Imagination & Hope

DSC04509 webFriday, November 11, 2016

Luke 21:5-19

Imagination doesn’t always come easy. It is often the first thing that is diminished when we are feeling anxious. What I mean by imagination is the ability to see - to see not only with our eyes but also inwardly - intuitively. I don’t mean the kind of day dreaming “pie in the sky” imagination, but the kind of imagination that helps us take notice and appreciate the places and people that surround us. Some might call it vision.

True imagination is connected to our relationships – to where we move and have our being. Wendell Berry makes the important observation that imagination has much to do with showing sympathy, affection and neighborliness. (From his 2012 National Endowment for the Humanities Lecture, “It All Turns on Affection.”)

So in this way, imagination is about faith – clearly a particular way of seeing and being. We can say that imagination is a matter of the heart. And it can be difficult to measure. It is expressed in our calm affection for one another. It cultivates respect and mutuality. It is grounded. We can say that when we see with our mind’s eye what we might otherwise miss we are enlivened to move forward staying focused on what truly matters. To imagine faithfully is to live always with hope!

The Gospel reading for this weekend comes at the end of Luke. It deals with ultimate matters. It addressed a community of faith that found it hard to imagine the future. The nature of this kind of writing was meant to lift up, encourage and regain a confidence that God was ever present even if it didn’t feel that way. It did not deny the present reality but lifted sights to new horizons. It helped the faithful to press on attentive to a promise and a vision that showed a way forward.

Too often we dismiss the work of imagining because we think it is impractical. But in fact it is one of the most practical things we ought to be doing. Can we see the church as a listening point for the sake of understanding and creativity? Can we trust that the Spirit can weave the many strands of community into a fabric of wholeness – serving as a witness to the world of what is possible?

Pastor Randy

Blessed Are Those Who Weep

Picture1Friday, November 4, 2016

But only if we choose God’s way.

Luke 6:20-31

As the story of Wednesday morning’s horrifying events unfold, I am struck by two contrasting images:

An angry white man brandishing a confederate flag at a high school football game in close proximity to black spectators.

A black woman and a white police officer embracing, tears running down both their faces.

These two images actually have a lot in common: hurt, loss, fear.

That may not be as obvious with the first. However, if we view both images with eyes of compassion we can see it.

We can see a man who in his hurt is trying to hurt others.
We can see a man overcome by a sense of loss, seeking to take away from others.
We can see a man using his fear to make others afraid.

But it doesn’t have to be this way—and we can see that in the second image. We do have a choice.

On this All Saints Sunday, Jesus tells us, “Blessed are you who weep.” The blessings he speaks do not sound like blessings. The woes he tells of are the opposite of what we imagined.

How is this great reversal possible?
How do curses become blessings, and vice versa?
How can these impossibilities actually come to be?

Jesus tells us how: when we claim our citizenship in the Kingdom of God and reflect back the opposite of what the world expects.

Instead of lashing out at our enemies, we love them. And rather than returning curse for curse, abuse for abuse, we bless and we pray. And we give and we give and we give, regardless of how little is left or how much it may cost us.

This is the way that weeping turns in laughter. This is the way the rich and the full and the laughing come to stand alongside all who have not been so fortunate. This is the way we come together, rather than driving one apart from the other.

We do have a choice.

Pastor Sarah

Be still, then and know

PewPsalm 46 and Romans 3:19-28

I have to admit that my thoughts can drift some when I’m in worship. On a recent Sunday morning I got thinking about when I was going to get firewood split for the winter. It’s not always an easy transition to move from sheer busyness to a time and place set aside for stillness.     

Now it’s been my vocational routine to participate in weekly worship for some thirty years. But no matter how familiar the flow of worship is for me, the words in worship can still feel a little strange. It’s not that I don’t know what they mean or don’t realize their importance. Maybe what makes them strange is that they are mostly not about me or my “to do list.” Maybe it’s the kind of strangeness that comes from a particular promise of newness, something we are not always looking for.  

Worship is a different kind of communication, a different kind of experience. So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ. (Romans 10: 17) This word of Christ is at the heart of our actions whenever we gather for worship. The strangeness of the experience is that it draws us to a most needed place where mercy, forgiveness and peace reach the depths of all human need. It gets offered to us freely regardless if we are mindful of it or not. It draws us into the gift of something greater than ourselves.  

