Friday, June 25, 2010

The Braggin' Pastor!

My little church in Lee, IL has hit the bigtime!  We're in the Lutheran--hey, for us, it's not so bad!  Following is the article I sent to them, and then the link to the distillation thereof.  But, I am so proud of them!  Go Lutherans!  Especially those in little churches still serving in the country!

Once upon a time, there was this little church in the middle of the country, and they decided they wanted to do something nice for people. “Feed them”…Jesus said, so they did. They opened up their doors and made these really great signs and some really fluffy pancakes, and they were feeling so wonderful and hospitable and gracious, and pretty good about themselves. Which was good, because sometimes little country churches don’t always feel that way. But, for some reason, no one came. They’d hear the door open, and get all excited, but alas it was just another one of the nice little church people. “Where are they,” they asked each other. “Don’t they know how great and wonderful we are? Don’t they know we want to help them? What kind of people can’t take the time to walk the few blocks and come through our doors?” And the little country church started to get a little discouraged…and wondered if maybe they really couldn’t do it. Maybe God really wouldn’t use them; they were too small, too insignificant, too different…when suddenly a little angel voice said “what if we took the pancakes to them?” And the world flipped on its head. What if we took the pancakes to them…what if instead of asking others to step out of their world, we stepped out of ours…what if instead of complaining that no one ever comes!, they decided to put some legs on the gospel.

So the little church opened their doors again, this time not asking others to come in, but in order to go out. And they met some really hungry people; some people who said “we haven’t had a hot meal in such a long time;” they talked with some people who needed to tell their story as much as they needed a plate full of syrup. They met some people outside those little county church doors…actually they met Jesus, and the view from that upside down world, has never looked better.

Are you hungry yet!?!? If so, join our Nurture Kitchen at First Lutheran in Lee, IL with your presence or your prayers. We are currently open the 3rd Saturday of the month (although we’d love to expand!), and we serve a free meal of pancakes, sausage and bacon to anyone who happens to come through our doors, (or when no one shows up) to those gathered at the local NICE Center food pantry. Bring your apron, your pancake flipper, and your hungry heart—because amazingly enough, pancakes can change the world.

Since I don't know how to make a link, you can just copy and paste.  Sorry!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sermon for this Sunday!

That's right people!  It's Thursday and it's done.  I'm posting it b/c you can now respond and I can actually make changes before the people of God have to hear it.  Also, my ending (as per usual) is quite weak.  Suggestions would be appreciated.

     So, I’ve started this new diet—or life-style change. And one of the “rules” is that you strictly follow the guidelines for six days and on the seventh day, you get a “free day,” no rules whatsoever. Taking full advantage of that day, I normally eat as many calories on Sunday as I do on all the other days combined. And although I look forward to my chocolate chip cookie with frosting on top all week, once the day begins, it’s not always such a good one. I know I have the freedom to keep eating—so I do, and then I get really, really sick. And it takes me until Thursday to lose back everything that I had lost the previous week; and I spend the whole day praying for it to be finished so the rules can take over and I can start behaving like a normal human being again. Maybe I should actually read Scripture a little more often—because if I did, I would hear “do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence…” and I would add, because it will make you throw up.

     We normally think of freedom as something that’s entirely positive…as something we long for and desire. But, once you’ve got it, it’s really hard work. Not only in the diet world, but the real one as well. Inmates freed from prison often have an extremely difficult time making it on the “outside.” Slaves, freed during the Civil War, found no more open doors or open hearts than they did when they were living on plantations.

     Once your world opens up, and there are all these choices and decisions to be made in front of you, the narrow path of being bound, often seems much more appealing. I really think that’s why the more fundamental mega-churches are thriving—you go to church on a Sunday morning, the pastor tells you what to think, who to love, what not to do, and the world is suddenly black and white, good and bad, right and wrong…and the days are much more structures, much more focused, and rarely send you to bed with a stomach-ache.

