it is raining, and gray.

i want to stay in bed, all day.

"beloved, let us once more praise the rain" by conrad aiken

Beloved, let us once more praise the rain.
Let us discover some new alphabet,
For this, the often praised; and be ourselves,
The rain, the chickweed, and the burdock leaf,
The green-white privet flower, the spotted stone,
And all that welcomes the rain; the sparrow too,—
Who watches with a hard eye from seclusion,
Beneath the elm-tree bough, till rain is done.
There is an oriole who, upside down,
Hangs at his nest, and flicks an orange wing,—
Under a tree as dead and still as lead;
There is a single leaf, in all this heaven
Of leaves, which rain has loosened from its twig:
The stem breaks, and it falls, but it is caught
Upon a sister leaf, and thus she hangs;
There is an acorn cup, beside a mushroom
Which catches three drops from the stooping cloud.
The timid bee goes back to the hive; the fly
Under the broad leaf of the hollyhock
Perpends stupid with cold; the raindark snail
Surveys the wet world from a watery stone...
And still the syllables of water whisper:
The wheel of cloud whirs slowly: while we wait
In the dark room; and in your heart I find
One silver raindrop,—on a hawthorn leaf,—
Orion in a cobweb, and the World.

What Are We Waiting For?

Anna Blaedel
First UMC, Osage
November 9, 2008
Psalm 78:1-7
Matthew 25: 1-13

My mom happens to be here in worship this morning. So, now I don’t have to talk about her behind her back. This morning’s gospel reading first took on meaning in my life, first became the Living Word, the good news to guide my life, because of my mom. She takes this text seriously. She wants, always, to have oil in her lamps. And she orders her life around this spiritual practice of preparation. She orders her life around being ready for God’s unexpected visits. She, more than maybe anyone I know, is open to receiving uninvited visitors, unexpected interruptions, unanticipated events, as a sacred gift from God, an invitation into God’s grace-filled living, an opportunity to experience and serve and praise God. Let us pray: O God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts, be acceptable and pleasing to you, our strength and our redeemer.

This is not an easy text to hear, to live, or to preach. Anna Carter Florence, a preaching professor, has these words about this text: “The story of the wise and foolish bridesmaids is not a text for the faint-hearted. It’s scary and damning and irrevocable, as stories about the end of the world have a tendency to be. In it, Jesus is the gate-keeping troll.” Scary. Damning. Irrevocable.

This story is about the coming reign of God. The inbreaking of God’s kingdom here on this earth.

I heard a story about a high school science teacher in Nashville who takes great pleasure in slamming the classroom door as soon as the bell rings, and then saying with relish to every late student knocking on the door, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you!” I promise I will not take up this practice here at church! The response of this teacher is true to the text, but not, I believe, true to it’s meaning. True to the letter, not the spirit. God does not call us, Christ does not teach us, to be gate-keeping trolls. So what does this story offer?

Perhaps we are to take from it a reminder of God’s grace, the oil for our lamps, which is offered us in abundant supply, if only we take the time to stop. To fill and refill. To carry this oil, this blessing, with us as we journey.

Perhaps we are to take from this story a warning, to wake up, to look around us. To look at the pain and injustice in the world, to refuse to ignore what is hard to see, and then to respond in love and faith. For it is the broken places, we are taught, where God will visit first, and will pour out God’s blessing.

Perhaps we are to take from this story the invitation to prepare, now, for meeting God, in the people God sends into our lives. Like Frances Morse keeping homemade pies in her freezer to welcome guests. Like my mom, with big tubs of flour and bundles of yeast for baking delicious bread whenever, or keeping dozens of eggs and almost as many cake keepers so that every birthday is celebrated, everyone born lifted up as a child of God, a gift from God, or choosing her new car with the conditions that it fit up to six birthday cakes and a pot of soup and a loaf of bread for Wednesday night church soup suppers, and that it fit her friends, disabilities and walkers and wheelchairs and baggage and all, when they need a ride. Keeping oil in her lamps. Preparing herself for God, and God’s inbreaking in her life every day.

Perhaps this text can help assess our own reserve of life and light giving oil, can help us see clearly, as children of God, our own expectation, preparation, and creation of the Kindom of God here, now.

Perhaps it can warn us, if our oil is running dangerously low.

This text is about God’s unexpected visit, God coming not when we are scrubbed clean and sitting, shining, in our pews on Sunday morning, but God coming when we least expect it to judge and to bless, to assess our situation and our faithfulness. The word foolish in this story can also be translated, lukewarm. Not quite cold, but not really ready.

