Not a Little Lost

cropped-img_0201.jpgI once baffled the others in my youth group by managing to get lost on a nature trail. The thing is, the trail was really hard to see and there were also deer paths and it was the middle of a Kansas prairie. If you’ve ever been in the middle of a prairie you know the problem. Everything all around looks the same. Bluestem and foxtail and brome as far as the eye can see. Milkweed and coneflower and thistle. All around you in every direction. If the sun is hidden in the clouds, there is no way to know which way is which—no clear landmarks to guide you.

Sailors know this scenario all too well. In the middle of the ocean, beyond sight of land, wave upon wave as far as the eye can see. I’ve heard of sailors loosing all perspective out there—watching the water turn to solid land before their eyes and stepping right off the side of the ship to their death.

I wonder if the vast stretch of sand that surrounded Jesus in all directions ever shifted and shimmered in his mind until he was walking across the cresting waves of the sea.

For Jesus, and for his Israelite ancestors, the wilderness is a place of hunger and thirst. But above all, it is a place of bewilderment. It is the place where we are disoriented. The place where all of our familiar landmarks are gone and our maps do us no good.

The place where your marriage disintegrates before your eyes.

The place where you must look on helplessly as your child makes disastrous decision after disastrous decision.

The place where your job—along with the money you need to pay the bills—disappears.

The place where the beliefs you have stood upon throughout your life begin to crumble and shift beneath your feet.

The place where your body, your own body, becomes the enemy.

Or maybe your wilderness is not a barren wasteland of loss. Maybe, instead, your wilderness is cluttered with good ideas, exciting possibilities, gentle nudges in so many directions that you never get more than a few steps down any one path before you decide you really should go back and try the other, equally appealing, road.

Maybe what disorients you isn’t necessarily the lack of physical landmarks, but the chaos of the lists of pros and cons that stream through your mind every time you try to make a decision.

Whatever the exact nature of our wilderness, it is a place where we are lost—body and soul lost. And you know and I know that there are no magic maps. There is rarely a voice from heaven. There is just wave after wave of sand and rock. Test after test from all of the voices within and without.

In the wilderness, you are most definitely lost. And not a little lost. You are the kind of lost where, exhausted, you may finally collapse in the shade of large rock and just lie still. Because you figure you have as much chance of finding your way by laying there on the sand as you do by running around in circles.

And maybe that’s the point of the wilderness. And maybe that’s why we might be there for forty days . . . or forty years; however long it takes for us to admit we are lost and for us to stop and be still.

Rebecca Lyman suggests that “When Jesus quotes scripture in reply [to the devil], perhaps he is not the clever rabbi, but rather the lost child who clings to the only presence of God in this dreadful place.”

Maybe Jesus is able to resist the temptations not because he is thinking fast on his feet. Not because he does the research and writes up a strategic plan. Maybe he is able to resist the temptations because he rests in what he knows already. In what he has known since he was a young child.

Maybe Jesus is able to resist the temptations because he stops in the center of the empty chaos and rests in the only reality he can grasp: that he is deeply beloved of God. As are you.

This reflection on Luke 4:1-13 is excerpted from this sermon I preached several years ago.

Here is another sermon on the same text.

Worship Pieces for Lent 1C

A call to worship based on Psalm 91:

Even as we enter the wilderness of Lent,
We rest in the shelter of the Most High;
We abide in the shadow of the Almighty;
We find refuge under the wings of our Holy Parent.
We trust that the angels of God
the words of God
the people of God
the hands of God
Will somehow bear us up.
And so we come to call on God
who has promised to answer.


And an offertory prayer that we will use throughout Lent:

God of the Cross, Pictures 2010 339in loosing our lives, we find them in you. In sharing our resources, we enter more fully into your kingdom. May our offerings be part of your redeeming work of love and justice in our world. Amen.

Ash Wednesday: The Beginning of Mending

Here is a beautiful reflection on Lent from my New Testament professor, David May.


AshIn Herman Melville’s book Moby-Dick, the narrator, Ishmael, watched with interest the religious obligation of “Fasting and Humiliation” of his whaling companion Queequeg. While many might have viewed Queequeg’s rituals as strange and even comical, Ishmael did not. He observed in them something universal and says, “Heaven have mercy on us all . . . for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending” (Moby-Dick or The Whale [New York: W. W. Norton, 1976], p. 81).

Ash Wednesday is the beginning step towards Lent and the humble acknowledgement that we are not only “dreadfully cracked about the head” but also about the heart and spirit. For forty days, we are asked to be honest about ourselves to ourselves. Honest about what we think of others. Honest about our relationship to mammon. Honest about how we treat others. Honest about our fears. Honest about…

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God’s Presence on the Mountain

P1050872A(Transfiguration: Luke 9:28-36)

The second Moses and Elijah show up on that mountain, the entire Jewish tradition of the Exodus and the prophets is brought to bear on this story—and on Jesus’ life and ministry. To understand the story of the Transfiguration, we have to understand the narratives of all three men:

Moses, who had survived a death sentence, who had confronted an Egyptian mistreating a Hebrew slave, who had told Pharaoh to let God’s people go, who had called forth the plagues and led an often ungrateful people through the harsh wilderness. Moses who met God on Mount Horeb and received the ten commandments.

