Author Archives: Joanna

About Joanna

Mennonite pastor, mom, writer

Rev. Gals Blog Tour

womaninthepulpitThere’s a little Facebook game going around right now where you add “with a Chainsaw” to the title of whatever book you are reading. I joined in the fun and posted: There’s a Woman in the Pulpit with a Chainsaw. (Not to brag, but that comment got the most likes in a very long thread.)

So far, There’s a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments & the Healing Power of Humor has not presented me with any chainsaw-wielding pastors. (But I haven’t read the last section yet, so I can still hope.) This book has presented me with a pastor wielding knitting needles and one looking for the plunger and one boiling water in a tea kettle to pour into the stock tank she is using for baptisms. (OK. That one is me).

The book has shown me a pastor clutching a pitcher of frozen juice to her body as she speaks to her congregation, hoping desperately that the liquid will thaw before she has to pour it into the communion chalice; also, a pastor late for her first day on the job because she had to help her partner compost a dead cow.

You can’t make this stuff up. Actually, you can—we could, we women pastors, because we are fabulous and creative—but we don’t have to make it up. Because life as a pastor offers opportunity after opportunity for all kinds of experiences—from the silly to the sublime; from baking bread with children to holding the hands of the dying.

I was honored to be part of the consulting group that visioned this book in its early stages and contributed material for the proposal. Even before I got my copy of the book a few days ago, I had read several of the contributions. I had high hopes for this collection, and I was not disappointed. My colleagues are women of deep faith, sharp wit, and holy words.

One fear I have is that this will be viewed as just a book for clergywomen. And certainly you should buy a copy for every woman pastor you know. (Except me. I already have a copy.) But it’s not just for women pastors. It’s not even just for pastors. I think any person who loves the church and its people will find humor and insight and grace in these pages.

(Perhaps I should qualify that statement: Any person who loves the church and is not offended by phrases like “rat’s ass” and “packs her penis in her purse” will find humor and insight and grace. Those who are offended by these phrases will probably only find themselves upset and should just subscribe to “Guideposts.”)

I want to thank Rev. Martha Spong for her expert job at editing. And I want to thank all of the writers (my mom is in here too!) for their willingness to share these glimmering pieces of their lives with honesty and beauty.

**Now go buy the book already!

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Reflection for Good Friday

The chapel sermon on our final night of Jr. High camp was always the same: a passionate re-telling of Jesus’ violent death on the cross, with the assurance that, “Every time you sin, you pound the nails deeper and deeper into Jesus’ flesh.”

And there we sat, dozens of awkward barely-teenagers, with tears streaming down our cheeks because of that one time last year when we forged our mom’s name on a test, or hid in the closet at 9:05 with the phone we weren’t allowed to use after 9:00, or wrote “Mrs. Smith is a poopyhead” in the margins of our notes, or noticed how hot the shirtless high school guys looked out running the track; we cried because we were killing Jesus.

This, of course, is crazy talk. I had a feeling it was crazy talk a long, long time ago. And after two seminary degrees and almost a decade in ministry I can confirm it: when I got impatient and yelled at my son last week, that action did NOT, in fact, pound the nail deeper into Jesus’ tortured flesh.

This is the kind of theology that makes many thoughtful Christians want to distance themselves from the cross altogether. But while I have set aside that Jr. High camp version of the crucifixion, I still hold the cross as a central symbol and event of my Christian faith.

The foot of the cross is holy space because it speaks deep truth about humanity and deep truth about God. The cross is, in part, about sin. Not because our every minor misstep is responsible for killing Jesus, but because the cross reminds us that we, as humans, are capable of pettiness, of injustice, of violence. We sometimes grasp for power in ridiculous and dangerous ways. We can let fear control our actions and our interactions. And our individual sins can morph into systemic sin that oppresses and wounds many, many people.

The foot of the cross is holy space because it assures us that God desires intimacy with us so deeply that God became human. God did not just look human. God did not just hang out as a human for as long as it was convenient. God, in Jesus of Nazareth, became really, fully human–so human that he died on the cross.

And so it is at the foot of the cross that we can most clearly see our need for God. It is at the foot of the cross that we can gaze most intently upon God’s love for us.

I leave you with this blessing for this holy day:

As you stand in the shadow of the cross, may the darkness guard your heart with love; may the chilled air fill you with holy breath; may you rest in the peaceful uncertainty of knowing that things are not as they seem. Amen.


Here are a few previous pieces related to Good Friday scriptures:

Reflection on Jesus’ trial–Why was he such a threat?

