Saturday, December 26, 2009

We left Grandma Topple in a rest stop

Didn't make the sermon...but a good story

We were taking a family trip to Canada, where my grandfather was born.  There are about 14 of us traveling in three different vehicles. We stopped at a rest area and everyone stretches their legs, reads interesting propoganda on display, and of course does their business.  “Be back at the car in 10 minutes.”  We were told.

Ten minutes later we load up and hit the road.  Some 3 or 4 hours down the road, one of the cars in the caravan pulls up next to another, “Do you have grandma?”  “No…”  Then to the next…”Do you have grandma?”  No…Oh oh…

We drive back to the rest area….and there she was, waiting patiently, and surprisingly confidently that someone at somepoint would notice she wasn’t part of the group and would come back for her. 

Life before cell phones

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:39-55: “Alive and Kicking, inspired by the Holy Spirit”

by Chester Topple, December 20, 2009.  4th Sunday of Advent
 Westminster Presbyterian Church, Santa Fe

I’ve heard the story of Jesus’ birth since I was born.  In my family, we did advent candle lighting at home accompanied by bible verses of the story.  With the extended family, we had our own Christmas pageant!  But the infancy narrative as it’s called- Luke’s telling of the story of Jesus and John’s birth-has taken on new meaning since little Ruby Gene came into my life.   So if you’ll be so kind as to allow me (once again) to share some of how that experience has shaped my understanding of what’s going on, I’d appreciate it….(pause) 
You know she’s going to be one in January.  People advised me when she was born not to blink. … Ruby Gene took 6 steps earlier this week…I hear the fun is really just beginning.

When pregnant, Trasie says it was about the 17th week when she first felt a little flutter from within.  She really wasn’t sure…couldn’t believe it.  But eventually, those kicks became more powerful... the movement more dramatic.  The activity in the womb was most noticeable in the evening. When the day was settling down, the fetus was revving up. And our most memorable times that the fetus moved was when we sang to it in bed.  We didn’t know the gender until Ruby Was born. So we called the baby Lieden, named after one of the blood clotting conditions trasie has.  Some of you have heard the song we sang:
This little Lieden of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…This little lieden of mine..I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine let it shine let it shine.

And the fetus would just squirm and flip and punch and kick!  It was remarkable.
It’s remarkable to think of the whole process of growth, of life inside.

In a few short days we celebrate the birth of Jesus.  But before that we celebrate the period of gestation. Mary’s visit to her relative Elizabeth’s place reminds us that it’s not just at the birth of our children that we have a sense of experiencing a gift from God.   But also at conception and growth in the womb. What a miracle!  
The conception of Christ as told earlier in Luke is announced by angels—the presence of the holy.  Something great is happening.  At conception life comes from an invisible realm to a visible world of creation, the creation story of water and darkness…all over again.  And then like the seed sprouting and shooting forth from the ground, the growth in the womb…the swelling abdomen.

If we can hold on to that miracle of conception and growth as a gift from God, Philip Newell suggests that in a similar way when “goodness and truth, or when beauty of spirit and love are conceived within us or among us, in our minds and hearts,” in our relationships, we know that God is sowing something that is sacred and to be cherished in our lives.[1]

The story of the meeting between Elizabeth and Maria capture not only the celebration of the miracle of growth taking place inside them, but also of the goodness, truth, beauty of spirit and love deepened through their relationship.  Their meeting is miraculous.

It is not long after the annunciation that the virgin who would bear the Messiah leaves her home. But, who would believe her story?  
Most often, when young girls become pregnant out of wedlock, this is not something celebrated….even in a television program I saw this week, a teenage girl was kicked out of her house by her father, when he found out she was pregnant. 

We don’t know the circumstances of what led Mary to skip town for the hill country of Judea.  The story is romanticized—pure and innocent—as we tell it today; it is difficult for us modern day readers to read much between the lines:
She “went with haste” …”she remained with her for three months”…  and “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” when she greeted Mary.

Have the neighbors in town been gossiping?  Does she leave to escape the rumors and scorn? What was her father’s reaction?  Maria esta embarasada y no esta casada.  For him to believe her…would have taken great faith…and great love….

Young, poor, unwed…she skips town.  An 8 mile journey…alone? on foot?  We don’t know. Was she praying the whole way that Elizabeth would believe her story?   The visit could have been a disaster, had Elizabeth met Mary with scorn and shamed her…But just as the gift of God was taking shape inside her womb;
the gift of God was experienced when they met.  Elizabeth was in the home, perhaps contemplating her own gift from God that was causing her belly to swell, and Mary as she approaches the house, builds up her courage before knocking: “Anybody home?  Anybody Home!  It’s me, Mary.”
And the babe inside Elizabeth leaps! As if to signal rejoice! 
Prompting Elizabeth to graciously welcome this young pregnant woman into her home with goodness and love and celebrate:  “You are blessed Mary, and so is that child. Thank you so much for coming to see me..can you believe it, the child inside me heard it was you, without even knowing who you were, and leaped for joy inside me!  Something special is about to happen.  Our babies are going to grow up to be somebody. Our babies are the sign, God keeps God’s promises.
You believed, Dear Mary!”

