean to be a man in your day?
Innkeeper: Who do you have room for in your life?
Shepherds: Will my health insurance cover me next year?
Wise People: Did we ever need a tax break?
Sheep: Why is the environment always such a challenge?
Camels: Why were so many roads, bridges and highways falling apart?
Stars: Whatever happened to wonder?
Immigration Authorities: Why should we be splitting up families?
Gabriel: I’m tired of flying around so much. What is your understanding of Christmas?
God: How many times do I have to tell these stories?
ADVENT 4 AND CHRISTMAS MERGE BACK TO BACK
December 21, 2017
It all comes down to this
Never ending welcome
A sure justice
Four candles ablaze
Announce a birth of a new world coming.
- Dan Schmiechen
ADVENT THREE: Mary’s Song
December 14, 2017
Every fourth Sunday in the Advent season, a friend of mine took an ad out in the local newspaper printing Mary’s song, the Magnificat. Her song is found in St. Luke 1:46-55. The song is part and parcel of the Christmas story but it is reluctantly used. Why? Because it is one of the most controversial passages in the Bible. And I thought these nice birth stories of Jesus were out of date.
We come to Mary’s Song and Hallmark Cards won’t touch it. Mary, the mother to be of Jesus sings a startling song because her son will bring a message maybe we don’t want to hear.
Listen to a few lines: “My soul magnifies the Lord….looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant…God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts…God has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly…..God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
I’m included here too, even if I wrote the meditation. The words of Mary tell us we live in a world of disparities. We humans have a hard time living with reality. We hear some people in the wildfires of California hired their own fire departments to save their homes. The Tax Bill passed by Congress is cruel to the poor and middle class. Public lands dwindle in size to the advantage of the powerful privileged. Veterans in our country are losing their benefits.
When the boy Jesus grows up and becomes a man he gave sermons in local synagogues echoing his mother’s song. Notice the similarities.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed news to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-21
I’m not casting gloom over the joyful coming of Christmas. As we light our third candle in Advent: How do we live out the words of the Magnificat?
ADVENT TWO: ENLARGE YOUR CHRISTMAS LIST
December 7, 2017
I trust you had a good Thanksgiving as we did. As we plan for Christmas, here are some suggestions to add to our Christmas lists. Add your own.
*Offer child care to a family
*Read a book to someone
*Invite someone over for tea or coffee or go out to a coffeehouse
*Give a money gift to an environment group in the name of someone
*Help out with our Christmas pageant
*Go with someone for a walk in a park or forest preserve
*Bake cookies, a cake or scones as gifts
*Help out in a food shelf
*Have someone over for breakfast or a meal
*Provide a ride to someone
*Call a lost relative on the phone
*Go to a fine movie with someone
*Play a table game with someone
*Bake cookies, a cake or scones as gifts.
Let your imagination be creative for Christmas. In these Advent days read the daily scripture, light a candle and say your prayers.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them light has shined.” Isaiah 9:1-2
- Dan Schmiechen
ADVENT ONE: DARKNESS
November 30, 2017
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 darkness silence enveloped us. 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 the four weeks of 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 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
November 22, 2017
I have always been uncomfortable with the national season of Thanksgiving. Given the state of affairs in our country and the world, one can cynically say: Thanks for what?
I believe Thanksgiving can mean more if we simply say: Giving Thanks. That way, one is not habitually locked into one day of the year we are supposed to be thankful and then forget it.
Giving thanks has a yearly faith feel to it. We are asked to give thanks everyday in our lives because we are children of God and followers of Jesus.
We give thanks for what is given in our lives not what we wish for.
We give thanks for the world in all its glory and violent chaos and remember it still belongs to God.
We give thanks for named and unnamed family members, friends and neighbors who believed in us.
We give thanks for the simplest things – the smile of a baby, the setting of the sun, a tree swinging in the wind, a surprise of reception of forgiveness, a new insight in our lives and and a greeting of welcome. >
We give thanks not because we are supposed to but because we were made that way.
