One Sermon

As the United Methodist clergy gather for their annual meeting each year, they engage in what may seem to others around the country as an odd ritual. At the end of the final day, all the names of the clergy serving throughout the entire state are placed in a hat. One name is drawn out and that person will be what is called the "conference preacher" for the following year. What that means is this: for one whole year someone gets to think about, pray over and plan for one sermon to be delivered to their colleagues and members of the churches gathered for the yearly meeting.

To some this simply seems cruel….a whole year to obsess over a 20-30 minute sermon. To others it may be a golden opportunity to craft the message they have always wanted to deliver. To still others……well, does the phrase "fear of God" mean anything to you?

For the most part everyone takes it in stride, seeing it as one more opportunity to do what preachers do… the scriptures, discern the call within the words, pray over the scripture, think about their context, their audience, write a draft, and another, and perhaps another…….and then commit themselves to the words and message they believe God is placing in their heart .It is after all, in the larger picture, one sermon among hundreds, if not thousands, that they will preach over their lifetime.

Today as that sermon was given during worship, I wondered…..if given this opportunity to ‘preach a once in a lifetime sermon’…..what would most people’s message be? If you asked the person on the street,"What would you like to tell your family, your friends, those with whom you work, if you had their undivided attention?" What is the sermon buried deep within you?

I believe one of our deepest human longings is to be heard….really heard. To have someone listen to our fears, our dreams, our hopes, our doubts and beliefs is a tremendous and powerful gift….for both speaker and listener. When we truly are present and listen to  the heartfelt words of another we give witness to their life.

What would your sermon be? What words of wisdom and faith do you have waiting in your heart that the world really needs? What piece of scripture or sacred writings have taken root within you and have grown so full and tall that they need to have voice in the world? What simple, concise phrase guides your walking in the world?

A word of advice….don’t wait for your name to be pulled out of the hat! Go ahead……preach it.


Miracle….an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs….an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing or accomplishment….Merriam-Webster Dictionary

I haven’t actually thought much about miracles lately. There was a time when many friends were engaged in the study of A Course in Miracles which seemed to help them engage more fully in every day life, see the Divine in their living, chart a course for a positive, spirit-filled way of being in the world. I was intrigued but never took the time to pursue the study further. As a product of the scientific age, most of us don’t speak much of miracles….even in the church. Sometimes we casually say things like "what a miracle!" when little oddities happen…..everything from a diagnosis reversed to a difficult class passed to the teenager who picks up their room without being asked.

Miracle…from the Latin miraculum..….. ‘to wonder or marvel’. Last night our Bishop gave us this challenge:"If you want to see a miracle….you have to be a miracle." What does it mean to be a miracle? Do you think of yourself as a miracle? Do you think of your life as a miracle? What about your work? Are you creating miracles today?

As people of faith,our primary story begins in the Creation Story. This story of chaos, creativity, connection, also reminds us that we are created in the Image of God. Miracle. That same story describes the "extremely outstanding or unusual event" of our interconnection with all…..water, air,sky, earth, Sun, Moon(full last night, by the way), plants, animals, one another, the Holy. Throughout the scriptures we read story after story of transformation…"an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs…think Moses, Mary,Esther, Joseph, Paul, Sarah, Abraham, Jesus. All created in the Divine image.

A favorite poem by Mary Oliver begins:" I am a woman of sixty years and glory is my work." Everyday I am invited by the Holy One to wake up and fully claim that I see God’s image in the world. Everyday I am invited to marvel at the cotton-candy of clouds floating through the blueness of Midwestern sky. Everyday I am asked to look deeply into the eyes of those I love and really see who they are.  Everyday I am urged to notice the small, but beautiful simplicities of Creation….the dandelion, the variance of the color green, how the chipmunk in our yard can make such a huge noise with such a small body, the impossibility of a baby’s eyelashes. Miracles…………..

Everyday I am…you are….also invited by the Holy One to wake up and fully claim that we reflect God’s image into the world. It is a daunting task. Being an Image of God. Being a miracle Seeing miracles.The good news is that we are not alone. We are co-creating with the Miracle Worker.


