The Miracle on Your Street

We pushed ourselves away from the table, groaning with pleasure and patting our bellies – another Thanksgiving dinner resting snuggly under our belts. We stood with difficulty, and ambled on out to the living room to enjoy another family tradition – watching the original version of The Miracle on 34 th Street. We love to watch Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in black and white and are delighted every year when eight year old Susan discovers that her friend, Kris Kringle, who she at first thinks is just a nice old man with whiskers, really is Santa Clause! By the end of the movie, she has come to believe.

One of the most poignant scenes in the movie is when the children line up at Macy’s to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what they want for Christmas. Susan watches with growing amazement as Kris, the store Santa, seems to know what each child wants before they ask him! Then, a little orphan girl from Holland steps up. She looks sadly at her feet as her adoptive mother explains that she won’t be able to tell Santa what she wants for Christmas, because he doesn’t speak her language. But, Kris breaks in and greets the child in her native tongue. Her eyes light up, and she grins with delight! “Oh, Sinter Klaas!” she cries, as she throws herself onto Santa’s lap. Her grief and homesickness vanish for a time as they sing a familiar carol together, and talk of how Christmas is done in her own country. For just a little while, her strangeness vanishes, and she feels at home. Better than the gift she hoped to receive on Christmas morning is the gift she is given at that moment – the gift of belonging.

All of us have the basic human need to feel we belong, somewhere, to someone. That is why Christmas is both the most loved and the most difficult holiday of the year. When you are surrounded by family and friends, and have enough of all you need, it is a celebration indeed! But, when you are alone, or out of work, or ill, it can make you feel like a stranger – an outsider, standing on the sidelines, watching the party going on, with no one who speaks your language.

But, a miracle has happened on your street! Jesus knows what you need before you even ask him! He speaks to you in a language that you can understand, and makes your eyes light up! He draws you into the family of God; makes you a part of something so wonderful, you can’t help but grin from ear to ear. He gives you the gift of belonging, and heals your homesick heart. So, don’t spend Christmas looking at your feet, feeling like you don’t belong! Come! Spend your Christmas as a part of the Zion family. Let the carols lift your spirits. Let the story of Jesus’ birth become a part of your story. Believe that miracles do happen! Let one happen to you!

May the song of the angels fill your days with joy!

Merry Christmas!

Pastor Barb <><

“It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world” John 4:4

November – A Month of Remembrance

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

I stood in the middle of the cypress swamp and wondered at the change a season makes in the life of an ecosystem. The water dried up a month ago. Gone now are the toads and tree frogs. Gone are the mosquitoes that seek me out like a grand buffet. It was eerily quiet now; no sound but the wind blowing the fallen leaves around. I pulled my hood up over my head, and stuffed my cold hands into my pockets.

November is a lonesome month. It speaks of the end of things. The grass withers. Flowers fade. And, the dying leaves remind us of our own mortality. How fitting it is that we set aside days in November to honor our military dead, and to remember loved ones past.

All Saints Day, Veteran’s Day, and Christ the King Sunday all fall in November. We spend time in our cemeteries, planting mums and laying wreaths. We come to the end of the Church Year. We pull our hoods up over our heads, stuff our cold hands into our pockets and listen to the wind blow our memories around like fallen leaves.

But, the season of Advent also begins in November this year – that waiting time that speaks of hope and new beginnings. We are reminded that by his life, death and resurrection, our Lord Jesus put an end to Death! Because of Christ, we are comforted to know that these precious ones we long to see wait for us on the other side of the veil, just as we await the Lord’s coming again in all of his glory; the time when he will make all things right.

I nudge the leaves aside with the toe of my shoe, and there, under the blanket of Fall, a green shoot slumbers. I smile at the promise it holds of new life. Replacing its cover, I walk out of the shadow of the cypress trees and into the waning sun. The earth turns. Advent arrives. Christ will come again. And, I can wait.

