Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Differently Sainted

There's this man who gives away Christmas dinners every year. I get the privilege of distributing those meals because he prefers to remain anonymous. Today I brought a turkey, a bag of potatoes, dinner rolls, cans of corn, cans of green beans, a can of cranberry sauce, and a bag of stuffing mix to 4 different families - with one more yet to be delivered tomorrow. The recipients were an elderly woman on a fixed income (who plans to share her meal with a needy family in her apartment complex), a transgendered man/woman who works hard for very low pay and struggles to make ends meet, a family of four just getting back on their feet after months of unemployment, and a man who lives next door to the church and is looking for work.

The guy who purchases and gives this food says he does it in thankfulness to God who has richly blessed him. He lives in a modest home, works every day, and doesn't have much in the way of material things. In the years I’ve known him I’ve developed a deep, abiding affection and appreciation for him. That may not seem surprising considering his yearly generosity. But here's the thing... he and I are very different. We are different in precisely those ways that divide the citizens of our nation in this day and age.

Were he and I to discuss politics (which we never do) we would, no doubt, be polar opposites of one another. He listens to one well known TV news station; I listen to another. On social issues about which I am passionate, I suspect he would be equally passionate on the other side. We've probably never voted alike, and I'll bet we read and understand God's Word in vastly different ways. Even so, this man has a place deep inside my heart.

That is certainly not because I am a saintly person who speaks and acts graciously to those on the "other side" of current events and debates. Very often (too often) I do not. Like many these days, I am quick to label other people as "ignorant" or "callous,” call them "fear-mongers" because of their position on various social and political concerns. Politicians on the “other side” irritate and infuriate me; I believe they pontificate, manipulate and outright lie to the American people. My friend may well think the same about those who I support and respect.

The whole thing goes deeper than just what I say or think. A part of me despises people who do not see the world as I do on certain pressing issues - sexuality, gun control, the role of government, taxation and the economy, the essence of the Christian faith. My convictions are so fierce that I get angry at those who do not see things "plainly," as I see them. And it isn't just me. The people of this nation are polarized, divided - dare I say, divided against one another - on these matters. "We" do not like "them."

On all these matters, the man who gives the Christmas dinners would be a "them" to me, as would I to him. Despite this, I love him dearly. I honor him - and not just because he gives food away at Christmas. I admire how he works honestly and with integrity, I honor how he cared tenderly for his wife as she was dying, I respect his gentleness with animals, his concern toward those who struggle and his free admission that one day he might be numbered among them. I appreciate the way he loves his aging parents and his care of the earth.

So where does that leave me? He watches "that other news channel" for heaven's sake! Yet he is decent and compassionate and human, and I genuinely care for him. Right here is where Christ steps into the world – in body and blood, inhabiting those who move us even while we do not understand them. Not everything in life can be fully explained; not everything adds up. Surely Jesus is present and at work here, now, when "us" and "them" find mutual respect and even love for one another. Regardless of the sorry state of things, there is hope for the world – great, authentic hope - because Jesus still comes and dwells with us in human flesh.

Pastor Kris

Monday, October 24, 2011


I'm so excited! I have two students to mentor this year at Shepherd King's adopted school - Eisenhower Middle School. Next week I will meet with one of them, and the following week I'll meet the other.

When the school year began, the student I mentored from last year - N - was no longer enrolled at Eisenhower. I was disappointed because I'd become fond of him, but I knew he had planned to go live with his mother. The Counselor at Eisenhower found another student for me to see - Z - and just as that was set up, N returned to Eisenhower. I told her I would gladly see both of them, one on Monday mornings and the other on Tuesdays.

Before I go any further I have to confess - I have no special skills or wisdom to offer these two boys. What I have is time. I meet them at the school and we go to the library to talk for an hour. We talk about whatever is on their minds, or I might ask them a few questions about school or their particular interests. But the most important thing I offer them is an hour a week. For that one hour (40 minutes, really) I'm all theirs. I listen to them, encourage them, celebrate and lament with them, and occasionally offer words of guidance. My aim is to let them know that I care and, by meeting with them each week, to allow them to count on me.

Mentoring is not hard to do. You don't have to understand and help your student with homework; you don't have to have answers to their problems. Mostly you just have to commit some time to them and show you care. The benefits you - the mentor - receive are rich. You get to know a young person, grow to appreciate his/her abilities, see how he/she copes with challenges, and come to care about someone who is tied to you in no way other than by mentoring. It is a wonderful experience.

We've all been mentored by someone - an adult who took time for us when we were young, a colleague who helped us learn the ropes, Sunday school teachers, grandparents, friends who modeled faith for us and had confidence in us. In a few weeks the Church will celebrate its official "mentors" on All Saints Sunday. Saints are not people who are holier or more spiritual than others; they are ordinary individuals who have trusted God and followed Jesus in their own lives. They are mentors to all of us, their lives showing how we, too, can live.

One of my personal mentors or 'saints' currently is Leymah Gbowee, a Lutheran from Liberia who just won the Nobel Peace Prize. Ms. Gbowee helped organize the women of Liberia to protest the long standing civil war that had killed thousands of people and ravaged their homeland. Hundreds of women - Lutheran, Catholic, and Muslim - wore white and gathered in the center of town to call for an end to the war. Mostly they were silent, letting their presence speak for them. When official peace talks reached a stalemate, the women used their bodies to prevent the committee from leaving until an agreement had been reached. Former Liberian leader, Charles Taylor, is now in exile and a new, democratic leader has been elected. Ms. Gbowee is an inspiration to me and a model of how faith can lead people to work, peacefully and successfully, for change.

Who do you mentor? Consider volunteering at your local school as a mentor - you, too, can change a life for the better.


Pastor Kris

Monday, October 17, 2011

Like Vacation

We don't go on vacation until the end of the week, and we'll only be in the hill country for three days, but in some ways vacation has already started. On Thursday Don and I will be at a small cabin near Vanderpool Texas, celebrating our 15th anniversary. We were at the same place last year for a few nights -- just a scattering of small cabins near the river, accessible to both Garner and Lost Maples, and a short, beautiful drive to Leakey. As I anticipate our upcoming trip I can almost smell the fresh hill country air, see the sun rising over the treetops, and hear the cooing of the doves.

When I've felt tired in the office this morning I've refreshed myself with thoughts of napping during vacation. I've escaped the sound of traffic rushing past my window by imagining those peaceful trails in the park. Vacation has already begun, here in my office, breaking into my daily routine with its own unique reality. It is coming. Soon there will be rest, enjoyment, long minutes and slow-moving hours of freedom. Because vacation is drawing near, its coming affects me today.

The kingdom of God is like that, too. Jesus initiated the kingdom of God on earth through his life, death, and resurrection. But it isn't fully here yet. We know that by observing the world around us. There is still pain and suffering here; there is still injustice and corruption here; we do not yet live in peace and harmony with one another. Where God rules as sovereign there is no hunger, no war, no crime, no disease, no death. When the reign of God comes everyone will have work to do (meaningful work), everyone will be healthy and well, and we will all treat each other with respect and kindness.

The world is not like that now, however. Nations are quick to go to war against one another, age old conflicts continue with newer, more modern weaponry. We work hard, buy things, invest money in the hope of retiring one day, yet others cannot find work, people are losing their homes to foreclosure, some are hungry, and many are frustrated. This is not how life is in God's realm. It is discouraging to see the disparity between the life God intends us to live and the one we do live. According to God's vision, there is enough for everyone - enough money, enough food, enough houses, enough work, enough friendship, dignity and love. Some day life will be like that, God's way, but that day has not yet arrived.

God's kingdom is not here in its fullness. But it has been begun in Jesus Christ and the completion of God's reign is coming. On that day when our Lord returns, things will change as dramatically as summer gives way to fall or winter to spring. Every person will live with dignity and humility - confident in his own worth and honoring the worth of others. Jealousies will vanish, grudges will disappear, wounds and scars will be healed. We will live honest, productive lives; our relationships will be truthful and loving; we will share habitually with friends and strangers alike and there will be no need to fear anyone. Creation itself will be restored - mountaintops alive with healthy trees, skies clear and radiant, waters flowing strong and clean.

As we await the fullness of God's kingdom we can already feel the effects of its presence. Throughout the world people are calling for justice and freedom; hope is stirring the air around us. Habitat for Humanity recently reached 500,000 houses built for low-income families - ordinary people working together have made that happen. More and more people are finding ways to recycle and to reduce their waste, striving to make the earth healthy and whole. And although traditional churches may not be as full as they once were, people young and old are looking for ways to encounter God, to know God, and to live in communion with God. The kingdom may not be here yet, but we can feel its presence, we can see its affect on our lives, we know it is coming soon and we are getting ready.

Jesus urges us to live how he did - as though the kingdom of God was already fully established. There may not be justice everywhere around us, but we can be just and fair to one another; we can expect justice in every situation. Where people are hurting, hungry, neglected we can respond with concern -- our hands ready to comfort and our ears to listen. We can trust that there is plenty of time, plenty of goods and money, plenty of room for everyone and so we do not have to rush or horde or oppose one another. By trusting we demonstrate that Jesus is lord of all. We can pool our resources, donate our time, and work to make a positive difference in the world. God's kingdom is near! Its nearness is rubbing off on us and on the way we live.

