Speak the word

This past weekend I preached at my internship site on Luke 7:1-10. Here’s what I said:

Grace and peace to you from our savior and Lord, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

It’s a weird time to be a pastoral intern. I mean that in my calendar here – we’re less than three month away until my internship is complete. I wrote in my personal calendar a couple weeks ago all the preaching and worship assisting weekends I have left and got to see what Sunday will be my last one where I preach (I won’t spoil it for you, you’ll have to wait and see).

The thought crossed my mind, “Wow, that’ll be fun, I’ll preach what’s on my heart and what I feel God really wants me to say, and I’ll put it all out there.”

But that’s not really a way to preach on a last Sunday. That’s how you preach every time.

So here we go:

Today’s Gospel story is all about speaking the word.

Because that’s what this centurion, a Roman officer, asks Jesus to do so his servant can be healed. He says speak the word and heal my servant.

Like Ezekiel speaks and dry bones get up and walk like we read in the Old Testament.

Jesus here speaks and heals a man, and he’s not even near him.

Speaking changes things. Speaking changes people.

Speak the word.

Like the apostles dared to speak as they felt a spark of fire on top of their heads after Jesus ascended into heaven.

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Speak the word – not knowing what exactly you’ll say, but trusting beyond a shadow of a doubt that God will speak through you – Christ will bring new life through you – and the Holy Spirit will unite people through you, speak the word.

And yes, I am playing with words here. We use words to write and speak, and Jesus is also the word in the beginning with God (John 1). Jesus found a home here in our skin to know our ups and downs, our emotions and experiences all the way to death on a cross; so that he might give us abundant life…so that we might rise in a resurrection and new life with him. We have the privilege of speaking words and the word.

Now, you might be thinking, that since I’m a pastoral intern and Kathy and Peter are your pastors, that we speak the word, that’s our job, but I have bad news for you: you are called to as well. In Acts 2 it says, “for the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”– a promise that holds you and calls you to speak.

“Speak the word and let my servant be healed”—for Jesus speaks through you for the sake of someone’s life.

This looks like Moses when God spoke to him and called him through the burning bush.

This looks like the women at the tomb who first witnessed the resurrection.

This looks like the Samariatan woman at the at the well in the gospel of John, who for all intensive purposes should not have been talking to Jesus, a single man, in broad day light, but nonetheless went back to her town praising God and calling her people to join in this movement of Jesus.

This year Pastor Peter and I taught “A Year of Living Luke” and together we dove into the book of Luke and had some fun and good questions along the way. During the Spring at the end of every class I asked two questions: now that we’ve read this Bible story, what have we learned about who Jesus is, and who we are? Who is Jesus? Who are we?

I took notes, and over the weeks this is who we discovered Jesus is to us:

Slide A

Caretaker, healer, truth-teller, and yes, at times you can see “frustrated” on the right side.

This is who we are:

Slide B

Seeker, blessed, learners, afraid, filled, wanting, self-centered.

Today we hear this Roman officer strongly encouraging Jesus – speak the word, and let my servant be healed. Let one of my people be healed.

Jesus, let us be healed.

Because at the root of this, and I think you know this, Jesus speaks through you. The Spirit of Jesus continues to soar in our lives, calling us to moments where we can lend a hand, help a stranger, and serve those who are struggling. I think you know this, but Jesus continues to redeem this world, to heal this world, and to bring love to this world, still today, through you. Jesus speaks through you.

You might be wondering though, like I do: What if we don’t speak the word? Sometimes I think speaking the word or a word of love, peace, or hope can be left to the experts; I’d rather not get into that business. Maybe you’re thinking that too.

So what if we don’t speak?

I’m willing to bet that God will find a way to bring about hope and love in this world. It’s not up to us to save the world or heal the world. We just trust God is working through us in some capacity – but what if we don’t. What if we don’t speak the word?

My question back to you: Why does that matter?

Are you asking because you don’t have enough time—time that God gave you?

You don’t have enough money/resources—money/resources that God gave you?

You don’t have enough brain-space—a beautiful intelligent brain that God gave you?

I don’t mean to guilt-trip anyone here. But we’re sounding an awful lot like Moses.

Because Moses was also:

Slide B

Confused. Grateful. Wanting. Filled. Blessed. Afraid.

Wherever Moses was, and wherever you are, the words you speak–of love, forgiveness or healing–matter. Speak the word.

I wonder, do you know why we say the words of institution every week, the words before communion, “In the night in which he was betrayed…this cup…shed for all people… do this in remembrance of me?”

Because you heard these words last week. You heard those words 5 weeks ago. Maybe you heard those words last week on this same fourth weekend in May. Maybe your parents heard those words the weekend they knew they were driving the family to their new home, or the weekend after one of their parents’ passed away. Your pastors heard those words when they were kids. The people who built this sanctuary, this church, heard those words. The people gathered to ordain the first woman in our Lutheran church in 1971 heard those words. This church’s grandparents and great-grandparents. A skeptical yet faithful Catholic priest in 1517 said these words. At the risk of death by their colonizers, the first followers of Jesus said these words behind closed doors. Jesus said these words to help his closest friends know that they are and will not be alone, because his story of abundant love and everlasting salvation holds them.

Because words make dry bones walk.

They help us understand that my story is your story, and your story is our story.

And like the women at the tomb, they remind us with new eyes and new ears that Christ has risen from the dead.

That is not something that you keep in! Speak the word!

I’ll end with two stories.

In New Jersey, a Jewish rabbi heard a window crack and fire filled his room. Someone threw something like a firebomb into their home, which is the second floor of their synagogue. He was targeted in a hate crime because he was Jewish. Days later he was talking with other religious leaders in the area, and the mail started pouring in. Letters of love and support came to their synagogue from all over the country, from leaders of Jewish, Christian, and Lutheran faith communities, colleges and organizations. Those written words were spoken so that this faith community heard loud and clear: fear and death do not have the final word.