We give thanks not because we can so easily fall into the trap of “I’m better off comparing myself to someone with a serious illness or loss of a job. No, we give thanks PERIOD.
We give thanks because God created us to reflect the beauty and wonder of the world even if it is hard to recognize sometime.
We give thanks because life is a gift and it is meant to be lived as a gift from God.
Scripture: “Praise the Lord! O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” Psalm 106:1-2
THE HOLY SPIRIT SHOULD BRING CHARGES
November 16, 2017
Supporters of the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in the state of Alabama, who is charged with alleged sexual assault against minors, claimed he was justified because Mary, the mother of Jesus was under age when she married an adult, Joseph. That is another way to say: “Child molestation is normal.” This claim is so preposterous it is obscene.
The birth stories in Matthew and Luke give a clear message: Mary believes the message from God she will be the mother of Jesus, the Savior of the world; Joseph stands by Mary though the bride to be is pregnant – a scandalous situation in that society; and God always surprises us for the good. Mary’s age is not even given in the Bible. I’ll leave it up to you what charges the Holy Spirit should bring.
Yes, you and I can misinterpret the Bible to justify any kind of behavior we don’t like. Here are some common misuses of the Bible called “proof texting”: forbidding tattoos and beards, and women wearing jewelry. There are passages in the Bible telling husbands to boss their wives around, and to physically punish their children. I can find a bible passage to justifying building the Great Wall of Mexico and to keep foreigners where they are – overseas. There is a Bible passage frowning on divorce and one to pluck out your eye. I ask: how many one eyed people did you see last week?
I suggest we live faithfully the hard teachings of the Bible and not get waylaid misusing the Bible for our purposes. I’m thinking of the Hebrew scripture that says “you shall have no other gods before me” to “the earth is the Lord’s” to “you shall not kill.” I’m thinking of the teachings of Jesus saying, “forgive seventy times seven, ““love your enemy” to “visiting the prisoners, and feeding the hungry and standing by those oppressed,” to “be merciful, and “be a peacemaker.” I’m thinking of St. Paul saying “love is patient and kind” to “you are a new creation in Christ” to “let love be genuine, hate what is evil and hold fast to what is good.”
I have my hands full living up to the demanding teachings of scripture in the Hebrew and Christian communities of faith. I believe Christians are to take the Bible faithfully and critically. Let’s not misuse and misquote the Bible to justify our fears and prejudices.
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105
- Dan Schmiechen
GOD IS MORE THAN THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS
November 9, 2017
Years ago, I remember watching sports events on television. There always came time when the announcers solemnly announced the death of a sport figure. The name was mentioned, a bit about the life of the deceased and then came the closing mantra: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family.”
Today with the wanton slaughter of children, youth and adults from Las Vegas to Texas to New York City these words, “thoughts and prayers are with you” is turning into mantra for sentimental avoidance.
While it is different to voice words to someone grieving over a human loss - a good meditation for later on – what does one say? Nowadays there is sheer flight from mass killings and how they can be prevented. The political cowardice by politicians in both political parties for stronger public safety in a gun culture is mind numbing.
The attorney general of Texas suggests Christians bring guns to worship for protection. Wow! I’m thinking of carrying a gun into the pulpit when I’m invited preach in Sunday worship. Should we arm the ushers to prevent congregational theft during offertory? Is this nutty or what?
Then the leader of the U.S. House of Representatives tells us that “prayer works.” He makes it sound like God is only there when there is loss of life. Where is God changing bad or non-existent gun laws? Where is God settling disputes? Where is God in the heart of the common good for all?
Then another prominent voice in my President’s administration says, “Don’t talk about gun reform because this disrespects the dead and their families.” I ask, well, when do you talk about it?
In a deeper sense, it pushes the question - “do you believe in a God who only offers solace and comfort during human loss of life?” If one does, this runs counter to scripture where God is spoken of loving and caring for human life and ways people can live together. Why compartmentalize God?
For some, God only exists to offer comfort and strength when things go crazy in the world. Isn’t there something called “free will?” God has given humans the power to make the world in the image of God and not in the image of the NRA.
