Wednesday, March 22, 2017


Our daughters, Beret and Anna, have become lovely women by the love of God and the gentle wisdom of their mother. February 17th is the anniversary of Anna's Arrival Day; March 22nd is Beret's Birthday. I wrote this many years ago for any parent preparing for the arrival of a child by birth or adoption. But, really, I wrote it for Beret and Anna.


You will come through the miracle passage of birth
From somewhere in heaven to right here on earth –
Right here, where this family is waiting to start;
Right here – to these arms and this place in this heart.

Or maybe your journey will detour around
Till your own private angel-jet touches the ground,
And there I’ll be waiting to see who we’ll be,
And I’ll adopt you – and you’ll adopt me!

And how I will love you! When you are brand new!
When you are first finding out how to be you!

Of course you’ll be beautiful, handsome, and smart –
But that’s not the reason love grows in the heart.
You won’t have to earn it or prove it to me;
That’s just the way love is – love comes for free.

Free – but not easy – not every day;
Sometimes I won’t know just what I should say
When you are angry or tired or wild.
It’s then I will love you…
It’s then I will love you…
It’s then I will love you…
 Because you’re my child!

And every day you will grow just a bit,
And every day some more clothes will not fit.
All of that growing will take lots of food,
And of course it is my job to make sure it’s good!

And so we’ll have breakfasts and banquets and snacks,
And picnics with fortunate ants on our tracks.
But tables are more than just places to eat –
The family table is where you will meet…

…Uncles and aunties and grandmas and pas
And dozens of cousins who’ll love you because –  
Because you are family – because you are you,
And since they’re all family – you’ll love them too!

And how we will love you – as we watch you grow,
As you start to learn all of the things you will know.

And we’ll learn together! We’ll read lots of books;
You’ll soon know how all of the alphabet looks,
And how all those a’s  b’s  c’s and d’s sound.
Oh, how the words will go round and around!

Words in your eyes and words in your mouth,
Words flying east and west, words north and south.
Some words we’ll read in short stories and long,
Some words we’ll warble together – in song.

And how I will love you – as you sit in my lap
And we sing lullabies – till we both take a nap!

Then after our nap we will go out and play
Making up games for the rest of the day.
We’ll choo-choo with trains as we watch them go by,
We’ll stretch like the trees as we reach for the sky.

Some day, like the big kids, you’ll go off to school;
You’ll learn the latest grammatical rule.
Some day, but not yet. I’m glad that you’ll be
Still – for a while – right here with me.

And how I will love you when day turns to night,
And you hug your best blanket as we turn off the light.

Then I’ll sit by your bed and I’ll sing you to sleep,
Or I’ll try – ‘cause your plan will be that you’ll keep
Awake all night long and sleep all the next day
So the next night, again, you’ll be ready to play!

But finally you’ll fall asleep under a book;
I’ll turn at the door and I’ll sneak just a look.
You’ll be sweetly asleep, another day done,
And when you wake up you will be twenty-one!

I’ll think back and remember the first day you came,
And I’ll see that… you’re bigger! But, really, the same.
You’ll still be the one I loved right from the start –
All grown up! But always the child of my heart.  

And how I will love you …

I set out to write this as "How we will love you," but I wasn't smart enough to make the rhyme and the flow work that way.
Plus, I wanted it to speak for a single parent, too. But, for me, the "I' should be read to include both Caryl and me. Of course
Beret and Anna would agree.

(c) Richard Jorgensen

Sunday, February 5, 2017


A number of years ago, a good friend—a layman—said to me, “When something big happens in our country, or the world, I expect to hear a word about it from my pastor.” I have been goaded by this straightforward request ever since. My friend was not asking for “politics from the pulpit,” but for the wisdom and counsel of his faith, his church, the scriptures—as they come together in the pastor’s call to “preach the gospel.” I say, “goaded,” because sometimes I’d rather avoid making any reference to whatever calamity or social upheaval is creating headlines, especially if I know that 51% of my parishioners would feel one way about it, and 49% would feel the other. (I want everybody to like me.) I’d rather find a passage that will let me preach on Sweet Jesus and leave it at that. Like the preacher who, on the Sunday following 9/11, said nothing about the attack because “it wasn’t in the lectionary.” (Talk about an “Elephant in the Room!”)

