Sunday, April 25, 2010

Old Baggage

I remember the day I found this bag. I carried it around the store for more the an hour, waiting for a long conversation with an old friend to end before I approached the register. I had my cell phone in one hand, the bag in the other as I shared the big news - I was moving to Arizona for pastoral internship.

I browsed clothing racks while confessing that I wasn't too sure about this whole "pastor" thing. I'd come to seminary hoping to study theology while avoiding pulpits and clerical collars. Suddenly, two years were almost over and I'd been matched with an internship site I was actually excited about.

I bought this red bag on one of the last days of class. It came with me to every day of CPE at Fairview Ridges in Burnsville that summer. It held my occasional services book, pastoral care resources and my smallest leather bound Bible while I moved from room to room, patient to patient. The bag came with me while I learned how powerful it is to represent God's loving presence to another. It came with me when my pager would go off in the middle of the night and when I would meet families in waiting rooms.

My red baggage got plenty of use in Arizona. It held my books and church keys. I brought it with me on bike rides and even kept bear spray in it during hikes to appease my supervisor. (He'd had 24 interns and none of them were eaten by bears - why start now?) The bag is big with plenty of pockets so I would find old post-it note prayers and little gifts from parishioners weeks and months later. I reached for this bag all 50 weeks of internship - 50 weeks of finally falling in love with God's call.

The bag has been tearing here and there since it became my backpack during senior year and my purse during this first call. Now it peels, leaving little red crumbs around our house and my office. It's been ready for a replacement, but I've been hesitant to say goodbye.

Call it idolatry. Tell me I have attachment issues or that I need a pet. Still, I'm feeling sentimental as I toss the tattered bag that saw me through so much discernment and ministry.

Bye bye, baggage. Thanks for tagging along through big, beautiful years.

Cause for Celebration 4.0

Newcomers brought their coffee into the lounge to learn more about St. John's today. One couple brought their small children and I chuckled watching them eat donuts. Like so many of our youngest Sunday schoolers, they chewed the frosting off the top of the doughnut and then handed the leftovers to a parent. Mouths colored with sprinkles make me happy.

Each visitor shared their St. John's story - how they came upon the church and what keeps them coming back to find out more. It was good to learn what they need and notice. Hooray for new members of the Body! When the building was finally empty, I locked the door and headed into the overcast day wearing a frosted sprinkle, hope-filled smile.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cause for Celebration 3.0

We have a lot of Alleluias to sing and a lot of candles to light during the Easter season. I make a lot of dumb jokes to the acolytes because they a) make funny faces that suggest they're mostly unimpressed b) have nowhere to hide from my comedy routine during the prelude c) need to know that what they do is a big deal.

More than two dozen candles await them and, this morning, James took his time making sure they all found flames. He came back into the narthex pleased with himself, but I later noticed that one never took. A wall of fire was missing one, small light.

And I kind of like it that way. In a church of imperfect people singing glory to God, that dormant candle reminded that God still chooses this quirky, lovely worship over no worship at all...and that each Alleluia that reached a high D was perfect in God's ears, even if my high D is far from pleasant.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Cause for Celebration 2.0

Today I stood outside the Sunday school area as class was coming to an end. Engaged in conversation with a parent, his son approached with a coloring sheet. Hoping up and down, desperate to interrupt, he finally got our attention.

"Dad, he was in there, but now he's not there anymore. It was empty. When they looked in there, Dad, it was empty!"

The coloring sheet was waved in front of us like an Easter parament or a resurrection flag. We nodded and rejoiced and affirmed his proclamation, but it wasn't enough for him.

Again he interrupted to tell the story that was captivating his little mind and heart. He mom soon appeared and his witness had a new audience. With the same urgency, he told her the truth he couldn't hold in. Mom said the coloring sheet isn't going in the recycling bin anytime soon.

It's a banner of faith and, on this less spirited, less attended Easter Two, I'm glad he waved it wildly for all to see.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Is there a pastor here I could talk to?

When I hear these words from outside my office door, I put down my sermon or book and turn to see The Stranger.

The cynic in me prepares for an embellished story about a relative's funeral in South Dakota and how they need gas money to get there and how they've tried all the social services in town and no one can help. (Some even add a frosted layer on top of their story like, "The other pastor has helped me when I've come here before" or, "I just thought the church would be the place to turn since you guys are in the business of helping widows and orphans".)

Today, it was a big, bleary-eyed fella who had hard work spelled into his hands and face. He wanted to see a pastor because he is piecing is life back together after a break up and a few weeks of sobriety. He doesn't believe in much of anything and couldn't quite explain why he'd dared to come inside this limestone fortress.

He wasn't after the tangibles: a bus ticket or gas card or diapers.
He was in search of the big answers: faith and hope and love.

These are the people who sit down in my office and ask if they can close the door a crack. Then they unload their sins, waiting for me to look appalled or to tell them that grace does not apply in these circumstances. They name their shame and loneliness. They speak of lost dreams and the way each day teeters between sobriety and letting it all go to hell.

His phone rang twice and then he had to go back to work. His lunch break was over. I invited him back next week and before he left, I gave him God's promise:
There is nothing you could walk in here and tell me that would make God write you off. Every time you've run to a dark place, God has both already been there and followed you - ever present and waiting for you to come home. You mentioned several times that you have given up on God, but if you can remember one thing about today, remember that I looked you in the eye and told you this: God has never and will never give up on you. You don't have to believe it yet, but you do have to look at me while I say it, okay?
If he comes back next week, I'll tell him again. And if he comes back four months from now deeper in darkness and further off his hopeful path than today, I'll tell him then, too. All I can do is keep my promise to pray for him until he comes back.

Gracious God, may the people who dwell most deeply in the law know witnesses of gospel. Make these voices prominent in the face of sin and things that separate them from feeling worthy of your love. Amen.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Cause for Celebration 1.0

I've decided to note seven reasons I love celebrating resurrection at St. John's, one for each week of the Easter season. Here we go...

The sanctuary was filled with 260 people this morning. I do my best delegating on busy mornings like this, inviting people to participate and lead well in advance so I can roam around chatting and preparing for worship. Today's egg hunt had several saints behind it. Anne stuffed the eggs last week before heading out of town. Val supervised the herd of youth hiding them for the little ones. And Maria, a very responsible ninth grader, was given my camera to take pictures while the smallest kidlits went on the prowl for pastel plastic and sugar.

Sitting in front of my computer a few hours later, I uploaded the photos to have a look at the action I'd missed while dressing for worship. There, in the corner of Maria's pictures were some of the most grace-filled moments I've seen at St. John's. A prayer partner connected with her shy seventh grade match, handing her a gift bag and causing the teen to blush with joy. Older siblings helped little ones fetch eggs from behind bushes and then placed them delicately in the basket instead of stealing them. Friends helped friends with allergies sort peanuts, chocolate and hard candy. New members were laughing with old ones.

In the background of nearly every photograph, I saw new life. And that's what today is all about.