The passage says she was filled by the Holy Spirit, when she said these words, which intrigues me.  Was it because she welcomed her without judgment but with grace and love that indicated the presence of the Holy Spirit? 

Wouldn’t that be the work of the Holy Spirit when she, or when anyone is able to reach out to another in love and without judgment, especially, someone whom other have only met with ridicule and scorn.

A story is told of a woman who for most of her younger life was a prostitute.  She had a child, and when she was no longer able to make much money selling herself, she sold her child into prostitution.   A church person met her one day, when she was older, her child already grown. She told her story, and when the person said, “Why didn’t you turn to the church?” She said, “The church?  Why would I go to the church?  Don’t you think I already felt bad enough?”

It is during this time of year that many are feasting, and others, the lowly, are left in the shadows, left out in the cold.  And in the mean time, most of us are running around like…well, with haste. 
All the activity is supposedly inspired by the birth of the Messiah.  But our reaction is a far cry from the singing and celebration that take place between Elizabeth and Maria.  How do we find the sacred in the midst of the secular?
How can we reclaim the reason for the season? It is so easy to lose the hope of the coming of the Messiah.  It is so easy just run around and get caught up in the motions of traditions and miss the joy that Christ’s birth brings.  It’s especially on those days, I find that I’m wearing my Grinch Pajamas!               

But if we look closely at this story of this wonderful sacred encounter between these two pregnant women, we discover that sacred moments can be found, in spite of everything else that seems to be going on.

When we receive as Elizabeth received Mary, someone whom society may consider lowly…with grace and hospitality…might we be inspired by the holy spirit? 

Who is coming to church, that we haven’t seen in a long time or that we’ve never met, that needs to be greeted with love and goodness? Can you feel the baby john leap inside you when you meet them with a smile and a handshake and a “how you doing?”  

Who at work is that bah humbug?  What is behind that? Could you take a moment, if you’re on break or if you run into each other at the water fountain, and say, hello and listen to what they say.  Let that baby John Leap inside.  Be filled with the holy spirit.

It’s interesting that the Bible says that Elizabeth and Mary are relatives.  We may think it’s easier for relatives to greet one another with goodness and love, but is that really the case?
Who’s coming to your house for Christmas? Who’s not going to be there and why? Or maybe you’re going to someone’s house, and looking forward to it.  Or maybe you’re dreading the trip. Or maybe you’re not going because…well, you didn’t want to take the chance of being in that uncomfortable place again.  Not now. 

There are plenty of chances during this period of running around, of going with haste, to experience hospitality: we may receive it or we may give it.

I pray that when we meet someone, we can slow down, if only for a few moments, and feel inside. What is the holy spirit leading you to do?
Let that little lieden..I mean little light shine…because of the promise of a child. Five more days til he arrives.  

[1] One Foot in Eden, p.18
I also had help with ideas for this sermon from: /

Friday, December 18, 2009

Luke The Evangelist, Guercino

Back to Year C in the Lectionary.  My second go round.  Will I focus on Luke again, and really hit home that radical hospitality...or shift to see what the OT lections or Epistles reveal?
What say you Guercino?

Sunday, December 13, 2009


                                   A Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Robert A. Chesnut
                                         Westminster Presbyterian Church
                                                  Santa Fe, New Mexico
                                                     December 13, 2009
A question for the congregation: Do you think Christmas is more for children or for adults?

I think Christmas for children is wonderful. And I think it’s great for adults to relive that magical experience through children. We stodgy grownups sometimes forget or repress the child within us and Christmas can help us welcome that child back into our lives. The sugar plum ferries and the Christmas Eve anticipations can reawaken our sense of imagination and delight.

Christmas for adults, however, is another matter—maybe a kind of Christmas we’d really rather avoid. What do I mean? Well, the lessons assigned in the church’s lectionary for the Advent season to not give us very Christmasy stuff when you consider it.

Here’s John the Baptist—not much sugarcoating with that fellow. But John is front and center in the Advent readings for two Sundays. He’s a rough and ready guy who minces no words. I imagine he wouldn’t be very welcome at any of our Christmas parties or celebrations—probably not even in most churches. You surely well never find John in any Christmas display windows at Lord and Taylors or Macys. What a contrast between Santa Claus and John the Baptist.

Another question for you: What does John the Baptist have to do with this season anyway? Why do you think this quite difficult fellow has such a prominent role in our Advent readings?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

When there is no money what kind of gift would you give?

I met with a man my age this evening.  He has had two days work in the last two weeks.  He lives in a trailer with his young wife and two twin girls 4 months old. He's behind on his rent.  Were it not for WIC and food stamps he's sure he'd be out robbing or he'd have already "put a bullet in his head."

