Saturday, December 29, 2007

Twelve Prayers for Christmas

I received this lovely prayer from my Spiritual Companion and wanted to share it with everyone.

Twelve Prayers of Christmas
adapted from a poem by Brian Morgan

On the First Day of Christmas 

I pray for you joy in abundance, lots of laughter to make the spirit soar.

On the Second Day of Christmas

I pray for you a sigh when you need one, for a sigh clears the heart as a cough clears the throat. With a sigh comes acceptance of what we cannot change.

On the Third Day of Christmas

I pray for you tears when you need them, for tears clear the eyes to see the stars and cleanse the soul to let healing begin.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas

I pray for you serenity, a state of calm where world peace begins.

On the Fifth Day of Christmas

I pray for you wisdom, to choose wisely in every word and deed.

On the Sixth Day of Christmas

I pray for you patience in times of trouble.

On the Seventh Day of Christmas

I pray for you courage to face problems directly.

On the Eighth Day of Christmas

I pray for you compassion as you walk in the shoes of others.

On the Ninth Day of Christmas

I pray for you a willingness to work, for work turns dreams to reality.

On the Tenth Day of Christmas

I pray for you unwavering faith, for faith shapes hearts and minds, drawing us closer to the Source of Love.

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas

I pray for you a mind lit with hope, for hope determines our attitudes and our goals and creates our ideals.

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas
I pray for you a heart so full of love that everyday you want to give it away to those whose paths you cross.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

A Meditation on Peace

Peace seems like a no-brainer at this time of year. The Christmas cards we send and receive talk about Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men. Sermons this week will all be about Peace, because this is Peace Sunday. But as I looked around at my friends and family and church members, and yes, even myself, I didn’t see a lot of peace going on. I did see frantic shopping and list-making and holiday planning. My calendar is jammed with church events and meetings and holiday parties. Where’s the Peace?

And then strange things began happening. Everything I picked up to read turned out to be about peace. Not just church stuff, but everything, even the novel I’m reading at night before I go to sleep. I’m helping to plan several regional church events, and the theme of each one revolves around inner peace, and reconciliation with God and with each other. Peace – or at least the idea of peace – has entered my life in a big way ever since I received the invitation to come here. I love it when God works that way in my life.

But all of this didn’t help me decide what to do when I came here, until I was sitting in my office and happened to look up and see a Christmas gift I received some years back sitting on a shelf. I decided I’d like to share the story attached to this gift with you all.

Story of the Lion and Lamb
Everyone has a favorite Christmas. For Emily, it happened when she was a little girl. It was the year a special lamb was born on Christmas Eve . . the same Christmas Eve a lion escaped from the Fletcher Brother's Circus. Emily and her brother, Bobby, had made many trips to the barn that night, making sure their new little lamb was safe and well. But their final visit changed them forever. To their surprise, they discovered their precious lamb nestled between the paws of a very large lion. Emily and Bobby stood motionless, panicked by the scene, until the lion spoke. "Please allow me to keep my friend warm this evening. We are both alone on this special night and need the comfort of one another."Then the lamb raised her head and said, "May peace be in everyone's heart."

On that starry Christmas Eve, so long ago, Emily and Bobby felt the real spirit of Christmas. They realized that nothing in the world could change it.

Emily and Bobby had discovered peace – real peace – the peace that comes when we are held close in the arms and heart of another.

This is the peace that surpasses all understanding, for it comes at unexpected times. It comes on days when the pain is so great we don't know if we can bear it - until someone comes and touches us with love. It comes in the long dark hours of the night, when we lay sleepless, wondering if the dawn will ever come - until we look out the window and see the glory of the full moon and the star-filled sky.

True Peace is not the temporary halt of hostilities on a planet where war is pretty much a constant. And not what we feel when we have a few minutes to sit and relax in between bursts of activity. And not what happens when we take a vacation and then fill every moment with so much activity that we are more worn out when we get back than when we left. But it is that feeling inside of us when, for one brief moment, we are neither angry, nor resentful, nor over-tired, nor worried, nor fearful.

Peace is found deep inside our hearts. When we are truly at peace, what is going on outside cannot affect us – just as a storm moving across the top of a lake cannot affect the calm of the waters in the depths of that lake. It comes to us through God - when we forgive an old hurt, we can know peace. When we turn all our troubles over to God, we can know peace. Because in those times when we are able to let God hold all our troubles and worries and resentments and fears – when we are able to truly love and forgive all of God’s children, even ourselves - in those times we know we are held closely in God’s heart, just as the lamb was held closely by the lion – and God’s peace fills our souls.

I’d like to share a poem by Kate Compston, a British Quaker and poet, which seems to me to be a pretty good How-To on achieving peace.