Reflection on Matthew’s version of Jesus’ death

And some theological reflections from John’s account

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Good Friday Worship, 2015

Good Friday, April 3, 2015
Peace Mennonite Church

Welcome and Introduction

Hymn: Abide with me 

Call to Worship

We are Jesus’ disciples, following him even as he moves toward the cross.
Even as he wraps a towel around his waist. Even as he kneels to wash the filth from the feet of his friends.
We are Jesus’ disciples, longing to be faithful even as the night grows dark.
Even as betrayers loom. Even as the powers that oppose the way of Christ press in around us.
We are Jesus’ disciples, struggling to love others even as Jesus loved us.
We are Jesus’ disciples, gathered here to worship God: Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Amen.

Service of Footwashing

Scripture Reading: John 13:2b-17 

Prayer of Preparation (In Mennonite Hymnal #782, “All” section only)

Washing each other’s feet

Ubi caritas et amor
What wondrous love is this 

Responsive Prayer

Holy, loving, suffering God,
as we have served each other in this place,
let us also reach out to serve others who are hurting.
Give us eyes to see
the injustice and suffering that abound.
Give us hearts to feel
the depth of this world’s brokenness.
Give us ears now to hear
the words of your passion.
Amen.

Passion Narrative

The Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus (John 18:1-11)

Responsive Reading

On this dark night, as the shadows deepen,
We come to be present with Jesus.
With the glory of Palm Sunday behind us and the victory of Easter not yet come,
We will sit together in this space with our breaking, our broken hearts.
In this world that is at once beautiful and holy and tragic,
We seek to be present with all who suffer.
In the dark valleys of life, when sorrow threatens to overwhelm,
We long for a safe and sacred space to sit with our grief and our questions.
Jesus Christ, holy friend,
we know that you are here with us.
Let us be here with you. Amen.

Kyrie 

Jesus before the High Priest (John 18:12-14, 19-23)

Prayer against Police Brutality

Holy God,

We grieve for the reality of police brutality in our country and communities.

We pray tonight for the families and friends of Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Dante Parker, Tamir Rice, and others who have died at the hands of police. Grant them comfort; grant them strength; grant them a way forward toward justice.

We pray for those who suffer verbal and physical abuse at the hands of police: for the mentally ill who do not understand; for those targeted because of the color of their skin; for those protesting the violence and injustice of the past; for the innocent who are in the wrong place at the wrong time; for the guilty who need to be shown a better way. Grant them healing of body; grant them healing of spirit; grant them a way forward toward justice.

We pray for the police officers who risk their lives to serve our communities: for those who have grown harsh and bitter; for those who hold fear deep within them; for those haunted by mistakes they made in the heat of the moment; and for the many working against the violence and racism within the systems and within themselves. Grant them wisdom; grant them protection; grant them a way forward toward justice.

We hold our community in the light of your love, your justice, your peace. Amen.

Kyrie 

Jesus before Pilate (John 18:24, 28-38)

Prayer for those in Power by Brian McLaren (excerpted)

Kyrie 

Jesus Tortured (John 18:38-19:5)

Misheberach (prayer for healing) for Victims of Torture by Rabbi Gilah Langner

Kyrie 

Jesus Sentenced to Death (John 19:6-16)

Prayer for Abolition of the Death Penalty by Sister Helen Prejean

Kyrie 

The Crucifixion of Jesus (John 9:17-27)

Prayer for Those who Grieve

God of the broken-hearted,
God of the broken heart,
Receive our sighs
too deep for words.
In your time
by your grace
heal us.
In this meantime
hold us
as we weep.
Hold us and rock us
with the rhythm
of your own
grief-struck
quaking
body.
Amen

Kyrie 

The Death of Jesus (John 28-30)

Silence

Hymn: When I survey the wondrous cross

Depart in silence

*Unless otherwise noted, liturgy elements are written by me and you are welcome to use them in your own worship contexts.

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For Maundy Thursday

Imagine the scene of a family meal. Perhaps Thanksgiving or Christmas. There’s a big table with all the leaves put in, and Aunt Betty’s tablecloth doesn’t quite reach the ends. Chairs are crowded around the table—six nice wooden ones, a few wobbly chairs brought up from the  basement, a couple of metal folding chairs, and, of course, the piano bench where the two smallest have to sit and share the curved end of the table.

It’s supposed to be a nice meal. The food smells good. Grandpa says “Amen.” You say, “please pass the jello salad.” But then uncle Herman says, “Can you believe those anti-family kooks letting gay people get married.” And your cousin Frank, who’s still in the closet, looks intently at his mashed potatoes.

Or maybe all is pleasant until Aunt Cindy whips out the brochures for the new product she is selling and encourages everyone to place an order. “Just don’t get gravy on the order forms.”

Or maybe the doorbell rings; it’s your sister’s ex-husband here to see the kids.

Or Grandma says, “Now you kids know the chemotherapy isn’t really working. Glenn has a copy of the will. Pastor knows how I want the service. When the time comes, please don’t fight over the china.”

