Sermon for 11/30/14 Mark 13:24-37 Advent 1

“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” (Isaiah 64:1a) I have had this refrain running through my head for the last week. Usually if I can’t shake something, it’s because the Holy Spirit is trying to tell me something. This refrain ran through my mind as I watched coverage of the events that unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri this past week. It ran through my mind as I read updates from my friend, Rick, who is a pastor in Ferguson. He opened the church as a safe place and a sanctuary for those who were protesting. He slept in a pew for three nights in a row. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.”

This refrain ran through my head as I saw the inevitable news stories of shelters and various organizations host a Thanksgiving meal for those who cannot afford to do so for themselves. The same refrain ran through my head as my brother, who spent his first holiday in his new home of Burlington, Vermont, stumbled upon one of these gatherings, not knowing any different and any better. Before he could excuse himself (“I don’t belong here, he said and thought”) he had a full plate of food and was surrounded by a new group of friends. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.”

I thought this as Chris and I drove home after our Thanksgiving meal and passed the Target in Clinton where people were already lined up around 3:00pm. Instead of scolding those waiting in line, I prayed that the deals they were hoping to find would help them. I wondered if those waiting in line love the black Friday deals because it enables them to give Christmas to their children despite a minimum wage job. For some people in our community, black Friday deals are the only way to provide a Christmas that feels “normal.” “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.”

It occurred to me that if this really did happen, if Christ really did tear open the heavens and come down, I wondered if I would recognize him. I wonder if I would be grateful and full of awe to be in his presence or would I just brush him off as some nut job that “claims” to be the risen Christ. And even though I long for Christ’s return, do I really know what to expect when I pray “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down”? Our Gospel text today from Mark tells us three times that we should “beware, keep alert” and “keep awake.” Advent is a time of waiting, of great anticipation. So it made me wonder, for what are we waiting?

Sure, it would be obvious to say “we’re waiting for the arrival of the baby Jesus” and while that is the climax of our Advent anticipations, I think we wait for so much more. We wait for peace and for justice. Not just in Ferguson, Missouri, but all over these United States. I long for the day when being a person of color does not mean an automatic disadvantage. I pray I will see the day when my daughter will earn as much in a job as her male counterparts. I wait for the day when being nutritionally deficient is an issue no child knows. I wait for the announcement that there are no longer people living under a viaduct near the river. I will celebrate the day when Information Referral Services tells me that they no longer are serving up to 3 homeless people a day. I am anxious for the day when the disturbing fact that up to 30 families from Eagle Heights elementary school (in Clinton) live out of their vehicles is no longer true. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!”

And I wait. I wait for the threat of terrorism to no longer be a reality. I wait for the fighting over Holy land to cease and for a two state solution to be the ushering of peace between Israel and Palestine. I long for the day when people feel safe in their homes and in their schools. I wait for the arrival health care that treats mental health issues like any other health issues. I will jump for joy when the day arrives that hitting, beating, or berating someone seems like a logical response to correcting behavior. I will be relieved when I no longer have to worry about what I wear, where I park, or what I say that may be misconstrued just because I am a woman. It seems like I am waiting for a lot, doesn’t it? “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.”

What is your list of things that you’re waiting for? Do you long for peace, if only in your home? Do you long for justice, maybe for someone you love or care for? Are you anxious for medicine to finally cure you of whatever ails you have? I think the question is, though, even though our Gospel tells us today to be prepared, to watch, keep awake, be alert, are we? What if Christ were to return today? What if instead of white flowing robes and some kind of glowing halo, he looked more like some of the guys that live at the Victory Center? Or what if, instead of having the same coloring as you or I, he looked more like what the news calls “undocumented?” I’m going to push you one step further because I haven’t challenged you enough yet today. What if, when Jesus returns, instead of speaking to us in clear, plain English, as we might expect, Jesus speaks in a language we’re not familiar with; or if we are familiar with it, we sure don’t speak it. Now what? What if, instead of looking like a clean-cut Brad Pitt kind of guy, Jesus returns and looks more like Mike Brown or Trayvon Martin? Now what?

Friends, I don’t challenge you with these thoughts because I think my vision of Jesus is right and yours is wrong. I want to challenge us because when Christ does return (and yes, we should be ready) we really have no idea when, or where, or what he will look like. I want to challenge you because I am tired of the media telling us we should be scared of everything! I am tired of society telling us we need a scapegoat instead of a savior. I am tired of people using the Bible as a weapon to justify everything from abuse to racism to homophobia to sexism. I am tired of people using the label of “Christian” when they are anything but. And most of all, I am tired of being one of these type of people that I described above. “O that you would open the heavens and come down.”