His wife wants a Christmas tree.  "We don't have money," he told her and me.  I had just paid $40 for a tree Trasie carried home on her car right before I went to his place.

I could tell he wanted to be able to get her something.  I could tell that he wanted to have a tree.
"Maybe you could make her something...maybe write a poem?"
"I don't know how to write in English." (We were speaking in spanish and his wife doesn't know Spanish).
"Do you draw?" I was really taking a leap in the dark.
"Yeah, I can draw." And he began to tell me about his style of drawing, like the kinds of drawing designs seen on a number of tatoos.
I think he liked the idea of drawing...we even talked about him drawing a tree...with presents underniegth.  "If I had money, this would be the present you would be opening dear...these would be the presents for our kids."

Our church, through Trasie's work, is buying gift certificates and presents for several families with young kids who are in a similar situation. It's called Christmas angels.  Unfortunately, we don't really know the families we are buying for, but Trasie and her co-workers do.  And now I do. I don't know if this man's family will be the recipient of any of our gifts, but I'm sure the families we are getting gifts for are in similar dire straights. 

I don't like the pressure our consumerist materialistic society places on families and individuals this time of year.  As I was talking with this guy, we reflected on the life of his great-grandparents, whom he had mentioned earlier in our conversation.  I wondered what kinds of gifts they exchanged (he reminded me that gifts in Mexico are exchanged on the 6th of January, not Dec 25).  I also thought about the Spanish speaking church, Iglesia Betesda, which uses the church building for worship and other activities.  At first I thought a strict interpretation of the Bible informed them not to celebrate Christmas; but after talking with this man and hearing of his plight, I wondered if it was to ease any anxiety members of their congregation may be having around this time of year in a similar financial situation as this man's family.  Their practice is even powerfully counter-cultural and stands up to the powers that would tell us to buy buy buy during this time of year (and always). 

What would happen if we who can buy too said no?
What would we do if we had no money with which to buy gifts? How would our faith inform our would our socio-economic situation inform our understanding of the bible and Christmas? 

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Altruistic Moments

What inspires anyone to do something for someone else? To get something eventually from them? Guilt? Love? Obligation?

Well, today, I had an unusual series of "acts of kindness".  First, I was walking briskly out of St. Vincent hospital, bracing myself for a blast from the cold, when I saw a guy at the door with a back pack and bedroll on his back; the hood pulled over his head blocked his face; he was moments away from facing the cold himself.  I had already walked outside a few steps before I turned around and walked up to him and said, "Hey man, you got a place to stay tonight?"
"Yeah..." a brief pause..."but could you give me a lift to the motel?"


As we made our way to my car, the new route became stop by St. E's (local homeless shelter) for him to pick up his mail (he'd stayed his 30 nights there); and drive him down to the Motel 6.  Since St. E's he'd stayed in the interfaith overflow shelter a few nights before, but thought he picked something up there. He coughed several time during the ride..hope I don't pick something up.

His story is the one told too often.  Lost his wife and home to alcohol.  Been on the streets for 7 years, between Santa Fe and Albuqueque.  He was "down" in Santa Fe for the holidays...more to distract him from the pain of being alone during this time of year.   He was used to life on the street, and claimed to make a decent living "flying signs" that read "Need Help, God Bless."
"What's the most anyone's ever given you?" I asked.
"50 bucks"
 Wow. The day before he'd made enough to stay for 3 nights at the Motel 6 (37.99 a night).

I dropped Ken off.
It was getting dark, and the roads were icing over.  I made my way toward Cerrillos.  A woman was attempting to push a small pick-up with rear wheel drive out onto the busy street.  A man was driving, flooring the gas, while the wheel wore bald and she pathetically attempted to push.
I got out, "Need a hand?"
"Mande", she said.
"Los puedo ayudar?"  
I got behind the vehicle but was worthless in the ice.  We both were just slipping as the wheels spun.
We stood on top of the vehicle to try and weigh it down--No luck.
Eventually, he backed up, nearly sliding into my car that was parked behind his.
I backed my car up, and went again to push, and he gained momentum, made it over the dip that he'd been stuck in. He pulled barely out into Cerrillos, stopped his car for the woman to get were coming quickly toward them, but somehow he managed to cross three lanes into a turn lane after she jumped in.   "Adios", I whispered as they pulled away.

I usually don't do this kind of stuff anymore.  Not sure why, maybe I've become oblivious now that I've got Ruby Gene at home.

But this evening was different.  I think it's because of James (Randy) Campbell.  He was the reason I was leaving the hospital in the first place. He's been battling colon cancer, going through radiation treatment, and after his treatment yesterday, he was rushed to ER because he had blockage in his intestines.
When I heard the he was in the hospital, I called him--he could barely speak.  I went to see him and he was weak and frail.  We prayed together, he was in a lot of pain and experiencing nausea.  He hadn't eaten in two days, and was still vomiting....

