Full Scottish Breakfast

Poem for a Tuesday — “Full Scottish Breakfast” by Joann White

Lord, you are my portion and my cup of blessing; you hold my future. — Psalm 16:5

Below the thatched

roof in Fortingall

our eyes meet

above the table.

It’s too much.

Tattie scones dipped

in sunny yolks

milky black tea

crispy streaky bacon

black pudding more

than we want

or need and

who eats beans

for breakfast anyway?

We push our

food around the

plate, lace up

our boots, and

step out to

be fed by this glorious day.


This is the initial poem — a prelude — to a series that I wrote in response to Kore-ada Hirokazu’s stunning film after life. It explores the memory that I might choose to live in for eternity, a day of rough hill walking through the heart of Scotland and over the shoulder of Schiehallion. I’ll share the subsequent poems on the next three Tuesdays.


Image credit: https://scottishscran.com/what-is-a-full-scottish-breakfast/

No Turning Back

Sabbath Day Thoughts — “No Turning Back” Luke 9:51-62

When it comes to understanding our higher purpose as human beings, author, psychologist, and wilderness guide Bill Plotkin teaches that each of us is born to occupy a specific ecological niche—that’s econiche for short.  Each of us is blessed with gifts, abilities, and aptitudes that are intended to fulfil a particular function in our families, communities, and beyond.  You might even say that we are each created with a God-given purpose.  By living faithfully and courageously, we grow fully into the people whom God created us to be.

Take my econiche, for example.  I like to say that I am doing what God put me on earth to do: serving as a pastor and spiritual leader.  I also feel that I am fulfilling that function where God calls me to be—right here in Saranac Lake.  I believe that God called me to marriage with Duane, who has been a wonderful encourager and conversation partner for my life and ministry.  A few years ago, I began to hear God calling me to use my writing to reach beyond the walls of the church and the limits of Saranac Lake.  When I chose to live into that expanded econiche, doors opened: a book, a doctoral program, and an article in a literary journal this month.

Bill Plotkin writes that we are “each born to take a specific place within the earth community, to fill an individual ecological niche in the greater web of life.”  We each have a holy purpose that serves the planet.  Our personal growth and discovery of our econiche is part of God’s plan.  It’s a fulfillment of our purpose and a blessing to the world around us.  What is your econiche?

In today’s lesson from Luke’s gospel, Jesus resolved to travel to Jerusalem.  Along the way, Jesus would share some of his most profound teachings and work some of his most compelling acts of healing. He would do all this while knowing what awaited him in Jerusalem: betrayal, arrest, conviction, torture, and death.  Jesus knew his econiche.  He knew the redemptive purpose that God put him on earth to serve and he “set his face” to fulfill it.

As Jesus embarked on that fateful journey, he was not alone.  He was accompanied by “the women,” his inner circle of disciples, and other unnamed followers.  Drawn by Jesus’ wise instruction or in search of a healing miracle, people came to see what Jesus was all about.  According to Luke, some who came felt that God’s will for their life—their econiche—was to be a disciple.  Indeed, in today’s lesson, Jesus was approached by three would-be disciples.  All expressed interest in following Jesus, but there seemed to be impediments to answering that calling.

The first would-be disciple sounded eager.  He promised to follow Jesus wherever he might go.  Yet Jesus cautioned that following him would not be easy. Foxes have dens, birds of the air go home to roost, but, at times, Jesus and his friends would have no place to lay their heads. Being a disciple would bring opposition from Samaritan villages, scandalized Pharisees, and plotting priests and scribes.  Jesus and his friends would make enemies.  Discipleship would sometimes feel unsafe and inhospitable, lonely and under-supported.  If this would-be disciple was going to answer the call, then he would need to be ready to face adversity.

If we are to grow into our God-given purpose—our econiche, then we need to be prepared to work through difficulty and adversity along the way.  Benjamin Franklin was 10-years-old when his parents could no longer afford to send him to school.  The resourceful Franklin resolved to teach himself.  He read voraciously, studying late into the night with poor lighting after working all day as a printer’s apprentice. Franklin’s self-directed study equipped him for life as a patriot, scientist, and diplomat.  He was an editor and signer of the Declaration of Independence, the inventor of the lightning rod and bifocals, and the American ambassador to France from 1776 to 1785.  

A second would-be disciple approached Jesus.  This man wished to join the Lord on the journey to Jerusalem, but he first wanted to bury his father. First century Jewish tradition taught that at the death of a patriarch a mourning period of seven days followed the burial.  If the dead man were of high status in the community, that mourning period could extend to thirty days.  This would-be disciple wished to follow Jesus, but it would be a while before he was available.  Jesus’ response, “Let the dead bury the dead, but you go share the good news of the Kingdom,” sounds harsh. Some Bible scholars say this is hyperbole, an exaggerated rhetoric that makes a point.  Clearly, Jesus is saying that discipleship takes unwavering commitment that is willing to set aside time-worn traditions.

Fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives may likewise demand that we make tough choices that depart from traditions and expectations.  Those of you who are older among us remember the days when the only career options available to women were mothering, teaching, nursing, or being a clerical worker.  Judith von Seldeneck’s parents thought she would make a great secretary – and she was, serving as the personal secretary to Sen. Walter Mondale in the 1960s.  But Judith had different ideas about her purpose. She attended law school—one of only two women in her class.  Then, as more and more women began to enter the workforce, Judith found her niche: helping women find jobs.  The business that she launched, Diversified Search Group, is now a global leader in executive recruitment, with offices in fourteen cities across the US and global affiliates around the world. 

A third would-be disciple approached Jesus. He hoped to follow the Lord, but first he wished to go back home and take his leave.  Jesus sensed that this man’s past would have a powerful hold upon him. Like a distracted farmer who plows a crooked and shallow furrow, this man would always look back.  He would not have the focus and commitment for discipleship.  His preoccupation with the past would be a roadblock to moving ahead.

To grow into the people whom God calls us to be, we may sometimes need to leave something behind.  This may include false beliefs about ourselves and patterns of behavior that are a stumbling block to our growth.  In his book How Not to Be Afraid, author, storyteller, and peacemaker Gareth Higgins writes that many of us subject ourselves to “harsher judgment than that which we direct to people we might even consider enemies.  We have likely judged ourselves worthy of public flogging more times than we can remember.” To move forward and grow into God’s purpose for our lives, we may need to leave behind our critical inner voice, or our failures, or even traumatic experiences that have kept us stuck.  Sometimes, it’s the shame of our past mistakes or our feelings of sinfulness that hold us back because we fail to extend to ourselves the grace that Jesus so generously extended to others. 

The research of author and professor Brene Brown has found that eighty-five percent of men and women interviewed could recall a school incident from their childhood that was so shaming that it changed how they thought of themselves as people and learners. What made those findings even more haunting was that approximately half of those recollections were what Brown calls “creativity scars.” The research participants could point to a specific incident where they were told or shown that they weren’t good writers, artists, musicians, dancers, or creators.  Our potential is stifled when we accept the criticism of others as part of our self-understanding.

Making peace with the past so that we can move into the future takes prayer, reflection, and healing work.  We may need a wise mentor, a caring friend, a listening pastor, or a good counselor to help us see that our past does not have to determine our future. Indeed, it is in our healing and growing that we discern and cultivate strengths and gifts that will serve us and the world around us. Like Rumpelstiltskin spinning straw into gold, those personal pains that once held us back can be transformed, equipping us richly to serve in the struggles of others.  If we refuse to let go of the past, if we won’t take the risk of stepping out to follow Jesus and pursue our higher purpose, then we fail ourselves and the role we are meant to serve in God’s Kingdom goes unfulfilled.

What I find most fascinating about today’s reading is that we don’t get to see the choices that those would-be disciples made. Did they rise to move into that beautiful, if daunting, path of discipleship?  Or, did they despair at the possibility of discomfort, cling too closely to outdated traditions, and let their pasts get the better of them? Call me an optimist, but I like to think they found their econiche.  Those would-be disciples chose Jesus, chose growth, chose to become the people whom God was calling them to become.  I like to think that they were blessed in that—and that they went on to become a blessing for others.

May we do the same.


Resources:

Brené Brown. “The Most Dangerous Stories We Make Up” excerpted from Rising Strong, July 27, 2015. Accessed online at brenebrown.com.

Chris Crisman. “Women’s work: 12 stories of female success and struggle in male-dominated fields | Perspective” in The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 7, 2020. Accessed online at inquirer.com.

Mikeal Parsons. “Commentary on Luke 9:51-62” in Preaching This Week, June 26, 2016. Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.

Marilynn Salmon. “Commentary on Luke 9:51-62” in Preaching This Week, June 27, 2010. Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.

Michael Rogness. “Commentary on Luke 9:51-62” in Preaching This Week, June 30, 2013. Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.

David Lose. “Out of Control” in Dear Working Preacher, June 24, 2013. Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.


