It is the middle of the afternoon on Wednesday. The sun is shining, calling for an outside run before the shorter days of fall give way to the even shorter days of winter. Even though this seasonal change always happens, I'm not ready for it. Never am.
Later tonight, the giraffes, elephants, pumpkins, witches, ghosts, wonder women's, spider men's, star wars, paw patrol, and miscellaneous others will be out in full force in our communities. Looking cute, looking serious, perhaps looking like they are not sure of what is happening or even bored going door to door. The doorbell will ring, the cats will hide. There will be calls of "Trick or Treat" , followed by "What do you say?" and a muffled "Thank you".
I'm not even sure when it was that I stopped Trick or Treating. Seventh grade? Eighth grade? It seems such awhile ago. There were years when my mom would make my costume, other years, like the year I was a tv, I tried to figure it out myself (it was a good idea, not practical going in and out of doors!) Earlier costumes included a mask that was difficult to see, breathe, and talk through. Most of the time, the mask was worn on the forehead.
In his book, Celtic Daily Prayer, Richard J. Foster writes that All Hallows Eve, or Halloween, was originally a pagan Celtic holiday marking the end of an old year, and the beginning of a new year. Danger and vulnerability were said to exist during this time of transition. Spiritual barriers could be dissolved. There was also fear that spirits could come from the devil and take away a person's soul.
There was a serious -- and valid fear of death and evil. In superstitious efforts to prevent one's soul from being taken, people began to dress up as witches, ghosts and other characters. The thinking was if they dressed as someone else, evil would not befall them and their lives would be spared.
Today, we may laugh at this view of the world. Or can we?
News in recent days and weeks has left us either scratching our heads, or hanging our heads in sadness and sorrow.
*Children of migrants separated from their parents, many remaining in detention centers, never to see their deported parents again.
*A powerful hurricane leaves many in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina homeless and with nothing.
*Migrants leave their homes in Central America for better lives, only to be turned away.
*An eight car accident leads to the death of two high school students, and a community grieving.
*A shooting at a synagogue during services leaves a city shattered, and a nation mourning -- again.
Who needs to wear a costume when evil seems pervasively present?
In the midst of these dark events, there is hope.
There is always hope.
After the events of September 11th, 2001, Fred Rogers was asked to say something to help children (and adults) cope with the reality of evil's existence. His words? To look for the first responders: those who provide care for others, and put the needs of others ahead of their own. When we look for the first responders, we see also human compassion and mercy still exists.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote in An African Prayer Book: "Goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death; victory is ours, victory is ours, through God who loves us. Victory is ours, victory is ours, through God who loves us." (From the Evangelical Lutheran Worship)
But perhaps Martin Luther said it best:
"Though hordes of devils fill the land, all threatening to devour us.
We tremble not, unmoved we stand; they cannot overpow'r us.
Let this world's tyrant rage; in battle we'll engage!
His might is doomed to fail; God's judgement must prevail!
One little word subdues him."
On this night, celebrate the ghosts, goblins, and ghouls that come to the door. Share an extra piece of candy or activity for them to do. More importantly, treat one another with kindness. The more kindness that is shared, the less we have to fear the things that go bump in the night.
Blessings and grace,
Watching the evening news the other night, there was a story about Hurricane Florence. Astronauts at the space station had to use a wide angle lens to take a picture of it. From space, Hurricane Florence looks quite big. Weather reports indicate it has the potential and possibility for much devastation and destruction. While there is concern for those in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, there is also concern for Pennsylvania: how much, if any, rain will this area get? Will it be like a couple of weeks ago, or will we be untouched by the rain? It remains to be seen.
Looking at the picture of Hurricane Florence from space reminded me, also of Psalm 19:1: "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims its makers handiwork." This declaration can be seen on sunny days or starry nights, but in the view of a hurricane from space?
Yes. Look closer at the picture of Hurricane Florence from space. From above, the clouds circling around the eye of the hurricane over blue is a picture of troubled beauty. Pictures taken inside the hurricane reveal a swirling pattern of gray and white, of wind and rain.
In the midst of a storm, it can be hard to see beauty. Instead, it can be easier to see angry waves, angry sky, and whipping wind; buildings giving in to these sheer forces. Yet beauty does exist, even in the midst of a storm.
