message for 10-30-13: “Wait for it…”

Scripture Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4

Well, this is the third week in a row that we’ve focused on the Old Testament. This is the second week running that we’ve dealt with one of those often neglected, short little prophetic books from the end of the Old Testament. I promise that starting next week we’ll spend some time in the New Testament as we prepare for Advent and –I just hate to say it so soon—Christmas. But, for now, it’s back to the prophets, specifically –I love to say this name—Habakkuk! If these prophets are known for being weird, a bit self righteous, and needless to say outspoken; and they are; then Habakkuk is the ultimate curmudgeon. He doesn’t like what is going on in his world and so he goes straight to the top; to God. He doesn’t hold back at all; Habakkuk really sticks it to God!

“The portion of Habakkuk set down for today is part of a dramatic [confrontation] between God and the prophet. Habakkuk laments the amount of protracted wickedness in the land. The wicked continually oppress the just, and there is neither law nor justice in Judah. The despairing Habakkuk asks God how much longer the wicked will prosper. God’s reply is decisive, if shocking. In order to punish the wicked of Judah, God is raising up the military might of the Babylonians. The idea of God’s use of foreign invading armies as punishment of the wicked for their sins is classic Hebrew thought from the period (cf. Isa. 5:25-30). The rest of Habakkuk 1 contains a description of the atrocities committed by the Babylonians on the people of Judah.

As our reading begins again at chapter 2, Habakkuk is objecting strenuously to God regarding the treatment of the Judeans. He elects to ‘stand at my watchpost’ until he receives God’s response. God’s answer comes in the form of a short oracle (v. 4), which Habakkuk is ordered to write down. It is to be written clearly, and apparently in large characters, so that ‘a runner may read it’ – a messenger in a hurry running by can still read it and understand it!

The oracle itself is preceded by God’s reassurance. The time will come when God’s vision for a righteous Judah will be fulfilled. Even if it is a long time coming, it will [emerge]. Verse 4 then describes the Babylonians, whose pride will be their ultimate downfall. The focus is on the ‘spirit’ of the proud, who have pride in their strength. On the other hand, the ‘righteous’ do not live by their own strength, but rely on their faith in God.”( Howard Wallace Audrey Schindler, Morag Logan, Paul Tonson, Lorraine Parkinson, Theological Hall of the Uniting Church, Melbourne, Australia.)

It should come as no surprise, Quaker that I am, that my interest is directed at God’s advice to Habakkuk to wait out that time between what is and what is to be; vs 3 says “if it seems to tarry—(“it” being God’s intervention in the life of God’s people)—WAIT FOR IT” …And as I sat with this scripture this week, it was affirmed that this be the message for us here at Adirondack Friends to receive and respond to in the coming days. We need to be engaged in the work of waiting…

As Friends, this is a familiar exercise for us: to wait. That’s what we do—or what we’re supposed to do—during all that silence. To listen for and identify and respond to the presence and activity of God as we open ourselves to it in the act of waiting… In my work over the last few days I have been brought to the realization that this is a very vital part of the call we have with regard to our personal lives, the life of our meeting, as well as the in the wider community—where we work and play and do and be.

These words of Habakkuk are identified as a special type of prophetic oracle. This message is a “massa’” in Hebrew; a message that articulates divine action in the midst of human events. It comes to me that THAT is precisely what our waiting is to accomplish. Through our efforts—and yes waiting can be very hard work—we are invited/privileged/ compelled/ required to bring “that of God” into any and every scenario that comprises our daily life…

And why is this work necessary?! Well, in our scripture as verse 2:4 continues, God calls attention to those who are proud as being the focus of God’s work. Proud is an interesting word. The only other place in the Bible where it’s used is in Numbers. There it gets translated as “acting heedlessly”. One commentator suggested that this refers to folks who act with headstrong blindness in their lives. Thus, those who wait upon the Lord in Habakkuk get contrasted with those who are “proud.” The proud are “persons who do not pay attention to the tensions between God and human history…that is those who act heedlessly”— and are wrapped up or preoccupied solely in their own work, the events and activities and people that occupy their days. I don’t know about you for sure, but I know a lot of folks—good, honest, hardworking folks who seem to be entirely focused on what is right in front of them at any given time. In fact, if I were honest, I would admit to doing that myself –at least some of the time, being totally occupied with the status quo. Here in Habakkuk, God offers the antidote to that limited kind of view. Our reading ends with the word that “the righteous shall live by faithfulness” …faithfulness being that insight into the character of God that enables one to see God’s vision for us, and for the world that surrounds us. We are able to engage in faithfulness as we wait.

