Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Beautiful Night

It is a hot and humid summer evening as I sit quietly on my porch. Yellow Finches fly in and out of the thick branches extending from the pear tree standing so gloriously just a few feet away. These birds call out to one another, maintaining their connection across yards as they dart from tree to tree. It is their culture to stay constantly in touch and never stray too far away from their clan. Also to be heard is the loud vibrating song of a Cicada. I cannot quite place this amazing creature's exact location, but she has no problem making her presence known to me on this late summer evening. She may be the smallest creature to be out and about in our neighborhood, but she is easily the most vocal as well. Meanwhile, a gentle breeze, warmed by the heat of the day and the moisture in the air, occasionally engulfs me while also awakening the leaves on the trees in our yard. It provides momentary refreshment.

The sun is slowly setting now, and the scene gradually shifts from light to dusk, and then to darkness. Clouds transform before my eyes from a dazzling white to a spectacular spectrum of pink and purple. Soon they will be mere shadows as the moonlight makes its initial appearance opposite the sun, signaling a time of rest for some and a time of busy hustle for others. I smile as a lightning bug flutters a few feet out in front of the porch. I am even pleasantly surprised by a little ground squirrel who runs from the cover of one bush, into another just a few feet away. I have no doubt that he is watching me as much as I am watching him. As I sit here, the song of the Cicada is replaced by the croaking of frogs and crickets. In time, I look up at the stars, trying to make out constellations and hoping to even see a shooting star upon which to make a wish. These couple hours on the porch are beautiful. I watch and listen, completely at peace.

The entire time, God is standing by my side. In various moments, I literally feel the Lord's presence, a hand resting upon my shoulder. We watch the creation together. I marvel at every creature and movement, while God proudly soaks it all in as would a parent. This night, within which I live, is a canvas awaiting new artistic creation in the eyes of the Lord. I am but an invited guest, a child summoned to gaze in amazement at the glory that God has unveiled for the world on this particular night. My heart beats so calmly and rhythmically. My soul shines as bright as one of the stars suspended in the heavens above. Joy flows through my veins as I realize just how intimately connected I actually am to the Web of Life which God has personally molded. Gratitude swells within me as I come to a very simple conclusion: I am blessed, and all is well with my soul. With this thought resonating in my mind, a smile forms upon my face as I proclaim in a gentle whisper - AMEN!
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Grace That Leads Us Home

For a moment I stand quietly behind the altar, listening intently for silence to be interrupted. Suddenly my heart jumps as the pipe organ kicks into high gear and grandiose notes fill the room with their glory. A few seconds later, the congregation joins the organ right on cue, and a hymn rises up as a prayer from the voices of our community gathered. "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound..." I will join in shortly, but for just a few words I would rather listen in awe than join the chorus. Somehow, regardless of individual talent, when all these voices rise as one, they always sound remarkably beautiful. I look around and remind myself to soak it all in as we sing. This is the heart of worship, beating in one rhythm with the heart of our Lord. The sounds are sweet and graceful indeed.

"'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved..." My heart pounds away, not out of nerves for being up front, but rather in uncontrollable passion and joy. Grace has taught me that experiencing the interaction between the Holy Spirit and our community in a hymn is far more important than simply singing it. Thus, I observe while I sing. I watch as the sun beams break into the room through stained glass windows. The light is absolutely breathtaking. I feel as the Holy Spirit moves in the room, touching hearts and providing comfort with every note. I see faces, some filled with joy while others hold back tears. In most cases, but not all, I know the personal stories behind those emotions. I am honored and privileged to be welcomed into the personal lives of so many. My heart is at peace, as my soul feels the embrace of God's deep love. Here in this place there is a sense of security I don't always find in everyday life.

"Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come..." As the hymn progresses, I find myself glancing up into the balcony. I can envision in my mind's eye those seats filled with sinners turned saints who have gone before us. It is almost as if their voices faintly join in with our modern day chorus. Generations of this community have gathered weekly in this room for more than 110 years now. So many prayers have been raised here. Final goodbye's have occurred here. Weddings and baptisms have been celebrated here. A somber Good Friday service once was held in this Sanctuary against the backdrop of our nation declaring war that same day. On that particular Easter Sunday, the joy of resurrection was tempered by the fear of young men leaving for the front lines in Europe. On yet another Sunday, this time in Advent, joyous hymns were sung without an inkling that our nation was under attack at that very moment. The emotions that have swelled in the hearts of so many amidst these pews through the years is indescribable, and those emotions echo even today. It is grace only that has brought us safe thus far.