May God bless your waiting time with peace and joy and laughter.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pastor Barb <><

Wait for the Lord; be strong, take heart. Psalm 27:14

Things That Go Bump In The Night

October was one of my favorite months, growing up, because they showed one scary movie after the other on Friday nights. My friends and I snuggled down in front of the TV with a big bowl of popcorn and a comforter. We used the comforter to make a tent, ready to throw over our heads when things got too scary to watch. I loved the way delicious goose bumps ran up and down my arms when the Creature from the Black Lagoon rose up out of the water, sea weed dripping from his limbs. And the way my hair stood up at the back of my neck when Count Dracula crept silently up on his unsuspecting victim. Safe within my circle of friends and the blue TV screen light, it was such fun being scared!

But, as I grew, being scared wasn’t so much fun any more. The things that go bump in the night became seriously sinister. And, no longer did they disappear at the flip of a switch, or the turn of a dial. Things like friends going off to war, bills piling up, broken relationships, raising kids, a sick parent and feeling old can give you nightmares to rival the scariest movie! The reality is that real-life monsters lurk in the shadows, waiting for the chance to make you shriek.

Jesus knew how scary this world can be. He knew that the powers of darkness would try to scare us away – try to make us run, even from God. And, so, God sent us the Holy Spirit, The Comforter, to live with us, to calm our hearts, to relieve our fear, and to wrap us up in protective wings, soft as a dove’s. So, when fear attacks and you feel the scream bubbling up in your throat, pull the comforter of God’s tent over your head and take refuge under the shelter of his wings. Rest in God’s presence until all calm has been restored, and the things that go bump in the night will be silenced!

May all the goose bumps you get this Halloween be the ones that come when you are brushed by the wings of God!

Blessings, Pastor Barb <><

Let me abide in your tent forever; find refuge under the shelter of your wings. Psalm 61:4

Fruit of the True Vine

The grapes are coming in. Large, purple globes the color of fresh bruises nestle among dark green leaves, hoping to escape the notice of the bluebirds that perch on the vines to cast a practiced eye upon the ripening fruit. It will be a contest as to who gets them first – the birds, or my neighbor, who is gearing up for his annual wine-making. The sweet, musky aroma of muscadines, warm from the sun, hangs in the air like the morning mist, making my mouth water. No wonder the birds have set up vigil! I, too, know how good it is to bite through the thick skin to get to the juicy pulp. And, I have been the lucky recipient of some mighty fine homemade muscadine wine!

It is no surprise to me that the first miracle Jesus performed was to change water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana. He did this not because he liked wine so much, but because he liked people. And, he loved his mother. She asked him to save a newly-wed couple from the real social stigma of running out of wine at their week-long wedding feast. Mary believed in her son, so much so that she didn’t have to ask him how he would fix it – she just knew he would. She told the servants to “Do what ever he tells you,” confident that all would be well. And, to please his mother, Jesus changed water into a wine so good even the wine steward was impressed! This tells us two things. First, that Jesus listens when those he loves bring their cares and concerns to him. And, secondly, that he has the power to change things for the better – even beyond our expectations.

How good it is to know that Jesus is willing and able to help us with whatever we bring to him! How good it is to be able to hand our problems over to him, then step back and let him take care of things in his own way, in his own time, believing that he will make something good come out of it all. This is the source of the peace that only Christ, the True Vine, can give. May the fruit of peace gladden your heart like fine wine.

Fall Blessings,
Pastor Barb <><

You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use, to bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden the human heart… Psalm 104:14-15

The Eternal Insomniac

Christian Eye of Providence

It’s night time in coastal Georgia. The sun has rolled over the horizon to blaze on someone else’s house for a while. The moon, cool as a solar nightlight, makes patterns of lace on the lawn. The tree frogs are crooning their lusty love songs in whiskey tenor tones. Sleepy wrens, their heads tucked beneath their wings, listen to the lullaby as they nestle in to dream of seeds and berries. And, I, too, lulled by the music of night, fall gratefully into my bed, looking forward to a good night’s sleep after a day well filled. I am one of the fortunate ones for whom sleep comes easily, and night time is my friend.