Web of peace
Peace is like a gossamer –
Vulnerable, yet indestructible:
Tear it, and it will be rewoven.
Peace does not despair.
Begin to weave a web of peace:
Start in the centre
And make peace with yourself
And your God.
Take the thread outwards
and build peace within your family, your community
- and in the circle of those you find it hard to like.
Then stretch your concern
Into all the world.
Weave a web of peace
And do not despair.
Love is the warp in the fabric of life:
Truth is the weft:
Care and integrity together –
But ultimately
They spell Peace.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Friday Five - Don't Call It A Comeback Edition

Parishioners pushing for carols before you digested your turkey?

Organist refusing to play Advent hymns because he/she already has them planned for Lessons & Carols?

Find yourself reading Luke and thinking of a variety of ways to tell Linus where to stick it? (Lights please.)

Then this quick and easy Friday Five is for you! And for those of you with a more positive attitude, have no fear. I am sure more sacred and reverent Friday Fives will follow.

Please tell us your least favorite/most annoying seasonal....
1) dessert/cookie/family food


2) beverage (seasonal beer, eggnog w/ way too much egg and not enough nog, etc...)

non-alchoholic sparkling cider - I don't drink so everyone I visit thinks this is the perfect choice to serve. I really don't like it, but feel like I have to be gracious . . .

3) tradition (church, family, other)

Christmas open house parties where I must make an appearance but really don't know anyone else. I'm just invited to what's really a work-related because I'm the hostess' pastor.

4) decoration

Two entries here -
Indoor decorations: Anything that sings hokey Christmas songs! Singing santas, singing reindeer. . .
Outdoor decorations: those lighted blow up giant plastic snow globes with Santa and reindeer on top.

5) gift (received or given)

Bath sets with gels, bubble bath, bath salts - all in fragrances that even the reindeer would turn up their noses at, usually received from folks who don't have any idea what else to give.

And yes, I have been guilty of this - my worst choice ever was to give a bath set to someone who had only a shower and no tub to use bath products in!

BONUS: SONG/CD that makes you want to tell the elves where to stick it.
Mom Got Run Over By A Reindeer

I know, I know.... pretty grumpy for November but why not get it out of our systems now so we are free to enjoy the rest of the festivities.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Innocence Lost, and Found Luke 19:1-10

Zacchaeus was a tax collector for the Roman Empire. While we may not be especially fond of IRS agents, the tax collectors of Jesus’ time were truly despised, and with good reason. Tax collectors were citizens of the Roman Empire selected for this “honor” by the Emperor or one of his governors. They were told exactly how much had to be collected, and they had to turn in the full amount of the tax due, regardless of whether all of it was actually paid to him. So if someone was unable to pay, the tax collector had to make up the difference out of his own pocket. Inability to pay the total due could result in the tax collector losing everything he owned, and might even result in being sold into slavery along with his family to make up the difference. Many tax collectors of the time dealt with that little problem by over-collecting from everyone, taking everything they could get from everyone they could get it from. They would turn in to the Empire the exact amount due and keep whatever overage they had managed to acquire. As a result, all tax collectors were assumed to be corrupt individuals, lining their pockets at the expense of others.

In our online discussion of this text yesterday, some of my preaching colleagues noted his description as a short man and assumed that a short man would naturally seek a profession in which he has power over others who are taller and stronger than he. Some looked at his name, which means innocence, and assumed it was planned irony on the part of the writer of Luke that this clearly corrupt person was named “Innocence.” Sort of like a prostitute being named Chastity. Others proposed that childhood teasing by his peers led the boy named Innocence into a life of theft and corruption as a tax collector. But nearly all of us started from the assumption that because Zacchaeus was a tax collector and rich, he therefore must be corrupt.

And then someone said “Yeah, this is all lots of fun. But if you look at the Greek you’ll see that we may be completely misjudging Zacchaeus.” Really? I looked it up, and sure enough, in the Greek Zacchaeus says literally “Behold, one-half of my possessions, Lord, to the poor I give. And if someone I defrauded of anything, I am paying back four times.” He speaks to Jesus in the present tense, not the future – these are the things he is already doing!

It looks like way too many of us made the same mistake the crowd made – assuming that Zacchaeus was the typical tax collector, ironically named Innocence. When perhaps he was not at all what they (and we) thought, and the name Innocence was deserved. In fact, when we compare the Greek to the translation we heard today, it seems as though the translators themselves were convinced of Zacchaeus’ corruption, and thus translated his words in future tense “Lord, I will give one-half my possessions to the poor. And I will make restitution of four times whatever I defrauded from anyone.” As if Zacchaeus is saying, “Now that you have accepted me, Lord, I will change and do good works.”

Instead, the literal translation leads me to believe that Zacchaeus was not corrupt as we think he must have been, and this is what he was telling Jesus. He wasn’t the thief everyone assumed he was. He was already giving to the poor, and making amends for his sins against others. He did not have to change what he was doing. But he did have to bring Jesus to his home that night, and he did have to stand up to face the neighbors who were badmouthing him once again.

