A Counter-Cultural Manifesto

While a pastor in South Dakota four of us adults took twelve youth canoeing in the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota.  On a hot, long day of paddling our guide lead us to a life-giving spring of water.  What a wonderful joy to drink of cool, refreshing water while paddling in the hot sun.  It seems to me that today we desperately need to drink of the cool, refreshing Water of Life, for we live in a day of turbid heat and hatred, life-sucking activity and demands, and intellectual, economic, cultural and spiritual, empty promises.

Such life-giving water is counter-cultural, for it commences with DONE, not do, LOVED, not love.  In other words such a life originates in God, not in us and our machinations or accomplishments or even in our efforts to love and to serve others.  How often have I heard, even from the pulpits of Christian churches, the admonition to become better people.  Such urgings are pure garbage and belong in the rubbish heap for they lead only to more defeat or a greater sense of internal pride and arrogance and place us on the outer edge of a tree limb that is about to be sawed off, for our own efforts lead us to futility.

The springs of Life-Giving water do not flow from the words or the actions of become, do, accomplish, achieve or even love,  serve and believe.  The water we need for the deserts of life flow from the well called LOVED.  Even on that hot day in the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota, the cool, refreshing water penetrated and renewed my entire being.  Such water did not simply refresh my thoughts, nor did it simply stimulate my emotions or rejuvenate only my tired muscles.  No, the water on that day somehow changed my thoughts, my emotions, and even my tired body.  It touched all of me, and so does the life-giving water of God.

Where can we see such a fountain of water?  Where can we drink of such life-renewing strength?  Since every Sunday School child knows that the answer to every question is “Jesus” so he must be the answer to my questions also, but it is a little more complicated than Sunday School level, rote answers.

We do not simply see life giving water in the healings of Jesus, in the miracles of Jesus, in the teachings of Jesus.  These are all sign posts leading us to a hill called Calvary and an empty tomb.  It is in the death of Jesus, the utter humiliation and defeat of Jesus that we see and experience the depths of God’s ferocious love for us.  How could the Almighty God become so defeated, so victimized for us, so brutalized for us?  All out of LOVE.

There is nothing like being ferociously, but tenderly loved and God does not love us when we become better people or understand all that we need to know or when we serve and love him, he loves us when we are still hiding from him in the dark closets of our lives.  He knows us as cracked pots, and he loves us into wholeness.

That is counter-cultural, opposite of all political and economic logic.  It is counter-cultural, opposite all our efforts to look good, look put together, look like we are “good” people.  This is Love, just as we are.  This is love that penetrates, captivates, motivates, transforms and empowers all that we are.  What a wonder!

 

“What is Essential?”

June 3, 2018    II Corinthians 4:5-12   Sermon given at Dungeness Valley Lutheran Church

Among the ordinary people of this world Helen reigned supreme: quiet, unassuming and even timid.  There was nothing about her physical appearance or personality or worldly achievements that would mark her as noteworthy or recognizable.  Her eight years of public education in Northern Minnesota definitely was not significant on a resume, if she ever created one, which she did not.   Sickness and near blindness stalked her life until the day she died on an operating table with only her husband in the waiting room.

And yet I saw and experienced the living God in her daily life and in her commitment to prayer.  Helen Susan Taitonnen Jacobson was my mother, and she was the one who taught me to pray and to come to Jesus on my knees as my Savior and Friend.

My mother was not a theologian.  Though she read her well-used Bible daily, she did not have a trained, academic understanding of “Biblical criticism” or scholarship.  She never preached a sermon; she lived them.  She never thought of “giving her testimony” to anyone.  She lived that also.  

Yet, I remember returning from worship one Sunday and Mom gave her critique of the sermon, something I remember her doing only this one time.  She said, “Pastor preached today but he did not use the name Jesus once!”  A sermon was to be centered in Jesus for my mother, centered in the grace and love of God in Jesus Christ.  Jesus was to be “lifted up” and a sermon without Jesus was no sermon at all for her.