Up in Athens, I imagine my eldest son, bleary-eyed from work and study, staring at the computer screen, playing games or working on his thesis while his daughter laughs in her sleep in the next room. There is no reason for him to lie down yet, for he knows that sleep will not come. He is one of those for whom sleep is a tease; an ill-behaved puppy off the leash, skipping and dancing around his feet, but staying just out of reach. He has insomnia, and for him, nights can be long.

What must it be like to never have to sleep? To hover over the earth, keeping your eye on every thing, every minute of every hour? That is what the Bible says God does – that not only does God never sleep, but God never even gets weary! The mind boggles…

Even though we are made in the image of God, it speaks to God’s “otherness” to know that God never has to get a little “shut-eye”; never has to doze off for a minute, or catch a cat-nap here and there, to keep alert, like we do. No wonder the Eye of God has become a well-known Christian symbol! Not the more recent image taken by the Hubble space telescope, but the ancient image that has long been a symbol of Divinity, shown in the image above. The eye of God is set in the middle of a triangle. The triangle represents the Trinity – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Rays of light stream out from it to represent God’s infinite holiness.

You’ll find an example of the Eye of God on the back of a US dollar bill! It’s the small triangle on the left hand side, hovering above the pyramid. According to Wikipedia, our forefathers added the Eye of God to The Great Seal of the US, to show that God was overseeing the birth of a new nation. That’s why they wrote “Annuit Coeptis” above it, which is Latin for “He has favored our undertaking.” That is an interesting fact. But, for Christians, the symbol stands to remind us that the all-knowing and ever-present eye of God is always upon us, guarding us and keeping us in his loving care.

God is the Eternal Insomniac; keeping constant watch over all his creation, day in and day out! What a comfort it is to know that we are always and forever, under his watchful eye. So, whether you are sound asleep or wide awake, rest easy, My Friend! For the Eye of God is upon you, and he cares for you!

Blessings as the new School Year begins,

Pastor Barb <><

Behold, he that keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
Psalm 121:4:

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean –
The one who has flung herself out of the grass,
The one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
Who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down,
Who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to fall down into the grass,
How to kneel down in the grass,
How to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through
The fields which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t every thing die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life? By Mary Oliver

The heat is a wall that I push against as I walk through the fields. It shimmers around me like water in a wading pool. Startled, the grasshoppers rise up and whirr away to cling to grass so dry it crackles under my feet. It’s a summer day in southern Georgia, and I have left the airconditioning for the great outdoors long enough to ponder the question Mary Oliver poses in her poem above. Just what is it I plan to do with my one, wild and precious life? What, indeed?

Because I do know what a prayer is, I fall down into the grass, kneel down in the grass, and ask the Lord what it is that he would have me do now? What am I to do next? Because, there is always a next. This one, wild and precious life we are given is a journey from which we never arrive. There is always something more for us to do; one more need to meet, one more ministry to embrace, one more heart to gladden.

This is the joy of being a follower of Jesus! Always, there is good work to do. Your life has meaning and purpose! You are a precious laborer in God’s fields. You are wanted, needed, gifted and sent. There are always moments to be idle and blessed; moments spent walking with the Lord through the fields, marveling at grasshoppers. But, the time is not wasted time. It is time spent in contemplation, asking God for his direction. Then, you rise and move with renewed energy into the next task to which you are called.

So, is this your idle time, or your working time? What is God calling you to do, next? Don’t get lost out in the fields with the grasshoppers. Always be in prayer, asking what God would have you do with this gift of your one, wild and precious life. This is the key to a life well lived. Thank you, Mary Oliver, for asking us this great question.