Luke 9:51-62

51When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55But he turned and rebuked them. 56Then they went on to another village. 57As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”


Photo by Kindel Media on Pexels.com

St. Francis and the Sow

Poem for a Friday — “St. Francis and the Sow” by Galway Kinnell

“The bud

stands for all things,

even for those things that don’t flower,

for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;   

though sometimes it is necessary

to reteach a thing its loveliness,

to put a hand on its brow

of the flower

and retell it in words and in touch

it is lovely

until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;   

as Saint Francis

put his hand on the creased forehead

of the sow, and told her in words and in touch   

blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow   

began remembering all down her thick length,   

from the earthen snout all the way

through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,   

from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine   

down through the great broken heart

to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering   

from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:

the long, perfect loveliness of sow.”

in Americans’ Favorite Poems, ed. Robert Pinsky and Maggie Dietz. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2000.

From the Poetry Foundation: “Galway Kinnell was an award-winning poet best known for poetry that connects the experiences of daily life to much larger poetic, spiritual, and cultural forces. Often focusing on the claims of nature and society on the individual, Kinnell’s poems explore psychological states in precise and sonorous free verse. Critic Morris Dickstein called Kinnell ‘one of the true master poets of his generation.”’ Kinnell’s Collected Poems was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

Photo by Matthias Zomer on Pexels.com

The Community of Overflowing Love

Sabbath Day Thoughts — Matthew 28:16-20 “The Community of Overflowing Love”

Ireland has long been known as the Land of a Thousand Welcomes, with a well-deserved reputation as the most hospitable nation on earth.  In Ireland, lost tourists looking for directions find themselves escorted to their destination with many a story along the way.  Visitors to a pub are welcomed like old friends with raised glasses and calls of “Slainte!” An afternoon visit leads to tea with many a cuppa’ and soda bread dotted with raisins and slathered with butter.

This unofficial code of Irish welcome dates back more than 1,000 years to when the Irish clans were regulated by the Brehon Laws.  Under Brehon Law, all households were obliged to provide some measure of hospitality to strangers—food, drink, entertainment, and a bed.  No prying questions could be asked of the guest, and once hospitality was accepted, the guest refrained from any quarrel or harsh words.  The only price of hospitality was the exchange of stories, poetry, and song.  In a rural land with few roads and long distances between settlements, these ancient Irish traditions ensured a much-needed welcome for weary travelers. 

Today, the warm welcome of the Irish continues to summon visitors from around the world.  In 2019, before the pandemic, 11.3 million travelers visited the Land of a Thousand Welcomes, more than double the Irish population.  That’s almost three times the number of annual visitors to the Holy Land.

At the conclusion of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus cast a vision for the life and ministry of his disciples. We call it the Great Commission.  Jesus sent his friends forth to all nations to share the gospel.  They were commissioned to bear witness to God’s great love for all people, a love that was revealed in the life, death and rising of their Lord.  For their mission, the disciples would rely on the hospitality of others. They had to trust that there would be a welcome waiting for them at the end of a long day of travel—safety, the sharing of food, drink, entertainment, and a bed.

It was in acts of hospitality, in the welcoming of strangers and the telling of stories, that the good news of Jesus Christ was shared.  At the table or while seated at the fire, tales were told.  Strangers became friends.  Disciple begat disciple.  Hosts were welcomed into the community of Christ, which had its own far-reaching hospitality, a hospitality that found its ultimate expression in the rite of baptism.  In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, guest became host, host became guest, and all became One in the family of love and faith that Jesus commanded his disciples to make.

Jesus’ vision of an expanding community of love is grounded in the Trinity—the belief that God is Three-in-One.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exist in eternal community, three simultaneous, co-equal expressions of the One Holy and Almighty God.  The theologians say that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit indwell each other (perichoresis).  They make room for one another and are hospitable to one another.  Reformed author and pastor Leonard Vander Zee describes the Trinity eloquently and understandably when he writes, “At the center of all reality, at the heart of the universe, there exists an eternal divine community of perfect love.”

Everything that we know flows forth from that perfect love.  Creation is the expansion and delight of that overflowing divine love.  All creatures arise from that overflowing divine love.  We are an expression of that overflowing divine love.  It is no wonder that when Jesus cast the vision for the church, it was a vision of overflowing divine love, of disciples going forth in love to welcome friends, neighbors, strangers, and all nations into that eternal community of perfect love.  Now that’s what we call holy hospitality.

Standing at the intersection of the ancient Brehon Laws of hospitality and the overflowing love of the Triune God is Brigid of Ireland.  With Patrick and Columba, Brigid is one of the three patron saints of the Land of a Thousand Welcomes. While Patrick evangelized the Irish, and Columba sailed off to share the gospel with the Scots, Brigid was consecrated as a bishop and established Irish communities where the overflowing love of Christ was revealed.