Jesus recognizes him as a son of Abraham, obeying and even exceeding the requirements of the law. But Jesus says “I must stay at your house today.” Zacchaeus has already sought out Jesus, to hear the message he brought. But just listening will not be enough. He must accept Jesus into his house, his life, his heart, in order to be saved - in order to be healed. For while Zacchaeus means “Innocence,” Jesus means “God Heals.”

If he’s already Jewish, and he’s already doing all these good things, what does he need to be saved from? From the world! He needs to be healed from living with the bad opinion of his neighbors. From their assumptions, and apparently, from our assumptions as well. He needs to be healed from resentments he may harbor because of those bad opinions, and the bad treatment that would accompany them. He needs to be healed from the temptation to be like so many other tax collectors – because it would be easier and less scary to overtax those who could pay than worry about not having enough money for the Empire. And after all, why not? As long as everyone already believed he was like the others, why not? He needs to be healed from feeling less than the others, unaccepted and unacceptable. Jesus says “I must come stay with you” because Jesus knows how badly Zacchaeus needs to be healed, and accepted, and loved. Jesus knows that Zacchaeus feels he will never be accepted by his neighbors, and Jesus must stay with him so that he will know and be assured that he is loved by the One whose love is most important.

The story of Zacchaeus is the story of each one of us. Even the most well adjusted people have moments when they feel they simply aren’t enough – not smart enough or pretty enough or successful enough or thin enough or strong enough or tall enough or healthy enough or young enough or old enough . . . We spend our energy worrying about what the neighbors think and trying to do the things that will make us acceptable in their eyes. The story of Zacchaeus tells us that it doesn’t matter what the neighbors think. God loves us, and really, who else matters?

And as for that whole thing about not having enough or not being good enough which plagues so many of us . . . I received a story by email this week that I’d like to share:

The plane’s departure had been announced. A mother and daughter had only a few minutes left before the daughter had to board her flight. I couldn’t help but overhear their words, as, standing near the security gate, they hugged and the mother said, "I love you and I wish you enough". The daughter replied, "Mom, our life together has been more than enough. Your love is all I ever needed. I wish you enough , too, Mom".

They kissed and the daughter left. The mother walked over to the window where I was seated. Standing there I could see she wanted and needed to cry. I tried not to intrude on her privacy but she welcomed me in by asking, "Did you ever say good-bye to someone knowing it would be forever?". Yes, I have," I replied. "Forgive me for asking, but why is this a forever good-bye?". "I am old and she lives so far away. I have challenges ahead and the reality is - the next trip back will be for my funeral," she said.

"When you were saying good-bye, I heard you say, 'I wish you enough'. May I ask what that means?". She began to smile. "That's a wish that has been handed down from other generations My parents used to say it to everyone". She paused a moment and looked up as if trying to remember it in detail and she smiled even more. "When we said , ' I wish you enough', we were wanting the other person to have a life filled with just enough good things to sustain them". Then turning toward me, she shared the following as if she were reciting it from memory.

I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright no matter how gray the day may appear.
I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun even more.
I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive and everlasting.
I wish you enough pain so that even the smallest of joys in life may appear bigger.
I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.
I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.
I wish you enough hellos to get you through the final good-bye.

She then began to cry and walked away.

What a beautiful wish! The mother’s wish is God’s wish for each of us – that we should have enough, exactly what we need. And the daughter’s response is our response to God, “Your love is all I ever needed.” It is this assurance that Jesus brought to Zacchaeus: “You have God’s love, and that is all you need. Never mind what the neighbors think, never mind how the world perceives you. YOU are God’s beautiful, precious, beloved child, you receive from God exactly what you need, and you are loved exactly as you are.”

So let’s go out from this place today, assured that whatever we have and whatever we are, it is enough, and we are loved. And let’s tell this story of God’s love to everyone! For the story of Zacchaeus is the story of God’s love and acceptance of each and every one of God’s children – each and every one of us – no matter what the neighbors think! and that is the story I love to tell!

Hymn: I love to tell the story

Friday, October 26, 2007

Pumpkin/Apple Friday Five

Singing Owl says: All Hallows Eve (Halloween) is near. As a child, Halloween was one of my favorite holidays. We didn’t yet worry about razor blades in apples or popcorn balls or some of the other concerns people have with Halloween these days. Halloween was a chance to be mildly scared, and better yet, to dress up and pretend to be something we really weren’t. Let’s talk about that a bit, but then let’s add in some food ideas for this year. Where I live the leaves are falling, the temperature is chilly and pumpkins are for sale everywhere, along with many kids of apples. What's more, the "Holiday Season" will soon be upon us. ACK! I could use a new idea for dessert. So, here we go…

1. How did you celebrate this time of year when you were a child?
When I was under 11 we lived way out in the country so Trick or Treating wasn't easy. My parents would take us to a few houses but then we went to a big Halloween party one of the families nearby put on every year in their hay barn. We'd bob for apples and play many games, plus eat a lot! Apples, of course, were a staple in our goodie bags - everyone in farm country had apple trees. We grew pumpkins in our garden to make jack o'lanterns and pumpkin pies.

