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I was charged to remember this and to write it down.  Because some days I will seriously wonder…

And, in fact, if I remember why I said yes… it might help me to grumble a little bit less when I am getting EXACTLY what I signed up for.

I ultimately accepted this call because it seemed more challenging, stimulating, and invigorating that the other opportunity available to me.  I accepted this call because energy coursed through me every time I talked with members of the committee.  I accepted this call because the people on the search committee shared bits of their hearts with me– their pain and their faith– and I fell in love with them.  I accepted this call because it puts me in a good location for future pursuits in bi-vocationality. I accepted this call because I was promised a co-pastor.  I accepted this call because it seemed WAY riskier than my alternative– and somehow, it seemed, God’s call was on the side of risk rather than stability or comfort.

Two months in I have to say that it is immensely challenging.

But that’s exactly what I wanted.

And I am still falling in love with the people.

And that’s exactly what I need.

The colleague who was scheduled to deliver the charge to the co-pastors at our installation this past Sunday had a family emergency and was unable to join us.  Thanks be to God for another marvelous colleague who was already planning to be there who pulled together a BEAUTIFUL charge at the last minute.

I asked her for a copy of it, and particularly for the prayer she offered at the end of it, and I want to record it here for my future reference…

1. Remember why you said yes.  Write it down.  (that will be the next blog post.)

2. Joshua 1:9- “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (This was very much the message of the sermon as well– FEAR NOT.)

3. Our county is known for it’s creative, entrepreneurial character– she attributes this to the Holy Spirit.  We were charged to foster it.

4. Love the people.  Love each other.

5. Pray for the people.  Pray for each other.

6.Prayer of St Teresa of Avila

May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us.
Theresa of Avila

So a church member asked me today, with puzzlement, because I posted a memory from C’s birthing process dated to that day on FB.

“No,” I replied, “She was born on the 5th.”

“But your post…”

“Yeah, well, in my mind her birth story begins that Sunday.”

“You were in labor all week?”

“Not exactly.”

I just skimmed through the birth story I wrote up in her first year of life… and it indeed the written story begins on that day. That day when we noticed you had dropped, when there were signs your head was engaging.  That day began with me waking up on Advent one re-writing a verse of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”-

O Come, O Come, Sweet Child of Mine

and bring to us your light divine.

For we so long in darkness did dwell

until the gift of you on us fell.

Rejoice, rejoice sweet child of mine

shall come to bring light right on time. 

I am in awe of the week of birthing (o.k. so only 73 hours of pre, early, and active labor– in which I slept three hours.)

… but every year I find myself sifting through thousands of photos for holiday projects and wondering why I don’t organize photos at the end of every month…

And that is why today’s blog post is no longer than a facebook status update.

image from this lovely post about silence-- good reading... beautiful image-- dominicchurch.org/2014/10/11/silence/

image from this lovely post about silence– good reading… beautiful image– dominicchurch.org/2014/10/11/silence/

Several years ago I heard a sermon on this passage that didn’t sit well with me. The sermon interpreted Zechariah’s muteness following his angelic encounter as punishment for his lack of faith in the promises of God. I can see how the preacher got that from the Bible story— Gabriel says “because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.” That “because” word suggests the imposed silence is a consequence of Zechariah’s unbelief. Can we interpret this as a punitive consequence? Sure. But need we hear it as a punitive consequence? I think not.

As I have shared with some here already, Kevin and I endured a four-year fertility struggle before we were blessed with the gift of Caroline. Four years, that sounds rather paltry. But four years is 48 months– 48 consecutive months of cycles of hope and disappointment, each disappointment more crushing than the one before. Even a one-year struggle to conceive leaves scars; every additional year the scars deepen. I share this memory, this testimony, because we’ve just entered into the season of Advent— a season of improbable pregnancies, of expectation, of hope— and if anyone in this community is currently in the midst of a fertility struggle, or even in the midst of supporting or loving someone in such a struggle, these can be painful stories to hear. It seems to be inevitable… when one deeply desires a baby, everywhere one looks one sees a pregnant belly, a babe in arms, a stroller… and then when one comes to church and hears about old women conceiving, and virgins conceiving… well, it can all feel like just a bit too much.

I think though, that the experience of infertility is what allows me to read Zechariah’s response, and eventual silence, differently than some of my colleagues might. It is surely this experience that leads me to interpret his silence more as a gift than a punishment, to interpret it as a wholly fitting response to the promises he heard.

Luke tells us that Zechariah and Elizabeth were “getting on in years.” Later in the story Zechariah uses this phrase again to describe his wife and flat out calls himself an old man. The angel suggests that the promises he is bearing are answers to prayer. Elizabeth says at the end of the passage that her miraculous conception has taken away the disgrace that she had endured among her people. Endured. This disgrace, this shame… it has been an enduring experience, a lasting experience. They are getting on in years. For years they have wanted to conceive new life. For years they have prayed. How many consecutive 12-month cycles of hope and disappointment did they endure? Surely more than my four. 10? 15? 20?