May the kingdom of God touch you and brighten your life. Look for signs of its presence here, now. It won't be long before God's kingdom comes and the whole world sings God's praise.

Pastor Kris

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bigger, Faster.

What a marvelous world we live in. Today the Nobel Prize for physics was awarded to three American scientists for their recent discovery that the pace at which the universe is expanding is accelerating. Although that sentence is easy to understand grammatically, the concept is hard to grasp: the entire universe is expanding at an ever increasing rate. The image that comes to mind for me is of taffy being pulled and stretched more and more.

"O LORD our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens." (Psalm 8:1)

Scientists, however, tend to compare this process to a mound of raisin bread dough. As the dough rises (increasing in size) the raisins are pulled farther and farther apart. Think of the raisins as galaxies and you have a simple illustration of what is happening in our universe - the whole thing is getting bigger, wider, and as a result the galaxies are moving away from each other.

Scientists say this is a good thing. If the universe were to stop expanding it would collapse upon itself (because of the pull of gravity). My mind cannot quite picture that, but surely the earth would not survive such an event. Space itself is expanding - there's more of it all the time. Greek philosophers used to wonder whether the universe was infinite or finite. If it is finite and you stuck your hand out at the edge, where would it go? What an amazing question to contemplate.

If the universe is ever expanding what does that say about us and our place in it? Out in the country, away from the lights of the city, when you gaze up at the night sky with its millions of stars, it becomes obvious how small a single human being is by comparison. When we think of the countless generations that have preceded us and all those that will follow us, our lives, our communities, the nations and their struggles also seem small and passing. Is our own significance being reduced as the universe gets bigger?

"When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established, what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals, that you care for them?" (Psalm 8:3-4)

And yet God does care for us, even though we are tiny in comparison with the universe, even though - considering the breadth of time - our days are but a sigh. There are so many wonders in the created world we'll never fully understand them all. But the knowledge that science has gained of the universe and how it operates is fascinating.

"You have given (human beings) dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet." (Psalm 8:6)

Praise God for our ability to learn and understand. Praise God for this incredible world where we live. Praise God for caring about all of us regardless when or how long we live. Truly God's being and God's activity is more than our minds can fathom.

"O LORD our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!" (Psalm 8:9)

Pastor Kris

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Honk if you love Jesus

We were grateful that the weather had cooled ever so slightly last Saturday, September 10th. Instead of a high temperature of around 102 it was only expected to get up to about 96. Yea! Six degrees -- when you're standing at the intersection of a couple busy streets, holding handmade signs for passersby to read -- makes a difference.

And that's what we were doing last Saturday, six youth and two adults from Shepherd King. We were participating in the "Living Lutheran Creed" - an event stretching across the country to share some good news. The purpose was for Lutherans to get "out of the box", to push themselves to interact with their neighbors in new ways. Lutherans, as a body, are not very outgoing. We usually prefer to do our faith-related stuff inside the church building. We would like to have visitors and new people in our fellowship but we expect them to come to us. Taking part in the "Living Lutheran Creed" got us outside our church doors and into the street to greet folks with the news of God's love.

Making a living Lutheran creed, people from congregations around the nation made signs expressing what they believe and then held those signs up at busy street corners. Youth from Shepherd King created signs saying, "I believe Jesus saves," and "I believe God = Love" and "I believe there is hope for tomorrow," and "Honk if you love Jesus." By ten o'clock on Saturday morning we were stationed at Blanco and West, and at San Pedro and Ramsey, holding our signs for all the world to see. We had no idea how we would be received.

Cameron had made the sign that said "honk if you love Jesus." He and his sister counted 153 honks in response to that invitation in just over an hour. In addition to the honks we received lots of waves and smiles, too. Putting myself in "the other's" shoes, I wondered how I would have reacted if I'd seen people standing by the side of the road holding signs that said "I believe... God loves you (and me)," or "I believe... live life, love God." My first thought might have been "uh-oh, who are these weirdoes out on the street." Would I have been annoyed, thinking someone was trying to "preach" to me? I don't know. Wondering about it made me appreciate that much more the kindness of those who greeted us with joy and enthusiasm.

I had assumed we would feel a bit awkward and exposed standing there with our signs, but the smiles and greetings of passersby made us feel welcomed and appreciated. As we stood with our signs it became apparent that, although our congregation is not large, we belong to a much bigger family of Christian people in the city of San Antonio. People of various races and ages gave us encouragement and support showing themselves to be, not strangers but our brothers and sisters in Christ. We thought we were bringing God's love to the community and found that our neighbors gave God's love right back to us - warm and personal and real.

Thanks be to God who responds to our worries with signs of hope and assurance. Truly God is here among us in this time and this place, lifting us up, showing us our commonality with one another. Thanks be to God who loves us, to Jesus who saves.


Pastor Kris

Monday, August 29, 2011

Burning Bush, Red Truck

Sometimes I'm jealous of Moses. In that burning bush, afire but not consumed, he had a powerful encounter with God. Who wouldn't want that - a chance to see God, to talk with God one on one, to hear God's voice? Surely after that meeting with God Moses never wondered again if God truly existed, if God was dedicated to Moses and the people of Israel. He had heard the promise from God's own mouth "I will be with you."

I long to see God. I yearn to hear God's voice and know beyond a doubt that God is here, that God cares for us. As the psalmist says (Psalm 42) "As a hart (deer) longs for flowing streams so longs my soul for thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?"

In the National Cathedral in Washington DC one can sense the nearness of God, beautiful and mysterious. Sitting beneath those soaring arches and impossibly high ceilings with the stone floor underfoot, hearing how sound both carries and dissipates in the cavernous space, the mighty presence of God is strong and transcendent. Evening prayer in the nave is sublime; voices solemnly chant the liturgy while fading light gleans through stained glass windows that depict fire, the saints, creation. In the Cathedral, God seems near indeed.

The National Cathedral, however, is far away from Texas. There may be burning bushes around here but not the kind Moses saw, just products of this persistent drought. Still I want to see God, I want to hear God speak and know in the depths of my heart and mind that God is, that God is with us in our day.

In Jesus we learn to look for God, not in glamour and glory, but in ordinary aspects of life. Jesus resembled you and me - a human person - yet he was God in the flesh. Jesus distributed bread and wine for his friends to eat and drink, naming it his own body and blood. Jesus promised to be with us whenever we gather in his name. Through Jesus we have seen that God comes to those who suffer, that God lives among the poor, that God sits in prison alongside the incarcerated. Cathedrals are marvelous places, but God is found in our ordinary, mundane lives.

My Dad used to say that God's grace is a lot like pecans. Our family did not plant the pecan trees in my parent's yard, but there they stand - tall and fruitful. Fall comes and the pecans drop to the ground without our aid. All we have to do is pick them up. Likewise, we do nothing to earn God's grace, it is simply given and all we have to do is receive it. I've seen glimpses of God, heard God's voice, so many times in my Dad.

The other day as I walked to my car in the parking lot I saw, halfway down the row, a man sitting in a red pickup truck. He sat there, window rolled down, smoking a cigarette, talking on a cell phone. As I passed I heard his deep voice say, kindly, "you're a pain in the ass, but I love you." I had to smile. It sounded like the voice of God, talking to me, to you, to the whole world. Individually and together we can be a great pain and a royal mess, yet God loves us still. What a wonderful thing to hear.

No burning bush experience for me, just a red pickup, a Texas farmer, and a word from the Lord. I think that will do, for now.


Pastor Kris

Monday, August 22, 2011

Blood and Body

I'm haunted by a song, its words and melody running repeatedly through my mind. We sang it recently during the Lord's Supper as people came up to receive the bread and the wine. The song is well known and we sang the refrain from memory: "bread of life from heaven, your blood and body given; we eat this bread and drink this cup until you come again."

The words and the tune guide us to the meal where we remember our Lord's death and resurrection. People file forward, one after another, humming or singing along "bread of life from heaven, your blood and body given..." their song echoing their actions as they come for the bread and wine. It's a pleasant song, a comfortable melody. Or it has been.

These days it's different. I picture her son lying on the pavement, blood everywhere, the assailants fleeing, leaving him for dead. No one aids him or calls for help. He regains consciousness, struggles to his feet and walks inside, calls his parents and they come. They rush him to the hospital, his face crushed from the heels of the boots.

"Bread of life from heaven, your blood and body given..." Their wrecked bodies mingle in my mind - her son's and our Savior's. Out in the parking lot he'd stepped in to help another man who was being attacked. That man got away and the group turned their fury on him - kicking, stomping his head. They left him broken and bleeding.

Anger grips him and he wishes he could find those men, beat them and leave them bruised and bloodied. The police have called it attempted homicide but say they can do nothing. At night his father howls with rage and cries in frustration. His mother listens, comforts her family, talks sense to them, decides how to proceed, and lies in bed with unrelenting images of her battered son.

"Bread of life from heaven, your blood and body given..." Your blood. Your body given - kicked, beaten, spat upon, nailed to a cross and left to die. His mother watched from a distance. God thundered in heaven, ripped the Temple curtain in anguish. In a violent assault - humiliating, painful, horrifying - the Son of God died. On the third day he rose - victorious over violence - with new life for all.