No church, mosque or synagogue, no public school, and no home deserve such mindless slaughter. What kind of God do you believe in? What is God calling you to do?
Scripture: ...what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8
DO NOT WORRY
November 2, 2017
Has St. Paul lost it? His message to the Christians at Philippi is “Do not worry.” One’s initial reaction is St. Paul does not live in our kind of world.
Like any familiar character in literature and in this case, the Bible, there is a temptation to romanticize a favorite character. St. Paul’s world was not that different from our world. Let’s take a closer look. Paul was in jail when he wrote this letter. He thought his life was coming to an end. As a Roman citizen, he intimately knew the Roman Empire was an inhumane, tyrannical killing machine. The Emperor Nero would soon launch a massive, deadly persecution against the early Christians. St. Paul did live in a similar world as our world – fearful and turbulent.
Our governance of life, a democracy, struggles with the same issues as St. Paul did but with a modern twist. For example, violence is a way of life. Human life is cheap. The poor are forgotten. More laws are passed in favor of the privileged and the rich. Equal rights still struggles to find daylight. Democracy staggers when civil behavior becomes uncivil. Compromise is considered worthless. Elected leaders from both political parties get consumed in their pettiness forgetting they are called to serve the common good.
So with his world crashing down around him, St. Paul proclaims a bold message: “Do not worry about anything but in prayer supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Jesus Christ.” Philippians 4:6-7. These are words to anchor us living in our kind of world.
Then he asks us to hold on: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4: 8-9
The center of the Christian faith holds. God still lives. Jesus has a Word of clarity and truth for our time. Forgiveness still surprises. Broken relationships can be reconciled. Grace offers second chances. Our faith is meant to find new life in times like these. Hold on! “The peace of God be with you.”
WHAT YOU DO MATTERS
October 26, 2017
It was a surprise. A 3 X 5 accordion like pamphlet came in the mail. The front cover said: “What You Do Matters.” It was from the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. The front cover back listed well-known rescuers of Jewish people such as the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, the German industrialist Schindler at his factory in Poland and Miep Gies, who hid Anne Frank in Holland.
The next 7 fold outs in the pamphlet showed pictures, and gave names of Holocaust rescuers I never heard of. That was the point of the brochure. What followed were brief stories of women and men whose courageous actions saved Jewish people and in some cases, cost them their lives. One story grabbed my attention. Marion Pritchard saved 125 Jewish families in Holland. A Dutch authority followed her where she hid children in the country and was going to turn her in to the Gestapo. She got rid of him.
One’s first reaction is – “whoa, just a minute.” I do not put my life on the line at the threat of death to help rescue people in danger. This is not me. We are talking about other people. I discovered that was not the point. I heard the title of the brochure ask me, “Where do I practice quiet acts of mercy and fairness?” What You Do Matters.
How many times have I kicked myself afterwards not speaking out against hate and prejudice? I was silent. I’m not talking about going around self-righteously telling people off but standing up for peace and reconciliation. The simple title of the brochure says it all: What You Do Matters. Well, do it.
Where do I speak out against exclusion and privilege for the few? When do I say: “The Jesus I follow preaches God’s loves for all people?” When and where am I called to respond against “racial putdowns” and “disparaging words on one’s sexual identity?”
When does my conscience rise up and say: “Hold it. I want to know who is left out and why?” There comes a time when one needs to speak out for the common good. There are always second chances to be a witness for Jesus Christ. What You Do Matters.
“I can do all things all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13
BE A WITNESS FOR GOD’S HOPE
October 19, 2017
When I pick up the newspaper or go online for news, I see a rally, a demonstration, and a march affirming a position on such issues as civil rights, to family life, to the environment, to foreign policy to immigration. It’s almost nonstop.
As Christians where do we make our witness? You count. You matter. You and I are part and parcel of this beautiful world God has created despite the news stories of some adults acting like juvenile delinquents in Washington DC and Minnesota.