Zechariah is fulfilling his priestly duty when the angel shows up. He is doing what he has done countless times before. He traveled to Jerusalem from the hill country outside the city to stay in the temple for a period of priestly service. He was selected by lot to burn incense in the holy of holies, the innermost part of the temple, while the people of Israel prayed in the outer chambers of the temple. It strikes me that just as Zechariah and Elizabeth had been praying for YEARS for a child, so too had he been carrying out these priestly functions for YEARS. The angel’s appearance disrupts the continuity and stability of those many years. And what the angel says is even more disruptive. Gabriel offers BIG promises— by my count- five of them— or four expansions on one main promise.

First, main Promise- Elizabeth will bear a son who is to be named John.

Second Promise- You and many will have joy!

Third Promise- The child will be great.

Fourth Promise- The child will be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Fifth Promise— The child will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.

I suspect that Zechariah and Elizabeth had given up hope for a child of their own some time before. So the first–the main, the root– promise was staggering. But the second promise, or the first expansion, the promise of joy, that was no less staggering. I suspect that the cumulative burden of disappointment and disgrace had robbed them of any expectation of, let alone experience of, joy. They probably were striving for contentment instead. Joy? Nah. Too much. Not possible. And as for the rest of it— a great child, filled with the Holy Spirit, who will turn many of the people of Israel towards God— surely for a righteous couple, a priest’s household, they could have had no higher hopes for a child to be born to them. This child was to be a carrier of hope for the salvation of their people. These were HUGE promises. Mind-blowing promises.

“How will I know?” He asks. Of course he does… these promises are spoken into an air thick with disappointment, grief, shame…. each of these emotions clouding Zechariah’s vision like the smoke of the incense swirling about him. And Gabriel responds “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.” Here’s how I hear his response- You can trust my words, Zechariah, because they’re God’s words. But I see that this is difficult for you. So you’ll hold these words, these promises, in silence until you can see for yourself that they are true.

I think it is a gift that Zechariah didn’t have to go home and tell Elizabeth what he had heard. What could he have said that would have sounded believable, trustworthy? Nothing. And when Elizabeth conceived her son, she kept herself in seclusion for six months— secluded with her silent husband. It seems to me that Elizabeth too, in the midst of this great expectation, needed to keep silence. We get one line out of her— one line that speaks to her awe, and her grief. Awe and grief- Awe at what is promised. Grief over what has not yet come pass, and what has transpired in all the years of waiting. Awe plus grief is, I think, a great formula for silence. When such great promises are spoken to broken hearts, silence, it seems is most appropriate. Silence leaves space and time for the words to sink in. For the recipients of the promise to come to believe…

Elizabeth was in seclusion for six months we’re told— six months is right about the time that, for many first time moms, one’s pregnancy becomes much more apparent to the world— one’s belly asserts itself. And six months is even around the time when pregnancy becomes more apparent to moms themselves, as they start to feel the baby move with some regularity… six months is a time when indeed, it would have been beginning to become apparent that these promises are being fulfilled… the day of their fulfillment is drawing near. But I know that even as my belly grew, even as I felt movement within me, even as I actively labored (6 years ago this week)— I struggled to believe that I was actually bringing a baby into the world. Even for a full month after she arrived it all felt unreal. Perhaps if I had been able to seclude myself, to sit in silence for a spell… it might have been easier to give my heart fully to the promise of the child within. Perhaps.

I know that most of us are not hoping against hope for babies right now. But all of us are the recipients of great promises— every time we come to worship, and perhaps especially in this season, we hear the promises of God— promises of grace, hope, and peace— promises of wholeness, salvation, light that darkness will not overcome, WORLD changing promises— promises of change to our personal worlds and the world as a whole. And they are spoken to a world, and a people in the world, that needs changing– a world where young people die violent deaths; a world where centuries of injustice and inequality bursts forth into angry protests and cities on fire; a world where too many people are hungry, and lonely, and afraid. Often the response to the brokenness of our world is a whole lot of chatter— and there’s a place for this. There’s a place for lament. But today I want to let this story of Zechariah invite us to claim pockets of silence in this season— moments when we sit with our grief over a broken world and our awe at the promise of its healing— sit and let the promise sink deeply in.

Hard to imagine, I’m sure, in these whirling, hectic days— but we have prayer chapel here… that welcomes your silence. Or perhaps you connect more readily with God’s promise in nature— I’m sure you can bundle up and sit by the river or walk through the woods. Or perhaps there’s a special spot in your home— where you might sit with a cup of tea. Or perhaps your silence comes on a yoga mat. However it comes… may God grant each of us the gift of silence this Advent— for this will prepare us to receive the joy that God promises to deliver.

Grateful for a prompt today:

Penultimate day of NaBloPoMo: The year is 2214, and your computer’s dusty hard drive has just resurfaced at an antique store. Write a note to the curious buyer explaining what he or she will find there.

