Messages, Meditations, and Musings on the Life of Faith by Rev. Dr. Scott E. Olson, Pastor, Grace Lutheran Church, Mankato, MN

Sunday, October 16, 2016

"This Is My Song" - Sermon for the Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

This Is My Song
Pentecost 22 – Narrative Lectionary 3
October 16, 2016
Grace, Mankato, MN
1 Samuel 1.9-11, 19-20; 2.1-10

I love Broadway musicals and, as you can imagine, I enjoy going to the Chanhassen Dinner Theater from time to time. In musicals, when done right, the songs are memorable, combining good tunes with a compelling story. One thing that tickles me, however, is how the characters will suddenly burst into song in the most unlikely places with a full orchestra backing them up, such when Julie Andrews sings on a mountain top in The Sound of Music. In our lesson for today, like a Broadway actress, Hannah bursts into song at a most unlikely time and place. There is no apparent orchestra backing her and the song is odd, a nationalistic song if anything. It’s as if Eliza Doolittle were to sing, God Save the Queen in the midst of My Fair Lady.

Last week, we were at the foot of Mt. Sinai where the Israelites’ song went from boisterous to lament. They had come close to extinction because of their apostasy in building the golden calf. Since then, they’ve been on the move. Poised to enter the Promised Land, they have been forced to wander 40 years in the wilderness because they doubted God’s ability to help them settle the inhabited land. Once the faithless generation passes away, under Joshua’s leadership they entered the Promised Land and conquered it only to be besieged on all sides by the nation states surrounding them. Because they are a loose confederation of tribes, they are easy pickings. Occasionally, God will raise judges to rally them, but they get tired of this cycle and eventually will want a king to unify them.

The story of Samuel is how the monarchy comes into being in general and how the line of David gets established in particular. And the story begins in the most unlikely of places, with an elderly priest and a barren woman. (A side note: this won’t be the last time that a story of greatness begins with a birth narrative of humility. Cue The Magnificat, the song that a young virgin will sing a thousand years later upon learning that she is caring God’s Son, the long-awaited Messiah.) Hannah is persecuted by her husband’s other wife; we call it bullying today. She goes up to worship at Shiloh and prays fervently for a child where she is accused of drinking by the priest Eli. Eli promises her a child and God remembers her. Hannah and her husband conceive, a son is born and when the child is weaned, Hannah gives the child back to God.

I don’t know what it’s like not to be able to have a child and I can only imagine what it’s like to not be able to conceive. I think the idea of barrenness comes close. And I think most of us have an experience of being forgotten, perhaps by God, which maybe even more painful. And to give a child up after waiting so long stretches the imagination. Again, the only thing I can think of that might be similar is a birth mother giving her child for adoption. Yet, right after she does so, Hannah bursts into a song about the power of God’s justice. Perhaps she does so because she is not only able to receive something, but she is also able to give something for the first time in her life.

Hannah sings because she knows that it is in barrenness that God works to make a future. Her song is both proclamation and prophecy. Hannah proclaims God’s faithfulness and remembering. She dares to sing a song that spits in the face of power brokers of the world and she declares that all evidence to the contrary, God favors those at the margins of society. In other words, God has not forgotten any of us. Furthermore, she hints of one who is coming 1,000 years later and who will bring justice to the world.

Hannah sings in response to God’s presence and working in her life. Where have you seen God’s presence in your life and what song would you sing? You might not be on Broadway or backed up by a full orchestra, but sing anyway. Sing of God’s faithfulness and remembrance of you. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

"Can We Talk?" - Sermon for the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Can We Talk?
Pentecost 21 – Narrative Lectionary 3
October 9, 2016
Grace, Mankato, MN
Exodus 32.1-14

When I lived in Winona, a retired district judge wrote occasional newspaper articles reflecting on the current state of the judicial system. One time, he wrote about a new phenomenon he had observed, namely defendants arguing with judges about the sentences they had been give. Clearly, in this retired judge’s opinion, the phenomenon was generational.  People of older generations may not like their sentence, but they’d accept it and move on. Younger people, however, had a tendency to argue. Yet, what astounded him even more was that the judges themselves were arguing back. This was unheard of when he served on the bench. The judge viewed this as a crisis of authority and lack of respect for the judicial process.