His gracious warm spirit was still contagious even in his condition.  I don't think he's dying, but we mentioned it.  I'd already had a member of my church, Alice Martinez, die of block bowels earlier this year, so I wasn't going to dismiss it.  I confronted the potential reality of losing someone I admire so much, who I was just coming into relationship with; he's been in Las Vegas, NM for about 2 years now.  And there he was, alone, a single man with no family around, and a church community that was snowed in, but maybe that was good since he was so weak it would have taken a lot of energy to have visitors.  I felt like his brother.

As I said, I think it was his kind spirit that inspired me not to just walk by the stranger, but to stop and see if I could lend a hand....
I think of Randy's frail hand in mine as we prayed--I prayed that the God we proclaim to have healed many week in and week out from the pulpit and in visitations would heal Randy--I ask God to heal Randy, even now.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Nesting Instinct Luke 1:68-79

Nesting Instinct - Malachi 3:1-4; Luke 1:68-79
Dec 20, 2009, WPC, Santa Fe

Intro to luke passage:
The story of Jesus’ birth is told in detail in the Gospel according to Luke, and it is one of the most beloved stories of all of Scripture. This morning I will read from the end of the first Chapter of Luke, verses 68-79, found on page ___ of your pew bibles if you’d like to follow along. It is a song sung by Zechariah.  A song of praise and a song of prophesy
Zecheriah was the father of John the Baptist.  He and his wife  Elizabeth had not yet had children, and they were beginning to think that they wouldn’t have any children.  But, the angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah and tells him that they will in fact have a child, and not just any child, the messenger who would prepare the way for the Messiah, as foretold in the scriptures. Zechariah questions, can this be true?  And for his doubt he is made mute.  Maybe a punishment, or maybe just a lesson to be learned about the power of silence, and not always talking. For months, as the baby grows in Elizabeth’s womb, Zechariah is speechless, until the day of the baby’s dedication.  And these words are what come out of Zechariah’s mouth. Let us listen to God’s Holy Word: Luke 1:68-79.

Some of you have been to our home before...several times for a few; and some of you have never been there.  We hope to change that soon by having an open house in the spring for all to come and see and hang out.  Whether you've been there before or not, there have been some major changes that have taken place. First of all, my wife Trasie, who is not here to defend herself so I can say whatever I want--kind of cause I know all of you will go and tell on me--she is a designer. That's how you have to say that, designer.  Try it.  She studied industrial design at georgia tech and for whatever reason she can't just see things, and accept them for what they are...she sees things and feels like she has to change them, rearrange them--make them better.  She sees buildings, cars, computers, gadgets, whatever...and feels like she has to mold them, shape them into something new! A New Creation.  You should have met me before she did.  I was WAY different (but, maybe not for the better :).

So we move into our house back in April of '07.  To me, it looks fine.  Perfect..why change it? But, Trasie had a different idea.  And she sat on it a bit, until, until...she got pregnant.

Have any of you ever heard of nesting instinct.  You know, it's pretty easy to understand. Mama birds, before they lay eggs, build nests. So do a lot of other creatures...including humans. This is scientifically proven: It's "the distinctive urge to clean, tidy, and organize that occurs during pregnancy."1  "By having your baby’s room ready, all her clothes organized, and her meals planned, you are ensuring that your baby will have the best chance for growth and survival after birth."2 That's what the experts say about how nesting instinct manifests itself in humans.

Some women have little or mild symptoms of this...and some go over the top.  Now, where might you place Trasie on that scale?
Not only did Ruby Gene's room get cleaned out (it was our office), it got repainted, new furniture (changing table, crib), all kinds of clothes and diapers, baby books, toys, need I go on.  But not only that...she put in a covered patio outside, a deck, she switched a door that was in the front our house with a window that was in the back, new landscaping...
We even got chickens...all in less than a year.  That's what you call nesting instinct PLUS designer!  Don't even asked how we paid or had time for this...I don't know; but I worked my tail off.  

All this to say, poor Zechariah.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Nov. 2009

This is a Public Service Announcement that Aired on KSFR.  Kristin Carmichael of Esperanza Shelter was the one who set this up.  THere are some great resources that speak about domestic violence; and it is something faith communities need to never tolerate, and stand up to. 
I’m Reverend Chester Topple, of Westminster Presbyterian Church, Santa Fe and I care about domestic violence.
Our faith communities must minimize any barriers facing abused members of our congregations and maximize the resources that exist within our religious traditions.
Here’s how you can help.
Encourage leaders in your faith community to speak about Domestic violence, They can learn more by taking a short Safe Haven presentation provided by Esperanza Shelter.

Learn what your faith tradition says about abuse. Too often faith leaders have hindered rather than helped victims break free from their abusive partners, due to ignorance, apathy, or misinterpretation of sacred texts.

Put up brochures and posters in your facilities indicating victims can come for immediate safety. 

