Tuesday, December 09, 2014

A Compassionate Heart

Matthew 1

"18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:
23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
    She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
    which means ‘God is with us.’”
24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus." (NLT)

Joseph is quite a curious character. We don't actually hear him say anything, and we only hear about his presence and activity around Jesus' birth, but what we do know, describes a humble man, chosen for his understanding of God's love, deeper than the laws set to guide it.

When Joseph first discovers Mary's pregnancy, he makes a shocking decision. To us, it seems like the "Christian" thing to do: forgive her and let her go. But the Jewish law(recorded in Deuteronomy 22) held that if a woman who was pledged to marry is found not to be a virgin, then she is to be stoned…to death…it doesn’t even matter if she’s pregnant or not. This righteous up-standing son of the house of David chose to have compassion on her, and release her from their agreement.

Then after his dream, he does an even more remarkable thing, and he takes her into his own care, as his own wife, the one who will one day mother many of his children, and he commits to watch over this one as his own. 

He is painted as the most obedient of men, calm and direct, but he makes radical choices in light of what society would have expected from him. His heart was prepared to see God’s opportunities to speak love, and the first response was not discipline or retribution, but grace and forgiveness. The second response wasn't a teaching of right and wrong, but a hand reaching out in reconciliation and hope for a brighter tomorrow. Joseph welcomed Christ in the faith that God was at work through a confusing and difficult situation. First God would mend his broken heart, and then God would mend the world.

How might God be calling you to soften your heart towards a brother or sister in need of God’s love, in need of a new beginning, in need of a helping hand, in need of a light in the darkness? How might God break open our hearts to see the world in a radically new way this Christmas? 

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Journey of Creativity

Over the past two years, I have been pouring my creative energies into art for our church bulletins and projected screens based on my sermons. It began as a form of art explorations of scripture in Lent of 2013, as I made drawings to accompany my sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer. It continued through the church year with drawings for Pentecost and a series on the book of Revelation. This summer I ventured further with using words as the centerpiece, exploring the techniques of lettering. 

This fall our worship committee asked me to compose a series of bulletin covers to fit with our theme: Prepare Him Room. I’d like to share them with you and invite you to journey with us as we prepare our hearts and our lives to receive Jesus and answer the call to follow and walk in his ways. Our first two Sundays of Advent go hand in hand: Prepare him room with Open Eyes and Open Ears. We are following the Narrative Lectionary (Narrative Lectionary FAQs), and therefore our Spirit given text was Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:2-4; 3:17-19.

In the wake of last week’s protests and challenging news broadcasts following the events in Ferguson, MO, we were called to look with OPEN EYES. Like Habakkuk, we will not ignore the violence and injustice before our eyes, recognizing the call from God for us all to be transformed. "Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.” Habakkuk 3:17-19

What will you see when you open your eyes this Advent season? How will you rejoice in God’s plan for mercy and deliverance in the face of what you see with your eyes?

This coming week invites us to prepare with OPEN EARS. We will hear how both the young Queen Esther and the young Mary prepared for God’s deliverance and salvation with open ears. Wondering how the king could listen to a young girl as her, Esther listened to her cousin Mordecai’s words: "If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14 NLT)

Wondering how such a a young girl could carry the presence of God inside her womb, Mary asks the Angel, how can this be? With open ears, she hears these words and believes:“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:35-37 NLT)

As we look at those things we would rather not see, and we listen to the challenging words we would rather not hear, how is God calling us to prepare for new life this Advent and Christmas season?

Monday, June 23, 2014

The best risk

This journey of life has taken quite a turn since I last posted. I am now Rev. Kati Collins, or Mrs. Robert Edward Collins, whichever you prefer. On March 22, Robbie and I took our vows in the company of many wonderful witnesses, and we made a covenant of marriage before God and with God. Every day is a new adventure, and I am eternally grateful for my travel companion and mission partner for life.

We have already traveled many miles together, from the Grand Canyon and the Garden of the Gods to the lakes and pubs of Wisconsin, and now residing in our home in Nebraska. I'm learning what it means to be a wife and especially a Nebraskan wife. Robbie's working in a welding shop, and he comes home everyday covered in grime;) It's a good thing we have a good old traditional "mudroom", for his smelly clothes and dirty boots! When I don't have a meeting in the evening (and even some nights when I do), we love to play board games and cards together. It keeps him energized after a physically and mentally demanding day, and it gives me an outlet for my competitive energies, after a day of compassion and creativity. 