That’s often what things are like around the table–awkward, uncomfortable, disconcerting. Even around the holy table, the sacred space of the last supper. The mood in the upper room must have been incredibly tense that night. Jesus and his disciples knew that Jerusalem was a risky place for them to be. Jesus had been making strange statements about death all week. The authorities could break into this upper room and bust up the party at any moment. And then Jesus, the master, the teacher, strips down, kneels, and performs the task of a common servant. How embarrassing.

It can only get worse as Jesus calls the bread his body; the wine his blood. Suggesting Jews drink blood, well, it’s not Kosher. And it is a vivid reminder that he will soon die a violent death.

The communion table is a sacred space, a holy place, to be sure. But it is not always comfortable. All sorts of people crowd around the table and argue about who should be there and what should be said and how things should be done. The history of communion in the Christian church is spotted with pain and schisms. And yet the table remains a holy place, where the power of God surges among us in amazing, grace-drenched ways.

The former archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero, used his position of influence to speak out against the oppressive practices of land owners. He also stood tat the holy table often. In March of 1980 he was leading the people in the mass–“This is my body”–when the bullet went right through his heart.

Paul’s letters attest to the struggles of the earliest church to share the meal among rich and poor; slaves and free; men and women; and, most notably, Jews and Gentiles. Over time, of course, some of the categories of division change. Most of us are no longer concerned with distinctions of Jew and Gentile. But there are still plenty of divisions to overcome: Catholics and Protestants; Americans and Russians; blacks and whites; Israelis and Palestinians; Sunni and Shia; liberals and conservatives. The categories change. The nature of the conflicts change. But our human need for reconciliation remains.

The table is a holy space not because everyone around the table agrees with each other, but because it brings together those who disagree. In bringing people together, the table holds out the hope of peace.

Yes, there was fear and tension in that upper room. But the presence of Jesus brought a peace that reached beyond the turbulent circumstances. We are told that Jesus and his friends sung a hymn before they went out into the night.

Yes, Romero was killed at the communion table. But the words he said to a reporter a few days before his murder have proven true: “A bishop will die. But the church of God—which is the people—will never perish.

The table is a holy space, though not necessarily a comfortable space. It is a place to which God draws us; a place in which we allow Christ to become a part of us; a place from which the Holy Spirit leads with transforming power.

*You can read the full sermon version of this reflection (along with other good sermons) at the Bridgefolk site.

Creative Prayer Experience

Create an invitation to the meal in the upper room. If Jesus had sent handmade invitations, what would they have said? Address the invitation to yourself as a reminder that you are Christ’s chosen guest each time you share in the communion meal.

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Looking Toward Easter

Here is a Call to Worship for Easter morning, based on Isaiah 25:6-10:

God has destroyed the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations.
Let us rejoice and be glad in God’s salvation.
God has wiped away our tears and removed our disgrace.
Let us rejoice and be glad in God’s salvation.
God has swallowed up death forever.
Let us rejoice and be glad in God’s salvation.
The morning has come. The stone has been rolled away. The tomb is empty. The Good News is proclaimed.
Let us rejoice and be glad in God’s salvation.
For Jesus Christ is Risen.
He is risen indeed!


And here are links to previously posted Easter resources:

Sermons:
Mark 16:1-8
John 20:1-18
Matthew 28: 1-10 (and a briefer reflection)
Luke 24: 1-12 (and a reflection)

Liturgy:
Communion
Call to Worship
Calls to Worship
Benediction
Call to Worship, Offertory, and Benediction

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The Week Ahead

Joanna:

I’m re-posting this piece from a few years ago. Because I need to hear it again.

Originally posted on Spacious Faith:

Holy Week tends to be pretty hard on pastors–or at least on me.  There is, of course, the practical aspect of organizing and leading extra worship services. (Between today and next Sunday there are seven worship services in which I have a significant part.)  More worship services means more sermons to write, more music to choose, more people to coordinate, more liturgy to develop, and more time leading worship.

Really, though, I usually find that the hardest thing about Holy Week, for me, is the emotional disconnect.  I’m reading through and preaching on the road to the cross, and the cross event itself, all while planning for a glorious celebration on Easter morning.  “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” runs around in my head all week with “Christ the Lord is Risen today!”  It’s exhausting.

And to be honest, I tend to resent the exhaustion.  I want to…

View original 311 more words

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Reflection on Psalm 131

[This is an excerpt from my sermon for March 22, 2015. You can read the full sermon text here.]

I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

“I have calmed and quieted my soul.” This calm, this stillness, that the psalmist speaks of is a longing I have—probably a longing many of you share as well. Not just a chance to be physically still, but a chance for our souls to be calm within us. It is so hard to just be.

I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

The vision is lovely. The question is: How? How do we calm and quiet our souls, even in the best, most calm circumstances? Let alone in the chaos that often is our lives.