The lectionary: For many church bodies, this is an agreed-upon rotation of scripture texts used in worship. It’s not “church law”—there isn’t anything binding about it—it’s simply a practical way for a worshiping community to cover a good portion of the biblical message in a three-year cycle.

In the midst of our current national upheaval?... crisis?... unpleasantness?... I am again goaded by my friend’s expectation. What’s more, the lectionary itself this week gives me little wiggle room. This Sunday, my church bulletin, like the bulletins in thousands of congregations in the United States and around the world, will include, in its regular place in the cycle, these words from the 58th chapter of Isaiah. (This is God speaking):

Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day…
 You fast only to quarrel and to fight
  and to strike with a wicked fist…
Is not this the fast that I choose:
  to loose the bonds of injustice,
  to undo the thongs of the yoke,
 to let the oppressed go free,
  and to break every yoke?
 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
  and bring the homeless poor into your house;
 when you see the naked, to cover them,
  and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

And it goes on (three times this long)—an unusually long lectionary passage. I’m tempted to simply read it and let it stand as the sermon. In any event, when I climb into the pulpit, I will not seek to convince the good folks in my parish concerning one politician or another. I will do my best to shut up and let Isaiah speak. I am not a biblical literalist; or, I should say, I am a pick-and-choose literalist like everyone else. But—literal or figurative—this reading doles out some marching orders for what it means to live out a Christian faith in these times. I find it as improbable to read this passage in worship while ignoring headlines about a fear-based policy of shutting out the immigrant, as it was for that hapless minister to get through a whole hour of worship on Sunday, September 16, 2001, without referring to the attacks of September 11.

Whatever Christians mean by "holy scripture," we certainly mean that Isaiah speaks to us down through the ages. Unless, that is, we want to say--as I once heard a self-proclaimed biblical literalist say to a similar passage--"That applied to them; it doesn't apply to us." It does apply to us. Isaiah speaks. What's more, as Scholars tell us, the very same biblical “prophets of doom” are also “prophets of hope,” and Isaiah is “Exhibit A.”  The lectionary passage for this Sunday concludes:

If you remove the yoke from among you…
 if you offer your food to the hungry
  and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
 then your light shall rise in the darkness
  and your gloom be like the noonday….
  you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
 you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
  the restorer of streets to live in.

Jesus’ itinerant family were among Isaiah’s “homeless poor”—given shelter in a barn. They became refugees fleeing a genocidal tyrant. The book of Exodus reminds us, “Do not mistreat or oppress a refugee, for you were refugees in Egypt.” We all came from someplace else. To America. Our new president, who has, surprisingly, appealed to a sizeable number of Christians, seems to know little and care less about the good news of their Gospel and its concern for the poor. I do not question or judge the core of their faith, but I do question their Bible-reading. They have had to be “pick-and-choose” readers of the Bible, ignoring the overwhelming number of biblical passages about justice for the poor, the outcast, the widow, and the immigrant. Passages represented in this Sunday’s lectionary.

I’m a coward. I don’t want to preach on any of this. But I’d better. Otherwise, the Elephant in the room will be Isaiah.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


When the Matthew Christmas story comes around in the rotation--as it did last Sunday--I see it as an opportunity, in my sermon, to give Joseph his due. However, my country church was cancelled last Sunday because of 24 degrees below zero (not counting wind chill). So I'll preach it here, and offer it as my blog Christmas card.

Scripture: Romans 1:1—7, Matthew 1:18—25
The full text of the carols cited in this sermon are printed at the end.

"St. Joseph the Worker and Christ"
(I love this image, but was Joseph
really an "old man?")
Matthew's nativity account is, we might say, Joseph's story, in the same way that the more familiar Christmas gospel in Luke is Mary's story.