May the heat of summer embrace you with the warm love of Christ,

Pastor Barb <><

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.
Therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Matt. 9:35-38

Homesick Hearts

It was 50 degrees and raining, the morning of the Blessing of the Bikes near our old hometown in Michigan. The cheery fire in our friend’s fireplace made us want to curl up in a corner with a mug of something warm. But we had driven 900 miles to get here, so we set our teeth, determined to get our bike blessed despite the weather. Besides, we had been cold and wet before. We pulled on long johns, heavy woolen socks, gloves, and helmets and rain gear. I felt like the kid in the Christmas Story; whining, “I can’t move my arms!” when we finally set out for the hour ride to the airport, where the Catholic priest would make the sign of the cross over the thousands of bikes lined up like chrome sardines in a can. Half way there, the sun smiled on us, the roads dried up, and the day turned perfect. We rode by our old homestead, and I felt that vague, dull ache of homesickness, thudding in my chest. The trees were thinly leafing out, the grass, green and cool. I remembered walking our old dog through the woods, steering clear of the big, black bear that made the hair stand up on his neck, and had him skittering sideways in the brush. I remembered spying out the deer yard, and wading in the stream that ran, cold and clear, through the back of our land. I missed knowing what to plant, and when, and the comfort of being able to turn over a big rock and identify what ever it was you might find underneath it. But, on the ride back, I found myself wondering why there was no moss hanging from the trees, and where all the flowers were, and marveling that the farmers had not yet turned over the ground, although it was mid-May. I found myself looking in every puddle for an alligator, and laughing at myself over it. The only thing in these puddles might be some tadpoles, newly hatched. How odd it was, that when I was in Georgia, I missed the familiar feel of Michigan. But, when I was in Michigan, I had Georgia on my mind. It felt like my heart was in both places at once, and I was homesick, either place. In Bonaventure Cemetery, on a footstone where the Bird Girl statue once stood, before they had to move her to a place free from inquisitive fingers, a verse from 1 Corinthians is carved. It reads, “ We do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” St. Paul knew what I was feeling. He loved his life, and his ministry, and his people, but there were times when that dull ache of homesickness thudded in his chest, too, and he longed to leave his earthly home, to be in his heavenly one. And, we, too, know that ache – that restless yearning to be someplace else – no matter how contented we are in this place. Being a believer means that you live with a foot in both worlds. For, while we love the home God has given us in this life, our hearts will always yearn for our heavenly home, until the day we land with both feet on the other side. Back in Georgia, the hundred degree temperature settles on my brow like dust on a melon. I wonder if it is through snowing in Michigan, and if the peepers have begun their evening chorus. But, I dream of what heaven will be like when I get there. And, I learn to live with a homesick heart.

Summer Blessings,

Pastor Barb <><

Our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.

Lent and Easter Thank You!

What a meaningful Lenten season, Holy Week and Easter celebration we had this year! It was so good to have guest preachers from the other ELCA churches come and present the Miracles of Lent. Thanks to Pastor John Barichivich and Pastor Patrick Finley for sharing their insights with us! The solemnity of Holy Week, with our stripping of the altar on Maundy Thursday and our tenebrae service on Good Friday prepared us well for the joy of our Easter Sunrise bonfire and Easter Festival worship.

I don’t know if people realize how much behind-the-scenes work it takes to prepare for every worship experience, but I am here to tell you that Zion is very blessed to have such dedicated, creative, and spirit-filled people using their God-given talents for the building up of this church! I am most grateful for all the people who help make our worship a worthy offering to God, for that is what it is.

Thanks to our Worship and Music Team, our musicians, our Children’s Choir and their parents for getting them here, our sound technicians, our readers, ushers, greeters, acolytes, crucifers, communion assistants, assisting ministers, yard work, flowers, changing the sign board, proof readers for bulletins, the choir, special music, all who provided food and/or cooked for our Lenten Suppers, our Youth for Easter breakfast, and to everyone who faithfully blessed us with their participation in the services and fellowship meals. This is why we say that the ministers at Zion are YOU!

Thank you for all you do!

Pastor Barb <><

Wonderful Love…

The storm had died down. The wind and hail had moved on. We went out to the horse barn to check on the horses, and feed up. I checked the water troughs, sure they would be full after the heavy rain, and there, floating on a little piece of bark, was an anole lizard. He was clinging to his little raft for dear life, and looked up at me with one, wet, unblinking eye. I carefully reached down and slid my hand under the piece of bark, and, letting the water run through my fingers, lifted the little guy out of the trough, and put him back on the tree he must have been blown out of. He ran quickly up the trunk and away from me without so much as a backward glance. “Thanks to you, too!” I laughed. So much for communication!