Can we lay our anger, our wounds, our own humiliations at the table of the Lord? Can we seek healing, justice and peace through his broken body and spilled blood? Imagine the people coming forward through the ages with hands outstretched - mothers of the disappeared in Argentina, victims of abuse, fathers of dead soldiers, people terrorized by gangs, families from Columbine, Oklahoma City, 9-11 approaching the altar for consolation, for hope, for a new world to inhabit.

"Bread of life from heaven, your blood and body given, we eat this bread and drink this cup until you come again." Come quickly, Lord Jesus, with healing for the nations. Come to us and help us live, that we may reject violence and vengeance. We vow not to strike back blow for blow; help us keep our vow. We cling instead to your love and truth. Guide us, feed us, and redeem us, Bread of life from heaven. Bring us justice. Bring us peace.

Pastor Kris

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Redemption and Violence

In Luke 6:27-29 Jesus says, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also." Passages like this have guided Christians throughout the ages, turning them from retaliation and vengeance to a non-violent way of addressing injustice. Martin Luther King Jr., and his associates led the Civil Rights Movement following this principle, this idea of resistance and non-compliance rather than violent confrontation. In South Africa, Nelson Mandela worked to win freedom and equal rights for blacks through reason, persuasion, and resistance. Great good can be done when we refrain from striking back, when we meet violence with truth rather than revenge.

The son of a good friend of mine was savagely beaten a few nights ago. I have known him since he was 8 years old. A sweet child, he is now becoming a wonderful man. Leaving a club, he saw several men beating one man. He intervened and soon found himself the target of the group's rage. He was kicked in the head repeatedly until his nose was broken and his sinus cavities shattered. Thanks be to God he is alive; he is facing a long recovery period.

When I heard about this I was furious. My friends are such good people, gracious, faithful, community-minded. Imagining the awful attack on this young man I found myself wanting to find those responsible and join with others in beating them senseless. That is often my first reaction when I hear that someone I care about has been hurt. I want to hurt someone in return. It feels justified; hitting back seems like what the other person deserves.

And maybe it is, but if we all hit back when we are injured, spit back when we've been insulted, where does it end? In my mind and heart I cherish Jesus' words, I embrace them: "love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you..." but my being, my person wants to react just the opposite. My sense of outrage longs to kick back when I've been kicked.

Theologian and author Walter Wink says we live in a culture founded on "the myth of redemptive violence." We believe that when danger comes we need bigger guns, more strength, and better weapons to fend it off. There's good evidence that, indeed, we do accept the myth of redemptive violence. Most of our stories show how those who've been attacked prevail by using greater violence - cowboys outshoot the villains, the Karate Kid out-fights the bullies, Men in Black out-zap the aliens. We live in gated communities, arm our homes with alarm systems, and keep a gun in the bedside table all in an attempt to keep ourselves safe.

Our salvation, however, does not come through force or domination. We are saved by One who allowed himself to be broken by violence. Insulted, whipped, spat upon Jesus did not seek revenge. He succumbed to violence, holding fast to love and truth. If Jesus is our Lord, then his way of non-violence is also our way. If our top allegiance is to Jesus then we will refuse to strike back, refuse to engage in violent behavior. It is one or the other - either we are saved by weapons and fighting, or we are saved by Jesus. We cannot have it both ways.

I pray for my friends and their son, that their lives will be restored and their wounds healed. I pray for those who senselessly beat a fine young man, that God's light will shine on them and they will be changed. And I pray for myself, that I will reject vengeance and choose truth and love. Truth and love, together, expose what is false and hold accountable those who are unjust. Only truth and love - God's love - will lead us all to true redemption.


Pastor Kris

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Jesus and the 'dogs'

There's a cartoon on our refrigerator, the one frame kind, with a picture of a dog, a man and a woman. The dog is sitting behind the man who is addressing the woman. The dog looks dejected and there's a tear on its face. The man is saying to the woman, "he'd just appreciate it if you'd stop referring to him as 'the dog'." That man and woman could be my husband and I; whenever I mention Redbone as 'the dog' Don looks at me in exaggerated alarm and says "the dog?" He prefers to call Redbone 'the pup.' It's nicer.

This Sunday's lectionary (assigned scripture readings) gives us a troubling story from Matthew 15. A Canaanite woman - a non-Jew, someone who is not 'one of us' - calls out to Jesus asking him to heal her daughter. First he ignores her completely. Then when his disciples complain about her nagging, Jesus turns to the woman and tells her he can't help her because she's not an Israelite. His mission, he says, is only to the people of Israel. She replies, simply, "Lord, help me." Jesus' next answer is disturbing. He says "it isn't fair to throw the children's food to the dogs." But she persists, saying "yes, but even the dogs get the crumbs that fall from the master's table." Finally, Jesus speaks to her as a person, calling her 'woman' and commenting on her strong faith, and he grants her wish.

The resolution of the encounter, however, does not remove the earlier offense. "The dogs," Jesus said to her. Some biblical scholars have argued that the word Jesus used really means 'little dogs' or 'puppies.' I suppose that's 'nicer,' but calling someone a 'little dog' is still insulting. Why does Jesus say that? We think of Jesus as always being in the right, as always showing compassion for hurting people and this is so very unkind, so wrong. I want to explain it away, make some excuse for Jesus but I cannot. The story troubles me, gets under my skin, makes me uncomfortable. Name-calling is so ugly.

Name-calling is ugly, but we do it. There are derogatory names for all races, classes and types of people and we know plenty of them. "Spic, wetback, blimp, chink, faggot" - hurtful, degrading terms all of them. We hear them and sometimes we use them, aloud or muttered under our breath - "idiot, doofus, reetard, scumbag, loser." Why do we say these things? Those of us who are Christian wear the name of Christ. When we call someone "faggot" or "reetard" or "#*!%-head" it's as if Jesus is speaking that way. Those words wound, anger, and shame people; they say that the other is not worth our concern, our help, our consideration. Who are we to make such judgments?

In Matthew 15 it appears that the Canaanite woman broke through Jesus' prejudice and established herself as a human being in his sight. Undettered by Jesus' initial judgment, she asserted her claim on Jesus' concern and grace. And Jesus changed his mind, reversed his position and extended mercy to her. Even a Canaanite woman is worthy of God's love and care. Even a foreigner is acceptable in God's kingdom. She is not a 'dog' but a woman, a child of God.

This story remains troubling, but it may be especially so because we know ourselves to be guilty of what we see Jesus do. We're uncomfortable because the episode shows us ourselves. We brush people off with a label. We dehumanize others with slurs and unkind remarks. Will we, though, can we - like Jesus - change our minds and come to see all people as beloved by God? If a Canaanite woman is acceptable, who is unacceptable to God by virtue of their class or ethnicity or status? Anyone? This scripture says that all who call on the Lord, all who seek God's help, receive God's characteristic loving-kindness. No one is left out for being too fat or too poor or too foreign or too dark-skinned or too simple. All are welcome in God's house. And that's good to know - for us, and for our neighbors.

Pastor Kris

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Drought and Idolatry

I dream of rain. In this eighth month of the drought, the fifth month of 100 degree temperatures, my mind searches for relief wherever possible. It happened again last night - I dreamed I heard rain falling on the roof, tapping against the windows. Calm and serenity settled over me as I imagined the earth and her creatures enjoying a good, long drink. But then I awoke and saw the same parched grass and wilted gardens as before.

When Ahab was King of Israel he openly loved other things more than he loved God. He loved the power, the attention, the wealth, the status of being king. Scripture says that Ahab worshipped Baal, the Caananite god. In doing so he committed idolatry. Idolatry, the most common of all sins, does not have to involve Baal. We are idolatrous whenever we value, trust, and love something above God. Martin Luther, in his Large Catechism, says "Anything on which your heart relies and really your God." Any time we replace God with something lesser in our hearts and minds we commit idolatry.

Not only did Ahab commit idolatry by 'relying and depending' upon something other than God, he led his people astray by his actions. Many of the Israelite people followed their King's example and built altars to Baal. God, who had given himself to Israel in a loving, lasting relationship, was angered. As a response God sent a severe drought upon the land. For three years there was no rain, or even dew, in Israel. Streams and rivers dried up; crops failed; people and livestock alike grew desperate for water. Baal, to whom they had prayed, could not make it rain and God was unwilling to do so until the King and the people recognized their fault and changed course.

Why has it not rained in Texas for the past eight months? It could be El Nino or La Nina has brought this latest drought. Maybe our arid conditions come from global warming or shifting weather patterns throughout the country. In scripture, the prophet Elijah had to sweep the land clear of idolatry before God sent rain. Elijah rebuked the King and the people for their devotion to Baal; he reasserted God's sovereignty and slaughtered the Baal prophets. Finally Elijah bowed before God, sending his servant to check the horizon for a change in the weather. Six times the servant saw nothing, but the last time he saw a cloud rise up out of the sea. Soon rain was pummeling the ground, pouring down on all Israel like the grace of God.