Lately we've been playing a lot of Texas Hold'em. I love to frustrate Robbie with my willingness to play even the worst of hands, but when luck doesn't fall my way, I'm learning that not every hand is worth playing, and following a bad hand to the end might even deplete the resources you've worked so hard to build. I love to see the "flop" turn out (the first three cards), and when there's still a chance for me to get that straight or flush, it kills me not to see the "river", or the final card, even though I know the probability of just the right card is incredibly low. I found myself matching Robbie's bets, sometimes just to see how things would turn out, rather than recognizing when I didn't have the right cards to play. Robbie, my worthy adversary, started making higher bets, because he knew I would match them, even if I didn't have the best cards. In the beginning, when luck was on my side, I was winning impractical hands right and left. But when luck ran out, I quickly lost all of my chips. 

Once I learned to control my urge to play every hand and match every bet, I became a more effective player, and my resources of chips last longer for a more pleasurable game, even when I don't always win in the end. Every hand has incredible potential at the start. Poker professionals might tell you a pair of two's isn't worth playing, but that pair of two's might bring you a full house if you give it the chance. The trick is recognizing when a risk is bringing in great rewards, and when a risk is bleeding you dry.

If only I could apply these betting strategies to my life, I thought, maybe I could keep a more effective use of my physical and emotional resources. I love betting on the underdog in life. I love going all in on a project to give it a chance to flourish. What would it look like if I recognized when a hand wasn't working out and put my resources into the projects that had more potential? How do I evaluate which projects are depleting my energy and which areas are driving me? Someone challenged a pastor friend of mine that when he said yes to doing something new, he had to say no to two other things. In the weeks following this, I realized that this wasn't necessarily a prescription for a healthy life, it was a description of reality. Frequently I see myself caught between choices of attending this meeting or that meeting, visiting this place or that place, participating/planning in this event or that event. When I focus my efforts on one thing, I have less resources to bet on another. This is a fact. The trick is to focus my efforts like my chips, betting on the commitments which will feed my soul and grow my abilities, so that I am better suited to face up to the next challenge. Sometimes I'll be forced to play a hand which drains my supply, but if I choose wisely in the hands to come, I can build it back up in another good game.

One thing is for sure, the risk of married life was worth taking;) When I make time for investing in our relationship, there are overflowing returns. This couple of odd cards, suited to match, is looking amazing so far! 

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Learning from our Grandmothers

I remember the day my Mama (my mothers mom) died, I felt like this incredible hole was left in the world. Rosemary, or Rosie as some called her, did so much for so many people, I felt a calling to stand in that gap, to do everything I could to give and help others as much as I could, and began a life of a servant, sacrificing my needs for the needs of others. Maybe you've felt this compulsion too. We answer Christ's call to pick up our cross and follow in service and self sacrifice.  

This week I've been reading the most vital faith book I've read since Anne Lamotte's book Traveling Mercies, which shook my image about what it meant to receive the grace of God and others. This new book is called Consider the Birds, a Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible, by Debbie Blue. You might not expect it to be a life giving, theologically startling book, but hold on to your seat, it's about to be moved. 

The first chapter points out how the dove is actually no more than a pigeon...and not usually  white. So not only did the Holy Spirit choose the dirty form of a pigeon to dive bomb Jesus at his Baptism, but that same Spirit hovered over creation...possibly more like a delicate fragile pigeon than an enormous and powerful seagull. "What does this say about what it means to be holy?" She asks...without an answer.

Then in the second chapter she throws out a quote by St Francis who likens Jesus to a pelican...yes! a pelican. How might this be, you may ask? Medieval thought somehow induced that pelican mothers pierce their breast to feed their young from their own blood, providing an all too easy correlation for Jesus' sacrifice and the communion chalice. However erroneous this claim was, she recognizes the beauty of looking for beautiful actions in those animals whom we call beasts with disdain, where the medieval theologians called them beasts with an air of dignity.

She raises in place of the pelican covered in its own blood an image of one drenched in oil, covered in the sins of our appetites and disregard for the repurcussions of our actions. Other gods require human sacrifice, but our God, she reminds us, requires mercy not sacrifice.
Time and time again, the great I Am tries to explain this to Israel. I don't want your sacrifice of bulls and oil, I want you to learn mercy and walk beside me.

Mercy not sacrifice.

We crucified Christ, and it shook the foundations of the earth. Christ called us to consider the birds and live in joy, and we choose to only look at ourselves and live in shame. Christ's life and death were given to us not out of sacrifice but of love for us and the hope and joy of sharing a life eternal together. Christ suffered on the cross as a result of humanity holding onto our traditions and ideas so hard that it brought down the one person who could save us, the one who choose to hold on to us for dear life and let go of his own.