Later that night, I was searching the internet for May Day, thinking I might write a newsletter article about the May Pole I vaguely remembered from grade school days, when the computer took another route. Suddenly, I was learning all about the distress call “Mayday!” which Wikipedia says comes from the French venez m’aider, meaning ‘come help me.’ It said that Mayday is always called three times in a row, and is only to be used if a boat or plane or person is ” threatened by grave and imminent danger and immediate assistance is required.” such as a fire, explosion or sinking.

I thought of the anole, adrift on his water-trough ocean, and thought about how many times I have felt like I was right there with him! I thought about how many times in my life I have felt myself sinking, and have thrown my head back and screamed, “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” hoping that God was going to hear my voice communication and come help me! Many times, I wasn’t really in “grave and imminent danger” but it sure seemed like it! That is probably why the line from the hymn What Wondrous Love is this has always struck such a chord with me, especially at Easter: “When I was sinking down, beneath God’s righteous frown, Christ laid aside his crown for my soul.”

It’s scary to think of how many times I was in grave and imminent danger, and didn’t even realize it! How many times has God reached down, carefully lifted me out of danger and set me back on solid ground, and I scampered off, without even a backward glance – clueless? Certainly, no “Thank you, God!” for saving me.

In my saner moments, I recognize that that is what God did for me through Jesus, on the cross! He reached down and saved me, even before I knew I needed rescuing! Today, the cross is the raft I cling to on the stormy seas of life. I try not to send out the Mayday! call unless it’s really an emergency! And, I try to remember to thank God for all the times he has come to help me, even when I didn’t send out a very clear signal. “Thank you, God!” for rescuing me from a life or death situation! What wondrous love is this, O my soul!

May Day Blessings!

Pastor Barb <><

Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. Psalm 69:1

Lent – Time to Breathe

I walked the path in the Savannah Wildlife Refuge, breathing in the musky smell of rotting vegetation and swamp water. The sun was painfully bright, and had coaxed the alligators out of their holes to lie on the banks in deathly stillness. Not a muscle moved, not an eye blinked, not a sign of an intake of breath was given. I stood on the banks of the canal and watched a sixfooter, looking for a twitch in that gray-green armor and wondering anew at the ability of an alligator to stay as still as stone for extended periods of time. When I breath, my chest rises in rhythmic regularity. No mystery there. My lungs expand with every breath I take – in and out, in and out – and you know that I am alive. It is like that for almost everything that has breath. But, a gator can lay for hours suspended in his hide, and give nothing away.

I read an old Reader’s Digest article where they actually did a study to learn how much a soul weighs. They weighed people just as they were about to take their last breath and again after their breathing had stopped. They came to the conclusion that a soul weighs ¾ of an ounce. That was the average difference on the scales before and after the “breath” had left a person’s body. If you have ever stood at the bedside of a loved one who has expired, you know what that moment looks like; the stillness that settles in when his or her breath has departed. You know precisely when the soul you love is gone.

During the season of the Church year called Lent, we follow Jesus as he makes his slow, deliberate way to the cross, where he takes his last breath, and his soul departs his earthly body. It is a time when we who love him ponder our own dependence on God for our life’s breath. It is a time when we become still long enough to be conscious of our own breathing; to appreciate it for the gift it is, and to be grateful for it. Lent is when we intentionally take the time to breathe – to stop in the middle of the busy-ness of life to recognize the presence of God living in us, filling us with the Spirit; the breath of God, the Lord, the Giver of Life.

This Lenten season, give yourself the gift of time to breathe. Open yourself up to the Spirit’s movement! Join your living, breathing, brothers and sisters in Christ as we gather each week to allow God to send forth his breath and renew our souls! Don’t let anyone wonder whether you are alive or not!

Lenten Blessings,
Pastor Barb <><

O Lord… When you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your breath, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground. Psalm 104: 29-30