At the Spring commencement this year for the Harvard Graduate School of Education, graduate Donovan Livingston shared the wisdom and observation of his 7th grade teacher: “let’s put all your energy to good use.”

In Donovan’s speech and spoken word poem, he then shares what she once spoke to him: “Let me introduce you to the sound of your own voice.”

Let me introduce you to the sound of your own voice–a voice that, in all your imperfections and “not good enoughs,” can speak a word of love and new life.

Speak the word.

A new word is here. What is it saying to you?

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This is what I preached at my internship site on the First Sunday after Epiphany, on Luke 3:15-17, 21-22:

15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

[It was a little bit of a whirlwind of a preaching morning, two weeks ago, as my supervisor gave me a ride to the airport for my 1:06 flight right after the second worship service, but the sermon itself I think went well. It was certainly a good reminder as I was traveling off to Minnesota for a week-long intensive Public Worship class at Luther Seminary (which I need to blog about too). I hope you will hear some words of promise and peace here as you perhaps are preaching or leading in worship this weekend. So, here’s what I preached:]

It’s hard not to think of your own baptism when you hear about this gospel story of Jesus’ baptism. Not that I could remember it – for my baptism, I was just 2 months old. I was a newbie to this whole human thing, and from what my parents tell me I was not having it. You know those baptisms that feel like they just go on forever because the kid is just crying though the whole thing? That was mine!

I threw my parents off so bad that they switched my first and middle names – so I could have been a Mabel before you today, not an Allison, but they got it squared out. Allison Mabel was declared a baptized & chosen child of God.

Jesus was an adult when he got baptized by John the Baptist. The heavens were opened and God speaks—yes God speaks, not an angel, not a messenger, but God speaks directly and says, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” It’s unclear if just Jesus heard God say this, or if everyone in the world heard this.

I think it was probably the latter. If we’re talking about the heavens opening and the announcement of Jesus’ ministry, I’m gonna say—that must have been a pretty loud announcement.

Today I want to share with you just a couple gifts of this passage.

I could tell you all the theological holes, discrepancies, or missing plot points, but today I just want to talk about its gifts.

Because, truthfully, sometimes I think I beat-up on Bible passages, and honestly I have been trained to in my theological education—thinking that I’ll get to the root of it; to the real truth of it if I deconstruct it to its atoms and molecules.

But what if we treat this passage like how Jesus is treated here—someone who is talked about as someone who is worthy of love. Someone who is a gift. Someone who is loved, and who is so loved that the person who loves him isn’t afraid to show it or shout it. What if we started there?

The first gift of this passage is that Jesus’ baptism is a marker and a commission into his earthly ministry. It’s like God’s scrapbook page for this memory is full of stars and big hearts and cute metallic eye-catching graphics. This is a big day. Even the universe understands it as a big day as it says “the heavens are opened.” This means that not only is Jesus’ life changing, the world is changing, because of the restoration, healing, and revitalization God will bring through Jesus, the Christ, our Emmanuel.

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What if these were God’s scrapbook choices? Not bad. Needs more sparkles.

When God is with us, things happen, and Jesus’ baptism gets a big, beautiful bookmark in the book of God’s story.

The second gift of this passage is that Luke crafts this story so beautifully, that we see Jesus as a fulfillment of Israel’s desire and longing for a Messiah. Psalm two echoes God’s words saying, “I will tell the decree of the Lord. He said to me ‘You are my son; today I have begotten you.’” In Isaiah 42 we read, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights…he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.” The Israelites in exile, away from home, prophesied about one who will save the nations and establish justice in the earth.

Jesus has been chosen for a task much bigger than him. He is a part of something bigger than himself. Wow, what a feeling that must have been.

But I think the greatest gift of this passage is God’s direct proclamation of love. Rarely do we hear God speaking directly to people—we see angels, and messengers, and speaking through his disciples (and bushes).

But here we hear directly from God. There is no middle-man (or middle-woman).

The heavens have torn open, and now there is nothing that can separate us from the love, and, justice, and voice of God. Wow, what does that mean? I know it means something. God says, “You are my Son, the beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

Isn’t that what we all want to hear? That our dads or moms are proud of us? “You are my Son/You are my daughter. You are beloved. I’m proud of you.”

I’m lucky that I have awesome parents and an amazing husband who tell me that. But not all people are lucky enough to hear that every day. It broke my heart the other day when I read that in 2013, 21.8% of high school students didn’t make it to graduation.

21.8%.

That’s 1 in 5.

This study said the number one reason why students are dropping out of high school before they graduate is because they are disengaged. They don’t know why this material matters and they don’t consistently hear why they’re there.

I wonder if this is a question that ever wanders into your brain when you think about faith?

That you ever wonder, “Why am I here at church?” “Does it matter that I’m here?” Do you want to hear beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’re supposed to be here? I’ll just say it from my perspective: I want to know that I’m not wasting my time. I want to hear that I’m not getting the wool pulled over my eyes and I want to hear that my deepest fear isn’t true: that I’m not a part of the most elaborate, complex, two-thousand-year scheme to get us to believe that a man in his 30’s in modern-day Palestine could bring salvation to everyone in the world.

Oh come on– Maybe you’re thinking, “Oh come on, Allison, we don’t need to know that. We know that this is all true, and we’re children of God, loved by God, and worthy of love. Of course we know that.”

Then why do 21.8% of high school students drop out of school before graduation?

Why were there almost as many shootings than days of the year last year (and not just in 2015)?

Why is suicide the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10-24?

Because have fallen out of the practice of proclaiming to each other that you are loved–in all of your uniqueness, in all of your gifts, in all of your strengths, in all of your ‘oops’ moments, in all of your acceptance letters, mental unstable-ness, bankruptcies, promotions, second chances, and all of your ideas that start with “I wonder if that would work?”

