DEEP CLEANING 2

DEEP CLEANING 2

We’re still cleaning at our house. I continue to be pleased by the calming order that exists in our kitchen cupboards, but I’ve been studying them from a different angle. After last week’s insert, several of you shared with me your craving for spiritual order. I was surprised to realize how many of us work to make sure our cupboard doors sparkle, rather than putting that work into cleaning up the chaotic souls within. And because we present a sparkling door to the world, everyone assumes there is harmony and order inside.

DEEP CLEANING

DEEP CLEANING

Sara and I tackled the kitchen cupboards this week and did a deep cleaning – pulling everything out, scrubbing everything down, and doing a lot of sorting and rearranging. As Sara threw away several jars of stale herbs, she smiled at me and announced, “This is really cathartic.” I agreed. When we were done, it felt wonderful to reassemble the now clean and tidy shelves.

BE A DONOR

BE A DONOR

A friend recently posted on Facebook about Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles’ critical need for blood. Sean saw the post and said he wanted to donate. Sara agreed. I can’t donate because of a previous illness, but I was delighted to take them to CHLA. On the way home, I told them, “Bless you. You just saved someone’s life.”

THE WAY AND THE TRUTH

THE WAY AND THE TRUTH

A friend and I were discussing parenting woes. She asked, only semi-rhetorically, if there was anything more painful than having your child lie to you. I understood exactly what she meant – that sharp blend of anger, betrayal, and disappointment when someone you love so unconditionally chooses to lie rather than face the consequences of their actions. It’s a hard lesson to teach and a tough one to experience.

FREE AND CLEAR

FREE AND CLEAR

I had a doctor’s appointment this week, to get some test results. I tried not to be nervous as I waited, but it was tough. He came in with a smile – which helped – and then told me he had “weird news” for me. “Good weird news,” he hastily elaborated. A condition for which he has been monitoring me for many years, one of the driving forces behind the latest round of tests, had disappeared. He explained this is a condition that does not reverse itself; we’ve been working over the years just to halt its progress. But now, it’s gone. He’s not sure how, he’s not sure why, but he’s sure it’s gone.

WE CAN BE HEROES

WE CAN BE HEROES

I thought a lot about heroes this week. On the Fourth, I thought of my grandmother’s ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War – and my other three grandparents who bravely arrived as immigrants in the early 1900s. I also went downtown with Sara and Sean for Anime Expo; I was delighted and intrigued by the attendees dressed as superheroes from anime, comics, and film. By Friday, as I sat in the theatre, awaiting Spider-Man: Homecoming, I was wondering how hard it is to be a superhero.

MORE PERFECT UNION

MORE PERFECT UNION

Stuck in traffic on Friday, as so many people sought an early beginning to the Fourth of July weekend, I was listening to the radio. One of the commentators mentioned that this is an ideal weekend to consider all the work that still remains, two hundred and forty-one years after the first Independence Day, “in order to form a more perfect union” (as stated in the preamble of the Constitution).

WE'VE GOT THIS

WE'VE GOT THIS

This week, a number of friends posted concerns on social media, ranging from quotidian frustrations to grave challenges. In each case, someone replied, “God’s got this.”

A FATHER'S GIFT

A FATHER'S GIFT

If, in preparation for today, you’ve been in a card store, you might be persuaded that being a father is about either drinking beer or playing golf. It’s a challenge to find a humorous Father’s Day card that doesn’t refer to one of those activities. But even among the serious cards, there is little mention of the greatest gift a father can give his children – a strong relationship with the Lord.

A FIRM FOUNDATION

A FIRM FOUNDATION

Eighth Grade Recognition Sunday is a beautiful day in our church’s year. It gives us the chance to congratulate the students who will graduate later this week. We rejoice in them as individuals, and as manifestations of our church’s mission to educate young people and to offer them the opportunity to draw closer to the Lord.

