I Didn’t Know…

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I didn’t know the last time I talked to my Mom that it would be the last time.

I can remember everything we talked about because, after she died, I found a note tucked in her calendar – her “brain” she used to call it.  The note was a list of things to talk to me about, so she wouldn’t forget.

Now I won’t forget either.

She asked me about our recent trip to New Jersey.

It had been awful! Pouring rain and stuck in traffic for HOURS with a 4 month old baby girl that wanted to be nursed every one hundred and twenty minutes…

…on the dot.

Hard to do with the baby safely strapped into the back seat facing away from the parents trying so hard to soothe her crying. Desperate, I finally jumped into the back seat…

…did I mention we were STOPPED IN TRAFFIC?

I nursed her while the windows steamed up because of the pouring rain. Sweat and tears were running down my face and from under my arms and my huge swollen, aching breasts, because it was a sweltering, rainy day in July and we were…

…did I mention?

Yeah.
Right.
Stuck.

Mom told me she was glad that I was nursing my daughter and “hanging in there” as it had been a painful, awkward process at first…not at all like the beautiful, perfectly coiffed, slender, woman on the cover of Modern Maternity magazine. She was holding her nursing child gently in her arms, beaming with that glow of motherly ‘bonding’.

Yet another thing we sweaty, straggly, tired, real women can feel like we are failing at.

It’s “natural” – so why does it hurt? Why doesn’t the baby “get” it? Why does it take practice? Why does it involve stacks of pillows, lying awkwardly on your side, or sitting awkwardly in a chair with arms at just the right height. Why does it require being stared at in the Women’s room of the department store because it seems vaguely, (or completely), disgusting to those who have never done it or seen it.

Which seemed to be most of the American women that I encountered.

My Mom said that when she had her babies, the doctor said that formula was “better than mother’s milk. Scientifically formulated to provide all the nutrition that baby needs.” She said that in her day, she just went to sleep and when she woke up, she had a beautiful new baby.

In those first days when she was there helping me with her new granddaughter, she would look at me nursing my daughter and there was a wistful look on her face…a regret…maybe a feeling that “Science” had let her down. In spite of my complaints and discomfort, I had to agree with her.

The last time I talked with my Mom, I didn’t know it would be the last time. I thank God that when she had come to the end of her list of things to talk about, she said,

“I guess that’s all I have to say…but I don’t want to hang up just yet.”

I’m thankful, because on that day, instead of giving her the list of stuff I had to go do, and because her granddaughter was sleeping peacefully, and because I hadn’t talked to her for a few days, and because I loved her so much, I said,

“then let’s not hang up yet.”

I don’t remember what we talked about then.

It wasn’t on her list for me to find…

…two weeks later…

…after she died.

I just remember that I will be grateful all my life, that I sat down and let that conversation flow between us, that I felt that close connection with my Mom who was so far away.

She gave me a parting gift without me knowing it…

…and I hope I gave her one as well…

…even though…

…we didn’t know.

Sermon: Star Light in Dark Times

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Matt 2: 1- 18

Like thousands of other families this holiday season, my family and I went to the see the latest Star Wars movie. It was great!  Everything you would expect…exciting chase scenes, tearful reunions, snappy repartee, a dangerous journey, and a seemingly impossible quest.

The lead characters have the choice of whether to use their powers and abilities for good, or to succumb to the dark side and use their power for personal gain and control over others – …wiping out all who stand in their way…wiping out those who threaten or question their power and authority.

Most of all, at the heart of every Stars Wars movie is an epic battle of good vs. evil.  The light of resistance fighting against the darkness of tyranny.  And of course, there are casualties along the way.  Don’t worry, I promise, no spoilers!  But we all know that in the battles between good and evil, it is impossible for even the greatest hero, to emerge unscathed, unbroken, or untouched.