Just like we are called to the vocation of showing and saying our encouragement to one another, God tells Jesus, proclaiming to the world, at his baptism that he is loved, and it’s a passage is begging to be read out loud on a consistent basis to our kids, our adults, and our people that they are loved.

The heavens are opened, and the world hasn’t been the same ever since.

Jesus is made new, and we are made new, in our understanding that we are loved & our unique gifts make God’s smile open like never before. Amen.

Advent Week 2: Love, the start

We’re in week two of the Advent season, and the theme is love.

I wonder if love often starts small and grows big. I mean, I see big gestures of love and that’s awesome. But love doesn’t often start big and stay big, at least not that I most often experience it.

But starts are hard. Starting something new is scary. Meeting someone new is scary. Starting a project is scary.

For instance, it’s tough just to start my research paper for my online Immigration and Religion in America class. You might say “It’s not that bad,” to which I would offer, “People in America, leaders in America, are talking about registering Muslims just because of their faith, and Syrian refugees need a place to live and sleep and work, and this was supposed to be an easy 1/2 credit class!!”

I’ve never been great at starting papers, or projects, or new things. But once I’m into them, I’m pretty good at charging forward.

It’s tough to spot God’s love for us sometimes too. Was that- Did I just- Did you-

Is that God’s love right there? Did you see that too?

It would be easy to miss. It was hiding in a stable (or a cave) – not the usual place that women deliver babies. It was hiding in the arms of the kind of person who you would least expect to be holding the King of Kings and Lord of Lords: an unwed teenage mother.

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The incarnation, God’s love for the world, in this little baby named Jesus, started small. But just because it started small, doesn’t mean that it didn’t grow and grow, to be a love so big that we can’t see the end of it.

The world needs this small start of love. We celebrate love incarnate at Christmas as God came and experienced the full range of the human experience through the person of Jesus.

But God, if you are incarnate, where are you? Where are you manifest today in this dark world?

I don’t want to miss the universe’s biggest surprise: through the tiniest, most vulnerable being, came God’s own Son, bringing salvation and light to all, all, not just some. Not just those people. Not just these people. Not just the people proclaiming #blacklivesmatter. Not just the people proclaiming #alllivesmatter. Not just those who are for welcoming Syrian refugees. Not just those who are against Syrian refugees. The reach of this light obliterates our perceptions of “us vs. them” because in God, there is no boundary between God’s love and the world, God’s own good creation. We will share and proclaim this Advent and Christmas that in this baby, this world just became a little bit brighter.

Even though it’s hard to see the start, in a world full of fear, love is in all of this.

A sermon on being seen

I preached! This is what I said.

It’s based on this Bible passage (Mark 12:38-44):

As he [Jesus] taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

This past week, the nature-loving Pacific Northwest girl came out of me in full force. I got to meet other pastoral interns, supervisors, and colleagues of Region 1 our national church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

It was a big step for me because I knew a handful of faces, but didn’t really know most of the people there serving at churches from as close as Vancouver, WA (St. Andrew Lutheran), and as far away as Anchorage, Alaska. But through small group time, learning sessions, and conversations over meals and card games, I ended up meeting a lot of people, a lot of colleagues, and had a lot of fun.

One of the activities we did was reflecting on God’s presence in and around the retreat lodge. These acres in the shadow of the beautiful Mt. Si in North Bend just seemed to go on forever.

A foot-path wound through a thick forest of hills, rivers, and weather/mud-worn wood planks.

Off of a stream, I came across a wide tree stump.

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That big thing on the right. Wishing my phone better captured the crazy steam rising up!

All the re-growth and moss on top of the stump made me think that this tree had fallen in a storm decades ago. But what startled me as I approached the stump was that steam was rising from it. As the morning sun sifted through the forest, and hit the stump’s steam, this condensation rose above my head as if to say, “Do you see me now?”

I might as well just tell you now – today’s gospel story is about being seen. A poor woman is making her way through a crowded townscape to offer her coins. Throughout the day, Scribes and men of power walk stridently to the temple and deposit their extravagant planned giving into the treasury. Enjoying all eyes on them, they walk with long robes and they are greeted with respect.

And then this woman comes and deposits her two coins. She gives her offering, a small amount, but an amount that probably drains her savings. An offering that is not greeted with words of respect and admiration. An offering that is not robed in fine clothing. I would venture to guess that she is taking a risk, as a woman, participating in a male-dominated public act. In first century-Palestine if your husband dies, you (you are property), are married to your dead husband’s brother, no questions asked. Cruel, to our 21st century ears, but safe, because without a husband in this time, as a woman you were fresh meat, and vulnerable, economically, socially, and physically.

The Widow's Mite - Luke 21:1-4

The Widow’s Mite – Luke 21:1-4 & Mark 12:38-44

For all the reasons I just stated, and probably more that have been lost like sand in the breadth of the millennia that separates us – this woman is invisible – and yet – Jesus sees her.

Jesus sees her.

In a busy space, she puts in and offers to this greater cause, “everything she had, all she had to live on.” She gives her money, her resources, but she offers one thing that you might miss the first time around – she offers her hope.

Perhaps this truly is the biggest offering she can give. She doesn’t have monetary resources from this point on. She has given it all, hoping a better reality is coming her way.

So why does she give?

Because she is hoping beyond all hope that the mission of God, through this bigger treasury might give her abundant life. She gives to something bigger than herself because perhaps that is her last resort. This is not a romanticized hope. This is a hope of necessity.

But what does that mean for us today? Do we have to give all we have to the church? I mean – I won’t stop you! But I think the biggest way we can be inspired by this woman that Jesus sees, is not her perspective of abundance or attitude of abundance – but her audacious abundance of hope. A hope that we are called to demonstrate, however scary, however daring, that proclaims to the world, “we, are all in.”