     But Jesus really isn’t into black and white—he’s in love with color—with the world opening, heart-expanding hews of the rainbow. And even though he knows looking at the world through his eyes isn’t easier, he definitely finds it a whole lot more life-giving. So, since we’re Jesus followers—and this whole season of Pentecost is about trying to discover what it means to be a Jesus follower—what does freedom mean for us?

     First of all—holy cow, here’s my three points in a sermon—oh well. First of all, we follow a God who journeys to a cross and dies. Which probably means that being a Jesus follower won’t always lead us to a happy, easy life. So, if you’re going to stay on this road, plan on getting sick, laughed at, ridiculed, or even killed along the way. And, if that doesn’t scare you away…and don’t let it, because what’s on the other side is way better than what you’ve got now--the good news is that through that death on the cross, is this amazing new life—a life where God promises to meet us; a life where there are these grace-filled, mercy-abundant, wholly unexpected encounters with the God who is leading us. There is this life that promises in the midst of it all—death will not be the final answer. The good news is…is that we are held captive to nothing—not to our own successes, not to our failures, not to our wants, or needs or desires…but our chains have been broken and we are free…free to live following Jesus. We are free to focus on what really matters in this life—and it’s not losing weight or planning parties or going to work or even burying your dead. What really matters is Jesus…what really matters is living this brand new life that he gives.

     And living in that freedom brings me to point number two—as freed ones, you do what Jesus does—you love your neighbor. And this is not the black and white rules of loving those who think like you or act like you or you love you too. Loving your neighbor, very well might mean, breaking every rule you’ve ever heard—kind of like Jesus does. Loving your neighbor means stepping outside those boundaries you’ve made and touching someone who makes you cringe. Loving your neighbor means taking pancakes across town, even if they can give you nothing in return; it means seeing a man with a cardboard sign on the side of the road and not instantly thinking he’s a drug user, or it’s knowing he’s a drug-user and giving him some food anyway. Loving your neighbor means living out of that difficult, rule-breaking, make-you-sick kind of freedom…it means seeing a world full of color…really it means following Jesus.

   Which brings me to point number three—let’s see that sigh of relief—and it’s more of a command. You are freed ones, your life is found through the cross, and each morning when you awake, I challenge you to say…”Today I’m a Jesus follower; today the world is full of color; today my chains are unlocked, my boundaries are blurred…and gosh darn it, I’m going to serve my neighbor.”

Saturday, June 19, 2010

To Their Daddy...

My Darling,
     Do you remember our first baby?  How excited we were?  I think the minute we found out I was pregnant, we ran to the store and bought cute little green of course, because we didn't know whether she'd be a boy or a girl.  Do you remember how everything seemed to be going so perfectly, and we had told all our friends and our parents were ecstatic?  And then, I know you remember, what the doctor said..."there doesn't seem to be a heartbeat..."  And in that instant, all those dreams were shattered...and that feeling of utter emptiness and loneliness, that palpable emtpiness.  Although that had to be one of the most difficult times of our lives, a time that we would re-live four more was then that I realized the kind of man that I had married.  I realized the depth of not only your love for me, but for the children that we would have...for those adorable ones in that picture up there.  I realized that no matter what our future held, it held us, together. 
    Steve, together we've discovered that this parenting thing is so very difficult; not only during those times before they were born, but during the crazy ones since--those times when Elijah wants the green bowl (not the Thomas one!), when Evelyn has colored the walls, and Isaac hasn't moved from the TV in hours, that we wonder what we've gotten ourselves into.  But, there is absolutely no one I would want to look to and roll my eyes with.  You are the daddy that our children need; that teaches them not only how to play Mario Kart, but how to sing harmony, and cast a fishing line.  You are the husband I need to keep me calm and sane and to remind me that these babies of ours are God-given, parent-blessing gifts that will change the world.
   I love you...and now the whole blogosphere knows it too!  Happy Father's Day, my darling!         

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sharin' the Love Part II

A total of $1.32.  Let's share the love!

