Anna Blaedel
First UMC, Osage
April 19, 2009
Acts 4:32-35
John 20:19-29

For Thomas, a risen, resurrected, present Jesus was simply too good to be true. This possibility was beyond his grasp. This gift, his gratitude, the grace of it all, simply too much to comprehend. Afraid to get his hopes up, scared all this might be revealed as a cruel joke, Thomas has to see the risen Christ, in order to believe. To believe in the body of Christ, real, and in this world, he wants to be able to touch it. Feel the flesh. And while Thomas’ doubt has made quite a name for himself, I can’t blame him one bit.

I know Thomas’ instinct all too well. I’d rather be safe, than sorry. Before daring to hope, I’d rather know that a possibility is hope-worthy. Before putting all my eggs in one basket, I’d rather some certainty that the basket can hold the weight. Before letting go of my fears, I’d rather them to be confirmed as false. Before believing, I’d rather see…Does any of this resonate with any of you? These tendencies, of mine and of Thomas, they are forgivable (hear the good news, thanks be to God!), Perhaps even understandable. But, Jesus says and our scriptures echo, timidity and fear are not of faith. Cowering does not create the kindom of God.

Let us pray: Come, Holy Spirit, Come. Come as the fire and burn, come as the wind and cleanse, come as the dew and refresh, come as the light and reveal. Convict, convert, consecrate, until we are (w)hol(l)y thine.

Fear in the hearts of the faithful and not so faithful alike abound in the Easter story. Pilate’s fear. The crowd’s fear. The religious leaders’ fear of riots. Jesus’ fear, praying alone in the dark garden. Judas’ fear, and his kiss. Peter’s fear, denying his association three times. Mark’s gospel ends with women running from the empty tomb, terrified. Last week we saw Simon Peter, the beloved disciple, and Mary running toward the tomb, scared, and then two returning home, still in fear, and Mary, weeping. This morning, Thomas’ fear that it might not be so has him locked into stubborn disbelief. And yet Jesus’ response, over and over and over again remains steady: “Do not be afraid.” “Have no fear.” “Don’t be scared; Believe!” “Receive the Holy Spirit. You are forgiven. Forgive others.”

The good news of a living, loving God, the Holy Spirit, the breath of God calls us out of fear and into faith.

In spite of this, in this morning’s gospel story, the disciples’ fear has them huddled in a locked room. And, it seems they have every reason to be terrified. They have denied, betrayed, and deserted Jesus. And through their betrayal, they have seen him tortured, executed. They bowed to the corrupt, unjust powers of coercion and force, and now are left alone to face the very empire that crucified their Lord.

Clearly they don’t believe Mary Magdalene, who has already given testimony to the risen, resurrected Christ. They have heard the good news, but don’t believe it. Their fear is too great.

And then, Jesus comes to them, into the disciples’ locked room and fear filled hearts, to pass the peace. “Shalom,” he says. Peace be with you. And then, they know. And, Jesus breathes on them. Oh, this show of intimacy. Close, in the flesh. Ours in an incarnational faith. Think about how close you have to be to another body to feel their breath? And Jesus’ breath bestows the Holy Spirit. Ruah—Spirit. Ruah—Breath. It’s the same word, in Hebrew. Like God gathering dust and forming it into a human body and breathing into its nostrils, creating life in Genesis. Like God calling forth life in the valley of dry bones, breathing new life into corpses, in Ezekial. God breathes into our fear, breathes Spirit. Hope. Resurrected Life.

And, with this intimacy, this breath, the fear fades away. Resurrection occurs. Restoration happens. Renewal is made possible. In this morning’s story, at least, for those gathered. Thomas wasn’t there, to receive this breath, to feel the Spirit move. Who can blame poor Thomas for his reluctance to believe, for his doubt when he first hears the good news? He wasn’t there to feel Jesus’ breath on his own skin, to encounter the living Christ, flesh to flesh. He only wants to see what the others have seen before committing to belief. To see that it’s possible, with his own two eyes.

The questions and challenges facing Thomas and the disciples locked in their fear and the earliest Christian communities described in Acts are not unlike the questions and challenges facing us, United Methodists in Osage, Iowa, in 2009: How might we be faithful, as we reinterpret our tradition? How are we to live as people of faith, Easter people, people of the resurrection, when the going gets tough, when fear sets in, when loss cuts sharp? How, as the risen body of Christ, might be live by faith, believe in and embody God’s basileia? This is God’s Easter call, to God’s faithful followers.