I was so moved by last weekend’s worship. I remember growing up in the pew as little Allison next to my family, looking at all the big flowers and listening and singing to “For All the Saints.” If I’m being honest, nodding off a little as all the names were read out loud. But in my twenties now I find myself leading worship, including All Saints Sunday where last week we remembered those who had passed away.

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It’s kind of a weird situation, because since my internship only started two months ago, I never met the people whose names I was reading. But as the bell tolled, and together we saw the faces of your loved ones, I felt a sense of stillness and holiness here that I had not yet felt before. Even the activity of the fellowship hall and the narthex came to a halt. I’m so honored that you trusted me, the new kid, with that act of remembering your loved ones, and to share that with you was very meaningful. For a moment, I felt like I knew them, because I know you.

Together, these saints were seen. We saw them. Together, we named them and literally communed with them as you brought forward your sticky notes with their names – notes that filled this communion rail.

We are a people of hope. We hope for things not seen.

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We hope that we will one day be united with our loved ones in paradise. We hope that when we say in the Lord’s Prayer, “For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours,” as if to say, we don’t do this alone, God, we do this with you and for you. We will keep serving our neighbors as your people, because our love does not come from us, if comes from you; like it says in 1st John, “God is love,” and through our worship and service we proclaim a hope that others might find silly or not based in facts, but God, we proclaim our hope that you are love not just for this church but for this world.

We proclaim our hope that as your Son raised Lazerus from the dead, so too will you raise us and our loved ones from the dead to live with you in paradise: not ashamed of our past or our sin or our insecurities, but because of them, because of our imperfectness, because God we hope and we believe that you meet us here today in the mix and the messiness of life.

You meet us in our longings, in our “what ifs,” in our joys and in our sorrows – God, you see us.

What are you hoping for? What do you dare to hope for?

Do you hope that every returning veteran is loved and cared for?

Do you hope that every child in a one mile radius of this church has everything they need to learn?

Do you hope that young people discover God’s unique call for them, as they’re supported as college and seminary interns, and residential pastors?

Do you hope that we might explore what it means to be church through Messiah’s innovative North County Campus?

Just like God is not done bringing life from that old tree stump in the forest, God is not done holding your hopefulness. The steam from that tree stump continues to rise and refuses to hide. Admits all the signs of death in the forest, it continues to rise and be seen over, and over again.

A widow passes by the central treasury and puts in her two coins. An invisible woman puts in all she has. And yet Jesus sees her. Amen.

You are not Jesus: this was a weird sermon

Hello friends! I preached this last weekend at my internship site. My sermon’s based on Mark 10:35-45:

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him [Jesus] and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.

I don’t know about you, but I had a ton of fun at the blessing of the pets last week here at Messiah. Did any of you come? It was awesome. So many fun furry creatures // and one snail. But perhaps even more awesome than seeing the animals and their owners, was my triumphant welcome home by my cat at the end of the day. See it was my husband who brought our mildly-social cat, and as I came home our cat scrambled toward me for a snuggle, as if to say “Did you know what he did to me today?” All of the sudden I was the greatest pet owner, and it was an awesome feeling.

In today’s gospel, the disciples are scrambling to be the greatest, and to feel awesome.

Jesus and the disciples are struggling to make this whole discipleship thing happen, and the disciples just want more. Jesus has just predicted his death for the third time, or described what’s to come. The disciples are becoming increasingly agitated and anxious. Their fear is keeping them from listening, which happens to all of us when we are afraid.

So to find some security, James and John ask Jesus a weird request: “We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Jesus entertains the question, and they go on to say they want to sit at his right and left hand in glory. To this, Jesus asks if they can drink the same cup, and be baptized in Jesus’ baptism. Which to us – a church that baptizes and do communion, it’s like okay – John and James are like ‘Sure, why not!” But Jesus says that these seats of glory aren’t his to grant. Then to all the disciples Jesus says “Whoever wishes to be great, must be your servant… for I came to serve, not to be served, to give my life as a ransom for many.”

Even as I write this, and now preach this, I can’t help but feel for Jesus. Yes, the disciples are lost, figuratively and literally, they hear their leader they left their former lives and former worlds for is really really going to die. But think about Jesus. Once again, his people don’t get it. He’s saying that you can baptize, you can commune, but to sit with me in heaven? To live in the same presence of me, in the paradise, that is now and not yet? That’s not mine to grant. And it’s not yours to grant either. You’re not Jesus. This is where you end, and I start. You do not have the capacity to save people. Jesus says: That’s my role, and not yours.

You are not Jesus.

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I think sometimes we get tricked into thinking that we’re Jesus. We’re the saviors. We’re the greatest. We’re the most free. We win.

But we both know, winning, freedom, greatness – is that what a life following Jesus is all about? Jesus says no. Jesus says “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.” Whoever wishes to be great must be radically not free. Must be bound. Must be dependent. If this sounds like things you don’t want to be – you’re not alone. This life doesn’t look all that great to me either.

But what’s the life that is constantly marketed to us? Did you know that you see anywhere from 300-3,000 brands or logos each day? They say: Be more free! Be independent! Be perfect with this product! Save all the children!

But we’re not Jesus.

I’m not Jesus.

I can’t say that from now on I will never try to fix or save someone, but I certainly won’t forget the last time the universe told me that saving a person’s soul was not a cure I could grant.

As a seminary student in the Master of Divinity program, this summer I finished a credit or a class in which I got to learn in whole different kind of classroom – a hospital in downtown Minneapolis. I was on the staff of a spiritual care team as a chaplain. I got to visit with patients, their families, their friends, and the awesome, awesome staff of my assigned space – a medical/surgical unit/wing.

At the beginning of the day, the team of our unit – nurses, staff, coordinators, and the chaplain (me) have rounds – sort of like an update meeting of the last 24 hours.