Helen was my mother and I think that she breathed the same air, the same Spirit, as the Apostle Paul who knew that preaching was not to be based on personal theories, the latest fads to hit the theological, social media or the thoughts of theologians.  My mother and the Apostle Paul knew that for a sermon to be a sermon the focus, the power, the substance had to center in the person, the work, and the accomplishment of Jesus Christ for us. 

In our Epistle lesson Paul wrote, “For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord…” and in I Cor 2:2 he wrote, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

I remember English classes in junior high and even high school where we had to diagram sentences.  I’m not sure if they do that any more.  The subject of the sentence is what or whom the rest of the sentence is about.  The verb tells what the subject is doing or what the subject is.  

It is so very easy for us as individuals and for us as a church, both as a congregation and as a denomination to lose the true subject and verb then of our faith and our life.   When I become the subject of my life, or you become the subject of your life we are forever seeking to find fulfillment, happiness, purpose or worth and value in that which cannot provide for us what we need.

In my internship year at seminary I was at Good Samaritan hospital in Puyalup as a chaplain.  I walked into a hospital room and there lay a retired pastor.  I had often seen him visiting people in the hospital and now he lay in a hospital bed himself after suffering a sever heart attack.

He was crying; he was moaning: “I can’t visit people anymore.  I am a nobody.  I can’t do anything.  I’m worthless.”  He repeated this over and over.   In his desperation he had forgotten who he was, the beloved of God in Christ Jesus.  He had tried to find his purpose and worth in visiting and now he felt that opportunity was gone, so he was now a nobody in his mind, worthless, having no value.

When anything, anyone becomes the subject of the sentences of our lives or the focus of our message, when we become the center of our lives, the source of our purpose and life then we have forgotten our message and forgotten the true subject of our lives.  We have forgotten that we are truly loved, just as we are.

In John 5 Jesus said “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf.”  We can do all the study in the world.  We can study the Bible; we can study the writing of theologians or other authors, but if our study does not lead us to a relationship with Jesus Christ we only learn about God, about Jesus, but we do not get to know and experience God in Jesus personally.  Getting to know about God is never enough, for to know about God leaves the knowledge in our head and not in our heart.  To only know about God is not to experience ourselves as God’s beloved. 

Paul wrote, “Let light shine out of darkness.” It seems that there is a darkness that is slowly, and sometimes rapidly sweeping across our land and our world.  This is a darkness of corruption and of violence.  It is a darkness of inhumanity and of self-centeredness.  It is a darkness of isolation and of disrespect.  It is a darkness that sometimes claims the name of Christ, but lives as if there is no Christ.   It is a darkness that picks and choses from Jesus what one likes, what makes a person comfortable in their self-centeredness.  It is a darkness in which we have forgotten who we truly are, the beloved of God, loved intensely.  We have forgotten that all people are truly, deeply loved by God.

It is when the world is so dark that the Church has a tremendous opportunity to proclaim the true light of God in Jesus Christ, for we have a message that the world desperately needs to hear.   The light of Christ shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.  

And the gospel message given to the church is the gospel light for the world.  Whether the world accepts it or not, the church is to be consistent in its proclamation.  The method of proclamation will change, but the content of the gospel will not.   The church loses its power, its foundation, its message if the church gets swept up by the spirit of the age in which we live, if the church loses the content of the gospel.  When Jesus is no longer the subject of our sentences we have lost what has been given to us as treasure.   Then the church becomes as dark as the world around.

Paul went on to say “But we have this treasure in clay jars.”  One translator said, “We have this treasure in cracked pots.”  

We have a treasure, a fantastically beautiful and needed treasure, the gospel of God’s gracious love and forgiveness, that we are loved just as we are, lock-stock- and barrow.  

That is the treasure of our message and we proclaim it, live it, breath it just as we are, cracked pots.   It is both because we know that we are loved the way we are that we can see our crackness, our brokenness and sin.  It is also because we see our brokenness that we are open to hear Jesus call us beloved.

In Japan, instead of tossing broken items into trash heaps, some craftsmen practice the 500-year-old art of kintsugi, or “golden joinery,” which is a method of restoring a broken piece with a lacquer that is mixed with gold, silver, or platinum.

