mainestewards

November 29, 2014

Arm’s Length Generosity

Filed under: Children and Families,Social Gospel,Time and Talent,Uncategorized — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 1:56 pm

My latest inner journey began quite innocently. There was nothing particularly unusual about the Sunday morning: I settled into my pew, opened the bulletin, and began to sift through the various inserts that would shape a good portion of my calendar for the next few weeks. The announcements were things I already knew about, but a special green half-sheet offered something new, “Sign Up for Christmas Giving Opportunities.”

It’s been quite a while since we have been part of a congregation that had an active Angel Tree sort of ministry. This is going to be fun!

There were two invitations to choose from: We could provide gifts for a family in need through our relationship with one of the local food pantries, or we could provide gifts for children of incarcerated people as an extension of our parish jail ministry. Aside from some differences in the details, the guidelines were pretty standard for this sort of outreach…until it came to the delivery instructions:

Gifts are to be wrapped and returned to the church office by Wednesday, December 10th. Please put the recipient’s first name on the gift and use the Family # in place of the last name.

Pretty standard. I can do that.

Gifts are to be wrapped and delivered to the children’s families several days prior to Christmas. If you prefer not to deliver the gifts yourself, we can arrange delivery for you.

Are you kidding me?! My reaction was immediate and visceral: Not. gonna. happen.

I would love to be high-minded and claim that I was living into the tzedakah, the Jewish practice of generosity that places a higher value on situations in which the giver and the recipient are unknown to one another. But that’s not my truth this time.

I could also claim that it’s somehow more “Christmas-y” for the recipients to receive anonymous gifts. It’s a little more magical, and it preserves the recipients’ dignity. But, again, it’s not the truth.

No, it’s not the face of poverty that’s the problem here. It’s the face of generosity. The real reason that I recoil from the notion of personally delivering gifts to the homes of children whose parents are incarcerated is not because of their situation; it’s because of mine. Abundance is embarrassing. Admitting to my share in Lady Bountiful Syndrome is simply too big a risk, too raw a truth, too real in its disparity. I drop gifts off in the church office for the same reason that I buy neatly wrapped cuts of beef from the grocery store—it tidies up the reality.

Perhaps it would be appropriate, therefore, on this First Sunday in Advent, to make a New Liturgical Year’s Resolution: I am challenging myself to live openly as a generous person, in spirit and in practice. I will learn to put a face on loving my neighbor as myself, to stop hiding from the light of genuine engagement. Will I be ready to deliver the gifts myself next year? I don’t know. I can’t promise that. I can only promise that I will, somehow, be changed.

In the meantime, I’m off to buy “Jenny, Family #16” that sturdy lidded stock pot she’s wishing for.

October 11, 2013

Here and Now

Filed under: Congregational Development,Leadership,Lectionary,Social Gospel — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 10:05 am

Wherever you are, be there. Peter Jennings

So often in my work with congregational leaders I hear a longing for the way things used to be. This longing is not simply for the financial stability of the past, though that is certainly a component, but for the ways of a by-gone era—a time of identity, of security, of assurance; a time that seemed to have an infinite future, grounded in recognized and predictable social patterns.

Though today’s congregations can hardly claim the overt hostilities known to the exiles in Jeremiah’s day, the less tangible enemies of indifference and perceived irrelevance can be just as formidable.

While the false prophets trade on feel-good predictions, assurances that it will all be over soon, and easy answers for making it all OK, Jeremiah speaks a raw truth of presence: The Lord has put you here. The Lord has put you now. The Great I Am, the God whose very name is in the present tense, wants you to be the light in this darkness, the unfailing strength in this chaos, the place of refuge in this storm.

Jeremiah speaks for a God who calls us not to radical hospitality, but to radical relevance. Jeremiah tells us bluntly to stop treating our Episcopal identity, our baptism, our commitment to felt-need ministry as constraints, but rather to understand them as the very “roots and wings” which allow us to thrive.

Does doing church in a new way throw out history? Does moving the frontline abandon the matriarchs and patriarchs who brought us to this moment? Does radical relevance mean caving in to popular culture? Heavens no!