Now as a chaplain, a ministry person, and not really a morning person either, I was lucky if I caught one or two words of medical words thrown around in that fast-paced meeting.

But when I heard the phrase, “…he doesn’t know that yet…” I knew I had to ask. I put my elbows on the table and asked “What was that again?”

We’ll call him John. John doesn’t know upon discharge (healthy enough to go home) he was going to jail. He was found overdosing on drugs while in rehab, and he was detoxing in the hospital on his way to immediate incarceration. John didn’t know that when he was healthy again he wasn’t headed home.

Now, no one told me I had to visit him. But when there’s a 22-year old patient on your unit who is headed on a dark path, who came from a dark path, it’s hard not feel tugged by the Spirit’s call.

The police officer floating on the unit kept an eye on me as I entered the room, and with the encouragement of his assigned nurse, I knocked and entered John’s space.

He was kind. The supervisor in the room quietly read her book as John and I talked about his family and friends, and why he was there.

Now, I don’t claim to be some miracle-worker, but I felt like I was getting through to him. He even brought up his questions about the Christian faith. I felt like the coolest chaplain – even a drug user talked to me about God – awesome!

But he kept asking me if he could take a walk. And his phone rang while we were in there and he tried to talk quietly, suggesting to me that he wasn’t cured of his dealing habits.

But he was just a kid. 22. He just needed someone to believe him, right? He just needed someone to care for him, and love him, and give him everything he needs, right?

The next day, as I talked with my supervisor and other chaplain interns about this interaction, it became clear that I had an intense feeling of wanting to save John.

I just wanted him to feel like someone believed in him. I just wanted him to feel like someone believed him.

I just wanted to save him.

He even told me what he believed about God! Or – perhaps he emotionally manipulated me, because that’s what users do. They search after what they want at any cost, and ultimately, what they want is something deeper than drugs, but the result is often what harms them the most. Because John wants what we all want – To feel loved. To be told he matters. To know he’s missed. So maybe we’re not that much different?

In his disease, I was on the cusp of being swept into his swirl of masking and manipulation.

But he just needed to be saved, right?

And I could save him, right?

The funny part is that no one else was really prompting me to think this. I don’t remember anyone specifically telling me “Allison – you’re awesome, you can save people, you can fix people, go for it!” No – but this does come from messages in our culture that have squirrelled their way into our bank of wisdom. So in some ways, I expect myself to save people. That inner voice is just so loud and I can’t find the volume knob sometimes.

But I bet it’s in you too. You hear inside yourself that you can save people and fix people. That you can be Jesus.

Where does that come from?

The part of you that says ‘I don’t need anybody.’ The part of you that says ‘I’m independent. I’m free. I’m the greatest.’

The part of the disciples that steers their decisions and requests when they’re afraid.

My hunch, is that we’re so afraid as individuals, as a country, as a world that we don’t trust each other or another presence to save us. I’ve got to do it, it has to be me. Jesus saves me? Jesus saves you? That’s nice. I’d rather save myself, thank you very much.

The good news that Jesus gives us – is that we are not bound by the responsibility to save, liberate, and redeem ourselves.

We are free to not be Jesus.

As followers of Jesus, we are freed from the task of being the name above all names. Because being the most independent and the most free is exhausting.

But we’re not totally off the hook – It’s not up to us to save the world, but it’s up to us to do the best we can.

We are given opportunities and gifts and strengths not to save people, not to fix people, but to serve.

We are truly freed, or you could say, “freed up” to serve our neighbor.

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This is the kind of service that doesn’t involve the expectation that we’re going to get something back

This is the kind of service that makes other people wonder, “Why is that guy so willing to go into these dark places and shine a light of hope, and help people out?” To this he might say, “Because Jesus has freed me from the task of saving myself so I can serve my neighbors.” This is the kind of service that makes other people wonder “Why is the girl so excited to serve a meal or clean tables to people who seem to constantly be out of luck?” To this she might say “Because I get to serve my neighbors since I don’t have spend my time worrying about how I’m going to save myself.”

Out of the darkest moment that Jesus is walking toward in Jerusalem, out of the crucifixion, comes his resurrection, not only of our body, mind, and soul, but a resurrection of this world. This is our joy – that we now live in a kingdom, in a paradise now, and not yet, and we as freed people get to share that joy with the world. That is the challenge and the mystery and the beauty of following Jesus – we get to share the good news that a savior has come and it’s not you. We’re not Jesus. That burden has been lifted and we are free to not serve ourselves but serve our neighbor with this good news propelling us into those dark places where the light is dim, but our hope is fierce and speaks a word of life and light into spaces that we thought deserved left to be dead.

Jesus listens to the disciples request today to sit at his left and right side in glory. A bold request, I’ll give them that. But Jesus doesn’t give them an answer they like – and once again the disciples are at a loss for where they went wrong. They’re so afraid of what will happen next that they want to claim a piece of Jesus before he is crucified. All they can see is Good Friday. All they see is their need to be free and be saved and forget that Jesus is Jesus, and they are not. They are blind to the joy of being a disciple which is being freed up to serve their neighbor – not to save, not to fix, but to serve their neighbor. And that just might be the best news of all.

A sermon in which I didn’t have to say Washington after Tacoma

Hi friends. I promise I’m not trying to ignore you. My pastoral internship started a few weeks ago. If you were to ask me “How’s it going?” I would stumble over a response that tries to express my stubborn gratitude, fear, and my terrifying optimism that I don’t even recognize.

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P.S. These tealight holders? Shoot. I’m so glad I don’t shop online… often. For now, pretty holders, you will look pretty and live on my laptop.

