A PRAYER FOR THE AGES

On a scorching hot August afternoon in 2009, we stood upon hallowed grounds in the Bear Paw Mountains of Montana. This group of youth and adults had traveled with me across several states, and now we solemnly walked in the footsteps of a man I consider a hero. It was here that Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce found themselves surrounded, after walking over 1,000 miles in an effort to simply find shelter in Canada. It was here that Chief Joseph famously surrendered on October 5th, 1877. It was here that so many were killed and tortured. It was here that others who escaped froze to death with no food or blankets in the nights to come. On this afternoon, some 132 years later, you could still ‘feel’ the sorrow and fear of this place.

Chief Joseph once famously said, “We do not want churches because they will teach us to quarrel about God. We do not want to learn that.” He also eloquently spoke in the years to come of how we all have our origins from the same Creator and thus are ALL siblings living upon our ‘Mother Earth.’ He taught respect, unity and equality – even as one who had every right to be angry. In my mind’s eye, Chief Joseph was a man who reflected Grace out into the world. And so, as I stood on this battleground with my brothers and sisters, knowing that this very spot was the place of his most defeated moment in life, I couldn’t help but feel Chief Joseph’s heart still beating here. Tears welled in my eyes. It was as if his voice still rang out to the centuries.

I pray often that I, too, may be a voice of Grace in this world. I pray that someone, even if it is but one person, will feel a tingle of Hope by having known me for just a moment. I pray that we may all value one another so deeply as to speak on behalf of each other rather than in opposition to one another. I pray that we may learn to see ALL people as brothers and sisters. I pray that we may come to see God’s Love as more important than our theology. I pray that one day, an age of respect will dawn upon our Mother Earth. I pray… Amen.

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

PEACEFUL SUMMER MOMENTS

On a warm summer afternoon, God’s creation is calmly at play. I sit with my eyes closed for a few moments and listen to the sounds outside my office window. I can hear the breeze rustling the leaves of the majestic old tree whose limbs stretch across the street toward our building. Children are giggling as they run along the sidewalk without a care in the world. In the distance, sirens from a firetruck are blaring for all to move aside. Meanwhile, somewhere beneath my window, a bird joyfully sings to her heart’s desire. These are the sounds of summer.

There is something peaceful about these sounds, and this season. Perhaps it can be attributed to the bond we share with the creation around us, as every creature and person enjoys the beautiful outdoors. Maybe it is the sabbath rest we seek this time of year as we intentionally step away from our life’s callings to spend time with those we love. It could also be the warmth, and the lack of harsh conditions as we venture into the world. For me, it is the sounds themselves. They harken back to my childhood, and an easier time. The giggles of children and the rustling leaves remind me of whiffle ball games with friends in our backyards, and the trees that were our bases. The song of a sparrow reminds me of walks at the park with my parents ‘visiting’ the ducks and birds. The sirens remind me of school days and class trips to the fire station where we could climb into the truck. Life was so easy then, and our summers were precious and care free.

These few moments with my eyes closed provide me a glimpse of a peace that is today beyond my adult understanding. They provide me with a sabbath rest. Far too often it is easy to forget that which is true of God’s creation…it is meant to be enjoyed! Here we live amongst that which God so loves and cherishes. Here we experience the work of God’s heart. Here, in this place, we are always children…to God. And thus, on a warm summer afternoon, this child closes his eyes for just a moment, to simply observe that which is ever so holy to God’s attentive ears. Amen.

-Rev. Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

A WEEK OF CONTRASTS AND PEACE

Gene had been suffering from Dementia, and his death just before his 89th birthday can be seen as a blessing. I often provide final blessings and lead memorial services as a pastor. You cannot help but absorb the energy in the room that can range from peace to anger to sorrow – and anywhere in between. This, however, was different – for Gene was also my father-in-law. As I led his service on Tuesday morning, I was ever so aware that this was my wife and our family stung by such a pain. Our nephew gave a beautifully heart-felt eulogy of his grandfather. Cousins, who always make me smile, stayed with us. Friends continually checked in to meet our needs. A whirlwind of emotions circulated through my soul. As I stood at the podium during the hymn “Beautiful Savior” that morning, I intentionally took a moment to gaze around and see the loving tears rolling down familiar faces, and a mysterious sense of peaceful blessing washed over me.

