This passage doesn’t belong here. Isaiah is a fascinating book with rich poetry and history, and is generally split into at least two parts, possibly even three. The first part consists of a lot of warnings of what will happen to various rulers and kingdoms. Isaiah 34 is all about destruction. And then Isaiah 35 pops in.
It shouldn’t be here
It doesn’t go chronologically with the first part of Isaiah, it seems to be speaking to a people already in exile in Babylon, ready to return home. Its a poem of great hope and joy, perfect for Joy Sunday of Advent.
“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom abundantly”
I think about God’s joy as something that is unable to be contained, it can’t even be contained in scripture! It breaks through where it isn’t supposed to be. Flowers in the desert. Pools instead of burning sand. A highway of joy and gladness where sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Where are you finding God’s joy breaking through? Where are the places where we have decided joy shouldn’t be, and yet we find it anyway? Keep watching in this season of waiting, for they joy that breaks through, in the wrong place at the right time
This game involves lots of running, some hide and seeking, and a lot of fun. Listed here are our rules that have developed over the past 10 years. Modify to create your own fun in your context.
Goal: To find the “lost sheep” before the wolves catch all the sheep and shepherds.
Pick an object to be the lost sheep. We have used ping pong paddles, pot holders, kitchen towels, whatever you want. Pick one student to be the wolf (if you have an exceptionally large group or large space, you can have 2 wolves). The wolf will go somewhere in the building and hide the lost sheep.
Determine what your boundaries are for playing the game (are any rooms that are off limits, can they go outside etc).
Our general rules for hiding the sheep
The sheep has to be visibile
Nobody should need to climb to get the sheep
no hiding in bathrooms
How to play: Once the wolf is gone, pick two students to be the shepherds. When you say go, all of the sheep and shepherds are going to run (in your defined area) to find the lost sheep and bring it back to your designated starting point. If a wolf catches someone, they have to stand against the wall until a shepherd can come and save them (tagging them back in). If both of the shepherds get caught, the group is in trouble! If the lost sheep is found, the sheep and shepherds win! If your time runs out and the sheep is not found, the wolf wins!
This is a really simple game that can get complicated quickly, kids will run full speed, doors will fly open, someone will get knocked down. So think about the rules that you need to make the game safe, and have fun seeking that lost sheep!
We are in a time of waiting right now, and it unfortunately doesn’t have much to do with Advent, or the second coming of our Lord. It has to do with the pandemic. We are waiting to get a job back, or a new job to come. We are waiting for school to go back to normal. We are waiting to worship together indoors, without masks.
We are waiting.
But are we awake? Sometimes I feel like I’m just moving from one day to the next, not really being awake. I’m getting things done. Emails get sent. School work gets turned in. Meetings are attended. But I’m not sure I’m awake for all of it.
Mark’s gospel is the one synoptic Gospels, or gospels written from a similar point of view, but Mark skips the birth story, and focuses on the second coming of Jesus. Because the season of advent preparing for the birth of Jesus has already come, that was done long ago. Our season (or seasons) of advent are awaiting the coming of Christ again.
In Mark 13:37 the author says “And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” What does keeping awake look like for you in this unprecedented season of Advent 2020? Perhaps it looks like focusing on your faith, through practices like reading scripture, prayer, or attending a Bible study. Perhaps it looks like taking care of yourself, making sure you are getting enough to eat and drink, and taking care of your health.
No matter how we keep awake this season, remember this. God promises to be with us. God came to be with us in the form of the baby Jesus so many years ago, walked with us, ministered with us, cried with us, died for us, and not even death kept him from us.
Therefore, God is with us in the waiting. Keep awake friends.
I need to write or I’m going to explode. I stepped away from writing for a while because I had a deadline, or I had CPE and I was driving back and forth to Birmingham and Jasper. Then it was quarantine and managing my depression. Any way you look at it I stepped away from a spiritual practice that I need, that my soul needs, and that the Holy Spirit is no longer allowing me to push aside.