What are we to do with all of this? What are we to do with this unrest, with this uncertainty, with this waiting, watching, being awake and being aware? In the midst of the chaos of everything that goes on around us, how can we push it all aside, dwell in the silence, and wait? What does it mean that the one we claim as Savior will be born into a world where he is destined for death on a cross? What does it mean for us to see an empty manger and it be filled with the same one who will leave an empty tomb? Beware, keep alert, keep awake. There is more to this story and we will hear more of it next week. “O that you would open the heavens and come down.”

Sermon for 11/26/14 Luke 17:11-19 Thanksgiving Eve

Believe it or not, I can procrastinate a bit. When it comes to writing sermons sometimes I tend to find anything I can to avoid listening to the Holy Spirit. It’s not that I don’t love to write sermons, because I do. But it’s a discipline that I’m still growing accustomed to. And often, like last week, I end up writing a sermon that I need to hear more than I need to preach and that is difficult. So as I prepared to write this sermon, I had exhausted my normal procrastination method: Facebook. So, I turned to CNN.com. These were the headlines: “Protests around the US; What Wilson told grand jury; Charges: US men supported ISIS; 3 to 6 hour backups at some airports; Cops: Boy’s gun looked like a firearm.” And that all was pretty depressing. I then turned to the Clinton Herald online. These were the headlines: “Gateway leaders unify on ‘Save Target’ front; Two granted deferred judgements in burglary case; Lawsuit against city claims water flow is damaging property.” Turns out, that was pretty depressing too.

I then turned to where I knew things wouldn’t be so depressing: Pinterest! If you don’t know what Pinterest is, just imagine a virtual bulletin board organized by all of your interests and within those interests are articles, images, and what not associated with your interests. I have a lot of recipes on my Pinterest boards. Of course, as I logged on, I saw articles for setting the perfect table, cranberry sangria cocktail, how to handle awkward conversations during the holidays, and, inevitably, article upon article about the numerous ways to cook (or not cook) a turkey. And as much as I wanted to be excited about Thanksgiving, those headlines kept popping into my head.

Now, I try not to be cynical, and I try to be a “glass half full” type of person, but sometimes, it’s just hard to be thankful. Sometimes, it’s hard to feel God’s blessings on me and those I love. Sometimes, it’s hard to know if God even is aware of what is going on in this hurting world; and yet I am supposed to be thankful.

And yes, tomorrow, I will wake up with a roof over my head, next to someone who loves me, to our daughter who is healthy, and we’ll eat out of a well stocked fridge. We’ll have dinner with people we love and walk (or waddle) away regretting a second piece of pie but not at all begrudging the company. And we will be thankful. We will be beyond thankful. That doesn’t stop Friday from happening. Friday will come and there will still be hurt in the world. And it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe instead of being cynical, or frustrated, or slipping a little too easily (and even a little too early) into bah-humbug that the most radical and appropriate response really is thanksgiving. I don’t mean the meal or the day or the celebration, I mean the literal giving of thanks.

The more I thought about giving thanks, the more I realized that it is a simple sentiment that is often implied but rarely voiced. When we do voice thanks, it is often met with resistance. How many times do we say “thank you” only to have the response “it was no big deal” or “no problem” or “it was nothing.” I do it too, almost daily. But when we thank someone, we are doing so because they did something they did not have to do. The Samaritan in our reading today didn’t have to thank Jesus, but he did. Jesus didn’t have to cure the man of his leprosy but he did. And sure, the argument could be made that “of course Jesus cured the man. That’s what Jesus does!” Just because that’s what Jesus does is our response, it doesn’t make the Samaritan leper any less thankful.

After my accident I took cookies to the fire departments that pulled me from my car as a thank you. I realize that they had to respond to my call because that is their job, but that doesn’t make me any less thankful. When a doctor finally figures out what has been ailing you, yes he or she was doing their job, but I bet you’re still thankful just the same. Really, what it comes down to is this: saying thank you is just another way of acknowledging that you have received a blessing. There were 10 lepers that came to Jesus, and all 10 were cured. But 1 of those lepers turned back and gave thanks. I have to believe that the other 9 were thankful as well. But this one turned back to give thanks because he recognized this blessing and wanted to give thanks.