Emily and Ryan gathered at my church with family and friends on Friday for a rehearsal of their wedding. We count Emily’s family amongst our closest friends in this world, and I had been looking forward to this weekend for months. That night we attended a festive rehearsal dinner and heard stories. The next morning we hosted the girls in our home as hairdressers, make-up specialists, and florists came by to help them get ready for the afternoon. The laughter and anticipation was palpable. Later, I smiled again as the groom and his friends played ping-pong in my church’s youth room just minutes before the wedding. During their wedding, I asked them to turn around and look at those gathered in our sanctuary, and then I reminded them that God’s love is ever present in the people who surround us. Their smiles made my heart jump. At the reception, I led a prayer, enjoyed a wonderful meal, and danced with my wife. As the music played on, I took a moment to gaze around and marveled as so many people I personally know and love celebrated with such unbridled joy. Once again, that same mysterious sense of peaceful blessing washed over me.

In one week, two events that stretch across the extremes of our life cycles, both reminded me of the same truth. God’s Love flows through my life in every moment regardless of the mood, bringing a sense of peace and calm. Sure, the world’s negativity can occasionally knock us down, but only if we forget to stop and gaze around. Thank you, O Lord, for the rolling current of your love that ever buffets the moments of our lives. Amen.

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

 

MOMENTS IN A FAMILY’S LIFE

An old man sits in his wheelchair, waiting… He is in hospice care, and no one can know with any certainty his thoughts. A name of a friend or relative is mentioned, and for a fleeting moment there is a slight glimmer in his eyes. A story from long ago is shared, and he looks upward as if watching the memory like an old movie reel. His wife, who passed away years ago, is referenced, and he points to the side of the bed with a weak smile. Perhaps she is here. All the while, he looks around and around, reacting at times and deeply pondering at others. If only he could tell us what he sees.

This family prepares for his death, while they also anticipate the birth of his next great-grandchild. Life simply continues to cycle, as God calls one home while breathing new life into another. Emotions swirl between joy and sorrow. Seconds tick away on the clock hanging on his wall. One might say that life is unpredictable, but that is only partially true. Some constants remain the same, including God’s activity with life. Soon, this man will stand face to face with the God who breathed life into him almost nine decades ago, and will also be reunited with his wife and so many others he has loved and lost through the years. Soon, a baby will scream his or her way into this world, lungs filling with air gifted by the same God. Tears will be shed, laughs will be shared, and memories of the next generation will be added to the oral history of this family. Through it all, God will stand in their midst – loving and interacting every day. This is the flow of grace, and it is one of the few constants life on this earth knows. Thank you, O Lord. Amen.

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

GOD’S WEB OF LIFE

A few clouds hang in the sky above, beckoning my inner child to see something in their shape. In the foreground, a bare tree is coated with red buds waiting to spring to life. One or two tiny leaves have already begun to peek out at the world, preparing to grow into their summer shape. Nearby, a ground squirrel cautiously pokes his head out of a hole to survey the scene, and then scampers over to a rock where seeds and nuts have been left for him as a feast after months of hibernation. All around, the creation resurrects to new life.

As I sit here, a beautiful butterfly flutters over my head for a few moments, peacefully showing off a bright rainbow of color. Later, a hawk passionately swoops down like a flash, leaving me startled as she rides the tide of the breeze several feet away. I could sit here forever, writing sermon notes and blogs. It occurs to me that a measure of the creativity God has used to artistically design this little corner of the world has also been planted in my soul as I write of God’s glory. I am created by God, with the purpose of myself creating and adding to that which God already loves. With each creative moment, I also find new life – for one cannot live in relationship to God and creation without being changed by every encounter.

In reality, I cannot say with certainty that I comprehend the meaning of this calling in ministry, but rather I just accept it as part of my purpose. Perhaps the words God inspires in me first bud, and then spring to life, taking shape and growing into something yet to be seen. Perhaps that which God leads me to observe is meant to serve as a sufficient survey of the surrounding world, thus giving me some sense of security to drift out from places where I may otherwise feel inclined to hide or hibernate. Perhaps the emotions God stirs are intended to calm my heart like a brightly adorned fluttering butterfly, or to swoop into my consciousness with the ferocity of a hawk evoking deep provocation in moments when I need it most. Perhaps the thoughts God speaks into my mind occasionally are designed to simply drift by with little purpose other than to tickle my childhood imagination. The one thing I do know is that God desires to hear my voice, and so I watch and I write. Mine is not to ask why, but instead to simply do. God will decide how best to use. Such is the way in God’s Web of Life. Amen.

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

MOMENTS OF COMPANIONSHIP

It is midnight, and God’s creation is at peace. A few bare tree limbs waft gently in the breeze, as God continuously breathes life into the night air. Nearby, an owl calls out to her partner and awaits the response of companionship. Otherwise, there is only a stillness and quiet which slowly engulfs me, calming my soul.

The irony of this world is not lost on me this night. We create such ugliness and chaos in the same spaces where God creates such beauty and peace. Perhaps this is why I find myself craving these moments. God walks these grounds, calming storms. We walk these same grounds, often creating storms. It is God I must seek to find here. It is the holiness of walking where God has walked that I must recognize. It is the quiet within the noise that I must experience. Thus, on a cold night, I stand in the darkness and observe that which is home to me, and which is hallowed to God. Unconsciously my heart falls into rhythm with the Heart of God beating so gently here. My breathing slows into unity with the slight breeze that reaches out to caress my face. Above, the clouds are clearing, just as they are within my soul. God is here – and so am I. With a deeply intentional sigh, I simply say “Amen.”

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

THIS UNFATHOMABLE LOVE

“What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility…this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I must remember these words! But oh my Lord and my God, there is ever so much that I find repulsive in this world. Thoughts of your experience on the cross and in the tomb are numbing to me. The burning of any place of worship deeply angers me. The shooting of children on streets and in schools tears at my soul. Watching refugees die because they literally have no tiny corner of this world where they can be accepted makes my heart feel sick. Knowing that so many have twisted Holy Scriptures to “justify” racism, sexism, injustice, and prejudice so vastly damages my faith in humanity. The walls we build to separate ourselves, and the words we use so freely to demean one another, sadden me. How can we take that which is so beautifully molded by Your Hands of Grace and denigrate it so easily? My heart sinks.

Then I remember again that unfathomable love. My Lord, you can leave no corner of this universe alone. Your touch extends through all times and places, and especially hovers near the worst we have to offer. You dream of peace. You dream of equality and unity. You dream of life and hope. You dream of new life. And thus, this unfathomable love rides the waves of grace into our tombs and streets and hearts. This unfathomable love hammers away at the walls we would build. This unfathomable love dries tears, restores souls, and renews that which is so devastated. My heart may ache, but it also beats as one with Your Heart. It has no choice if it is to live this day! Thus I find some level of solace in the knowledge that those areas I so wish to avoid are the very areas you so wish to invade. I find some level of strength in the understanding that Your Light is piercing. And in response, my weary soul responds: Here I am Lord…my heart and my voice are available, even if they are occasionally feeble. For I must also remember that my own personal weaknesses and failures, regardless of how inconsequential to the “big” picture they may seem to me, are also ground for this unfathomable love. And now, my soul faintly glows once again. Amen.

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

GOD OF NEW LIFE

The week following Jesus’ resurrection began with life returning to normal – or at least as normal as it could be. Golgotha stood still once again as a hill along the countryside, covered in mud where so many had trod over the grass just a day or two before. People no longer remained milling around and the crosses were no longer standing tall over the surrounding valleys. Nearby, the tomb stood quiet and empty once again, the stone having been rolled away and only shadows abiding within. The guards had left their post, confused about the events of that previous morning. Disciples had retreated to upper rooms, far outside the public view for fear of what repercussions might come now that Jesus’ body was missing. Those who had seen him were ever so cautious about who they shared the Good News with, knowing that this news brought with it a meaning beyond their comprehension as of yet. Meanwhile, the exodus of people leaving Jerusalem had begun once again. Many left with pain in their hearts, still unaware of the resurrection that had taken place, while others left pondering the wild and chaotic events that they had witnessed over these days. The Romans found themselves appreciating the returning calm once again, as the Holy Days wound down.  Only a precious few were aware of how different the world now was.

I often find myself standing in great wonder this week following Easter. The past week has been a whirlwind, with emotions ranging from humility to grief to joy, and now life is expected to return back to the normal and familiar. Life, however, is anything but normal, because God is the ‘God of New Life.’ Normal – as it is defined in by God for the creation – is resurrection to newness. What I was yesterday I am not meant to be today, for every day is a new dawn. The world cannot stay like this forever – God does not intend stagnancy. Somehow, peace will be born and love will reign here in some resurrection not so far off. Somehow, we find ways to overcome disease and learn to adjust accordingly. Somehow, walls of division are broken down by common folk in Berlin while elsewhere the dreams of a prophet named Martin come to fruition in the decades following his violent death. Somehow, stars pass away in a spectacular flight across the night sky while others explode to new life. Somehow the little trickle of a stream carves a new canyon in a mountainside. Somehow, with God’s hands leading the way, resurrection to newness becomes the norm – even as we pretend otherwise.

Yesterday has blazed its memory into the history books. Today is a new day, and tomorrow will be new yet again. Such is life for us as People of the Resurrection. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING! Amen.

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

THE BROKENNESS COMES FIRST

One cannot truly appreciate the extreme joy of new life without having first experienced the deep sorrow of brokenness. Christ did not come to us simply to be resurrected. He came to first be broken by a world that ultimately finds ways to break us all.

In the hours leading to his crucifixion, Jesus humbly acted as a lowly servant washing the feet of his followers – even the one who would betray him! Jesus ate a meal with a group that he knew would scatter and fail him in his hours of need. Jesus experienced the ultimate injustice of being wrongly accused and sentenced to death – simply because the powerful wanted to protect their place in society. Jesus was physically and emotionally abused. Jesus felt the frustration of weakness and the grief of losing physical strength and ability as he repeatedly fell carrying his cross. Jesus bore the sorrow of saying goodbye to his mother. Jesus winced and screamed in excruciating pain. Jesus helplessly listened as he was mocked and bullied. Jesus, finally, lived the moment of a last breath…and human death. All the while, Jesus carried the burdens of humanity upon his shoulders, to a cross, and eventually into the darkness and isolation of a tomb.

The Lord, the Messiah, did this all in solidarity with every person to ever walk the face of this earth. O what beautiful humility and love. O what a thought that the Lord truly knows brokenness as only humanity can know it. My humble and loving Lord, you embraced the full human experience, even in its ugliest places. Today I thank you for allowing yourself to be broken. It will make the joy that is to come all that much sweeter. Amen.

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

A LITTLE BIRD IS SINGING

The storm struck central Illinois in November of 2013. I was there several times within the first few weeks and months in its aftermath, and often found myself standing in quiet awe, if not shock. Life had been interrupted by a few wild moments of extreme chaos, and now a neighborhood had been reduced to nothing but rubble and silence. On one sunny and chilly day, I took a break to gaze around. On this afternoon, for the first time, I locked in on the one lone surviving tree – still standing tall over all that had once been. The tree was bare, and a portion of the trunk had split, but here a bright red cardinal sat on a tiny limb singing in perfect voice. He was awaiting a return call – which never came. I walked down several hundred yards to the tree, stepping over debris. His appearance was a tiny shining light for me as I stood entrenched in such gloom. The little redbird wasn’t fazed at all as I approached. My presence was nothing compared to what he had endured so recently, and he truly had no shelter to seek anyway. I looked upward and simply uttered, “I’m sorry little one.” He glanced down, singing once more as if in response, and then flew over to a pile of wood hoping for another place to perch. I involuntarily let out a deep sigh, my heart recognizing the beauty of this little life struggling amidst so much destruction.

Perhaps, this is how God sees us. Beautiful little souls wading through chaos, our voices occasionally crying out desperately awaiting a clear response. I can almost feel God’s hand grabbing mine in my weakest hours and saying, “I am here, my child.” Somehow, in ways we cannot begin to perceive, we muddle along even as storm clouds gather and winds begin to howl. Somehow, we sing songs of praise even in the most extreme moments of our brokenness. Somehow, we stand back up, and even fly, once again. We do this all, knowing that God’s grace in our lives is ultimately defined by renewal, resurrection, and new life. Thus, our eyes tend to find the little tiny glimmers of light that shine in and around whatever darkness we find ourselves existing within. God is here.

Today, in central Illinois, a new neighborhood stands, where children play and trees are sprouting. And almost unnoticed, a little bird is singing…

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)