Tag Archives: Jesus

Christmas Countdown: Cards

“I thank God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you.” – Philippians 1:3-4

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I’ve been sending Christmas cards with a Christmas letter since 1987 (or maybe earlier).  It’s the one time of year I can count on connecting with some favorite people of my past and present:

  • Mrs. Smeltzer, my first grade teacher and a long time family friend;
  • Uncle Frank & Aunt Carol, my grandma Mary’s brother and sister-in-law;
  • Carol, Pat, and Kathy, office administrators/secretaries who worked at churches where I served (what would I have done without them?);
  • dear colleagues in ministry, relatives and friends.

The list shifts a little every year.  Some have died.  Some of us (including me) have changed addresses one too many times to keep up.  Life’s journey means we sometimes lose touch.  There are also new friends, strengthened family relationships, and sometimes a reconnecting with co-workers of yesteryear.

The correspondence is a prayer.  For good health.  For joy filled days.  For comfort in sorrow.  For wisdom in decision making.  For courage in hard times.  For strength.  For rest.  For renewal.

“And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and insight to help you determine what is best…” – Philippians 1:9-10a

May you have a song in your heart, practice kindness with yourself and others, and find joy in every day life.

Blessings, Teressa

 

Advent: Included

Who knew the genealogies of Jesus (Matthew 1:2-17; Luke 3:23-28) would remain with me for more than a week?  When I began these Advent reflections I figured I’d write about the women included on Jesus’ family tree and move on.  I should have known better.  Lingering with a text, reading and rereading the words, and allowing my heart to wander and wonder over what I have read gives the Spirit space and time to reveal ways the ancient story connects to life today. If you haven’t read the earlier posts, see Advent: BlessingAdvent: Missing, and maybe even Advent: Where to begin?.Salmon extended family

Only five women are included in the ancestry of Jesus as recorded by Matthew (Luke names none).  Each is an outsider of sorts.  Three were certainly Gentile not Jew:  Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth.  One was married to an Hittite:  Bathsheba (aka the Wife of Uriah).  And then there’s Mary.  None are the usual daughter, wife, and mother.  Nevertheless they are remembered.

Every clan has members like them.  Individuals who don’t quite fit the mold but who make life more memorable.  Unique human beings who add texture to the family story.  Unexpected people with different points of view.

When we let them, they show us other ways of seeing the world.  They help us better understand the human condition.  They may even teach us how to love more deeply, laugh more often, or live more authentically.

I invite you to think about your extended family.  Not just the relatives by blood or formal adoption.  But also the friends who are often like family.  How have they enriched your life?

Look around again, perhaps beyond the circle of family you have named.  Who doesn’t fit the mold but could use an extra friend today?  Is there some small way you can include them this holiday season?

With gratitude for family, Teressa

Advent: Missing

According to family lore, Bernt went to the outhouse one day and never returned.  He’s been missing so long we know he’s dead.  But the genealogy buffs in the family would really like to find him.  Clues were pieced together at the Cousins’ Christmas Party last Saturday:  Bernt might have gone to Alaska.Extended Family Chart for Abraham

When my mom’s interest in genealogy piqued my curiosity, it was because of the missing names – not the missing persons.

Reading the genealogy of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, I’m struck by all the missing names.  The papas are all there.  The mamas are – mostly – not.

We could add a few names.  Isaac’s mother was Sarah (Gen 21:3).  Jacob’s mom was Rebekah (Gen 25:26).  Leah was Judah’s ma (Gen 29:31).

Today I remember the missing – the names and the people.  Some have died.  Some have moved on with their lives and I have no idea what has happened to them.  Some I’ve never met but I know someone who holds them dear.  Most I’ve never heard of.  I know their absence, whoever they are, leaves a hole in the lives of family and friends.

We pray for the missing, dear God.  Wherever they are today, we trust their care to you.  May each one know they are loved.  May those missing a dear one find hope and comfort, love and peace in the midst of this season that too often forgets those who mourn.  Amen.