Many of us as members of an older generation probably wouldn’t argue either, but thankfully Moses did. And we might add: thankfully, God as judge—not to mention jury and executioner—in this case, argues back. While the Israelites are going off the rails below, God and Moses have this amazing exchange on the top of Mt. Sinai. Since the Passover last week when God used the death of the firstborn males to convince the Egyptian pharaoh to let them go, the Israelites have crossed the parted Red Sea and entered the wilderness of Sinai. Shortly thereafter, they agreed to worship the Lord, YHWH, alone and received rules to live by, also known as the Ten Commandments.

These guidelines, which cover their relationship with God and with each other, have at the top of the list an agreement that they will not worship false idols or make graven images of any gods, including the Lord. But Moses has been up on the mountain with God 40 days and nights and the Israelites are getting nervous. So, they blink: fear and anxiety overcomes rational thinking and impatience produces bad decisions. The people need something tangible to follow and worship, so they make it themselves.

Meanwhile, they don’t realize how close they’ve come to not needing any gods. In a somewhat disturbing exchange, Moses talks God down from the judicial ledge. Assuming what will be a prophetic role seen throughout scripture, Moses stands between God and God’s people. And he’s not above using a little public relations manipulation. “What would the Egyptians say?” he asks God. But his theological and rhetorical tour de force is a reminder of the promises God made their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to make of them a great nation.

Now, I don’t know what’s more remarkable, that Moses changed God’s mind or that God actually did it. Yet, it really shouldn’t be surprising at all. For the witness of scripture, both up to now and as we see it unfolding, is that God is a relational God. And to be in a relationship means being vulnerable and opening one’s self to both the best and the worst those relationships can produce. It can mean both loving greatly and being hurt greatly. Furthermore, we who are Trinitarians know that God can’t be anything else but relational; it’s God’s very nature. God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a divine dance of love and faithfulness. Yet, it’s also in God’s nature for justice. God’s anger is real because God hates sin, death, and brokenness.

Yet, justice and faithfulness are not incompatible, because it is just to remain faithful to one’s promises. This God is so committed to our relationship that he took on human flesh and came to live among us. Both love and justice were served when God took our unfaithfulness on the cross. So, we don’t have to build false gods such as busyness, perfectionism or consumerism to relate to because this God continues to give himself for us in tangible ways. In doing so, God invites us into a living, loving and, honest relationship. So, like Moses, we can pour out our hopes, dreams, fears, frustrations out to God knowing that God listens. Can we talk? The answer today is a resounding, “Yes!” All the time, any time, no matter what, no matter who. Amen.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

"Now and Again" - Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Now and Again
Pentecost 20 – Narrative Lectionary 3
October 2, 2016
Grace, Mankato, MN
Exodus 12.1-14; 13.1-8

When I meet with couples to do pre-marriage work, I ask traditions they observed in their families of origin that they’d like to bring with into their marriage. If my daughters were asked, they might mention birthdays that are celebrated by eating dinner out and coming back home for cake, ice cream and presents. They might also mention specific foods that must be eaten at Thanksgiving or our tradition of opening one present on Christmas Eve and the rest on Christmas Day. Other people might talk about different holiday observances, such Independence Day or Memorial Day. All families have traditions, whether they think so or not. These observances are important because the say something about who we are, our identity. It’s not just about who we are as individuals, but as a collective or community. We don’t honor traditions individually; it’s always a group activity. For those traditional observances in the church, it’s about who we are as God’s people.

About 430 years have passed since last week’s story about Joseph that brought the Israelites to Egypt. The good news is that the Israelites have multiplied according to God’s promise. They are now as numerous as the stars in the sky or sand on a beach. The bad news is that the Egyptians are afraid of their large numbers and to keep them under control begin to oppress them. Kings have come and gone and nobody remembers Joseph and what he did. However, no matter how hard the Egyptians make life for the Israelites, they keep flourishing.

So, the pharaoh declares that all male babies be killed after birth. Upon this atrocity, the Israelites lift up their lament to God and God raises up and sends Moses to act as his agent of deliverance. Even so, a series of plagues don’t convince pharaoh, so God resorts to what has become known as the Passover. The angel of death passes over the homes marked with lambs blood, killing the first born male children in the households that aren’t marked, those of the Egyptians. In the process, God gives instructions for how to acknowledge this memorable occasion.