There is something very powerful about not only receiving a blessing but then to be able to name it, and claim it, and give thanks for it is something almost overwhelming. It’s almost as if giving thanks makes us whole. When we express gratitude and thanks, what we are really saying is this “I can’t do this on my own. God gifted you with the ability to help me and because you did, I’m better; my world is a little better.” That’s powerful! And again, as strange as it sounds, when we say “thank you” sometimes what we’re really saying is “I’m not perfect, but with your help, I got a glimpse of it and felt whole.” Gratitude is a very powerful emotion that has the ability to free us from fear, shame, and darkness.

We do have real troubles in this world, obviously. But we also have a world full of blessings if we’re willing to recognize them even if we start small. Thank you for being here tonight. Thank you for being willing to be part of a community that prays together, that worships together, that has fellowship together, and that has a meal together, no matter what. Thank you for loving me for reasons beyond my comprehension. Thank you for caring for this community by giving to our food pantry and our care fund. Thank you for taking the risk and loving yourselves once again. Thank you for being proud of this place.

We are blessed by friends, family and neighbors that care for us. We are blessed by teachers willing to give their heart and passion to our children. We are blessed by those who protect us that we may be safe. We are blessed by a government (even with all its flaws) that enables us to be the freest nation in the world. We are blessed by a God who sees our scars and says “I love you not inspite of your scars but because of them.”

This world is hurting and it is broken. And there are far too many headlines that beg for us to get angry, complacent, or even sad. And perhaps what our hurting, broken world needs now is a blessing. And perhaps that blessing can be you. You can share a healing, powerful word of thanks with those outside these walls. That small gesture will make your little corner of the earth a little better. You have been called, and claimed, and loved, and forgiven, and blessed. Leave this place, not only tonight, but every time you leave, anxious to be a blessing to someone else. Thank you.

Sermon for 11/23/14 Matthew 25:31-46 Christ the King Sunday

It is Christ the King Sunday which has always seemed a weird thing to me. I think I struggle with this idea of Christ the King for several reasons. One, we don’t live under a monarchy. I don’t know what it’s like to have a “King” as a ruler. We elect (or re-elect) our “rulers” every 2-4 years. Two, I have a vision of a king as someone who rules with an iron fist. I guess Hollywood movies have given me that perception. And that’s just not the Jesus I know. Three, so often when I think of the ways to describe Jesus, “King” is not always at the top of my list. I think of kind, healer, mercy, grace, love, teacher, and maybe halfway down my list I will eventually say “king.” Lastly, I struggle with the idea of Christ being King because I always struggle with the idea of what kind of “king” would allow things to happen that happen.

This is also a strange Sunday for me because it will be a year tomorrow since my ordination. A year since friends and family gathered around me at Faith Lutheran Church in Wichita Falls, Texas as I asked God to help and guide me through the ups and downs of being your pastor. So, this occasion has caused me to reflect back on our year together. And as I’ve reflected, I keep asking myself and answering myself. I find that I’m a good conversationalist with myself. I keep asking myself “what kind of King….” and then answering myself with “the kind of King that…” What kind of King would allow me to wade through the darkness and doubt of not having a call, of not having a church to serve, of making me question whether or not I’m really supposed to be a pastor? The kind of King that was preparing me and you for each other. But there’s more than that. When I thought about Christ being King, I thought about the amount of loss we have experienced together this year; and we have experienced a lot of loss.

What kind of “King” would take Lyle, a warm, kind hearted soul who wouldn’t hurt a fly, in the blink of an eye from this earth so quickly? It’s the same King who has accompanied Irene through surgeries and triumphs over life–the same King who allowed her to (recently) see 90. What kind of “King” takes a relatively healthy, loving, and loved man and allows him to struggle? What kind of “King” was with Todd? And what kind of “King” was with Kim in her darkest hours? What kind of “King” was with a mother of three as she left this world? I guess it was the same “King” that finally called Letha home after years of struggle and battle with a disease I still struggle to understand. I guess it was the same “King” that was with the Petersen family as we said goodbye to Arlene and with the Ryan and Edens family as we said goodbye to Gwen. And this could go on and on. I struggle because a “King” wouldn’t let this happen. But a “King” did and will continue to accompany us along the way.