When I was 11 we moved to a suburb where we could (and did) go house to house, and we always said "Trick or Treat for Unicef", collecting coins for poor children around the world.

2. Do you and/or your family “celebrate” Halloween? Why or why not? And if you do, has it changed from what you used to do?
It seems like I am usually out of town on Halloween, but when I'm home I attend the Halloween party in my community and then wait for the little ones to come by the apartment for their goodies. Not nearly as much fun as trick or treating myself, but I do see some adorable little costumes. I don't see Unicef boxes anymore - did the schools stop doing that while I wasn't looking?

2. Candy apples: Do you prefer red cinnamon or caramel covered? Or something else?
I love the red cinnamon ones!

3. Pumpkins: Do you make Jack O’ Lanterns? Any ideas of what else to do with them?
I haven't made a jack o'lantern in years, but I have used pumpkins to make pumpkin pie, and kept cut-up pumpkin in the freezer to use in various stew recipes over the winter. Now that I live where there is no real winter, I don't make hearty winter stew as often.

4. Do you decorate your home for fall or Halloween? If so, what do you do? Bonus points for pictures.
I have a boxfull of fall/halloween decorations, but I don't decorate much anymore. It's harder to do in an apartment :-)

5. Do you like pretending to be something different? Does a costume bring our an alternate personality?
I LOVE dressing up! I've always enjoyed acting and Halloween and costume parties and, more recently, Renaissance Faires.

These days I dress up sometimes to preach from the point of view of someone else - and sometimes become that someone else more effectively than I'd planned! Last Palm/Passion Sunday I suddenly started crying when the character I was playing was telling about the crucifixion by singing "Were you there?" Luckily, my congregation decided to sing with me - totally unplanned, but it gave me time to compose myself.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Unchained Melody 1 Timothy 2:8-15

“8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, 9for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained.” Paul knew about chains, When he wrote this letter to Timothy he was quite literally in chains, held in a Roman prison. He could not go anywhere without his chains. And yet Paul knew that even though his body was chained, the message he carried wasn’t. The Word of God was loose in the world – the story of life and death and redemption. The Word of God is just too big, too wonderful, just too much for any earthly chain.

But we do try to chain up the word of God – we take the bits that we most agree with and use them to prove we’re right. Or we take bits and pieces from different books and put them together as if they are one story. Or we look at two similar stories and decide one is true and one isn’t.

We all know about using phrases from the Bible to prove a point – maybe we have all done it at one time or another. The problem with taking one sentence to make our point is that when we do that we are usually ignoring the context – we’re pulling that sentence out to stand alone, when nothing stands alone. When we do that we are using that statement to prove something that it may not have anything to do with at all. I could give examples of this proof-texting all day long, but here’s my favorite one: someone once told me to look at 2 Thessalonians 3:10 “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” They insisted that this phrase was proof that there should be no welfare! Never mind that throughout the Bible, Old and New Testament, we are directed to support the widows and orphans and aliens, or even that the first recorded argument in the early church was over an apparent preference for one group of widows over another when distributing food and funds for their support – for this person, here was proof that God said everyone should be self-supporting.

It’s tempting to use the Bible to prove our point over against someone else’s point. During the 25 years that I was away from church I read the Bible a lot, mostly in order to find arguments to use against Christians. And it’s really tempting to do that very thing in my preaching – just use one sentence, out of context, and preach the truth of it even if the “truth” I choose has nothing to do with the real meaning of the text – like that verse from Thessalonians. Although one person saw it as proof the poor should never receive aid, read in context we see that Paul was really talking about how he and his fellow missionaries always worked to support themselves where ever they went, and didn’t ask the churches to support them, and that everyone serving the church who could work, should. If we READ the Bible, the whole thing, we will find that many of our favorite proof-texts really don’t mean what we think they mean. And perhaps we will become less willing to chain up God’s word and use it as a weapon to abuse others.

On Mondays we are studying the Gospel according to John. And as we read the part where Judas comes to the garden to betray Jesus, we noticed some differences from the Easter story we think we know. In John, Judas did NOT kiss Jesus. But in the story we all know, Judas kissed him, the sign of love turned into a sign of betrayal. So we had to go back to Matthew, Mark and Luke to examine the differences in the stories. In some, Peter struck off the ear of the temple servant, in some an unnamed disciple did it, in some Jesus healed the injured man, in others he didn’t. Then we noticed that the whole trial in the temple simply didn’t exist in John, although we all know that’s part of the Easter story. As we continued to make comparisons between the Gospels we discovered that in John, the last Supper didn’t happen at Passover, in the others it did. In John, Jesus’ ministry lasted some 3 years, in the others only one. In John, Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, in the others he didn’t. When Ton’Ee and I were in Texas, my sister-in-law took us to a beautiful church that had life-sized stations of the cross outside, with a path nearly a mile long that wound around past all the stations. As we walked the stations of the cross, I carried a Bible and as we reached each different station I would flip through the Gospels to find the one in which that event appears. They weren’t all in the same Gospel, and some weren’t even in the Bible (I already knew that, but my sister-in-law didn’t.), but they all combine to make one coherent story of Christ’s passion – his suffering and death and resurrection. The thing is, the Gospels weren’t written as one coherent story. They’re all different stories, intended to make different theological points.