Back to the sermon: The first time I preached at my internship site, Messiah Lutheran Church (in the same state where I’m from) was two days ago. It felt familiar since I’ve done pulpit supply over the last few years, and it felt different — scratch that, it felt new. There’s a whole other blog post! But for now, this is what I said. It’s based on Mark 9:30-37 (NRSV), with Allison commentary:

“They went on from there and passed through Galilee [a metaphor for home, Mark 1:16-20, fishing becomes adventures with Jesus]. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’ [say that again?] But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. [they’re afraid] Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. [they’re still afraid] He sat down, called the twelve, [come to Jesus meeting] 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.'”

Here’s what I said:

Grace & peace to you from our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

Hi, I’m Allison your pastoral intern this year. I just want to take a moment and thank you for all the ways you have welcomed Timothy and me. It’s such a blessing to be back in the Northwest. Some of you have already had us over for dinner and shared your stories with us, and even given us some of your amazing barbecue (Jim I’m looking at you) – we just can’t thank you enough, after our road trip out from Minnesota last month to here. Which reminds me…

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Did anyone take a road trip this summer? Does anyone wish the had taken a road trip? Have you ever been on a road trip, and there’s that one guy? Kicking the back of your seat or humming the same song over and over again? Now, in all of my road trips I’m not going to say which people I’m thinking of (I’m probably one myself)! But they’re the ones that you have to turn around and say, “Don’t make me come back there.”

I think Jesus was at a point like that in this gospel passage. I mean, we’re nine chapters in, and they’ve put some miles on together. His disciples were arguing and it was driving Jesus crazy.

Truthfully though, I think it’s more than bickering. I think the disciples are afraid because these are high stakes and they’re far from home, and they’ve put their lives on hold to follow this man.

And just before this, Jesus says something big: “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” Woah. We just met you and now you’re going to die? Holy moly what is going on. The disciples are probably sad, confused. This is all turning into defensiveness and anger as they want to know who is the greatest disciple. So Jesus shows him a child and in the face of their fear says, “Welcome this child in my name and you’ll welcome me. Whoever welcomes me, doesn’t welcome me but the one who sent me.” (paraphrasing) Who knows where the child goes, but in whatever happens next, Jesus has made his point. The big joys and tears of a child, are no match for your arguing and fear. Don’t welcome your fear – welcome this child.

Welcome this child. This squealing, constantly moving, laughing, crying, loving, snuggling child.

I have to tell you, when I read this passage I imagined my God-son whose back in MN just climbing up a storm around one of his parents, mouth wide open, giggling like crazy, swarming around him that makes it hard to keep up with him.

Jesus says, “Welcome him.”

The child in this gospel story is meant to invite the reader to think of other vulnerable people we are called to welcome, like our neighbors or friends or family members who are sick, in tough situations, or people in trouble. But I think this story is just as much about the child within us as the child next to us.

Jesus says, “Welcome him” or “Welcome her,” as if to say “Welcome you.”

[editor’s note: this is heavily influenced by Brene Brown here, here, and here, so, Brene THANK YOU and I am terrible for not mentioning you in my sermon]

Because — we see the disciples are arguing about who is the best. They’re one-up-ing each other because they don’t think they’re enough. They keep their confusion and questions to themselves because they’re afraid of what will happen to them and to their leader Jesus; and let’s face it, they’re afraid of life in general at this point.

They’re afraid. They don’t think their enough. They can’t see past themselves.

Then Jesus plops a kid in front of them, as if to say “LOOK.” Life is greater than worrying about if you’re enough or worrying about what tomorrow brings. Love is this child. Welcome yourself so you can welcome her.

Now, this sermon could easily turn into: Get a better attitude! Don’t worry, be happy! Stop thinking silly things like you’re not good enough or pretty enough or smarter enough; just change your thinking and love yourself!

If only it was that easy. Thankfully, Jesus gets that this is complicated. Vulnerability is complicated.

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Two words: College applications. Talk about vulnerability. We even had a class in high school where we to write an essay about ourselves to practice writing college essays. To me, it felt like “Here is me, please judge me, measure me, and rip me to shreds, just please don’t tell me about the room you all adults sat in together to do this.” I felt so open, so vulnerable: me, on paper, for strangers to see, to correct my grammar, to critique my argument about why I’m the best and I should go to your college.

So to battle this feeling of not feeling enough – I tried to hide. I didn’t apply to any colleges, until my confirmation mentor suggest her alma mater – Pacific Lutheran University In Tacoma, Washington [to which the congregation and I laughed at how I didn’t have to say “Washington” for the first time in five years]. She said, just try it out, visit campus, I loved it, maybe you will too. So I did. I don’t think it had anything to do with the college itself, but the fact that it felt like someone could advocate for me if my application was as terrible as I thought it was going to be.

So during dinner a few months after I applied I got a phone call & it was my admissions counselor at PLU. She said, “We think you have gifts for this community and we want you to come here.” I asked her a few times if she was kidding, and she kept saying she was for real. I dropped to the ground in tears. I felt enough, and them some. Someone believed in me. And I knew my family and my parents believed in me, but it’s something about hearing it from someone who’s not your family that takes a lot of courage to hear, and to believe. So I took a chance and believed her. Someone wanted me. And not only wanted me, but articulated that I was needed there – that that place would be different if I wasn’t there.

I wonder – Isn’t that the beauty of the body of Christ? This group, this church, is different when you’re not here. Your gifts are needed in this community – the community of Messiah, of Vancouver, of this world. This place is different when you show up.

I think that is what Jesus is trying to tell us today. That child that he holds up? She is vibrant, and full of energy, and cries loud, and laughs so hard her body can barely take it. She knows nothing else but to show up as completely herself. She has yet to learn by watching adults around her that you escape to the bathroom to cry, you laugh appropriately even when something isn’t that funny, you keep their thoughts at bay so as to not risk others thinking you’re stupid or out of touch with reality.