What if we waited, watched, for this coming with the same attention and eagerness with which we watched the electoral numbers coming in last Tuesday night? What if we spent the time and money and energy and prayer of these past campaigns, complete with yard signs and bumper stickers and commercial spots and Saturday Night Live spoofs, what if our collective conversation carried on past the election of Barack Obama as the next president of the United States, and into how we can participate in creating the Kingdom, in this community, this country, this world.. How we can be part of the change this country and world needs? Ending poverty. Loving our neighbor. Welcoming the outcast. Visiting those in prison. Sharing the good news of God’s love not just with those we love, but with those God loves. Each and every one.

Jesus and Matthew are always warning about those who attach themselves to the Church, but fail to do God’s work. Cautioning against speaking the language of faith, but forgetting or failing to follow through. Proclaiming our part in the Kingdom of God but acting in ways that would leave Jesus wondering, “Who are you? Do I know you?”

When, O God, are you coming? How shall we meet you? How shall we greet you?

This text begins the 25th chapter of Matthew, and paves the way for the story this church chose at Charge Conference to guide and reflect our ministry as a faith community. Matthew 25. When, God, did we welcome you or feed you or clothe you or visit you? When did we have these opportunities? And Jesus replies, “When you did it to the least of these, the lost and the last, you did this to me.” Oil in our lamps. Being ready to meet God.

This text may be scary and damning and irrevocable. It is exciting. Invitating. Again, from Anna Carter Florence. “I think preachers who use this parable as a way to scare us all straight are missing the point. God doesn’t want us to fill our lamps because we’re afraid we’re going to get locked out of the Kingdom. We aren’t to stockpile oil because then we can turn everybody else away. No. We are to stop and fill, and take it with us. Fill our lamps with joy. With eager anticipation. This is the biblical price of oil: the desire to meet Jesus when he comes. Which he will and which he does. Soon. Now.”

As we gathered, we sang: “This is the day God has made! Let us rejoice, and be glad!” Did we mean it? We say we want to serve God, to follow Christ. To make disciples and to transform the world. Are we ready to follow through?

Remember the words from the psalmist: “Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from our children; we will tell to the coming generation the glorious deed of God, and the wonders God has done.”

God gives us the oil we need. No further drilling, required. Our lives are lamps, offered to light the way to God and for God. For ourselves and for others. Will we remember to take our lamps with us? Will we be faithful to refueling and refilling? Will we watch, attentive and eager, for the unexpected arrival of God in our midst? What are we ready for? What are we waiting for?

Thanks be to God. Amen.

united methodist bishops write a letter praising obama's call for a more just and peaceful world.

With tears, hymns and prayers, a jubilant United Methodist Council of Bishops celebrated the election of Barack Obama as U.S. president, while affirming his vision of change for the nation "based on hope for all the people, especially those who are disinherited and disenfranchised."

During their semiannual meeting in St. Simons Island, the clergy leaders hugged and many cried in their opening worship on Nov. 5, one day after Obama became the first African American elected to the top government office in the United States.

Holding hands, they sang "My Lord, What a Morning" and the Negro anthem "Lift Every Voice and Sing," while many chanted "Yes, we did!," the phrase echoed during Obama's acceptance speech the night before.

The new president-elect symbolizes and magnifies part of our common life that hasn't been brought to fore in this way.
"The election of any president in a democracy is a great day," said Bishop Gregory Palmer, president of the Council of Bishops and himself an African American. "The new president-elect symbolizes and magnifies part of our common life that hasn't been brought to fore in this way."

The council, including 69 active and 91 retired bishops, is the top clergy body of the 11.5 million-member worldwide United Methodist Church, the second largest Protestant denomination in the United States. The council represents bishops from the United States, Africa, Europe and the Philippines. It helps set the direction of the denomination and its mission across the globe.

The council's officers quickly signed a letter of congratulations to the new president. "The Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church is pleased to join with the chorus of United States citizens and international partners in congratulating you on your election as the 44th President of the United States of America," the letter opened.

"We applaud your willingness to articulate a vision of change for the United States that is based on hope for all the people, especially those who are disinherited and disenfranchised. We are also encouraged by your desire to construct a landscape for the United States that is inclusive of all people. We affirm your desire for a more peaceful and just world."

The bishops also signed two Bibles to be presented to Obama and the future first lady, Michelle Obama. The bishops asked in their letter to meet the couple during the council's meeting next May in Washington, D.C.

"A visit with the president by representatives of the Council of Bishops is a tradition that dates back to our first bishop, Francis Asbury, who visited with President George Washington," the letter pointed out.

'A new day'

The election's outcome brought moving and emotional reactions from bishops from across the world.

Today makes the week I spent in jail in Mississippi in 1963 really meaningful.

Retired Bishop Herbert Skeete recalled how he spent a week in jail in Mississippi in 1963 for attempting to help integrate a Methodist church in Jackson and open its doors for African Americans to worship.