As the world reasons things worship seems to be a waste of time. After all we are not producing or accomplishing anything. That can feel rather strange to us. Our need to do more and more works against the act of being still for the sake of faith.

Our Lutheran witness says a lot about the nature of God’s promise. A promise that speaks to newness: of being justified by grace as a gift through Christ. Such an understanding brings clarity to what happens when we gather weekly around word and sacrament – the means of God’s grace.   We may worship for any number of reasons but at the center is Jesus who promises to be present, to be among us offering forgiveness and hope – a thankful way forward. 

No wonder the regular rhythm of weekly worship shapes the very character of the community of faith as it raises us up again and again to bear witness to God’s love for the world.

Pastor Randy

The Get Down

10 0660aHow low can you go?

Luke 18:9-14

I love Netflix.

The online streaming media company has given me some great opportunities to experience other worlds while I am stuck at the kitchen sink washing dishes in my suburban Midwestern kitchen.

Recently I binged a series (for the unfamiliar, that means I watched all the episodes in a matter of days) called, “The Get Down” about the South Bronx in the late 1970’s. The series reminds us of how the community was viewed from afar—specifically in terms of race, poverty, and violence—sprinkling real headlines and news footage into each show. The historical footage gives context to the episodes, but also reveals great contrast.

On the ground, everything looks very different:
The “hoodlums” are complex, gifted human beings,
the “blighted wastelands” are neighborhoods both struggling and vibrant,
even the “graffiti” reveals itself to be life-giving art.

While “The Get Down” refers to an emerging hip hop scene, it could just as well describe the experience of the viewer as the story pulls them down to ground level. It’s not always the most comfortable place to be, but for the learning to be had, most certainly worth it.

Which reminds me of the most important instruction I ever got in my training as a hospital chaplain: Get Down.

When visiting someone in a hospital bed, on a gurney, or crouched, waiting in a hospital hallway you should do your best to get down to where they are.

Why?

If you remain standing, you will inevitably be looking down on them, speaking down to them, keeping your distance from them. This will adversely affect their experience of you, but more importantly this will negatively influence how you experience them and therefore how you treat them.

However, if you crouch next to them, sit so you can talk face to face, squat on the dirty floor and share a tiny bit in their discomfort--you are being with them.

And down there, everything, everyone looks different:

The car accident victim, the parent who made a terrible mistake, the family of the gang member with a bullet in his head, the people who can’t speak English, the alcoholic delirious with cirrhosis, the one whose poverty is immediately apparent in the smell of their clothing—

All human beings.
Not all that different from you and me.
All children of God.
All in need of healing.

When our perspective changes, so may our hearts, and if our hearts can change, so may our way of being in the world.

Keep all this in mind this week as we hear Jesus tell us about two men praying—one standing tall, looking down on others, and one with head lowered, humbling himself before God.

Pastor Sarah

Persistence Comes in Many Forms

running shoesFriday, October 14, 2016

Luke 18:1-18

It’s race weekend in Des Moines. Thousands of runners are coming to our city this weekend to participate in the Des Moines Marathon. Marathon. That’s a scary word. For me, and many like me, running a portion of the race is just enough to soak up the cool, crisp, and athletic atmosphere.

I do not consider myself a “runner.” I don’t really enjoy the act of running, yet I have finished many 5k races, triathlons, mud runs, and even a half-marathon. I enjoy the people I run with. I treasure the end result of feeling strong and participating with my community. I am in awe of those who commit to running a full marathon. The persistence, discipline, and time it takes to train for a full marathon is immense.

That’s the thing about persistence; it’s supposed to be overwhelming. Persistence in itself is the annoying bug that keeps you going. This week’s Gospel lesson is the parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18: 1-8). Through this lesson, Jesus teaches his disciples to “pray and not lose heart.” The encouragement to continue to pray, to keep strong in their beliefs is exactly what the disciples needed to hear. Whether it’s endurance of your spirit through prayer, or endurance of your body, let your strength come from Jesus.

Best of luck to all the runners this weekend, we have many participating from Faith! Let us all remember that Jesus gives us perseverance in our faith, against all odds - even through all 26.2 miles.

Andrea Stone
Co-Director Children & Family Ministry