Friday, May 11, 2018

The Pink Rose

Sermon for Sunday, May 13, 2018 
First United Presbyterian Church – Winterset, Iowa 
Rev. Randal K. Lubbers, Pastor and Teacher

A Sermon inspired by (and based upon) THE PINK ROSE by Jeanne Stevenson Moessner. And dedicated to Jeanne, one of my spiritual mothers. Used by permission. 

Part One: The Down-to-Earth Gardener
Have I lived enough? Have I loved enough? Have I considered Right Action enough, have I
come to any conclusions? Have I experienced happiness with sufficient gratitude? Have I endured loneliness with grace? I say, this, or perhaps I’m just thinking it. Actually, I probably think too much.
Then I step out into the garden, where the gardener, who is said to be a simple man, is tending his children, the roses.
Ever feel like life is passing you by? Do you wonder, “Have I lived enough? Have I loved enough?” Yeah. Me too. Sometimes it feel like I haven’t considered what Mary Oliver calls “Right Action” enough and I even feel ashamed because, doggone, if the pastor hasn’t come to any conclusions, then.... Well, what then? Of course at those times I’m falling into the common misconception that the pastor isn’t human.

But I am.

Funny, every time I rediscover this it throws me for a loop.

Like around three years ago when I was delivering a bouquet of roses to church on the Saturday before Mother’s Day. First of all, I felt bad enough about swearing in the very presence of the roses when they fell over in the van. What kind of pastor would swear while delivering flowers to church? And if that wasn’t horrible enough—What kind of pastor swears as he enters church because the box holding the bouquet—made limp because of the water that had spilled when they tipped over in the van—the bottom of the cardboard box disintegrates and the whole thing nearly crashes to the floor!

And after this all happened I could only wonder: How many Hail Marys—yeah, I know we’re Presbyterian, but—how many Hail Marys would I need say in order to purify the roses from my anger and bad words and make them suitable again for a sermon illustration?

What kind of pastor...? A human one, I guess?

Did you know? The word human comes from the same root word as the words humus and humor and humility. The common root word refers to something that comes out of the earth, as in, “the Lord God formed the human from the dust—the humus—of the earth...” To be human is to be down-to-earth.

I can laugh now about my misadventure—to grasp humor is to be human (and humble)—and yet, the questions from the poet persist.

Mary Oliver asks, “Have I experienced happiness with sufficient gratitude?” Surely I’ve experienced happiness—just as surely I know I’m not sufficiently grateful. Not all the time.

“Have I endured loneliness with grace?” Yes, I’ve endured... but not with the grace I see in others. My sense is that most people in this quirky and incredibly loving congregation are better than I am at all these things—better at doing what Jesus has commanded us to do and which we can only do while connected to the True Vine: to simply love one another.

Here’s the thing—and I think it’s true for Moms and all of us: When we’re trying to do five things at once and feeling overwhelmed because of this-or-that going on behind the scenes (that maybe nobody else knows the whole story about); and when we’re a bit tired and our resistance is at a low ebb; and miss the grace-sightings all around us and forget to say thank you; and we might even start feeling like the world owes us roses...

And at that very moment...

Some jerk in a snazzy BMW will cut you off.

Can you believe that? That guy clearly doesn’t understand that I’m the one who indeed does own the road!

And then the vase of roses tips over.

So what do we learn from this? Well, for one thing, since top-heavy roses can tip over and make a mess; maybe we’d best not let ourselves get too top heavy either. And, one more thing: If we think mothers or pastors or elders or teachers or saints are somehow exempt from the humus—the earthiness—of life; exempt from days when boots get stuck in the mud and manure; then we are mistaken. Because there’s always one of those “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days” out there—just waiting for us—for saints and sinners and even moms.

Have I lived enough? Have I loved enough?...
I say, this, or perhaps I’m just thinking it. page2image22504 page2image22664 page2image22824
Actually, I probably think too much.
Then I step out into the garden, where the gardener, who is said to be a simple man, is tending his children, the roses.
The gardener isn’t thinking too hard about things. 
Just tending to things that need to be tended. 
He’s living and loving by tending the roses.

Part Two: Barrenness and the Pink Rose

In parts of the South, it’s a custom on Mother’s Day to wear a red rose if your mother is still living. And, in the South, men, women, and children wear a white rose if their mother is no longer living—if she has, as they would say in the South, “passed over.”