It is often said that one should not speak of either religion or politics when we gather as families. There is something deeply important about the ways in which we speak in these two subject areas. Passion runs high, convictions often deep, there seems to be a great tendency to point fingers, to accuse, to judge, to dismiss. Very tricky and dangerous business in families.

In just a few hours I will leave to attend  Annual Conference….that gathering of Minnesota’s United Methodist clergy and laity for the yearly work of the church. For many there is the anticipation of a family reunion…seeing old friends, having time to sit down and catch up, showing pictures of children and grandchildren, sharing the ups and downs of the last year of life,ministry, church work. For others, I am sure, there is also the dread we can experience at the thought of a family reunion…..seeing those with whom we disagree, the energy it takes avoiding difficult subjects,the tension of competition, loss and grief of both lives and members, change of all kinds, and of course, simply taking the time away from our everyday work. For still others, it is a combination  that falls someplace on the continuum of all these thoughts and feelings.

Over the years, I have been struck with the hope and humility that must be held as we come to these several days at the end of May. Each person brings with them the experience of their faith community in the last year…its gains and losses, its triumphs and tragedies, its great joy and inexplicable sorrow. Each year we name and honor those clergy and clergy spouses who have died this past year. We sit in silence as we name those churches whose doors have closed forever. We celebrate the ministry of those retiring and participate in the ordination of those newly called to ministry. The days provide a window of the circle of life.

We also walk into the fullness of the two forbidden topics…religion and politics. We gather in a large ballroom, conservatives, liberals,moderates, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and we try to give voice to the ways in which the Holy is moving in our lives, our churches, and our view of the world. It can get heated, it can be filled with passionate discourse and oratory, it sometimes teeters between respect and something just shy of disrespect. I have seen tears, heard great laughter, listened to many things that make me want to shout ‘Amen!’ and still others to which I would love to scream my disagreement.

The family is gathering…..we will once again try out this experiment in what it means to be church, to be the kin-dom of God, the body of Christ. On certain occasions my Mother often said to me "It will not be easy, but it will be worth it." I am sure that once again, her wisdom will become truth.

Caution: Wind Blowing

"What is born of Spirit is spirit. The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."  John 3:6-8

We have had some very windy days lately. I don’t know how it has been out on the lakes but I can imagine it has made for some very choppy boating. I have been riding my new bike and riding into the wind can be a challenge. I’ve watched the trees dance and worried that the wind will overcome our fabulous purple irises that have made their entrance into the world, showering our garden with electric color. I have prayed that I planted the seeds deep enough that the strong winds have not short-circuited my plan for late summer sunflowers.

In some way, it is appropriate that the winds have been so strong these past days. Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday, the day when the church celebrates the coming of the Spirit to the early Christians, the day that is often called the birthday of the church. The symbols used to describe this appearance of the Spirit are fire and wind. Both these elements of creation have great power. They can bring with them warmth, refreshment, an unseen impetus of movement, certain change. They can bring destruction but also a tremendous source of creativity and generativity.

Pentecost Sunday is one of my favorite church holy days. As someone who spends a great deal of time during the week planning for worship, Pentecost has lots of room to move around in, to create new ways of doing liturgy, searching for ways to create a surprising moment that will awaken sleepy worshipers. It does not carry the expectations of Christmas or Easter….those days that must have this song, or that ritual.

People don’t come to church on Pentecost Sunday expecting any particular thing.They can come into the sanctuary and see all the red banners or flowers or stoles and maybe think, "that’s nice…a lot of color." They can sit down in their pew and maybe a hymn will be particularly moving or lively……"Every time I feel the Spirit, movin’ in my heart, I will pray..." Someone walks up to read the scripture from the Book of  Acts.  They might be transported back in time and see those early followers of Jesus meeting together and hear the rush of the wind, the many languages understood, imagine the awe or fear on the faces of those who look to Peter for an explanation.

Or instead, they might feel a nudge in their own chest. How is the Spirit moving in my life? The words spoken may open their heart to the person sitting next to them, a stranger, a visitor. How is the Spirit calling me to reach out? A problem contemplated over breakfast that seemed larger than life, unsolvable, begins to crack open, a tiny shaft of light pours through moving toward, what….understanding,resolution? Where is the presence of the Spirit in all of this?

