Archive for May, 2011

Baltimore Orioles, Indigo Buntings, Hairy Woodpeckers

May 31, 2011

We spent the weekend with my mother and sisters watching birds.  We saw the birds of the title of this post, plus grosbeaks, hummingbirds, chickadees, nuthatches, blue jays, finches, robins, cardinals, etc.  My mother and sister live  in a wooded area, and my sister Ruth has placed 5 bird feeders outside the front window.  My mother can sit and watch the birds come and go from her seat by the window.

Growing up in a small village in South Dakota, I do remember that we saw robins and crows and sparrows and black birds.  A mourning dove nested in an evergreen below my bedroom window.  These birds seemed drab and common place at the time.  So how thrilling it is to see the bright colors of the birds that inhabit the woods around this house in Iowa and visit the feeders put out for them.

The bird feeders are all different.  One has suet, another thistle seed, another has wild bird seed, the fourth is sweet juice for the baltimore oriole, the last a feeder for the hummingbirds to hover over.  Each species receives what it needs, and this diverse population of birds lives in mostly harmony with each other.

Having been a pastor of a congregation, it made me think of the variety of needs of people.  What feeds some, doesn’t satisfy others.  For some music is what worship is all about.  For some, it’s the great  old hymns of faith.  For others it’s the joyful sound of a gospel song.  For many it’s the music they grew up with.

For others they are fed by hearing the word read, for some  a sermon that acknowledges their faith struggle , for others  a sermon that calls them to more righteous living.  Others are attracted to the spirit of joy or the spirit of love they find in a particular community of faith.  Still others look forward  to shared prayer or to moments of silence in worship.

What all this suggests to me is that we are in the business of attracting.  Birds are attracted to the different feeders.What do we offer that attracts people?  What is the good news we have to share?  How is it that the variety of people in the world receive that news?  Congregations may attract by focusing on one set of needs, but many congregations will find themselves needing to offer 5 or more feeders for the variety of people that live in their neck of the woods.  And then we wait.  Wait for the Spirit of God to work in the lives of people.

Iowa in May

May 25, 2011

It is beautiful in Iowa in May.  My mother and two sisters live on a farm in Iowa not too far from the Minnesota border.  I spent two days there last week. (Retirement has some perks.)  At 98 my mother is still spry.  She gets out of bed and out of a chair by herself to use her walker, but needs help with some of her “dailies.”  That means  one of my sisters is always in the house with her.

That care does mean less time to tend a rather large yard and a couple of good sized gardens.  My visit  was to help some by helping with outside work.  I don’t enjoy such work in the hot, sticky days of July, so I was curious about how a few days in cooler, dryer May would go.  Not too bad , it turns out..  My one sister and I dug up a plot to extend the herb garden, put mulch around the mums planted last year. pulled weeds around a row of pine trees they had planted, took the weed whacker to some tall grass,  picked up sticks off the lawn, cut up a tree limb that had broken off, took off the hardware wire protecting a couple of young lilac bushes from deer and rabbits,and that’s about it.  Oh, yes, sitting in the sun on a hill a couple of times looking out over a scene I’ve known all my life.

Things are changing for them and that scene.  The chicken coops are gone, the granary is gone, the implement shed is gone, the barn is decaying and leaning a bit.  They’ve added a room to the house, to give more space for the three of them.  They’ve gotten older and so have I.

On the other hand, there is opportunity to visit yet with my mother who despite all the loses in her life says over and over, “I am so blessed. ”  There is opportunity to try to match wits with my sisters (I often lose), and to sit looking out over a patch of pasture,see cows there and the huge willow tree that continues to stand in the middle of it alongside a meandering drainage ditch.   It’s been that way for over a hundred years.  Situations change, people change, the landscape changes, but we are blessed. Yes, May in Iowa is a blessed time.

Ken Eggen

May 13, 2011

We are missing our friend and colleague, Ken, today.  Our sympathies go to Gurine, Deb and Dan and their families, as well as his sisters and their families.  Ken was more than a friend and colleague.  He was also pastor to Mary Jo and I several times in our lives.  We thank God for him and for his ministry, for his compassion and confidentiality.  We know God will bless his memory among us.


Shepherds and sheep.  This is sometimes known as Good Shepherd Sunday.  Jesus mixes the metaphors here by comparing himself to a shepherd but also a gate to the sheep pen.

In the late ’40’s and early ’50’s, my father was a pastor of a rural 4 point parish in South Dakota. We lived in the country where there was a small barn, 20 acres of pasture and 5 acres of alfalfa hay.  Taking advantage of the setting, my folks had some sheep.  The sheep provided a little extra cash from the wool and selling the lambs, as well as providing food for the table.