What is the basis for a Christian witness? 1) Believing in God’s love and reconciliation 2) Needing to worship on Sundays to hear an alternative viewpoint against the craziness in the world 3) Hungering for prayer and hearing a Word in scripture beyond our words and 4) Witnessing for the good
You and I have to figure out what our gifts are and where they rest. All of us have received gifts from God. Is it giving money? Standing by and helping someone? Writing a letter on a political issue? Is it attending a social change meeting or offering help in social service like at a food shelf? What is it? You and I can do it.
There are Republicans, Independents and Democrats and whatever political animal you want to describe who share common core values. What I mean is that there are people across political party lines who want to protect the environment, make sure the government offers health care to the poor, deals with drug issues and offers hurricane aid to all people who suffered. I believe there are basic shared beliefs affirming the common good in our society.
Pray about it. Where does God want me to be a good witness for Jesus Christ?
“Come let us make a covenant, you and I: and let it be a witness between you and me.” Genesis 31:44
STAND UP FOR THE GOOD NEWS
October 12, 2017
One can voice an opinion on any given subject in this country. We call that free speech – fine and good. I offer one example. I strongly affirm people can disagree over the interpretation of the Bible and where one is led by the Christian faith. However, some Christian office holders and fundamentalist evangelists claim to have the inside information from God.
This is their claim: God has a pecking order who is the winners and the losers, the true believers and the false believers, the saved and the damned. This is The Good news of the Gospel twisted around into the bad news of the gospel. At the foundation of their faith is a punishing, vengeful God who supports “white privilege” and “sheer hatred” toward people who do not fit their religious profile.
The Good News of the Gospel was never meant to separate people into “the blessed and the unblessed” or “the privileged and the under privileged.” This is nothing but a distorted message of God's love in Christ. One receives false security believing God is on your side.
Together we affirm the Good News of God’s love:
God is a promise keeper. God is a creator. God is color blind on race and affirming on sexual identity. God holds us accountable. God gives us freedom to make choices in our lives. God forgives. God is a reconciler. God is peace and justice. God’s love brightly shines in the life of Jesus Christ. God is resurrection. God is a reconciler. God offers love in the waters of baptism. God offers love giving bread and wine. God is spirit and builder of community.
What would you affirm about the Good News of God's Love in Jesus Christ? Let’s be sure we stand up and affirm our beliefs in the Good News not the bad news.
“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” II Corinthians 5:17
WATER AND BREAD
October 5, 2017
Puerto Rico is crying out: “Give us water and bread.” What is so mysterious about offering water and bread to starving people? Why does our national leadership procrastinate? This is not a Republican or Democrat or Independent issue but a cry: HELP US!
If a human being cries out for water and bread - what does one give? Water and bread! What on earth is so complicated about that? The responses of our President were sadly disappointing. He insulted the people of Puerto Rico for not pulling themselves by their bootstraps. Then he dedicated a golf trophy won by American golfers. What does a trophy have to do with water and food? Then he blamed them for creating a deficit in the national budget? Am I losing it or what?
If I sent a tweet to my President, it would be this: “For 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……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.” Matthew 25: 35-40
We are not given options. This is a command in no uncertain terms like the fiery speech the commander at the Air Force Academy gave to the students and faculty on justice, and civility. There is no middle ground. There are no excuses.
Are we faithful to the call of Jesus Christ?
ON BEING TRUE TO SELF
September 28, 2017
Why does the bad news, the scandalous news, the “I got ya” news receive more prominent page space in the newspapers? Have neighborly acts and kindly deeds disappeared in our society? Do we have to strike up the band and give special recognition when we recognize it?
When you and I reach out to help someone whether offering a word of cheer or an act of caring, we are not after applause. Our neighborly acts are done quietly. Only the recipient, you and God see them. We don’t need any more witnesses. And we don’t need any more justification. We simply do them.
There is a deep satisfaction in sharing neighborly acts that no one can take away from us. We do not
need a certificate of recognition or thundering applause. It is a core value. It resonates from a giving
heart. It comes from the depths of welcoming God’s love in our lives. We are being true to the life core
God has given.
No one can remove that core value in our lives. We simply do these acts of grace because we are
followers of Jesus Christ.
