Christ Jesus, Bearing the Darkness

2017.4.14cross for post

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13: 31-35 (NRSV)

What are we to make of Jesus’ passion and death?
The leader chooses to take basin and towel in hand,
to bow down as a servant to wash the feet of his followers.
We might describe the poignancy of the task
and the meal he shared as anticipatory grief
for the gospel writers let us know the intentionality
with which each moment of the evening is observed.
A simple meal is given new meaning
through the charge to remember in its repetition.

And then, they move on,
out into the gathering darkness of the night,
to face the darkness of the world mired in sin.
As he has so often on a mountain or by the sea,
Jesus stops to pray, this time in a familiar garden.
It is an olive grove hundreds of years old
that will go on for generations to come, even to this day.
He is not alone. The disciples are nearby,
but he feels the abandonment of those who betray and deny him,
who cannot or will not watch with him.
It is the loneliness he has experienced in observing the least, the lost,
those who have been rejected and misunderstood.
These are the ones for whom he will stand trial.

In the courts, he stands alone, endures the taunts of the crowd
who sneer at one who claims power, a strength
that is not defined by greed – enforced by any means.
He stands silent as they mock him and inflict brutal pain.
He bears the despair of those whose hope is dim,
who are not valued but rather used and abused.

He is mourning for the world that cannot see or understand
that in all creation are other real living beings loved by God and worthy of care.
He chooses to confront injustice in its most stark and raw form,
exposing just what it is, a lie that assigns blame to the innocent.
The choice he makes in laying down his life is done in the hope
that holding up a mirror to humanity will reveal the senseless suffering.
His greatest desire is that all will grasp the immensity of this gift of grace
and be inspired to another way of living.

And so we remember and pray for strength to listen, to hear, to look,
and to resist turning away from that mirror held up for us
so we might learn once again to live as he taught,
loving God, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Paul’s Letter and Labor Day

Paul’s Letter and Labor Day – Think of five activities you engaged in the past week. These should include another person or some type of item. List simple daily or weekly tasks, people with who you interacted or items you used in your home, work, play, entertainment, leisure, shopping, transportation, or something you observed at a distance. Think of a diverse list, items as different as possible.

(See activity sheet – Provide a sheet with the above paragraph which invites listing 3 items. Instructions will be given later, providing a visual of the BakerFacesPainRatingScale, google it. Then people will reflect and discuss possible actions. )

Item: _________________________________________________________

Rate this 0 to 5          0     1     2    3    4    5

Action: _________________________________________________________


Pastor’s words of instruction:

What kind of work environments have you experienced? Have you had the good fortune to be in a place where affirmations were a daily experience, where even small contributions by skilled and unskilled workers were affirmed as values in the working of the whole? Have you experienced settings where the boss was always on top of everyone, second-guessing every action, reprimanding people for imagined mistakes, seemingly creating opportunities for conflict? Have your coworkers been eager to help out when a sudden crisis arises or have people complained about what goes on without making any effort to understand what could be done to relieve it?

Paul says we are to treat each other as siblings in Christ. He asks Philemon to receive Onesimus, not as a runaway slave, but as a brother. The activities or items you listed involve other people in some way. In some cases, others were directly involved in the activity. In other cases, people made and/or supplied the item you listed or recycled/disposed of it when no longer useful to you. Sometimes people engaged in the work of making your entertainment possible depict actions that are either life-affirming or troubling. Or entertainers may themselves be celebrated or reviled.


(Distribute the following questions and the pain scale and invite reflection and sharing.)

You are invited to rate the way in which the other people in the activities or the people behind the items you listed were and are treated by you and/or by society. Are they affirmed or are they discounted?

Using the rating scale below*, rate the perceptions and actions of society in general as causing no harm to causing much suffering to the people involved. Ask yourself these questions. What comes up for me as I reflect on this text from Paul? Do I contribute to any suffering? What can I do to change or alleviate the suffering or to raise awareness of my concern?



(Gather in small groups to discuss what you have observed. Provide time for sharing observations with the whole. Facilitate and affirm conversation. Conclude with prayer.)

Holy One, you call us to labor, to be caretakers of earth, good stewards of your bounty, and you call us to take time to rest in your divine presence. Teach us to be aware of those whose labor is rarely rewarded with time of rest, those whose compensation is not enough to supply even basics of shelter, clothing, food, school supplies, and health care. As many celebrate a holiday this weekend others must work the sales. Some have no option, there is no work on the holiday and thus a reduced paycheck awaits them at week’s end.

Be with us, O God, in our desire to seek and do justice in your name. Lead us to sit with the disadvantaged, to affirm their skill and contributions. Challenge us to give of ourselves so that all may find room at the table. Amen

Earth Day Blessing of Garden and Field

St John Garden

Creator God, we come to you in gratitude for the gifts of this earth.

From the beginning of time this ground has been sacred;
shaped by your hands,
sculpted by your breath,
watered by summer rain and winter snow,
enriched by elements and multitudes of creatures,
it is holy in your sight.

We come, O God, this day remembering those
who have walked upon this land in every age, caring for it.