Since the recession the median wealth of white households in America is 20 times greater than that of African-American households, 18 times higher than that of Hispanic households. In addressing our nation's deficit and raising the debt ceiling the United States government opted to cut spending and raise no taxes on the wealthy or close loop-holes for large corporations. In Texas, spending has been slashed in education and other public services while tax-payers foot the $10,000 a month bill for the governor's rental house. Could rampant idolatry be the reason we are in the midst of a severe drought? Are we following the course of Ahab, loving and serving the wrong things?

"No one can serve two masters," Jesus said, "(you) will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth." (Matthew 6:24) We cannot worship money and worship God; one of them has to give.

I dream of rain -- water falling from the sky, justice rolling like a river throughout the land. How long must we wait for the drought to end? How long must God wait on us to turn from idolatry?

Pastor Kris

Monday, July 25, 2011

Which side?

A newsletter article from the Alban Institute cited a recent study showing that the religious beliefs of young people (age 18 to 23) in our nation mirrors that of their parents. This is not surprising; it is parents who introduce their children (or don't) to faith in God. However, the study revealed something else about a large number of today's young adults who consider themselves Christian. The content of their faith is not grounded in historical Christian teachings but reflects what one researcher called "moralistic, therapeutic deism." Their understanding of God comes less from the Bible than from what is commonly called "American civil religion." From this perspective God is one who "fixes things, roots for your team, and rewards good behavior with a happy afterlife."* Unlike Jesus, American civil religion says nothing about sacrifice. It focuses on individual rights whereas the God of scripture addresses communal needs.

If this is, indeed, a prevalent American understanding of Christianity (twenty-four years as a pastor tells me that it is), it helps explain our current crisis in the United States over whether or not to (or how to) raise the debt ceiling. If God "fixes things" then maybe we don't have to worry about the decisions and actions we take that might harm others. If God "roots for our team" then our perspective must be right, our needs/desires come first. If God is this parochial - on "my" side, rooting for my agenda - then what is good for "me" must be acceptable to all. No wonder our government leaders have been meeting daily for weeks with no visible progress to report. Who needs to change, who needs to compromise, who needs to consider someone else's perspective if God is already on their side?

Last week as the news focused on the impasse in Congress concerning the debt limit, Sojourners magazine (email) sent this as their verse for the day: "What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the faces of the poor?" (Isaiah 3:15) This is a drastically different message from what we have been hearing on Capital Hill. In this scripture God addresses us - you and me, our representatives, the United States of America - with "what do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the faces of the poor!"

How can a nation that claims to know the God of scripture cut services to the poor, to the elderly, to children and yet balk at raising taxes on the wealthy and on corporations that make billions of dollars a year on its own soil? If we love God, if have any genuine knowledge of God, we cannot support making life more difficult for those without while refusing to ask the wealthy to give more. Some will say that the wealthy create jobs (please present the evidence) but God sees our plans to pamper the rich and burden the poor and says, unequivocally, "how dare you!"

We in the church have failed to represent the God of scripture faithfully. God does, indeed, love us, but God also demands justice from us - fairness for all people, especially the weakest, the most despised. Jesus identifies himself with those who suffer, not with those who have it made (see Matthew 25: 31-46 and Luke 6:20-26); Jesus lived among outcasts and sinners, not in palaces with rulers and their cohorts. Christians cannot in good conscience allow the burden of this financial crisis to fall upon the working poor, the sick, and the aged without protesting in the name of Jesus.

This Sunday Matthew's gospel presents Jesus feeding five thousand hungry people. Tired by a long day of ministry, the disciples initially want to send the hungry crowd away to procure their own food. But Jesus says to his friends, "you give them something to eat."

That is God's word for us, to you and me, to all our representatives in Congress, to the wealthy and to all citizens of our nation: "You give them something to eat." Will we answer the call? Or will we stay silent and allow "the least of these" to pay again and again and again?

Pastor Kris Hill

*The article is entitled: "Hope and Ethnography" by Dori Grinenko Baker, 7-25-11; the quote is from Christian Smith of the National Study of Youth and Religion.

Monday, June 27, 2011


I've seen some good movies since signing up with netflix. Last week I watched "Winter's Bone" a chilling tale about a teenage girl in the Appalachian mountains. Her mother incapacitated and her father absent, she tries to provide for and raise her younger sister and brother. One day the sheriff stops by to tell her that her father put the family's house and acreage up as bond and hasn't been seen since. She has a week to find him or the property will be taken. As the story unfolds we see this girl's dedication to her family, her courage as she faces obstacles and threats while tracking her father, and her acceptance of local customs even as she challenges local authority.

Next I watched "Born in Brothels" - a documentary filmed in Calcutta, India. A woman photographer spent time living in the red light district of the city to learn about and photograph its inhabitants. While there she became close to a number of children who had been born to prostitutes. Their lives were difficult and their futures unpromising; the girls were expected to become prostitutes by about 16; the boys rarely attended school. So the photographer gave them each a camera and began teaching them about taking pictures. The children got quite good so that there was an exhibition of their work at an art studio in the city. The photographer worked to get as many of the children as possible into boarding schools, although their families were resistant to such an unknown path. It was a wonderful movie - seeing how the children grew in ability and self-confidence, watching one person strive to make a real difference in those children's lives.

Meantime, of course I'm reading, too. I quickly finished the first book in the Solitary series by Travis Thrasher and am now nearly finished with "Emily Alone" about an older woman facing life after her husband and most of her friends have died.

I love stories; in fact, we all do. One way or another, every human being is drawn to stories - whether tales told by friends, shows on TV or the movies, or accounts of family members from times gone by. We love stories. Stories help us understand our own life; they help us see what may happen in the future and map out how we might respond. Stories show us that other people have experiences, questions, and emotions similar to our own. As the great movie "Shadowlands" put it: "we read to know we're not alone;" stories connect us to the world outside ourselves. We inhabit the stories we hear, imaging ourselves in 'this' or 'that' role.

God comes to us in stories. We can understand loving our neighbor as a concept, but it becomes clearer, more available to us through the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 15). Scripture tells us to love the stranger, the foreigner (Deut. 10:17-19), but that directive takes on new life when Jesus shares a story about inviting the poor, the lame, and beggars to your banquet (Luke 14:7-24). We know that God is powerful, that God especially notices and cares for those who suffer, but when we read again the account of the Exodus the magnitude of God's love and God's ability to save thrills us (Exodus chapters 1 through 15).

God's activity in history comes to us through stories, involving real situations and people, allowing us to see ourselves as participants in the action and recipients of God's generous love. We stand beside Abraham (Genesis 18:16-33) as he and God debate justice. We're astonished and proud as Abraham questions God, saying: "what if there are 50 righteous people in the city; will you destroy the whole place and not forgive it for the sake of those 50? Far be it from you to do such a thing." Wow - we grapple alongside Abraham with the nature of justice and mercy. Our hearts ache with Job as he sits in silence for seven days after losing his family, his wealth, and his good health. We get it when he curses the day he was born, when he challenges God to explain what he has done wrong to deserve such suffering. We have the same questions as Job does God's loving care and human pain. When Nathan tells King David about the man whose lone, beloved sheep was taken by his wealthy neighbor and slaughtered to feed a traveler, we are filled with David's righteous indignation when he says "that man should die!" and we are moved to self-examination as Nathan replies to the King "you are the man." (2nd Samuel 12:1-15). Such powerful, gripping stories!

And in those stories we meet God who invites us to step into the drama, to hear the critical lines addressed to ourselves, to claim the emotions stirred therein and see God's presence in our own lives. In these incredible stories we realize that God is not just a idea in our minds, but a powerful, living presence in our world - creator and redeemer, quick and strong to save.

Pastor Kris

Monday, June 20, 2011

Heavenly Dogs

If you've ever loved a dog, you really should check out this cool video called God and Dog ( I took it off a friend's facebook page (thanks Michelle) and posted it on my own. It features a simple song and simple pictures as it reflects on the connection between God and one's dog. The song ponders how God and dog are alike; the drawings illustrate the same (it is written and performed by Wendy Francisco).

Wendy compares how God loves us to how our dogs love us. Anyone who's ever had a dog knows how they express love - exuberantly, shamelessly, with joy and unwavering constancy. Your dog is always overjoyed to see you again, even if you've only been gone for 30 minutes. Your dog is always ready to go wherever you want to go, do whatever you feel like doing. He just wants to be near you because he delights in your company. Wendy's song reminds us that God's love for us is just as devoted, just as substantial.

She says, of both God and dog, "they would stay with me all day, I'm the one who walks away." The accompanying picture shows her dog looking sad and getting smaller as she, presumably, leaves it. A dog will wait as long as it takes for us to return; so will God. Dogs don't remind us of our faults or withhold their affection until we improve. Neither does God. As Wendy's song says, "I take it hard each time I fail; God forgives, dog wags his tail." Along with these words we see a dog's face looking up with great concern until she pats its head; then it seems to smile.

If you're unhappy or ill, your dog worries and sticks close by (just like God does). Seeing your sadness, your dog will try to get in your lap, snuggle next to you, lick your face - anything to cheer you up. You never have to wonder if you're loved or if you've been forgotten with a dog around. Your dog shows his love every day, all day, by how he looks at you and stays near you. What I like best about Wendy's song "God and Dog" is that it gives us a visual. I don't mean just the pictures (which are neat) or even the mental images her song evokes. Wendy shows us that if we aren't sure how God loves us, if we need an example to understand that idea, we can look to our dogs.