Until next time, Teressa

 

Advent: Blessing

When my mom was most active in researching her ancestry my husband said he thought his paternal grandfather must have been an outlaw of some sort.  He knew his grandfather’s name but had never heard stories about the man.  None.  Not a single one.  Which led my beloved to believe his father’s father was best forgotten.  Mom took it as a challenge. Now we know grandpa probably ran a dairy in Oklahoma City and likely came from a family with a long history in Pennsylvania.

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My beloved working on a genealogical fan chart for my mom.  12/21/12.  Photo: TLClark.

I wonder if Jesus heard stories about his grandparents.  Surely he didn’t know all those names recorded in Matthew 1:2-17 and Luke 3:23-38.  Fourteen generations times three in Matthew (see Matthew 1:17); a somewhat longer list in Luke.  The lists agree – mostly – for the generations from Father Abraham to the great King David.  After that, not much at all; from the name of David’s son in Jesus’ direct lineage to the name of Jesus’ grandfather (aka Joseph’s dad) the lists are quite different.

Does it matter?  Does it matter that there is a Zerubbable in one list and a Zadok is in the other?  I don’t think so.  Do we need to get them to line up – to harmonize them?  Definitely not.  The authors had their own agendas.*

Jesus is the son of David, the famous though flawed, best and beloved of Israel’s kings.  Things had definitely gone downhill since his rule.  As the book of Matthew begins, there’s a hint and a hope that Jesus, as part of that royal lineage, will bring about all that a kingdom is to be.

Jesus is also son of Abraham.  (Sing along if you know it: “Father Abraham had many sons…”.)  The first thing I remember about Abraham is that he was blessed to be a blessing (see Genesis 12:1-3)  Think about that for a moment.  Blessed to be a blessing.  Jesus, too, was blessed to be a blessing.

Have you counted your blessings lately?  The people that bring (or have brought) hope, love and joy into your life.  The big things we cannot live without – like breath and water.  The mundane but necessary – food, clothing, and shelter.  The little things that we too often take for granted.

How might you be a blessing today?  It could be something simple, perhaps eye contact and a smile to everyone you pass by.  It could cost a little or a lot, say a few dollars in a Salvation Army Red Kettle or generous check written to your favorite non-profit charity.  It might be a gift of time spent with one who is lonely or a hand-written note sent through the old-fashioned mail.  I hope you’ll use your imagination and act with kindness.

We are blessed.  And we are called to bless others.

Until next time, Teressa

p.s.  I was going to say something about the fact Luke’s genealogy ends with “[Jesus was] son of Adam, son of God.” But that felt like a sermon.  And I wanted to stay with the idea of blessing.

*I’ll tell you some of what comes to mind from my seminary days as well as sermon and Bible study prep over the years.  I could pull out the commentaries, do a little reading, and write about each author’s purpose.  But I’m not that interested – at least not today.

If you are interested, I recommend The People’s New Testament Commentary by M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004).  It’s accessible, solid scholarship on the New Testament in one volume for those who want to know more but don’t want an entire library of commentaries.

Advent: Where to begin?

If you were to tell the story of Jesus, where would you begin?  Each of the four gospels included in the New Testament begins differently.

Matthew lists ancestors before getting to Jesus’ birth.

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.  – Matthew 1:1 NRSV

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  – Matthew 1:18 NRSV

Mark forgoes any mention of birth, diving into Jesus’ life at the point of his baptism.

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. – Mark 1:1 NRSV

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  – Mark 1:9 NRSV

After a prologue telling us why the book is written, Luke starts the story with a priest and his wife.  Jesus doesn’t arrive until in the second chapter.

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah.  His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. – Luke 1:5 NRSV

And she [Mary] gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. – Luke 2:7 NRSV

John begins at the very beginning and poetically refers to Jesus’ birth.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God. – John 1:1 NRSV

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14 NRSV

I remember being a bit surprised when I realized that only two of the gospels include an account of Jesus’ natal day and they each have a unique take on what took place.  We’ll ponder those another day.

