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December 9, 2018, 6:00 AM

Favorite Things


Favorite Things

 

Not far from Seattle, in Puget Sound, is Whidbey Island. I had never been to the Pacific Northwest until my father had a stroke in 1995 while vacationing in Yosemite and was airlifted to Seattle for treatment. My parents had deep roots in the West Coast but didn’t take us there—they had both been raised in the wild and lonely instability of post-frontier Colorado, California, and Washington and chose to replant their lives in the more conventional and traditional East. Now, as a middle-aged adult, I was seeing their homeland for the very first time.

My uncle Jerry, dad’s younger brother, drove me out to Whidbey Island one day as a welcome diversion from the Intensive Care Unit and my mother’s distress. He was a geologist, and knew my love of all things made of rock. I was entranced by the redwood forests and the old fort from World War 2, protecting the nation from a Japanese invasion. But the most memorable encounter was a hike at Deception Pass State Park, and the beach there which was covered with the most beautiful rocks I had ever seen.

Red, purple, and green rocks in all sizes littered the beach. Striped and spotted sea agates, worn smooth from centuries of waves rolling them over the sand. Rocks with colors unimaginable to an East Coast girl—and in such profusion that I would fill my pockets, only to empty them out for more remarkable specimens. When I finally flew out of Seattle I was travelling with an aphasic, confused, and partially paralyzed father and a suitcase full of treasures.

My father is long gone but the rocks are still here—polished and arranged in various bowls and vases in both of my houses. They are arranged alongside other rocks—stones from Maine and Mexico, California and Carolina. I have brought home rocks from the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea, worn slate from the Hudson River and smooth white sea eggs from Topsail Island. There is a stone I use in group meetings instead of a talking stick, which fits in most anyone’s hand and has a well-worn groove that nobody can resist putting their thumb into.

Two of my most precious rocks came to me after my grandmother’s death. They are petrified sand urchins, lovely fossilized stars etched in the grey surface. Gramma was a physicist who specialized in the stratosphere and helped the air force with missile technology. But when I hold her sea urchins I wonder if the marvelous transformation of a fragile shell into a stone contained some lovely metaphor for her who studied light and air.

Perhaps it is no mystery why I love rocks so much.

I wanted to be a geologist like my uncle but my poor study habits didn’t yield grades that would get me into such a field. Truthfully, however, I find that more knowledge about rocks is unimportant. Their permanence is the attraction. That I can hold a rock and consider how much older it is than I, and wonder about what it has witnessed and experienced in this world.

Jesus told us that heaven and earth would pass away—but I think he simply means that there will be an end to the present truth of constant change. Even rocks which eventually wear away to sand and then become rock once again will achieve eternity; the perpetual cycle of creation and destruction will cease and be replaced by an everlasting reign of Christ. I imagine that the Kingdom of God will contain beauty so solid that nothing can crush it or blot it out.

As I age, it becomes more difficult yet more obvious that nothing is forever. Everything changes and nothing lasts, not even the ground beneath our feet. The ephemeral character of the life we live pokes holes in our joy and brings respite to our grief. Crazily, we plan for an increasingly uncertain future.

Heaven and earth will pass away. But the Word, the eternal dabar will always be. Creating and recreating. The permanent, eternal truth which is beyond our comprehension is our only safe harbor, the only foundation, the ground on which we can rely.

Psalm 18, ostensibly written by David after a final victory over Saul, is a song of thanksgiving for the permanence of God in a world that can seem as if it is crumbling beneath us. As I hold a smooth purple rock from Whidbey Island, striped like Jupiter, I marvel that our God is more beautiful and permanent than this. That the day will come when I no longer feel the need to pick up and possess every lovely thing that the waves wash up at my feet. That what I feel now in my hand is just an intimation of something more complete.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer. Thanks be to God.

 

 




March 23, 2018, 4:09 PM

Patience with the weather!