In our society broken objects is have lost their value, but practitioners and admirers of kintsugi believe that never ending consumerism is not a spiritually rewarding experience.

The kintsugi method conveys a philosophy not of replacement, but of awe, reverence, and restoration.  That is also the message of the gospel.

God’s forgiveness and God’s restoration and God’s healing of our lives is of infinite value and it is only found in the message of Jesus Christ.  May we breath the air, the Spirit of the Apostle Paul and also of Helen Susan Taittonen Jacobson.  May we ever rejoice in and proclaim and experience the message of God in Jesus Christ that each one of us in him are beloved of God.

Second Love

On June 14, 2013 I began chronicling the journey of Diane, our family and myself as Diane faced the onslaught of small cell lung cancer.  That journey ended at 11:28 p.m. on July 18, 2014 as Diane quietly slipped through the door called death, being held by Jesus all the way.  At that moment I was propelled into another journey, a journey of grief and sorrow, of aloneness, of healing and now of second love.  It is the adventure of second love that I want to share with those of you who read this blog.

This journey, this adventure began a few days after a spiritual direction session with my director, Paula Mitchel.  In that session I shared how I had come to accept my aloneness, but not only accept it, but relish the depth of relationship with Jesus that my time of aloneness was affording me.  I acknowledged that I was not sure if I even wanted to get married again, and yet…and yet deep within there was that longing of having a life partner with whom the journey and adventure could be shared.  This I also shared with Paula.

A few days later it all began very innocuously as I wanted to see the movie A Wrinkle in Time, but I did not want to see it alone so I very calmly called another member of a new ministry at Dungeness Valley Lutheran Church called Friendly Visitors. At the time we were both involved in this ministry.  Nancy Mitchel said “Yes, she would love to see the movie,” but then said “No” to an invitation to go to dinner.  That might have been the end, but it was only the beginning.

Those of you who know me, know that I tend to ask difficult questions and rather not be involved in shallow conversations, and the same is true of Nancy.  As a consequence, beginning from our second date, the depth of our conversation has been the seedbed for “second love.”  At a future time both Nancy and I would like to share with you some of the important, sometimes humorous, usually life-giving questions that we discussed in our journey into Second Love, but that will come later.

Nancy and I have much in common:  a simple life style, a love of nature and the outdoors, the thrill of new adventures and journeys and a desire to grow as people to name a few, but both the magnetic force that drew us together and the glue that binds us together is our deep love for God in Jesus Christ, our hunger to grow in him as individuals and as a couple and our eagerness to serve him by serving others.

Neither one of us were specifically looking for a life partner, but we were both open to God’s leading, and so both Nancy and I consider our relationship of love to be a gift given to us by God, who earnestly desires us to both love and be loved.  A “Second Love” is exactly that, it is the gift of being loved by another and it is the gift of being able to give love to another.

Second Love in the second half of life seems to me to be a more mature love than my first love with Diane.  Diane and I both fought to be right; we fought to do “it” our own particular way and your way was wrong.  Those things which seemed so big over forty years ago, now seem so trivial.  Furthermore, love in the second half of life seems more urgent.

We know we do not have forty plus years to experience our love together and to grow in our love.  And so, we have said to each other, “Why postpone our wedding?  Why do we need more time?”  Oh, we have made mistakes in this process.  We should have given our sons (both Nancy’s and my sons are named Andrew and Peter) more time to get to know the one we are marrying, but we will work hard at developing and maintaining our family loves.

We have been told that we are acting like fourteen year olds!  What a complement for seventy-plus-year olds!  We have also been asked if we have had our first fight or even our first major disagreement.  Those are honest questions, questions that I have often talked about in pre-marriage counseling.  So Nancy and I have worked very hard at having a “heated” disagreement and the end result is laughter.  The time will come when that might happen, and we look forward to that time when our communication practices bring us through such stormy waters.

The wedding vows which we will proclaim in a little over thirty-six hours from this writing say “In the presence of God and this community, I, Stan, take you, Nancy, to be my wife; to have and to hold from this day forward, in joy and in sorrow, in plenty and in want, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, as long as we both shall live.  This is my solemn vow.”