A dog loves us with abandon - in concrete, tangible ways. God loves us in real, substantive ways, too. God heals us when we're ill; God comforts us when we lose. God gives us sunshine and rain, the countryside and the bustle of communal life, food and drink for today, forgiveness for the past, hope for tomorrow. If you need a visual to grasp what it means that God loves you - unconditionally and forever - you can't do much better than looking at your dog. Yeah, God loves you like that.

Pastor Kris

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Fire and Heat

The other day my husband said he was glad to hear people complaining about the heat. "Yeah," I replied, "I'm sick of this heat, too." Then I realized he meant the Miami Heat, playing for the National Basketball championship. "Oh," I said.

But I do complain about the heat and the lack of rain. Sunday we had a pool party for the six young people who will be confirmed in their faith this coming week. I don't enjoy wearing bathing suits so I went dressed in shorts and a polo. We grilled burgers and sausage, ate in the shade, and the young folks played in the water. The adults sat around and talked about this and that, watching the kids frolic and splash. After about an hour and a half I couldn't take it any longer. I had to head home to the air conditioning and my Sunday afternoon nap. I guess I just can't endure the heat any more.

This Sunday is Pentecost and it will be a hot one. People are encouraged to wear red outfits for the occasion as the color red represents the Holy Spirit. Pentecost celebrates the fire of God that enters our world and sears us. The scripture reading from Acts says that the Holy Spirit landed on the disciples like tongues of fire. It's a vivid, blistering image - flames flickering down from the skies, licking at our ears, our skin, our hair. All that fire and heat - it sounds dangerous, like the time the lighted candles got too close to an acolyte's hair and ignited it!

Six young people at Shepherd King have completed two years of studying about the Christian faith. They have been reading the Bible, learning the 10 Commandments, getting to know God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the process we've all gotten to know each other as well. Now the instruction is finished and the moment has come for them to claim this faith, to be further claimed by God in Jesus Christ. So on Sunday we will present these six to God and ask God to burn them with fire, to stir them with relentless passion for justice, love and truth. We'll ask God to show them dreams of a world recreated in Jesus Christ, to give them visions of being new people here and now. The heat of God's love will break over us in the Holy Spirit, summoning us to get up, go out and spread the joy and peace of Jesus to all around us. It's going to be a hot one this Sunday; no one will be left untouched.

On Pentecost God comes as a flame, as an inferno, disturbing our equilibrium and disrupting our comfort. On Pentecost it is not enough for us to be nice people or quiet Christians. The heat is on - God is alive, pushing us to live deeply, to open ourselves to others, to love without fear, to give without counting the cost. There is an urgency in the air - it is time, time to give up old ways and enter into the new ways of God in Jesus Christ. The tongues of fire will descend on Sunday and our six confirmands will reject sin, renounce the devil and all the ways of evil. They will acknowledge Jesus as Lord and pledge their lives and their loyalty to God, alone.

This time, embrace the heat. Come and witness the passion, the power of God at work among us. Join us for worship on Pentecost Sunday as the Holy Spirit enfolds us, as our six young people profess their faith, as God transforms the world - a life, a community, at a time.

Burning together,
Pastor Kris

Monday, May 30, 2011

Suffering and Hope

After suffering from sinus/migraine headaches for the last 4 days, I awoke this morning free of pain. What a difference feeling healthy and good makes! While battling swollen sinus passages, a constantly throbbing head, and a sour stomach I managed to plant a new garden on Thursday, attend a family Memorial Day bash on Saturday, practice trumpet twice, and make it through leading Sunday morning worship. But by then I'd had it with the headache and with the rash of poison ivy I'd piced up on vacation. Off to Texas Medical Clinic where I received a prescription for steroids.

Monday morning I got up feeling great and spent an hour weeding, mulching, and watering the gardens; then straightened up the garage a bit, and finally jumped into house cleaning with vigor and satisfaction. What a difference relief from suffering makes. The change in my mood from yesterday to today puts me in mind of the song: "Sure feels good, feeling good again."

I'm thankful my suffering could be alleviated by medication. Recently Don and I drove through Birmingham, Alabama. I remember Joplin, Missouri, from a visit there many, many summers ago - a pretty spot. The suffering brought by a string of tornadoes in Alabama and a single, but massive tornado in Joplin will not be quickly or easily relieved. The stories have been heartbreaking - a mother found dead, covering her teenage son with her body (he survived). A young woman ripped from her boyfriend's arms as they hid in a closet - he survived, she did not. The pictures are shocking - neighborhoods leveled, rubbish everywhere, mangled trees and household goods intertwined.

Where is God in the midst of such suffering? It's a question that has been pondered from the beginning of time. Why does God allow tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes to hurt and kill people? I don't know. I cannot say why people suffer. It might be that reflection on suffering so as to learn from is is the best we can do. (I remember my Dad telling me that no experience is wasted if we learn from it.) Still, those who have lost so much, who face such daunting circumstances trying to put their lives back together might well wonder why God allows this kind of destruction in the first place. Can't God stop tornadoes and floods from happening?

There are biblical scholars and believers who would say that, no, God cannot stop natural occurrences from taking place. I disagree. I think God is able to do whatever God wants to do. A better answer, it seems to me, is that this is the world God has chosen to create. And the way this world operates, storms, floods, and natural disasters are a part of the mix. God is present and concerned wherever people suffer (scripture testifies to this). Those of us who love God also seek to be "present" with the suffering, to assist them and comfort them however we can.

This memorial weekend our thoughts turned to those who have suffered for the sake of the nation. We remember those who have died in service to our country, those who have survived combat but returned injured in body, mind and spirit. We cannot blame the suffering and loss that results from war on God: building and maintaining relationships (personal and between nations) is our responsibility. Even so, God is present on battlefields with the dying, with those afraid and those unafraid. God tends lovingly to those struggling to heal from their wounds and their memories. God is with us, too, as we pray for our specific loved ones in the armed forces - for their wellbeing and their survival, for help and guidance in difficult situations.

We can't explain the reason for suffering. Neither can we insulate ourselves from pain. Loss, hurt, and sorrow are part of this world, part of life. When they come, God is near - to hold us, to hear us, and to lead us back to life. May God bless you and your loved ones, whatever your griefs, and restore you to fullness of health.


Pastor Kris

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Water Ways

Don and I are heading East on Saturday, taking the southern route on I-10 through Houston, to Mobile, then heading northeast until we get to Hickory, North Carolina. After a few days there we'll head further northeast to Philadelphia. I'm looking forward to seeing familiar landscapes along the way and friends when we arrive. But I wonder if parts of the trip, places we've often been before, will look foreign.

Usually we take the quickest route, or one that affords the most beauty, or maybe one we haven't used much. But this time we've been listening to the news as we huddle around the map, changing our minds every few hours. To get from "here" to "there" we have to cross the Mississippi River, but where is the safest place to cross? Most years it's not an issue, but this year the mighty river has flooded its banks, swallowing up communities and farmland for miles and miles. Images from Memphis (highway 40) and Vicksburg (highway 20) show 8 to 12 feet of water consuming homes, streets, entire neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, drought and wild fires have ravaged Texas. Here in San Antonio we hadn't seen a drop of rain since perhaps mid-February. Grass is baked and brown, trees are stressed again, and water rationing was imposed many weeks ago. Alabama was recently tossed around by horrendous tornadoes, Mississippi and Tennessee are under water, and Texas is begging the skies to break open and rain. With crops dying and the water table shrinking here, it's hard to believe that just two states over people are suffering from too much water.

The habits of rainfall are frustrating - too much in one place can bring death just as none in another can bring death. We would like to receive a goodly amount each year - enough to water crops, lawns, and flowers, but not so much that it floods homes and streets. From our perspective that would be fair and sensible. But nature does not heed our advice. Maybe some of our frustration stems from our lack of control over the matter. As adults, we are used to addressing problems, finding solutions, striving for success. But the rain does what it wants, not what we want, making us feel like children with no say in the matter. God sends the rain when and where it suits God whether or not we approve.

This morning the Farmers Market at Shepherd King closed early for a wonderful reason. Around 9:30 the skies darkened, thunder rumbled, and water descended from the heavens. (I'm sure the farmers don't mind trading one day's sales for a good rainfall.) It was the first rain here in more than three months and such a joyful sight! It felt like a holiday - an occasion for dancing and celebrating. Gracias a Dios! (Thanks to God!) The silty mud, however, slathered throughout those flooded southern homes will not be gone for weeks. Pie Jesu (Lord, have mercy).

In Matthew 5:45 Jesus says "(God) makes the sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous." What happens in the world does not revolve primarily around me and my situation, or you and yours. Certainly God loves us, but God also sees and knows much more than what concerns us. (In Isaiah 55:8 God says "for my thoughts are not your thoughts...") God is with those whose homes are under water - caring, providing, and comforting. God knows the seriousness of drought and responds to our prayers. But the world and God's intent for creation are bigger than merely "now" and "here."

