Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Feast Day of Saint Matthias

Today is the traditional feast day of St. Matthias. In the 1960's, the Roman Catholic church moved his feast day to May 14, so that we're celebrating his life in a month that makes more chronological sense--Matthias was the apostle chosen to replace Judas Iscariot, who committed suicide after he realized what his betrayal had wrought, so it makes sense to celebrate his life after Easter. Of course, traditionalists will celebrate today. And Eastern Orthodox believers will observe his feast day on August 9.
I've recently become a bit fascinated with this saint. I've done a smidgeof research, and I can't tell what, exactly, he's the patron saint of.

If I was in charge, I'd make him the patron saint of people who must wait for recognition. Would I make him the patron saint of people who must wait for recognition in the workplace only, or in any situation? Is that process of waiting so different?

I have this on the brain because I work in a place where our local job ladder is very short. We have lots of folks who have been working for the organization for ten years or more--when there's a job opening, we can't promote them all. And once a person has been promoted, it might be years--decades even--before there's an opening above.

I imagine that the circle of Jesus was similar. There's the inner circle, the twelve, chosen early. Then there's a massive outer circle. Who would have dreamed of the incidents that led to a job opening in the inner circle?

Of course, as a woman, I will always wonder at what Gospel revisions went on in the early church. Was the inner circle really that tight? Was it really only twelve? Was it really only men? We know that Jesus had a sympathy towards women that was uncommon for his time period. Would he really have excluded them from the inner circle?

Then I think of the logistics of being one of the twelve--all that travel, all those difficult circumstances. Maybe it was kinder of Jesus not to call women to be part of the inner circle. If you go back to the sayings of Jesus, it's clear that he doesn't see hierarchy in the same way that humans do--he clearly mocked the idea that some disciples are more chosen than other.

So, would Matthias have even seen his appointment as a promotion? Maybe it's just our later proclivity to make lists that sees this development as a promotion. Of course, there is that passage in Acts that seems to show that the disciples shared our proclivities toward hierarchy and list making.

I think of Matthias, patiently waiting, following Christ, never knowing the outcome. In that way, he's the patron saint of us all. We follow Christ, not knowing whether we'll be chosen for some superhuman greatness, or whether we'll be called to stay put, quietly ministering the people around us. Some of us believe that God has a plan for us, while others believe that God will use us where we are, like a master weaver. Some of us believe that the universe is essentially chaotic, but we are not excused from God's mission of Kingdom building. Some of us know that we cannot possibly comprehend any of this, and we know that we are lucky that God does not depend on our puny imaginations.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Kingdom of God, the Cosmos of God

I have long been looking for a better phrase than the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom of God is a better phrase than the Kingdom of Heaven, but it's still got issues.  People hear either one, the Kingdom of God and/or the Kingdom of Heaven, and think of Heaven anyway.  After all, our earthly Kingdom certainly seems very far away from God--so we must be talking about Heaven, right?

And most of us were raised with the idea of Heaven being "up there," some place and time after physical death.  Either of those Kingdom phrases seems to describe a static place, a place apart, a physical place.  

I have come to believe that Jesus is trying to tell us about a state of mind which leads to a state of relationships.  He's telling us that we don't have to wait for a later date to experience the kind of life that God envisions for us.  The Kingdom of God is both now and not yet.  It's arrived, but it's not done yet.  And we get to be part of creating it--that is, if we accept God's invitation.

The other morning, I came up with the idea of The Cosmos of God, which I think is a better way of capturing that idea.  The Cosmos is both here and still in the process of becoming.  It's both somewhere else, and yet we're part of it.  It has potential while being fully formed.

In some ways, I think that 21st century brains are primed to accept these ideas about God and how the vision that God has for us that is both now and not yet.  If we've been reading Physics at all, we have an inkling of that.

Yet when it comes to theology, many of us have been trained to leave our 21st century brains turned off.  We think about God and theology with our 14th century brains.  Another reason why I like the phrase The Cosmos of God is that it moves us away from the 14th century in a way that Kingdom or Heaven does not.