"The Lord has promised good to me; His Word my hope secures..." I now look up at the banner that hangs in the back, proclaiming that God is good and that God's steadfast love endures to all generations. Many men and women have stood behind this altar before me, proclaiming the Love and Grace of the Gospel. Several others have been empowered here to go out into the world as leaders of this Church. I fully realize and understand that none of us has earned the right to be here. Indeed, at times we all have fallen miserably short of the life we are called to role model. Yet, my hope is secured in God's promise to gift me, and every one of us, the talents we need to make a difference in this world. Thus I stand here in a secure hope, even when darkness seemingly prevails.

"As long as life endures..." As these words cry out with unbridled passion around me, my mind and heart return to my calling to lead. I may stand at this altar, but I am no more important than anyone else gathered with us today. Truly anyone in this room could lead us into the Creeds and Prayers. I am, however, very aware of the blessing that is my Call. I have been given the opportunity to listen to and watch our community in the same way they watch me. I see, in these moments of song, how we who are many members somehow come together into one body through the love of God. I speak the words of a hymn while observing intently their impact upon our community. I seek intently any glimpse I can find of the Spirit flowing amongst us. I open my heart to feel these moments, and I often wish they could last forever. I am at home here, and it is grace that has led me every step of this journey. Thanks be to God. Amen.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska

Thursday, July 28, 2016

In Memorium

Twenty years ago, this very evening, I was asked the worst and, simultaneously, most formative question of my life. A doctor was asking ME if I was prepared to give the order to stop Life Support. In those few dramatic moments, all sorts of thoughts raced through my mind. Perhaps the most pertinent of which was, "How can someone ask another person to make such a decision?" I wanted so desperately to have one last conversation, perhaps to apologize for the answer I was about to give. Maybe I just wanted to say 'thank you' one last time for immeasurable love and blessings. Quite possibly, I wanted to ask her what she was experiencing as life's final curtain drew closed. Regardless, my conversation was no longer with her, but with a nurse and doctor, and my role was to serve as their patient's voice and advocate.

I gave the most rehearsed answer I could have. "Her life, soul and spirit are with God. This is just her body. She wouldn't want this. I have to let her go." With that, the transition of my mother, Karen L. (Blume) Mikyska, from this life into resurrected life was complete.

That night, twenty years ago, I sat there in a daze, as the child who to this day still resides somewhere in the depths of my heart cried out with a loud, "NOW WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?" Today, I will say that you never 'get over' a loss, you simply learn to adjust to life as it now is. In these two decades, I have married my soul mate, become an ordained minister, raised two kids, and grown deeply in my relationship with God. I now understand what Paul first told the Corinthians, "Love never ends." Honestly I could be sad today, but rather I am thankful for a love and faith that has informed my life, my family, and my vocation.

I learned so much from my mother. I learned to always open your door for everyone, whether they are simply visiting or whether they are in desperate need. God intends for us to share joy, and God never fails to hear our cries. Sometimes we need to laugh, and sometimes we serve as God's answer to another's cry for help. Either way, it is our calling to have an open door. I learned to love, because hate takes too much out of your soul. I learned to accept, because none of us are perfect. I learned to value others, because they are of value to God first. I learned to persevere, because God is ever at my side. I learned to live my life in relationship to others and God, because that is God's ultimate will for us all. In some ways, I even learned what it means to be pastoral, from a woman who never saw herself as such. Simply put, I learned more than I could have possibly realized back then, and likely more than I even understand now.

On this night, twenty years ago, I mourned a loss, while the person I grieved celebrated her birth into new life in Christ. The contrast doesn't seem fair. My tears of pain flowed as deeply as I assume her tears of joy may have. Still, on that night, which seems to have been a lifetime ago, and now some twenty years later, her love and blessings remain here with me. So, on this date that I commemorate as an anniversary, and that she perhaps celebrates as a birthdate into blissful resurrected life, I choose to remember that love and blessings are eternal gifts. Thanks be to God for a life well-lived, for love freely given, for lessons taught, for laughs shared in joy, for tears shared in pain, and for a mom whose faith and hope live on in her little boy's heart. Amen.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The View From Inside

This past Friday, I found myself standing at the base of a waterfall, looking upward at the beauty of so many tress while enjoying the refreshing sensation of the mist literally embracing my whole being. Around me stood my extended family, three generations gathered together as one body representing two American states and part of Europe, with the kids joyfully playing near the glorious falls. Language barriers, and any other walls of division, could not stand against such joy and love. It was one of those moments in life where you want so badly to stop time and just stand there for as long as you wish. Those few minutes were filled with love, joy and beautiful glory.