I’d thought this day might lose some of its luster for me as our children graduated from WLS, but I continue to enjoy it. In fact, I appreciate it on a whole new level now. This year, as Sara graduates from college and Sean from high school, they still stand on the foundation they built here at WLS and draw from the lessons that the faculty taught them – in the classroom and by example. While their academic journey was rigorous and rewarding, the moral and spiritual formation they received here was even more important, and continues to support with them as they grow as citizens of the world and the Kingdom.

As we celebrate the class of 2017 and the foundation their years at Westchester Lutheran have given them, we also have an excellent opportunity to examine our own foundation. Are we as eager to learn and grow as these young people are? Are our feet planted on the Word of God or on the cheap promises of the world? Are we anchored by truth and grace or by selfish desires? Do we stand on God’s will or our own? Are we serving the Lord or ourselves?

As we pray for the future of these wonderful young people today, let us also pray for the future of all the children of God, no matter their age or circumstance. May each mind be open to growing and changing. May each heart be always ready to serve God and love one another. May each soul yearn to be fully His.

Congratulations, graduates. God bless you.

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
Ephesians 2:19-21

WHEN WE GATHER

WHEN WE GATHER

Many people mark Memorial Day Weekend as the beginning of summer. My marker comes this weekend, with the Westchester Lutheran Carnival. This marvelous event celebrates the end of the school year and so much more.

This year, I was one of the volunteers in the “Sonscreen” Booth (a booth staffed by the Outreach Committee to share church literature and free sunscreen with attendees). Being in the booth was a wonderful opportunity to admire how beautifully the carnival is run. Months of preparation and hard work by school and church families translate to a joyous event for our community and for the entire neighborhood. People’s smiles, the happy shouts and laughter, even the dirt-streaked and weary faces of smaller visitors at day’s end spoke of the fun and wonderful memories that were created in the course of the day.

All this also spoke to what is possible when we come together as a community. From large events to one-on-one interactions, whenever we gather together as the people of Westchester Lutheran, as the people of God, we can do great things. When we remember why we are together – because we love the Lord and seek to honor Him with our devotion and service – we can have a huge impact. We can make people smile. We can demonstrate grace. We can lead people to Christ.

As we prepare for summer, many of us will head off to vacations and other activities. Even when we are apart, let us remember our strength and purpose as a community. If you are going to be away for a while, remember to continue to pray for our church and school, stay current in your giving, and – most of all – hurry back. The strength and beauty of this community rests on our gathered gifts, dedication, and love. May it stay strong, as we strive to support the work of this church and school, in honor of our Lord.

“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in My Name, there am I with them.”
Matthew 18:19-20

COST OF FREEDOM

COST OF FREEDOM

This year, in an intriguing confluence of dates, we celebrate Ascension Sunday on the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend. As we honor the men and women who laid down their lives to protect their fellow citizens of the world, we also honor the Great Commission, Jesus’ final instructions to his disciples on earth: To go forth and teach the entire world about His love and grace, no matter the cost.

The men and women we honor today understood that their service might require them to make the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus tells us the same when we enlist in His service: “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.”

In the tumult of daily life, it is all too easy to lose track of what we are fighting for, all too tempting to become selfish and self-serving. Instead of looking to the greater good, we focus on our personal desires. Instead of serving each other, we criticize and condemn. Instead of dedicating ourselves to God’s Will, we promote our own agenda and call it His. Only when we follow the example of Jesus and put His Word first, only when we die to this world so we may live in His, are we truly His children.

This weekend, may we ponder anew what it means to be a true citizen of this country and of the Kingdom of God. Let us give thanks for the mighty warriors who, throughout the history of our nation, have given their lives to protect us and all we hold dear. Let us give thanks for the mighty warriors of the Church who have done the same. Let us honor them all by devoting ourselves to the Great Commission and to all God asks us to be.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are My friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from My Father I have made known to you. ”
John 15:13-15

SEEING CLEARLY

SEEING CLEARLY

Earlier this week, after being at my computer for ten hours, I noticed a problem. I wear progressive lenses and I was having trouble setting the right focal points as my eyes moved between the screen and my handwritten notes. No matter how I adjusted my head or glasses, I couldn’t see clearly. I wondered if it might be bent frames or fatigue. Could I need a new prescription already? Frustration peaking, I went into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee (and wonder if my eyes were reacting to all the coffee I’d already had). But I walked past the sink, I had a thought. I stopped and washed my glasses. When I put them back on, I could see just fine.