Jeremiah never tells the Israelites, “Stop being so Jewish; tone it down and you’ll get on better.” Instead he tells them to live life to the fullest in this place where they happen to be: Get married. Have babies. Buy a house. Settle in and get used to one another. Make it work and watch what happens.

OK, so maybe that’s not the exact approach that we are likely to take with our communities, but you get the point.

It’s a point worth getting. It’s a question worth taking to the next vestry retreat, the next planning meeting, the next women’s fellowship or youth weekend: How do we answer the call to radical relevance? How do we live as The Church of the Here and Now?

September 10, 2013

Sinners and Saints

Filed under: Children and Families,Congregational Development,Leadership,Social Gospel — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 9:57 am

Every once in a while I sit down to write, to reflect on something that has spoken to me, and discover that the source does not want to be quoted, but rather shared. So it is this week with Sunday’s broadcast of On Being.

Nadia Bolz-Weber on Seeing the Underside and Seeing God: Tattoos, Tradition, and Grace

She’s the tattooed, Lutheran pastor of the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, a church where a chocolate fountain, a blessing of the bicycles, and serious liturgy come together. She’s a face of the Emerging Church — redefining what church is, with deep reverence for tradition.

I found this hour to be deeply moving, funny, provocative, and refreshing. She talks openly about wrestling with her own sense of mission and ministry when the wrong kind of newcomers started showing up in church, and how her congregation opened her eyes to new dimensions of welcome and community. She has the best Good Friday line I’ve ever heard. And in her fierce commitment to liturgy and tradition I found the balance I needed in my understanding of the emerging church.

But here’s my favorite moment of all: Forget the notion that God doesn’t give us more than we can bear. That’s Western individualism run amok. The truth is, God doesn’t give any one of us more than the community that upholds us can bear together.

Give yourself a 51-minute gift at http://www.onbeing.org/program/nadia-bolz-weber-on-seeing-the-underside-and-seeing-god-tattoos-tradition-and-grace/5896#sthash.zfW0GJZW.dpuf. I would love to hear your own reflections and talk more in the comments area below about how her words resonate with you.

September 1, 2013

Hosts, Feasts, and Angels Unaware

Filed under: Children and Families,Lectionary,Social Gospel — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 2:45 pm

Twenty years ago a middle-aged couple fell in love with a house on the edge of a lake—and on the edge of their price range. In wrestling with the purchase of this beautiful house, they made a covenant that, should Providence deem this to be their home, it would be dedicated as a place of hospitality. They did indeed purchase the home and six weeks later, barely unpacked, they gathered for Thanksgiving dinner with family, friends, and those who were alone.

Among the “strays” gathered for that first Thanksgiving were a foreign graduate student and a young administrator from the local university. Today, that graduate student is a US citizen, father of a lively seventh grader. His career has taken a serpentine course through multiple relocations, landing him back in the community where he started. (The former university administrator now writes a stewardship blog.) In the intervening years, neither has forgotten the gift of hospitality that this couple embodied. Their example has been multiplied many times over, not because their guests paid them back, but because their partners in baptism have each paid the original offerings forward in their own understanding of the Kingdom of God.

Another banquet story tells a less noble tale. In fact, it is the story of one of my least baptismal moments.

Mallory and I were struggling to fill a quiet Sunday—we had managed to do fun things on Saturday, and Monday would send us back to school and work, but the long Sabbath of a Sunday was daunting. We decided to spend the day in Pretoria—the drive alone was three hours round trip, add a visit with my in-laws, lunch, maybe a movie, and we’re set.

Nestled into our favorite lunch spot, all was going beautifully until our food arrived. She took one look at her beloved seafood pizza, piled with scallops, mussels, and assorted other delicacies, and her face fell: I’m sorry, Mommy. I didn’t know that the reason I like this pizza is because I share it with Daddy. It isn’t the same when he’s not here.

It’s OK. I get it. We’ll box it up so it doesn’t go to waste.