Bishop Mark Hanson
Office of the Presiding Bishop
8765 W. Higgins Road
Chicago, IL 60631


June 14, 2010

Dear Bishop Hanson,

Thank you so much for your continued faithful guidance during this time of high anxiety and pain in the ELCA. I simply cannot fathom how difficult this has been for you. Know, however, that you do have support and prayers from those of us who wholeheartedly support the Churchwide Assembly decisions. I am so very proud to be a pastor in the ELCA; I am proud to be raising my children in a church where all God’s children are welcome, loved, supported, and accepted.

Thank you Bishop Hanson. You, and the whole of the ELCA, will continue to be in my personal and congregational prayers.

Pastor Sarah Schaffner

Mr. Carlos E. Pena
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
8765 W. Higgins Road
Chicago, IL 60631


 June 14, 2010

Dear Mr. Pena,

There’s a movement in the blogosphere to spread the love! So, here is a letter of support for you, for your staff, and for the entire ELCA. We indeed are a church who is faithful to God and God’s Word, and I am so very proud of the decisions made at the Churchwide Assembly; I am proud to be a pastor who can tell her children and her congregation that God’s grace, love, and acceptance has no boundaries!

Thank you, Mr. Pena. Thank you for your faithful leadership and guidance, and I pray this letter helps create a stack that far outweighs the negative ones that sit on your desk and in your heart. Know that you and the entire ELCA are in my personal and congregational prayers.

Pastor Sarah Schaffner



Sharin' the Love

I'm jumping on the bandwagon!  I have a friend who thought there is simply too much negative energy going on in our beloved ELCA, so he has sent a letter of affirmation to our synod bishop Gary Wollersheim, ELCA bishop Mark Hanson, and ELCA VP Carlos Pena.  I've decided to do the same.  Following is my letter to Bishop Wollersheim.  If you've a member/pastor/part of the ELCA, why don't you do the same.  Sometimes even those big-wigs in our lives need to hear something positive.  Let's see if we can send enough love to far outweigh the death threats and you're going to hell letters they've already received.  So, come on--share the love!

Greetings Bishop Wollersheim,

I simply want to say thank you. Thank you for being such a faithful leader during this difficult time of high anxiety and conflict. Thank you for your grace and compassion in tempering that anxiety. Thank you for your prayers, your kindness, and your support to those of us discovering what new life awaits in the midst of these blessed changes.

My guess is you do not hear this enough: the ELCA has indeed been faithful to God and to God’s Word; I am so very proud to be a pastor within this church, and pray that we might continue to welcome in all of God’s people regardless of sex, or race, or age, or sexual identity.

Thank you again for your leadership. Know that you and Polly, your fabulous staff, the Northen Synod, and the ELCA are in my prayers, as we all journey forward, together being Christ’s hands and feet in the world.


Pastor Sarah Schaffner

     So spend your .44 cents and share the love!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Sinner Pharisee and Jesus

--Before I began the sermon, I set the scene. I actually set out a low table and a few pillows and explained how this dinner might have looked. Explained the openness of the courtyard; how people could come and go; how they could listen in even if they weren’t an invited guest. Then I told them that sometimes when you read from Scipture, you can imagine you are a part in the story. And I encouraged them to see themselves as the Pharisee. That they were Simon, a smart, well-educated servant of the Torah, who has heard about this Jesus guy and invited him to a well-planned dinner, well-planned in menu, and well-orchestrated in conversation.

--Imagine yourself reclining here at the table, dining with Jesus.

The holy gospel according to Luke, the 7th chapter.

36One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. 37And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him — that she is a sinner." 40Jesus spoke up and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." "Teacher," he replied, "speak." 41A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?"

43Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt." And Jesus said to him, "You have judged rightly." 44Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little." 48Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." 49But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" 50And he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

     What kind of person are you? Seriously, did you hear yourself? Did you hear what you said…actually what you arrogantly scoffed—“if this man Jesus really was a prophet, he would know what kind of woman she really it. How dare he let such a sinful woman touch him?” Her? Her? What about you? You didn’t even welcome Jesus when he came into your house? You didn’t offer him a towel to clean off the dust from the day; you didn’t give him a kiss, or ask if he needed a glass of water.