The book of Acts is the sequel to Luke’s gospel. On this 2nd Sunday of Easter we are moving from the Jesus story to our story, from the narrative of Jesus to the narrative of the early church. The writer is seeking to inspire and build up the faith of the gathered community. And in this short bit of writing, we read about the resurrected reign of the living God, here on Earth, in our lives. Basileia, is the word found in the text. Basileia. We have translated it: Kingdom of God, Kindom of God, Reign of God, Beloved Community.

Think about your experience in this church, in any church, as you hear these words: “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of Jesus, and great grace was upon them. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned land or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”

Holding everything in common; giving passionate testimony; experiencing and acknowledging great grace; not a needy person among them; all of it distributed to each as any had need. Does this sound too good to be true? Do we need to see it, first, to believe it?

As we transition from Jesus Story to Church Story, we transition from hearing about the basileia proclaimed by Jesus, to the call to us to create it, here, now. No longer will Jesus the prophet and teacher be moving from house to house, traveling and teaching about basileia practice. Now it is us, the body of Christ, called to create it. Live into it. Believe in it. Practice it. Even when, especially when, we can’t see it already around us. As we sang in our opening hymn, “Break the bread of new creation where the world is still in pain. Walk with gladness in the morning. See what love can do and dare.”

In 1st century Palestine, basileia would first call to mind the Roman imperial system of domination and exploitation. Jesus spent his life and ministry preaching against this imperial system, preaching the basileia of God, not of Rome. Basileia. An alternative way of living, over and against empire. Basileia. No more victimization or domination. The kind of living, from all of us, modeled after the example of Jesus, our Christ. Relationships free of coercion or domination. Where power pours forth, not from coercion, but from caring and cultivating relationships.

In the 4th chapter of Acts, we glimpse what this basileia practice looks like, feels like. Sharing of all, for all, with all. No longer mine vs. yours. Us vs. them. In the basileia of God, there is only ours. And everyone, everyone, can be and is part of the us.
As Walter Wink has written, “Killing Jesus was like trying to destroy a dandelion seed-head by blowing on it. It was like shattering a sun into a million fragments of light.”

The call to create the Kingdom of God, once residing in Jesus our Christ, now resides within each and every one of us, Jesus’ followers. Like trying to destroy a dandelion seed-head by blowing on it. Like shattering a sun into a million fragments of light.

When we look around us, when we read the paper, turn on the news, listen to the radio, even catch up over coffee at Hardees or Kountry Kupboard—it can be difficult to see Basileia.

God’s creation, suffering from disease, sorrow, addiction? God’s creation, called illegal, because of birthplace? Ankle bracelets and children living without their parents and border patrol and concrete walls and higher fences? God’s creation, placed on death row, taking away God’s chance for redemption? State execution, the very practice that crucified our Savior? God’s creation, vilified by churches, called immoral, feared, denied, hated? Negating God’s claim of sacred worth in every human being? God’s creation, living and dying in war zones, tortured, terrorized, traumatized, communities and families torn apart by death and violence? Basileia invites hope, community, recovery, comfort. Basileia proclaims all are welcome, anywhere on God’s earth, citizen and sojourner alike. Basileia claims there is always hope for God’s redeeming grace to restore and reconcile. Basileia welcomes everyone to the table, delights in difference, sees Christ in the faces of those who are cast out and overlooked. Jesus announced basileia with “Shalom. Peace be upon you. Peace be with you. Peace be among you. Peace be within you.”

When we look around us, if we look around us, it is not always easy to see basilea. Remember, when the disciples looked around them, locked in a room for their fear, it wasn’t easy to see basileia, or believe in a risen Christ.

And yet. Over and over, Jesus proclaimed: “The Basileia of God is among you. Believe!” Do you see it? “Blessed,” says Jesus, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

God’s basileia, the body of Christ is here, among us.

Sally Hoelsher, a United Methodist in Iowa, wrote this poem after reading this week’s lectionary texts from the gospel of John and book of Acts.

“It sounds appealing.
Everyone getting along.
Each one having what he or she needs.
God’s light shining on all of us.

What a day that would be!
Working together to care for all of God’s children.
Even if we sometimes had to agree to disagree.
Accepting that God’s light appears in many forms.

It will never happen.
Not in my lifetime.
It is too big of a task.
There are too many obstacles.”

I am relating to Thomas.
Skeptical, unsure whether I can believe.
I want to see that the dream is possible.
Is that too much to ask?”