I have a lot of things to say, many of which you don’t need to hear from me, so those things will wait. One thing I can speak to, no matter the social goings-on in the world, is Youth Ministry. I love youth and children, and I love working with them in the church. Its gives me life. I even love seeing their faces on Zoom, even when I have to mute them just to get a sentence out (also, my science-y people, let’s get to work on an IRL mute button for groups of children, teachers will thank you).
The Sticky Faith movement through Fuller youth institute uses Chap Clark’s recommendation to flip the youth to adult ratio in ministry. They assert that every youth needs 5 adults active in their lives to have a greater chance of staying with the church as an adult. You can read more about this here.
I’ve been nostalgic as of late for my home church, Good Shepherd Lutheran in Frederick Maryland. They are active on Facebook and I get to watch the really cool things they are doing, and keeping up with people from church that I grew up with has just caused me to think a lot about my 5 people. I had so many more than 5, for sure. People who did things before I ever got there laying the ground work for the community that would raise me in the faith.
People like Nancy Zeim, who changed names from mankind to human kind, and gender neutral language referring to God creating a space where we could recognize that perhaps male-centric language can be harmful, in the mid- 1980s, quietly blazing a trail for my feminist theologian self years later.
People like Rev. LaVern Rasmussen, who preached uncomfortable sermons about social justice while I was a tiny kiddo on the front pew. Who hugged me after service even though the man was not a hugger (who could refuse such a cute kiddo!)
People like Danny Tregoning who was the face (and voice, in the church bulletin) of church softball, the lifeblood of our fellowship every softball season. I watched little kids at those games, strengthened friendships, and felt loved by church family outside the walls of the building.
Or People like Ron Castle, who would see me, sometimes 3 times a week, at the Frederick Coffee Company while I was studying for college, and would say “Is that you?” When his health was failing years later, and I came home for a visit, he saw me at church and smiled and said “Is that you?” I treasure that.
I list those people because they aren’t even my 5, which goes to show how important adults are in the lives of young people.
My 5 (ish)
Jill and Mike Schaeffer
When I was baptized, my sponsors had to be members of the church, and I’m so glad they were. Jill and Mike were awesome God parents. I assumed that if my parents died I would go live with Jill and Mike (didn’t find out that was way off till I was a teenager!) I went to daycare with Jill, I went on vacation with them, and I learned a lot about being part of the life of the church from them. I learned that if you want council meetings to move along, you create a dynamic duo of motions and seconds with your God mother. I learned that music and worship were two sides of the same coin, singing in the choir with them, learning liturgical dance with their daughter, and listening to Mike sing solos and play guitar. They made sure I knew I was loved and that church was home.
Pat and Gene Schoonover
Sometimes Pat scared me. I was worried if I forgot and wore tennis shoes as an acolyte she might say something about it, same goes for me messing up the order of something on altar guild. And maybe she did, but I don’t remember that. I know she liked things in good order, like any good Lutheran. I also know that she fought to resettle southeast Asian refugees, because God’s work isn’t just in the Sanctuary. She and Gene supported my efforts to host Compassion Sunday yearly as a teenager, encouraging families to sponsor children across the globe. And when I was a senior in high school and locked my keys in the car, I called the church, so I could get Gene’s number. While he couldn’t help me out for free, there was mysteriously a graduation card with the same amount of money as my locksmith fee waiting for me a few weeks later.
Phyllis was my Sunday School teacher for… forever. I know we had some different ones when I was little, and then there was this long time span where I’m fairly certain no one else would teach us. There were 13 in my confirmation class, that was a lot for our small-ish church. Afterwards the number dropped, as it does many places, but Phyllis never gave up on our Sunday school class, even when it might just be me and her daughters. She was also my altar guild partner, who taught me why we do what we do, and that you can drink the wine after communion, but its 9 am, so maybe pouring it down the special drain that ran outside was a better call.
Marilyn used to run the Christian education stuff that other people might prefer she forgot. Like VBS, or Summer Sunday School, and the Christmas Pageant. She had some awesome red hair and if you saw her coming, you looked for a quick exit before she could ask you to do something. But she was patient, and she’d find you eventually, which is how I ended up teaching 3 and 4 year old VBS, or singing a song in the children’s Christmas Pageant at 16 (don’t get me wrong, I stole the show, but I was the oldest by like… a lot). Sometimes I channel my inner Marilyn now as a Children’s and Youth minister when I’m recruiting volunteers. I haven’t made the jump to awesome red hair yet, my purple bangs will have to suffice.