We do neighborly acts of grace because God has acted graciously in our lives. We witness to the good
because we have experienced the good. What we have received is to be shared.
“For where your treasure is, there you heart will be also.” Luke 12:34
WE ALL HAVE PREEXISTING CONDITIONS
September 21, 2017
The nation waits in suspended suspense for a proposed national health care program. One major question is: will pre-existing health conditions be covered? All this uncertainty opens doors to health worries, and financial worries.
I do not mean to disparage or trivialize what preexisting conditions mean for many people. There is a sense in which all of us have preexisting conditions. We live and we die. We have worries and anxieties. We know we have only one life to live. Life is sacred and life is deeply valued.
I believe all of us yearn for forgiveness from past mistakes. We all yearn for love to be more rooted in our lives. We all yearn for God’s resurrection hope to walk a new path.
All of us have lingering habits that drag us down. Sometimes, we get stuck trying to change these habits. Despite our promises to change, our good intentions slide.
I struggle with my own preexisting conditions. I can’t solve yours. I offer no cheap advice. What I do know is this: God always stands by us. We are never alone. My hope is that you believe that, too no matter what and wherever you are health wise.
I believe God stands by us whether we recognize that or not. We are never alone.
This is unfailing good news: God is with us in all our preexisting conditions – whatever they are and whenever they come. God gives us power to deal with them and begin a anew.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble…The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob in our refuge.” Psalm 46: 1,11
HUMANITY AT ITS
September 7, 2017
Hurricane Harvey was a shining example of how people cared for and helped modern day refugees in Houston. A crisis like this brings out the best and worst in people. I suggest we stay with the best witnesses.
First, let’s get the worst examples out of the way. I don’t know why but clergy often end up making the most inane and stupid comments in these situations. One pastor of a large church claimed he never got a phone call to help. Human need is staring him in the face and he needs a phone call to help a neighbor? Then he helped and there was some redemption.
Some clergy and news commentators made preposterous claims that God sends bad storms to punish gay people. Funny thing, I have never seen these “Jesus Fear Mongers” claim God also sends storms to straighten out straight people. At least let’s have an affirmative action God. To be very clear - I do not believe God sends storms to punish and correct people. God loves people.
Twenty some years ago I worked with cleanup teams from my congregation helping eight families clean the basements of their homes flooded from an overflowing creek In Iowa. The loss of possessions, the overpowering stench of the flood waters and the unspeakable mess were indescribable.
In the Harvey aftermath, I was drawn to shining examples of strangers helping strangers and neighbors helping neighbors. There was a line of people holding hands stretching from the shore to a sinking car rescuing the driver. Babies and mothers were loaded into boats. The elderly were carried out of nursing homes. I was drawn to a picture of women sitting in a room in a nursing home, water up to their waists, waiting rescue. One woman was calmly knitting. A mattress store owner opened his three stores to house people. Workers at a Mexican Bakery were isolated so they baked bread for people. A rescuer saved a person a drift in raging waters. There were so many inspiring pictures of people helping one another.
We don’t need to wait for a natural disaster like Harvey to help people. Does someone need an encouraging note; need a word of encouragement via an e-mail, a phone call or a written note? Did you thank someone for their kindness?
Jesus does not hand out congratulatory certificates or awards for acts of compassion and care given in his name. He only asks one question: “Will the Son of Man find faith on earth?” Were you faithful in your discipleship?
THE NEW GOLDEN CALF – THE WALL
August 31, 2017
In Exodus 32 in the Old Testament, we hear the story of the Hebrew people in the wilderness waiting for Moses to return from Mt. Sinai with the Covenant of God, the Ten Commandments. The people become restless. Where is Moses? Did he disappear? Aaron, Moses’s brother handled affairs back home and it all went downhill.
The Hebrew people cajole and pressure Aaron to collect all their gold and mold a false image of God, the Golden Calf. They want a false god to be seen, touched and worshipped.
I saw a television news clip of the President of Mexico’s saying; “America is going to pay for the wall.” Then my President said, “No, Mexico is going to pay for the wall.” We are talking about the proposed Wall to keep unsavory Mexicans from coming into our country.