"Today makes the week I spent in jail in Mississippi in 1963 really meaningful," said Skeete, himself black. "It is certainly a blessing for us all, for the country and the world. We are entering a new day."

Retired Bishop Beverly Shamana agreed. "In my heart, I did not think that I would be able to see this day,” she said. “I am just overwhelmed. The impact that this is going to have on the world is just unimaginable, but we know that it is going to make such a huge difference in the hearts and minds of people."

Shamana said the election made her think of other African Americans, both old and young. "I think about those older than me, like my father, who never would have thought that he would see this day, and of my biracial nephew, who has a new sense of who he is because of the president-elect,” she said. “My heart is warmed and I am so happy."

For Bishop Donald Ott, executive secretary of the council, Obama's election represents "a marvelous seismic shift" and proves that people want change and a new image for the United States in the world. "The face of President Obama and his message will bring that," he said. "I am personally pleased because of the articulation of many things in his voice and his record that indicate alignment with the values that are in the Christian faith."

This was a historic landmark election for the life of this country.

Bishop Susan Hassneger, who represents United Methodists in the area around Albany, N.Y., said Obama's election brought Isaiah 43:19 to mind, declaring that "a new thing has sprung forth."

Newly elected Bishop Grant Hagiya, an Asian American who leads the church's Seattle Area, called Obama "a symbol of diversity" that signifies change. He said changing the guard should lead to greater safety in the United States, as well as an improved perception of the United States in the world.

"This was a historic landmark election for the life of this country," said Bishop Emilio De Carvalho, a retired bishop of Angola. "It makes a change in relationships not only among U.S. citizens but also nations of the whole world. We congratulate the American people for this election."

Bishop John Innis of Liberia was elated that an African American will lead the United States. "Our God is great and to see what [God] has done in the world … by electing the first black man as president of this great nation is historic," he said. "A new day has come."

Rosemary Wenner, bishop of Germany, also congratulated the United States. "The people in Germany celebrate with you,” she said. “We all know that struggle of racism throughout the world."

This article was written by United Methodist News Service writer Linda Green, who is based in Nashville.

words from winker: jim winkler speaks of obama and hope

Hope survived
By Jim Winkler, General Secretary, General Board of Church & Society
I was present at the meeting of the Council of Bishops on Nov. 4. There was great enthusiasm and delight at the news Barack Obama has been elected president. All present are aware we are witnesses to history.

In days immediately following the election, thousands of people lined up at the offices of newspapers such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times to seek copies of the editions announcing Obama’s election. People will remember where they were on election day just as they remember other historic moments such as Sept. 11, 2001, and Nov. 22, 1963.

His election raises my hopes we can see progress towards peace and social and economic justice.

What more is there to say? Countless columns have been written already by people attempting to ascertain the significance of Obama’s election. I’ll simply add that his election raises my hopes we can see progress towards peace and social and economic justice during the Obama administration.

President-elect Obama is not the savior, nor does he claim to be. In fact, some of his proposed policies are at odds with stances expressed this past spring by our denomination’s highest policy-making body, the General Conference.

There does at least appear to be room for discussion with the new administration, though. Quite frankly, this was almost wholly absent these past eight years during the administration of a president who happened to be United Methodist.

There will be plenty of time in the future to discuss policy issues, though. Now is a time to celebrate a remarkable accomplishment. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said he envisioned a black man as the President of the United States by 1988. While the wheels of change move ever so slowly and Dr. King’s vision wasn’t realized until 2008, nonetheless a significant milestone has been achieved.

It is difficult, if not impossible, for many of us to comprehend the hope this milestone represents for a people whose roots in the “land of the free” began in slavery. This moment demands reverent reflection. Change was the mantra of this election, and that was true on many levels. Mostly, though, it was about hope, and this time, hope survived, perhaps to a magnitude that has never before been known. Thanks be to God!

"Blessed Are..."

Anna Blaedel
November 2, 2008
Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37
Matthew 5:1-12

Celebrating All Saints Day and Communion

I want to tell you about one of God’s saints. A couple of you might even know him. His name is Bob Farr. Bob is still with us, still living life on earth into his 80s. Bob began his ministry as a Methodist pastor in 1948, 20 years before, in fact, there even was a United Methodist Church. Bob would never call himself a saint, but I do every time I e-mail him, just about every week. Bob, you dear saint, I always begin… Bob returns this blessing with every e-mail. Anna, my joy, he always begins… We bless each other, with every e-mail. He would never call himself a saint. In fact, when I asked if I could mention him in this sermon, he had this response: “I still say I am not a Christian, one who follows and shows Christ. I am a redeemed sinner, whom Christ is finding. I pray I live long enough to become a Christian.”