Our scripture this morning could easily be a Star Wars episode.  Wise men are traveling on a dangerous journey on a seemingly impossible quest.  They come seeking a young hero who has been prophesied to be “the chosen one”, the one who will save the world. These wise men come seeking a newborn king, so naturally they stop at the palace in Jerusalem to inquire, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.”

When the current king, Herod, hears this, “he is frightened…and all Jerusalem with him.” Herod is frightened because, as a puppet king, his main purpose is to placate and serve Rome, the evil empire.  Herod is a tyrant who enslaves his own people to complete his huge building projects, including the Temple in Jerusalem.

In the years before Jesus birth, “there had been a lot of resistance, unrest and revolt in Jerusalem, so Rome wasn’t in a tolerant frame of mind. [Herod] knew any [hint] of rebellion would bring crushing retaliation against the city.  History tells us that Herod would stop at nothing to assure his position and authority – “assassinating anyone he considered a threat – including his own wife and two of his own sons.” For some time, he has been hearing “rumors that the long awaited liberator, prophesied by Isaiah and others, has been or will soon be born.”[1]

And now these foreign dignitaries appear and confirm all his worst fears…that a real threat to his throne, his position, and his power, has been born.  He calls together all the chief priests and scribes and asks them where the Messiah, God’s anointed one, was prophesied to be born.  They tell him……in Bethlehem.  While a pious man might have greeted this news with hope and joy, Herod only saw it as a threat – a threat to political stability and to his own status as king. “[2]

And so Herod tries to eradicate that threat by ordering all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, to be killed.  “And a voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children. She refuses to be consoled, because they are no more.”

Why is this horrific massacre a part of our Christmas story?

The last time this passage came up in the lectionary, it was in December of 2012….right after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, CT.  I couldn’t even read this passage, much less preach about it.  I put it away, and here we are three years later, and there are still children being slaughtered in the streets of our cities, in our schools, and even in our churches, here in our country and around the world.

It’s becoming a common occurrence.  Such a common occurrence that we want to turn away and just mentally walk on by. It’s natural to want to turn away from the evil we see in the world, to shut it out, especially when we think there is nothing we can do to stop it.  And that is when evil wins.  When good people give up hope and surrender to despair.

Why IS this horrific massacre a part of our Christmas story?

It’s so that we can see that this is a story of hope.  This story of atrocities against children is showing us what Jesus was sent to fight against, to preach and teach against.  Jesus, bringer of light, was sent to fight the darkness within human hearts that creates evil in the world.

Jesus was sent to shine God’s light and lead us away from the fear, greed, selfishness, indifference, hatred, and the misuse of power and authority, that gives birth to evil.  Jesus being born is the hope in the midst of the horror in this story.  Jesus, light of the world, teaches us that we must start with our own hearts in order to defeat the darkness.

Like our Star Wars heroes, we get to choose how we use our skills and talents, and our power and influence.  Will we harm or heal?  Will we conquer or surrender?  Will we hate?  Or will we love.

Jesus preaches empowerment, he teaches us that we all have authority and power over our own hearts – no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in we get to choose our response.  And change in the world begins by nurturing love and hope in our hearts.

 John Pavlovitz, posted a reflection over Christmas titled, “Just a Trite, Silly, Trivial Reminder about Love,” and in it he writes,

           “I am moved to step into the dense fog of grief and fear that seems to have settled upon these days and upon our collective hearts, to remind you that all is not lost.  I wanted to lift your weary eyes, which have been so fixed on all that hurts and all that is wrong and ask you to see beyond it, to the place where Love is.

 Love is, you know?  Love still is.

 Despite all the things around that would have you believe otherwise, despite so much evidence to the contrary, it is still doing its sacred work in this place.  Love is moving in these very moments. As you breathe so [love] breathes. As you live so [love] lives. [Love] is still out there discovering hidden goodness and noticing beauty in the ordinary and  finding reason to dance in suffering.

 [Love] is still sacrificing itself and embracing hurt and mending wounds.