Sally was having a hard time believing, without seeing. So, she prayed. And read the scriptures again. And searched her fear, and remembered the promise made real in the resurrection. And, as an act of faith, she added a final stanza to the poem.

“Reading the scriptures again,
I begin to see
A vision of what could be.
Will you work together with me?”

Blessed is Sally, who is seeing and has come to believe. Blessed are you, when you come to believe. Blessed are we, when we come to believe. The Basileia of God is among us. We are the risen body of Christ. Each of us, a fragment of God’s love and light, ready to share and shine in the world.

May it be so. Amen.

"an empty tomb; overflowing hearts"

Anna Blaedel
First UMC, Osage
April 12, 2009
Easter Sunday
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
John 20:1-18

Those of you who read the Easter article on the front page of this week’s Press News have glimpsed a preview of my Easter sermon. You know what’s coming. Let me quote, myself: “At Easter, we celebrate God’s Resurrection Power. We celebrate signs of this power for renewed life and love for all—the empty tomb, the risen Christ, God’s desire to coax new life out of death, renewed hope out of utter hopelessness. In the Easter story, we meet a resurrected Savior. This One who was an outcast, betrayed even by friends, persecuted by the powerful, damned by religious authorities, tortured, crucified, executed by the state—This One is Alive! Hear the Good News! Death and injustice did not win. God’s love is triumphant! Hallelujah!”

Hear this poem, written by Anne Hillman:

we look with uncertainty
beyond the old choices for
clear-cut answers
to a softer, more permeable aliveness
which is every moment
at the brink of death;
for something new is being born in us
if we let it.
we stand at a new doorway,
awaiting that which comes…
daring to be human creatures.
vulnerable to the beauty of existence.
learning to love.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O God, our living strength, and resurrected redeemer.

Not quite two weeks ago, a small handful of people gathered in the resource room here at this church and envisioned a new way for this community of faith to live into our ministry of transforming the world, building beloved community, creating the kindom of god, here, now. We talked about planting a community garden. And, this summer, having a series of events—seminars, cooking classes, community meals—aimed at educating and embodying being good stewards of our bodies, of the land, of our food. Helping families who have very little money learn how to cook and eat for nourishment, and enjoyment. Helping us practice our sacramental call to gather at table, feed each other, give thanks to God, and be fed, in body and soul. The meeting felt, at least to me, Spirit led. Ideas and visions and possibilities poured out.

Now, I have already confessed to you all my utter lack of knowledge and experience in all things gardening, and my desire to learn, to cultivate this practice. But the Spirit seemed to be moving, and I know there are many sitting in these pews today who are excellent gardeners, committed participants in this community, and practitioners of extravagant generosity. So, I started praying. That God would give us what we needed. That it would be clear if there was enough energy and excitement around this project to make it possible, and to sustain it. I prayed, and I started planting seeds, in soil, and in some of you.

A few days later, after emerging from my morning prayer time with this community garden centered in my heart, I walked into the church. Sitting on the floor next to the door was a flat, full of baby cabbage plants. Offered, from someone outside the church, for us. Just in case, we had use of them. Just in case we wanted to plant them. Just in case. Grace. Then, on Friday, a woman from here in town called, someone I have never met, saying she heard we might want to start a garden. Would we want to use her plot, since she can’t garden anymore? It sure would be fun, if you’re willing to tend land of a Presbyterian, she said. She attended this church until she married, decades ago.

Over and over, I was floored. Surprised by these seemingly swift confirmations of and answers to prayer. So surprised. My heart overflowed. Mystery. Spirit. Gratitude. Grace.

But why was I surprised? Is this not the promise God has made, a promise lived out over and over in our lives? The psalmist knows to cry out: Give thanks to God, for God is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever! This is the day our God has made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it!”

So why, when we glimpse God’s goodness, when we experience God’s steadfast love enduring, carrying us through—why is it surprising? This is the day, after all, our God has made! Let our hearts overflow with joy, and be glad in it!

In this morning’s reading from the gospel of John, the gospel writer tells of the resurrection stories, and points to the ways Jesus’ promises from previous chapters are fulfilled. The reader, the hearer, US—we are invited to see that Jesus’ words about the future life of the community can and indeed are a source of new life. We are invited to remember the promises—of Jesus, of God.