I also struggle because a “King” wouldn’t be born in a barn, laid in hay and surrounded by animals. A “King” wouldn’t be seen interacting with a leper, a blind man, a hemorrhaging woman, a possessed man, and on and on and on. A “King” wouldn’t be sentenced to a death so brutal and so inhumane. A “King” wouldn’t so easily forgive, so easily love, so easily shower us with grace. And yet, our King does.

I also struggle because if Christ is King, that means so many other things in my life are not. So many other things in our lives are not. If Christ is King, that means my money, our money is not king. If Christ is King, that means our jobs are not. If Christ is King, that means our vocations in life as mother, wife, husband, dad, aunt, friend, etc… are not. If Christ is King that means our homes and everything we have claimed to work for and earn (even though it was given to us by God) are not king. If Christ is King, then that means I am not. If Christ is King then that means you are not king either.

And there’s good news in all of this, too. If Christ is King, then that means the number I see on the scale isn’t king. If Christ is King, that means my depression isn’t. If Christ is King that means cancer is not. If Christ is King, that means hopelessness, hunger, sadness, homelessness, racism, hate, and injustice are not. When we start to view the world through the frame of a cross, we begin to understand that all the things we put weight into, that we put worry into, that we put money, time, concern, energy, and effort into are ultimately not king. There is only one king: Christ. That’s not to say that those other things are not important. But they are not, ultimately, life giving.

Christ, who is King, is calling us into something new. Christ, who is King, is calling us into a life where because he IS King, evil has no power over us. Christ, who is King, invites us to a meal, fit for a King, but humble enough for us who are both sinner and saint. Christ, who is King, invites us into the season of Advent (starting soon); the season not of hustle and bustle, but a season of waiting, and great anticipation. A season of new birth and the cries of a new baby born of a peasant unwed virgin and a carpenter, in a manger full of the chill of winter and the lovely smells of a barn, and a time of renewal. A season that begs us to stop, slow down, breathe, and wait. Wait for Christ the King who is making all things new.

Next time we struggle with life and all that life has to give us, let us challenge ourselves by not asking “what kind of King…” but instead answering “the kind of King….” Not “what kind of King would take away the ability for Augie to come to church, to ride in the combine, to allow him to serve others as he so loves.” But instead we rejoice at the King who is accompanying him through this, who will call him (and all of us) home in our own time; the kind of King who equips doctors and nurses to care for him. The kind of King that gives Erline patience and understanding, the kind of King that gives us wisdom and strength. Not “what kind of King would allow a man of God like Pastor Sondrol to struggle” but instead, we thank a King that has given Pastor Sondrol time to get things in order (as he likes to do) and for a reminder that the community of faith, no matter how long one has been gone from it, is always strong and supportive.

The challenge to change our thinking this way from “what kind of King” to “the kind of King that…” is difficult, I know. Maybe it seems impossible. Even if you can’t make the switch, remember this. We are disciples of the kind of King that never leaves us abandoned. We are claimed by a King that loves us, no matter what. We are called by a King that challenges us to serve others as a response to being freed from our sin. We are embraced by a King no matter our scars. And we are served by a King that loves us to the point of death. Even death on a cross.

Sermon for 11/16/14 Matthew 25:14-30

Most of, if not all of you know that I was raised in the Roman Catholic church. For a long time, I tried to distance myself from that part of my upbringing. However, I have since learned that being raised Catholic is very much part of who I am. I may have said some of this before, so bear with me here. The God I have gotten to know now is very different than the God I knew growing up. For some reason the God I knew growing up was angry, vengeful, and couldn’t possibly ever love me. I don’t know where this idea came from. I felt like I was always working to please God. At the same time, I also felt that nothing that I could ever do would actually ever please God. I always felt like God was judging me, that I was probably doomed to a life of hell and torture. If someone had told me “God loves you” I probably would have question which God they were speaking about because the God I knew didn’t love me. At the same time, I felt a tug to do something in the church but also being frustrated because I knew (as a woman) that I would never be able to be the person up front (at least in a Catholic church).

Fast forward to my first year of seminary. I took a class called “Foundations of Christian Worship” (or something like that) where we basically learned why we do (and how we do) what we do in worship. We had an assignment to attend an Easter Vigil for the class. If you’ve never been to an Easter Vigil, it really is something to behold. It is held the Saturday night before Easter Sunday. It starts with lighting a fire (usually outside). There are several readings, maybe some baptisms, communion, a sermon, the whole works. A good Easter Vigil is usually 2-3 hours.