Rev. Ron Reaves
I would be missing out on possibly the biggest influence on my life at Good Shepherd if Pastor Ron wasn’t in my 5. Pastor Ron was called to Good Shepherd when I was 11. I loved Church as a kid, and as a teenager. I loved being an acolyte, assisting minister, lector, all of it. I even liked being on council. I loved confirmation. My time with Pastor Ron in confirmation was some of my favorite time spent at GS. But it didn’t stop there. Trips to Germany, Lancaster PA Sight and Sound theater, church picnics and puppet shows with Fozzie Pastor Bear and Kermit the Lutheran Frog, halloween parties and his red plaid pants you could count on him wearing for Pentecost, all of that was part of the life of the church with Pastor Ron. I didn’t know other churches had a staff, because in my little church Pastor Ron and Pastor Gary were it for what we would call a programming staff.
He was my children’s, tween, and youth, and young adult minister. He encouraged my call to ministry, taking me to his old stomping grounds of Gettysburg college and seminary (now United Lutheran Seminary). He let me see that grown ups sometimes changed their minds on things they believed all their lives, and was there for me in times of “crisis” like when I was in a hit and run at community college and I didn’t know what to do so I drove to church to have Pastor Ron tell me what to do.
Not all Pastors can be in someone’s 5 adults. Most have too many kids in their congregation to reasonably do that. I’m glad my pastor was in my 5.
I know there are people in my congregation I didn’t list, and I could tell stories for days, and that’s what I encourage you to do. Tell stories. Who were your 5 people? What were they like? What did you do? What did they teach you?
And who’s 5 are you a part of? Make memories, take a chance, be 1 of 5, or 500, there are never too many loving grownups in the life of a kid!
Many of us are pretty familiar with the story of the Holy Family by now. The story of angelic pronouncements, decisions to be made, and a new family formed. One character in this familial tale that sometimes gets glossed over is that of Joseph.
We know about how righteous Joseph was, that he married Mary anyway, and that he was a carpenter. But an often overlooked part of the story is this.
1:21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus
Joseph names the infant Messiah Jesus. This might seem strange to us, but under the law, Joseph naming Jesus meant he claimed him. He was legally his child. Joseph was claiming Jesus as his own. This is huge.
He didn’t have to do this. He could have gone on with his plan to let Mary go quietly, and his reputation would have stayed in tact. But people would talk, and I’m sure they talked plenty. They would guess that this child wasn’t really his, but he claimed him anyway.
What a message of grace and love from such an overlooked character! To take a child and claim him as his own. Sounds a lot like what happens to us in baptism. God names us and claims us as God’s own. We can learn a lot from Joseph, the father of Christ.
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
Have you ever been really excited for something, and then when it happened, it didn’t really live up to the hype? I’m sure we all have, at least I know I’ve seen at least one movie that should have been great and I’m pretty sure was a total dud.
But at least I wasn’t the one in the wilderness shouting “Prepare ye the way of this highly anticipated movie”. But that’s what John the Baptist had been doing. He had been preparing everyone for the coming of the Messiah. The person who could come and topple the corrupt government and would usher in the Kingdom of God.
And yet John sits in jail. Jesus didn’t come out of that baptismal water and immediately jump on a white horse and bring the Romans to their knees. In fact, he wasn’t at all what they expected.
And isn’t that the way of it?
We are prepared for happiness, and sometimes we are called to some unhappy places.
We are prepared for love, and sometimes the ones we love were not the ones we were meant to be with forever.
We are prepared for success, and sometimes we help others succeed instead.
We are prepared for royalty and all of its fanfare, and yet this is the season where we meet our savior in the most humble of places.
And even though we know the story, and we know why this baby in a manger is so important, we are still sometimes like John, wondering if this Jesus is really what we were expecting. Does Jesus really ask us to love our neighbor? And is our neighbor really everyone? Does Jesus really challenge those in power and raise up those who are weak?