In the 6th century, Brigid was born a slave to a pagan chieftain and his Christian dairymaid.  From an early age, Brigid resolved to live a life of dedication to Christ with great kindness and generosity.  She so infuriated her father by giving away his possessions to anyone in need that he sold her with her mother to the household of a druid priest.  There, Brigid’s generosity got her into trouble again.  Her druid master confronted her for giving away the entire supply of butter, but when Brigid prayed, the butter supply was divinely restored—and more.  Her master’s household prospered and grew rich with abundance.  Convicted of Brigid’s holiness, the druid and his family were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The druid’s first action as a newborn member of that community of overflowing divine love was to give Brigid her freedom.

Brigid’s kindness and generosity often extended to the most vulnerable of her neighbors.  When she fell while riding and struck her head, she asked that the blood from her wound be mixed with water and used to anoint two sisters who were deaf and mute.  Both were healed.  When a cow had been sorely troubled and milked dry by hungry neighbors, Brigid blessed the poor beast, which then provided ten times the milk expected of it and never went dry again.  Brigid gave a mug of water to a leper, instructing him to wash with it, and he was made clean.  Brigid’s self-proclaimed purpose was “to satisfy the poor, to banish every hardship, and to save every sorrowful man.”  That sounds like what Jesus had in mind when he sent out his disciples to share the overflowing love of the Triune God.

Brigid believed in the power of community to extend the outreaching, overflowing love of Christ.  With seven other Christian women, Brigid went to the King of Kildare to request land to build a Christian community.  When the king refused, Brigid persuaded him to give her a parcel of land no larger than her cloak could cover.  The king agreed.  Four women were given the corners of her cloak, and as Brigid prayed, they began to walk.  The Lord brought the increase, expanding the cloak until it covered a generous parcel of land, the Curragh of Kildare. 

There Brigid and her friends built a large double monastery for women and men.  Kildare Abbey was a center for learning, worship, farming, the arts, and, of course, hospitality. In the Spirit of Christ and the tradition of Brehon Law, strangers were welcomed with food, drink, entertainment, and rest.  In the sharing of stories, many a visitor came to know the overflowing love of God and was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

On Trinity Sunday, we celebrate that eternal, divine community of perfect love that lives at the heart of the universe. We remember Jesus’s vision of a ministry of overflowing divine love for all nations. Brigid believed that when we go forth in that overflowing love of the Trinity, we become Christ to others and they become Christ to us.  Brigid said, “It is in the name of Christ that I feed the poor, for Christ is the body of every poor man.” As we are a blessing to others, they become a blessing to us.  This morning, Jesus and Brigid bid us to ponder: How will we go forth to share the overflowing perfect love of the Triune God?

I’ll close with the Irish Rune of Hospitality, attributed to Brigid.

“I saw a stranger yestere’en;

I put food in the eating place,

Drink in the drinking place,

Music in the listening place,

And in the name of the Triune

He blessed myself and my house,

My cattle and my dear ones,

And the lark said in her song

Often, often, often,

Goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise,

Often, often, often,

Goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise.”

Resources:

Daniel Migliore. Faith Seeking Understanding. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1991.

Leonard Vander Zee. “The Holy Trinity: The Community of Love at the Heart of Reality” in The Banner, Feb. 26, 2016.

Wendy Hopler. “Biography of Brigid of Kildare” in Learn Religions, June 10, 2019.  Accessed online at learnreligions.com.

John D. Gee. “5 Lessons from St. Brigid of Kildare” in Patheos: Hosting the Conversation on Faith, Feb. 1, 2021.  Accessed online at patheos.com.

Mary Dugan Doss. “A Gift of Hospitality: Saint Brigid, Abbess of Kildare” in Orthodox Christianity, Feb. 1, 2014. Accessed online at orthochristian.com.


Matthew 28:16-20

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him, but they doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”


By John Duncan (1866-1945) – http://www.the-athenaeum.org/art/full.php?ID=27474, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46026001

Rushing at Times Like Flames

Poem for a Tuesday — “Rushing at Times Like Flames” by Nelly Sachs

“Rushing at times

like flames through our bodies —

as if they were still woven with the beginning

of the stars.

How slowly we flash up in clarity —

Oh, after how many lightyears have our hands

folded in supplication —

our knees bent —

and our souls opened

in thanks?”

— in Women in Praise of the Sacred, ed. Jane Hirshfield. New York: Harper Collins, 1994, p. 222.


Nelly Sachs was born to a secular Jewish family in Berlin in 1891. With the rise of the National Socialist Party, she became aware of her Jewish heritage and faith. She narrowly escaped deportation to a concentration camp in 1940 by fleeing to Sweden through the intercession of the royal family. For the rest of her life, the Holocaust was a central theme of her work. She shared the 1966 Nobel Prize in Literature with Israeli novelist S.I. Agnon. Sachs wrote of forgiveness, deliverance, peace, and a God who is present in terror, suffering, absence, and death.


Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

On Each of Us

Sabbath Day Thoughts — “On Each of Us” Acts 2:1-13

Anyone who has lived in a foreign country for an extended period of time can affirm how hungry we become for the sound of our own language.  My classmates and I had been living in Switzerland for about three months when culture shock set in. We were exhausted by trying to decipher the nearly incomprehensible accents of Swiss-German.  We were sick of the mockery of Swiss students, who thought we were all cowboys, Madonna, or surfer dudes.  We had had more than our fill of sausages, Smurfs, mopeds, bidets, smelly cheese, and toilets with observation platforms.

Then one day, my friends and I were wandering through a labyrinth of displays at a cultural expo when we heard something that made our hearts beat a little faster: the familiar twang of country music.  With ears tuned to that beacon, we zeroed in on the source: a booth where women were speaking English, not the clipped rhythm of British English, not the thick brogue of the Scots, not the lilt of the Irish, but real American English.  It felt like home: warm, welcoming, and safe.

On that first Pentecost, there were devout Jews living in Jerusalem from every nation under heaven, from North Africa to Mesopotamia to Rome.  I suspect that those who had been sojourning for a long time were hungry for the sound of their mother tongue.  They were strangers in a strange land, and no one let them forget it.  They were weary of the overweening pride of the priests in the Temple and shocked by the exorbitant price of lodging.  They were missing the tastes of home and thoroughly sick of falafel. 

Then, as they were walking to morning prayer, came the rush of a violent wind, followed by a sound that was music to their ears. For each one heard in his or her own language the story of God’s great deeds of power and the truth of God’s immeasurable love for them, the love revealed in Jesus.  In that foreign city, surrounded by a sea of strange people and foreign languages, each heard the language they most needed to hear.  It must have felt like home: warm, welcoming, and safe.

When we think about Pentecost, we tend to focus on the disciples.  We remember Peter’s powerful proclamation that inspired 3,000 people to make the choice for Jesus. We imagine Philip finding the courage and vision to take the good news and go to the Samaritans and that Ethiopian eunuch.  We consider James, who stayed put in Jerusalem and thanklessly worked, year after year, to teach the Jewish people the gospel of Jesus until his enemies put him to the sword.  When the Spirit came with rushing wind and tongues of flame, it empowered those disciples to do extraordinary, heroic, and miraculous deeds in service to the Kingdom of God.

Yet a closer reading of the Pentecost story reminds us that 120 followers of Jesus were gathered together in that place when that wind from God blew and the flames danced above their heads.  There were twelve disciples.  Another seven men were present who would become the first deacons.  There were the largely unnamed women who provided for Jesus, including Mary Magdalene, Susannah, and Joanna.  There were Jesus’ brothers and mother.  Even if we are generous with the math, that leaves about ninety other people who were there in that Upper Room at Pentecost—ninety people, whom we’ve never heard of, were filled with the Spirit at Pentecost.  We don’t know their stories.

Back at that cultural expo in the Basel, Switzerland of my college days, we discovered that those speakers of our mother tongue were American ex-patriot women.  Their lives had landed them abroad for decades. They taught at the university or were chemists with CIBA-GEIGY.  Their husbands were titans of industry or wizards of global finance.  Some had raised families in that foreign land, children who spoke the strange sounds of Swiss-German with just as much fluency as they did English.  Each week, those women gathered in one another’s homes to drink coffee, speak English, and navigate together the difficulty of being strangers in a strange land.

They could have been our mothers or grandmothers as they turned to us with the listening ears and compassionate care that we all need when we fear that we are alone in the dark, a long way from home. They didn’t have to be so nice, but they were. Each of them, in her own way, was extraordinary in her ordinary kindness.  There were smiles and hugs and cups of coffee.  In days to come, there were bowls of chili and slices of apple pie that tasted just like home.  And in some way when we were with them, we were home, even if it was only for an hour or so at a time in the midst of that sea of indifferent faces and other languages.

I trust that on that first Pentecost the nameless ninety went out into the streets of Jerusalem to be extraordinary in their ordinary ways.  They were kind and welcoming.  They listened and cared.  They were a lot like those American ex-patriot women I met in Basel.  In their willingness to love, they revealed that other love, the Great Love that spins the whirling planets, puffs into our lungs the breath of life, and waits to welcome us at the last.  They showed forth the holy love that walked this world in Jesus.  Filled with the Spirit, the unknown ninety went forth in their quiet, quaint, and ordinary ways to speak other languages that made the world feel like home to people who feared they were alone in the dark.