Now, here’s something that might surprise you about life in South Africa: It’s incredibly difficult to find someone in need on a Sunday afternoon. I did eventually find an older man, clearly malnourished and living in poverty, seated on the sidewalk outside a small general store, hoping for mercy from the few people who were out and about. I approached, greeted him, and offered him the untouched pizza. He accepted it, thanked me, and immediately began to enjoy this unexpected feast. As I got back in my car, I turned to see two or three clearly affluent young boys on bicycles speak to him, reach into the box, and happily pedal away, laughing and enjoying their “score.”

I was furious. So furious, in fact that I caught up with them, rolled down my car window and told them exactly what I thought of their behavior. Without missing a beat, their leader called back tauntingly, “He said we could have some.”

I was furious. However….

What if he did choose to share his abundance? What if this homeless man was no different from my previous hosts? What if he, too, carried a deep baptismal understanding of Providence, of our very need to bless, break, and share in celebration of unexpected abundance?

Second, with whom was I actually furious? Don’t you think Jesus would have gotten a kick out of a destitute homeless man schooling Lady Bountiful in hospitality? I am so grateful to him for the gift of humility that day, for the gift of allowing me to see an angel in disguise as he hosted those above his station at a banquet on the sidewalk.

I am grateful to both of these hosts for enacting the simplest of sermons, the most elegant of Gospel admonitions: Go, and do likewise.

Amen

August 18, 2013

Backpacks and Baptism

Filed under: Children and Families,Social Gospel,Time and Talent — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 2:54 pm

I don’t know how to say this without sounding selfish. I know we’re shopping for donation and I know that my backpack is in good shape and I don’t need a new one. But I can’t help it—that tie-dye backpack is awesome.

And thus it was—right there in the middle of Target—that she encountered her baptism.

 You know what, Sweetheart? I’m glad you love that backpack. The fact that you love it tells me that it’s the perfect choice for our donation shopping. One of the things we talk about a lot in church is the dignity of all people and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Today that means picking out things that we would like to have for ourselves, not just choosing the one that’s least expensive, one that’s just OK. It means that we believe that just because someone’s family relies on the food bank, they shouldn’t have to settle for an ugly backpack.

Teachable moments aren’t just for kids. Mike Piazza, Co-Executive Director of the Center for Progressive Renewal, has one very strict rule for the congregations he pastors: In the back-to-school and holiday seasons, he does not permit financial contributions toward backpacks or food baskets. Anyone who wants to participate must take the shopping list provided in the bulletin/newsletter/website and actually do the shopping.

Piazza’s purpose is not to make giving harder. His purpose is to engage the congregation in hands-on baptismal thinking—he has a genuine pastoral desire for them to experience that moment in the aisle of the grocery store, when they reach for the cheaper store-brand stuffing and think, “I buy the name brand for my family’s Thanksgiving, but this is good enough for the food bank.” He wants them to wrestle with their truth-in-action when loving their neighbor as themselves would add up to a few extra dollars at the check-out.

In my effort to live as a whole and healthy steward of my own baptism, I have certainly wrestled with that truth myself…and with its counter-argument, “If I choose the less expensive one, I can donate more.” But even then, the answer is already contained in the covenant itself: I am vowed to love my neighbor as myself. So yes, I do choose an awesome backpack and I do buy name-brand stuffing for the Thanksgiving boxes. And during our Lenten mac-and-cheese challenge, I buy the same cheap stuff that Mallory’s friends gobble down at every sleepover—not only can I afford to give more that way, but it’s so much fun to watch the mac-and-cheese mountain grow each Sunday!

As many of our congregations are blessing backpacks and looking ahead to holiday baskets and giving trees, think about how these ministries invite us go grow in our baptismal journeys. What truths do you—or your congregation—need to wrestle with? Where does loving your neighbor as yourself trip you up? How do you practice whole and healthy stewardship, right there in the middle of Target?

August 3, 2013

Hiatus

Filed under: Children and Families,Lectionary,Social Gospel,Stewardship of the Environment — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 8:48 pm

I can’t put it off any longer. It’s Saturday night. I have to face this week’s readings.