There is much in this story that could be mined: God’s deliverance from oppression, wrestling with God’s resort to violence, and the ties between the Passover meal to the Last Supper that Jesus celebrates with his disciples on the night of his betrayal. Yet, as important as these themes are, I’m struck by God’s command to remember. It is a far deeper remembering than simply, “Don’t forget what it did.” God lays out very specific rules, not just for the inaugural Passover, but all succeeding ones. There is something about doing that is important to the remembering.

As I thought about a modern example, I recalled when I came to the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg 24 years ago. There was a movie crew filming on the battlefields. What was a movie based on the book “Killer Angels” ultimately became “Gettysburg” in productions. During the filming, the movie company used local re-enactors, those who regularly gathered to reenact the Battle of Gettysburg. Now, I used think of re-enactors as overgrown children doing dress up, but I have come to realize it’s much more. As you walk the battlefield and see the reenactments, you get a sense of what happened over 150 years ago. There is something about doing that is important to the remembering.

I think that’s exactly why God instructs the Israelites to remember and reenact the Passover in specific ways. It is why the Jewish people have been doing this for over 3,300 years and will continue until the end of time. The reenactment and remembering is not superstitious motions or magical behavior. God reminds us that what we do here matters because it both helps us to remember and it forms us in the process. By carrying forth the traditions of those who came before us, we are reminded both who we are and whose we are. And by doing it together we are reminded that we are a community of faith.

There are a number of people wringing their hands these days about the church’s future and sometimes I’m one of them. I was distressed this summer when I witnessed five baptisms at various churches and most of them left out significant portions of the service. None of them followed the service as it was written. And it is true that we are facing challenges, not the least of which is the fact that we are being pushed to the margins of society. Even so, the church has faced challenges many times before and frankly, the church is at its best when it operates from the margins, on the outside.

More importantly, we follow a God who promises to be with us and strengthen us to serve the world. We follow a God that took on human flesh, died for us and continues to give himself. We don’t do Passover, but we need to continue to carry on other rituals and sacraments, such as baptism and Holy Communion, and we need to do them faithfully. Never underestimate our place in this community and what we do here each week. There is something about the doing that is important to the remembering and we need to do it together. Amen.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

"Wherever You Go, There You Are—and God, Too" - Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost/Confirmation Sunday

Wherever You Go, There You Are—and God, Too
Pentecost 19 – Narrative Lectionary 3; Confirmation Sunday
September 25, 2016
Grace, Mankato, MN
Genesis 37.3-8; 17b-22, 26-34; 50.15-21

The story of Joseph and his family is an important one in Genesis. One way you can tell is by the space it occupies. The story covers 14 chapters placed at the end of the book. One commentator notes that it does serve as a literary device, about how to get the Israelites to Egypt. Yet, the story is more than that: God’s promise to make Abraham’s descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky is going to be threatened by a famine in the land. Without Joseph, the people of Israel have no future and the promise dies. Even more so, the story makes a faith claim: God’s purposes may be hidden, but they’re reliable. God is at work in the world shaped by human actions, often mysteriously, always faithfully.

That’s certainly been true in my life. After two attempts at a career in college, I found myself in the business world. Sometime later, I was presented with a job opportunity for which I seemed perfectly suited. Cindy and I made a trip to Chicago were we were wined and dined and I felt sure I was going to get the job. We’d be closer to our families and I would be engaged in rewarding work for which I was well-suited. However, at the last minute the owner of the company vetoed the president’s decision and they hired someone internally. Needless to say, I was devastated. But as God closed that door (and others), unforeseen doors started opening. Eventually, I went to seminary and became a pastor, something I never dreamed of but for which I give God thanks each and every day.

Joseph dreamed that his brothers would bow down to him but had no idea how or when that would take place. However, he did not foresee being beaten, sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape and tossed into prison. Confirmands, I know that many of you have dreams for your lives, and they are good ones: audiologist, sound tech, teacher, hairstylist, lawyer and others. Those are admirable vocations and I hope your dreams come true. Even so, you need to know that life doesn’t always go as we hope or dream. Sometimes it goes much better; unfortunately, sometimes a lot worse than we imagine. But I want you to always remember this: through it all you need to know that God is working in, with and through your life, no matter what.