And look at the Christmas story. In our Christmas pageants and in the music we use for the Hanging of the Greens, we have Mary being greeted by an angel, and Joseph being told to marry her even though she’s already pregnant We see Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem for the census, shepherds being awakened by angels to go worship him, and magi showing up with gifts, even though these events don’t all happen in the same Gospels. We do have this tendency to take all the elements of the Gospel stories and put them together to make one, coherent story. It’s most obvious in our telling of the Easter and Christmas stories, but we do it other places too.

My personal favorite is the way we’ve merged the stories of the woman with the alabaster jar and the woman who washed Jesus’ feet and turned them all into one story starring Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. But if we READ these stories, one at a time, in context, we learn that not only is Mary Magdalene never named as a participant in any of these stories, she is not even a prostitute. Mary Magdalene is a woman who’d had a demon cast out of her who chose to follow Jesus after her healing. These stories each have a different woman in them, they each have a different emphasis and meaning. They are not the same story at all.

And then there’s the way we prefer one Biblical account of the same events over another.

Look at the book of Genesis:
In Chapter One God created man and woman at the same time, both made in God’s image. In Chapter Two God created man from the dust of the ground, then created woman from man’s rib, to be his helper. In Genesis there are two different stories about the creation of humanity, but we have chosen one to believe and use as the foundation for our society. If we don’t READ the Bible, we might not even know that first story exists.

Now look at the book of Joshua, one of the more disturbing books of the Hebrew Scriptures. God tells the Hebrew people to destroy every city in Canaan, and Joshua leads the Hebrews in doing just that. Then in Judges, after Joshua dies, the Hebrews move into Canaan and go to war against all the same cities again – cities where there shouldn’t be cities, or people to war against. And then, the Bible tells us “they did not drive the people out, but the Canaanites continued to live in that land.” In Judges, it seems as though the destruction in Joshua never happened. Two different stories about how the Hebrews ended up living in Israel, but we only know about the first one. As it happens, archeologists tend to agree with the account in Judges – there just isn’t any physical evidence of so many ancient cities being destroyed in the same time period.

Stories like Joshua, in which God insists that anyone in the way should be killed, turn a lot of people away from church – away from any contact with such a God. Why would anyone want to worship such a God – who created all humans but told his favorites to kill off anyone who wasn’t one of the chosen? Or one who placed one human above another, even though all were created in God’s image? We have chained up God’s Word, and God’s intention, and God’s design, and made them mean whatever we want them to mean.

And yet – if we look past Joshua into Judges, we discover God’s love and forgiveness. In Judges, over and over, the Hebrews disobeyed God – they turned to other gods, they ignored the plight of the poor, they abused the alien workers in their midst. Over and over their actions led them into trouble, they found themselves on the verge of being annihilated by other nations. And over and over, God forgave them. God let them start over.

And not just the Hebrews. We all know the story of Jonah – and we all pretty much get stuck on the whole “swallowed by a giant fish” part of it. We don’t think about the whole story. God told Jonah to go to Ninevah and tell the people there that if they don’t turn from their evil ways and worship God they would be destroyed. Jonah didn’t want to go, but he really didn’t have much choice in the matter. So he went, and he preached, and the people changed. And God forgave them. God exhibited love and mercy and compassion, not judgment and anger and punishment.

When I was in junior high I had a teacher who had us read the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament as literature and I fell in love with it. I discovered that the Bible is filled with wonderful stories and terrible stories. It has stories of romance and rejection, murder and punishment, cowardice and bravery, loyalty and betrayal, bad things happening to good people, and good things happening to bad people. It has boring parts – all those laws and all those lists of who begat whom - and it has exciting parts – wars and love stories. It’s filled with songs and poetry. It has really sexy stories and really horrific ones - there are stories in there I’d never read to children, because if they were movies they’d be rated PG17 or come with a warning about violence! The Bible isn’t just a history of the Hebrews. It’s the story of humanity. It tells us how people behave, and about relationship with God. If we read it carefully, we can see ourselves. If we read it carefully, we can see God.