All that needless concern about needing new glasses or having some problem with my eyes – gone with a little water.

See where I’m going?

We like to think we see the world clearly, that we can easily assess what is good and what is evil, distinguish friend from enemy, and follow the path we are meant to walk. But it is stunning how quickly a film of fear and doubt can build up and obscure our vision. Even more distressingly, the film can build up so gradually that we aren’t aware of the clarity we’ve lost. We are blinded by a haze of our own making and forget that all we need is to be washed in the Living Water.

But when we do turn to the Water, we are cleansed and redeemed in an instant. The scales fall from our eyes and we can see the truth of God’s love without impediment. We can see the value in each other, rather than being blinded by each other’s flaws. We can recognize the work that needs to be done to advance the Kingdom of God and we can see the faces of our brothers and sisters who long to do that work with us.

Let us strive to see clearly, to look on each other with love and grace. Above all else, let us always look to God. If we keep our eyes on Him, we will not lose our way.

“Jesus asked them: ‘Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?’”
Mark 8:17-18

MOTHERS IN FAITH

MOTHERS IN FAITH

Whether you are fortunate enough to see your mother today, or if you’ll be talking to her on the phone, or thinking of her in Heaven, please take a moment to consider the other mothers who enrich your life – grandmothers, aunts, and friends. And, give thanks for the mothers of the church, the women who, regardless of their personal status as mothers, devote themselves to the children of God.

This congregation is so blessed by these women who serve quietly, humbly, and faithfully. You know some of them well – women like Sandra Masted, Donna Anderson, and Thelma Simmons, who are always leading us closer to the Lord.

But there are so many others in our midst, and you may not know them. You should, because these women are remarkable. They sing and teach, sharing their God-given talents to deepen our relationship with Him. They lead committees that grow and strengthen our community. They gather together to study the Bible and then share what they’ve learned with us, so we can grow in the Word. They tend to the altar and distribute the flowers, making our worship beautiful and sending that beauty home with us. They quilt and crochet, reach out with food and hope to those in need.

And like the most faithful of mothers, these women serve selflessly, serving all of God’s children because it is what He asks of us. They teach us by example, inspiring us to be more like them as they strive to be more like Christ. They honor the saints who came before them, minister to their peers, and lift up the generations that follow them, with love, justice, and grace.

We should thank the Lord for these women every day, just as we should thank Him for our own mothers daily. Today, take a moment to thank these women directly. If you don’t know any of them, stay for our Mother’s Day coffee on the patio and let me introduce you to one or two. You’ll be blessed to know them.

“For the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is His Name.
His mercy is for those who fear Him
from generation to generation.”
Luke 1:49-50

ON THE ROAD

ON THE ROAD

Last Sunday’s Gospel, the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, stuck with me all week. My thoughts returned again and again not to the later moment when the disciples recognized Jesus, but to the moment He first walked up to them and heard them talking. I kept wondering, “If Jesus walked up behind me and overheard my conversation, what would He hear?”

It would be wonderful if He caught me having a profound discussion of theology with an equally passionate friend; I am blessed to have those discussions and to have those friends. It’d also be terrific if He overheard me counting my blessings, because I have those conversations, too. Occasionally.

But, if I’m honest about probability and statistics, He’d no doubt hear me fretting about deadlines, grousing about colleagues, and agonizing over culture and politics. There’s not a whole lot of love in those chats. But there should be.

It’s easy to forget that Jesus overhears every conversation we have. And He longs to be part of each one. When we truly let Him into our conversations, they change. We stop gossiping about people and start talking about how to help them. We stop complaining about problems and start discussing how to fix them. We stop being angry and defensive and become positive and collaborative. Criticism becomes construction, disdain gives way to compassion, and exclusion turns into inclusion. Our words and our actions flow from a place of love – His love, shining through us.