Piece by piece the evidence of the empty tomb is unveiled—first Mary sees the stone; then the beloved disciple finds the linen clothes; then Simon Peter discovers the head covering.
And Mary, Mary is heartbroken. Her heart is overflowing. Full of grief. Consumed by loss. She is weeping. Mary sees the stone rolled away and at once assumes someone has stolen Jesus’ body. Not only has she lost this beloved Teacher, Leader, Prophet, Messiah. Now she can’t even tend to the body, and lay him to rest. The last remnant of the relationship seems to have disappeared.

Now remember, Jesus had been promising to return. Predicting that he would rise from death. Prophesying this resurrection power. This promise was partly responsible for his death, what so terrified the powers that be. The politicians whose stronghold was threatened, the religious leaders whose doctrines and proclamations were cracking and crumbling to their core. Jesus’ resurrection should come as no surprise to these, the gathered faithful. There was nothing secretive about it. Nothing outside what had already been promised.

What should surprise us in this story is how these three—Simon Peter, the beloved disciple, and Mary Magdalene—saw the empty tomb and didn’t recognize, immediately, the signs of resurrection, unleashed and unloosed.

But then again, your pastor was surprised to find the cabbage plants after praying for a sign. And surprised again when a stranger called, offering garden space.

The great theologian Karl Barth, when preaching to a bunch of preachers, once said this: “If the resurrection is true, then each of us has some serious changes to make in our living.” Give thanks to God, for God is good; God’s love endures forever! This is the day! Rejoice and be glad!

Easter is an invitation into a whole world of new possibilities. If the old adage is true, and nothing is certain but death and taxes, suddenly half of the certainty slips away. Death is not longer certain. Its final say, no longer final. Its dependability, no longer dependable.

Bill Cotton, a United Methodist pastor in this conference wrote: “The word that Jesus lives lifted the world right off its hinges. A crack appears in the prison walls of our presuming we have the answers [and know what’s around the corner.] A stone is rolled away from the tomb of our entrapments.” Entrapments—Certainty. Cynicism. Fear.

“Woman, why are you weeping?” This question is first posed to Mary by the male disciples, who happen upon her. Then, by the risen Christ, assumed to be the gardener. Jesus said to Mary, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She said to this supposed gardener, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Then, Jesus reveals himself to her. “Mary!” he says, and she turns and says, “Rabbouni!” Teacher! Mary recognizes Jesus because he calls her by name. In her grief and confusion and desperation, she is known, deeply known. And the power of resurrection, once glimpsed, is now glaringly obvious. Mary stands at a new doorway, vulnerable to the beauty of existence, learning how to love.

And Jesus shares with Mary the Good News: We share a Creator; we share one God. My Creator and your Creator, my God and your God. And, even this good news means Mary has to let go once again. She is called to trust in the unshakable, unbreakable bond of relationship, made even more real through the resurrection. “Something new is being born in us, if we let it.”

Listen again to the Easter Blessing in Anne Hillman’s poem:

we look with uncertainty
beyond the old choices for
clear-cut answers
to a softer, more permeable aliveness
which is every moment
at the brink of death;
for something new is being born in us
if we let it.
we stand at a new doorway,
awaiting that which comes…
daring to be human creatures.
vulnerable to the beauty of existence.
learning to love.

The Good News is Alive! This is the promise; it should come as no surprise! Hear the Good News! We are called by name into relationship with the Living God. The Resurrected One invites us to learn how to love. Death and injustice do not win. God’s love is triumphing! Hallelujah! Amen.

"and we broke down and wept" an historic palm sunday in iowa

Anna Blaedel
First UMC, Osage
April 5, 2009
Passion/Palm Sunday
Mark 14:1-72

Today I want to share two stories with you. One is from the gospel of Mark—the 14th chapter, in its entirety. The other is a story written by a woman in Iowa. Her name is Diane. I am scared to tell both stories. Neither are easy stories to hear. Both have brought me to tears. In the first, Jesus admits openly who he is, the Messiah, and the disciples show their true colors by betraying him and fleeing, denying Jesus in his hour of greatest need. And, in the first story, we glimpse into the Last Supper in the Upper Room, this place where our sacrament of communion began. And, in this first story, Jesus comes face to face with the Jerusalem council of chief priests and religious elders as they try over and over to bring false witness against him, to convict him and sentence him to death. In the second story, well, I won’t ruin a story you haven’t yet heard by getting ahead of myself. 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, O God, our strength, and our redeemer.

I have known many blessings throughout my life—none more precious than the opportunity to be a parent to two beautiful children. The first of those children came to me and my husband, Art, from Korea when she was only three months old. Katie arrived at JFK in New York dressed up in a jumpsuit and bonnet on a hot summer day in July.

It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.”

We brought Katie to church on her very first Sunday in the United States, and it took no time at all for her to realize that since her new daddy was a United Methodist pastor, she was going to have a home away from home and a very large extended family! There hadn’t been a “parsonage baby” in a very long time, so Katie was passed from one smiling person to another—all hands extended in welcome and in joy to receive her.

While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, whenever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.

It wasn’t long before Katie realized that she was a part of the church even if not yet a member and that she had gifts that she could share. She loved to sing and decided that the church could use a children’s choir, so she started one when she was six years old. I couldn’t have been more proud when the little choir of ten children got up one Sunday morning for the very first time and sang. Katie was beaming!

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

Katie loved children. As soon as she was able, she graduated from being a student at Vacation Bible School to being a helper. Children were drawn to her as if she were a magnet, and she loved working with them. I can still remember how thrilled she was to be able to share the stories of God’s love with a room full of 3rd and 4th graders the first summer she was asked to teach.

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal. When it was evening, Jesus came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be distressed and say to him one after another, “Surely, not I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the cup with me.

Katie grew up in the United Methodist Church. Her faith was formed there, and on the day her daddy placed his hands on her head and confirmed her, there were tears pouring down his face and everyone else’s. As a full member of the church, Katie helped out wherever she was needed. She would never miss a youth group meeting and enjoyed reaching out to the elderly in the congregation—raking leaves, shoveling snow, visiting homebound members—it was all a natural part of her life. She participated in youth mission trips where she touched the lives of people right in our own neighborhood and abroad.

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many.

The years went by far too swiftly, and Katie went off to college. One summer break, she came home with news. She had made some agonizing discoveries about herself and about her sexual orientation. Try as she might to ignore and to fight what her body was telling her, Katie realized that her life would be different than she had always hoped and dreamed. At first she thought she would live her life alone—a thought that filled her with deep sadness, but now there was someone special in her life—another young woman that she wanted us to meet.

When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Even though all become deserters, I will not.” Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said vehemently, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And all of them said the same.

Katie expected the news she shared to fall like a bombshell. But there was a knowledge within me, a kind of mother’s knowing, that led me to expect the news she shared. I will always be thankful for the grace that enabled me to take her in my arms that day and for the words that spilled out. She was the girl she had always been. Nothing had changed. She was my child and I loved her.

They went to a place called Gathsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that , if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, “Abba, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again Jesus went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Anointed One is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”

Being a “preacher’s kid” was never a drawback for Katie. She was always proud of her dad and what he did, and when I broke the news to our children that I too felt called to serve God as an ordained minister, Katie was doubly proud. She encouraged me and supported me every step of my journey through Divinity School and into my first pastorate. When I felt overwhelmed or discouraged, Katie, with faith-filled language, reminded me that the God who called me would be there to help me through. She was always right.

Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to them, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me.” All of them deserted him and fled.

The timing of the United Methodist Judicial Council Decision 1032 in 2005 couldn’t have been worse for me. The council had reaffirmed a pastor’s right to deny church membership to a practicing homosexual on the eve of my interview with the Board of Ordained Ministry. I was about to request ordination into a church that could, at a pastor’s discretion, refuse membership to my child, a child of two United Methodist pastors, a child of God, simply because she is who God created her to be. How could I do this? In accepting the privilege of serving my church, would I be denying my own daughter? Was God asking me to do something this difficult? Katie’s words of reassurance urged me forward. God was in all that we were experiencing—her revelations about herself, my call to ordained ministry—she didn’t know how, but God would use us both.

They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” But even on this point their testimony did not agree. Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus said, “I am.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him over and beat him.

In June 2007, my stomach was tied in knots as I stood on the floor of the Iowa Annual Conference session to share the story of my grown up little child who has taught me so much about God. A pastor in our church may deny her church membership, but that will not stop her from serving God wherever she is.

While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, “You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.” But he denied it, saying, “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.” And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to saw to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.” But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know this man you are talking about.” At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

We can close our church doors [and our hearts] to people who are different than we are because we don’t understand them or because we, in our judgment, think they are too sinful to enter in. But if we do, where will our children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, and friends go when they need to stand on holy ground and hear these words from our God: ‘Nothing has changed. You are my child, and I love you.’