If we only read bits and pieces, we only get bits and pieces of the whole story. We’d never read a novel in bits. If we did, the ending wouldn’t make sense. And students shouldn’t read text books in bits – there just might be a test question on the part we missed. So why, I wonder, do we read the Bible that way? All of the answers are in there – and so are all of the questions. Everything I need to know about how to be in relationship with other people and with God is in there someplace. But to find what I need to know, I have to read it. I have to study it. I have to understand the entire story.

When I read the Bible I discover a God powerful enough to create the universe with a word, and loving enough to create humanity in his own image. A God who loves us enough to let us go on our own way – even when that way is going to lead us into trouble – and forgiving enough to welcome us back with open arms when we realize our mistakes. A God who never says “I told you so” but rather says “I will not remember what you have done in the past.” Who shows us repeatedly that the greatest among us are not the wealthy and powerful, but those who devote themselves to serving their brothers and sisters. Who rejects no one who comes to God in love, to learn and serve. When I read the Bible, I hear God’s story – still speaking to us across millennia, across cultures, across traditions. I hear a melody, running through all the books of the Bible, sometimes loudly, sometimes so quietly we can barely hear it, singing God’s story of love, mercy, compassion and forgiveness. Let us read, and listen, and unchain that melody, and sing Alleluia! when we hear God’s story.

Hymn Alleluia! Hear God’s Story 330

Sunday, September 23, 2007

How Do I Love Thee? 1 Timothy 2:1-7

Did you follow the news this week about the demonstrations in Jena, Louisiana? Here’s the story, briefly. There’s an oak tree at a high school in Jena which is the traditional hangout for the white students there. A black student asked the principal if black students were allowed to sit under the so-called White Tree, and of course, the answer was yes. That night nooses were hung in the tree by a group of white students and violence broke out pretty much immediately. There were several clashes between white and black students, culminating in the arrest of six black students for the beating of one white student. One of those students was convicted by an all white jury, but the conviction was overturned by a higher court which ruled he should have been charged as a juvenile, not as an adult.

The problem – no one was arrested for hanging the nooses in the tree, no white students were charged for their parts in other violent clashes, but six black teenagers were charged with attempted murder after what was essentially a schoolyard fight resulting in relatively minor injuries. The problem is it appears that in La Salle Parish there is one kind of justice for whites and one kind of justice for blacks. Personally, I’m finding it hard to believe that the district attorney in Louisiana couldn’t find anything to charge against the boys who hung the nooses, although that’s what he said when he insisted this case wasn’t about race. Anyplace else that action would have been considered a hate crime, just like painting swastikas on a synagogue. It’s impossible that anyone could have missed the significance of nooses under the circumstances. Instead of those boys being punished, the 100-year-old oak tree was cut down. I guess the school board decided “no tree, no problem”?

The news reports say this was the largest civil rights demonstration in decades. Busses full of college students traveled from all over, like they did during the civil rights marches at Selma, Montgomery and Little Rock. Tina Chatham of Georgia Southern University spoke for many of the students when she said: "It was a good chance to be part of something historic since I wasn't around for the civil rights movement. This is kind of the 21st century version of it,"
Wasn’t around for the Civil Rights Movement? Are not Civil Rights an ongoing struggle, a serious concern for anyone who seeks a world ruled by justice and compassion? Did she think it ended with the passage of the Civil Rights Act? Just because some laws were changed, that didn’t mean racism ended or that the struggle toward reconciliation ended. It just means racism became a tad bit less obvious. Long time activists like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, and pretty much anybody who pays attention, know that things are only marginally better today than they were 40 years ago. Those leaders and all who care about justice still cry out to God, as the prophet Jeremiah cried out for the deliverance of the exiles in Babylon.

Jeremiah 8:21—22
21For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt,

I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.

22Is there no balm in Gilead?

Is there no physician there?

Why then has the health of my poor people 
not been restored?

The Bible tells us that the people of Israel lost everything – their temple, their lands, their freedom – because the leaders did not, would not, care for those who needed their care – the widows, orphans, and aliens – the folks who had no power at all and no money and no one to stand up for them in times of trial. Instead of taking care of their people as the book of the Law directed them to, they focused on increasing their own power and wealth and status. This isn’t new – it’s been reality since the earliest days of humanity – the powerful always find ways to become more powerful, usually by using and abusing those who are less powerful. How do we change that? How do we move our leaders to seek justice with mercy?

Paul tells us, First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone, 2for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 3This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,

First of all, pray. Prayer is a powerful tool. In meetings of Regional and General Church Boards and committees there are frequent breaks for prayer, usually at times in the meeting where conflict or high feelings are most likely. Prayer can bring us together in times of conflict – at worst it gives us a moment to breathe, at best it helps us refocus and reminds us of our purpose in getting together. The best example of that I ever saw was at our General Assembly this past July when our moderator became our pastor at difficult times in the proceedings and took time from the agenda to lead us in prayer. It was the first Assembly I ever attended in which the halls after each session were peaceable – no one I heard was carrying on in anger because their position didn’t carry the day. Disappointment sometimes, but not anger. It was beautiful – and it was that way because of prayer.