And if a victim confides in you, calmly listen; reassure them that you believe them, the abuse is not their fault, and that they are not alone.

When they are ready, make a call together to Esperanza Shelter for further safety planning and information.
Que gracia y paz esten con todos nosotros en nuestra ciudad de Santa Fe.

At Esperanza Shelter we believe that domestic violence is everyone’s business.
If you or someone you know is being hurt call our 24 hotline at 473-5200;
Because peace starts at home.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Christ The King Sunday

“Meet Cristo Rey, He goes by Chris.”
Christ The King Sunday, Nov 22, 2009, WPC Santa Fe
John 18:33-37

Can you imagine meeting Cristo Rey?   Translated: Christ the King.   
Actually, I met a young man the other day...and his name was Cristo Rey.  He went by Chris

Today Churches around the world celebrate the Reign of Christ. So, what does that mean? We don't really have kings to compare it to—as much as any of our presidents would like to act as kings, they aren't.  And Sander van Doorn, former member of this church from the Netherlands, now living in Switzerland said he was never very impressed by his monarchical figure. But as people of faith we declare: Christ is our King.  So we imagine ...  

I suppose one aspect of having a king is subjugation.  Submitting.  Bowing, if you will.  This isn’t so easy, right…I mean, we Americans don’t bow, que no? Obama clearly forgot this on his recent trip to Japan…But, Look! Christ is just there in the back, making his way down the red carpet.  What would you do? Would you bow?

“Meet Cristo Rey, He goes by Chris”

Christ The King Sunday, Nov 22, 2009, WPC Santa Fe

Can you imagine meeting Cristo Rey?   Translated: Christ the King.   
Actually, I met a young man the other day...and his name was Cristo Rey.  He went by Chris

Today Churches around the world celebrate the Reign of Christ. So, what does that mean? We don't really have kings to compare it to—as much as any of our presidents would like to act as kings, they aren't.  And Sander van Doorn, former member of this church from the Netherlands, now living in Switzerland said he was never very impressed by his monarchical figure. But as people of faith we declare: Christ is our King.  So we imagine ...  

I suppose one aspect of having a king is subjugation.  Submitting.  Bowing, if you will.  This isn’t so easy, right…I mean, we Americans don’t bow, que no? Obama clearly forgot this on his recent trip to Japan…But, Look! Christ is just there in the back, making his way down the red carpet.  What would you do? Would you bow?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

And they think a $25 fine will solve this problem in Santa Fe

Sadly, I have to resist texting while driving...I'd never even sent a text message 3 years ago

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dirt Roads in Santa Fe

At any time going to visit someone in Santa Fe, you may end up on a dirt road.  There are basically two types of dirt roads that exist here.  One leads to the "romanticized wild" southwest, the other leads to the wild ghettos of santa fe; one leads to english speaking outsiders, the other leads to spanish speaking outsiders; one is smooth, easy to drive on, the other is full of holes, dips, and bumps and requires concentration, and patience; one has homes worth millions, the other rented homes called "trailers". One has a few people in a lot of space, the other many people in small spaces. 

I find myself on both roads from time to time, in-between most of the time.

This evening I was in the ghetto.  Met with a bi-racial couple having martial difficulties. The Spanish-speaking man had a lot to share, a fascinating and tragic and hopeful story of abuse, immigration, isolation, drug addiction, recuperation, and uncertainty.  I hold this couple and their two month old twin girls in my prayers.    

Sunday, November 8, 2009

My Robe's getting longer Mark 12:38-44

Mark 12:38-44; 1 Kings 17:8-16 , Nov 8, 2009
Westminster Presbyterian Church, Santa Fe

On Nov 22 we are going to have a good meal together, courtesy of Kevin Hart and his crew.We’ll recognize thanksgiving and give thanks for all our many blessings; And then we are going to turn in our pledge cards.  It’s part of what we call "stewardship." Of course when we talk about stewardship it means being good stewards of or taking care of what’s been entrusted to us—through the offering of our time, our talent, and our treasure to take care of the church and live out it’s mission; but really, when we talk about stewardship--it means means we fill out a blue slip and try to make a go out of church and ministry for another year. We can dream big and set a big budget and think of all the wonderful ways we can be church and keep a roof over our heads.

But of course, this is Nov 22, and we are only at Nov 8.  Gives us a few weeks to start thinking and praying about what kind of commitment each of us might be able to make.And to put things in perspective we have two stories of two widows, who may teach us a little about stewardship this morning.

The first widow we find in 1st kings:  She’s faced with a dilemma. A crazy person[1]—the prophet Elijah—is challenging her hospitality. First he requests a little water. "Okay, sure." Then, then he requests a little food, just a small morsel of bread…but it’s the last of what she has. She tells him, “ I'm gonna cook what I’ve got for me and my son, so we can eat it and die”....uff.,  Gloomy situation. But, real life. Some mother's face this dilemma. 