As Joseph met with his brothers he was able to say that their intended harm of him was used by God. Now, we must be careful and you need to hear me clearly: God does not cause our pain and suffering. But God can and does use them to form us as caring, authentic human beings who can serve God fully. There are two important things to know about this. First, you may not see what God is up to in the middle of it all. It may only be when you look back that you can see God working in your life. Second, only you who have borne the scars and bruises of life can say God is working in your life. That’s not for others to claim. Regardless, I encourage you look for God’s presence always, trusting God is there.

I need to say one more thing that gets short shrift in the Joseph story: forgiveness. As I said, chances are that stuff will happen in your lives: you’ll mess up and others will mess you up. So, learn to forgive; forgive others, forgive yourselves and even forgive God. Never tolerate abusive situations, but learn to let go of the yucky stuff that happens and choose to work in life-giving ways, not death dealing ones. Have compassion on others because we never know their stories; there are a lot of hurting people in our world. But above all, have compassion on yourself because God does. Like Genesis, Confirmation is not an ending but a beginning, of deeper relationship with God and with others. Please remember, wherever you go, there you are—and God is always with you. Amen.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

"The Future Is Now" - Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Future Is Now
Pentecost 18 – Narrative Lectionary 3
September 18, 2016
Grace, Mankato, MN
Genesis 15.1-6

After my mother died in 1983 at the age of 57, my dad seemed to do all right for a while. He traveled to Texas during the winter and came out to Northern Virginia after our first daughter, Angela, was born. He also did some part-time work for the local American Legion, bookkeeping for the pull tabs. However, something happened at the American Legion, a change in commanders I think, and he was told he wasn’t needed any longer. It may have been a coincidence, but his health steadily declined after that.

Just as my sister and I were going to intervene, a friend couldn’t get a hold of him and called the paramedics. He was hospitalized with pneumonia and we were somewhat relieved because now we thought he would get the help he need. However, he died later that night. All in all, he just seemed to just give up on life. I think he couldn’t imagine a future for himself or, at the very least, a future compelling enough to give him reason for living. In religious terms, he lost hope.

In our lesson, Abram—later to be called Abraham—can’t imagine a future either. A lot has happened since last week’s story about Adam, Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden. There is the first murder, a fratricide. People have indeed been populating the earth as God commanded. However, this people are so corrupt that God does a dramatic reboot through a massive flood, saving animals and a handful of people. This doesn’t work and God is forced to create a separation of languages peoples following the tower of Babel incident. God still won’t give up and comes up with the interesting idea of setting aside a people who will draw the rest of humanity to himself. In doing do, God makes an audacious move: 75 year old Abram and his 65 year old wife Sarai will not only have a child, they will be the beginning of a people who will be countless as stars in the sky and sand on a beach.

This promise to Abram and Sarai is not just an issue of who inherits his estate. In Middle Eastern cultures, it was expected that children would look after their parents in their old age. There weren’t any assisted living or long-term care facilities. Also, it was believed that people lived on through their descendents. People without offspring didn’t just die; with no one to remember them they ceased to exist. Yet, at this point, God’s promise of descendents seems cruel. Not only were they past childbearing age, it’s been more than ten years since God’s promise was first given to them. In fact, it will be 25 years before they do indeed have a child. When they do, Sarai won’t see their son Isaac married and Abram will not see any grandchildren. So, can you blame Abram for being unable to imagine a future?

Fast-forward almost 2,000 years: the followers of an itinerant rabbi have their future shattered. As they see Jesus dying on the cross, they can’t imagine any kind of positive future. In fact, they are afraid and go into hiding. This promised savior who was going to restore God’s relationship with humanity is dying a slow, horrible death. Yet, where we can’t imagine a future, God can and does promise one. Three days later their world gets turned upside down as God raises Jesus from the dead. The Holy Spirit will light a fire under them and the good news of God’s love through Jesus Christ will spread throughout the world, often when the future looks bleakest.

We tell these stories time and again because we need to know that God has a future for us just as much has God has had for those who have come before us. It’s not just a future resurrection or consummation “someday,” but a future that comes into the present. At Grace, we are in the process of preparing for God’s future through building renovations. Six years ago when I came to Grace, we spent time discovering God’s future for us and, with the prompting of the Holy Spirit, made some bold changes how God’s mission and ministry are carried out here. Now it’s time for us to build for the future that God is calling us into with facilities that support mission and ministry. Some of us may be wondering, “How can this be?” We may be like Abram and not see how this can happen.