So what does this look like?! If waiting isn’t only the time we spend in silence, then what is it? More and more, in recent days, I find myself speaking to myself or out loud in conversations the statement that “I am holding a person, place, or circumstance In the Light.” For me the Light is presence of the Divine. It’s where I or whatever or whoever I am considering is surrounded and immersed by the grace, mercy, peace and love of God. It is both falling into God’s arms and stepping back to see God’s view. Habakkuk calls it “standing in the watchtower.”

This is also how I would define the activity of waiting- “holding you, me, us, that place in the Light.” Out of this juxtaposition amazing things happen, little things, big things, sometimes nothing discernable to me actually happens.

I remember the night before my grandmother died. She had experienced a stroke several weeks earlier and was medically speaking– in a coma; brain dead waiting for death. As I drove home one evening after dark—a 20 minute ride, I thought about my grandma—and held her in the Light. It was as if I was seeing a movie of memories gleaned from my life of relationship with her. I also thought of my mother; the stress on her of my grandmother’s condition and HER medley of memories with her mother. Out of that waiting, I felt led to speak out loud words of love and appreciation and release to Grandma, as if she were sitting beside me. I said “Grandma, you are a GREAT grandma. I love you. It’s OK if you need to go…”  I felt very loved, and cared for—hopeful, even, about the future-both Grandma’s and mine. When my dad called the next morning to tell me that my grandmother had died a little earlier—I wasn’t really surprised.

My friend who is a young woman living________________ , a Quaker who suffers from the effects of_____________ , emails me– to tell me she feels my prayers, their Divine energy as I hold her in the Light.

The waiting worship and holding I do as I am present to _______________ when I visit him in prison, or when I visit with anybody, anywhere usually has no outward results. But, that God is present and active I have no doubt…and the results will come in God’s time.

The waiting we do as a faith community also has power and life; both palpable and seen; as well as unspoken and undetected. Where do we get the energy, inspiration, and assurance to move forward together? …To provide prayer and companionship, to be witnesses for truth and peace, to financially support so many things with such a seemingly small group? I would say with resounding affirmation that it is the result of our waiting together in that quiet, steadfast, faithful place—holding all in the Light.

Mahatma Ghandi knew of this place –of this valuable work of waiting in God’s power– when he said “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” Let us continue to hold together, awaiting the vision that God provides to those who watch, a vision that has the power to shake all everywhere with the Divine Spirit. Let us wait for it….

 

 

 

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Until Death Do Us Part #2

After some extended thought about the first post I wrote about marriage, I want to clarify my sense of what is true for me. Most of the marriages I have performed have been occasions of the holy. Love when present in these circumstances is truly a divine reality. The one or two ceremonies that I have officiated that were “lacking” in this loving ingredient most probably went off because of my inability or neglect. And, hopefully this is something that I have become better at recognizing and dealing with as my experience in ministry has grown.

My intention in the previous post was not to imply that ALL same gender marriages are pure with regard to intention or outcome, but rather that same gender couples should have the right and opportunity to live into loving relationships that are recognized as legitimate by the church and state. My best hope for any couple I marry is a committed, lasting relationship.

“UNTIL DEATH DO US PART”

Children’s Sabbath 2013–message for worship 10-20-13

Scripture– Micah 4:1-5

 

I don’t suppose I need to elaborate too much on why October is a busy time for us…Just listing all the ongoing activities or events should remind us all about our cluttered calendars and appointment books: UNICEF, committee meetings—including setting our budget for next year; fundraisers—including chicken and biscuit dinner, AVON sale, Yankee Candles, election day dinner planning; book study group; midweek worship; Sunday worship; regional meeting; Trunk or Treat. And that’s just stuff that is going on in our meeting this month…It doesn’t even touch the planning and prep for the fast approaching holidays.

So when a new event showed up on my radar screen this week, I thought “yeah, right”. However, further investigation about Children’s Sabbath allowed me to realize we would be taking a week to embrace and celebrate what is valued as one of the primary sources of life in our faith community. A couple of the main responses to the query that the YM Priorities Working Group asked about where the life was in our meeting were “the children among us” and the “interaction between the generations present here”.

Also; observing Children’s Sabbath allows for an abundance of connection between it and things we’re already doing and emphasizing either this month or in general. UNICEF, our Trunk or Treat event, and the concern Quakers in general have for children–as reflected in this morning’s reading from the Advices and Queries– make participating in this event a “no brainer” for us.