In the second half of life each of the reverse, contrary phrases are very much a reality, and we realize this.  Yet it is the very gift of God to each of us, that gift being our love for each other encircled in the love that God has for us, that sees all the realities of life now being lived and shared with one with whom we are deeply in love.  That Second Love is PURE GIFT!

 

 

 

“Truly Known” A Sermon

May 22, 2018 John 10:11-18   “Truly Known”  (Preached at Dungeness Valley Lutheran Church, Sequim, WA)

Perhaps there is no metaphor or image of Scripture more sanitized and sentimentalized and made into a fuzzy-wuzzy nothing than Jesus as the good shepherd.  Not many of us these days have direct experience with sheep, although perhaps some of you have raised sheep in the past.  Most of us are sheep illiterate.  And yet the images of sheep and shepherd are prolific in the Scriptures:

The good shepherd

The lost sheep

The Lord is my shepherd

We are all like sheep that have gone astray

The Great Shepherd of the sheep

And to Peter:  tend and feed my sheep

We are sent out as sheep in the midst of wolves

And the political leaders of Israel where called shepherds

And they failed their calling so God took on the role of the Shepherd of Israel

Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd.  This is not a sentimentalized or sanitized image, but the word good implies that Jesus is the true, honest, valuable model for the role of the shepherd.  As the good shepherd, Jesus willingly lays down his life for the sheep. It is that attitude and action of Jesus that God wants to impress upon us this morning.   Jesus not only gave his life, laid down his life for you on the cross, but he lays down his life for us every moment of the day.  Have you thought of Jesus laying down his life for you right now?  How does Jesus do that?

I visited a person who was terminally ill and I asked him the perennial question:  “How are you doing?”  His reply was truthful.  He said, “When I am asked that question I usually say, ‘I’m doing ok,’ but I am really lying through my teeth.  To you, I’ll tell the truth.”  He then went on to tell me how he was progressively getting worse.

We pick and choose whom we will let into our lives, who will get the privilege of really knowing us.  Most of the businesses with which we deal, have us in their computer with some number.  We are merely social security numbers or student identification numbers, but to our Good Shepherd we are more than a number, we are intimately known.  We are known by name.

In my younger years, much younger years, even before seminary, I worked in a training program at Glendale Lutheran Church in Burien, WA.   I got to know identical twin boys.  They were in high school at the time.  One day, as these young men were leaving worship, I took the chance at calling them by name, but I missed.  One of them, angrily spoke up: “My name isn’t…..  It’s ……   Nobody knows my name.  Everybody gets it wrong.”  It is still a fear that I have, calling people by the wrong name.  

Jesus does not mess up our name, for he knows us inside and out.  Jesus lays down his life for us every day of the week, as he knows us intimately.  He knows our idiosyncrasies, our fears, our failures, our true hopes and our dreams.  He knows who we truly are, not just who we portray to the public, not just our facade that we present in order to look good.   

When I do not really understand myself, Jesus understands me.  When I put my foot in my mouth, for the millionth time, and I cannot really understand why I am so impulsive-so Peter-like- Jesus knows and still accepts me.  Jesus knows my dark side, the parts of me that are even hidden from myself. He knows my gifts and my abilities, my potential.  He knows me and still gives himself to me and for me.  That is true love.   When it says that Jesus willingly gives himself up for us, in part, at least to me, it means that he truly loves us and shows us that love by knowing us and accepting us.

It takes a great deal of work to really get to know a person.  As I did pre-marriage counseling, it dawned on me how a young couple, who spends hours and hours talking to each other, still doesn’t really know each other.  Nancy and I have spent hours talking, sharing in deep, deep ways, but to truly know each other it takes time, takes a life-time.  

Charlie Brown said, “There’s no problem so big that you can’t run from it,” but to really know each other is to stick together in all weather, in all our problems and challenges.   Margaret Mead wrote that one of the most serious things that has happened in the United States is that people “enter marriage with the idea it is terminable.”  But our Good Shepherd does not run from us when our dark side, our weaknesses and even our sin is revealed.  God knows us, and forgives us.