I believe that Grace has a future. I believe that God has put us in this place and will give us what we need, even if we can’t see it now. Our community needs places to connect with one another, to have folk willing to serve them. People are hurting physically, mentally and spiritually and need to know God’s tangible love. Families are stressed more than they have ever been and need us to support and care for them. Abram believed and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. He didn’t always do it perfectly and neither will we, but he gives us the courage to believe. God has a future for us and the future is now. Amen.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

"Shameless Love" - Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Shameless Love
Pentecost 17 – Narrative Lectionary 3
September 11, 2016
Grace, Mankato, MN
Genesis 2.4b-7, 15-17; 3.1-8

In junior high I acted in a play called, “Egad, What a Cad!” It was one of those damsel in distress—villain—hero type plays, though a farcical one. I was cast as the villain, the “Snidely Whiplash” character. Although I didn’t have the build for the part, I had the diabolical laugh down pat. In fact, there were two casts and while my counterpart was built for Snidely, he couldn’t muster the laugh. So, I became a voice double for him whenever he had to laugh.

Well, after what I thought was a great performance when I got backstage I realized my pants zipper was open. Throughout. The. Whole. Play. So, take a teenager who needs great courage to put himself out there but gets overly exposed and you have a recipe for deep shame. You can imagine the thoughts going through my head: “You idiot! How could you forget to zip up your pants? What made you think you could act in a play?” And so on.

Now, this might not rate high on the “Shame—O—Meter and I wish I could say this was the only time in my life I’ve been deeply ashamed, it’s probably the safest one I can tell you. No doubt as I share this you are thinking of your own stories.

Shame is a universal experience, so much so that it gets expressed in one of our earliest and most important stories. Adam and Eve get really bad advice from the first ever Life Coach and the consequences are life changing. Their disobedience causes irrevocable harm and results in broken relationships, between themselves and with God. With the disobedience, shame became a reality and came roaring into creation in all its ugliness. What happens when we feel shame? We feel exposed, vulnerable and naked. That’s exactly what Adam and Eve felt and they responded accordingly. They covered themselves and they hid, which is exactly what I wanted to do after that junior high play.

BrenĂ© Brown is a sociologist and professor at the University of Houston in Texas. She researches connections, courage, vulnerability and, yes, even shame. She is not ashamed of calling herself a “shame researcher.” Brown tells us that shame is something we all have, but we are afraid to talk about. Unfortunately, she says, the less we talk about shame, the more power it has over us. Brown says that shame needs three things to grow out of control: secrecy, silence, and judgment. We want to keep our guilty acts secret and refuse to talk about them. Even worse, we judge ourselves as unworthy. Shame is basically about fear and, most importantly, it’s the fear of being unlovable. Who have the hardest time with shame? It’s those who believe they aren’t worthy of love and belonging.

The experience of Adam and Eve really rings true, doesn’t it? That’s our experience, too. The good news is that, according to Brown, we can identify the shame triggers in our lives and learn to become shame resilient. Yet, as important as that is, it’s more important to see how God responds to Adam and Eve. God does so in a remarkable and unexpected way, by continually being vulnerable himself. God doesn’t shame Adam and Eve. God doesn’t turn his back on them but goes looking for them. Though they will bear the consequences of their disobedience, expulsion from the garden and a life of harder work, God clothes Adam and Eve and continues to work very hard to maintain a relationship and connection with them. In fact, the continuing story of God in the Bible is how God risks God’s self over and over again with humanity for the sake of relationship.

Of course, God’s ultimate act of vulnerability comes when he takes on human flesh, walks among us and allows himself to be crucified on the cross. Isn’t it just like God to us an instrument of shame to banish shame? In Christ’s death and resurrection God exposes the mechanism of shame and destroys its power over us forever. God declares once and for all that, no matter what you do, you are worthy of love and belonging. That’s probably the most important thing I’ve said today: no matter what you do, in God’s eyes you are worthy of love and belonging.