Dear buyer,

You’d never guess that I was a “J” on the Meyer’s Briggs.  You’d never know that I have a strong preference for order and aversion to chaos.  Despite my best efforts you’ll find an obscene amount of e-mail in my inbox.  You’ll find all sorts of random files on the desktop.  You’ll find lots and lots of documents.  Some organized, many not. You’ll find pictures and music that I currently can’t find- that only half way transferred from one computer to the next. And you’ll find a whole lot that I don’t even know is on there.  So I can’t tell you what that is.

But I also believe that from examining the contents of this hard drive you’ll find evidence I was a Christian, a servant, a mother, a wife, a friend, a colleague, a preacher, a scholar, and a person seeking to grow in grace.  That is, if you have greater patience with chaos than me… that’s what I expect you’ll find.

Blessings as you wade through it.

May peace be with you and yours, Sarah

Deb over at RevGals invites this play:

1. Keeping your ducks in a row: Tell us how you manage the craziness. Lists? That faithful old-fashioned pocket calendar? Smart phone reminders? Wall calendar?

It seemed wholly appropriate for sweet C to arrive in early Advent… what with all the years she was desired, longed for… but my, my…. the timing, both in my academic life and in my ministry life is not ideal.  Just when a semester or a church’s ministry is at its most demanding, it’s time to celebrate the gift of C.  We’ve managed to do so in grand style every year thus far.  This year will be no exception, but…  I’ve had to make a six column table with work tasks and home tasks needing doing before the close of 2014.  Next to each task are two skinny columns for dates– target completion, actual completion.  Three pages… Gulp.  And, of course, not everything has made the list.  But it is amazing how much better I feel having made the table!

And among the tasks on the table is the making of other lists… including writing out plans for C’s rainbow cat birthday party… wanted to get that done last weekend, but it happened today. 

I am using the Presby planning calendar (sort of) and the iPhone calendar (sort of), but mostly I rely on the lists/tables I generate… 

2. Must-Do Events: What is one event on your list that you look forward to every year and NEVER miss? Not church services — something else that makes the season bright. Bonus points for a picture from a previous year’s event.

I don’t know how to answer this.  We’re in a brand new home.  We’re not traveling to more familiar environs this year.  I think we’ll be creating new traditions and finding new events this year.  I honestly can’t think of an every year event in our 12 years of marriage… well… there is New Year’s Day at my parents’ abode.  I have been home for that more often that not– joining neighbors from down the street, and sometimes other friends, for lentil kielbasa soup that my mom only makes once a year, and peanut butter ice cream pie… and football for those who like it, board games for those who don’t.  Will miss that this year… perhaps we need to create our own version here…

3. Kitchen disasters of the funny kind: Lighten the mood with one of your best kitchen disasters. What ingredient did you forget to add, or what dish was left to turn to charcoal in the oven? It may not have been funny at the time, but now it always makes you chuckle!

I can’t think of a kitchen disaster of my own, probably because I rarely take kitchen responsibility… but our first Christmas as a married couple, in our first home… I popped popcorn for stringing on our tree, gleefully carried the pot to the living room fresh from the stove top, and set it down on the carpet… inches from the fireplace hearth. Moments later I smelled something burning… and realized I was melting a circle in the carpet.  Doh.  Not a disaster.  But an unfortunate disfigurement in the first month of home ownership!

4. “Honey, I can’t find the __________!” Every year we turn the kitchen upside down looking for the turkey baster and the cotton  twine for roasting the bird. Do you have a similar kitchen gadget or decorating frustration? Or have you solved a perennial problem and can give us a tried-and-true tip?

Hmm… I’m always struggling to find needed things, but can’t think of particular things that ALWAYS elude me/us.  Most recently, my brother and mother shared confidential info for the purpose of purchasing birthday gifts for C.  I was very nervous about misplacing this information I promised to shred after using it.  So I clipped it to the fridge.  And then… less than 24 hours later COULD NOT FIND IT.  Feared I had mailed it to Virginia with a book I was returning.  Got the info again.  Was feeling utterly sheepish.  And then… in cleaning for T’giving… there it was… hanging on the fridge!  (To-do lists and tables don’t solve everything!)

5. “I’ll never forget…” Tell us about a sweet holiday memory that you want to always ALWAYS remember!

My first parish always had two Christmas Eve services, an early family service, and an 11 p.m. service.  My first year in ministry I planned an elaborate cast of thousands (hyperbolically speaking), new technology to the space, etc. event.  And ended up sitting behind a Christmas tree, more or less, from which vantage point I couldn’t keep track of what was going on.  It felt like an explosive mess.  It felt awful.  I went home and cried in the lasagna with which the church secretary had lovingly gifted us for Christmas (those lasagnas are a sweet memory in and of themselves), feeling like I had failed to make Christmas happen.  Then we returned to church in the stillness of a dark, snowy night, and the second service felt transcendent, sublime… As we walked out into the snowy night, I remembered that I don’t make Christmas happen.  And my heart sang praise.

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