Now many people do not have an appetite for the Wall. But then again, some do. No one wants to pay for the Wall. I bet you a cup of coffee at Rustica Bakery that the money for this Wall (if it is built) will be drawn from a federal housing project or a fund to eliminate a disease.
Once the Wall is completed (if it is) there will be a national day of dedication with bands, choirs, prayers and sermons on how safe our lives will be. I can see national pilgrimages and tours made to the Wall to raise money for more GOLDEN CALF WALLS. Who knows, but the WALL may qualify as a national monument.
THE GOLDEN CALF WALL never gives me a feeling of safety or enhances my faith. All it does is break the First Commandment. See Exodus 22: 4-6. I have a suspicion that after time, another set of “make believe gods will claim to provide me even more secure. Why is it that these GOLDEN CALF WALLS never keep one safe? They never seem to end.
Open your Bible and read Exodus 32: 7-20. Read what happened when God told Moses what was going on back home and what Moses did.
- Dan Schmiechen
WORSHIP CAN BE SUBVERSIVE
I don’t know if you have ever thought of Sunday morning worship as a subversive act? When “subversive” is used one generally thinks of going against the grain, an act not commonly acceptable by the status quo or “un” something.
All of the upsetting and unsettling activity by the rise of White Nationalism with hate rallies, hate parades, and hate demonstrations to build up a white racist America is more cause for concern than one realized.
White Nationalism is evil. It is plain wrong. There is no debate here. Any person or even a Christian who supports such racial bile is a candidate to be transformed by the “Good News of Jesus.” We are talking about replacing their message of ”I hate them because they don’t exist” with the transforming message of reconciliation, peace, and forgiveness.
This phony baloney message of White Nationalism runs counter to and is not harmonious to the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. This message of Jesus changing head, heart and soul is free. In fact, it qualifies under a “pre-existing condition” on your health insurance. It is a continuing conversion to live neighborly with all God’s people.
The Bible spends a lot of time talking about neighborliness. Who is my neighbor? The Word of God hits the bull’s eye by saying “love your neighbor” “peace be with you” “be reconciled to one another” “love is patient and kind” “love God with heart, mind and soul” “blessed are the peacemakers for they shall see God.”
In morning worship, I need to hear Pastor Eliot and Pastor Lawrence tell me “the good news of Jesus” in their prayers and sermons. I need to hear about God’s love in Jesus Christ how to live in today’s world. Sometimes I don’t like to hear this message of Jesus because it’s hard to swallow and follow. We are talking about witnessing day in and day out to the subversive message of “the Good News.”
Sunday morning worship helps me give a clear witness to God’s love as I go back into a world of heartless anger, and mean love. I go back strengthened with a merciful peace, an active forgiveness and the love for justice. See you in worship this Sunday morning!
“I was glad when they said to me; Let us go into the house of the Lord.” – The Psalms
We spend a lot of time waiting, don’t we? I thought the Presidential election was over but we are waiting for government to effectively govern. We wait for a doctor’s appointment. We wait for fish to bite. We wait for a job to improve. We wait for stronger health. We wait for a meal. We wait for the Twins baseball team to field a team.
Waiting can go deeper. For example, you and I may wait to change a bothersome habit. Maybe it is to grow a deeper faith. Or perhaps I’m still dealing with a grief to subside. One may wait for the beginning of wellbeing for a family member or dear friend.
Waiting can be deeply personal. I can wait for new faith traits to emerge in my life. How can I be more honest? Where can forgiveness be shared? Where can I get my mind off myself and help a neighbor?
One spiritual practice says write down on paper what you are waiting for. Did the words you wrote surprise you? Where they helpful? What would you change? Where can God lead me? Sometimes when I write my inner thoughts down on paper, it can be helpful. I can see what can strengthen my faith life.
Where can I spend quiet time to look at myself? Where can God lead me to examine what is really worth waiting for? I find it’s worth the effort.
“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in God’s word I hope; my soul waits for the lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for morning.” Psalm 130:5-6
Hold Fast To God’s Good
The President of the United States has some unique ways of leading and gaining the confidence of the country, to say the least. I’ll let you figure out what that is according to your political persuasion and value tradition.