     I haven’t seen you giving him your comfortable jacket when he’s cold on the street, or the groceries out of your trunk when he’s holding a cardboard sign. You simply sat him down at the table and started working your own agenda. That woman may be a sinner…but, you, my friend, are too. A sinner who chooses self time and time again…who, maybe every once in awhile does something kind, like working in the NICE center or serving pancakes, but it’s not like your soul, or the world, can be saved from a Saturday a month. Because, you’re still at home snuggled under a warm comforter with your air conditioner going while others sleep in cardboard boxes. You’re still feigning disgust over this oil spill, while continuing to pay no attention to the oil that gushes into your life on a daily basis. You still choose each and every day to serve the gods of money and comfort and security.

     You, my friend, my dear Pharisee relaxing at the table, you… just like that woman you shun, are a sinner. A sinner…and the whole town knows it; and you know that don’t you? I’m not telling you something you don’t already know…Which is why when you walk into the grocery store you walk in with downcast eyes; it’s why you dress in muted colors so as not to draw too much attention to yourself. It’s why you hesitate to speak outloud, not wanting your perceived inferior ideas to sound foolish. You know deep within that nothing you ever do is good enough…and no matter how many committees you’re on; how much money you make; no matter how many friends you have…deep within you know that if someone truly knew the real you, they would shake their heads in disbelief and walk away.

     That’s why you’re the one standing at the back of the crowd…straining to hear the words being spoken, not wanting to be seen, but still wanting to hear because you still have this glimmer of hope, that there simply has to be something there for you…that there’s something there even for you. And for some reason then you hear more than words; suddenly you see him, you see Jesus; and those downcast eyes of yours begin to focus; and you feel this tug at your heart. And even though you know what everyone else thinks; even though you know what you think…those stories no longer seem to matter.

     Because in front of you is the one who sees everything you’ve ever done, all those selfish choices, all those pains you’ve caused and those pains you’ve endured. Right in front of you is the one who sees right into your soul--past all those walls you’ve built out of your shame and mistrust and fear…he sees you with…well, he sees you with the eyes of God. He sees your heart and as if your eyes were opened for the first time, you see too. And what you see is what God sees—a beloved child; you see yourself for the very first time; and you’re no longer held captive to all those thinks you’ve done and failed to do—or even those things you’ve yet to do. You see yourself exactly the way that you are—a forgiven, freed, adored, child of God.

     And suddenly your once blind eyes begin to fill with newfound hope, with boundless possibilities, with a joy that cannot be contained, and you push your way through that crowd, and you fall at his feet and soak them with the love he has shown you, with the hope he has left you, with the life he has given you. And you hear nothing…nothing but the words. “Look. Do you see this child? Do you see this child of mine?”

As I crafted this, it became increasingly clear that I was preaching to myself.  As I wrote it, as I preached it, as I re-read it now, I feel so convicted and then maybe...for a moment some new life breaking forth.  I'm just intent was obviously to have people be the Pharisee, and then subtly (or maybe not so subtly) move them to the role of the woman...did you get that?  In my head it made sense...but, I knew what I was doing!  My favorite way to preach is to take on the thoughts/actions/insights of the characters and I might want to develop this one some more--any suggestions--do I need more gospel, more descriptions?  What are your impressions? 

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Second Worst Mom in the World

   The only thing that gives me hope is that maybe there's one mom out there just a little bit meaner than me.  So, I'll let her claim the number one spot.  First a little caveat--I think an awful lot about what I want to post here, and then I think some more, because I've read other people's blogs--and actually they're quite good--they're coherent and witty and make me think; they do exciting things and have interesting things to add to the world's conversation.  I, on the other hand (and this isn't a self-defeating attitude here), am quite boring.  I've absolutely never traved, I grew up, got married young, had kids young, and watch too much t.v.  I'm not sure I've ever had a brand-new thought, and really have nothing to add to the world.  But, yet, I like this whole blogging thing--so, I'm going to stop thinking so much.  I'm going to pretend that no one is reading this (although I'd love comments and conversation, so not sure how that will work--oh well...); I'm going to write and complain and share my joys and sorrows and crazy, boring life...and not worry what everyone else will think--imagine that!
    Okay...caveat over...So, the other evening, I said to a teenage girl next to me, "you know, since you haven't yet, you might want to think twice about having children, they're overrated."  And, I got the response that I'm pretty sure you just had--looks of shock and disbelief.  How can you say such a thing?  What mother...what human being, actually...would think that having children is not a vocation, if they're physically able, that they wouldn't want to fulfil.  And, although I was only half-joking, I decided that for a moment, Number One worst mom was definitely my title.
     But, honestly, no one really warned me, how incredibly difficult this mom thing would actually be.  No one said that I will never have a full night of sleep ever again; no one ever said that in that rare moment I am asleep, the daughter who refuses to sleep in her own bed, would suddenly awake and throw up down my pajama sleever.  No one ever said that I would envy convicts because they at least had moments to themselves.  No one ever said that I would be planning an escape...wondering where I might retreat to, where no one would ever find me.  I know this is the moment, where I'm supposed to transition to the but....but, they're so cute, and loving, and adorable.  At this moment, however, I'm not even close to being there.  I'm pretty sure I need some therapy...or at least Super Nanny...or maybe even just a nanny, but although I love them, I spend entirely too much time counting the moments to when I'll be alone.  So, you people who aren't actually reading this....what am I supposed to do?  How do I not dread the moments we're home alone together?  How do I experience peace in my home? and stop experiencing the contant longing to take a nap?  How do I love them (and like them) like those wonderful moms who get the #1 Mom coffee mugs for Mother's Day, and then after receiving them, don't give them away to the GoodWill?  
   Okay, I'm done!  and I'm not going to re-read this rant.  If any of you have words of wisdom, please share, and if not, well...don't think any less of me.

Another Sermon

Yep, this one got an eye roll (from me, and most likely others--although I couldn't tell, b/c I take off my glasses so I can't see their responses).  Sometimes I'm in the middle...pause, and think "if I stopped right now, would anyone actually notice?"  Oh well,  sometimes the Spirit arrives, sometimes she's a wee bit too late.  Makes you wanna read it, doesn't it?!?!?!