What do you do when the cupboard is bear...there is nothing to eat?   nothing left?   Runnin on empty, account’s run dry.  What would be your response to God?  ?  Give away to a stranger? Give up?   Or keep living for another day? 

Elijah assures her that her jar will be filled….and she trusts, gives Elijah some bread, and low and behold, "The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah." A powerful testimony of generosity, of trust, coming to a point of desperation and acting with bold generosity. 

So what does this teach us about stewardship? Giving? If we have reached the last of what we’ve got, do we give? Or if we have a whole lot, especially compared to this widow…do we give?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Memories that come after the loss of a loved one

From Caring for God's People, by Philip Culbertson, p 235.
"In his novel Tangi (a “weeping” or funeral), Witi Ihimaera portrays a young protagonist whose father’s death revives memories of his having been left behind once as a small child:

E pa, if I could I would grasp those tickling hands and force them back through all those yesterdays gone, just to be with you again.  We had such good times together.  It was good to fell your hand in mine.
Do you remember e pa, that time whne you took me into town one crowded night so many years ago?  I was only a little boy then, about five I suppose.
You wait here, you said. Then you disappeared with the crowd and left me waiting for you on the pavement. 
         E pa, I waited and waited. But you didn’t come back.  Where did you go? I tried not to cry because you’d said that only babies cry.
         Are you lost little boy? A lady asked me.
         No, I told her. My Daddy, he’s just gone away for a while. HE’s coming back to get me, though.  He told me to wait here.
         So the lady left me. I wanted to shout: Come back! But she was gone.
         I waited and waited, e pa. I was frightened. All those people, they jostled and pushed against me. They couldn’t see me; I was so small. I felt as if I was in a land full of giants.
         In the end I cried, Dad. I couldn’t help it. And some of the passers-by, they asked me if I was lost, just like that lady asked.  But I pushed them away and decided I would find you. 
         I wandered along the streets and everybody was laughing and having a good time. Where were you, Dad?...

Can't resist

Does this girl love having her picture taken or what?
This was taken by missionary to Thailand Carol Fujii in my office at WPC.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Jokes from an 83 year old organist

Marilyn Penner, my beloved 83 year old organist/ pianist every now and then will pull a fast one on us. She's slow as molasas but moves those fingers like lightning and her feet glide across those foot pedals (If you ever get a chance you should observe an organist's feet while they play).

Rev. Richard Avery was leading the choir Wednesday in an old bluegrass gospel song: Shall We Gather At the River.
After we'd played it through a few times, we caught our breath, and Marilyn stood up from behind the piano and said: I heard a story about a preacher one time preaching a sermon about the evils of alcohol and that he wished everyone would take all their alcoholic drinks and dump them in the river....
after the sermon was over the choir stood up to sing: Shall We Gather at the River.
She is a dear dear woman.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cary Clark

After returning from a visit with Trasie's family yesterday, I went to the church office this morning and checked phone messages: Chester, this is Angela. Cary has been murdered...I just thought you should know.

Some time ago (May 2009) I posted about a new strategy for providing care for off the street visitors. Cary was the only one who had taken me up on it. We met for several consecutive weeks, and forged an interesting friendship. We met at church and he would bake me bread. I went to his house a few times, and he gave me the best tea I'd ever had. He told me cool stories about his world and life that was so foreign to me, that of an artist, a drug-addict, someone who was comfortable in situations that would have freaked me out.
He so desperately wanted to escape the demon-filled world that haunted him; and he turned to me and the church for help. He attended services and a few Bible studies. He came to the despedida for Claudia. I took him to ER so he could get checked in a treatment facility. He disappeared late August. I missed seeing him all of September. We traded a few phone calls. I went to his place and when I didn't find him there, I left a note. I figured eventually we'd run across each other. I really had hopes that he was going to be able to turn things around....

The phone message from Angela really got to me. I went to see her this morning. She cried; I tried to hold it together. I don't know what it was about him, something drew me to him, his giftedness for the arts, his mysterious life, his intelect? I think he was just a nice guy; someone I could be friends with. Angela told me that he really liked me. That meant a lot. I hope I can help her and others of his friends in their grief. I'm going to miss the Cary I knew, and I'm going to have to grieve the Cary I did not get a chance to know because his life was taken so suddenly. I would put a link to the article that came out on him in the paper, but it's not worth it. It was so negative--an inaccurate, in my opinion, portrail of who he was. He was painted as someone the world was fortunate to be rid of...not for me, not for those who were at his home this morning sorting through his few possessions, his most treasured was his printing press. It took up an entire room!