As we walk the road of life together, let us remember to fill our words – and hearts – with that love. Jesus is walking right behind us, listening and waiting for the moment to join our conversations and our lives. Let’s turn around and invite Him in. Let’s urge Him to stay, so our hearts may burn within us with His power and love.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”
1 Corinthians 13:1-2

STAND FIRM

STAND FIRM

I spent my childhood in places where hurricanes are the most common natural disaster, so I’m wired to worry when the wind blows hard. Wednesday night, I listened to the wind howl and prayed our trees would withstand the fury. I also fretted and flinched every time a pine cone plummeted from above and smacked the roof. I turned on the news and found the footage of toppled trees more upsetting than informative. As I struggled to get to sleep, I remembered we had our trees evaluated and pruned in anticipation of such storms; even though the storms had come later than we’d expected, the trees were ready. Weren’t they?

Thursday morning, we only had a few small boughs down, along with a normal number of pine cones. When the winds returned Thursday night, I was able to sleep comfortably, thankful the trees were in good shape.

Friday morning, I gave prayers of thanks for the absence of detritus in the yard. And I gave thanks for the realization that we are like trees, often buffeted by unexpected storms in life. But if we’ve pruned hate, doubt, and fear from our lives, we can withstand the winds. If we’ve kept our spiritual roots healthy – watered them with the Living Water, fed them with the Word, and centered them in love and grace – we will survive the storms. We may snap and crack along the edges, but we will remain whole and upright, reaching toward Heaven and not bowing to the Earth.

We follow the Lord who calmed the storm. No matter how the winds may howl, He does not desert us. As hard as life may work to uproot us, He holds us secure in His love. Let us stand firm, anchored in that love, holding fast against the storms, that we may encourage others to root themselves in His salvation.

“Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and He brought them out of their distress.
He stilled the storm to a whisper;
the waves of the sea were hushed.
They were glad when it grew calm,
and He guided them to their desired haven.”
Psalm 107:28-30

HOLDING ON

HOLDING ON

Compared to all the activities of Holy Week and Easter itself, the days following Easter can seem quiet. Historically, this first Sunday after Easter sees some of the lowest church attendance of the entire year. And yet, the days immediately following the first Easter were crucial to the disciples of Christ, as they struggled to absorb all that had happened and reframe all that they knew in the new context of the Resurrection. Because we know the entire story, it may be hard for us to fully comprehend the paradigm shift for His followers in those first few days. They thought they had understood Jesus’ mission and all it meant to follow Him, but everything took on new scope and power as they came to understand the truth of the Resurrection.

From the beginning of those forty amazing days between Easter and the Ascension, Jesus impressed on His followers that they did not have much time together. He told Mary in the garden, “Do not hold on to me,” sending her to tell the others that He had risen and there was much to be done before He returned to the Father.

In the afterglow of Easter, we may be inclined to rest on the assurance of the Resurrection. But if we truly believe in the miracle, we know it is just the beginning. We hold on to the promise of the Resurrection not merely through praise and thanksgiving, but being His disciples here and now. We cannot leave our hearts and minds in a spiritual upper room, waiting for the Lord to return; we must be His hands and heart in the world, reaching out to those in need, those who do not know Him and those who have lost Him.

In the forty days of Lent, we honor the sacrifice of Jesus. In these forty days as we approach Ascension Day, let us honor the work of Jesus. Let us hold on to Him by embracing His people, by putting new hearts in His hands, by living our lives for Him.

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

James 2:14-17

GO INSTEAD

GO INSTEAD

Welcome to the garden!

Even as we gather in our sanctuary this morning, we truly stand in the garden where Mary encountered Jesus. Like her, we may be slow to grasp the full significance of all it means to be in the presence of the One who suffered so we would be spared, who died so we might live, who died so we would have eternal life. Like her, we must shake off our awe and throw away our doubt. We must open ourselves completely to the miracle of the Resurrection and embrace our Savior with gratitude and devotion.