I wonder if the psalmist’s metaphor can be helpful here: “Like a weaned child with its mother.”

For one thing, a weaned child has reached a certain level of maturity; in the psalmist’s day, a weaned child was most likely a toddler—able to talk, walk, eat on her own. A weaned child still needs his mother, to be sure, but it is a different kind of neediness than that of a nursing infant. You may have experienced yourself—or seen—a nursing infant in her mother’s arms; you think she is resting peacefully, and then the nuzzling starts; the baby was content, but suddenly she wants the milk she knows is nearby, and she becomes restless. That doesn’t happen with a weaned child.

I’ve been thinking: If God is the mother and we are the children, what does it mean for us to be weaned?

Maybe that we can rest comfortably in the presence of God, without a sense of restless neediness.

Maybe that our prayers are not always cries for milk, for sustenance. We choose to be with God simply because we want to be in our Mother’s presence, not because we need some particular from her.

Maybe that our bond with God is deep and sometimes invisible; it doesn’t depend on external, surface connection.

Maybe being weaned means that we can sit down in that chair across from God and stay within the Divine gaze for more than two minutes.

I don’t know exactly what this metaphor means. And I certainly don’t know how to reach this state of being “like a weaned child with its mother.”

But one thing certainly seems clear: the stillness that we desire–this calm and quiet soul—is not the product of a perfectly ordered environment. It is not even the result of a fully evolved or actualized sense of self.

The psalmist’s metaphor suggests that the calm and quiet soul is dependent upon having a right relationship with our Divine mother.

The calm and quiet soul comes from being able to rest in God’s presence; to sit in the Divine gaze and know that we are being seen as beloved children. Amen.

Categories: Bible Study, Lent/Easter | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Lenten Reflection for Palm Sunday

palm leafI think it is natural to imagine that our holy spaces will be quiet, private. Places where we can be still and alone.  Or maybe with a few intimate friends.

Yet if we define a holy space as a space inhabited by God, then the Gospels affirm crowded places as distinctly holy.  Jesus was often with crowds–more often than he would have liked. He was with friendly crowds, pleading crowds, confused crowds, hopeful crowds, hostile crowds.  And each crowd was made holy by his presence.

It is interesting to think about this crowd of people gathered just outside Jerusalem as Jesus comes riding up on a donkey.  It must have been an incredibly diverse group.  The twelve were there of course, and other committed followers like Joanna and Susanna. In addition, there were probably fans–people who Jesus had healed, people who had found wisdom in his teachings. Some of these fans might have even been Pharisees and Sadducees, skulking around, trying not to be seen. Many in the crowd were simply pilgrims coming into Jerusalem for the Passover celebration; people who didn’t know who Jesus was and didn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

This motley collection of people, this crowd, is holy.  Because there sits Jesus in the midst of it, riding along on a loping donkey.

This crowd is holy, because it is not just any crowd. This is a crowd under the sway of Jesus. And this procession, this celebration, is also a protest. A satirical protest that pits the Kingdom of God against the kingdom of Caesar; the donkey of Jewish prophecy against the warhorses ridden by the Roman officials; the rag-tag disciples of Jesus against the stately entourage of Empire.This display of religious fervor must have seemed ridiculous to the Roman citizens. Yet it struck a chord of fear as well.

In explaining the process of nonviolent protest, Gandhi said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

This rejoicing, protesting crowd outside the city of Jerusalem is a bit hard to ignore. And so there was likely some derisive laughter going on. The fighting is yet to come.  And also the victory.

[Here is a sermon on Mark 11:1-11; also a prayer of confession and an offertory prayer for Palm Sunday.]

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Prayer Practices for the 5th Week of Lent

Creative Prayer Experience based on John 12:20-33
Create a drawing or collage of a growing plant–possibly a wheat stalk. Show the “dead” seed within the earth and the living plant above. If you would like, you can add words to your collage. Within the earth, write words that represent “deaths” you have experienced–deep disappointments, things you have given up, parts of the Jesus-path that are most difficult for you.  Above the ground, write words that express the life you have in Christ–the joy and grace you have found along the way.

Creative Writing Exercise
Consider Jesus’ statement in John 12:27: “Now my soul is troubled.” Jesus speaks these words after his entry into Jerusalem in anticipation of his arrest and crucifixion. If Jesus were talking with his closest friends or praying to God, what might he say about his troubled soul? Why is his soul troubled?  What does he most desire at that moment? How does he grasp for peace in the midst of his anguish?

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Psalm 131 Call to Worship

Our scripture readings this Sunday are Luke 13:34-35 and Psalm 131. Here is the call to worship I wrote:

Our Creator longs
to gather us under her wings.
We long
to rest near the Divine heartbeat.
In this sacred space of worship,
God’s longing and our longing meet.
Like sheltered chicks,
Like weaned children,
We rest here and are renewed.

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