     Has anyone ever seen a jack-a-lope? I’ve been told that they are a cross between a jack rabbit and an antelope—one of those never seen, but always sought after creatures in the heart of the Midwest. It took me an entire youth trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota to finally realize that there wasn’t such an animal. I’m not exactly sure why they spend so much time making stuffed animals and creating signs warning of their presence if there isn’t such a thing. I suppose to deceive and trick innocent and trusting souls like myself.
     I’ve always tended to be a bit gullible. Actually quite gullible. I assume that because I never lie—which is a good thing for you all—that no one would ever really lie to me. I will believe pretty much anything that you put in front of me, because being rational is not part of my nature—letting myself get drawn into a good story or carried away with fanciful illusions apparently is.
     And honestly that’s not all bad, because sometimes a story can tell you more about the world, than a newspaper article—and a fairy tale might explain human nature better than any textbook ever could.  Scripture understands this. It often blurs the line between true, hard facts, and images that help explain something even greater—leaving us to simply be drawn into the story. Leaving us to suspend our rational, “that could never happen so why does it matter” minds at the door and put on an imagination that helps to see how God works in the world. We’re asked to accept burning bushes that are never consumed, building that fall with the blare of trumpets, believe it or not—there are even talking donkeys—there are bread boxes and wine pitchers that never empty and dead people that sit up and begin to speak. Each and every strange occurrence asks us to re-think what is real and what is not and invites us to experience something deeper.
     Getting drawn in, lets you forget about trying to explain things away, and simply lets you listen to the story. Today two crowds collide. One is following Jesus, joyful, expectant, hoping and praying that the man they follow is set out to change the world. They follow, unsure as to the greatness that will happen next, but loving being a part of the story.
     And the other crowd—the other crowd is mourning, following, not the Son of God, but the only son of a widow. Following not with grand expectations, but with the real, hard, concrete knowledge that death has come, and the young man’s smile will never be seen again. They follow, completely sure what is going to happen next.
   And when these crowds collide, everyone’s world changes. For with Jesus, everything you were certain about, everything that seems to be true and rational gets left at the door. Because with a single word—Rise—this sure and certain death opens his eyes and begins to speak. Because with a single word, even death is no longer certain.
     Most of you are probably aware that this last week, Margreta Hawbaker died. She was a faithful member of this congregation for decades, actually for nine and a half decades. She participated in worship, taught the children, served in the Lydia circle. I wanted so desperately for her family, for her friends, to hear a word of hope, to be able to cling to the faith that sustained Margreta throughout her entire life.
     Using this reading for today would have been a beautiful option—But I was hesitant—do you really want to hear a story about the dead literally be raised at a funeral? Is the real, concrete reality that faces you as you gaze upon the face of your grandmother going to allow you to hear the word of hope in the word of Jesus? Actually, I think we could have…
     Because you know—this son of the widow, he was still going to die. He was still going to live his life, be with his mother, maybe start a family, and then, he was still going to die—and that reality would once again face him. He would once again draw his last breath. But, this miracle, this raising, this thing that makes us question our rational nature, this points us to something greater. This miracle points us to a God that promises that even death, even the certainty of death, will not be the final word. This miracle points us to Christ, to our God who chose death, and who then in rising again made sure that death is not the end.
     Our rational minds simply cannot understand. Because we experience death all of the time. We just watched as our dear friend was laid to rest, we watched as her family cried and although they rejoiced for her long life, they still mourn and wish for more time. Our rational minds simply cannot understand this illogical story, because we too feel pain and fear and sadness, and know that death does indeed come.
     And, this is where our imagination—this is where our faith comes in. We draw on the strength of those who have come before us, we draw on the stories in Scripture, we go forward in hope, knowing that hope will never disappoint. We live knowing that even though death is here…and the funeral procession walks down the road, it is not the end. For Jesus will forever meet us, touch the broken pieces of our soul; will speak to the dead, weary places and give us new life. Jesus will meet us, each and every time—“Do not weep, my friends, but rise. For death is not the end and life will always be the final amen.

Friday, June 4, 2010

I love these people!

     Today at First Lutheran we celebrated the life of Margreta Hawbaker, a beautiful, faithful 96-year-old woman who died this past week.  Funerals like that are actually a joy...a time to remember the grace-filled moments of a person blessed by God, and who blesses so many others in response.  We gathered together around the comforting, life-giving words of Scripture, dined at the table where all the saints are welcomed, and sang those beautiful, old familiar hymns.
     And then afterwards, we do what good Lutherans always do, we ate!  We had the rolls and casseroles and salads, some of Margreta's favorite rice pudding, and do you know who did the serving?   Five teenagers!  That's right--we had two of our wonderful matriarchs (Joan and Joyce) and then the rest of the servants were no older than 18.  I am so very proud of them.  They have so seamlessly taken on the role of the "women's group," and done it without complaining, without sarcasam, without hesitation; they faithfully serve in ways that their foremothers have--in the same ways that Margreta did.
     First Lutheran may be small in numbers, but (can I be cliche again) they have the biggest grace-filled hearts I've ever seen.  Thank you so much Shelby, Devin, Alex, Ashley and Kimberly.  Your grandmas would be so proud!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Some Pics in Progress...

You know how you see yourself and no matter how your body changes, it always looks the same? Well, the other day I looked in the mirror and guess what I saw?? A collar bone! Can you believe it? Something most of you take for granted has been hiding for quite awhile. So, I decided to have Steve take another pic...and you know what else, I think I'm actually losin' it! Before I get too excited I'll do what all good self-doubter's do...I know there's still a long way to go, but for now, I think I might just enjoy the journey. It might even be as fun as the destination (seriously, how cheezy can I be?!?!?!).
So, until next time, my friends...Now, I'm not going to go and eat that brownie!