But here’s the funny thing, your age isn’t even the whole story. On Friday we were at Chuck’s Produce, and “Stayin’ Alive” came on intercom. A woman starts dancing her way out the store, while the clerk has the face of, “Oh my goodness.” But this kind of unabashed openness to whatever comes your way is what Jesus asks of us.

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I mean, look at this small human’s face.

Jesus says stop vying for worthiness and competing for value and for joy; because your value can not be filled like a jar weighed down with change at the end of the day; your value and your worth come from me – your savior and redeemer shines brightest when you open yourself up to failures, to judgement, to risk, but also to belly-clutching laughter, to radical ideas that no one else has thought of, to vulnerability that helps you say what you need and what you want.

God says that God is the root of all of that.

We can’t pick and choose the ups and the downs. In the unknowns that are always with us Jesus doesn’t say, “Welcome your fear,” or “Welcome defensiveness.” Jesus says “Welcome her” and Jesus says “Welcome yourself–all of yourself.”

Because if you miss the risk to be yourself, you might just miss the chance to see the fullness of God working in you.

Jesus sits down and holds you, and says, “Welcome this child.” Amen.

Wisdom takes her stand

This is a sermon I preached on Proverbs 8:1-11, 22-36 during a summer series about the Psalms and Wisdom Literature at Woodlake Lutheran Church in Richfield this weekend. The lead pastor was looking for some more preachers as they look for an associate pastor, and I said “Sure!” This lead pastor was also the pastor at our first church-away-from-home church in Minnesota in 2010, so that was fun. He’s never on the interwebs, but Fred: Thanks. I thank you, and blame you, for lots. P.S. I cut off like 8 inches of my hair after this. I’m not sure what that means, but I did it.

Hi, my name is Allison. You might remember me preaching here a few months ago. You probably know my husband pretty well by now, Timothy Siburg, who is the Intentional Interim Director of Music, Worship, and Stewardship.

I’m a Master of Divinity student at Luther Seminary, working toward ordination in our church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. One of my last credits is being completed this summer in a different kind of classroom for 11 weeks: a hospital. Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you any gross hospital stories, mostly because I haven’t come across that many (knock on wood). I’m a chaplain at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, and as crazy as it is, my class is almost done. The start feels like years ago, but in a weird way I can’t believe how fast it’s gone.

Today’s a little bittersweet for me. This is the last sermon I’ll be preaching in Minnesota and at Woodlake Lutheran as we move in a few weeks to my internship congregation in Washington state near family. Thanks for accepting me, not just as a staff member’s spouse but as a person all on my own. It’s been a blessing. So here’s what I have to say:

My chaplain orientation was at the end of May. I sat in front of my computer with all of the Allina healthcare system chaplains in the Twin Cities metro and we learned how to record our visits with patients in the hospital-wide chart system. Imagine the fanciest Excel page you’ve ever seen, color-coded, almost a mini-internet of every detail you could ever want on a single patient. Yes, I am legally-binded to not share details about any patients, so don’t get too excited, this isn’t going to get too juicy.

Now on that first day I clicked on the page that showed specifically all the patients at Abbott who had requested a chaplain visit.

My heart broke. In the weeks to come, reading about diagnoses, blood pressure measurements, social work records, and physicians notes would become a daily routine, but in this first encounter, my breath was almost taken away.

First, in this feeling of emptiness I thought, “this is what God must feel like.” Anyone see the movie, “Bruce Almighty,” where Jim Carrey’s character is trying to answer all of God’s emails, and is just goes on forever? That’s what this felt like.

Which led to my next feeling: anger. Who was on this spiritual care staff anyway? Didn’t they do any work? It’s like assuming pastors have nothing to do during the week after the Sunday service – HA. But in the moment I had no empathy for my colleagues. All I had was contempt. I didn’t want to understand their meetings, their self-care, their preparation, complex visiting schedule, and under-staffed situation, most likely due to budget constraints. Which led me to my third feeling:

Shame. I must have to become the most super pastor-chaplain to do all this stuff. Notice that sentence started with “I,” not “we,” as in, why don’t we join the movement of care already happening at this place. In the face of my anxiety I put all the weight on my shoulders. Not only feeling afraid of the unknown (walking into a sick person’s room, probably blood spurting onto my clothes, which by the way was an incorrect assumption, that hasn’t happened yet), but feeling inadequate as I mentally compared myself to all the fabulous pastors I’ve known in my life. My first tactic then, naturally, was to imitate those pastors I knew, my uncle, my friends, my home pastor, my professors: walk like them, lead like them, and talk like them. You see where this is going.

I was in need of a little wisdom.

Today, we’re going to sing: “Wisdom calls throughout the city/ knows our hunger and in pity/ gives her loving in invitation/ to the banquet of salvation.”*

What a pleasant picture. You can just taste it now, right? Maybe some spaghetti. Mashed potatoes. Gravy. But wait, the pasta’s a little crunchy like it’s boiled too short. The potatoes taste a little bland like there’s not enough butter. My grandma would have a problem with that, and honestly so do I. I guess I’m having a hard time tasting it.

Wisdom! What is this banquet of salvation? Who is wisdom? I know I’m in seminary and supposed to see this perfectly abundant feast, and yet I see an abundance of violence around me, people being shot in church in South Carolina, churches being set on fire, earthquakes striking nations that cannot sustain the damage to their buildings and infrastructure, college graduates finding work that only barely makes a dent in the heap of student loans whose interest only climbs year by year. I see best laid plans in the world, in our lives, falling apart.

As I read about the book of Proverbs I learned that it was written to men to seek out “the good life.” It is a book that was written by bureaucrats, full of their wisdom and has folk wisdom woven into its pages. This is a beautiful image for how God weaves the haves and have-nots to serve the world and make a difference; but I’m just not seeing it. Wisdom takes the form of a woman, some argue, to lift up women’s work, women’s essential work in Israelite history of teaching children, caring for the home, and supporting the family, but even this makes me feel like women are then told to dream only in one particular way. Yes, woman, you are wisdom – but Jesus, he was a man, and we most often use male words to describe God, he, himself, our Father. These ideas and questions still stick with me. What does it mean to be the same sex/gender as an embodiment of God?