One day when I was 8 or 9, I came home from the one-room country school house to find that the sheep were out of the pasture and in the large yard surrounding the house.  They had gotten out through a hole in the fence.  As I remember it, I opened the gate to the barn yard and began to try to chase them through it.  They were faster than I was.  All they did was run in a circle.  They never found the open gate.

Thankfully, my parents drove down the driveway not much later.  They assessed the situation. My Dad grabbed the bucket used to feed the sheep grain.  The sheep saw it and simply followed him through the gate.

Often we are like sheep who have gone astray, gone our own way.  In those times God doesn’t chase us around trying to get us back where we belong.  But God does call us by name. God shows us that God has what we need and want.  God invites us to follow into the safety of God’s presence.  This is gift to us and takes into account the freedom God gives to us.

We’re invited to hear the Good Shepherd call our name as we worship this weekend.

Road to Emmaus

May 7, 2011

We’re off today to celebrate Mother’s Day with my 98 year old mother.  She recently stopped climbing the steep farm house stairs to her bedroom, and has a bedroom set up downstairs now.  She is remarkable and we are blessed to have the opportunity to celebrate with her.  We still have good conversations, for which we give thanks.


The gospel reading this weekend is the story of two who are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus after Jesus death.  (This is where the title of this blog comes from.)  I’ve had more than a passing interest in this story this week as I have a preaching assignment tomorrow.

What I see in this story is how important worship is.  We may encounter God in many places and in many ways, but in this story God makes God’s self known in the spoken word and in the breaking of the bread.  The stranger on the road to Emmaus accompanies the two heartsick disciples.  He hears their story of loss and then points them back to their scripture and explains to them that the Messiah must suffer.

The two invite him to supper.  When the stranger (Jesus) breaks, blesses and gives the bread to them, they recognize who Jesus is for that moment and then he vanishes as quickly as he appeared.

I’m sometimes jealous of the people who had that visual experience of the risen Christ.  But God in God’s wisdom provides means for me to experience the risen Christ as well–His presence in our lives.  It’s in worship where the word is read and proclaimed, and in the sacrament of Holy communion where the bread is broken, blessed and given to all those gathered there.  The glimpse you and I get of Jesus may only be momentary, be fleeting, but it is real.  May Jesus meet you on every road you travel.  May you take the opportunity to listen to Jesus and experience him in the Means of Grace.

Matea Elizabeth Bersagel Braley, child of God

May 1, 2011

We had the privilege on Easter weekend to gather with family and friends to baptize Matea.  She is named after her great, great grandmother Breening  and great grandmother Abernethy on Mary Jo’s side and wore the baptismal dress her great grand mother Bersagel wore almost 98 years ago.  Although she already belonged to God as part of God’s good creation, her baptism was a gift to her of an experience of God’s grace.  Washed with water and the word, the cross of Christ etched invisibly on her forehead,  she has an identity as God’s child.  That identity can never be lost, taken away by the world around her, or ultimately denied by her.  It is as much who she is as she is a descendent of those whose name she bears.  Welome Matea to that identity, to the family of God, and to the mission God gives us all of bearing God’s redeeming word to all the world.


In many places we heard the Easter story from the gospel of John.  For some Easter may mean that we’ll get to meet God and Jesus some day–after we die.  But in this gospel Jesus’ resurrection means we meet Jesus here and now.  Jesus comes to us as a gift and meets us where we are.  That place may be a cemetery.  In our grief and sorrow, Jesus’ comes to us to bring us new life and the power to live that life fully.

The gospel story often read on the Sunday after Easter is the story of Jesus appearance to his followers.  He comes to them in their fears.  They have locked themselves in an upper room out of fear.  Jesus makes two appearances to the group.  Thomas is not with them the first time and he does not believe or trust their report.  Thomas is often called “doubting Thomas” but that’s not who he is.  Doubt is not the opposite of faith.  Faith includes doubt.  Faith isn’t knowledge, but is trust edged with doubt, with not seeing and not knowing, but taking the leap anyway.  Unbelief is the opposite of faith.  Much as hate is not the flip side of love.  Apathy is that flip side.  Hate maintains a strong emotional attachment.  So doubt is part of faith.

Our faith edged with doubt is that God has met Matea in her helplessness as  4 month old.  Our hope edged with despair is that God will continue to come to her in her life so that she might trust without seeing, and have the abundant life, God promises.