I’ve put off writing for so long because I really enjoyed my hiatus, my month away from my desk, my month of getting out of my head and into Martha time. It started with the fulfillment of a cherished fantasy: I rented a dumpster. The family thought I was joking. I had been threatening since winter that our vacation this year would consist of a week at home with a dumpster. It turned out to be a month. And it was great.

First went the obvious stuff: The broken down sofa, the vacuum cleaner that made scary smoke smells, the off-cuts of plywood and random chunks of insulation from walling-in the upstairs of the barn. We were having fun, and feeling very freed.

As we moved into the finer layers of our various rooms, the pace slowed. It wasn’t that our energy was waning, far from it. It was our engagement in the process. We began to offer one another quiet gifts of time and presence. I first noticed it when I pulled out two big boxes of old photographs. I began to sort through them, tossing some into a trash box and others into a keep pile. Before long Robert started reaching into the trash box, retrieving things, asking questions, encouraging me to keep more than I really wanted. Mallory curled herself up beside me. She wanted to hear about pieces of my life so far removed in time and space; she drew out stories of people long dead or estranged.

One was a picture of my great-aunt Elsie, the patron whose voice had been my constant companion through the purge, her wise and gentle voice saying, “We keep things for a certain amount of time.” I remember her saying that to my mother, and I take comfort in its permission, both permission to keep and permission to toss. In one simple phrase, Aunt Elsie taught me the essence of stewardship.

Last Monday the dumpster was rolled off. Four cubic yards of junk…three packed carloads to the thrift shop…four trips to the recycling center…and priceless time with my family and its artifacts. It felt good.

It was in that lighter state of mind that I returned to my desk this week. After a month of sorting, tossing, donating, scrubbing, clearing, shop-vaccing, and power-washing, I returned to life inside my head. As I moved back into the more familiar Mary mode, I was greeted by a lectionary reading from Ecclesiastes:

Pointless. It’s all a pointless waste of time. Whoever buys your house is just going to change everything any way. Your paint job might help you sell the house, but after that, who cares? And when you die? She’s never going to remember which stories go with which heirlooms; she probably won’t even keep most of them. No matter how carefully you provide for her, at some point she’s going to cash out her trust fund and live her own life. It’s all pointless.

You can understand why I’ve put off writing….

How do I reconcile the words of Ecclesiastes with the stewardship of abundance? Where’s the good news? I followed Jesus’ advice to the rich young ruler—I got rid of all the clutter, all the stuff that was clogging my life and getting in the way of my family’s wholeness. I gave anything usable to a thrift shop ministry that serves an impoverished rural area, with the proceeds supporting the vicar’s care for individuals in crisis. I recycled the materials that can be reused to tread a bit more gently on the resources of creation. How could it all have been in vain?

The answer, of course and as always, lies in our baptism. Through baptism, we are called to live not just as stewards of our stuff, but as stewards of one another. We are called to care for one another’s hopes, and dreams, and prayers…and memories, and stories, and artifacts.

The fellowship of family time and the passing of wisdom and memory across generations is just as spiritually formative at home as it is at church. The early church, after, broke its bread in homes, around the tables of its members. And what better way to live out Christ’s teachings by word and example than to sit with my child while she sorts her own belongings for donation, nurturing her love of neighbor and care for those in need?

In the end, it’s a both/and: The new homeowners will undo a fair chunk of my work. Mallory will consign a fair chunk of my belongings when they pass into her care. In the meantime, however, I am the steward of so many good gifts—tangible and intangible—in this time, and in this place. That’s where I find the good news this week: Whether it matters or not, it matters to me.

For that I am truly thankful.