As we celebrate that first Pentecost and the falling of the Spirit upon all those named and nameless followers of Jesus, may we remember that the Holy Spirit rests upon each of us.  Empowered by the Spirit, some of us may go forth to serve the Kingdom in ways that are truly remarkable and well-worthy of the disciples.  Yet most of us will be like the ninety.  We’ll go forth to speak the languages that others long to hear in a world that feels lonely, unsafe, and far from home.  It may surprise us to learn that we are already fluent in the loving language that Jesus spoke so eloquently, the language that our neighbors long to hear.

We can speak the language of prayer.  We’ll lay a hand on the shoulder of a hurting friend and seek some holy help.  We’ll pray with the headlines, lifting up the victims of school shootings, natural disasters, and the tragedy of war.  We’ll pray for those whom we love, gently naming the worries and fears that plague every family and trusting the Lord to be at work.  We are fluent in prayer.

We can speak the language of caring.  We’ll feed hungry people with monthly food offerings. We’ll share the gospel of fresh, church-grown vegetables.  We’ll testify with toilet paper and paper towels for Grace Pantry. We’ll wrap hurting neighbors in prayer shawls made with love.  We’ll cheer friends with the gift of a prayer bear.  We’ll bless folks through times of crisis with help from the deacons’ fund. We are fluent in care.

We can speak the language of welcome.  We’ll take the time to truly see our vulnerable neighbors, to notice, greet, and listen.  We’ll reach out with concern for those who feel invisible, due to advancing age or growing disability.  We’ll greet and honor children, whose voices are often dismissed.  We’ll embrace diversity as God’s wondrous and stunning plan for humanity.  We’ll welcome students who feel like strangers in a strange land as they contend with sub-zero temperatures, long dark winters, and cafeteria food. We are fluent in the language of welcome.

By the power of the Spirit, each of us can be extraordinary in our ordinary, everyday ways.  Through our prayer, caring, and welcome, this world may even begin to feel like home for those who fear they are alone in the dark.  Let us go forth to speak the languages that others need to hear.  Amen.

Resources:

Karl Kuhn. “Commentary on Acts 2:1-21” in Preaching This Week, June 5, 2022. Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.

Debra J. Mumford. Amy Oden. “Commentary on Acts 2:1-21” in Preaching This Week, May 31, 2020. Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.

Amy Oden. “Commentary on Acts 2:1-21” in Preaching This Week, June 9, 2019. Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.

Greg Carey. Amy Oden. “Commentary on Acts 2:1-21” in Preaching This Week, May 20, 2018. Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.

Mikeal C. Parsons. “Commentary on Acts 2:1-21” in Preaching This Week, June 8, 2014. Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.


Acts 2:1-13

2 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every people under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”


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The Same Inside

Poem for a Tuesday — “The Same Inside” by Anna Swir

“Walking to your place for a love feast
I saw at a street corner
an old beggar woman.
I took her hand,
kissed her delicate cheek,
we talked, she was
the same inside as I am,
from the same kind,
I sensed this instantly
as a dog knows by scent
another dog.
I gave her money,
I could not part from her.
After all, one needs
someone who is close.
And then I no longer knew
why I was walking to your place.”

— from A Book of Luminous Things, ed. Czeslaw Milosz. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1996, p. 200.


Anna Swir (Anna Świrszczyńska) emerged from humble origins to become one of the most respected Polish poets of the twentieth century. She served in the Resistance during World War II and worked as a military nurse in the Warsaw Uprising. She wrote frankly about death, war, and the female body. She published nine collections of poetry, as well as plays and stories for children. She received a number of literary awards in her native Poland. She died in Krakow in 1984.


image source https://www.freeimages.com/photo/poor-beggar-woman-1440739

Prisoners Freed

Sabbath Day Thoughts — “Prisoners Freed” Acts 16:16-34

On May fourteenth, Payton Gendron, an eighteen-year-old white male with an assault rifle and body armor, entered the Tops Market in the predominantly African American East Side neighborhood of Buffalo.  He opened fire, killing ten black shoppers and workers. Gendron drove 200 miles to commit his crime, and we know from a manifesto that he wrote and the video footage that he livestreamed of his attack that he was motivated by racial hate. Among the victims was eighty-six-year-old Ruth Whitfield.  Ruth was on her way home from visiting her husband in nursing care.  Also killed was sixty-seven-year-old Heyward Patterson, a deacon at his church, who was giving rides to shoppers that needed them.

On May fifteenth, members of the Laguna Woods Taiwanese Presbyterian Church came under attack as they shared lunch in the church hall following worship.  David Chou was a visitor that day.  He came armed with two nine-millimeter guns, a bag of Molotov cocktails, and anti-Taiwanese beliefs. Chou visited with church members and shared lunch before launching his attack. Dr. John Cheng, an orthopedist, was killed when he charged the gunman, but his brave actions allowed others to overpower and hogtie their attacker. Five people, ranging in age from sixty-six to ninety-two were wounded, four of them critically.