Now we think of the shepherd as one who cares for the sheep by bringing them to safe pastures and abundant water supplies.    Jesus, our Good Shepherd, does provide for us and protects us, but he cares for us on a much deeper level.  The following story relays part of our Shepherd’s care for us:

One day the doorbell rang and there stood a woman’s beloved brother.  It was a delightful surprise to the woman.  Her brother was an executive of an international petroleum company and he was extremely busy.  He stayed and visited for a few hours and then got up to say good-bye.  Tears began to slide down the woman’s face.  He asked her why she was crying.  “Because I simply don’t want you to go,” was her reply.  He gave a surprised look and then went to the phone and left a message for the pilot of his company’s plane.  He stayed with his sister for two days, but all the time the sister had a nagging feeling that she had caused her brother a great inconvenience.

Some time later the brother received an important award for his contributions to the oil industry.  A reporter asked him at the time, “Is this the greatest honor that you’ve received?”  

“No,” he said, “my sister gave me my greatest honor the day she cried because she didn’t want me to leave.  That’s the only time in my life anyone ever cried because they didn’t want me to leave.  It was then that I discovered the most precious gift one human being can ever bestow on another is to let a person know that he/she is really needed and loved that much.”  

Jesus, as our Good Shepherd, knows us and cares for us at the deepest, most intimate levels of our being.  He sits down and has coffee with us, walks the early morning walk with us, stays awake in the stillness of the night when we cannot sleep.  Jesus gives us of his time, his presence, his loving care, and even more than all of that he tells us that we are his beloved.

An elderly man on his golden wedding anniversary was asked, “And do you still love your wife after all those years together?”  His reply was, “Yes, sir, indeed I do.  In fact, there are times when I have a real hard job not telling her so!”  Some men have a hard time expressing love, but our Good Shepherd never tires of telling us how much he loves us.  

We are fully known, fully loved and fully cared for by Jesus, our Good Shepherd.  Take a moment, take your life-time and allowed yourself to be loved up by your Good Shepherd.

HOLY SATURDAY

Today is Holy Saturday.  It is the day after and the day before.  It is a day full of Easter egg hunts and final preparation in families for the gathering of loved ones tomorrow and for Christian leaders it is the last opportunity for preparations for tomorrow’s big worship services.  Yes, today is Holy Saturday, forgotten as Holy, busy as usual, but today is not forgotten by me.  It is one of my favorite days!  Why?

Can you image the first disciples on this day?  Perhaps full fear, full of guilt and even shame, full of questions and even doubts, full of despair.   Today is the day of waiting, and waiting for what?  Oh, we know, but the early disciples where living with blinded faith.  They did not know the rest of the story, and so they waited for the unknown.

I am the disciples, at times full of guilt and shame, full of blinded faith and questioning doubts.  I am the disciples, not knowing what is around the next corner and so I too have to wait.  Holy Saturday is the day of WAITING, and is that not what most of life is about?  WAITING!

BUT WE DO NOT WAIT AS THOSE WHO HAVE NO HOPE, FOR WE KNOW THE REST OF THE STORY!

Guided Meditative Retreat

GUIDED MEDITATIVE RETREAT

WHAT IS IT? The Retreat is an opportunity to spend a portion of a day personally listening,  praying and asking God speak to you through his Word and through nature. When was the last time, if ever, have you taken six hours and said, “Here I am God, speak for I seek to listen?” You will be guided in spending time alone with God and we will meet together a number of times to reflect upon our experience.

WHERE AND WHEN? APRIL 14th is the day. We will meet at Dungeness Valley Lutheran Church in Sequim, WA and leave DVLC at 9 a.m. to go to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Port Angeles. We will return at 3 p.m.

WHO WILL LEAD THE RETREAT? Pastor Stan Jacobson is a new member of DVLC. He is a recently retired ELCA pastor and a spiritual director.

WHAT IS NEEDED AND WHAT IS THE COST? All you need is a notebook or a journal a pen, a Bible and a SACK LUNCH. Lunch will NOT be provided. We will take an offering to defray the cost of using the facility. There is no other cost.

SIGN UP: There will be a sign up sheet in the narthex at DVLC or contact Stan directly at 206-445-3576.