Let me continue to play with this language, keep trying to find a way to more perfectly express these ideas, to short circuit our 14th century brains.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Video Sermon for February 21, 2021

I created today's sermon for Trinity Lutheran Church in Pembroke Pines, Florida.  I did it in the way that I've been creating sermons since the pandemic forced us to do more online:  I create small segments, and then I put them together in Video Editor.  As I've done more sermons like these, I've tried to think about what I've done in the past, so that there's not too much repetition of images/film/video.

Today's sermon is a meditation on Mark 1:  9-15, which gives us Jesus baptized and then tempted.  Unlike other Gospels, we don't get many details about the nature of the temptation or how Jesus resists.  We just know that he does.

I can't post the whole video here, but I'll post the beginning:

And here's the end:

To see the whole sermon, please go here to my YouTube channel.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Pre-Candidacy Interview

I am now moving towards the future on 2 tracks:  one is the candidacy process, by which the Lutheran church determines that I am called to be a pastor, and the other is the application process by which Wesley Theological Seminary decides whether or not to let me come and study there.  Yesterday I completed another major step in the candidacy process.  

A few weeks ago, I got a candidacy packet from my synod of the ELCA.  One document gave me a list of 4 possible people whom the Synod has chosen to do a pre-candidacy interview.  I did a bit of Googling, and I chose one name because the woman had been a CPA, and then when she was in her 50's, she went to seminary. She's 70 now. 

I had a Zoom session with her yesterday.  It was an interview, but it was really more like a conversation. We talked about faith journeys, about our current churches, about the future, about the kind of ministry I thought I might want.  I gave my answers about retreat centers or being the pastor in charge of creative programming or being the person who creates online ministry opportunities. She said she could see the enthusiasm that I had, that I looked so happy.

We talked about approaches to seminary:  full-time or part-time, onground or online.  She said that the seminary she went to insisted that she come to be at the seminary full time, so she did. We talked here and there about how seminary had changed through the decades--and how it hasn't. Now there's more room for part-time students at seminary in a way that there wasn't when she was doing her degree.

We also talked about why I was focused on the MDiv--why not go the Word and Service route not Word and Sacrament?  I talked about all the people I know who hadn't gotten the MDiv and wished that they had because it would have opened more doors.  She advised me to stay open through the process, especially since I won't have that long to have a career, the way that someone just out of college at the age of 21 would have.

The interview lasted about an hour, and it was more like a conversation I might have with a friend, a newer friend with similar interests.  She encouraged me to stay in touch with her, and I plan to do just that.

So I've completed another step, and I'll keep going, step by step.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Twelfth Visit to the Spiritual Director

A month ago when I last visited my spiritual director, I hadn't yet discovered the Theology and the Arts track for the MDiv at Wesley Theological Seminary.  Last visit, we talked about centering prayer.  This visit, yesterday, we talked about my discovery of the program and the process of going to seminary.

I had written her an e-mail, a version of the e-mail that I sent to many people in my life when I discovered the program and started the application and candidacy process.  I did that in part because we only have 60-75 minutes, and I didn't want to spend that time talking about certain logistics.

We talked about the discernment process, which is something we've been talking about since our first appointment a year ago.  We talked about going to a Methodist seminary versus the seminaries in other denominations.  

My spiritual director is an ELCA pastor, so she's got certain insights that I value.  We talked about doctrinal issues--where might I agree and disagree?  I talked about my problems with penal substitutionary theology--the idea that God can only love us because Jesus agreed to crucifixion to take care of our sins.  We talked about the idea of grace.

Early on in our session, I talked about my longing for a work life that's more integrated, and when asked to expand on that, I said that I've met a lot of artists who don't have much use for God and the Church, and I've met lots of Church people who say that they're not creative, but I haven't met many people who want to explore both creativity and Christian faith.  My spiritual director said that I'll be able to use that yearning to provide interesting opportunities for my congregation.  She talked about her own experiences with contemplative Christianity and the ways she brings that focus to her church.