So whether it is dry or soggy, whether it is hot or cold, with the psalmist let us "Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving... the LORD covers the heavens with clouds, prepares rain for the earth, makes grass grow on the hills... the LORD takes those who hope in his steadfast love." (Psalm 147)

Peace to all the earth,

Pastor Kris

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Enemies, Death, and Jesus

Our church in North Carolina took the youth to Lutherock camp the last weekend of April every year. The kids looked forward to hiking in the mountains, to Pastor Jim's faith scavenger hunt, and to bunking on the floor in the main room. The end of April in 2002, Jason and Michael smuggled some firecrackers with them, black cats, and were hoping for a good opportunity to use them. While hiking they found a pumpkin that had had its top removed. They stuck a wad of black cats in the pumpkin, lit them on fire, and as the orange ball exploded Michael yelled "Bin Laden's butt!" They all laughed.

Tonight we have heard that Osama Bin Laden is dead, killed by US special forces. CNN is busy getting reactions from a range of people - a firefighter from New York City, a correspondent who once interviewed Bin Laden, family members of those who died on 9-11-2001. A crowd has spontaneously gathered outside the White House cheering "USA! USA!" and waving flags. Our bitter enemy is dead and America is officially celebrating.

Just this morning in Sunday school we were pondering Matthew 5:43-45 where Jesus says "love your enemies." Working through a study called "For the Peace of the Whole World" our class has been discussing how peace can be made in a violent, broken world. This quest brought us to grapple with Jesus' command that we love our enemies. We've worked to define what "love" is in reference to people who hurt us; we've admitted that this commandment is hard, very hard to fulfill. The material we're using makes clear that "loving" one's enemies does not mean denying or dismissing the harm they have done; it does not preclude seeking justice. As we wrestled with the real-life implications of "loving our enemies" we decided that this meant not hating them, seeking justice rather than vengeance, and even seeking their wellbeing while pursuing justice.

Osama bin Laden is dead. I felt a sense of elation when I heard the news; I felt pride in our nation and especially in those who carried out this operation - from the intelligence officers, to the President, to the men and women who enacted the plan. At the same time I am mindful of not wanting to rejoice in the death, the killing, of any human being. Shortly after 9-11 we were shown pictures of people in some Arab nations who were celebrating the deaths of 3000 innocent people here. It was a sickening sight. In our minds bin Laden is deserving of death whereas those 3000 were not. Even so, I do not want to be happy, to dance, because someone has died.

We serve a Lord who told us to love our enemies, a Lord who allowed himself to be killed for the redemption of the world - to save sinners. As an American I feel relief and a sense of accomplishment that our enemy, bin Laden, is dead. As a Christian, as someone who loves Jesus, I take seriously Jesus' command to love, to forgive, to seek life and reconciliation. How do we do that in this situation? It seems to me that we can be glad and relieved that bin Laden is gone without gloating to the rest of the world, without antagonizing other peoples. And that is not only a good thing to do, but a smart response.

Darryl left for Afghanistan maybe 6 weeks ago. This is his first tour over there with the Marines. Darryl, his Mom, and I prayed for his safety the day before he left; I anointed his head with oil. We want him back, whole and well. We want all our soldiers to come back safely. If we can "love" our enemies by pursuing justice yet also treating others with humanity and respect, maybe Darryl and his comrades will be a little safer in Afghanistan, in Iraq. If we love our enemies rather than hate them, if we act so that our dedication to justice is clear and our kindness to others - even those who hate us - is at the forefront, maybe peace will find a place in this tired world.

May God bless and watch over Darryl and all the men and women serving our nation. And may peace be swiftly on its way, for us and for all peoples.

Pastor Kris

Friday, April 22, 2011

Spring to Life

The Farmer's Market in Shepherd King's parking lot was open for business on Maundy Thursday, April 21st. What a wonderful beginning! There were four venders selling all sorts of fresh delights - corn on the cob, squash, onions, tomatoes, greens, berries, eggs, and even freshly slaughtered chickens. Wow! Quite a few people came by and bought goods from them. It was a tremendous success. We are so glad to have the South Texas Farmer's Market setting up at Shepherd King to provide food for our neighbors.

What could be a better sign that spring is here than fresh produce? My own vegetable garden is small and just beginning to sprout. In about a month we should have homegrown potatoes, carrots, green beans and swiss chard. Food always tastes better when it's grown in your own garden (the farmer's market qualifies as "home grown"). But gardens are struggling in Texas these days. We are in a serious drought and wildfires are burning in all but two Texas counties. Goodness me! It sounds like the whole state might just burn up. We need rain badly. May God be gracious to us and water the earth here.

What a week - the Farmer's Market opens on Maundy Thursday, we meet at the foot of the cross on Good Friday, and then on Easter Sunday we rejoice in Jesus' resurrection. Isn't that pretty much the pattern of life? Celebrations are followed by mourning which leads to concern and worry. But regardless how dry and dismal life becomes, God brings a new day, new life, hope to weary hearts. God gives us food even during drought. God decides when it will rain and when it will not. And God has judged that death is not final but that life prevails.

We gather early on Easter Sunday, out in front of the church with our candles and a new fire. The dim glow of candlelight leads us into the darkened nave as we recount the wonder of that first Easter day. We remember the history of God's involvment with humankind - the Genesis account of creation, Israel's escape from bondage in Egypt, the prophet's words offering hope and life, the inspiring story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace. Then the sun rises, the lights shine in the church, and we sing with joy of the victory of Jesus Christ, raised from the dead. The world is renewed and our hearts are uplifted because the Lord lives. Thanks be to God.

May you be blessed this Holy Week. May the resurrection of Jesus stir up your heart and shine in your life.

Pastor Kris

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Dying and Rising

Mother's Day is going to be interesting for our family this year. My parents are 85 and 86 years old. My mom's birthday is always right around mother's day so we celebrate both occasions in one gathering, usually taking Mom and Dad somewhere nice for dinner. Last year, on her 85th birthday, we took her to Green Pasture's restaurant in Austin - one of her favorite places. The food is good, the setting is lovely, and there aren't many restaurants that boast of white peacocks roaming the property. But this year Mom and Dad want to have all their kids over on Mother's Day for a conversation. They want to talk to us about what shape their finances are in, the possibility of them needing assisted living in the future, their funeral plans. Over the years they have spoken with each of us about some of these subjects, but they figure it's a good idea to tell all of us, at the same time, what their plans are and what they want us to do in the event of 'this' or 'that' happening. That way there won't be any confusion or controversy (we hope). As a pastor I've helped lots of people talk about their funeral plans; I've been with families as they discussed options for long-term care. These things are a normal part of life in my line of work. But contemplating the possibility of my own parents living in a nursing home, thinking about the day when my Mom and Dad will die, jars me out of "ordinary business" and puts me face to face with mortality. We will all die; everyone knows this. But there's a tremendous difference between theoretically knowing you will die and knowing it experientially. At 53 (almost) I'm the youngest of my family - siblings, parents, spouse. Death stands a lot closer now than it did 10 or 20 years ago. This is the season of death in the Church. Last Sunday we contemplated Lazarus who died because Jesus didn't respond quickly when Mary and Martha sent word that their brother was ill. By the time Jesus arrived his friend had been dead for four days. "If you had been here, Lord, my brother would not have died" the sisters said to Jesus reproachfully. We don't want our loved ones to die, to leave us and go... wherever the dead go. We don't want to die, to give way to oblivion, to personal extinction. Next week is Holy Week. Beginning on Palm/Passion Sunday and continuing through Good Friday we will remember Jesus' suffering and death. Like Lazarus, his body will be placed in a cave and secured with a large stone. His friends will grieve; his mother will weep. For our part, we will ponder again this puzzling event - the execution of the Son of God. What sort of God dies? How able is a God who dies? Can we depend on this God? When the time comes that my mother and father die I do not expect to see them again in this life. After they are buried I might visit their graves, place flowers in memory of them, look at their pictures, but I will not sit next to them, bodily, and visit with them any more. Death doesn't allow for that. And yet Jesus called Lazarus out of death back into life. Dead four days he got up and emerged from the grave. A few weeks later he was with Mary, Martha and Jesus at supper. Jesus, too, rose from the dead - complete with a new body and eternal life. He went to see his friends, showed them his hands and his side, reminded them how they should live as his followers. As we in the Church face the reality of death this next week we also confess our faith in eternal life. We assert that death is not the end, that real and powerful as death is, resurrection life is still more powerful. Our claims defy logic, they contradict what we have experienced - that the dead stay that way. Life everlasting... life in God's kingdom... can we really conceive of that? I wonder if we'll talk about that part of it when we get together on Mother's Day. Undoubtedly Mom and Dad will mention their wishes regarding financial matters, funeral services, disposal of their property. But will anyone mention the hope we have of living forever in God's dominion? Probably not. But in this season of death we also contemplate life. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead; God raised Jesus from the dead. Improbable as it seems, there is more awaiting us than hole in the ground. God chooses life over death. We will die, it's true. But when Jesus calls, we will rise from death to live as sisters and brothers - beloved children of God - forevermore. Pastor Kris

Monday, March 28, 2011

March Madness

Well, it's that time of year, a time of crazy activity, of unexpected occurrences, of joys and disappointments: the college basketball turnaments are in full swing. Nobody expected VCU and Bulter to be in the final four this year - what a surprise! None of the four top seeds made it to the final four - that hasn't happened in years. Who will win the big game on Monday night? At this point it's up for grabs (personally, I'm pulling for VCU, although I'm guessing Kentucky is more likely). Who's the most dominant player this year? I think it's Brittany Griner for the Baylor Bears women's team. She's awesome. Not everyone likes college basketball and the term "March Madness" might have different connotations for them. My mother used to do spring cleaning - moving all the furniture so as to get in those corners and tight spots, dusting thoroughly, washing, vacuuming, and airing out the house. I don't know if anybody does that anymore. Perhaps one's individual March madness is of a different sort - accountants are up to their necks in income tax preparations with a deadline in less than three weeks. Parents might be busy making plans for what to do with their kids during the summer months and teachers are slogging through those final weeks until the school year is over. Young people are busy with upcoming exams, papers due, grades to try and improve while there's time, maybe work or chores at home. Our lives are often busy like that, overloaded with activities and responsibilities; it's not confined to March. Psalm 46 says "be still and know that I am God." It's more of a command than a request, which is a good thing for us. Maybe a strong word straight from God telling us "be still" will cut through our objections - all the reasons we haven't the time for stillness, for quiet, for finding space to breathe and listen. "Be still" - put aside the business, the madness, the endless tasks that need to be accomplished. Take a long bath, go for a walk, read a book, sit quietly and let your mind wander, listen to music that lifts your spirit. It's not really optional, not if we want to function well and be fully human. We need time to be still. "...and know that I am God." That's the second part of the assignment. It justifies the first part. We can be still because we are not God and the world will not fall apart if we take a break. God is God; God keeps the world running; God provides for our needs; God guides us and those we love (and even those we don't love). We need to remember that - it lightens our load, it restores our sense of awe at the created world, it comforts and strengths us to know that God is near, that the world is in God's hands. "Be still and know that I am God." What a relief - we don't have to do it all! We don't have to drive ourselves crazy with the madness of daily life. We can rest, we can have a little time apart to be refreshed. God is at work; God is caring for the world and all its creatures. Most of the time we participate in God's work, in God's caring for creation. But there's a time - regularly - to step away from the pressures, the troubles, the hurry and hustle, and be still, knowing that God is God. Receive the gift - it comes, with love, from God to you. Peace, Pastor Kris

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Texas Rain Lilies

When I moved to San Antonio in July of 2009 it was dry; we were in the midst of a long drought. I drove through neighborhoods searching for a house to buy and saw only brittle, brown grass and trees distressed and dying. Quite frankly, the area was unattractive. And the weather beaten yards and gardens made the 100 degree temperature each day seem even hotter.

Then one day in early September it rained hard all through the night. The next morning deep puddles lay in the streets, although before long the sun had dried them up. A day later, however, I saw an astonishing sight - huge swaths of little flowers everywhere, standing tall on their green stems, displaying pretty white and pink blossoms. Texas Rain Lilies. Overnight they had come to life -- strewn across yards and vacant lots, their faces turned toward the sun. Every evening they would close up until the next morning when they bloomed again. After the months of barrenness those lilies were joyous signs of new life.

Little and delicate, Texas Rain Lilies only bloom briefly. As their name implies, they pop up after a good rain, but within days they are gone again. And they're unpredicitable. Sometimes they appear and other times they don't. Up close a Texas Rain Lily is truly lovely - one of my favorite flowers; it has a trumpet shaped blossom of pure white with a blush of pink in the center. They are resilient, too, lying dormant for months, maybe years, and then suddenly brought to life after a strong rain. How fascinating that water can give life so quickly to what had been hidden or dying.

On a hot day in Samaria Jesus sat down by a well to rest. He'd been walking since early morning, from near Jerusalem headed to Capernaum, some 60 miles away. It was noon and a woman came to draw water for the days' use back home. "Give me a drink," Jesus said. He was thirsty. The woman was puzzled; they were not from the same ethnic or social background. His people and her people didn't mix. She told him she couldn't believe he was asking her for a drink, regardless how thirsty he was.

She was thirsty, too. But her thirst wasn't as obvious or as clear-cut as a dry throat. She had been married and "dismissed" five times. In those days women did not live on their own; women belonged to men - either a father or a husband or a son. If a woman had none of those to lean on she had no where to live, no means for supporting herself. Five times this woman had been turned out of her home by a husband (women had no right to divorce, only men could divorce); she now lived with a man, but who knows how long that would last. What was her thirst? Maybe for a genuine home, or to be known and honored, or that her neighbors would accept rather than shun her.

Jesus explained the water he had to offer - a water that gives true and lasting life. Once received, this water could restore the forsaken, the embittered, the dying. Curious she asked him where he got that water and Jesus told her about God. He said that proper worship of God did not depend upon a certain place or religious structure. Soon, he said, people everywhere would worship God in Spirit and in truth. The woman began to get excited; she felt hope stirring within her, the sense that many things were possible. "I want some of this water," she said. Jesus smiled, for she was already sprouting and blossoming from that water's influence.

How long had it been since someone had bothered to have a conversation with that woman? Had anyone ever discussed God, faith, the purpose of life with her like she were worthy such deep subjects? At some point it dawned on her that this man she was talking to just might be the one she and her people had awaited - God embodied, the Son of God within reach, touchable, full of grace and compassion. No wonder she left her water jars there and raced into town to tell what she what had seen and heard.

Water. It nourishes the ground and all living things, making us grow and blossom. Jesus is the living water, a spring that gushes forth with eternal life. Drink deeply, let the water cool your fevered brow and fill you with peace. Come to the well and meet the one who knows you already, who loves you and offers you real life - life with purpose and dignity, now and for eternity.

Pastor Kris

Monday, March 14, 2011

Kitty Wellfare

The kitties are growing up. It's a beautiful day, maybe 72 degrees and bright sunshine, so I strolled out back to see what they were up to. Snickerdoodle was lying in the grass napping. Mr. Gray peeked out from under the porch when he (possibly she) heard my voice. Mama was under the deck where I could see only her green eyes. Sugarplum emerged after a few minutes to get a drink from the bowl of water we keep filled.

Late July or early August last year Mama kitty - a sleek black female - gave birth to a litter of six out behind the church - two blacks, two Siamese, one gray and one striped. I've been feeding them ever since, although we lost the striped one about four months ago. My plan was to tame the kittens, bring them inside, and give them away to good homes. Then I was gonna' have "Mama" fixed and let her, only, live out back. You know what they say about the best laid plans...

I can finally pet three of them and have even, briefly, picked up Sugarplum (one of the Siamese) and Ebony (a black one). But they only get close enough for me to pet them when I'm bringing them food. Mama kitty is pregnant again and will give birth any day now. Which means I really have to do something with this first litter or we'll be overrun with cats (we almost are already).

I plan to capture Ebony and Sugarplum this week. But then what? They're still mostly wild and have never been inside before. I will probably take them to a local cat shelter, but it's hard to think of letting someone else assume responsibility for them. What if the shelter can't find them homes? What if the homes they go to are not so great? Slowly these kitties have come to trust me - to an extent. And I can't bear the thought that I might be breaking that trust by catching them and giving them away. Argh!

For the kitties who remain -- Mr. Gray, Snickerdoodle, and Max -- there are a couple options. Either tame them and give them away as well, or stop feeding them and let them figure out how to truly become wild cats. That later option would be even harder to do. They have never had to find their own food. My guess is they would figure it out, but my heart aches to consider how they might struggle to adjust. But there are already too many cats in our yard and more are on the way.

Does God worry about us like this? about us and all living things? - "How will they make it? Do they have food and shelter? Can they learn how to survive, to build good lives? Will someone help them when they're in need?" Whether or not God worries in the same way, scripture makes it clear that we are expected to help one another in times of need. It doesn't say anything about wild kitties... other than that God gives food to all in due season. And that's reassuring.

So if you're in the market for some kitties (they're very sweet) give us a call here at Shepherd King. I expect we'll have two, perhaps three, to give away at the end of the week. If I can bear it.

Praising the God of all the living,

Pastor Kris

Monday, March 7, 2011

Earth, Dust, and Ashes

"Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust" - we say those words at every funeral, gathered around the coffin at its burial place. In days past, a mound of dirt would lie next to the open grave, waiting for the casket to be lowered into the ground when the grave-diggers would begin shoveling it back into the hole. During the committal the preacher could simply reach over, grab a handful of that soil and toss it on top of the coffin while saying the words "earth to earth, ashes to ashes..." Nowadays, however, the pile is moved out of sight and everyone leaves before the actual burying is done.

We had four funerals here at Shepherd King in February. On Sunday morning, four widows/widowers were in the congregation sitting with friends, sitting without their spouses. What a strange journey life is. When we're young our strength and energy seem boundless; the reality of death is remote, far-off. But in no time we are middle aged, losing family members and friends to death and suddenly life is tenuous; it ends abruptly. The phrase "ashes to ashes, dust to dust" becomes personal. Those who have died recently at Shepherd King were not just 'some old folks,' they were our friends, our former Sunday school teachers, people we've known and greeted for years.