Red roses symbolize love. Red is the color of the Holy Spirit and the color of passion and life- blood. Red roses are a fitting symbol for our long-suffering, patient, never-take-the-last-cookie moms. White symbolizes Easter and resurrection and victory. We’ll white robes in glory— clothed in Christ’s righteousness. What a celebration! And, yet, the white roses might bring tears when we remember those we dearly miss. The white roses are for any of you who, like my kids, can no longer say “Happy Mother’s Day, I love you, Mom” face-to-face.

My friends Dave and Kim live in Montana. Three years ago—right about this time of year—Kim was in the check out line at the Costco and was greeted with “Happy Mother's Day!” to which she responded, “I'm not a mom.” Not willing to let it go at that, the still-cheery clerk said, “Well, we all have moms.” At that point, Kim composed herself, and said, “Yes, we do; and mine died two years ago. I miss her.”
Mother's Day can be really, really hard for those grieving. And, there are agonies, heartbreaks, and tears even beyond the symbol of the white roses. Mother’s Day can be especially painful for women and men who wanted to become parents and could not.

Sing, O Barren One (written by Mary Calloway) traces the theme of barren women in the Old and New Testaments. You may recall some of their stories:
  • In Genesis 11, Sarai was barren; she had no child.
  • In Genesis 25, Isaac prayed to the Lord for Rebecca, for she was barren...
  • And then there’s Hannah in 1 Samuel, and Elizabeth in the New Testament,
  • And the whole nation,
    Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband, says the Lord.
The theme of barrenness in the Bible functions to demonstrate that the gift of life came from God alone. Fruitfulness was seen as a reward for obedience. Barrenness was seen as humiliation or even a curse. 

Indeed, in Genesis 30, when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister; and she said to Jacob, “Give me children or I shall die!” And Jacob becomes angry with her and says, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb.” Ouch.

In all of the biblical stories of barren women—in the end, a son is given. In the end, prayers are answered.
So where does a woman who has not been given this gift of life connect on Mother’s Day? There are only a few obscure narratives of childless women who remain barren in Bible and I’m not going to tell those stories because they are—quite frankly—terrifying. As my friend and mentor Jeanne says, “Not a lot of comfort here.”

If the red roses represent living mothers, and the whites roses mothers who have passed over, what symbol do we have on Mother’s Day for the women who never bore a child?

What symbol do we have for my friend, the oldest sister of four girls, who longs to be a mom: She’s in her late 30s and her three younger sisters have seven children between them? What symbol so we have for women still dealing with infertility, for a mom waiting for a child to be placed with her through adoption, or for mothers who have lost children through miscarriage, stillbirth, accident, or illness? What symbol do we have if a child’s mother is alive but not around—a thousand miles away; or in prison; or imprisoned by addictions? What symbol do we have for the experience of losing one’s mother slowly—fading memories, dementia...?

For all these stories and more, our vase includes pink roses.
For the mother who has lost a child, a pink rose.
For the women who longed to be mothers, but could not, a pink rose.
For mothers who gave up a child for adoption, a pink rose.
For women waiting to adopt, a pink rose.
For a mother abused, a pink rose.
For a young girl shamed by her community, a pink rose.
And for all the other experiences—many fail to fit into our neat categories—a pink rose.

The pink roses are for unspoken agonies and sorrows the commercialized Mother’s Day glosses over. And for way, way too long the Church in North America has been complicit in this.

Part Three: Blessings and the Pink Rose

Yet, the pink roses are not only for hurts in need of healing, but also for the graces and joys we risk overlooking if we buy into the one-size-fits-all approach.

The pink roses are for blessings we have received from the spiritual mothers in the church and for stepmothers and grandmothers who came to the rescue... for a whole host of substitute moms... my kids could name many! Many of you here today are these spiritual mothers. For you, the pink rose is a badge of honor.

My spiritual mothers include my grandmother and Sunday school teachers and a host of other strong and wise women: Elizabeth, who introduced me to Hebrew and new ways of understanding the Old Testament; Bev, who was that one person who dared to ask, “How are you? No, how are you really?” and Jeanne, Janice Hope, Dawn, Heather...

The pink roses are for the “mothers of the church” who hold us together through nurturing and caring—through meals for the confirmation class and giving kids a ride because mom has to work. The pink roses are for women who are spiritual models and mentors.

Part Four – The Very Womb of God

Such a wide variety of experiences we have. 
So many different emotions.
Where do we go with all this?