COME, ENJOY, BREATH DEEPLY, RECEIVE

Sons and Daughters of Encouragement

Jess, Tom, and Lois

Barnabas: Son of Encouragement

Acts 4:36; 9:27; 15:36-39

You have just moved into a new community or are beginning to attend a new church. You are the stranger in the midst of others who have know each other for years. Your loneliness sometimes feels like a sharp pain that slices through your midsection. At other times you might feel like a social nerd in the presence of a room overflowing with social butterflies.

Some people have such an extrovert personality that they enter into new situations and new relationships with the tenacity and zeal of a bulldog or the skill and finesse of a ballerina. Others hang in the shadows and hope for someone else to make the first move, to rescue them from their loneliness. But most of us are somewhere in between those two extremes. We too want, and even look for someone who will be our lead blocker, our advance scout, our “son or daughter of encouragement” who will help us enter into the new community smoothly.

Barnabas, whose name means “Son of Encouragement,” was never the leading protagonist in the gospel story. He was not the “Star of the Show” or the one who gained fame, notoriety and recognition, but if it had not been for him, perhaps an infamous man named Saul would never have been received by the fledgling church which he had tried fiercely to destroy.

After Saul’s Damascus Road encounter with the One he had persecuted so righteously, Barnabas came to Saul whose name became Paul, took him into his welcoming arms and introduced him to his friends, the first apostles of our Lord Jesus.
Jess, Tom and Lois were my guides into their respective congregations in Volga, SD, Endicott, WA and Everson, WA. Each took me by the hand and we drove through the cornfields of South Dakota, the wheat and barley fields of the Palouse in Southeast Washington and the country roads of Whatcom County in Northwest Washington. They showed me, as their new pastor, where people lived and introduced me to them. They shared the histories of people, church and locality. They learned my history and got to know me.

Jess was the oldest of the three and, in spite of health challenges, he weekly helped me get to know people. Tom was the busiest with many responsibilities in the community and at his work and in the church and yet he became my “Father figure” and was always present to give me a helping hand. Lois was the most intuitive and one of the best listeners I had ever known. She was willing and able to ask important, penetrating questions that gave me the freedom to share myself deeply.

The Apostle Paul spoke of his spiritual son Timothy by saying, “I have no one like him…” (Philippians 2:20). I say the same of Lois. On numerous occasions during Sunday morning worship, I watched Lois leave the pew where she was comfortably sitting and locate herself next to a new visitor. This “Daughter of Encouragement” was always vigilant and available.

But something has happened since I left my last parish (Remember this was written while in Mexico in 2008-2009). In two congregations, both in Mexico, but I believe it would be no different in the United States (as I type this in 2018, I have found it to be true also in the U.S.), I have not had the personal guide to relationships, the “personal letter of reference” that has opened up new and inviting relationships. I have often said that people are not looking for friendly churches, but rather friends. The lack of friendliness will instantly drive visitors away, but friendliness alone will not keep new people consistently connected to a church. Friendships will!

Why is it that pastors are often given the privilege of having a Barnabas, a Son or a Daughter of Encouragement, who will help introduce the new pastor to others, but lay people, new visitors are expected to find their own way through the tangled web of congregational relationships? Why is it that established churches often think (or at least act) as if worship is the only thing for which people are searching?

People long for, are often starving for mutual, encouraging relationships and one would hope that people in the church could be the oasis for those life-giving friendships.

Blessed are the Ordinary for in Them I Have Seen God Chapter Two

Frank and Betza

Rahab: Joshua 2

(This is the second chapter of a book that I started while in Mexico in 2008 and 09, but never finished.)

Frank and Betza are well known, that is, they are well known in their little puebla of Aputzio de Juarez. Of course, if you travel twenty or thirty miles on the tope (Spanish for speed bump, pronounced toe-pay. Some of the topes I am sure are designed for one purpose only: to destroy car axles, thereby giving some backyard mechanic more work.) strewn backroads of the Mexican state of Michoacan, no one will probably have ever heard of them. Traveling a little further, maybe no one has even heard of Aputzio de Juarez.