J. Philip Newell wrote this prayer for such a day….That hope is deeper than despair and that creativity surges from unknown depths within us, thanks be to you, O God. In the world this day and in the relationships of people everywhere, let there be new stirrings of your liberating Spirit. In the world this day and in the depths of our own souls, let there be new stirrings of your mighty liberating Spirit.


"When the entire nation had finished crossing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua:"Select twelve men from the people, one from each tribe, and command them,’Take twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood. Carry them over with you, and lay them down in the place where you camp tonight.’ " Then  Joshua summoned the twelve men from the Israelites, whom he had appointed, one from each tribe. Joshua said to them, "Pass on before the ark of your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, one for each of the tribe of the Israelites, so that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the art of the covenant of God. When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever."     Joshua 4:1-7

All over our country this weekend, people will gather. They will gather in homes, in parks, at playgrounds, at the cabin. They will also gather at cemeteries, large and small, and stand in front of stones…the tombstones of those they loved, those they honor, those they miss.  Parades will process with pomp and joy that leads to solemnity as the bands take to the holy ground of fallen soldiers,beloved fathers,mothers,brothers,sisters,children, full families.

Memorial Day often signals the beginning of summer. Many children have never experienced the annual pilgrimage to the cemetery and will not have memories others of us do. Fewer and fewer will ask the question: "What do these stones mean to you?"

As a child I remember this weekend with fondness and a little melancholy. Yes, it was the beginning of the summer, the weekend the city swimming pool opened, the official signal of the freedom that summer brings to a child.  It was also the time when we marched with happiness through the streets, bands in full sound, queens on convertibles, fire engines blaring. But as the parade came into view of those standing at the cemetery gates, silence fell. We marched quietly, respectfully,Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, believers and nonbelievers, side by side to stand in the presence of the stones.

As we listened to the clear sound of the trumpet playing "taps" we could see the emotion on the faces of those who remembered…..war, youth,loss,anger,disappointment,tragedy,love.  As the far off echo of that same tune played its mournful return, those same faces fixed their gaze and became a strong and steadfast witness to the memorial in our midst. The power that can come from people being in silence together settled over the well-mown lawn,the flags flying gently in the breeze.

What do these stones mean to us? Each of us would answer differently from our own life experience, our own worldview, our own knowledge of loss and the Sacred. For me, to  be in their presence is to know, as Moses did when he witnessed the burning bush, that indeed I am on holy ground. I give thanks for the stones and the lives of those whose names are etched upon them…a memorial forever.

Blessings on your weekend………..

Keeping Watch

I am sitting at my kitchen table and I am doing the work I have given myself over the next few days. I am keeping watch. Not over flocks of sheep by night, but of irises by day. You see there is what seems like a miracle happening in our garden. More than two years ago, our friend gave us iris bulbs and we planted them. These bulbs were not new to the world. The bulbs dug from her garden had been dug up before from her Grandma Frisbie’s garden. How long had they birthed beauty? Two summers passed and nothing…no color, no blooms.

But this year…this year…they are beginning to emerge, one by one, opening a purple into the world that seems beyond reason, beyond belief. Their bearded blossoms, deep and rich evolve into a lighter lavender, speckled with black. A sunburst of yellow and white springs from the center sending rays of finely follicled tendrils jutting out from the center of the flower.  They give off…I know it seems impossible….a scent of grape. It could be the power of imagination but I don’t care. I smell it. You cannot convince me otherwise.

All around these large blooms. smaller versions, dwarf irises are also ready to gently make an understated appearance. They already know they are only the chorus that stands behind the main attraction this year. Last year they waved in the spring wind bringing sweetness and simplicity to the garden. But this year, after laying at rest in the ground, their flashier siblings are taking the stage, ready for their big production number.

A week ago I read of the professor and students at Gustavus Adolphus College who had been waiting for 14 years for a rare flower to bloom. On the day it bloomed, smelling like ‘rotting flesh’, it was all I could do to not clear my calendar and head down for the viewing hours of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. It seemed like something one should do given the plant’s great effort. But I didn’t. I continued on my regular schedule, doing my daily work.

So now, with the miracle of the irises happening within my very gaze,I have chosen to keep watch. And today, I give thanks for the patience of all that takes time and effort, hardwork and perseverance to bloom in the world…..giant purple blossoms, the 17 year song of the cicada, the life of the quiet, thoughtful child, the deeply held creative idea, the prayer of parents whose children are at war, the Way of Peace.

I believe someplace, at all times, someone is faithfully keeping watch. I feel privileged to join them.


Perhaps it is because I live with someone who has just completed his freshman year in college and is sorting out the "what I want to be when I grow up question". Or perhaps it is because I am a woman of a certain age, surrounded by others of a certain age who are asking "what is it I want to do with the ‘rest’ of my life question. Perhaps it is both….but I find myself being drawn again today to Parker Palmer’s book
Let Your Life Speak.

I spent yesterday with a friend who has made significant changes in her life and had created a very diligent and thoughtful plan for her life’s next chapter. But there has been a glitch…isn’t it always the case? We plan, pray,research, discuss, take-on, get-rid-of, bargain, pray again and then one movement can bring us to a screeching halt. As I tried to listen deeply to her story, I thought of the Quaker concept of "way" that Palmer describes in his book. Way is that door or path that leads us to what we are meant to be doing,being in the world, our vocation, what people of faith describe as "God’s will for my life."

As I have listened to my son talk of his freshman year in college, I am again reminded that the experiences he has just had are so much more than just learning about academic subjects. He is learning to ‘listen to his life.’ He is learning who he is, what he can do, what he is meant to become. He is hopefully learning to know himself well enough that he will shed what he thinks people think he ‘should do’ and instead make himself open to what his soul urges him toward.

Age doesn’t hold hostage this desire to find our voice in the world. We come at it at so many different times of our life. The Quakers say "have faith and way will open". But one of the most difficult lessons is described by Palmer in these words: There is as much guidance in what does not and cannot happen in my life as there is in what can and does – maybe more.

If someone had asked me at eighteen what I wanted to do with my life, I was clear: be a singer-actress. Many doors opened for me in that pursuit. But more doors closed and that has made all the difference. If those doors had not closed, I would not be in the position to hear my friend’s story. More importantly, I would not have had the privilege to be present to the unfolding life of this amazing young man.

Have faith……way will open

Love Notes

I have a friend who is the great writer of what I call "love notes". Periodically she will write a card or letter…with real ink and real paper…and tell me how much she cares about me, and that she will never stop. This is, I believe, a rare act these days. She will also leave phone messages at odd times of the day telling me to have a good day, to keep the faith, to smile.

She must be traveling this past week because she sent my birthday card….early. On the back of the card she wrote: Do Not Open….Not Until May 22nd….Stop!…Wait! Normally, if it were anyone else, I would have just opened it anyway. What is the difference of one or two days after so many birthdays?

But in the case of this friend, I knew it would make a difference to her. She would like to know that I received her greetings on my actual birthday…not before, not after. So I waited. I was not disappointed. The card, written in purple ink, told me how much I meant to her, how great birthdays are…especially after a certain age, and that…here it came again…she would care about me forever and ever.

Her words always bring me up short. What did I ever do to deserve this? Also, why, when this brings me so much joy, am I not returning the favor to all the people I feel this way about? She is such a mentor of kindness and goodness….such a messenger of love.

What she gives to me…and to so many others(they’ve told me I’m not special!)takes almost no money, very little time, minimal effort. And yet it has the power to lift an ordinary day to new heights, to bring holiness into the mundane.

May God bless all those who spread love and goodness in the world through their words, their actions, their effort, their time.And may God especially bless Holli.

Dazzling Bouquet

"Mine is the church where everybody’s welcome, I know it’s true ’cause I got through the door….."
                        from A Dazzling Bouquet by Bret Hesla

Saturday morning was glorious….not only was the weather beautiful but I was privileged to watch an employee of Minneapolis Floral do a presentation on creating floral bouquets. He was the speaker for the United Methodist Women’s spring gathering. Peter brought a variety of different sizes and shapes of vases and an array of flowers and greens. He held his audience captive as he created bouquet after bouquet, each unique and interesting. We all "oohed" and "ahhed" as this ‘magician’ threw out tips for creating the same kinds of beauty in our own homes.