One of the songs we sing at Easter is the “Hymn of Promise”, and the first verse contains this line:

In the cold and snow of winter, there’s a spring that waits to be,

Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

I have about run out of patience with waiting for spring. But, of course, patience is a virtue in which I’m frequently deficient. Perhaps some of you summer-lovers have made the mistake of praying for more patience!

The Biblical author James writes: “Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You, too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.” (James 5: 7-8).

James was writing of a time when there were rich people getting wealthier, in part by being unjust to the poor. He was reminding his people—and us today—that the world we live in is deeply unfair, and that God is waiting patiently for the Day of Judgment in which all things will be made right—"God will fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty.” (Luke 1: 53).

One of my favorite children’s books is “Dog Heaven” by Cynthia Rylant. In it she describes what happens to dogs when they go to heaven, and includes a bit about dogs that haven’t been treated well on earth. If they haven’t had a real home, she writes, they get one in heaven, with a bed that has their name on it and a place under the table where people drop lots of crumbs.

It’s very cute, but I think it captures an important aspect of God’s justice—that those who have suffered in this very unjust world of ours will, in the Last Judgment, be rewarded with everything they were deprived of on earth.

What about those of us who have been given much in this life? Well, then, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48). If we have been blessed in this life, we are responsible for getting on board with God’s justice right now.

So we are always being called to be both patient and active in this time of waiting for justice. Sitting around and whining and complaining about the state of the world isn’t any better than complaining about the cold weather—it’s worthless! God is asking us to participate in making the world a better place and wait with patience for God to make it truly just and right.

Spring is coming. Easter is coming. Jesus is coming. Rejoice!

God loves you and I love you! See you in church! ~Pastor Julia

 




November 28, 2016, 10:09 AM

Advent


So, Thanksgiving is over, and the world around us is moving full speed ahead into Christmas. So many of us are already putting up decorations and buying gifts. The radio stations have been playing Christmas music since around September!

Have you ever wondered why we are affected so deeply by Christmas? Why does a piece of music or a commercial on TV with children in the snow bring us to tears? What is it about Christmas, anyway?

This is what I believe: the Christ child broke into the world 2000 years ago, and the world has never been the same. God broke in and became human—became Emmanuel, “God with us”. It was such a momentous event that the Bible records the entire host of heaven –the angel armies of God—were singing with such joy that they filled the skies.

On May 20, 1964, American radio scientists discovered that there was background radiation—known as “Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation”—which was a remnant of ancient light created during the “Big Bang” at the beginning of the universe. In the same way, I think that we are still surrounded, as human beings, by the echoes of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. It was a moment when eternity broke into the created world.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 states “God has placed eternity in the human heart.” Perhaps there is something about Christmas that touches us deep inside, as we catch a glimpse of God’s eternal love and presence.

God made us to respond to Emmanuel’s breaking in! So naturally, we respond to Christmas in an emotional way, as the joyous song of Jesus’ birth still echoes in the universe.

The problem here is that human beings often worship the feeling rather than the real thing. So, instead of seeking to follow the star and bring our offerings to Jesus, we are content with the warm feeling we get when we listen to Christmas music on the radio. We worship “Christmas” as an idea instead of worshipping God who broke into the world that day.

Tomorrow is the first Sunday in Advent. It is a time to wait, to worship, to pray, and to fast! To prepare ourselves for Christ’s coming—in Bethlehem, and at the end of time.

The third verse of O Little Town of Bethlehem says all this better than I can:

     How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given;

     So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.

     No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin,

     Where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.

 

Let’s worship Christ instead of Christmas! See you in church! ~Pastor Julia




November 8, 2016, 12:00 AM

Election night


So, last night I gave the invocation at the County Commissioner’s meeting. It seemed rude just to pray and walk out, so I stayed…and I was really glad I did!

Not that there was anything earth-shattering that happened. There were reports and discussions about property tax reassessments, and water hook-up bills, and salary for a new building code inspector. But I was so delighted to hear our elected officials talking with each other about the ordinary problems Vance County citizens face, and what would be right, and fair, and just. An ordinary man got up and said he felt misled about the water bill contract. The Commissioners listened and debated his particular issue.