Elijah, who had also survived a death sentence, also confronted a king—and queen, who fed the widow and raised her son, who took on the prophets of Baal. Elijah who also met God on Mount Horeb, not in the earthquake or the whirlwind or the fire, but in the still small voice.

And Jesus, who also confronted powerful leaders; who also fed the hungry and healed the sick; who also led confused people through a type of wilderness; who also confronted false gods. Jesus who also comes to a mountain to pray. Jesus who will also, in his own way, survive a death sentence.

All of these men were called by God to do difficult things: to free enslaved people, to confront a corrupt government, to redeem the world. Difficult tasks, to be sure.

Jesus needs this time with Moses and Elijah; he needs this conversation with people who know what it is to do hard things for God; people who will encourage him to follow God’s path even though it is unpopular and uncomfortable and terrifying. Just as God came to Moses and Elijah on Mount Horeb to encourage and guide them in their work, God also comes to Jesus on this mountain of Transfiguration.

That’s another thing the three men have in common: not just that they did hard things for God, but also that God came to them in astounding ways in the midst of their hard work and struggle.

Moses had the burning bush, and the miracles before Pharaoh, and the water from the rock, and manna from heaven, and the voice on Mt. Horeb.

Elijah had the ravens bringing him food, and the replenishing oil and flour, and the fire from heaven, and the chariot of fire, and the voice on Mt. Horeb.

Jesus had the baptismal blessing, and the angels in the wilderness, and the multiplying food, and the miraculous healings, and the voice on the mountain.

God had called these men to hard tasks, yes. But God also provided the encouragement they needed to carry out their calls. God provided physical and spiritual nourishment to them at their times of need so that they could, ultimately, carry out the difficult tasks God had entrusted to them.

And that is a comforting thought, right? To know that if God calls us to some difficult task, God will walk with us, God will provide for us so that we can accomplish that task. This story assures us that if God calls us to a difficult task, we will be allowed to hear God’s voice and experience God’s encouragement.

Of course, we can also read this story in a slightly less comforting way. What if we have it backwards? What if it’s not that those who are called to a hard task get to hear the voice of God?

What if it is that any of us foolish enough to listen for God’s voice will be given a hard task?

What if Moses had seen that burning bush and walked in the opposite direction? He would never have had to confront Pharaoh.

What if Elijah, whose name means “my God is Yahweh” had just decided that his God was not Yahweh? He could have been a regular person instead of a prophet.

What if Jesus had spent less time in prayer listening to God and more time listening to Peter?

Was God present with these men because they were called to do hard things?

Or were they called to do hard things because they paid attention to God’s presence?

If it’s the latter, we might want to reconsider those Lenten disciplines we plan to start on Wednesday.

This reflection is excerpted from a longer sermon.



Here is a poem/call to worship for Transfiguration Sunday:

The mountain top
the shining face
the glowing clothes
the voice of God speaking from the cloud
the commandments etched in stone
Sometimes God shows up
in ways we cannot deny
in a place we can go
a light we can see
a voice we can hear
a stone we can touch
there is the veil
the overshadowing, terrifying cloud
the questions
the appearing and disappearing
the excitement
the wondering
the silence
Sometimes God shows up
in ways we cannot deny.
Always God shows up
So we have shown up
here, now
May God give us eyes to see.

And a Benediction:

In the coming week, may you experience the presence of God with joy.
May the holy cloud comfort you.
May the divine voice encourage you.
May the power of the Spirit transform you, transform us, transform our world. Amen.

What do You Do?

Joanna preaching“So, Joanna, what do you do?”

My comfort level with this question depends on the context. In this case, I was at a neighborhood get-together with several new neighbors I didn’t know very well. The 79-year-old man asking the question is active in a local conservative independent evangelical church. The 60ish-year-old man also listening in attends the Weslyan church and home schooled his children. And there I sat, on the couch, nursing my plate of Chex mix.

I was kind of hoping everyone would assume I was a stay-at-home mom and avoid this question all together. (O.K. Not really.)

“What do you do?”

“I’m pastor of the Mennonite church in town.”

Continue reading “What do You Do?”

Guidelines for the Kansas Senate Ethics Committee

Appropriate attire for women testifying before the Kansas Ethics Committee.

Kansas Senator Mitch Holmes recently imposed guidelines for people who appear before the Senate Ethics Committee. There are some reasonable things in there, like requesting that cell phones and pagers (for those still living in the 1980s) be silenced in the committee room.

Continue reading “Guidelines for the Kansas Senate Ethics Committee”