December 2014

JOSEPH BROODING I am always a little outside the main story. And it appears I am there again. My fiancé is pregnant and says “it is a God thing.” I know it is not a Joseph thing! She keeps talking about a baby born to a special purpose. She goes around the house singing lines from the prophet Isaiah like, “for a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders” or, “the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf, and the lion, and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” Then she will stop singing; get a big smile on her face, point to her protruding abdomen and say, “that’s my boy!” I don’t want to derail her bliss but I don’t like this feeling of being left out, so sometimes I will press her, “How do you know all this?” She becomes quiet and serious. Then with a straight face and a voice of firm conviction she talks of angel visits (even names them) and of well connected conversations with the Almighty. There is no arguing with that. You either agree and get into the game or put her away quietly, what another age will call, having her committed. Or you do what I do (what I do too much!): you hang around refusing to make a final decision. You settle for being an extra in what may be a God story, according to her, maybe the greatest God story ever. If it is a God story I wish I had a bigger part. I have worshipped the Almighty for as long as I can remember. I memorized the laws of the Torah and made them my own. I saturated myself in the prayers of the Psalms. But more than anything else I have delighted in the great stories of our faith. If any angels were as interested in my deep spirit as they seem interested in Mary’s they would know my hunger to be part of such a story. I want to be one of the chosen to journey with Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. I want to be one of King David’s generals. Sometimes I even imagine myself sharing a martyr’s death, an eighth brother to the mother and sons martyred under Antiochus IV. I want to experience the energy and the fulfillment that comes from being part of a larger story that overshadows the long and uneventful hours of carpentry. I want to play a significant part (not the part of an extra) in a God drama that will give my life weight and significance. But it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. No big scripts coming my way; no agents after me to play the lead or even supporting actor role. So I must decide how to bide my time as an extra in Mary’s story. I could opt out and let her sink in the hardness of life; our society is not kind to unmarried pregnant teenagers. I could step back and see if one of her angel friends shows up! But that’s not me. If you can’t do anything else you can do no harm; you can choose to not make things worse than they are. And that’s what I...

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November 2014

THE FALLING LEAVES The township has announced its annual curbside pick-up of fallen leaves. The painted leaves of autumn – the yellow of birch, the orange of maple, and the red of oak – are turning brown. They will soon “let go” and drop. Up in the mountains of northeast Pennsylvania the deer and Eric Frein are running out of cover. Closer to home we are surrounded daily with this stark reminder of the fragility and limitations of life. One of my favorite poets imagines the inner drama of an autumn leaf: stage 1 (“I’m beautiful and will be this way forever”); stage 2 (“what are these brown spots?”); stage 3 (“I’ll never let go”); and stage 4 (“It’s time for even me to let go”). Whether you consider yourself a religious person or not, the falling leaves of   autumn raise ultimate or spiritual questions that haunt. If we cannot make things or even ourselves stay forever, what shall we do with that deflating and depressing knowledge? Will we indulge in forced action or obsession in an effort to deny (“I’ll never let go”)? Will we try to seize the day before us? Will we permit the falling leaves of autumn to drown out the truth of the buds of spring or the lush green leaves of summer? The Bible invites us to follow the experience of life’s impermanence in a particular direction. In texts like Isaiah 40:8 we are urged to lift our gaze from the falling leaves to the constant communication that comes to us from the Eternal God. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. Here’s what I get when I extend to that text the courtesy to speak to me. (1) The promises that God makes to preserve God’s creation and humanity in it (e.g., Psalm 24: 1-2) is the greater truth that overshadows the lesser truth of the changing of the seasons and our mortality. With apologies to Nicolas Cage, “Left Behind” should be left behind! (2) The power that God has to create by his word from nothing (“let there be… and it was so… and it was good”) is available to God in projects of re-creation and renewal as well. God speaks and the people of God come home from their exile, Jesus who was truly “dead and buried” is resurrected to glory, and even old age can be turned into a time of sparkling witness (Psalm 71:18). (3) The presence of God’s word in pricks of conscience, inspirations for action, and friendly reminders of our beloved status is available to us 24×7, all the days of our lives. The leaves fall but the whispers, “you’re better than that,” “what if…,” and “you’ll be okay; I am here” go on and on and on. Pastor...

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