Frank and Betza are definitely ordinary folk, living in the mountains of Michoacan. They are well known locally and in Frank’s home town of Zitacuarro, but they have no fame beyond those borders. Yet, I count this simple couple as one of the most grace-filled, hospitable couples I have ever met, but before I tell you their story, let me tell you another person’s story.

The oldest occupation in the world claimed a woman named Rahab, who lived over 3,300 years ago in the lower Jordan River town of Jericho, not far from the Dead Sea. If it had only been for her profession, Rahab would only have been known by her “clients” and by the gossiping wags of dusty Jericho, but Rehab is known, not for her profession, but for her hospitality and ultimately her ancestry.

She received into her home two spies from the invading Israelite “nation.” Upon receiving them and protecting them, she, in turn, received their promise of protection when Yahweh, the God of Israel, would give the invaders the land. A prostitute who offered her home as protection for foreigners, and even enemies, became part of the long line of progeny of King David of Israel and King Solomon and then years later the Servant-King Jesus. Rahab is in the “Faith Hall of Fame, (Hebrews chapter eleven in the New Testament), for a faith-filled act of hospitality.

Now back to Frank and Betza. They are both in my Faith Hall of Fame because of their lives of grace and hospitality. Speaking very limited English, they have consistently received non-Spanish speaking folk from the North and made them feel as family members. Having so little by American standards, they gave what they had and added to it all the love of their hearts, thus filling to the brim my sense of welcome.

On one of those visits to Aputzio de Juarez and Frank and Betza’s welcoming embrace, my eldest son Andrew accompanied me and another member of the congregation of which I was a pastor in Everson, Washington. When we left our “home away from home” I knew that Andrew had been touched by the warmth and hospitality of Frank and family, but I did not realize how deeply felt was the relationship for Andres, as he is called in Spanish.

Lately Andrew has experienced a great loss in his life and he commented, “I had never experienced loss before, except once.” My mind raced through his life wondering when he had experienced loss. It was when he left Aputzio, the family of welcome and love.

“Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you.” (Romans 15:7) Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25:35) Rahab and Frank and Betza are models for me of such welcoming embrace.

Blessed are the Ordinary Chapter One

blessed are the ordinary for in them i see
god

stan jacobson

(This is the first chapter of a book that I started while in Mexico in 2008 and 09, but never finished.)

Helen Susan Taittonen Jacobson

I Samuel 1: 28 Hannah

Among the ordinary Helen reigns supreme: quiet, unassuming and even timid. There was nothing about her physical appearance or personality or worldly achievements that would mark her as noteworthy or recognizable. Her eight years of public education in Northern Minnesota definitely was not significant on a resume. Helen’s friendships were limited as she perhaps lived much of her life, after moving with husband and children to the Evergreen State of Washington, with a heart aching for her relatives in her far-away home state. Sickness and near blindness stalked her life until the day she died on an operating table with only her husband in the waiting room.

And yet I saw and experienced the living God in her daily life and in her commitment to prayer. Helen was my mother, and she was the one who taught me to pray and to come to Jesus on my knees as my Savior and Friend.

My mother and father, Nestor, were in their middle forties when I was conceived as “a mistake.” A few years before she died, she told me that after I was conceived she was ashamed and hid from the public eye. My mom felt she was too old to have a child. She must have forgotten her pedigree in the long-line of elderly women in the Scriptures who conceived in their “golden years.”

Yet something happened. God gave my mother a gift, a gift that subsequently has become significant to me, her son by “mistake.” God’s word came to her. God “spoke” to my mother in her pregnancy and she was given the assurance that this child, kicking and punching in her womb, was to be a child of God, used as a servant of God in this world.

Hannah, in some ways, is my mother’s counter-part in the Hebrew Scriptures. Hannah’s life story was different from my mother who was a second-generation child of immigrant parents from Finland, but their source of strength was the same Rock from which we are all made. Hannah, according to the writer of I Samuel was barren and the object of scorn by the second, “successful” wife of her husband Elkanah. This ordinary woman, with a heart-aching with desire to be a mother, did what women (and men also) of faith have always done: she prayed…and prayed…and prayed. Then she too received the promise of the Lord through the priest Eli. When Hannah delivered her first-born son, she presented him to the LORD with these simple words which convey great depth of faith and a mother’s heart of passionate desire for her child: “Therefore I have lent him to the LORD; as long as he lives, he is given to the LORD,” (I Samuel 1:28) and thus Samuel, the prophet, was placed into the hands of God by his loving, praying, faith-filled mother.