It’s good to be reminded of Joseph’s part in Jesus’ life, because he often seems to disappear into the background. (Some scholars speculate that perhaps Joseph died at an early age, and thus gets little mention in the unfolding story of Jesus' life.) I was standing near a manger scene recently, and I overheard one person say to another, “Is that Joseph... or is it one of the shepherds?” Joseph perhaps could be excused for saying, in the words of the comedian, “I don’t get no respect.”

Yet--alongside of our devotional admiration for Mary--it is completely appropriate for us to give Joseph his proper place in Jesus' family. Both Matthew, in his genealogy of Jesus, and St. Paul, in the companion reading from Romans (see above), emphasize that Jesus is descended from David through Joseph’s line. It is Joseph who adopts Jesus as his own. (As an adoptive father, I'm here to attest that that bond of love is exactly the same as the bond of biology.) It is through Joseph that Jesus gets his identity as the son of the carpenter. It is Joseph who names the boy "Jesus," and who is told by the angel of another name: "Emmanuel." In the way that we give affectionate nicknames to our little ones, I like to think that, when Jesus was a child, perhaps Joseph used his angel-given name--Emmanuel--and called him occasionally and lovingly by a nickname, "Manny." Little Manny--Little Emmanuel. "See, little Manny, here's how daddy smooths a piece of wood...."

In Matthew's story, we see a man who is kind, brave, and faithful both to God and to his fiancĂ©e – even when she appears to be in a very difficult situation. So Joseph doesn’t deserve to be the man in the shadows that our traditions have cast him as: confused for a shepherd, or (and why is this?) often thought of as on old man.

Mary was most likely fifteen or sixteen years old, a common marriage age for a young woman of that time and place; Joseph was perhaps twenty, certainly not much older than that. But in one of our ancient carols, the “Cherry Tree Carol,” we sing

When Joseph was an old man, an old man was he,
He married Virgin Mary, the Queen of Galillee….

Now, there is one part of this old carol that I like--a verse that I find very true-to-life. When Mary asks Joseph to pick some cherries from the tree for her, he replies, “Let the father of your baby pick cherries for thee!”

In that brief line we see Joseph – no less faithful or loving – giving in to just a moment of exasperation. This is quite a miraculous idea, after all--the story of how Mary came to be with child. So perhaps it is understandable that Joseph should express just a bit of wide-eyed skepticism: “Let the father of your baby pick cherries for thee.”

We have the same human interplay between Mary and Joseph – put a little more tenderly – in another carol. Here the scene is on the road to Bethlehem. Night, darkness, walking along together. First, Joseph speaks:

Mary, the night is dark, you’re getting weary;
I thought we’d reach Bethlehem long before now.
I know a little inn – the keeper’s a friend of mine –
he’ll find a bed for you somewhere, somehow.
... Mary, of course I will stay with you always,
though your “angel’s message” I don’t understand.
Now, while we’re looking for light in the darkness,
I’ll hold the candle and you hold my hand.

Then Mary speaks, with just a bit of affectionate chiding, and with gratitude to this good man:

Joseph, the message is our little baby,
and you are the angel who guides us tonight
over this rocky road, under this starry sky –
Look at that one that is shining so bright!
Joseph, what keeps you so true to your promise,
when this isn’t anything like you had planned?
Could it be love? Do you feel love around us?
You hold the candle and I’ll hold your hand.

The great Christmas truth of incarnation – that God has come to us as a person – takes place in the heart of a family: Mother, baby, and father. We do not diminish our devotion to Jesus as Son of God when we acknowledge, as the Bible does, that Joseph is Jesus’ dad.

In his poem "Joseph's Lullaby," Ronald Klug offers a meditation on what Joseph might have been thinking there in the stable as Mary sleeps, exhausted, and he gently rocks the manger box that he has transformed into a cradle for his son, little Emmanuel. Little Manny. His little Jesus.