Jeanne Stevenson Moessner says, “May I suggest that we bring our flowers—red, white, pink—to the altar of God who...” (like a mother) “...carries, feeds, protects, heals, guides, disciplines, comforts, washes, and clothes us as children.
  • Giving Birth – Listen to me, you who have been borne by me from birth and have been carried from the womb
  • Comforting – As a child who is comforted by her mother, so I will comfort you
  • Washing – I will pour clean water over you and scrub you clean; I’ll give you a new heart
    and put a new spirit in you
  • Healing – Look, God has moved into the neighborhood. God will wipe away every tear.
    Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more
  • Suffering & Long-Suffering (and even caring for difficult children) – The more I called them, the more they ran away from me; yet it was I who taught these children to walk, I
    took them up in my arms; but they didn’t know that it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.

    What ways of re-imaging God ring true to you? A woman dealing with breast cancer said, “After my surgery, I could not image God as a male. I needed to image God as Mother Hen. Because it is only God as mother hen who would know what it is like to lose a wing.”

    In a similar way, parents who have lost a child most often need and want visits from those who have gone through the same. And they need a God who knows what it was like to lose a child. I’m reminded again of Nicholas Wolterstorff’s book A Lament for a Son, “God is not only the God of the sufferers but the God who suffers... Instead of explaining our suffering God shares it.”
We can also re-image God as adoptive parent. The book of Ephesians in particular presents God as adoptive parent. God has destined us for adoption as children with an inheritance. God also knows the empty pain of childlessness when someone rejects the gracious invitation to come into the adoptive family.

The pink roses carry a meaning unique to each of our own experiences. The pink rose is for each of us, for all of us. My friend Jeanne wrote, “It would take an all-knowing, all-seeing, vulnerable, and loving God to fully understand what the pink rose signifies to each one of us.”

Jeanne—who taught pastoral care—was herself in need of tender care three years ago. She and her husband David experienced the death of their son. Jeanne would be the first to tell you that God’s healing doesn’t happen overnight. And yet she would speak, through her tears, of grace and love and laughter-in-the-midst-of-tears.... and of hope!

Jeanne wrote, “Our God is a God who formed our inward parts, knit us together in our mother’s womb, and saw our unformed substance. It is from such a God that healing will one day come, a healing that extends beyond childhood, before birth, to the very womb. This healing is to be found somehow in the very womb of God.”

Then I step out into the garden, where the gardener, who is said to be a simple man, is tending his children, the roses.
I like to think of the garden as the womb of the gardener.
It’s a place of hope and healing, of revelation and understanding.

We don’t learn to live by analyzing what it means to love... 
We learn to love by living.

In the garden...
Tending the roses...

Trusting that all the bouquets in our lives, all our stories, are held close to the very heart of God.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A Prayer for Mother’s Day (Rev. Leslie Nipps, adapted)
On this Mother’s Day, we give thanks to you, O God, for the divine gift of motherhood in all its diverse forms. We pray for all the mothers among us today: for our own mothers, those living and those who have passed away; for single mothers who helped their children pick out their own card or gift; for mothers who loved us; and for those who fell short of loving us fully; for all who hope to be mothers someday and for those whose hope to have children has been frustrated; for all mothers who have lost children; for all women and men who have mothered others in any way—those who have been our substitute mothers and who have done so for those in need; and for the earth that bore us and provides us with our sustenance. We pray this all in the name of our birthing and adoptive God, who loves us to the uttermost. Amen. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

Easter & Joy & Mourning Gladly


We are Easter People. As I have often said, "Easter is just too grand, too glorious, and too wonderful to be limited to just one day!"  

The Church calendar seems to agree with me—the Season of Easter begins with Easter Sunday and then the season continues for fifty days! And so we have reflected on how Easter changes our lives through April and into May. Easter makes a difference! Not only does Easter make a difference, Easter makes all the difference in the world. Nothing will ever be the same.

Christ is risen! Earth and heaven
nevermore shall be the same.
Break the bread of new creation
where the world is still in pain.
Tell its grim, demonic chorus:
“Christ is risen! Get you gone!”
God the First and Last is with us,
sing hosanna, everyone!



By the way, I’m writing these reflections for the June newsletter on April 30. Working ahead. Because when this June newsletter is coming out, I’ll be making the last-minute preparations for Luke’s graduation party. Yes, that means pulling my hair out—ha, ha, ha! Anyway, at least for today I’m patting myself on the back for “working ahead” as I sometimes did in school. Anyway, as I happily anticipate the May Day Breakfast at our church, and think about all that May will bring—including tulips in Pella, and think about June (which seems far away but will be here in just a moment and—for all of us reading this now, it’s indeed already arrived)… As I anticipate all this with a glad heart, part of me anxiously screams, “How will I get everything done?” Yet, even as I feel that hint of anxiety or stress, I cannot help but think of one of my grandfather’s favorite passages:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:4-7).