Eventually, my niece convinced me to run through the falls to the other side. I have to admit that the raw power of the water crashing down on rocks all around us made me a little uneasy. However, she (the teenager) assured me (the adult) that we could do this, and all I needed to do was wait until I saw her hand poke through the falls from the other side, and grab it! Somehow Megan's faith dissipated my fear. Moments later, I was sitting with her on a rock inside the water fall! The roar was deafening as water crashed all around us. Our whole universe as we sat there consisted of only the small space we were cramped into, as we could neither see nor hear anything from the outside of the falls. It was amazingly bright in there, as the light pierced through the waters flowing fiercely past us. The light's ability to pierce through and into this darkness amazed me. I found myself marveling at the rocks around us which bore the scars of years of repeated beating from the water. Megan had such a joy filled smile on her face, while I sat there in complete awe of what flowed just inches in front of me. It was one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever experienced. When we finally slid out through the falls, the sensation of so much raw power and weight as the water pounded down upon me for just a split second was beyond description. These are moments I will forever cherish.

I will cherish the embrace of a family gathered from afar in such love and joy on a summer afternoon. I will cherish Megan's willingness to grab ahold of my hand and pull me through an obstacle in the same way any of us would gladly do for her. I will cherish the view of the waterfall from its base, as I realized that God's baptismal waters flow with similar glory and power from God's throne and into my heart with each breath I take, embracing and refreshing me daily in the same way the mist of this particular falls embraced and refreshed me on this one hot summer day. I will cherish the momentary view from inside the falls, where the world and all its problems disappeared from sight and sound, even if for only a minute. This is, I believe, how God experiences me - from deep inside my being, in a place where only God can dwell. It is a place that is hidden from, and protected from, the chaos that is the world.

I will eternally be thankful to God for such a day. I am thankful for the gift of love shared amongst family. I am thankful for the joy that is possible within our hearts when all this world's worries are pushed aside. I am thankful for glimpses of God's glory and power that stand on display for all to see. I am thankful for the waters of baptism that flow around us and embrace us. I am thankful for a moment in which I could see the purity of what lies deep within the falls, far removed from the chaos swirling outside in the world. I am thankful for the understanding that it is not the darkness of our world that can reach the beauty dwelling deep inside each of us, but rather only the light. I am thankful for a day filled with love, joy, glory and awesome wonder. I am thankful, and for this I say only - Amen.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Calm In Every Storm

Some years ago I was sitting in the Youth Room of a church where I was serving during my seminary studies, and I opened the floor to the kids to ask anything they wanted to regarding God and their faith. One particular young lady, who I always hoped would go to seminary herself someday, raised her hand with the first question. At the moment, I found myself thinking, "Oh good - this should be a really thoughtful question for us to start with." Little did I know just how thoughtful! She proceeded to ask why God, who loves us so, allows 'storms' to occur in this world and in our lives. As she asked, I could just see the little twinkle of a tear in her eyes.

I remember looking at her for a moment, and slowly collecting my thoughts as the room went perfectly silent and all eyes turned to me. Needless to say, there was something much deeper dwelling beneath her question, something that would not be unearthed in the relatively short time we had together as a group that morning. So here I sat, with about five minutes to answer one of the deepest theological questions imaginable - and I needed to put it in terms teenagers could understand too! Truly, I had no real answer to give her. So often my life had been thrown into the swirling winds of a storm as I stood there powerless to stop it. All I knew at the time was that this world can be chaotic and even evil, but that God always stands by our side in love through it all, and I had somewhere along the line learned to accept this in my own life. It was the best I could do.

The young lady looked at me for a second or two, and then said, "So, bad things will happen, but God loves me and hears my prayers no matter what. OK!" Amazingly, she really was alright with this as our conversation continued, as were the rest of the kids too. I was absolutely astounded. After they left, I sat there asking myself the next logical series of questions, "So why am I not alright with this answer? What is it I am looking for that is so much deeper than they are? Is God's simple presence in my life enough for me?"

One of the most difficult lessons we learn as children, and again later as parents, is that a mom or dad cannot take pain away from their child - they can only comfort their child with their unconditional love when the pain hits. They can teach their child, love their child, embrace their child, and even give their life to protect their child in extreme cases - but pain is inevitable for the child. Life, and this world, has its storms. When I look at God, I realize that my Lord does teach me, love me unconditionally, embrace me daily, and has even been willing to experience death for me. So maybe I don't need God to fix everything in my life, but rather it is simply God's Love that I must experience.