As we ended, she said that some candidacy committees require a year of discernment before they give approval, and that if that's the case, she'd be happy to attest that we've spent the past year doing that kind of discernment.  I told her that I knew that all that we talk about is held in confidence, but that she should feel free to share those details if necessary, that we haven't discussed anything that I haven't already discussed with everybody else in my life.

It's kind of startling to realize that's true.  Am I really living a life that open?  Do I not have any deep, dark secrets?  Does that mean I'm boring?  Am I repressing something?  I don't think so, but then again, would I know?

As we ended, my spiritual director said that she was seeing a willingness to embrace this future, even though I wasn't sure of the ending, and that was something she hadn't seen in me before.  We have discussed my need for control, my need to have a plan, and five back up plans, so she's aware of this aspect of me.

We were at the end of the session, so we didn't discuss this, but I've only been this way at certain junctures in the past:  when my spouse went back to grad school and a few years later, when we made the decision to move to South Florida and see what we could make happen.  Those were real "leap and the net will appear" moments for me.  Clearly, I haven't continued to live out that philosophy year after year after year.

Maybe this will be the decade that I live into that vision.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, February 21, 2021:

First Reading: Genesis 9:8-17

Psalm: Psalm 25:1-9 (Psalm 25:1-10 NRSV)

Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:18-22

Gospel: Mark 1:9-15

We begin Lent back in the country of baptism. Once again, we hear the story of the baptism of Christ. Didn't we just cover this material a few weeks ago?Indeed we did, and it should remind us of the importance of this sacrament. It gives us a chance to notice what we might not have noticed before.

We see that baptism doesn't protect Jesus from the trials and tribulations that will come. In fact, he is driven into the wilderness, tempted by Satan, and I assume that the time with the wild beasts was not easy either. For those of us who think that if we just pray properly, God will give us what we need, we should reread this passage again. Who is this Spirit driving Jesus into the wilderness? Is this Job's God making an appearance again?

This Gospel is not one that you would hand to non-believers to convince them that they'll have an easier life as a Christian. Look at the end of the Gospel lesson: John the Baptist has been arrested. We can't say we haven't been warned about what might happen to us when we do God's work in the world.

But we're not excused from doing it. The Gospel ends with Jesus continuing his mission, preaching the gospel of God.  In the face of certain persecution, Jesus has work to do.

Lent is at hand.   The season of Lent begins by reminding us that we are dust, and all too soon, we'll return to dust. You can call yourself a creature made out of the ruins of stars (true!), but you're dust all the same. The lessons of Lent reinforce this message.

Like Jesus, we have work to do.  Like Jesus, God is already pleased with us, regardless of our results.  Jesus believes this good message that God proclaims at the baptism of Christ, and Jesus goes out to change the world.

Like Jesus, let us believe in God's grace.  Let us live like the redeemed creatures that we are.  Let us go out to change the world.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Video Sermon for Ash Wednesday

My pastor asked me if I wanted to do the meditation for Ash Wednesday, and I jumped at the chance.  I knew it would be pre-recorded, and I knew that I've been enjoying my approach of recording segments and seeing how to stitch them together.  I like that the process pulls on my poetry brain.  I like trying to think of ways to make the message new.

This year offers additional challenges.  There's the standard challenge of having heard the message already:  Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  Some of us might say, "We hear this every year.  Blah, blah, blah, dust, ash, rust, smash."

But this year, with Ash Wednesday coming after a year of these reminders of our mortality, how do we make the message new?  This year, after a year of watching all we've built implode, explode, decay, and disappear, how do we create a message that touches on these themes but doesn't leave us clinically depressed?

Here's one of the video segments that tries to do all of that:

I confess that I don't know if I've been successful.  The video sermon is too big to put in this blog post, but you can go here to see it.

When I went to my YouTube channel to get the link to the sermon to post,  I was surprised to find that the video had 53 views, far more views than any other video I've posted to the channel.  How did people find it?  What Google searches brought them to my little video sermon on Ash Wednesday?