This is the end of our Lenten journey, but it is the beginning of another. Like Mary, we may want to cling to the joy, we may want to savor the delight of our individual relationship with the Lord, but there is work to be done. In the first moments of their reunion, Jesus tells Mary to go spread the word, the great and glorious news of His Resurrection. We too are charged on this Easter morning with the same sacred task.

We are the people of the Resurrection. We know what it means to be loved despite our failings and flaws. We know how it feels to be forgiven even when we struggle to forgive ourselves. We know how the power and beauty of God’s grace transforms our lives and guides us along His path. We need to share that, in word and deed.

It’s wonderful here in the garden, but this is not where we’re meant to stay. We come to celebrate, to share our joy and love with one another, but we also come to prepare, to soak up the strength and the passion of this day, so we can arm ourselves for the magnificent task ahead – sharing the Good News and showing how God’s love in action can change hearts, lives, and the whole word.

Let us go forth, in joy and in power. He is risen. He is risen, indeed!

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to My brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that He had said these things to her.”
John 20:17-18

LOVE GIVING 7

LOVE GIVING 7

As we arrive at Palm Sunday, Holy Week stretches out before us, with its wonders and mysteries, its joys and sorrows. As we seek a final way to love giving for Lent, let us give glory to God with our every word, thought, and action. Let us make our journey from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday a powerful reflection of all that He has done for us.

Sing with joy when God gives you what you’ve been asking for, and sing even louder when He gives you something else, because He alone knows best what you truly need.

Take pains to be humble, knowing that fortunes can change in a moment and only God is eternal.

Walk down the street confidently, no matter what people may be shouting, knowing that Jesus walks with you.

Show gratitude to those who help you, and be quick to help others, even those who insist they don’t need it.

Break bread with those you love most and, although they may break your heart, ask God to bless them.

Stay awake to both the pleasures and the pains of the world, because a sleeping heart becomes deaf to the Word of God.

Endure pain, ridicule, and betrayal with a steadfast heart, knowing that the Lord will never abandon you.

Walk the path of the Lord, when your burden is great, when the road is broken, when you are broken, for His path is the only route to Heaven.

Even in the midst of a seemingly endless night, remember that the Light always returns.

Be faithful, even when faced with seemingly impossible obstacles, and know that your faithfulness will be rewarded.

Greet your Savior in every place and in every face in which you see Him, and greet Him in joy and thanksgiving.

Proclaim to everyone, through your words and through your life, that Jesus is Lord. Give Him glory in all things, in Lent and always.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
Colossians 3:17

LOVE GIVING 6

LOVE GIVING 6

As Ash Wednesday approached, I spent time praying about what I should give up or give for Lent. It occurred to me that, given my lifelong struggle with my temper, I might work on giving up grudges.

I’m quick to remember those who’ve hurt me, and even quicker to remember those who’ve hurt the people I love. My desire to forgive is often at war with my desire to guard against further hurt. I can remember my father quoting, tongue only partly in cheek, John F. Kennedy’s admonition: “Forgive your enemies, but don’t forget their names.” His point was that it’s important to know, in business and in life, who you can trust.

But if we’re keeping track of hurts, nurturing our grudges, are we truly forgiving? Or are we keeping the initial wound alive and allowing it to infect our hearts with anger and pain? In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul says such behavior gives the devil a foothold in our lives.

And what about the people we have hurt? No human being goes through the imperfect struggles of life without hurting someone else, even though it might have been unintentional. Do we want those we’ve hurt brooding on our trespasses, or are we eager to repent sincerely and contritely and have them forgive us?

As we follow the footsteps of Jesus through Lent, we walk from the desert, filled with despair and temptation, to the empty tomb, shining with hope and the ultimate forgiveness. Jesus died to forgive us everything. And He doesn’t just wipe away our sins, He offers us the hope and the courage necessary to overcome our pain and doubt, the strength required to rebuild, and the joy in finding a new way.

Through Lent into Easter and beyond, let us seek to give forgiveness to each other and to ourselves, so we may draw nearer to Jesus and more closely follow His example.

“So watch yourselves. If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

Luke 17:3-4