Sleep now, little one.
I will watch while you and your mother sleep.
I wish I could do more.
This straw is not good enough for you.
Back in Nazareth I'll make a proper bed for you
of seasoned wood, smooth, strong, well-pegged,
A bed fit for a carpenter's son.
Just wait till we get back to Nazareth.
I'll teach you everything I know.
You'll learn to choose the cedarwood, eucalyptus and fir.
You'll learn to use the drawshave, ax and saw.
Your arms will grow strong, your hands rough--like these.
You will bear the pungent smell of new wood
and wear shavings and sawdust in your hair.
You'll be a man whose life centers on hammer and nails and wood.
But for now, sleep, little Jesus, sleep.

“Joseph’s Lullaby,” by Ronald Klug, 
from “Poetry for the Soul,”
Moorings Publishers, Nashville, 1995


Mary, the night is dark, you’re getting weary;
I thought we’d find Bethlehem long before now.
I know a little inn – the keeper’s a friend of mine –
He’ll find a bed for you somewhere, somehow.
Mary, of course I will stay with you always,
Though your “angel’s message” I don’t understand.
Now, while we’re looking for light in the darkness,
I’ll hold the candle and you hold my hand.

Joseph, the message is our little baby,
And you are the angel that guides us tonight
Over this rocky road, under this starry sky –
Look at that one that is shining so bright!
Joseph, what keeps you so true to your promise,
When this isn’t anything like you had planned?
Could it be love? Do you feel love around us?
You hold the candle and I’ll hold your hand.

Shepherd boy & father

Father, I’m frightened; the whole sky was glowing!
The nighttime was brighter than sunshine at noon.
The sound of a thousand wings – something was happening,
And now it’s so dark – just that star and the moon.
Father, you fell to your knees in that brightness.
“Yes, till the angel’s song told me to stand!
Now let us go find that Bethlehem stable;
I’ll hold the candle and you hold my hand.”

Dear baby Jesus, we follow the shepherds –
Follow a star to the place where you sleep.
Mary and Joseph rest; you sleep in gentleness –
A little light shining in shadows so deep.
Jesus, you’ve been the light from the beginning –
And, in these days when night covers the land,
You are the Word that we hear in the darkness:
“I’ll hold the candle and you hold my hand.”

Richard Jorgensen © 2002

a traditional English carol, very old

When Joseph was an old man,
An old man was he,
He married Virgin Mary
The Queen of Galilee.

Joseph and Mary walked
Through an orchard good,
There were cherries and berries,
As red as any blood.

Then Mary spoke to Joseph
So meek and so mild:
"Joseph, gather me some cherries,
For I am with child."

Then Joseph grew in anger,
In anger grew he,
"Let the father of thy baby
Gather cherries for thee!

Then Jesus spoke a few words,
A few words spoke he:
"Let my mother have some cherries,
Bow low down, cherry tree."

The cherry tree bowed low down,
Bowed low down to the ground,
And Mary gathered cherries
While Joseph stood around.

Then Joseph took Mary
All on his right knee,
"My Lord, what have I done?
Have mercy on me."

As Joseph was a-walking
He heard an angel sing,
"Tonight shall be the birth time
Of Christ our Heav'nly King."

"He neither shall be born
In house nor in hall,
Nor in the place of Paradise,
But in an ox's stall."

"He neither shall be clothed
In purple nor in cloth,
But in the bare white linen
That useth babies all."

"He neither shall be rocked
In silver nor in gold,
But in a wooden manger
That rests upon the mold."

As Joseph was a-walking
And an angel did sing,
And Mary's child at midnight
Was born to be our King.

Then be ye glad ye people
This night of all the year,
And light ye up your candles
For his star it shineth clear.

Christina Rosetti
(revised with a verse for Joseph)

In the bleak midwinter,
frosty wind made moan,   
earth stood hard as iron,
water like a stone;
snow had fallen, snow on snow,
snow on snow,
in the bleak midwinter,
long ago.

Joseph found a shelter,
made a bed of straw,
laid down Mary gently,
knelt by her in awe
that he’d be the father
of this baby boy –
Emmanuel, God with us,
and the whole world’s joy!

What can I give him,
poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd,
I would bring a lamb;
if I were a wise man,
I would do my part;
yet what I can I give him
give my heart.