Paul tells us for whom to pray – for everyone, for kings and for all who are in high positions. And he tells us how to pray for those people - in supplication, intercession and thanksgiving. So we pray not “God, punish those folks who don’t agree with me, who aren’t following your direction the way I think they should.” But “God, thank you for our leaders. Thank you for the work they do, and for their willingness to serve. I ask that you open their heats so they may at least hear other possibilities than the course they have set upon. And open mine as well, that I might come to understand their position.” And then, go forward and seek justice. Sit down with those you disagree with in peace and dignity, discussing the differences you have and coming to a place of agreement. Write letters, sign petitions, join demonstrations, speak your heart’s passion, donate money to the cause – do whatever it is you are able to do, whatever you are drawn to do for justice. But first, always, pray.

Prayer does bring change. Prayer first of all changes the one who prays. I’ve told you, I think, that I pray a gratitude list every day. And I give thanks not just for the things I like in my life, but also the things I don’t like. For the people I’m angry with, or who just will not agree with me on things I consider important, because they make me consider how to present my position in a way they will understand. For the cold I caught, because it makes me slow down. And when I pray this way, I find that I become more willing to see another’s position. When I pray this way, I become more willing to speak and act in love. And as I become more willing to listen, to understand, to come to agreement – I understand again just how powerful prayer can be. I understand just how much God loves us, to give us a tool that changes hearts and minds with so little effort.

When I first read this passage I thought of the sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, --- I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! --- and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

She wrote this love poem to her husband. But I suddenly heard it as a prayer – as words spoken to God. And as I read the words that way, I realized that when I speak of my love for God, I can more easily hear God’s response. And I heard the response in these words

How do I Love Thee? My child, let me count the ways.
I love you In all the ways I hear your prayer, and in all the ways I respond.
In all the ways I move you to hear and respond to the cries of those around you,
In the words of life taught by my Son,
In the gifts of healing found in those words.
For the words of love and forgiveness found there have always been the balm that heals all wounds.

When I pray for the power to love, the pain in my heart begins to heal, my anger begins to cool. When we cry out in pain, in anger, in frustration, “Is there no physician here? Is there no one to heal the wounded? God responds in love and compassion. God pours out love upon us, encourages us through the words of the Gospels to share that love throughout the world. And as the love spreads, like a healing salve on a wound, anger and hatred are healed.

My brothers and sisters, there is a physician for all the world’s ills, the Christ who was sent by God to teach us love. And in that healing power of love, There IS a balm in Gilead.

Hymn There is a Balm in Gilead

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday Five - DeCluttering Edition

Sally of RevGalBlogPals poses a great set of questions for me, since I'm getting ready to move!

Making the most of our resources is important, I have been challenged this week by the amount of stuff we accumulate, I'd love to live a simpler lifestyle, it would be good for me, and for the environment I think...

With that in mind I bring you this Friday 5;

1. Are you a hoarder or a minimalist?
I'm a hoarder who wants to be a minimalist. I keep everything - even decades old electric bills! - but I'm constantly looking for ways to clear out the excess stuff in my house and office.

2. Name one important object ( could be an heirloom) that you will never part with.
I have a crucifix that was hung above the front door in every home my parents lived in for as long as I can remember.For me, this is the one thing that really says "This is my home." It is the first thing I hang up whenever I move.

3. What is the oldest item in your closet? Does it still fit???
I've been continously weeding out my closet the last few years. Every season I look at what I have and if I haven't worn it in two years out it goes. The oldest thing I have now is a 50's costume that I bought for a Hot Rod show back in the 1970s. It might fit, I'm not sure. How often does the occasion call for a skirt with a crinoline and an I Like Ike button?

4.Yard sales- love 'em or hate 'em ?
Love Them! And dread them. I try to drive past instead of stopping cause I know I can't stop at just one. :-)

5. Name a recycling habit you really want to get into.
Where I live right now the trash company sorts and recycles everything so I don't have to pay attention to which can I put things in. My new house is in a different area so I've have to re-learn how to sort out my trash again.

And for a bonus- well anything you want to add....
Moving is always my favorite opportunity to get rid of things I don't use, never liked, or got tired of. The big problem used to be "But what if Great Aunt Whatshername comes over and doesn't see the horrendous whatnot she gave me?" That's not a problem anymore with me living on the opposite coast from the rest of my family, but tell me - what do you do with dustcatching gifts from The Husband that merited a "Oh, it's just what I always wanted" Pack them away and eventually lose the box?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Lost and Found Luke 15:1-10

On Sunday evenings I like to watch Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. It’s a program on which a family in great need is selected to receive a completely new home, built on their existing property, to replace a house that’s pretty much falling down and otherwise unsafe. The people for whom these houses are built are not just in financial need, they are also people who genuinely deserve the help, people who dedicate their lives to helping others, sometimes despite rather serious physical handicaps. They’re often nominated by members of their community because of the good they do for other people while their own homes literally fall apart around. Hundreds of volunteers from the community come together with Ty Pennington and his team of designers and builders to demolish the existing home and then build a completely new home designed for that particular family in just one week, while the family is sent to Disney World or someplace for a vacation. Last Sunday Ty Pennington and his crew built a new home for the family of Jason Thomas.

