Advent 20

Bulletins are printed, folded, and stuffed.

Candles are put into holders – new ones this year!!! – and set.

Sugar has taken up a seemingly permanent place on our staff table.

All is in readiness for worship on Sunday and Christmas Eve worship (4:00 PM and 11:00 PM) on Monday.

And now we wait.

For preachers, this is a time of fervent mulching and prayer.  Yes, we pray for the perfect sermon on Christmas Eve, but really, that isn’t the point.

The point for this preacher is that there is an almost physical desire that hope would be named as more important than fear in this world.  My hope is that those who come in out of the cold might find welcome in this house.  My hope is that the power of Christ Jesus might take up the places of empty and despair that sound such clang in the souls of the walking wounded who include our very selves.

Oh, I have such hopes.

And those hopes are perhaps made more strong by the wash of violence and snarl that seem to be dominating our collective consciousness.

We cannot afford to be a people of hate.  We cannot afford to allow it any purchase in our being.  We cannot afford to be cavalier about our faith and our witness because it takes enormous and conscious effort to be a voice crying out in the wilderness of this time:  Prepare the way of our God.  The wounded will be made whole.  All flesh shall see it together.  For the mouth and the heart of our God have spoken it.

We are ready. We are ready we are ready we are ready.

We are ready for peace to speak and soak into the rough places.

We are ready.



Advent 19

“Salvation” does not

Mean liberation from tasks

We alone can do

Haiku by Vic Hummert


Worship on Sunday centers on the song of Mary.  Upon being told that she is to bear the hope of the world, that even then the pulse of promise resided within her, Mary says “yes” to magnifying God.

She says yes, she sets out on a journey in order to share the news and ponder what it might mean for her.  She sits in the company of an older kinswoman, Elizabeth, and it is then that her soul sings revolution song: the mighty will be brought down, the poor lifted up, and the world forever changed by the child in her womb.

Mary agreed to magnify holiness.

So too might we.  We might open ourselves to holy invitation to nurture within and through us the healings and witness that we are uniquely called to share.  The tasks we alone can do are as wildly and wonderfully different as we are.

Day by day the invitation to be magnifiers is delivered.

Through our “yes” we participate in the deliverance of “those who walk in darkness and the shadow of death” (Isaiah 9:2).

We offer light to those struggling with heart aches and despair.

We work for justice in order that the hungry might be fed.

We pay attention to the ways we are kin to all of creation.

We begin to act from the place of love.

We trust the life and love growing within us and we agree to consider what it might mean to apprehend ourselves as pregnant with promise.

“Yes” changes everything.

It did.

It does.




Advent 18

My mom is coming for Christmas.

It’s a seemingly simple sentence dense in power.

We are, we two, not unlike lots of moms and daughters.  We have spent the 55 years of my life clashing wills and life views.

My mother is a woman who knows with certainty what is seemly and what is not and her surety has extended to the needful state of cupboards (pristine!) and planned menus for each meal.

Her daughter?  Not so much.  For some reason my mother was presented with a girl-child who resisted blacks and whites and rebelled against imposed order.

We have lived, we two, a challenge.

I don’t know what it is about mothers and daughters.  The desire to protect, the temptation to create in our own image or the image of what we wish we had been able to able to call our own; so many things swirl beneath the surface of this elemental heart dance.

What I know is that my relationship with my mother affects my daughters and will affect their daughters.  If there is work to do, running from it robs not only me and my mom but the generations that follow.

So we have worked.  When it might have made sense to let it go and play it safe, we have engaged with each other and risked the hurt and vulnerability of letting each other know that it matters.  Our honest hearts won’t let go of each other.

My mom is coming for Christmas.  She will be in the midst of the feasting and the laughter and I know full well that she will bite back comments about how things might be better organized and I know full well that sometimes those comments will slip their way out of her mouth and into my ear.

But they don’t have to take up space in my heart.

What takes up space in my heart is profound admiration for the mighty mite that is my mom.  She has endured much, lived much, and loved much.  She has not let go of me.

Gathering for Christmas means readying our hearts.  We will mourn those absent, mark in our hearts the shifts and losses and remember years gone past when things were different.

But oh, the chance to be present to the wonder of the Word Made Flesh in our midst is stunning gift.  We get to learn what it is to love.

My mom is coming for Christmas.

Thanks be to God.


Advent 17

They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,  and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of God has spoken it.  Micah 4: 3 – 4

Home is… what?


Home is warmth and light at the end of a long day.

Home is choices about space and sound and interactions.

Home is safety and a sense of secure wrap.


During Advent, we await the birth of a child born apart from that warmth and securitycalled “home”.  Why is it that the Word would choose to become flesh in such absurd vulnerability?  What was God thinking?!


The Word became flesh in the straw of a manger warmed by the bodies of animals because we are to know that our God inhabits the pain of want and the pain of living with fear.  In precisely such a place Jesus was born in order that we might consider the no-room-in-the-inn reality of all too many of God’s children.


This year we are encouraging our church to give and give generously in order that we might provide home for homeless youth in the southwest metro area of Minneapolis.  These are young people (250 on any given night) who long for their own “fig tree and vine” (see Micah above) in order that they might feel secure in this world.  We are working with Portico, an interfaith consortium of people who believe that homelessness leaves Jesus on the streets; cold, hungry, promising, and so afraid.


Ours is to work for a world in which compassion lights the streets.


You may choose to give to Portico or another organization that ends homelessness.  You may choose not to give. The reality is that we live the privilege of making choices day after day.


But whatever it is you choose, be aware:  you are choosing.  From the taken-for-granted safety and warmth of your home, you are choosing.


How it is you will shine Christ light in this , God’s world?

Advent 16

A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse.  The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.     Isaiah 11: 1a, 6


Children were our ministers.

We arrived at church yesterday morning heavy of heart, raw, and peeled back.  After hearing the news of bullets unleashed in an elementary school and after seeing the faces of snuffed lives, there was an almost physical need to gather together.  We needed the Word.  We needed to see each other and remember the larger story that this recent violence could not dim.

We needed to be church.

On the docket for the morning was precisely what our hearts longed for:  our children up front, in a place where we could sing their beauty with our eyes.  They were sharing the annual pageant; the telling of the time when a holy – as all children are – child was born into astounding vulnerability.

There were singing angels and wrestling shepherds and sheep with pink tights and a Mary and baby Jesus with matching red hair and a proudly sentinel Joseph and there were in the sanctuary people with their hearts bruised, open, and hungry for hope.

The children were our ministers.

There is unfathomable pain in this world, this we know.  The quiet desperation lived by too many erupts in innocence-crushing ways.  We wonder at such times if there is any Balm in Gilead powerful enough to be antidote.  Because we are willing to summon the courage to be open to all that life has to offer us, we are bound, one to the other, in the ache provoked by unspeakable violence.

As a people who seek to follow the teachings of a babe born in a manger who dared to call us to love, we were reminded by the children that there is more to the story than executions.

There is resurrection; resurrection practiced in hugs and tears and gathering and remembering and choosing to live in such a way that maybe, just maybe, we will practice love in the living of our days.

On Sunday we were reminded that angels sing yet.  In the swirl of pain, angels sing yet.

Led by our children, we could remember.





This morning in Newtown, CT, moms and dads poured cereal and tied shoes and kissed their kids goodbye as they left for school.  Teachers and principals got their children bundled off for school and turned to the vocation that compelled them to work for a better world.

Nearly 20 of those children and educators won’t come home to tell stories about what was for lunch and what they learned in science.  Places at the dinner table will never be filled again.

They won’t come home.

Don’t talk to me about the right to bear arms.  It is obscene that reality in 1791 when the world was drastically different would eventuate in children and educators being slaughtered in their schools.

Do we need guns for self defense?  Ask the man who shot to death two teenagers in Little Falls this past month.  Ask the man who shot his own granddaughter, thinking she was an intruder this past week.

Ask the parents of the too-many children and youth slain by guns.  Ask movie theatre patrons sprayed with bullets.  Ask college students in a locked-down campus.

Ask your heart:  for what purpose do we need the ability to project metal into the hearts and bodies of others?

Ask why are we not rending our clothes with grief and terror because when people mow down children they are mowing down the future and at a deep spiritual level it is clarion call: We are broken.

We are in need of communal repentence and accountability because these are our children.  They are our children.  Our future.  Our hearts.

And some of them will not come home tonight.




Advent Day 13

Sometimes it feels like this time of Advent is a bit like making Jello (which I do seldom, truth be told).


There is an end vision of what will be but really, who knows how the stuff will interact together?  Will it all gel?


I think about the ingredients that make for a fine bit of gelatinous goodness for me.


Dressing my house matters.  Christmas tree lights and crèche sets and the Christmas Village and the Advent calendar with the half-dog-eaten stuffed bear that moves around and ceramic angels and treasures unpacked year after year.


Planning feasts matters.  We’ll host both moms and four of six kids on Christmas Eve so planning the turkey dinner between worship services and imagining the Swedish Pancakes and leftovers on Christmas Day makes for happiness.


Choosing gift treats matters.  I love giving presents.  It may be a sickness.  It’s joy to hold beloveds in my thoughts and imagine what might delight them.


Planning worship matters.  Christmas Eve services resonate with power and love.  At the 4:00 family-friendly service we romp.  With kids jazzed and adorned in Christmas finery and parents delighted to have made it to the finish line, there is a zing of energy that connects us all to joy.  At the 11:00 service, the air seems to shimmer with hope and the vision of good will for all people. The notion of peace on earth feels heart-possible.


Love matters.  When the kids are in town they go to Cooper’s early service (married to a UM pastor, I am) and my late service.  Truly, preacher’s kids are marvels.  There is this heart valentine that blubbers me every year:  Cooper’s late service is at 10:00 PM on Christmas Eve.  Richfield’s is at 11:00 PM.  Following his service Cooper motors over to Richfield UMC and slides into the pew next to the kids in order to be present for worship.  Every year my heart leaps as I see him at the back of the sanctuary.  Love matters.


Savor matters.  Finding time to be still and open to the birth of wonder matters greatly.  At such times I remember that life is not an endurance contest but rather is invitation to miracle.  Day by day, the opportunity to allow love to grow presents itself.  Day by day, the gift is given.


So, what makes for wonder Jello in your Advent season of preparation?  How will you honor the desires of your heart and the finitude of your ability to do it all?  What are the spaces you make for savor to happen?


I pray delight for us all in this season of preparation.


Advent Day 12

Rejoice in Christ always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be known to everyone.  Jesus is near.  Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.     Philippians 4: 4 – 7

Here is what I see:  I see gentleness being lived in community.

Every Wednesday at 8:00 AM I meet with men from the church for bible study.  They have been at this for years.  They are seasoned souls who have lived a lot of life and they are beautiful.

And, they are getting on in years.  We check in with each other weekly and the list of bodily challenges is as varied as the men around the table.  There is a constancy in the sharing:  Growing older involves the deeply spiritual discipline of letting go.

Some of the men around the table have “had the talk” with their children.  In a poigniant and circular playing out of love, their children have asked to share with them a fact of life: they are worried about their parents driving.  They believe that getting behind the wheel of a car is not safe any longer.   They love their dads enough to share their concerns.

It is hard to go from being the co-maker of family law to the recepient of same.

The beauty that I see is their willingness to reflect upon the changes they are experiencing.  There is laughter thrown in and there is a lot of grace.

What moved me in the “let your gentleness be known to everyone” department happened as I was leaving for a meeting directly following bible study.  Out in the parking lot, the men who drive were loading up their cars with the bible study members who no longer drive.

They ushered each other into the waiting chariots with a sense of reverence and care.

The promise of “Jesus is near” was made flesh in the parking lot of our church.  Ninety-three year olds drive the snowy streets of South Minneapolis in order that their brothers might sit at table and unpack scripture.

Jesus lives.

Advent 11

Tonight at 6:00 PM we gather for worship.  The service is one of the most powerful we offer at Richfield UMC.
We call it an Advent Service of Hope and Healing.
While around us the culture seems intent upon denying and sidestepping places of loneliness and loss in this season, we pause as faith community and mark the wisdom of our heart aches.
There is something about the Advent season of purposeful waiting for the light of hope that stirs in us awareness of loss.  We miss the physical presence of people in our lives who have blessed and vexed us.  We miss the ways we used to encounter life in a way that felt simpler and less tentacled.  We miss our children’s footie-jammied presence in our daily life.  We miss, we mark, we name, and we are present to all of the major and minor losses that make for honest living.
Tonight during worship we bow before those losses and ask for them to lead us into wholeness and wisdom.
We will savor scripture and silence.  We will allow the singing of Silent Night to move us.  We will light candles to mark our questions and we will know the power of giving over to God the burdens and beauty of our souls.
I hope you will join us.  If you cannot, I hope you will pause at some point on this day and listen to the wisdom of your heart.
Folded into the power of community or sitting in a moment of mindfulness, may we each name the power of stumble and question, healing and hope.

The Healing Time

                                                Finally on my way to yes
                                                I bump into
                                                all the places
                                                where I said no
                                                to my life
                                                all the untended wounds
                                                the red and purple scars
                                                those hieroglyphs of pain
                                                carved into my skin, my bones,
                                                those coded messages
                                                that send me down
                                                the wrong street
                                                again and again
                                                where I find them
                                                the old wounds
                                                the old misdirections
                                                and I lift them
                                                one by one
                                                close to my heart
                                                and I say    holy

                                                   © Pesha Joyce Gertler

Advent Day 10

If our lives are ruled by the spirit of Advent, this loving expectation of God, they will have a quality quite different from that of conventional piety. For they will be centered on an entire and conscious dependence upon the supernatural love which supports us; hence all self-confidence will be destroyed in them and replaced by perfect confidence in God.

Evelyn Underhill

Ah, self-confidence.  It is necessary and it is not sufficient.

Some of us struggle mightily to develop self-confidence.  Given our upbringing or our gender or our situation in life, sometimes we make a conscious effort to throw off the constraints that would make us small and choose instead to move with confidence into whatever the world might hold.

We work with our children to build a sense of their confidence.  Sometimes, in an attempt to protect ourselves from remembering our own young wounding, we seek to cocoon our children in a failure-free chrysalis, thinking that by shielding them from pain we are protecting and growing their beings.

Self confidence is a good thing.  And it is not sufficient, because we and our children are going to fail.  We are going to fall in spectacular ways off the pedestal of our own or our parent’s construction.  We will spend time wandering and wondering and nothing will feel familiar and in just such times the presence of something larger than our own surety is gift beyond price.

There will be times in life where self-confidence is laughable and confidence in God the only power that we draw upon; breath by breath, step by step.

We are Advent people.  We live – sometimes even mindfully – with a sense that there is more to life and star dance than our own will and being.

And we ground our very lives upon that love beyond us, don’t we?

As you mark this Advent day of waiting in the mystery, remember and give thanks for those times when you were lost and broken and frightened and somehow somehow somehow the song of the angel and the presence of God-With-Us led you to wholeness.

We walk in the mystery of Holy presence.

Thank God.