Back in the spring, I had the opportunity to coach for Girls on the Run. The ten week season encourages girls in grades third through eighth to develop healthy self esteem through physical fitness. At the end of the season, the girls run a 5k. That spring day in May was miserable -- it poured buckets, and was very very soggy. With smiles on their faces, the girls ran it. Later, one shared with me that she got through it because her mother allowed her to jump in every single puddle they came to.
Misery turned into beauty -- and an opportunity.
Tonight, take a look at the sky. It may be hard to see the stars, but try to find them. When you do, know that in all circumstances, the heavens declare the glory of God. A lesson we can learn from the heavens to declare God's glory -- even in the midst of difficult circumstances.
Several months ago, as we began planning this year's Vacation Bible School, we chose a theme called "Water of Life". This theme explored the usefulness of water in the Bible. More importantly, it explored Jesus as the life giving water through Creation, his baptism, the man healed in the pool of water, the woman at the well, and the Twenty Third Psalm (where we are invited to rest beside still waters). Little did we realize in planning, that this week would also be a week filled with rain! But not any rain --heavy rain that has prevented us from being outside in the pavilion. Heavy rain that has had church members reporting combined totals over five days of ten inches or more. And, heavy enough rain that family and friends out of the area have called or texted asking if we are okay.
I know that some of our neighbors have not been so lucky. Even as the sun shines today, there is concern for the next day or two, especially those along the Susquehanna River. Currently, the local Lutheran Disaster Response has a need for help throughout the area, probably over the weekend. If you have an interest in helping a neighbor in need, please leave a comment for this blog and someone will be back in contact with you shortly.
At the end of Vacation Bible School the other night, children and adults gathered around our baptismal font. Each child and adult expressed something about water they are thankful for: cooking, cleaning, helping flowers and plants grow so as not to be watered, drinking, washing clothes, swimming, jumping in puddles, and so much more. The countless rain drops and the theme of water helped students see and appreciate the gift and necessity of water in our lives. And, the thankful prayers reminded me too of the overall VBS theme: 'When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.' (Isaiah 43:2)
Heavy rainfall turned into an opportunity to experience the abundance -- and the blessings of God!
In the same way, how have you experienced God's abundant blessings in your life? Take a moment to offer thanks to God for God's blessings. Take another moment to share these blessings with others.
Blessings and grace,
The Lord answered her: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” -- Luke 10:41-42.
During the message on July 17th, there was reflection on both business and distraction throughout last week. Nightly church meetings to continue and further the work, witness, and ministry of the congregation. In this business and distraction, was also the recognition of needing to hear this passage from Luke (10:38-42). It’s a short passage, but a powerful passage.
I know I need to move forward, and begin to delve deeper into next week’s message, but Jesus’ words to Martha keep playing in my head.
For a brief moment, take Martha’s name out of the above passage, and add your name in Martha’s place. What do you hear? Hopefully, Jesus telling you also that you are worried and distracted over many things.
Distractions? Oh, a few. But last week’s distractions and business can probably be added to a long list of distractions from the past few months: Vaughn’s health, preparing the house to be sold, finding a house closer to the church, all of the tasks involved with keeping a house marketable while on the market, extended family concerns, concerns about the life of the congregation, . . . My list could go on.
To be distracted can mean to be pulled in multiple directions at one time, without any particular focus. If this is true, then these distractions over the past months have prevented me from being fully present to you, dear brothers and sisters, dear friends in Christ. For that, I am deeply and truly sorry.
Yes, we can argue that life has a way of keeping us busy and out of trouble. Yes, we can argue that family comes first. But in the grander scheme of things, what it comes down to is the absence of focus on the one needful thing that Mary found: the connection to Jesus and to one another. We cannot support one another if we do not spend time together. We cannot know more about the other if we do not share with one another.
And so, things will, and can change. They must – I must.
The story of Mary and Martha is a story of balance between rest and work. More importantly, it is a story of balance between people and projects.
As you continue this day, this week, take time for others. Let them know you love them and care for them. Let others know you are thinking about them. Take time, too, to focus on Jesus. Spend time with Jesus.
Blessings and grace,