Does the idea of “mourning gladly” make you shake your head in confusion? Maybe you didn’t catch it, or maybe you even thought the caption was a typo!

And yet, perhaps… Maybe the idea of “mourning gladly” took your mind and heart to Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, where he says,

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

May I tell you a funny story (a “confession”) in the midst of this thought? When I started “working ahead” on the June newsletter, I was simply going to share an essay from Lament for a Son, a little-and-profound book by Nicholas Wolterstorff. Sharing his essay would be an easy way to save me the time or “hassle” of writing some reflections myself. But then I started thinking of “mourning gladly” in the context of Easter. And then—if I can use a metaphor—I veered off Highway 92 and started exploring my mind’s gravel roads and before you know it was hanging out near a covered bridge. Which is exactly why I’m a pastor and not an accountant. And why I sometimes drive people crazy—whether it be my kids on vacation (when I literally take the scenic route “just because it was there”) or whether it be a Type A person during a committee meeting. Lol.

Anyway, I still want to share Nicholas Wolterstorff with you even if that means the newsletter is a little longer than usual.

More background… I pulled his book out this morning when I read a poem on Facebook—a beautiful poem written by a dear friend about her brother’s recent death and her grief. Only just moments ago did I recall, in addition to that first prod, that June 4 will be the ninth anniversary of my own Carolyn’s death.

Sitting under my metaphorical covered bridge, here is the thing I want tell you, dearly loved people of 1UPC—

We all experience loss and grief and sorrow at some point in our lives. At this point in this extended reflection I have tears in my eyes. Some of you do too. And that’s OK. And yet, at the same time, we are Easter People! We are people who mourn with gladness and hope in our hearts, because we not only share in Christ’s death but in his resurrection. We grieve—but not as those who have no hope! We are Easter people always. Rejoicing always. And even “mourning gladly” always!
Glad to be on the journey with you,
Pastor Randy

From Lament for a Son, pp. 84-86

Standing on a hill in Galilee Jesus said to his disciples:

Blessed are those who mourn,For they shall be comforted. 

Blessings to those who mourn, cheers to those who weep, hail to those whose eyes are filled with tears, hats off to those who suffer, bottoms up to the grieving. How strange, how incredibly strange! 
When you and I are left to our own devices, it’s the smiling, successful ones of the world that we cheer, “Hail to the victors.” The histories we write of the odyssey of humanity on earth are the stories of the exulting ones—the nations that won the battle, the businesses that defeated their competition, the explorers who found a pass the Pacific, the scientists whose theories proved correct, the athletes who came in first, the politicians who won their campaigns. We turn away from the crying ones of the world. Our photographers tell us to smile. 
“Blessed are those who mourn.” What can it mean? One can understand why Jesus hails those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, why he hails the merciful, why he hails the pure in heart, why he hails the peacemakers, why he hails those who endure under persecution. These are qualities of character which belong to the life of the kingdom. But why does he hail the mourners of the world? Why cheer tears? It must be that mourning is also a quality of character that belongs to the life of his realm.

Who then are the mourners? The mourners are those who have caught a glimpse of God’s new day, who ache with all their being for that day’s coming, and who break out into tears when confronted with its absence. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm of peace there is no one blind and who ache whenever they see someone unseeing. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one falsely accused and who ache whenever they see someone imprisoned unjustly. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one who fails to see God and who ache whenever they see someone unbelieving. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one who suffers oppression and who ache whenever they see someone beat down. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one without dignity and who ache whenever they see someone treated with indignity. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm of peace there is neither death nor tears and who ache whenever they see someone crying tears over death. The mourners are aching visionaries.

Such people Jesus blesses; he hails them, he praises them, he salutes them. And he gives them the promise that the new day for whose absence they ache will come. They will be comforted. 
The Stoics of antiquity said: Be calm. Disengage yourself. Neither laugh nor weep. Jesus says: Be open to the wounds of the world. Mourn humanity’s mourning, weep over humanity’s weeping, be wounded by humanity’s wounds, be in agony over humanity’s agony. But do so in the good cheer that a day of peace is coming.


Saturday, November 11, 2017

A Service for the Sunday following Veterans Day

November 12, 2017

Welcome & Announcements


GOD WELCOMES US INTO WORSHIP… AND WE RESPOND                                                                                          

Leader:     Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

People:                                          And also with you.