It doesn’t end there. God risks God’s self so that we can risk reaching out to others. Today we remember the events of 9/11 and it would be tempting to pull back and mistrust others. Yet, as people of faith, we need to lead the way, risking ourselves for the sake of relationships, especially with those who seem unlovable. God shows us shameless love so that we can let all people know they are worthy of love and belonging. Egad, what a God! Amen.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

"Ordinary People, Extraordinary God" - Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Ordinary People, Extraordinary God
Pentecost 16 – Narrative Lectionary Summer Series
September 4, 2016
Grace, Mankato, MN
Acts 9.1-22

I have to admit I have a hard time relating to Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus. That may be because much of my spiritual journey this summer involved trying to hear God speaking to me and I can tell you no lightning was involved. The closest I’ve come to this kind of experience happened over 30 years ago. I was attending a worship service during the Virginia Synod assembly of the old Lutheran Church in America. The service included the ordination of recently called pastors. As I saw one of the newly minted pastors celebrating Communion, the thought entered my head, “You need to be doing this.” No pyrotechnics; just an overwhelming sense of God’s presence and call.

Yet even that call came over a period of time in far less dramatic ways. This story points out how much we need to take care with this story; it’s dramatic because it’s not typical. Although, as Arv notes, it happens every day, it doesn’t happen to very many people. Sometimes we come to expect that it should happen to us and are jealous when it doesn’t. A little bit further back in my life I had been coming back to church after having been gone since Confirmation. It occurred to me that the questions I had about God and the life of faith could only be answered in the Church. So, in May 1978 I rededicated my life to Christ. I am embarrassed to admit that I really expected the heavens to open or at least to feel something extraordinary. Apparently, the heavenly host was tied up that day because nothing happened. At least, nothing I could tell.

So, as I worked with today’s story, I found myself thinking about those around Saul: his friends, Ananias and the rest of the disciples in Syria. (By the way, it’s inaccurate to say this is a conversion story; more of a call story. After all, the first followers of Jesus were Jewish and they didn’t consider themselves a different religion; at this time they were more like a sect within Judaism.) Though Saul’s friends heard the voice but not the words, God’s call upon Saul affected them, too. Furthermore, Ananias was put in the very awkward position of facilitating Saul’s call from God and the rest of the disciples were very leery of this “new Saul.” So, it occurred to me that God’s call on our lives never comes in a vacuum. Our callings get lived out in community and deeply affect those people around us. A call is never to us alone.

A call from God is like a stone tossed in a pond, rippling outward, touching whatever is in its path. In the end, this story is not worth telling because of the event itself. It is worth telling because of what happens after, for Saul and the others. This story is not just about Saul, but also about his friends who lead him by the hand, bring him to Damascus and sit with him as Saul tries to figure out what is next. It’s also about Ananias and the others who have to able to see Saul as God’s instrument, a huge stretch of their imagination about what God is up to in the world. So, when people tell me how heroic I am for leaving the business world, selling all I have and entering seminary I appreciate the thought but I also scoff a bit. Do you know who the real heroes are in my call story? They’re my wife and daughters who left their home and friends, not just once but several times. The heroes are the ones who supported us in various ways with resources and prayer.

But it’s not just pastor’s families who are affected and asked to support the difficult calls that God places on our lives. I think of families who support their loved ones who enter the military and get shipped all over the world. There was a military family in Virginia who had moved 28 times in 25 years. I think of the family and friends of police officers and fire fighters and emergency personnel who wonder if their loved ones will come home that night. I think of spouses who promise to care for one another and do so through bouts with cancer, dementia, and other debilitating circumstances. I look around our congregation and see you walking with one another through pain and brokenness, marveling at your care for each other. You do so because you know that when you were called to follow Christ you signed on to love God and others no matter what happens. That call gets lived out in the dark and difficult places as much as the joyful ones.

Yet, in the end, even our ability to walk with others in the difficult places does not depend on us alone. We are an ordinary people who are loved and called by an extraordinary God. This God meets us where we are in our faith journeys and gives us exactly what we need for that time. To me, the extraordinary thing isn’t the lightening and other dramatic experiences of God that happen from time to time; it’s the moment to moment presence of God in the midst of our daily lives that is heartening. It’s about a God who promises to be with us even though we may not see God. In fact, we know that God is with us especially in those times we don’t see God. It may be a dark alley instead of a Damascus Road, but it’s no less real. May God give you the grace to see that presence, the strength to respond and the joy of God’s presence. Amen.