This was exactly the way Rosie and Vera lived their lives. They weren't sacrificing their desires and needs to serve others, they were fulfilling their joy by sharing love with the world and doing what was vital for their survival and the survival of their children. They knew what could be let go so that other things could survive, even thrive. How happy would they be to know I can share in this joy?

This is important for our generation of women to understand. 

We have to learn what needs be sacrificed, let go, released with good riddance, and love what needs to be grasped, embraced, and held onto for dear life. Have we made the right distinctions? Or are we holding onto the wrong things? Are we sacrificing that which is vital for our lives...and for the lives of others. 

One thing I sacrifice is my body. I don't place worth on it, and hold onto the many tasks that sometimes turn out to be unnecessary. The new questions for my life are here: What can wait and what is vital to my existence? What can be left undone and what must be done with fervor? These are the questions I have been yearning to ask. These questions are why I cringe when we pray the prayer, "forgive me father for the things I have done and left undone," in the most traditional of confessional prayers. Did Rosie pray this prayer? Did she welcome the forgiveness for the things that may be left undone? What would it look like for me to welcome that forgiveness in my own life? How can I welcome the forgiveness for the things I do which are impeding rather than freeing my soul? What would it look like to embrace that which brings me life? Would my flourishing radiate to the point that others could the catch fire and live in the process? Let us watch and see!

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Gathering around a new Presbyterian hymnal

"Yet with the woes of sin and strife the world has suffered long; beneath the heavenly hymn have rolled two thousand years of wrong; and we at war on earth hear not the tidings that they bring; O hush the noise and cease the strife to hear the angels sing!"

Thus reads the third verse of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" in our new Presbyterian Hymnal, "Glory to God", which will mostly likely become to be known as "The Purple Hymnal".  We enjoyed reflecting on this verse in one of our Soup and Study devotionals and the Christmas Eve service last month at our church in St Paul.  It spoke to me as a reminder that Jesus came into the world for those who suffer, and even though the suffering continues, Christ's peace remains with us until we can receive the fullness of his redemption when he returns and we are all made new. You might wonder if this is a new verse that someone has added, but it is actually one of the original verses which has been frequently cut out of many hymnals.  The new hymnal provides a wealth of older hymns which are not in the "Blue Hymnal" as well as many new hymns, which have been in popular circulation in many congregations as inserts or in other supplements. Our session thought that such a collection would be a worthy supplement for our congregation, and we give thanks that Bettie Mae Wegner and her family have decided to donate a set of hymnals in memory of Gib Wegner and his love of music. What a wonderful way to remember him and offer generations to come a way to express their faith through song.

One of my favorites of the new hymns is called "Here in this Place" or commonly known as "Gather Us In". I like it, because it describes why I love coming to church. "Not in the dark of buildings confiding, not in some heaven, light years away: here in this place the new light is shining; now is the kingdom, and now is the day." When I think back to the churches of my childhood, I remember many loving Presbyterian congregations. We moved around a lot, and as we did so, we always ended up at another Presbyterian church. The buildings were very similar, tall and colorful stained glass in the sanctuary and large fellowship halls ready to serve big meals. Sunday services were very formal, with high class worship and lots of vocabulary words I didn't know.  Presbyterians were called "The Frozen Chosen", and I think it was mostly because we liked to sit quietly and wait for God to speak. In college I went to some very loud and very "not frozen" worship services. I loved the peace in the loud music as much as the soft music. I tried a lot of churches, but it always seemed that when my heart felt worshipful because of the joy in the service, I missed my Presbyterian theology, which leaves room for questions and mystery, doubt and imagination. So, I went back to the Presbyterian church and sat through frozen worship services, hoping for the day I could help others express their creativity in worship, and discover the God which calls us out into the world, not just into the pew. 

Now a lot of our presbyterian churches are not as full as they were 20-30 years ago, but the people are more alive, the churches more welcoming and the worship more joyful. The last thing I would call us today is "frozen". In fact, I feel like our congregation especially is warm and welcoming, gathering people in as the song says, "the lost and forsaken..the blind and the lame." We come in our brokenness to be made new. How have you seen the church change over the years? Do you feel the space to be joyful in worship? Do you feel like you can bring your brokenness to God to find healing? Do you feel welcome? What could we do to be more welcoming in our worship services?

In the following months we'll be exploring the new purple hymnal alongside the blue one; we"ll hear some old favorites and be introduced to some new ones. We will join in the song and ask God to gather us in, "nourish us well and teach us to fashion lives that are holy and hearts that are true."