I was particularly interested because as Peter was explaining how these arrangements were made, he confirmed what I’ve believed for a long time: Creating a bouquet of flowers is a wonderful metaphor for what it means to be community.

Tip number one: Find a ‘center point’ in the vase. Begin putting the flowers in from opposite directions….left and then right, bringing them together at the ‘center point’. This action provides balance. Tip number two Variety….begin with greens and then add flowers of varying sizes, shapes, colors, textures, to bring about the fullness of the bouquet. The interplay of the diversity brings about a beauty that each individual flower cannot achieve on its own. Tip number three: There is no right or wrong. You take the flowers available to you and you begin to build the bouquet, piece by piece until it works. Tip four: Floral work is messy……the floor around Peter’s feet was littered with stems, leaves, thorns, the ‘stuff’ cut away.Tip five: Have fun…….what more do I need to say? The act of creating a floral bouquet has to, in the end, be about enjoyment, fun,love.

Isn’t this what it means to be community, to be church? We find our ‘Center Point’. We bring together people of all shapes, sizes, textures, theologies, worldviews,social,racial, ecomonic backgrounds and we try to create some balance as we intersect that "Center Point". In choosing to do this, we must experiment, negotiate, compromise, give up control sometimes, putting together the pieces until it works.

Messy? You bet! Choosing to live together, to be church together, is messy work. The gift comes from knowing that if we listen deeply, pray generously, trust graciously, we each come to know the Holy in a fuller way because we’ve decided to ‘jump in the vase’ with many others who bring their own worldview,their own life experiences, their own expressions of the Divine. Added to ours, the expression of the kindom becomes more than our own, more than we could have imagined.

Fun? I pray so. The church that laughs together is a holy place. Laughter shows compassion, spirit, love for all the ways in which we are human. Laughter allows us to remember who we are……fallible beings who make mistakes, do reallysilly ,sometimes hurtful things, find forgiveness, and yet, hopefully, bring delight to our Creator.

What kind of flower are you today? Are you feeling like a tall, straight purple iris? Or do you feel more like a floppy, hot pink orchid? How about a twisting,turning curly willow or a simple sunflower? Every bouquet needs a single, majestic rose and the sweetness of baby’s breath.

Care to join us in the vase? Meet you at the ‘Center Point’.


"Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? There is no one but us. There is no one to send, nor a clean hand, nor a pure heart on the face of the earth, nor in the earth, but only us, a generation comforting ourselves with the notion that we have come at an awkward time, that our innocent fathers are all dead-as if innocence had ever been-and our children busy and troubled, and we ourselves unfit, not yet ready, having each of us chosen wrongly, made a false start, failed, yielded to impulse and the tangled comfort of pleasures, and grown exhausted, unable to seek the thread, weak, and involved. But there is no one but us. There never has been."        Annie Dillard

This Sunday, May 20th we celebrate Ascension Sunday. The scriptures tell the story of Jesus being taken up to heaven,"after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen." My favorite line in this story comes toward to end of the account in Acts: "While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said,"People of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?"

As people of faith, I believe we have spent a lot of time "looking up toward heaven." We have spent a lot of time trying to find a way for someone else to take charge, be responsible and responsive to the Holy in our midst. But what if, as Annie Dillard writes, "there is no one but us."

It seems to me, as I read the scriptures, that Jesus was always trying to prepare his friends and followers for the time when he would not be with them. Through his example, through his stories, through the parables in particular in which he asked important questions, trying to get them to think and act from the Spirit’s movement through them, he was always preparing them-and us-for seeing God’s movement in our own lives and world. Each generation gets another opportunity to help birth the kin-dom of God. It is  always a partially realized experience and yet we have glimpses. Even in our inadequacies, our ineptitude, in our doubt, in our fear, we still are called each day to be a conduit, a midwife for God’s in-breaking.

Have you glimpsed the movement of the Holy this week? Have you had an experience of the kin-dom of God in your work place, your family,in your faith community?

Who shall ascend to the hill of the Lord? Who will stand in the holy place of God? The gift is our to receive and to pass on to a world in need of gentleness, kindness, hope and wholeness. We have been chosen and empowered by the Spirit.

There is no one but us.

Blessings on your weekend……………………………….