Leader:     On this day we gather to sing and to pray:

People:         We remember the past and look to the future.

Leader:     On this day after Veterans Day—the day in 1918 when the guns fell silent—

                      In the war which was to end all war—

                      At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month:

People:         We come before you God, seeking your peace.

Leader:     On this day of hope in the face of terror:

People:         We come before you God, praying with all our hearts:

                      O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come:

                      Help us to find the path that leads to the peaceable kingdom.

                      Open our eyes and the eyes of the nations to find a different path—

                      A pathway of peace through the disagreements of life in this world.

                      In this time of story, song, and prayer:

                      Help us to recommit ourselves to being people of shalom—true peace.

                      Help us catch a vision of how the world might live together.

                      And so we echo the old prayers:

                      Make us channels of your peace.

                      Let there be peace on earth—and let it begin with me.  Amen.

*HYMN OF PRAISE                  “Eternal God, Whose Power Upholds”     

                                                                                          Forest Green


*HYMN OF GRATITUDE                “O Beautiful for Spacious Skies”             



Leader:          Let us give thanks to God

                      for the land of our birth with all its chartered liberties,

                      and for all the wonder of our country's story:

People:    We give you thanks, O God.

Leader:          For leaders in nation and state,

                      and for those who in days past and in these present times

                      have labored for the commonwealth:

People:    We give you thanks, O God.

Leader:          For those who in all times and places have been true and brave,

                      and in common and uncommon ways

                      have lived upright lives and ministered to others:

People:    We give you thanks, O God.

Leader:          For those who served their country in its hour of need,

                      and especially for those who gave even their lives in that service:

People:    We give you thanks, O God.

Leader:          Almighty God, as we remember these your servants,

                      remembering with gratitude their courage and strength,

                      we hold before you those who mourn them.

                      Look upon your bereaved daughters and sons with your mercy.

                      As this day brings them memories of those they have lost,

                      may it also bring your consolation and the assurance

                      that their loved ones are alive now and forever in your living presence.  

HYMN OF PRAYER                     “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” (Stanza 4)       


PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION                                         

OLD TESTAMENT LESSON: What does God require of a nation?               Deuteronomy 10:12-13, 17-21              

PSALM: A prayer for justice and righteousness                                                        Psalm 72:1-7, 11-14, 18-19 

NEW TESTAMENT LESSON: The proper use of freedom                                                        Galatians 5:13-26

SERMON                                                                                                                                            Rev. Randal K. Lubbers

The Response to God


PRAYER OF CONFESSION                                                                                                                                                   

       God of Mercy and Light, forgive us for walking in darkness of our own making. Forgive us for not being ready to receive your love.  Forgive us when we move in the wrong direction and away from your word.  Forgive us and help us to share. Forgive us and help us to shine. Forgive us and help us to shelter those in need. Light a pathway for us to follow, O God of all Creation.  Amen.                                                                                                                                                                    

ASSURANCE OF PARDON                                                                                                                                                                                   


Leader:          The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

People:          And also with you.


         OFFERTORY HYMN                                “This Is My Song”                                               


Please stand for the final stanza of the hymn; then remain standing

       *PRESENTATION OF OFFERINGS                                                                              Words & Music by Henry Smith

       Give thanks with a grateful heart, give thanks to the Holy One,

       give thanks because he’s given Jesus Christ, his Son. (Repeat)

               And now let the weak say, “I am strong.” Let the poor say, “I am rich,”

         Because of what the Lord has done for us. (Repeat)      Give thanks. Give thanks.

       *LORD’S PRAYER (traditional version using “debts/debtors”)

*CLOSING HYMN                        “In Christ There Is No East or West”         


*CHARGE AND BENEDICTION                                                                                                                                         


All are welcome in this place!”
WELCOME to our worship celebration. We’re glad you’re here today—our worship together is enriched by your presence! It remains our constant and sincere prayers that our church might become more and more a reflection of God’s gracious and radical hospitality! All are welcome—no exceptions!
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS:  Call to Worship adapted from Rev. Gord Waldie, a pastor in the United Church in Canada; blog contents licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada License. Used by permission. A Litany from The Book of Worship for the United States Forces adapted from The Armed Forces Chaplains' Board, Washington, D.C. Used by permission. Scripture Readings from readings suggested in worship resources prepared by Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church. Prayer for Veterans Day written by Rev. Lubbers with inspiration from a prayer by Rev. John Hamilton (PCUSA) and the Book of Common Worship.