It is an ordinary act and yet it is a mountain-moving, faith-filled act for a mother to “lend” her child to the Lord. Mothers want to hold their darlings tight. Cuddling and comforting, nursing and caring are all the heart actions of a loving mother, but “lending…to the LORD; as long as he lives” is an extra-ordinary act of faith.

Hannah modeled such faith and so did my mother, Helen Susan Taittonen Jacobson. My earliest memories include those of kneeling beside my bed with my mother as we shared with the Lord our hearts and the needs of others.

Helen was not a theologian. Though she read her well-used Bible daily, she did not have a trained, academic understanding of “Biblical criticism” or scholarship. She never preached a sermon; she lived them. She never thought of “giving her testimony” to anyone. She lived that also. Yet, I remember returning from worship one Sunday and Mom gave her critique of the sermon, something I remember her doing only this one time. She said, “Pastor preached today but he did not use the name Jesus once!” A sermon was to be centered in Jesus for my mother, centered in the grace and love of God in Jesus Christ. Jesus was to be “lifted up” and a sermon without Jesus was no sermon at all for her.

Helen was my mother. She taught me to pray as she modeled it daily with me. She died when I was about twenty-three years old, but decades later I sat beside her gravesite on a hill over-looking the Kelso-Longview, Washington area. I do not come from a religious tradition that believes the dead pray for us, but as I sat on the grass I “realized,” I “sensed,” I felt” the timeless, efficacious prayers that my ordinary mother prayed decades before but in God’s sight are timeless and ever before his throne.

The ordinary often are the quiet people of faith and prayer, but I picture Jesus, with a smile brimming across his face and his arms wide open as Helen Susan Taittonen Jacobson and Hannah of the Hebrew Scriptures lean into his love and grace.

Broken Heart

My heart broke the other day.  My sister, brother-in-law and I were walking along a marina on Sequim Bay and a “hunter” showed us an old squaw duck, now called a Long Tailed Duck.  He had “captured” and killed the duck that day so that he could have it stuffed and put on his wall to admire his handiwork.  My heart was broken and in grief I was also very angry.

The picture above is from the internet, for in the wild I have never seen one, except for one now being stuffed.  The Long Tailed Duck spends three to four times longer under water while foraging than on top of the water.  It can dive up to 200 feet.  In 2014 it was identified as a “Common Bird in Steep Decline,” and now there is one less in the wild.

At three a.m. the other morning I continued to lament the death of my sister Old Squaw or Long Tailed Duck.  When one’s life is only centered in one’s self and one’s own desire, there is no connection with the rest of creation.  “The wild” is only present for one’s pleasure, but if God is the Maker of my life and the Maker of the life of the old squaw duck, then we are connected in this same Creator God.  I am to be the steward and caretaker of all of God’s creation, all the created order.  All of creation is my sister and my brother.

St Francis understood our connection with all of creation through our Lord God.  May we all come to love both God and all that God has made.

The Canticle of Sister Moon and Brother Sun                                                                     St Francis

“Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord, All praise is Yours, all glory, all honour and all blessings.

To you alone, Most High, do they belong, and no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.

Praised be You my Lord with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour,
Of You Most High, he bears the likeness.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
In the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
And fair and stormy, all weather’s moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.

Praised be You my Lord through Sister Water,
So useful, humble, precious and pure.

Praised be You my Lord through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You my Lord through our Sister,
Mother Earth
who sustains and governs us,
producing varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.
Praise be You my Lord through those who grant pardon for love of You and bear sickness and trial.

Blessed are those who endure in peace, By You Most High, they will be crowned.

Praised be You, my Lord through Sister Death,
from whom no-one living can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Blessed are they She finds doing Your Will.

No second death can do them harm. Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks,
And serve Him with great humility.”