And we know the answer is yes. We know that Jesus is all that and so much more. So, in this season of Advent, let us shake loose our expectations, so that the unexpected Jesus can surprise us once again.
2nd Sunday in Advent Psalm 72:1-7 18,19 (Photo of Sister Ramona Navarro and Candidate Katie Thiesen at a protest in Washington DC)
72:4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.
Our culture has taught us to get really caught up on certain aspects of faith. I’m not even going to name them, because you know what they are. They are the political hot points. The things that make the news. The things that get people so fired up they are willing to unfriend church folk over it.
But you know what scripture talks about hundreds of times, almost as if God and Jesus were really serious about it? The poor. We are to care for the poor and the needy. We are to see to the needs of the widow, orphan, and prisoner.
Sometimes it feels like we’ve lost that fire to do something about poverty in our world. We’ve been fed a lie about why people are poor, and that they need to stay that way. I don’t believe that’s true. I echo the cry of the psalmist in our scripture for this week, that our leaders might champion the cause of the poor, and seek justice for the oppressed.
In 2022 I completed my journey to become a Sister in the Deaconess Community of the ELCA . I am blessed to be a part of this intentional community of women who have worked for more than a century in serving those in need. At our 2019 assembly, pre pandemic, the Deaconess Community voted to endorse the Poor People’s Campaign in an effort to do more to effect change in our world.
I have been blessed and challenged by the work of the Poor People’s Campaign. I participate when I can, through advocacy in my local area, and support Sisters who attend protests and marches in support of our siblings in poverty.
So how will you champion the cause of the poor among us? I hope its through checking out what your local Poor People’s Campaign is doing and serving the cause. But if not, do something. Advent is about waiting, but the poor can’t wait forever.
1st Sunday in Advent Year A. First Reading. Isaiah 2:1-5
” He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; 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. ” Isaiah 2:4
War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing
We are in that time of preparation that starts our church year again. That time when we wait. I know I’m not very good at waiting, its hard to unlearn the cultural push to exhaustion. But here we are, beginning again with the time of waiting. The time when we say, slow down, the Lord is coming. Wait a while with us.
And our text brings us back to Isaiah, the great prophetic texts so often used to say whatever we want it to say, especially proving messianic prophecies. And while that is an important part of the prophet’s text. I am drawn to verse 4 every time. Especially this line:
Neither shall they learn war anymore.
We learn war. Its not instinctual in us. We aren’t created to live this way. The Hebrew word here is לָמַד lamad, which means to teach, instruct, diligently expert, or become skilled.
I often wonder what a world like that would look like? What would it look like if we didn’t learn war anymore. If we didn’t learn how to fight each other. If we didn’t teach our children glorious war stories, but rather the tragedy of death and trauma and lifelong sorrow produced by it.
In this season of Advent, I’m choosing to unlearn war. If we can learn it there must be a way to unlearn it (or at least I’m hoping there is). I’ll choose to meditate on the ways I can teach peace, and to help restore a world broken by centuries of a learned culture of war. I pray others can join with me and we can figure it out together.
There are lots of blessings and woes in this passage. And all of them make us a little squirmy. A seminary cohort of mine used to start sentences with “deep down in my icky dark core…”. This is one of those deep down in my icky dark core moments in scripture for me.
Deep down in my icky dark core I don’t want those who hate me to be blessed
Deep down in my icky dark core I don’t want to pray for those who abuse me.
Deep down in my icky dark core I don’t want to think about the fact that I might be counted among the “rich” of this world, even in the times I struggle to make ends meet.
Deep down in my icky dark core I crave the approval of people, I need everyone to speak well of me, even when I know my call should cause people to feel a little uncomfortable and to even disagree with me.
Deep down in my icky dark core I don’t do unto others as I would have them do unto me.
But the Good News is it isn’t about me. Its never about me. Its about God, and I’m not God, and praise be for that! I need to remember that my sinful self regularly needs grace and forgiveness, and to be reminded, even with scripture that hits my icky dark core that others need grace and forgiveness too.
So I’ll keep trying. I’ll keep trying to honor the parts of scripture that hit my sinful self hard, to honor others as images of God, and to do unto others as I would have them do unto me.