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed is Bob, for he is well on his way indeed, to living the life of Christ’s mercy, compassion, and love. Let us pray… O God, may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts, be acceptable and pleasing in your sight, our Strength and our Redeemer.

Bob Farr is a voracious reader and scholar, and blesses me by passing on the bits of wisdom from saints and prophets he discovers. His rich life of study and prayer is a shared blessing between us. Friday morning he e-mailed after rediscovering Tyndale, a 16th century Christian who has impacted each of us and our faith practice, more than you might know. In England in 1409, owning or reading an English version of the Bible was punishable by death. Tyndale believed, and told the Bishop of London, that the boy at the plow could know more about scripture than the Bishop. The boy at the plow was as blessed as the bishop. Tyndale took recent editions of the Greek NT and started translating. The religious authorities, bent on protecting their hold on Biblical truth, found him and chased him out of town. The Bible, especially the Beatitudes, was dangerous reading material. It offers, after all, hope to those with no hope. Within its pages we learn a rich man won’t make it into heaven until a camel can make it through the eye of a needle. But the poor are God’s beloved, blessed by God. Good news for the communion of saints. Bad news for those in power, for those wielding their power against others. So.

Tyndale learned Hebrew in Germany, and published a number of books of the Christian Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible, before a fellow English church member turned him in, again, to the authorities. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The church imprisoned him for almost a year, and then burnt him at the stake. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely…The charge, heresy. To claim the Bible as divine in any other language than Latin, heretical.

It was Tyndale the heretic who first translated the Bible into understandable English. He received in reading the Bible a blessing from God, and wanted to share this blessing with others. As Karl Barth said, and Bob Farr reminded: “The Bible is a window through which God shines through to us. Worship the Light. Not the window.” The same could be said for the church, a place where God’s blessing might flow and overflow. Give thanks for the blessing, not the building.

This morning’s gospel reading is the first part of Jesus’ sermon on the mount. The beatitudes. Or translated, The Blessings. When Jesus preached this sermon, it was designed to shock the audience. Wake them up a little. A deliberate inversion of standard values, these Blessings from Jesus. Their bite, their blessing, their umph, is often lost today due to the familiarity of these words. Hear this blessing again.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad!”

In this series of blessings, Jesus names the community of saints, those who should lead us, those whose leadership we need to recognize. Those whose leadership we need to step into. Not the emperors, conquerors, governors, or priests…no. Blessed is the common communion. The poor. The persecuted. The peacemakers.

We who have known grief, who hunger and thirst for a new and renewed world. Those who are building beloved community, becoming the reign of God, not trickled down from the top but birthed from the bottom and shared. Blessing: an inward contentedness and joy not fully determined by the surrounding circumstances. Blessed, not because there is no war, but when we dare to work for peace in the midst of war. Blessed, not because there is nothing to mourn, but because we mourn loss and grieve injustice and seek to comfort each other in the midst of it all.

Etty Hillesum died in Auschwitz when she was 29 years old. In the midst of unimaginable mourning, surrounded by horrendous violence and disregard for humanity’s shared sacred worth, Etty wrote: “Our human vocation, our spiritual calling, is to safeguard that little piece of God that is found in each of us—to make a safe dwelling place for God to be at home in the world.” Our vocation—not to chase down, finally, a blessing from God, but to receive, glimpse by glimpse until finally and fully, the blessing God has already, always, offered us. And to return that blessing to others. Make space for God and God’s blessing in our lives, and then work in the world to make space for God. Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are the merciful.

Rejoice! You are blessed! When we work for peace in the midst of warring madness, we are blessed, children of God! When we summon the courage to seek justice, rather than secure our own self interest, we are blessed! When we vote because we want to end poverty, care for and sustain creation, provide health care and education and safe spaces for all our children, all God’s children, we are blessed!

O that we might receive the blessing of this text, more than receive the familiar litany. We are blessed and through our living we can bless others. When we live into our blessedness, we participate in the work of the Kindom. When we build relationships of blessing, we will find relationships of awe, of passion and compassion, love and justice for our earth and all her people.

What would your life be like, you communion of saints, you, if you believed, deep down in your bones, that you are blessed, beloved by God? That you are called and invited to be a blessing? Sit with that. What would be different? What would you do differently?

What would our life together be like if we believed, deep down in our collective bones, that we are blessed, beloved by God, and invited and called to bring God’s blessing to the people we meet?

The communion of saints calls us to remember. The Beatitudes bless us into recalling. May we allow Christ to find us through these blessings. If we live the beatitudes, live our blessing, God’s light shines through us. We become a living blessing, and through our hands and hearts and lips God’s blessing might flow and overflow this world. This morning, may we receive the blessing, not just the text. May we receive God’s light, not just the window. Amen, and amen.