I'll write more about Cary as I know what's going on. I'm sorry it ended this way. I pray that God have mercy on him, those who offended him, and those he offended, and that the circumstances of his death are brought to bare, and that there can be forgiveness where necessary.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sell Everything Rumage sale

Westminister Presbyterian Church, Santa Fe
Mark 10:17-31
October 11, 2009
Cost of discipleship:  Sell everything
Last night was a special night.  I had a blast at the Spanish Supper. Great food, Good companyAn interesting dance performanceGood singing ;). It’s a good fund raiser, people chipping in to help out even as they enjoy the evening. So are we ready to do another fund raiser? I was thinking about a yard sale….A rummage sale—that’s the word right? Now before you object: I know this church has put on some pretty impressive rummage sales.  I’ve seen the evidence: -boxes labeled Rummage Sale, with markers and labels.. -clothes rack and hangers.  These things used to be huge. 

Speaking of huge rummage sales: there was this Baptist church, not far from where I grew up, and they had this huge yard and this huge yard sale every year.  They started dragging stuff out there on Monday of the week before.  And covered the stuff up with tarp—big blue tarp—tarp city. You should have seen the people as they drove by. slow down, roll down their windows and just gawk, Wow…look at all that stuff.  Sales would begin Thursday morning at 7 am, and the line to buy stuff would stretch for a mile down Clairemont Ave, If there was any grass ever exposed because too much had sold they would go back to these storage trucks and bring more stuff out!  And the sale would last for three days!  Three Days!  It had to end before Sunday because you know Baptists don’t work on Sunday.

Trasie and I went to it a few years ago, and gawked and looked and touched, and bought a few things. Some of which is sitting in our crawl space—I’m sure there’s a perfect place in our house for it. When I went to pay, I asked the woman at the register (yes they had registers), so how much do yall usually make at this thing? 
Well last year we made $40k.  And what do you plan to use the money for?  
Our church youth group. Hmm. $40 grand for the youth program; wow.

Well, let me drop the idea of yard sale for a second and talk about a different sale going on. We continue our series on the cost of discipleship…and today’s passage, today’s challenge of Jesus may be the most liberating…or perhaps the most challenging we’ve had yet.  I mean, before Jesus was just telling us if we want to become disciples…we just needed to become like childrenPiece of cake
Or if we wanted to deny ourselves and take up our cross ha, that’s nothing compared to today’s challenge! Because see today…Jesus is getting personal. He’s talking about our stuff.

[act it out]Here comes the man to Jesus.  He is dignified, hes thought about this for a long- time; He has a lot of stuff, and Jesus has something else he wants.  A good consumer.  He bows, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life.
What must I do…hmm.
Jesus response:
why do you call me good, no one is good but God alone. A loaded statement, We can talk about after church.
You know the commandments, Jesus presumptuously tells the man
Indeed he does—such a good studenthe even drops the good,
“Teacher, I have kept these since my youth! 
He’s just beaming! Jesus looks at him, and loves him, the passage says, what detail. 
No judgement, no contempt, Does Jesus want what’s best for the man?   Good, but you lack on thing.  Sell your stuff, give the money to the poor, and follow me.

How’s that for a plan for redistribution of wealth? It’s very systematic.
He doesn’t say give your stuff away.  He says sell it—so as to get into the pockets of those who can afford to buy the stuff—and then give the money away to the poor.
Don’t give your stuff to them…it might corrupt them. Give them money, something that they can use, to buy food, to be able to live in a decent place.  It levels the playing field.  Then, then follow me. 

What an invitation Right! I mean it’s Jesus we’re talking about…inviting that guy to follow, to hang be with him!  Is this guy excited or what..I mean Jesus gave him an answer.. told him exactly what to do! Woo HOO! What was that man’s reaction? SHOCKED…and grieved. He had been so happy, what had made him so sad now?

A decision: follow Jesus or follow what we in our society call the pursuit of happiness, the acquiring, the possessing, the taking of more stuff. A consumerist’s dilemma. I’ve got everything that I could ever want, just give me one more thing: assurance of eternal life. Is this Jesus saying: you can’t buy your way into heaven.

Do you remember when you first encountered Jesus?  Did you take the initiative and go to him and say, Good TEACHER…what must I do to inherit eternal life? OR did Jesus come to you, and say, drop your nets and follow me..  Sell your stuff or drop your nets, either way you’ve got to give something up to follow.  Right?

See why this is may be the hardest price to pay of discipleship for many of us…Even the disciples are thrown off by what Jesus says especially when he starts talking about a camel and a needle.  Where did he come up with that?
Who can enter the kingdom of God? They gasp. 

And Jesus throws them a little incy wincy tiny tiny bone:  Well, for mortals, it’s impossible, but for God…?   So, you’re saying there’s a chance.[1] 

But the disciples are like….Look Jesus we’ve left everything..are we okay?  Having left everything, the disciples wrestle hard with this issue…And do we, will all of our stuff, do we wrestle? I love it when we can say about God, and the bible it’s a both/ and scenario.  The bible is both inspired by God and written by humans. Jesus is God and human. You can have a lot of stuff, and you can participate in the kingdom of God.  Hmm. Is that what Jesus says?