For native peoples
who honored the Great Spirit, Mother Earth, Father Sky,
as Giver of all, respecting earth as communal inheritance.
who trod this land mindful of the seasons of the grassland prairie,
staying for a time and living lightly in this place,
generously sharing with plant and animal species alike.

For our forebears who found this fertile ground a place to call home
tilling the rich soil to feed the hungry near and far,
terracing fields to preserve their future use,
planting trees to endure for generations.

Grant, O God, that we also may be faithful to your call
to care for all creation.
Teach us so to guard and nurture this space
that our children and our children’s children
may know the joy of working the earth,
the mystery of life that springs from it,
the feast for the senses; sight, smell, and taste,
nourishment for body and soul from an abundant harvest.

Bless our gardens and fields as we rededicate them to you.
Bless those who till, plant, weed, and harvest
that rejoicing in your care for us we respond to your call
to tend the earth and our fellow beings. Amen.

Journey through Lent 2016

prayer for Lent

The season of Lent begins Wednesday, February 10. It is a time to pray and reflect, to forego some of our extravagances; a time to learn simplicity; to practice gratitude by living in just relationships with all beings. In this newsletter you will find a calendar that offers ideas for living into these practices.

In successive weeks of the Lenten journey you are invited to choose yourself, someone you know, the earth, or God as the focus of your week’s Lenten activities. The church has long encouraged three aspects to this journey of self-discovery, personal growth, and tending relationships. Those are the act of prayer, the act of giving of self, and the act of fasting or restraint.

I invite you to choose one day each week to reflect on your life and relationships with the suggested recipient of your caring. Devote a bit of time this day for a prayer, an act of giving, or an act of giving up (restraint) in your relationship with that recipient.

You may want to make a copy of the calendar. Use it as a diary for your journey through this season of Lent. Write on it what you have chosen to do or forego, how you have been in prayer for the person or some aspect of your relationship.

Try for a minimum of the three days. As you become more comfortable with this discipline you may want to extend the practice to other days of the week as well.

As we come to Easter consider how have you been blessed by trusting in God to walk beside you. Think about how you might share what this journey meant to you as it proceeds and when we come to Easter and the days beyond.

I offer my prayers for Lenten blessings, learning, and peace for your journey.

2016.2 Calendar for Lent


Iowa Snow

The day dawns bright and clear.
Frigid air sharpens the senses
awakening me to possibilities.

Here in Iowa
it’s impossible to know
how much snow fell yesterday.
The dark and dreary day,
wind howling,
as snow flew across the sky and field
left miles swept clean, or nearly so,
grass and corn stubble
peeking up through a mere dusting of white.

It makes little sense to clear the snow
until the wind dies down
and the storm is over.
My driveway
is piled heavy and deep
this morning.
Shovel in hand
I head out to greet the challenge
of this new day.
2015.2.26 Crisp Morning

Greeting the New Year


As I walk today

stately trees wave their greeting.

Some still hold fruit

in offering for hungry birds

and other creatures of winter.

Proud oaks cling to what now seems ragged and drab,

apparel of days past

a hedge, perhaps, against the chill.

Around them others greet the day

with bold abandon

release all semblance of cover.

Stark skeletons, they stand against bright sky;

the old, gnarled, wizened ones

and eager young saplings alike,

lean hopefully into tomorrow.

Each prepared to welcome possibility in the new year.


How will you greet the New Year?

What from your past will you take forward into the future?

What former experiences and disappointments must you release?

How will you make room for new possibilities?

Peaceful Pebbles

prayer beads

I chose the name Peaceful Pebbles 10 years ago when I began making prayer beads. I had made and used my own beads and wanted to reach out to others through the practice I found meaningful. I designed these prayer beads to give my friends and patients as a tangible reminder of my prayers for them, to introduce conversations about prayer with confirmation classes, as devotions for women’s groups, and workshops about spiritual practices. The beads are small enough to go in a pocket. Many folks keep them on dashboard or nightstand. I include my thoughts on the design with the beads. ©2004 Design by Judy K Brandon

May these beads help you to focus prayer:
Round bead for the world and its people,
Leaf for gifts of nature,
Circle for wholeness of body, mind and spirit,
Star for the people you hold dear,
Teardrop for your own special prayer concerns.

Vibrations of an Iowa Countryside

The bean fields are brilliant this morning,
their gold screaming across the autumn landscape.
Down the road a fresh green fuzz springs up,
shouts back from the hillside
where hay was cut and baled a few weeks since.

This scene seems a note out of time.
Palettes of spring and fall compete
in a symphony of color gone wild,
the result of uncharacteristic soaking rains
this August and September.

The countryside vibrates with such intensity
I can hear it trumpeting the call
to gather combines and threshers for harvest.

To an Unseen God

Shadows lengthen
as the golden orb of day
slips out of sight.
Clouds aflame
on the darkening canvas of sky
in shades of coral and fuchsia,
cobalt and indigo.

High overhead
a gull in solo flight
reflects the departing light
off luminous wings.
Oh, to soar
by pull of earth,
to rise on Spirit’s breath
and catch the glorious light
of Your grace!