June 13, 2013

Flat-Out Mission

Have you met Flat Stanley[i]? If there’s an early elementary student within your orbit, you’ve probably been asked to include Stanley in a family event, take him on vacation, or share in one of his adventures…and take lots of photos along the way. For those of us who have not had the pleasure of his company, here’s a little background:

He’s a perfectly normal boy until one morning he wakes up flat. After his parents peel the incriminating bulletin board off of him, Stanley must adjust to life as a pancake. Ending up four feet tall, a foot wide, and half-an-inch thick, Stanley discovers that being flat is not only novel (he can slip under cracks), but also exciting. He is mailed off to California in a large envelope; he can be flown like a huge kite; and one night, disguised as a shepherdess, he hides in a painting in the art museum and foils some thieves.[ii]

Earlier this week I found out that in the Diocese of Texas, Flat Andy (a cutout of Bishop Andy Doyle) travels with members of Christ Church Cathedral, helping them stay in touch with one another over the summer. This sparked an idea: How could Flat Saints help our congregations engage in mission and ministry, get to know one another better, improve communication, and bring a little fun to our lives?

How might Flat Patrons bring to life what Wayne Scwaab describes as “member mission”:

We know about “congregational missions” at church or under the church’s “banner.”  Beyond church, the other kind of mission work begins. “Member missions” are what church members do daily on their own at home, at work, in their communities, in the wider world, during their leisure, and for their spiritual health, as well as what they do in their church’s life and its outreach. Since the members go everywhere in the world each day, what they do can have far greater impact on the world than what they do together as church.

We share in God’s mission by what we do and by what we say. We draw on our church life and each other for the support, the guidance, and the power we need to do God’s work.[iii]

So here’s what I’m imagining as a mash-up of Flat Stanley and Member Mission:

Provide each member of your congregation with a cutout of your parish’s patron saint on a piece of cardstock—and be sure to put a printable pdf of same on your website for seasonal members, others who might want to participate, and fellow lay leaders who might want to steal the idea. Encourage people to include Flat Patron in their baptismal lives and make provisions to share and celebrate their ministries in real time on a church bulletin board and a photo gallery on your congregation’s web site. For something like a youth mission trip, your Flat Patron could even tweet the highlights of the day!

It might take a little a time for people to warm up to the idea that “the stuff I just do because I do it” is in fact ministry. But once it catches on, once people start to look at their every day lives through a baptismal lens, I predict that Flat Patron will be very busy.

Before you know it, Flat Mary will join the Little League team for ice cream. Flat John will be sewing Quilts for Valor while Flat Andrew poses for a picture outside the local prison. Flat Ambrose will tweet from the finish line of the walk for mental health awareness and Flat James will share his week as a camp counselor.

As we continuously discover and rediscover our baptisms, we will get to know one another in our Monday-through-Saturday dimensions, enriching the fabric of our Sunday communion. Newcomers will have a user-friendly way of getting to know the life of the congregation and make connections with individual members. (Be sure to include Flat Patron in your newcomer welcome packet—it’s a meaningful invitation and a great ice breaker!)

So is anybody up for trying it? So far I’ve only thought it through on the congregational level, but how much fun would it be to gather up a slide show for diocesan convention showing the incredible breadth of member mission among all our congregations? How cool would it be for a confirmation class to use this as a vehicle for engaging the vows they are preparing to make in their own voice? How might a regional fellowship that meets only a few times a year use their own Flat Saint to stay in touch, or to catch up when they reconvene?

The possibilities are endless—I can’t wait to hear your stories!


[i] Brown, Jeff. Flat Stanley: His Original Adventure. Harper Collins (reprint edition), 2009.

[ii] Amazon.com, Flat Stanley: His Original Adventure

[iii] Membermission.org

June 5, 2013

Word Gets Around

Filed under: Congregational Development,Financial Commitment,Leadership,Lectionary,Social Gospel — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 11:48 am

This week’s readings present two very similar scenes—Jesus comes upon a burial procession. The deceased is the only son of a widow, leaving her among the most vulnerable in her society. Like Elijah, Jesus calls upon God to revive the son, and returns him to his mother.

As he does in so many of the familiar Gospel stories, Jesus extends the words of the prophet that would have been familiar to those around him.