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So where is the banquet of salvation and will I know it when I see it? Wisdom, what are you inviting me to see?

I think that God is saying that wisdom is not something stuffed in the past, but alive in the now. God is speaking through woman wisdom when she says, “Happy is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates.” This means we are radically together – we truly are one and are never alone. Wisdom is with us, in those around us, and in us. Wisdom was with God in the very beginning acts of creation in Genesis, and Wisdom is with us now as we try to make sense of today. Wisdom is with us when we try to answer, “How was your day today?” and we try and share with our loved ones the meaning and “take-away” of the day. Wisdom is with us in the ebs and flows of daily work. If there’s anything the book of Proverbs is trying to do, with all its voices that created it, this book is proclaiming, choose life, choose it daily, and choose the good life.

When I looked at that patient list in my chaplain orientation I tried to calm my worry by creating a solution to my problem all on my own. Wisdom in that moment was, I’m sure was laughing, saying, “Ok, you try that for a while.”

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Through the weeks since, my questions to nurses and doctors of, “How are they doing?” asking about patients, have turned, as I’m asked by the nurses and doctors, “How are they doing?” Some days I’m giving spiritual care. On other days, on every day, the nurses are giving spiritual care. On other days the social worker is giving spiritual care. Sometimes the custodian is giving spiritual care. They might not call it that, but when I see my colleagues take time to listen attentively to a patient’s story, walk with them in their pain, celebrations, or boredom, they are caring for that patient’s spirit. We are not alone as we care. I am not alone as I care. You are not alone as you care.

A nurse asked me recently while I was charting on a computer, “What’s going on?” and I pointed to the room of a retired baker who I just left, shouting, “The Twins game is on in there!” He smiled and we paused in the swirl of activity and asked about each other’s day, big questions, and where we grew up. Now, this was after a month of me approaching other staff for conversation or ideas about which patients to see. It took persistence and showing up consistently, but finally nurses and staff were coming up to me to talk about big things or little things.

I felt like I was finally being seen.

Someone saw me, and I’m betting that others do too, and have seen me all along. The way we relate to each other is changing. Our tone of teamwork and passing the baton to each other is changing – like we are co-creating the vibe of our hospital unit. We are shaping how we show up to leaders, and this could only be made possible by creating a new reality together, through the power of Wisdom and the God that works with her and through her. The banquet of salvation, of the good life, is within the gestures of generosity and time set apart to see the staff there as workers yes, but first, humans, and children of God. Helping hands are everywhere if you just see each other.

Help abounds. Kindness abounds. Hard words, true words abounds. Just a taste of this banquet – just a taste; it just might be among us, in the serving, in the leading, in the caring, in the trusting.

But, like, I have just rationalized this whole thing. It’s up here in my head, I can see the banquet. Ok yes, in this line of work, caring for sick people and the fabulous staff, yes, yes I get it.

But I don’t feel it. Where is the banquet of salvation? Wisdom, what are you inviting me to see?

We read today Wisdom “takes her stand” – at the crossroads, beside the gates of town, the gates of the city. Maybe she’s inviting us to see the crossroads at which we stand, within us. What does it feel like at that crossroad?

You’re at one. I know you are. I’m at my own too. What does it feel like to stand there?

Know that you stand at the same place as Wisdom.

She cries through you, “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live… I was brought forth by God, I was there when he drew a circle on the face of the deep… when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight.”

You are daily in God’s delight daily and at all times. You were there. You were brought forth by God. You are a master worker. Through you, wisdom is at work. Wisdom lies in you. What does that feel like, to know wisdom lies in you?

Wisdom takes her stand. In God’s royal priesthood we love and care through our work, our lives, on behalf of those entrusted to our care. I know it’s hard to stand at those crossroads. It feels uncomfortable. But stay there. Stand there. Feel changed there. Know that you are seen there, even if by no one else than by God and the Wisdom God creates with. Wisdom lies within you, in whatever shape that takes.

So in closing, I got a call at 2:30am the other day for a family who wanted a chaplain to be with them as their grandpa died. So I came into a packed room, expecting to see silent, solemn faces, staring into the deep. Instead I heard laughter. I heard stories about grandpa. Yes, there were tears and big cries, but there were memories and gratitude shared in a sense of abundance that I have rarely experienced. They cared for one another as a family does as one passes into eternal life.

So I’m standing there – what do I do? What wisdom do I have to share here? I have a Bible – so what? I have an order of service for healing or something – so what? These people need hugs, not Bible verses shot at them. So I put down my Bible. We gave each other hugs. I gave them oil to draw hearts and crosses on their grandpa’s forehead & share a word of love and gratitude. This is usually a ‘healing’ service, but he was about gone. His heart machine was toast. What do we do? How do we define healing? What is quality of life?

Wisdom takes her stand. She says, “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.” I was there when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, like a master worker, I was daily his delight.

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Wisdom shows up when we show up. Wisdom, all the different kinds of wisdom, shows up at our crossroads and says put down your instruction manual. Put down your guards, your solutions, your fears. I want you as only you can be. If you feel like crying, cry. If you feel like telling a story, tell a story. If you feel like coloring in a coloring book at 4:30 with squirrelly grandkids in a hospital conference room, do that too. If you feel like hugging, hug. But in all of your big and small decisions, wisdom call us to choose life. Stand at your crossroads, listening to wisdom’s weaving in and weaving out, proclaiming life in the Lord and living like you mean it. See the banquet as wisdom takes her stand, this day and forever more.

*”We Eat the Bread of Teaching,” by Omer Westendorf & Jerry Rae Brubaker, (World Library Publications, 1998).