On Tuesday, an armed gunman, eighteen-year-old Salvador Ramos, entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas through a back door that had been propped open. Just the week before, Ramos purchased two AR-15 assault-style rifles and a lot of ammunition for his birthday. At the school, Ramos entered a fourth grade classroom and killed nineteen children and two teachers before being shot by federal officers.  Among the dead was ten-year-old Jose Flores, Jr, who loved baseball, videogames, and being an amazing big brother.  Also killed was veteran teacher Irma Garcia, described as sweet, kind, and loving. She tried to shield the children from the gunman.

In the wake of so much senseless violence, we are heartbroken, grieved, and weary.  We struggle to imagine the enormity of the loss. We consider how we would feel if the lives lost were our grandpas, our children, our teachers.  It feels like we are trapped in an endless cycle of violent attacks, followed by thoughts and prayers, followed by calls for change, followed by the failure to take action, followed by yet another incident of mass violence.  It is as if we are prisoners of an epic cycle of senseless, horrific death that repeats, over and over again.

The Apostle Paul was imprisoned many times as he took the gospel out into the Greco-Roman world.  Indeed, four of Paul’s epistles were written from prison and he repeatedly described himself as being in chains for the sake of the gospel.  Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes Paul’s stay as a “guest of the emperor” in the Roman colony of Philippi.

It all started when Paul exorcised a pneuma puthona, spirit of the python, the ancient serpent who guarded the oracle at Delphi.  We don’t know how, but this demon had taken up residence in the belly of a slave girl and spoke prophecy to the highest bidder.  This poor girl was doubly enslaved.  She was held in the python’s coiled grasp and held captive by men who exploited her suffering to make “a great deal” of money.  These slave owners were irate when their income stream dried up, so they had Paul and Silas arrested on trumped-up charges of disturbing the peace and promoting anti-Roman sentiment.  It didn’t take much to gather an angry mob to call for immediate, harsh, and violent punishment. Paul and Silas were stripped, flogged, chained, and thrown into the inmost part of the jail, the tullianum, a dungeon without light or fresh air where those who had committed the most serious crimes or were of the very lowest level of society were kept. 

That’s when this story gets really interesting.  Severely punished and unjustly imprisoned, we expect Paul and Silas to tend their wounds and silently languish. But around midnight, the two men were praying and singing psalms.  Philippi’s deepest dungeon became an impromptu church.  Paul and Silas found hope in the Lord.  Other prisoners listened in, longing for good news in the dark.  Next, the presence of the Most-High God was revealed: the earth shook violently, the prison’s foundations rocked, doors sprung open, chains were loosed and prisoners freed; yet, instead of making a break for it, Paul and Silas stuck around.  They saved the life of their jailer, shared the good news of salvation, and baptized the entire household.  The next day when the apostles were exonerated, they went forth renewed in God’s power and purpose. How is that for a Hollywood ending?

It’s a wild and hopeful story of prisoners freed, one that we need to hear as we languish in dark times of senseless violence, hate, and mass shootings.  It’s a story that can speak to hearts hurting with unending grief and overwhelming fear. It’s a story that contradicts our belief that we are powerless to make a difference and put an end to the cycle of meaningless death.  Would you like to know how?

It begins with what we do in the dark.  Bruised by the world’s brutality, it is easy to throw up our hands and feel powerless.  And yet, we are not alone in the dark.  God faced the worst of human violence for love’s sake when Jesus suffered a cruel and savage death on the cross.  In Jesus, God infused the world’s suffering with God’s presence.  And so, we trust that God was there as Payton Gendron prowled the aisles of that East Side Tops Market.  God was there in the church hall when Taiwanese Presbyterians came under attack.  God was there in Robb Elementary School as children wept and teachers pleaded.  God is with us in our darkness, from the inner dungeon of a Philippian jail to the hushed silence of our sanctuary.  We are not alone in the dark, and that is something to trust in, to pray and sing about.  In a world where we feel we are prisoners of an endless cycle of violence, we can offer a bright and lyrical hope to all who feel alone and afraid in the dark.  Sing and pray, my friends.

We can trust that God, who is with us in the dark, is powerful.  In teaching about this story, Professor Brian Peterson of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, SC points to the earthquake.  Peterson writes that “this earthquake is the visible manifestation of God shaking this world’s powers to their foundations.” God was more powerful than a Roman jail.  God is more powerful than the violence of this world.  God is more powerful than the economic interests that make big money off the sale of guns and ammunition.  God is more powerful than the powers that seek to make political hay from gun violence without effecting any change.  Our all-powerful God longs to shake things up, to rock the foundations of a world that has grown numb to senseless attacks.  God longs to set prisoners of violence free.  Trust in the power of God, my friends.