I do know this. Each day that passes in our news addicted society, we seem to have a news story more newsy than the previous day’s news. I mean how much news information can one tolerate? We live with hyperventilating reporters and news outlets high on steroids.
I grant there is a lot of nuttiness going on in the world including the “moral swamps” in Washington DC, “the moral swamps” in the Twin Cities in and “the moral swamps” in Ely, Minnesota. All of us live in “moral swamps” where good and evil fight for the higher ground, and where humans struggle for inclusiveness. Let’s not dump all “moral swamps” on our nation’s capitol. We live in them, too!
Our staying power does not come from ourselves but from God’s love in Jesus Christ. I believe the word is: Hold Fast To God’s Good.
Hold fast means forgiving love can cross barriers; merciful grace can overcome hate; and neighborly acts can bind.
Hold fast means rivals (not enemies) can live together; common problems can be compromised and worked out.
Hold fast means to be kind, tolerate and civil.
Hold fast means neighbors can share trust and live in community.
Hold fast means bridge-building and helping one another has not gone out of fashion.
Hold fast means God’s love in Jesus Christ does hold and holds fast.
What message in these uncertain times do we witness to? Hold Fast To God’s Good.
BEING SUBVERSIVE: DOING NOTHING
Sounds heretical, doesn’t it? After all, we should be productive and creative every minute of our lives. I remember people asking me what I do in my retirement. At first, I gave out a long list as though I had to justify my retirement. Often, people seemed disappointed I didn’t regale them with adventures proving I did something. Now I say, “It is relaxing and enjoyable.”
In retirement, I still wrestle with the same temptations to fill the day with regular assignments, tasks and projects. How can I use some time “doing nothing” without giving an accountability report? So why not try it? The other day I sat in a chair and looked at a tree. Another time I watched the wind ripple across a lake. Recently, I tracked a violent thunder storm come in from the southeast. Did I complete a task? No. Did I solve a problem? No.
At first glance, this sounds like I need help from a therapist – he’s lost it. I don’t play golf. I don’t play cards. It sounds so un-American; I must re-order the priorities in my life. I have to justify everything I do or my world will collapse.
I am learning how to do nothing even in the schedule of a busy day. Guess what? Nothing broke. I did not lose my mind. The police were not called. Barbara is still with me. My children still love me. Neighbors still talk to me. I wish I had done more of “doing nothing” in my past life.
“Yet you have made them (humans) a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.” Psalm 8:5
A TREE: REMINDERS OF OUR LIVES
The next time you walk down the street where you live or go to a nearby park, look at the trees. There are needle and leaf type trees. There are five inner parts of the tree like we have vital organs to live. The inner rings of the tree reveal life cycles. Trees grow one ring at a time – they do not skip rings. They have the different colors and shapes of bark as protection. Trees are in many ways like humans.
A tree is a tree as a human being is a human being no matter age or size.
Every tree is different from every tree even from those in the same tree species.
Tree branches of the same species are different in size, shape and form from one another.
Every tree needs sun, rain, oxygen and nutrients. So with us. Besides food, shelter and loved ones, we depend upon love, forgiveness and reconciliation.
Every tree tells a story of its own life story - broken branches, the trunk shattered by a lighting strike, toppled by wind storms, and susceptible to disease. We, too carry physical marks (outward and inward) in our life cycles.
Every tree has its own peculiar story. Looking at a cross cut of a tree trunk; the rings tell a story of a tree’s life. There are uniform ring patterns marking a tree’s age. Sometimes the rings are filled with dark spots or irregular in circular design telling us a forest fire, drought or disease came into its life. So in how we live our lives.
Every tree has its own beauty no matter what. It is a living organism. So are we but more. Each one of us is given a free will, a conscience and a life to live.
Scripture tells us each one of us is “wondrously made by God.”
Nobody Jumped So I Had To Jump
June 29, 2017
Two people got into an altercation on the platform of a subway station In New York City – a homeless man and a young passenger. A young ballet dancer returning from a performance with his wife and mother ran upstairs to get help. There was no one around.