So; Children’s Sabbath is a weekend that aims to unite religious congregations of all faiths across the nation in shared concern for children and common commitment to improving their lives and working for justice on their behalf. Children’s Sabbath is sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund a national organization which rose up out of the civil rights movement in our country over 40 years ago. Their mission is: to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. 

In future years it is my hope and plan that our Children’s Sabbath observance will incorporate specific activities that work to ensure  and celebrate  and increase awareness that children in this faith community and in our local community have what they need to be healthy, safe, and happy. But a good start this year involves our time here together this morning…  We adults must recognize the challenges facing children in our nation, and our collective responsibility to respond.

Worship is at the heart of most Children’s Sabbaths. It is in worship that we praise God who has blessed us with children and charged us with their care. It is in worship that we hear again the prophets and their warnings against injustice and their call to justice. It is in worship that we renew our commitment to follow Jesus who said to welcome the children because in doing so we welcome him and not just him but the one who sent him. As we go forth from worship in the power of the Holy Spirit, may we continue to praise God with our work to nurture and protect all children.

In today’s scripture,the prophet Micah is speaking God’s word to the people of Judah. Judah has had a history of ignoring or perverting God’s designs and desires for them as God’s people.

He is reminding them here that the way of the Lord is one in which peace—shalom—for ALL includes:

–Worshipping God together as the One who creates all, cares for all teaches all and walks with all.

–The absence of violence between nations. The weapons of war are fashioned into gardening tools, because weapons are not needed anymore.

–Each and every person has what they need in abundance to live and work and prosper. Food, shelter, safety, family—everything is provided by God, if the people will follow God’s way and live in God’s hope.

These themes resonate loud and clear in today’s culture as we consider the country in which our children live and grow:

Over the past 50 years, three times more children and teens died from guns on American soil than U.S. soldiers were killed in action in wars abroad. Between 1963 and 2010, an estimated 160,000 children and teens died from guns on American soil, while 52,820 U.S. soldiers were killed in action in the Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq wars combined.

More children and teens die from guns every three days than died in the Newtown massacre. 2,694 children and teens died from guns in 2010.

• 1 child or teen died every 3 hours and 15 minutes

• 7 children and teens died every day, more than 22 every three days

• 52 children and teens died every week

In Micah’s day, the most devastating violence came at the hands of conquering nations, fueling a deep yearning and hope for a day when nation would not lift up sword against nation. In our day, for the past half-century in fact, the most deadly violence has been the killing of children and teens by guns here on American soil. How does this passage call us to envision, in new ways for our time, what peace will look like when every child, every teen, every family can live unafraid?

What will it look like for us to transform a culture of weapons and want into one of peace and plenty?

Note that in the passage, the weapons aren’t simply thrown away but in fact are transformed into tools for economic well-being. It is not enough for us simply to end a culture of violence; we must positively focus our energy and resources on creating the means for every family to know economic security too. Instead of a war waged with weapons, what would it look like if we resumed and finally won the war on poverty? We

know what works: good schools that prepare young people for college and work, job training, good jobs at decent wages, health care, and safety nets that protect children and families.

In this passage, security doesn’t come from stockpiling more weapons or demanding rights to have more powerful weapons; it is the move away from a culture of arms that provides the deep and lasting security that has filtered down from the national and international level all the way to the experience of individuals and families at home where no one is afraid.

I am aware as I work on this message that it is a bit short on specific, pragmatic suggestions or actions that we could enact that would make a difference.  And, I guess on this first observance of Children’s Sabbath for us, I am most interested in introducing the need and the crisis before us. We all know and love the children here, but there are tons and tons of children in our country who need our care and action. Now; today. What can we—you and I– do NOW?

I have heard many times and in a number of faith communities that “our children are our future”. That is true. How they grow and go decides the course of our world. But also true and even more important is that children are our present. Here and now. When we view them in this reality it makes it more about them and less about us. What can we do here and now, for children here and now? It would be easy to say things like work to enact gun control legislation or help make sure that assistance programs for kids and families don’t get depleted or reduced. And again, there is legitimacy in pursuing those paths. But in my heart of hearts I hear a voice that says all the gun control laws in the country will not stop someone who hasn’t been taught and worked with to understand that violence IS NOT an answer to differences of opinion or arguments; or learned that it is NOT the way to get something you think you need or want.