That all-powerful God calls faithful people everywhere to shake things up.  We are grateful citizens of this nation, and yet we belong to the Kingdom where Christ is King and love is the byword.  We have been saved and freed for God’s purpose.  In response to that amazing grace, we dare each day to nudge this broken world a little closer to that holy Kingdom that is all around us and still to come. 

It doesn’t matter what your social or political beliefs may be.  There is plenty of Kingdom work for those who would dare to break that horrific cycle of violence.  If we believe that mental illness is to blame, then we need to be out there making a healthcare system where those who suffer from mental illness get the best possible care, provided with great compassion and medical excellence at reasonable cost. If we believe that hate is to blame, then we have a lot of loving to do, we have many vulnerable people to shelter, and we have the work of non-violent resistance ahead of us.  If we believe that political agendas and gridlock impede change, then we need to find candidates who listen and use our votes to bring change to the halls of power.  If we believe that greed is the problem, from DC lobbyists to arms manufacturers, from videogame designers to an entertainment industry that glorifies violent heroes, then we need to think seriously about how we spend our money, time, and attention.  Never underestimate the power of collective action shared in pursuit of a Kingdom-purpose.  With God’s help, we can be world-changing.  Let’s shake things up, my friends.

If we squander our freedom with endless hand-wringing, indifference, or political in-fighting, we know what the consequences will be.  That cycle of violence will continue.  Senseless violent attacks will provoke our thoughts and prayers.  We’ll fail to take meaningful action.  We’ll lapse into apathy and indifference.  Then, yet another mass shooting at a place like Robb Elementary School or the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church or Tops Market will again launch the same brutal and intolerable cycle.  We don’t want that for our world.  We don’t want that for our children. 

Sing and pray.  Trust in God.  Shake things up.


Resources:

Jake Bleiberg, Jim Venturo, and Elliot Spagat. “Gunman’s Final 90 Minutes Fuel Questions about Police Delays” in Associated Press News, May 26, 2022.  Accessed online at apnews.com.

Eric Levinson, et al. “Uvalde School Shooting Suspect Was a Loner Who Bought Two Assault Rifles for His 18th Birthday” in CNN News, May 27, 2022. Accessed online at cnn.com.

AP News Staff. “Buffalo Supermarket Shooting: What Do We Know So Far?” in Associated Press News, May 24, 2022. Accessed online at apnews.com.

Damian Dovarganes and Christopher Weber. CA Churchgoers Detained Gunman in Deadly Attack” in Associated Press News, May 16, 2022.  Accessed online at apnews.com.

Jerusha Matsiu Neal. “Commentary on Acts 16:16-34” in Preaching This Week, May 29, 2022. Accessed online at http://www.workingpreacher.org.

Jennifer Kaalund. “Commentary on Acts 16:16-34” in Preaching This Week, June 2, 2019. Accessed online at http://www.workingpreacher.org.

Brian Peterson. “Commentary on Acts 16:16-34” in Preaching This Week, May 12, 2013. Accessed online at http://www.workingpreacher.org.


Acts 16:16-34

16One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” 18She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. 19But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. 20When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews 21and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” 22The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 24Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. 25About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.


Image credit: https://thedailycable.co/05/29/general-news/495197/these-are-our-children-80-minutes-of-horror-at-robb-elementary-school/

Daybreak

Poem for a Tuesday — “Daybreak” by Galway Kinnell

“On the tidal mud, just before sunset,
dozens of starfishes
were creeping. It was
as though the mud were a sky
and enormous, imperfect stars
moved across it as slowly
as the actual stars cross heaven.
All at once they stopped,
and, as if they had simply
increased their receptivity
to gravity, they sank down
into the mud, faded down
into it and lay still, and by the time
pink of sunset broke across them
they were as invisible
as the true stars at daybreak.”

from A Book of Luminous Things, ed. Czeslaw Milosz. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1996, p. 35


Born in Rhode Island, Galway Kinnell studied at Princeton University and traveled to Paris with a Fulbright Fellowship. He was committed to the cause of civil rights, serving with the Congress of Racial Equality and registering voters in Louisiana, where he was arrested for his efforts. Hudson Review contributor Vernon Young described Kinnell as “a poet of the landscape, a poet of soliloquy, a poet of the city’s underside and a poet who speaks for thieves, pushcart vendors and lumberjacks with an unforced simulation of the vernacular.” His collection Selected Poems (1980) was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. From 1989 to 1993, he was the Poet Laureate for the state of Vermont.


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