Chris and I decided to head down to Texas for our first Easter. Our home congregation of Faith Lutheran in Wichita Falls, Texas had been supporting us quite a bit through seminary and we wanted to return home partially as a thank you. Luckily for me, one of the Catholic churches in town was hosting an Easter Vigil. Anticipating a large crowd (there wasn’t one), I got to church early and settled into the pew. The pews were hard and wooden and creaked if you moved too much. I watched others file in around me, reverencing the alter, crossing themselves, and taking their positions on the kneelers. The church was almost all dark except for a few candles here and there.

Once the service got started, the priest walked in swinging his thurible (which is what the incense were in). There was chanting and everything was still in the dark. As soon as those incense hit my nostrils, my tears started flowing. I wasn’t crying because the incense bothered me. I was immediately taken back to my childhood; to St. James Catholic Church in Liberty, Missouri; to a God that didn’t love me, that I could never please; and to a time when I desired to do something, anything, but felt held back because of my gender. I was thankful that it was dark because I just cried. I cried remembering how I felt as a child, but at the same time, I cried out of joy for how far God had walked with me through my faith. I cried out of joy because the God I thought I knew turned out to be not the God I’ve grown to know. It was a really meaningful service as far as my faith formation and faith journey was concerned.

I tell you this story today because there are two particular verses that have kept coming back to me over and over this past week as I’ve thought about today’s Gospel story. It comes from verses 24-25. “Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’” The slave anticipated his Master’s response. He had no idea if this was actually going to be his response or not, but he perceived that his master was harsh and so he hid his talent. A talent, by the way, is equal to almost a lifetime’s worth of wages. This was no small sum of money.

That Saturday night so long ago, I sat in that hard pew crying because I immediately thought of all the times I anticipated God. And just in case you thought I was “cured” in that one evening full of revelations, you’re wrong. I’m still very guilty of anticipating or mis-perceiving God. I wonder how many of us actually do this. We may not even be aware that we do it, but I think we do it a lot. We anticipate how God is going to react to our needs, our prayers, our wants, and our requests. When we anticipate how God will respond to us, we, in turn, limit the ways in which God can respond to us.

We may not pray because we think that either God doesn’t listen, or that we’re unworthy of having our prayers listened to, or maybe we think that God has better things to do than answer our silly little prayer for good driving weather (or whatever). And so we limit God. Maybe we don’t go to church (or we know people who don’t go to church) because they are afraid that as soon as they walk in the doors, God will smite them and the entire building will burn down. We’ve all hear someone say before “well, I walked in this church 5 minutes ago and so far it’s still standing…but it’s early yet.” And so we limit God. Maybe we want to propose rules as to when or how someone can take communion. And so we limit God. We may not reach out to our neighbors in need because they’re not Christian, or don’t possess Christian values, or may not live what we deem to be a “Christian life.” And we we limit God. We like to keep God in a neat little box on the shelf, only taking God off the shelf when we really need God.

When we limit God, we limit all of God for all of us. God loves you when you are angry, even if you are angry with God. God loves you when you are sad. God loves you when you are happy. God loves you when your darkness is almost too much to bear and God loves you when you’re high on a mountaintop. We cannot control God or limit God. We may anticipate the angry, vengeful, wrath-spewing God but we ultimately get surprised by the love, mercy, and grace-filled God. And this happens, not randomly, not sporadically, but every single time we encounter God.

I say this with love: if you think you know how God works, you don’t. I don’t. None of us do. And just when you think you may have it figured out, we get surprised by grace. When you receive God’s love instead of God’s wrath, you get surprised by grace. When you receive God’s mercy instead of God’s judgement, you get surprised by grace. When you are fed and your soul is nourished, you get surprised by grace. When you walk into church and it doesn’t crumble around you (despite how you may feel about yourself), you get surprised by grace. When you are claimed in the waters of baptism, you get surprised by grace. And when one day you are welcomed home into God’s kingdom, you will be surprised by grace.

God is too big for our preconceived notions. God is too big to be limited. God is too big for a box. We know God through the waters of baptism. We know God through the bread and wine at this table. We know God through prayers and songs. We know God through the healing power of a friendly hand on our shoulder. Even with all of that, we’ve barely started to know God. For me, that’s pretty exciting. I am thrilled to watch what God will do in my life since I’ve let God out of the box. What will God accomplish in your life when you open the box?