For now, note that Mark is all business.  No wasted words.  The really important thing about Jesus is not where he came from.  What is important is what he did and said and, crucially, where he ended up.  The other gospels don’t disagree; all four include the crucifixion.  (If I remember right, the crucifixion is one of just two stories found in all four gospels.  The other is the feeding of the five thousand).

So, where would you begin the story of Jesus?

Or, at a more personal level, where would you begin telling your own story or the story of one you love?  Birth?  Parents?  Ancestors?  Accomplishments?

Until next time, Teressa

Advent: Countdown to Christmas

‘Tis the season.  Christmas merchandise appeared on store shelves the day after Halloween.  Parades and football publicly marked Thanksgiving.  Black Friday, Small Merchant Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday have come and gone.  ‘Tis a countdown to Christmas.

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The church counts down in an entirely different way.  Four Sundays of Advent.  One candle lit today; one more to be lit each Sunday.  A call to pause, to reflect, to prepare, to wait, to remember, to look forward.  Celebrating Christmas comes later.

Behind the scenes, pastors and church staffs and volunteers have been getting ready for weeks: finding new readings for lighting candles on the Advent Wreath, choosing hymns and anthems appropriate for waiting and watching (and sneaking in a Christmas carol?), making plans for the annual children’s Christmas pageant, getting lists for the Giving Tree, decorating the sanctuary, and so much more.  I’m so grateful for their commitment and their good cheer in this crazy season of high expectations.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about the Biblical Christmas story:  the people, the places, the creatures, the trips, the songs.  I’ve reread the stories as recorded in the gospels and started a list of questions and observations.

My goal this Advent is to go deeper into the stories, to take another look at what is told and what is left untold.  I plan to blog some of what I discover (or re-remember) along the way and hope you’ll join me for the journey.

Before we begin, I invite you to simply recall the story of Jesus’ birth – the setting, the characters, the words.   You’re welcome, of course, to turn to the gospel accounts.  But it’s certainly not required!

Until next time,  Teressa

All Are Welcome in this Place

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“All Are Welcome”  Music & Words by Marty Haugen;  Table Runner pieced/quilted by TLClark

More than a month ago my husband asked me to make a table runner for the new table by our front door.  When I asked what color he had in mind he replied “Rainbow.  Because it would make a lot of people mad.”

I just happened to have a  Row-by-Row Experience kit (i.e., a pattern and fabric) that was easily adapted into a rainbow table runner.  Directions for “Name that Tune,” the original pattern by Laura and Liz at Crazy Redhead Quilting, suggests you appliqué music notes for the melody of your favorite song.

After considering a number of different songs, we settled on “All Are Welcome” by Marty Haugen.  The refrain fit within the staff – not going too high nor too low – and all the notes fit on the length of the runner.  Here’s the first verse with refrain:

Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace;
here the love of Christ shall end divisions.
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

To hear the hymn as sung by Haugen with others, search for the “All Are Welcome” concertato on the GIA Publications website (or click here) and click on the PREVIEW button.

One of my favorite Bible stories of welcome has to do with Jesus and the children.  As the story is set up in the gospel of Mark, the disciples have been arguing with one another about who is the greatest.  When Jesus calls them on it, they go silent.

“[Jesus] sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’  Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”  – Mark 9:35-37 NRSV (see also Matthew 18:1-5 and Luke 9:46-48)

In the very next chapter of Mark, the disciples try to keep children away from Jesus.  It’s a story I use every time I have the privilege of baptizing a child.

“People were bring little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them.  But when Jesus, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.  Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.” – Mark 10:13-16 NRSV (see also Matthew 19:13-15 and Luke 18:15-17)

We think of younger children when hear these verses.  But I believe it applies equally well to school age kids, teenagers, and adults — in other words, to every person who has ever been a child.  We are all children of God.

May you be warmly welcomed wherever you find yourself today.

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Fragments

“When they were satisfied, Jesus told the disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.'”  – John 6:12  NRSV

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Communion Bread – Before Worship.  Photo: TLClark.