What I do know is that in my life—as a child and as a young person—what made the difference; what evoked lasting impressions were the lessons and experiences I received or learned alongside people who saw me; who cared about and loved me for me, who treated me like I was important and valuable for exactly who I was. And, while my parents, grandparents and other family members played important roles, it was the adults with whom I built relationships at school, church, and in the community who made the most difference that ultimately kept me happy and safe. There are so many kids with whom we have opportunities EVERY DAY who need us to help them see how important they are NOW. Yeah, I’ve been a parent; and aunt, a great aunt and hope to be a grandparent someday. But here and now there are children who want and need my attention.

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “If we are to teach real peace in this world and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with children; and if they will grow up in their natural innocence, we won’t have to struggle; we won’t have to pass fruitless, idle resolutions, but we shall go from love to love and peace to peace, until at last all the corners of the world are covered with that peace and love for which,

consciously or unconsciously, the whole world is hungering.”

I invite, encourage and exhort each of us to observe this Children’s Sabbath by finding a child and spending some time—a few minutes, an hour, a day—helping them understand how precious they are NOW.

Will you pray with me now?

Gracious God, forgive us

for weeping without work,

for love without labor,

for prayer without action.

Forgive us for crying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.

There is violence in our world, nation, and communities,

and even in some of our homes—

We confess that too often we deny it instead of resolving it.

There is anger, fear, and pain

in our nation and neighborhoods,

schools and souls—

forgive us for failing to respond with love to help and heal it.

Guide us in your ways of peace and love,

justice and joy, forgiveness and faithfulness.

Help us now to turn in a new direction,

trusting that your hand will lead us

and your vision will guide us. AMEN

Until “death do us part”

Over the past two years, I have been privileged to officiate at 3 same gender weddings–which are legal now in New York state. Adding them up together the couples have had over 35 years –in relationship with each other– before marriage. (This stat is a bit skewed by the couple who had been together 28.)

In all these ceremonies–including the planning and rehearsing–the presence of the Divine in the love reflected by the couples has been real, palpable, powerful,  and AMAZING. I wish this were true in 100 percent of all the other weddings I’ve officiated.

My first published book review!

Book Review of Through the Evil Days by Julia Spencer-Fleming,

Published by Minotaur Books, 2013             

                          

            Through suspenseful twists and turns, Julia Spencer-Fleming’s latest book is almost impossible to put down. I read it at breakneck speed, in one sitting. Through the Evil Days is a tightly crafted, complicated story line that almost requires notes or a GPS for recording the location of all the players. It is written in Spencer-Fleming’s usual style that incorporates the real names, places, and issues of New York’s Washington County area into the fictional setting of Miller’s Kill and the supporting details that she has developed through the series.

           

            The action takes place over seven stormy days in the New York North Country which is author Julia Spencer-Fleming’s typical setting for the Clare Fergusson/ Russ Van Alstyne novels. This is the eighth book in the series that features the couple as they journey together through romance, marriage, pregnancy, and two 24/7 careers. All the major characters are back for thiscomplicated, suspenseful, and challenging installment that moves all the pre-existing story lines forward in a thoroughly satisfying reading experience. Significant subjects featured in Through the Evil Days are: the weather; the drug trade in the region; the relationship between Clare and Russ, now that they’re married and expecting a child; the romantic sparks between Kevin Flynn and Hadley Knox, along with the appearance of Hadley’s ex-husband; and a kidnapped child who needs medicine to prevent the rejection of a recent liver transplant. Clare and Russ get stranded by a winter storm in a remote lakeside rental cabin during their previously delayed honeymoon, close to the hide-out of the kidnappers. They work to rescue the child, while being cut off from the outside world. Meanwhile, the rest of the Millers Kill Police Department is also trying to locate the child, as well as a meth lab where dangerous criminals are producing contraband.

 

            My second time through the book allowed me to identify and enjoy the more nuanced and complex parts of the plot. Spencer-Fleming has always been great at writing pieces that convey the challenges and positives in relationships and ongoing situations that move the plot and the series forward. In particular for this book, I especially appreciated the truths and dilemmas revealed about marriage, bringing a child into the world, and the Church– as it stumbles into modern culture with crumbling traditions and outdated practices. Also, the concerns about the drug culture in upstate New York, as well as the staffing of emergency and police organizations in rural, remote areas are real. Finally, as in the previous books, we are left hanging with unresolved situations and issues that, I hope, will be picked up in the next book in this series.

           

            This is a must read for all lovers of the Fergusson and Van Alstyne series! While the publication of Through the Evil Days provides a great motivation to begin to read the whole series, I think this might be a less than satisfying read as a “stand alone” novel. Well done Julia—start writing the next one QUICKLY!

 

–Regina Baird Haag