[Love] is still there, firmly planted in the center of your chest.

Right now…two people are unknowingly beginning a beautiful lifetime together. … a reassuring hand is being gently placed upon another’s shaking shoulders. … new life is silently being formed within a hopeful mother’s belly. … exhausted parents are pouring themselves out yet again for their children. … songs are being written and memories are being made and laughter is bubbling up. … strangers are exchanging smiles and holding doors open and stopping along the roadside.

           In these very moments, people are being encouraged, relationships are being rebuilt, forgiveness is being granted, faith is being found, sobriety is being claimed, friendships are being forged, kindness is being exchanged. Scraped knees are being kissed, disappointed losers are being consoled, nervous proposals are being accepted, second chances are being given, simple victories are being celebrated.”[3]

My one comment to Mr. Pavlovitz would be that there is nothing trite, silly, or trivial about love.

Herod, in spite of all his scheming, eventually died.  The Roman Empire eventually fell.  Other empires have come and gone.  Despots, Dictators, and tyrants, gain and lose power.  Eras begin and end.  And even in these days when church as we know it may be ending, remember one thing….

Jesus’ light…still shines.

Jesus’ light continues to grow and spread.  Jesus’ message of love for one another is needed now more than ever.  Love is the greatest weapon we have in the battle against evil.  Love is what we offer to one another and love is what we cling to.  Love is God’s light in our hearts and in our world.

          So, we journey on, on our seemingly impossible quest against great odds.  Like the wise men, we look for a sign, we look for God’s sign, we look for God’s star shining in the dark night…

…and we follow…

 …faithfully, full of hope in God’s promise…

 And may the force be with us! May God’s force be with us all!

 

[1] Brian D. McLaren, “Keep Herod in Christmas”; The Christian Citizen, vol. 2, 2015 pg. 12

[2] Ibid

[3] John Pavlovitz, “Just a Trite, Silly, Trivial Reminder about Love”: http://johnpavlovitz.com, 12/2015

 

Longest Night

195

Night Falls

 “Prepare the way of the Lord, make God’s path straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low.  The crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”  (Luke 3:4 – 6)

John the Baptist cried out, “Prepare the way” and as Christmas draws near, we can often find ourselves caught in the race and grind of holiday preparations feeling depleted and exhausted.  Juggling family, work, shopping, planning, cleaning, and decorating creates a frantic sense of intense busy-ness layered with guilt for not being in the “Christmas Spirit.”

I invite you to imagine for a moment Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem.  A very pregnant woman on a donkey, a weary man on foot, urgency in every step of their journey as they frantically raced against a deadline over which they had no control, the imminent birth of their son.  As they journeyed alone through hostile territory, imagine Joseph’s worry and fear…would they get to Bethlehem in time?  Would they find shelter?  Would his son be born on the open road, in the middle of the night, just the two of them?

Imagine Mary’s worry and fear…was she feeling contractions?  Was she counting the time in between each one?  Was she afraid she would she have to give birth, without women helping, alone by the roadside…did she wonder if she would survive giving birth to this Holy child?  The angel hadn’t said anything about what would happen to her after her son was born.

Of course, we know that they made it to Bethlehem.  We know that at the end of their frantic journey they found refuge and sanctuary.  In that manger so lowly, for a time, they found peace.  Mary gave birth to hope for the world.  They discovered the joy of becoming parents.  Together they brought love incarnate into the world.

If you are feeling that out-of-control sense of careening into Christmas, come join us for our Candlelight Christmas Eve service of Lessons and Carols on Thursday, December 24 at 7:00 pm.  Come and find refuge and sanctuary from the pressures that the holidays can bring.  Come and find peace, for a time.  Come and renew your hope for the world.  Come and re-discover the joy in remembering that you are a beloved child of God.  Come, and lay your burdens down and gather at Christ’s table for the pause that truly refreshes!

Come let us adore him, Christ the Lord!