That’s the way most people read this passage:
Try to explain it away.  Well, that just applied to that man, not to me.” Is that what you think?
Or they spiritualize it and say,
so long as my things don’t own me, they don’t possess me, then I can follow God and have my stuff.” Does that make sense?

Or say, well God is in charge of everything, if I have a lot of stuff, it’s because I have been blessed by God.

And who’s approach is to just not bother reading it..Is that that story about that rich guy…quick turn the page!  turn the page!

I don’t think most people in America, where we consume more than any other place in the world, really like this story: I don’t.  I know I have too much stuff, and how does the stuff affect my life and my discipleship? 

We had a yard sale recently because we needed to get rid of things—declutter a bit, simplify. We filled up our drive way with stuff, and we still could have put more stuff out there. We thought it would be nice to declutter a bit…simplify our lives.  What do you think our plan was for the proceeds? Oh, how pious do you think we are? We wanted to sell our stuff so that we could buy a dishwasher.   Remember, we’re simplifying our lives J. My excuse: I hadn’t prepared for this sermon yet, otherwise, I’m sure I would have given the money to the poor.

There I go talking about rummage sales again.

I think most american’s don’t like this story because we, like that rich man, see Jesus as a threat to our very identity.  If we don’t have our stuff, who are we? If we don’t have our stuff, are we secure? If we don’t have our stuff, will others think we are successful? It’s so engrained and it starts at an early age:  What do we tell our children.  To get an education, why? So they can get a good job. Why? SO they can make money. Why? So they can buy a lot of stuff! This story is about stuff, it’s about wealth, and what Jesus says flies in the face of his Jewish culture that would have viewed this man Jesus talks to as one blessed, one favored by God, and it flies in the face of our culture, both the secular society that would place all meaning and value on accumulation of possessions and wealth, and a Christian culture that has been seduced by the allures of this world, and preaches prosperity and wealth are blessings from God. Jesus says SELL IT…give the money away…and follow me!

How did that rich man feel?  How do you feel?  Is Jesus trying to torment him?
Does Jesus say this to make us feel bad?  I feel bad….

But I don’t think that’s Jesus’ intention.  He loved him…Is it possible that Jesus wants what’s best for him, for us…and for the thousands are people in the world who don’t have enough to eat because of a screwed up economic system that sucks up all the resources and world goods from poor places and fills the belly of rich places to the point that we are sick to our stomachs.

It’s John who’s more direct about this than Jesus. 1 John 3:17:
17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
Is there good news?
He looks at the man, and loves him, and says come along…live a life you’ve never imagined living before. Don’t be dooped by empire!  Come and live into the kingdom of God now. Begin living your best life now…get rid of your stuff.

Can we see that there is any good news in this message?
[Solicit responses.]

I have to say a few theological things about this passage that I think are good news: 
First, the man wonders what he needs to do:  And that’s what we often wonder too. What do we need to do to inherit eternal life.  There is nothing we can do.  We are saved by grace and grace alone. It is what God does.  Second, Jesus reassures us, even after the camel and the needle thing: that nothing is impossible for God. 
It’s kind of like Jesus bringing us to the edge of our pews, and before we fall off, he gives us reassurance. But the invitation is still there, for the rich man—for us: Sell your stuff, give it to the poor, and follow me. 

And wouldn’t it be awesome if we as a community of faith, before we told any individual or any kid that they need to live a sacrificial lifestyle, that we modeled together that sacrificial lifestyle, for all the world to see.

Ok, back to the rummage sale:
I wonder what would happen if we had a huge rummage sale, as big as that one at the Baptist church.  I bet we could, especially with this passage in mind..I bet our small church, and some of our friends could really go through our homes and take out all the stuff that we don’t need, and bring it here to the church, and put it in the parking lot and set up tarps, and just start selling it, even on a  Sunday…we can just take a break at 11 for worship...And when people see how much money we’re making, when they ask us what we’re going to use the money for, we can say…
to build a second story educational wing to our church (so much for the new roof)..
TO buy the liquor store.  For new counter tops J, and a new stove.  (sorry ladies)

We can say, did you hear about the need to pay for a homeless shelter in town..we are doing it to help cover the cost so that no one freezes in this town this winter, and everyone who comes in gets to eat.

We can say, did you hear of all the kids who are starving in the world, I think there are like some 30000 who die about ever day from lack of food and malnutrition, and no good drinking water. We’re going to help to give them food. 
Hope you enjoy that dvd player!

What would the people think of us then.  That we were crazy?

Sure they would.  And we’d go home and say, what happened to all my stuff. How liberating! 
We would be assured of one thing: We would be well on our way of following.
We would be well on our way to entering the kingdom of God. Follow me!
The invitation is there. The invitation, that sweet liberating, challenging invitation.
I don’t care how young or old you are, there it is.  Rummage sale, here we come, and let’s see what the kingdom is all about. 

[1] Dumb and Dumber