But there is one key difference: In the reading from Kings, we know a great deal about the widow, her son, and her relationship with Elijah. We know that there is a long history of faith and trust between them. In fact, the raising of the widow’s son is the third in a quick succession of events that give us a sense of the big picture: First, having spoken truth to power, Elijah found himself on the run. When hiding out and letting big scary birds bring him food proved to be unsustainable, God gave him Plan B: Walk straight into Jezebel’s home town and introduce yourself to a random widow. Trust me; it’s fine. And things are, indeed, fine…for a while. But then the son dies. Now Elijah is stuck: The widow trusted him and his god, choosing Elijah’s words over what would likely have been her own trust in Baal. And where did it get them? She ends up just as vulnerable as she was when the reading began. Elijah needed this miracle as much for his own credibility as she needed it to ensure her social and economic safety.

In the Gospel reading, however, we don’t know anything about the widow, or about the son, or about any prior encounters they might have had with Jesus. We are permitted to assume that the widow has done nothing to “earn” Jesus’ favor. Jesus doesn’t owe her a good turn, nor does he have anything at stake. He simply “looks on her with compassion.” And in addressing the immediate grief of her loss, he also meets the deeper need of her circumstances. Jesus  models mercy and justice.

….and word gets around.

As Jesus’ ministry spreads, people hear of him; they are drawn to him. And they come not just because his miracles of feeding and healing meet a practical need, but because he feeds a deeper hunger, heals a more profound kind of hurt.

I believe that in these passages from Kings and from the ministry of Jesus, we are offered a model for our congregations and our communities in our lives together.

In this long green season, the visions we develop for mission and ministry that will later be expressed as a budget proposal will probably not include raising the dead and returning them to their families. It is likely, however, that such vision will call each of us to look more deeply into our own baptismal ministries.

It will call us to bring fresh energy and resources to renewing ourselves as a community that proclaims by word and example the Good New of God in Christ; seeks and serves Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves; and strives for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being….

It will call us to find the joy in giving, offering a proportional gift or tithe as a symbol of God’s abundance in our lives…

It will call us to see our congregation as a place where people look with compassion not just on one another, but on those beyond our walls, beyond our community, and even beyond our understanding….

…and word will get around.

People who may be more inclined to place their trust in other things, or who may know themselves to be vaguely seeking something that they can’t quite put their finger on will see that we don’t just worship on the surface of our Sunday morning lives. Word will get around that we gather in a place where deeper hungers are fed and more profound hurts are healed. Word will get around We follow Jesus’ example, building on Elijah’s model of speaking mercy to those who grieve and restoring justice to the most vulnerable.

Word will get around.

Thanks be to God. Alleluia, Alleluia!

May 21, 2013

Carrying the News

Filed under: Leadership,Lectionary,Social Gospel — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 1:00 am

Poet Laureate Billy Collins writes:

It has been calculated that each copy of the Gutenberg Bible required the skins of 300 sheep.

I can see them

squeezed into the holding pen

behind the stone building

where the printing press is  housed.

All of them squirming around

to find a little room

and looking so much alike

it would be nearly impossible to count them.

And there is no telling which one of them

will carry the news

that the Lord is a Shepherd,

one of the few things

they already know.

I am drawn to this poem certainly because of its imagery, but more so because it compels me to think about the nature of God as we approach this Trinity Sunday, and to consider my response as one who loves and seeks to serve the Lord.

In the readings from Isaiah and from Revelation, we have this incredible imagery of the God of splendor, the Holy One seated on the throne, worthy of unending praise. I love this image of the magnificent God that I was taught to worship as a child. I learned to read from the United Methodist hymnal. And I still know by heart so many of those “big hymns” that we sing to the immortal, invisible, God only wise.

How might we respond to this image of God in our lives?

This is where I start to get a little silly and let my mind wander into the world of the poem.

If sheep were a little smarter, a little higher order, would some be eager? “Ooh! Ooh! Print it on me! I want one of the good pages.” How many of them—how many of us—would be like Isaiah: humbled by our acknowledgement of sin and eager to carry the Word of the Lord among the people?

But sheep are rather docile, so maybe another response would be “yeah, whatever, I’ll take a page.” Though I do not doubt for a moment that the revelation to John was a deeply spiritual experience for him, there is a part of me that sees something rather passive in his role—dutifully recording the vision he is given, then mailing it out in seven directions and letting the readers take it from there. I’m ashamed to admit that there have certainly been times when I’ve settled for delivering a message when I could have witnessed to the Word in my life.