He ran back downstairs to the platform. The homeless man was now lying on the train tracks. Somehow he got pushed off the platform. People were screaming – it was a chaotic, frightening scene.
The young ballet dancer said: “Nobody jumped, so I had to jump” down to the tracks. Suddenly he heard the whistle of an incoming train. He picked up the man and realized the platform was higher than he thought. He stretched one leg onto the floor of the platform and people hoisted him up with the unconscious man.
When I read the story on line, I could only say, “Holy Smokes.” It was one of these unbelievable inspiring stories where someone stepped into the breach. He was an unexpected neighbor.
Since we don’t have an underground subway in Minneapolis, we can’t duplicate those heroic efforts. Still this story reminds us when people need help – who will help? In this case it was “jump.” One never knows when human need suddenly surfaces and calls for a quick response. In this situation it was dangerous and risky.
When and where are those times and situations when people need help. I’m not talking about jumping off a subway train platform. I’m not talking being a goody two shoes running around frantically finding someone to help.
Keep alert to those times when unexpectedly someone in your life – family, friends or strangers needs an act of spontaneous help. One never knows when and how.
Pray your own prayer. “Nobody jumped, so I had to jump.”
Watch Your Tongue
A flash back: I am 8 years old spending two weeks on a farm of family friends outside Augusta, Missouri. I’m standing next to a mother and her two squirming daughters. The Mom is pumping a water pump and using soap to wash out the mouths of her girls. They used dirty language. The Mom turned to me and said “If I catch you swearing, Dan Schmiechen, I going to wash your mouth out, too.”
That story from my childhood popped into my mind after hearing the constant daily barrage of foul, hateful, barbaric language in our public life today. No matter what your political party or value system that kind of behavior is a no, no. The national media revels in such excesses. It helps their ratings. We have come to a point in our culture if one can’t think of a civil response whether talking politics, religion, sports, family, neighbors – you name it – insulting and dehumanizing people is “the in thing.” We are turning into “an insulting intolerant society.” This kind of behavior breaks down a crucial fiber of national life called civility and respect for all. Besides it is harmful to people. And Jesus forbids it.
There is always an open season to say to a friend, family member or neighbor – “Look, we may not see eye to eye on this subject. Would you be willing to talk (name subject) as we hear each other. I’m not going to try and change you. Can we talk?”
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Colossians 3:6
Summer Time is Ordinary Time
The calendar for the church year seems to be in a quandary. No high market publicist can remedy the situation. We began the church year with the four Sundays before Christmas, the birth of Jesus. Then we moved to revealing the story of Jesus to the world, Epiphany. Lent followed, the forty days and nights of self-examination and reflection on Jesus’ life. We entered Holy Week and celebrated Easter. Pentecost followed meaning “fifty days” after Easter, the birthday of the Christian Church.
Here comes the quandary. We enter what is called Ordinary Time which means “counted time.” The emphasis is upon the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Local congregations celebrate their own themes pertinent to their faith, mission, and life. The color is dark green meaning “new life.” I’m sorry to report that for me, there is nothing titillating about Ordinary Time compared to more familiar seasons of the church year. Even the commercial markets are befuddled about what to do with Ordinary Time because the cash pickings are slim.
What the Christian Church calls Ordinary Time is completely different than what our world calls Ordinary Time. We live out our lives quietly and faithfully in witness to God’s love. It’s a time of giving thanks and affirming what we have – our lives, our friends, our families, our neighbors and our church. We live in Ordinary Time. We are given the gift of time already saturated by God’s love and forgiveness. It’s not a matter of trying to see how clever we are filling up the summer days and making them worthwhile. God already has graced wonders to see, use and share.
Another way to talk about Ordinary time is to say: “let’s make ‘counted time’ really count by shaping our faith and life with our neighbors for the next three months.” Hurrah for Ordinary Time! “The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.” Psalm 121:8
(Photo: Linden Hills UCC Church Picnic June 4, 2017 at Lake Harriet)