Sermon for 11/9/14 Matthew 25:1-13

Once again I’m just going to state the obvious: this Gospel text is just plain weird. This is one of those texts that you read and as a preacher you think “maybe I should preach on one of the other readings.” It’s hard to relate to, honestly. We hardly use the word “bridegroom” any more and we hardly use lamps that require oil any more. And then the last sentence is kind of just there as a reminder that the end times are coming but we “neither know the day nor the hour.” So what in the world are we supposed to do with this little ditty from Matthew today?

I’ll be honest, the first time I read this, I thought about that bumper sticker I’ve seen on some cars that reads “Jesus is coming…look busy.” But then I also thought of those billboards I used to see a lot down south that said things like “Jesus is coming, are you ready?” Or “God’s judgement will be upon us soon….how will you be judged?” Basically they were scare tactics to get people to get their life in order and start behaving. Here’s what I think: I think that we don’t often think about Christ’s coming again. It’s not like I wake up in the morning and in my head go through the plans I have for the day and end that list with “that is, unless Christ comes today.” I’m not saying that if Christ comes again in my lifetime that I won’t be overjoyed and probably so much in awe that I will be rendered speechless, but I just don’t spend my time waiting for Christ’s return.

I think that is because I encounter Christ so much on a daily basis that I often forget that we live in an “already but not yet” world. We know that Christ was crucified for our sins on a meager and humble cross. We know that he was buried and we know that three days later he rose again, just as he said he would. We know all of this was done so that we may never have to know the weight, shame, guilt, and heartache of sin. We taste Christ every time we come to this table. We feel Christ every time we see someone be splashed by these waters. There are so many ways that we encounter the risen Christ that it is almost easy to forget that we indeed are still waiting for him to come again. There are communion liturgies, in fact, where we proclaim, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”

The return of Christ is very much part of our language. We proclaim it in the Apostles’ Creed. We say “On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.” We also proclaim it in the Nicene Creed which says “On the third day he rose again in accordance with the scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of thee Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” We already know that Christ will come again but we still do not know when–we live in the “not yet.”

I also think we don’t think much about Christ returning because many of us spend time waiting for other things. Now, I don’t know about you, but I can be one of the most impatient people I know. I am not good at waiting. I have learned that you never ever pray for patience. Because the thing is, God doesn’t give you patience–God gives you opportunities to be patient. I experienced that a few weeks back when I was at the doctors office (I’m not kidding) from 9:45-4 waiting for them to figure out what was wrong with me. Once I was in the hospital, I could not wait to get out. I am going to make a very bold statement here and I am happy to be proven wrong but I think that as Americans, we don’t wait very well. We live in an instant gratification society.

Most of us have the luxury of obtaining something if we want it. We don’t always wait for whatever it is. We may wait for a sale or something, but in the end, we probably don’t wait too long. When we are forced to wait, it is a reminder that ultimately, we are not in control. There is

not a more helpless or help-filled feeling than knowing we are not in control. We feel helpless because there is nothing we can do; yet at the same time, we feel help-filled because we know we’re not in control and that the one who is in control is God.

In my experience, I have found that waiting brings with it either a joyous high or a sorrowful low. Sure, there are times when there are those in between emotions, but usually the end of waiting is joyful or sorrowful. Think about the moments in your life when you have waited. Maybe you waited in a doctor’s office (like I did) for news, for results, for answers. Maybe you have waited by the phone for a call that was long overdue. Perhaps you’ve spent time at the airport waiting for your loved one to come through the secure area–and it’s been long overdue. I think waiting is that marks the benchmarks of our lives.

I remember waiting for the phone call that my grandfather had finally passed peacefully, and received the same phone calls for both my grandmothers. I remember waiting the 12 days needed to see if the fertility drugs we had taken would result in a positive pregnancy test. Those were a long 12 days. I remember waiting, as a teenager, by the mailbox, for my college acceptance letter. I know that I probably haven’t done half of the waiting I will do in my lifetime.

In the midst of our waiting, no matter if it is joyful waiting or sorrowful waiting, there is the risen Christ. The amazing thing is that he is there no matter what. Christ is with us no matter if we acknowledge his presence or not. He is with us and sometimes we can feel that and sometimes we can’t. It could very easily be said that all waiting is “holy waiting.” When our waiting is done with Christ accompanying us, it is holy waiting. When our waiting is done in the darkness, the light of Christ shines through all of that. When our waiting results in hunger, Christ feeds us. When our waiting results in death, our baptisms in Christ are complete. How different would our waiting be if we viewed every moment of wait as “holy waiting?”