Today, I boldly proclaim and accept that I am loved by my God, who stands by my side daily seeking conversation and relationship with me. This presence and this love is the very miracle I pray for in the eye of every storm. Somehow, in a way that I may not even completely comprehend, it truly is enough for me to get through each approaching storm. Thanks be to you, O God, for being the calm before, during and after every storm I face. Amen.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Even Our Darkness is God's Mission Field

Their names are etched into a black wall in Washington, and carved into white crosses at Arlington National Cemetery. They sacrificed the comforts of their homes and the love of their families. Some were sent into missions knowing they were unlikely to survive. Many spent quiet time trying to balance their nation's orders with their personal faith in God. In some eras, they were prayed for and supported, and in others they were protested against and shunned by their peers. They spanned every walk of life in this land. And they were all beloved children of God.

I have been honored several times in my ministry to meet those who did return home from war. I have listened to harrowing stories of a narrow escape. I have sat quietly as an old gentleman made his deathbed confession to me about his days fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. It was a story he had never before shared with anyone, not even his own family. I have been shown gifts sent back and forth through the years between an American soldier and a Russian soldier, who met in a German forest one glorious night during World War II as both fronts met and the war's end was at hand. I have watched with amazement and pride as veterans gathered together in my church to share a kinship only they can understand. And every one of them is a beloved child of God.

It is never God who calls a nation to war, but rather the world itself that sinks into the darkness of chaos and hatred repeatedly throughout time. The men and women who respond in these times of darkness are not simply soldiers with ranks, but instead are literally God's own cherished children. As we mourn their loss, God cries with us. As they sit in a foxhole praying, God stands by their side with a gentle hand resting on their weary shoulders. As they grow old and still want answers to questions that have none, God grants healing strength. As a nation wrestles with its own conscience, seeking justice and equality, but failing again and again, God listens and continually hears the cries of every single child calling out for peace.

God never shies away from the darkness. God never turns away from the sinner. God never walks away from the chaos and bloodshed that seems to define our world. Instead, God's light shines brighter and God's love calls out ever louder. As often as we the people fail to value all life, and as frequently as we send our sons and daughters into the worst darkness this life can know, God will still walk our streets and cry out to our hearts with offers of mercy. God will continually invite us to a banquet table filled with grace. God will never let us go, for every person in this world is God's child, and every corner of the earth is God's land. We have never been, and can never be, beyond God's reach and presence.

Thank you, O Lord, for perpetually walking with us, even in the worst of places and the darkest of times. Bless us now to seek light over darkness, love over hatred, acceptance over division, justice over prejudice, and peace over chaos. In Your Holy Name we pray...Amen!
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Looking Back

A picture hangs upon my living room wall at home. It is a wedding picture. The couple stands in the middle of a church altar, with their parents on either side. Everyone is happy and smiling joyously. The proud couple, Karen and Glenn, are so young and excited. Their life together is nothing more than a dream waiting to unfold and a story waiting to be written.

In the years to come, they would buy a house together, raise their son together, enjoy time with cherished family and friends, and go on a few trips as well. The couple was very active in their church and role modeled their faith in many ministries. They would also, however, mourn the loss of Karen's parents, and face the uncertainty of illness as Glenn was diagnosed with Early-Onset Parkinson's Disease. Unfortunately, they would never make it to their retirement years, as their story was cut short by severe health issues. In fact, neither Karen nor Glenn would live long enough to see that their son carried their faith and commitment to church forward into his life and became an ordained minister.

All that said, what I remember most about Karen and Glenn, my parents, resides in that one wedding picture. You can see it in the glisten of their eyes. They lived life with a fierce love that could never be defeated. They attended church and had a strong faith that would only grow in the face of adversity. They found joy and laughter in every day, regardless of the hardship each dawn brought with it. So regardless of their struggles, what I remember of them when I look back is a light that shone brightly and overcame all darkness. Karen and Glenn were defined as children of God's light which perpetually shone in their hearts.

These memories are what lead to another image, this one never caught on film. It is the image of an embrace they shared in a nursing home, with Glenn sitting in a wheelchair and Karen preparing for open heart surgery. Their tears flowed and their love shone brighter than ever, as they reminisced on thirty-two years of marriage. Faithfully, almost defiantly, they again proclaimed their eternal love for one another. This moment would be one of their last together on earth. Even in its pain and fear, this moment still could not extinguish the light that lived in their hearts. Twenty years later, this image remains powerfully engrained in the eyes of my memory.

Lord, I give thanks today for the blessing of having been raised by such powerful witnesses of faith and light. I give thanks that their strength lives in my heart. I give thanks for an understanding of love that surpasses all hardship. I give thanks for the opportunity to share these lessons with others, as a leader within your church. Thanks be to you, O Lord, for those who have gone before us, and for their light that shines within those of us who, as of yet, continue our pilgrimage here on earth. Oh what a beautiful thing the Body of Christ truly is in this world. Amen.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska