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