Communion for the Wounded

The farmers’ hands were scrubbed clean and yet still dirty.

The creases on their palms were like dark rivers flowing through callouses and scars. Black streaks of grit and grime were permanently etched around nails.

Fingers were missing. A pinkie gone, leaving three digits alongside the thumb. Or the upper part of a ring finger ended at the knuckle. I recall a few pointing, perhaps giving directions to a neighbor’s place, but there was no index finger to aim.

Is farming the most dangerous job in America? Oh sure, others could protest that distinction. Soldiers face bullets and bombs. Who wants to be a cop or firefighter rushing into a building ablaze with angry citizens or fires or both? Loggers with chainsaws always make the danger list. Don’t forget the construction workers atop half-built skyscrapers, a stumble from experiencing gravity in a bad, bad way. Continue reading →

Hooved Mysteries

Matthew 2:13-23  – The 1st Sunday following Christmas – for December 29, 2013

“When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph…” (Matthew 2:19)

1985168_f520During a Wisconsin autumn evening years ago, my wife and I were returning to our borrowed-from-friends cottage when deer burst in front of the car.

It was dark; we were paralleling a river and the cold evening air mixed with the water to produce swirling fog.

First it was one deer, leaping across the road. I braked and went from slow to slower. Then two more burst from the gray-shrouded woods. Then another. Though not at a complete stop, a crawling baby would have moved faster that we were. We eased forward, holding our breath, the four deer now a memory of flashing legs and fog wisps. It was a moment when my rational brain knew what I had witnessed, but at the same time I had a “Was it real?” question swirling in my mind like the evening’s fog.

Then a fifth deer burst across. Then gone.

How much time had passed? Five seconds? Ten? Both of us, our car at a complete stop, stared through the windshield. Was it real?

I was remembering those Wisconsin deer because on my drive home last night I steered through numerous “herds” of deer. Continue reading →

(Always) Entering Bethlehem (Again)

Luke 2:41-52 (and Luke 2:1-20 & even a measure of Matthew) – 1st Sunday after Christmas (but during Christmas, too) – for Sunday, December 30, 2012)

“…Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”  (Luke 2:41-52)

MaryJosephWe entered the town, cold and hungry. And so very dark, maybe even darker than the open road a few miles before, when the stars slicked the horizon and the moon, fat in the hard winter sky, cast light across fields and created shadows on the undulating hills.

Our donkey kicked loose stones along the well-used Bethlehem streets. At first, when rock and hoof met, the clattering seemed the only noise. People slept, doors were shuttered, candles extinguished. Then at one place movement, a face briefly peering out the window, a hint that someone watched and also a hope that a room or even a protected corner might be available for rent or barter. We knocked there. No answer. We tried another place. And another. In the distance, beyond the village, sheep baaed, wind stirred, and we turned the corner to search the next street for . . .

“Hey, Larry, how ya doing?”

Shocked and disoriented, I slowed my running pace and looked at the fellow runner alongside me. In a split-second I’d shifted centuries, from lonely Bethlehem to the paved roads of southwestern Wisconsin.

My interrupted thoughts on that frigid wintry morning in Wisconsin are one of my many vivid memories of Christmas. It was 1989 and the Christmas Eve service loomed mere days away. In those days, years ago and before four knee surgeries, I ran. I served three small country churches, like a good old Methodist circuit rider, in the middle of Wisconsin’s prime dairy country. When I ran, even on the icy and snowy days, I loped along rutted county routes kept open for the deliveries of milk from farm to the local processor. And when I ran, with a Sunday always in front of me, I thought of upcoming sermons or classes or counseling sessions.

On that morning, with a Christmas Eve sermon to soon be delivered, I’d left the twentieth century. I’d forgotten the parsonage where I lived and ignored the entrance to a church member’s farm. I wandered through Bethlehem, imagining Joseph and Mary and a soon-to-be event that would transform the world and reveal the power of God’s unfailing tenderness and . . . Continue reading →