The poet reminds us, however, that the Lord is a Shepherd, and that the sheep are secure in knowing this. And it is from that image that I find the example of the disciples to be the most comfortable, and indeed the most compelling, response.

I like the disciples. They give me hope. The Gospels aren’t particularly kind to them and Jesus himself gets impatient with their lack of understanding on a fairly regular basis. Sometimes when I read the Gospels I can’t help but think, “Bless their hearts, they’re just not very bright.”

But they do have one thing that gets me excited—they are the ones called to be the messengers and witnesses of the triune God we worship and celebrate this day.

As practicing Jews, the disciples were of course familiar with God the Father, maker of heaven and earth. They were faithful companions of his only son our Lord. And as we heard last week, it was through them that the Holy Spirit revealed itself on the Day of Pentecost.

It was only when all three pieces of the puzzle came together in their experience of the one true and living God that they really understood how they were called to be in the world. It was only then that they became the apostles whose teaching and fellowship we commit to continuing in our baptismal covenant, in the breaking of the bread and in the prayers.

And don’t you love the way this comes full circle?

When we proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, when we seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves…isn’t that just another way of saying, with the prophet Isaiah, “Here am I, send me?”

When we commit to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being, aren’t we too sharing a vision of a new heaven and a new earth, as surely as John saw all things new in the revelation on Patmos?

There’s no telling which one of us will carry the news that the Lord is a Shepherd. That’s not ours to decide, or even to know. It is for us to decide, however, that we will embrace the call to discipleship—discipleship infused with the fullness of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Amen

May 9, 2013

Heaven Can Wait

“I wish I could go to heaven. I don’t want to die; I just want to see what it’s like and then come back. I wish people could go to heaven without dying.”

The good news was that my five-year-old didn’t want to die. The more urgent concern was that her mother had to think of a response.

“Well, you know Sweetie, there are stories in the Bible about people who went to heaven without their bodies dying in the way that we think of dying. It’s called ascending.”

Really? Now we’re on to something. How does one go about it? Could Charles Branson add this to his long-range plan for Virgin Galactic? We know the bishop; could she help?

“But it’s pretty rare. In the whole history of people we only know of three who have done it. Remember when I told you that after he was on the cross, Jesus died for three days, and then he came back and spent some time with his friends, comforting them and helping them know what to do next? Well, when he was done with that part he ascended.”

Of course she wanted to know who the other two were. (Why do I talk myself into these corners?) Elijah for sure. Who was the third? Moses? Possibly—all we know was that his body was never found. Or was it Enoch? I don’t remember…and her attention span has expired anyway.

So many years later, this conversation stays with me. I revisit it on this Ascension Day to ask, If I could go to heaven without dying and then come back, would I want to?

Remember Plato’s allegory of the cave? A small family group has lived their entire lives in a primitive cave, their backs to opening so that all they can see are the shadows of things, playing on the back wall of the cave like a puppet show from the street above.

What would happen if they were to leave the cave. What would it be like for them to discover that everything they know about the world is but shadow? And once they had discovered the light and color and vibrancy of the real world, could they be content going back into the cave? Having seen face-to-face, could they settle for a mirror dimly?

Which brings me back to the question: If I could go to heaven without dying and then come back, would I want to?

Could I stand to just for a moment join my voice with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven, singing and proclaiming the glory of God’s name, then return to the life I love?

I’ve decided on “no.” I prefer to be a steward of the here and now, to delight in all that is, seen and unseen. Our pleasure in what God has created, our discernment of how God would have us be in this time and in this place, are calls to stewardship as surely as our commitment to tithe or our practice of the baptismal vows. God delights in the joy I take in my family, in exploring new places, discovery the little nooks and crannies of the Earth. God wants me to love every minute of this life, to use my talents as a good and faithful servant.

I live into the assurance that the life of the world to come will come…in due time.

Today, heaven can wait.

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