 

Five loaves and two fish.  About five thousand ate as much as they wanted.  All four gospel accounts* agree there were twelve baskets full of left-overs.

But only in the Gospel according to John does Jesus direct the disciples to gather the fragments so none will be lost.

 

Fragments.  The parts we call left over.  Extra bits we try to hide.  Pieces we are tempted to toss out.  “Gather them up,” Jesus says.  Gather up the all the parts of your life that make you you.  Not just the happy, pleasing, joyful fragments.  Gather up the broken, the hurting, the fragile.  Not to discard or to be rid of.  But to let Jesus mend or heal or restore or purify.  Jesus wants all of it.  Jesus wants all of you.  For you are valued more than you can imagine – at least 12 times more!

So none will be lost.  No one.  Not you.  Not me.  Not friend, family, neighbor, stranger, enemy.  Jesus intends that not a single, solitary soul be lost.

“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. …”  – John 10:16 NRSV

Jesus has more than one fold!  Jesus’ followers are not all alike.  Some call on Jesus by another name.  God’s people come in an amazing array of endless variety.  Look at the crowd on the hillside:  5000 people who were each there for their own reasons.  Sinners and saints, skeptics and believers.  ALL were fed.  None are to be lost.

*The Feeding of the Five Thousand is the only miracle story told by all four gospel writers.  See Matthew 14:31-21; Mark 6:33-44; Luke 9:10-17; and John 6:1-14.

Where God Lives

“You are awesome, O God, in Your holy places.”  – Psalm 68:36 JPS

Sitting on the chancel steps with the children, I asked them about where they live – in a house or an apartment or somewhere else?  There were a few giggles; Gracie, age 3, told me she lives in her house with her brother and mom and dad.  Her grandparents live on a farm in a house – not in the barn.

We noted some people live in tents and some don’t have homes.  We talked about how Joppa builds Tiny Homes for the homeless.  (The kids at Ankeny UCC take up a weekly coin collection during the offertory; in July this year it is designated for Joppa.)

We named places where some of God’s other creatures live:  nests (birds), hives (bees), dens (bears), shells (snails).  One child pointed out that rabbits just dig a hole in the ground.

Then I wondered where God lives.  “In heaven” was the first quick reply.  “Up in the clouds” was the next answer.  A third child just gave me a puzzled look.  Gracie whispered “in my heart.”

Jesus lives with us, in our hearts.  That means God is with us wherever we are.  And wherever we are, we are with God.

Trinity: God Dancing

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Dance.  Photo:  TLClark

There were many, many things I could have purchased at the annual Plowsharing Fair Trade pop-up store hosted by Peter’s UCC, Washington, Missouri, more than a decade ago.  But a soapstone carving of three figures dancing was the only one to capture my theological imagination:  it made me think of God.

With Jews, Christians, and Muslims around the world, I believe there is one and only one God.  (We make gods of many things – but that is a thought for another day.)

As a Christian pastor and teacher I wrestle with the historic doctrine of the Trinity:  God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.  One of my favorite teachings about the Trinity has to do with ideas of fellowship, community, and dance.  Theologian Shirley C. Guthrie introduces it this way:

John of Damascus, a Greek theologian who lived in the seventh century, developed this understanding of the Trinity with a concept called perichoresis (perry-ko-ray’-sis).  This Greek word is worth learning because it gives us a lovely picture of God.  Peri (as in perimeter) means “around.”  Choresis means literally “dancing” (as in the choreography of a ballet).  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are like three dancers holding hands, dancing around together in harmonious, joyful freedom.

(Shirley C. Guthrie, Christian Doctrine, Revised Edition (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994), 91)

Guthrie goes on to say that the “oneness of God is not the oneness of a distinct, self-contained individual; it is the unity of a community of persons who love each other and live together in harmony.” (p. 92)

“The unity of a community.”

Isn’t that a lovely image?  One is not whole without the others.  The others are not whole without every single one.  One might dance alone.  But whether we are speaking of God or of a fellowship of believers, only in community is the dance made whole.

May you dance with God today.

-Pastor T.