Do we need to be prepared for Christ’s return? Of course! But perhaps we should be more in-tune to the places where we encounter Christ in the here and now. Perhaps we should help the people around us see that Christ is with them in their holy waiting. I know all of you know someone waiting for something. Maybe they’re waiting for work, waiting for good news, waiting for a loved one to return home, waiting for treatments to work, or perhaps, you know someone who is waiting for death. If we are to be Christ’s hands and feet in this world then it is to us to help people see that Christ is with them in the waiting. Waiting is hard, waiting is challenging, waiting goes against everything that we are used to doing. But waiting, when accompanied by Christ, can be, perhaps, just a little more bearable.

This Gospel is correct: we know not the time or day when Christ will return. But in the meantime, we can see Christ in our neighbors. We can experience Christ when we serve those around us who have less. We can experience Christ when we just hold the hand of the sick or lame. We can experience Christ when we come to this table, hands extended, to receive a gift we don’t deserve and can never repay. We experience Christ in love for one another. The experience of holy waiting beckons us to something deeper and more meaningful than nervous pacing and finger tapping. Holy waiting is waiting for Christ, in Christ, and with Christ; that kind of waiting will never be in vain.

Clergy are people too

It’s a weird blog title, I know. Allow me to explain.

For some reason, people seem to think that clergy don’t have feelings. I don’t mean that in a bad way. But we’re often seen as stoic, the ones who keep everything together, a source of strength and safe harbor. I’m not saying these things to make us sound like superheros, but in my experience, this is how we can be seen. But there are times, as recently happened to me, that being clergy is second to being human.

A few weeks ago as I was riding high preparing to leave for KC to attend a World Series game, I got a phone call from an acquaintance. It was weird to hear from him. We are friends, but not “call each other on the phone” friends. He sighed a few times and struggled to start his sentence. “Okay…” he said “this isn’t good news. I’m not calling with good news. Okay….this is hard.” He paused again. “I’m calling on behalf of Sarah to let you know that Ken died.” I was shocked.

Sarah and I have been friends for 18 years. We were freshman year roommates. I don’t know if it was the best match, but we made a go of it. Sarah was from the east coast, beautiful, talented, with long, dancer-like legs. She was confident, determined, dedicated, studious…all the things I wasn’t. We had a lot of laughs and she introduced me to Tori Amos and movies we still quote. After freshman year, she moved off campus with friends. We continued to run in the same circles but both got involved in our own groups. Thanks to social media, we’ve stayed connected. One thing we have grown to adore in one another over the years since graduation is the growing faith each of us have. So when I received the call from our mutual friend, I knew Sarah wanted me called for one reason: she knew I would pray.

So I did.

I didn’t know what else to do.

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that they teach in seminary that will prepare you (as a pastor) to get you through the times when someone you love is hurting and in pain. I cried for her. I wanted to scream and shout. I wanted to be angry with God. This was so unfair. Ken was young and relatively healthy. Sarah had taken the risk to open her heart to love and to being loved after being burned. I didn’t understand how this could happen.

It’s one thing when this happens and my main role is as “the pastor.” But when this happens and my role is as “friend” or “family member” I hurt. As a pastor, I’m not benign to feelings and emotions. I’m not some sort of stoic, steadfast, rock-like person that can take such news, shake it off, and go on with my day. I still struggle to understand why Ken was called home at such an early age. I struggle to understand God’s timing as to the logic of calling him home less than a month before he was to be married to my friend. I struggle to understand how a seemingly healthy young man can be dead.

I struggle with all of this for my friend Sarah. I also struggle as I mourn the loss of my high school classmate, Holly. Holly died on Sunday after a long battle with Pancreatic Cancer. She left behind 2 beautiful little girls and a loving husband.

Pardon my language, but what the hell, God?!?

So yes, just because I’m clergy doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle with God. Just because I’m clergy doesn’t mean that I don’t get angry with God. Just because I’m clergy doesn’t mean I don’t get pissed off with God. Just because I’m clergy doesn’t mean that I don’t cry, or mourn, or laugh, or dance, or curse, or drink, or whatever….

But, despite all of this, I still trust in God. I know that God will make God’s plans clear to me in God’s time. In the mean time, I pray.