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. We gather for worship - young, middle aged, old - and hear the words "remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return." As those words are spoken our foreheads are smeared with oily soot - a reminder that one day we will die. But the smudge is marked on us in the shape of a cross - a reminder of Jesus, crucified and risen. The ashes on our forehead are a dual sign of our mortality and our hope for everlasting life beyond the grave.

In a sense we at Shepherd King have already begun observing Ash Wednesday this year. These recent deaths have demonstrated that our time is limited. We have accompanied the dead to their burial place and heard the words "earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust..." We have also heard God's word of victory: death is swallowed up by Jesus' resurrected life. Already we have looked at both sides, the dying and the promised rising. As these somber days of Lent arrive, we are primed to place ourselves wholly in God's hands no matter what the future holds.

"Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return." Lent is a time to contemplate that truth, to ponder Jesus' death and the life that he brings. It all begins this Wednesday when we receive our ashes, face our mortality, and turn our hearts to God. Remember your mortality, remember your baptism, and step into the season of Lent.

Pastor Kris

Monday, February 7, 2011


We've been reading and discussing the book Amish Grace in our adult Sunday school class. Amish Grace tells the story of a horrific incident in an Amish community in Pennsylvania and the response of the people there. In 2005 a non-Amish neighbor entered an Amish schoolhouse, released the boys and the adults and shot 10 girls, killing five, before killing himself. The murders shocked people across the nation. Before nightfall, however, several Amish people went to the home of the gunman's family offering them comfort and assuring them they held no grudges. Other Amish went to see the gunman's parents, expressing their sympathies and telling them all was forgiven. Word soon got out that the Amish had forgiven the gunman and everyone associated with him.

Many non-Amish people found this hard to understand. In our Sunday school class we, too, have struggled with their reaction of immediate forgiveness. Where was the anger, we have wondered; where was the outrage at such a heinous, unprovoked act? Was it right for them to forgive a person who had not repented? Can anyone living forgive someone for murder or does that right belong to the murdered alone? Some in the media and in our classroom questioned whether such quick forgiveness could be authentic. All of us have admitted we doubt we could have done the same.

The Amish were, in turn, surprised that the rest of the nation was surprised by their automatic response of forgiveness. In reply to queries they explained that forgiveness was a habit in their society, that forgiveness lay at the heart of Christian faith, and that children were taught from an early age to forgive. They never thought of doing anything else - which did not mean forgiveness was easy for them, but that it was not optional.

My husband and I had a group of church folks over to watch the Super Bowl - and, of course, the new commercials. The game was great, but we agreed that the commercials (other than Darth Vader) were a bit disappointing. It seemed every other one was for an upcoming movie and depicted cars racing down cities streets, things exploding, and tough looking men saying stuff like "this is how you get it done." Those commercials made quite a juxtaposition to our morning discussion of the Amish and their lifestyle - not engaging in society, no electricity, rejecting all violence.

No wonder we have a difficult time understanding why and how the Amish could so quickly forgive a murderer. The landscape of their lifestyle and that of ours are completely different. I don't mean to suggest that Amish life is utopia - I can't imagine it is. But neither are they bombarded with images of aliens invading the earth and necessitating a violent uprising from earthlings. They are not inundated with advertisements, movies, songs, and televisions shows which suggest the proper response to insult and injury is to destroy your adversary. They don't inhabit the same "culture of redemptive violence" that we do (term borrowed from Walter Wink). Forgiveness is foreign to the images of retaliation, trash talk and big guns that we encounter daily in our world.

What would our society be like if we took forgiveness as seriously as do the Amish? The world would not be perfect, nor would we be perfect. We would still find forgiveness hard to do and sometimes we would fail in our attempt. But I wonder if our neighborhoods, our homes, our nation might be less violent, less angry, less polarized if we did a better job of practicing what we preach regarding forgiveness.

"How many times must I forgive a person?" asked Peter, "as many as seven times?" "Not seven times," answered Jesus, "but seventy times seven." Until we lose count - that's how often we're expected to forgive. Are we up to the challenge? Might we try?

Still practicing and hoping to make it a habit,
Pastor Kris

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Most people have heroes. Kids idolize popular singers and athletes, adults look up to people who excelled in their field or made a difference for good in world affairs. Heroes are important - they model ways for us to live, they inspire us with their achievements, they spur us to dream big and believe we can soar. Heroes show us that the world can become a better place through our actions and words, by the way we live our lives.

There are a few notable Christians who have become great heroes in our society. More often, heroes of today are people with incredible talent - in sports, in music, as actors. But every now and then a person will become beloved in the public's eye because of the way he or she has lived out the Christian faith. Mother Teresa was certainly one of those rare Christian heroes; people were drawn to her selfless giving and care for the poor and the sick. Another Christian hero, one of my own heroes in fact, is Martin Luther King, junior. Dr. King, however, was not always viewed in a positive light. During his lifetime, many people questioned his actions, his motives; many people were afraid of him and the change he represented.

For me, Dr. King is a hero, not only because he and his associates accomplished so much good in our society, but because of his commitment to follow Jesus regardless of the cost. In Luke 9, verses 23-24, Jesus tells his disciples: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it." Who lives by those words? To a large extent we have tamed the cross, made of it an ornament to hang on our walls or around our necks. A pretty cross suits us so much better than the idea of "losing our life" for Jesus' sake. We embrace decorative crosses, but bearing Jesus' cross and risking our lives... few of us are willing to do that.

Dr. King was willing to lose his life for Jesus' sake, to risk everything in faithfulness to God's Word and God's ways. He spoke a truth that many people did not want to hear; he responded with love to those who sought to harm him and silence him. He did not meet violence with more violence, but instead prayed for his adversaries. He taught others how to follow Jesus' command that we love our enemies. His actions show that he loved God more than he loved his own safety. I have always meant to live like that, but I have fallen short. Even so, Dr. King remains an inspiration to me, reminding me of what is possible.

Addressing this very subject, Dr. King wrote: "...we are gravely mistaken to think that Christianity protects us from the pain and agony of mortal existence. Christianity has always insisted that the cross we bear precedes the crown we wear. To be a Christian, one must take up his cross, with all of its difficulties and agonizing and tragedy-packed content, and carry it until that very cross leaves its mark upon us and redeems us to that more excellent way which comes only through suffering." (Martin Luther King, junior, Strength to Love, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963, p. 24-25)

If we are truly to love others, including those who hate us, we will encounter suffering. It is hard to accept suffering willingly, even for the sake of Jesus, our Lord. But it can be done. We have seen that - in Mother Teresa, in Martin Luther King junior. We can love Jesus and love our neighbor more than we love our own life and in doing so, glorify God.

May God embolden us in this day and time to live like our Christian heroes, to be willing to love others even when it hurts us, to put aside our own desires so we can embody the love and truth of Jesus. It could just be that, through us together, God will change the world for the better.

In God's peace... and justice.

Pastor Kris

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The River

Along the sides of the nave at Shepherd King - the area of the church where the people sit - are some beautiful stained glass windows. They are simple representations of Christian symbols in deep, rich colors. One depicts a manger, another the triumphant Lamb of God, and one shows a drop of water falling from a shell. Up front the baptismal font sits by the altar with the Paschal Candle beside it. Together they remind us that we have received everlasting life from Jesus, to whom we were forever joined in baptism.

Turn on the faucet and it comes out - clean, flowing water. You can get it cold or hot or in between. How many times a day do you use water - to bathe, to wash a piece of fruit, to drink? If the water is cut off for any reason we cannot remember NOT to turn the faucet on for 'this' or 'that' - to rinse out a cup, to splash our faces, to make the coffee. Most of us have spent all our lives trusting that water is as close as the nearest spigot.

They say that ancient peoples were often fearful of the ocean - such a huge expanse of water represented chaos and death for them. Without ocean-liners, submarines, or modern ships people in antiquity had little means for traveling across large bodies of water. A boat or a wooden ship would get them from one place to another, as long as the weather cooperated. But a storm could mean shipwreak and death. No wonder they thought of the ocean as mysterious and dangerous.

In the last couple of years many of the majestic old live oak trees in this area have been dying. That is due, in part, to the drought that gripped the region for several years. Some trees died outright from a lack of water. Others were weakened by the drought making them susceptible to disease. This Christmas as people in California were swamped by more rain than the earth and many communities could handle, we were yearning for a thundercloud to bring us precipitation. The midwest and northeast - as well as parts of the southeast - got buried under snow and still we were thirsty for moisture here in central and south Texas.

Water is a sign of life. We can't live without it, but we can't handle too much of it either. The human body is made up largely of water. A person can live much longer without food than without fresh water. We are attracted to water - in pools and lakes, for gardening and bathing - and we are cautious of water when heavy rains come or the water is deep and unknown.

This Sunday Jesus gets in the water with us. The Son of God lowers himself into the muddy waters of the Jordan River to be baptized. Why does he do this? He does not need to repent or be symbolically washed clean; Jesus is as clean morally and spiritually as a person can be. But we are not. We need baptism to wash off our self-righteousness, our envy of others, our mean-spiritedness. And Jesus has come to be with us, fully with us, so he too gets in the water - where we are - to undergo what we need and get to know us from the inside.

Come to the water of life this Sunday. Your Savior will be waiting down by the river to stand with you in life and in death, and to bring you into glory.

Pastor Kris