Why did I find that all so uplifting? Because, in the crazy run-up to this election, both Republicans and Democrats have been encouraged to believe that if the other party’s candidate wins, it will be the end of life on earth as we know it. But the truth is that we have NOT lost control of our lives. The politicians in Washington have some influence on us, certainly, but most of the impact on our lives comes from our own decisions, and the decisions on our own family and community.

Today, I hope you vote, I hope you pay attention, but I also hope you get out of the house and look around you at this great place we live in. How can we make it better? How can we make a positive change in someone’s life? How can we give back some of the blessings God has given us?

One of the amazing things about the life of Jesus is that he always has time for that individual person on the road. The woman who just happens to be at the well drawing water. The blind man on the road to Jericho. The short guy in the sycamore tree. We know and love these stories, and there are a thousand more, I’m sure, that were never even written down.

Jesus didn’t worry much about what was happening in Rome. He paid attention to the people in his circle of influence—most of whom were poor and living on the margins. But his careful attention and compassion became the stories of the revolution that was, and is, Christianity.

Friends, we are all more powerful than we think we are. All the more when we have the Holy Spirit himself leading and guiding us.

NO MATTER who wins tonight—do not despair! Jesus said, “In this world you will have many troubles. But take heart!—for I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

See you in church! ~Pastor Julia




September 3, 2016, 12:00 AM

Remember Who the Real Enemy Is


There is a scene in one of the Hunger Games movies where Katniss is ready to kill someone with her bow and arrow, and the man about to be killed shouts out, “Katniss! Remember who the real enemy is!”

You see, in this story, Katniss and others are being manipulated by powerful forces into fighting—and killing—one another. This serves to entertain the elite occupants of the Capital who watch the Hunger Games, but also to drive a wedge between potential allies so that they do not rebel against the government.

Well, perhaps this is a stretch—but I feel that we’ve come to a place where we need to “remember who the real enemy is.” Our nation has become so polarized that for any given issue about 50% of the people are against the other 50%. We have come to see each other as “enemies” when others believe things that we don’t believe.  

There is a book on marketing that suggests that this requires a new way to reach the public—if you want people to buy your product, you should no longer try to tell them what good thing you do, but tell them who you are against. So, for instance, if I say that “our church stands against gun violence”—that is a seemingly harmless statement that will attract people who are for gun control and repel those who are for a broad reading of the Second Amendment. Or if I say “our church is against abortion”—roughly fifty percent of people who read that will see that as offensive. And it goes on and on. Our polarized segments of society are getting farther and farther apart from one another, to the extent that many folks quickly see those who disagree about one issue or another as “enemies”. We have forgotten who the real enemy is.

There are spiritual forces that work to divide people and create hostilities and hatreds. The Bible calls these “powers and principalities.” In Ephesians 6:12 Paul reminds his readers that “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Our enemies are not other people!

This is not some random Biblical suggestion that Christians can ignore. The very center of the Gospel is our belief that Christ died for us—sinful people—out of love. Christ died not for the 50% of people that we agree with but also for the 50% we disagree with. Christ died for black people and white people; Syrians and Yemenis and French and Americans; Trump voters and Clinton voters; gay people and straight people and everyone in-between. We don’t have to agree with everyone but we must love everyone. As John Wesley put it, “we may not all think alike, but we must all love alike.”

We believe in the universality of Christ’s love. And the implication of that is clear: our love, too, must be that big and universal. The Apostle John states in 1 John 4:16-21:

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

Tomorrow I will begin a month-long sermon series on reconciliation. We need to seek reconciliation with God, with families and friends, and with those we consider to be our enemies. Reconciliation is the heart of the Gospel, and we are called to continue the work of reconciliation in the world. I hope you will come to worship this week with open hearts and open minds!

See you in church!  We need you! ~Pastor Julia


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