Jason Thomas is one of the heroes of 9/11, an ex-Marine who spent the days following 9/11 working to save lives. Even though he was no longer on active duty, and even though his job had nothing to do with law enforcement or fire rescue, he immediately left his job and went to the Ground Zero to offer his help. He kept working for days, and long after most people thought there couldn’t possibly be anyone left alive, he just kept digging until two more men were freed from the wreckage. Because of his persistence, his refusal to give up, two New York Port Authority Policemen were rescued. Afterwards, he stayed and kept looking for more survivors, until finally he was told to go home, to let it go. There was no one else left. Those two policemen that he rescued were the last two people who came out alive. Do you remember the celebration when those last two were rescued? On the days following September 11th, Jason Thomas lived up to the motto of the Marine Corps – Semper Fi – Always Faithful. He would not give up.

In many ways, Jason’s story is like the story of the lost sheep, and the woman with the lost coin. Like the shepherd, he left everything behind to search for the lost. Like the woman, he left no corner untouched, searching diligently until he finally found what he was looking for.

The Lost Sheep and the Woman with the Lost Coin – we’ve heard these two stories so many times. We’ve wondered why a shepherd would leave a whole flock to chase one lost sheep. We may have been able to relate a little better to the woman with the lost coin – at least she probably had the other coins safely in her keeping while looking for the lost one. And then there’s the way the shepherd and the woman reacted to finding what was lost. I mean, normally if you lose a sheep, or a sum of money, or anything really important, you don’t throw a party to celebrate. You’re much more likely to keep it to yourself so nobody has to know you lost it in the first place!

When we look at these stories next to the story of Jason Thomas, maybe they make more sense. Most people didn’t just walk off the job and go downtown to dig through the rubble. Most people kept working, kept earning a living for their families, kept themselves safe. Yes – most people sent money or donated supplies or did something to help. And a lot of people from all over the country did go to do whatever they could. But most people didn’t go to the extreme effort he did. And of those who did go down to help with the rescue efforts, most had given up on finding anyone else alive long before Jason did.

If this man, who didn’t even know the people he was looking for, could be so dedicated to finding and saving them, how much more important must we be to God, who knows and loves each one of us. How much more faithful, even than a Marine, our God is, to offer forgiveness to anyone who admits their faults and asks for pardon.

Paul experienced this forgiveness personally, on the road to Damascus, and talks about it in his first letter to Timothy verses 12-17:
12 I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, 13even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. 16But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. 17To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

What we always have to remember about Paul is that he wasn’t what the world would have seen as “lost.” He wasn’t a tax collector, or a drug addict, or an adulterer, or a thief, or anything like that. He was a righteous man, a faithfully practicing Jew, who believed he was doing right in chasing down and arresting or executing people he believed to be blaspheming against God. Although Jesus taught much that was in accord with what Paul believed, he also taught things that turned Paul’s world upside down! Paul didn’t understand how anything could be more important than obeying God’s laws. He didn’t understand how the Messiah could come as a wandering rabbi from Galilee. He didn’t even understand that God’s kingdom was not a physical place, but a state of being. Talk about finding one who was lost! Paul is the perfect example, way better than a sheep or a coin or even two policemen. For here was a man who didn’t understand that he was lost. Who believed that he was right and would not be open to any other point of view. But Jesus chased him down, pointed out his errors, forgave him, and welcomed him warmly into the family of Christ – even sent him to other believers that he might be healed physically as well as spiritually.

Paul wasn’t made perfect that day. He would continue to get angry and to fight with people who didn’t see things his way. But from then on, he would search his soul, confess his faults, and ask forgiveness. From then on, he would understand that Love is the foundation for God’s kingdom, and he would really try to be loving even to those who opposed him. We know these things, because he put them in writing, and those writings have survived even till today.

I think that if we have a predetermined idea of who the Lost are, we’re missing the big picture. The sheep was part of the flock, and wandered away. The coin was one of 10 that was somehow misplaced. The policemen were human beings who were in clear and present danger. Paul was a righteous man whose understanding of what was acceptable to God was inflexible. All of these were lost. All of these were part of something larger – they weren’t just random units that someone went looking for just to be looking.

Who, then, are the Lost? Who are the sheep and the coin of these parables? Who are these sinners God is seeking so diligently?

There are the obvious Lost – folks who don’t go to church at all – the ones we’re told we’re supposed to evangelize. Non-believers and drug addicts and alcoholics and criminals and homeless folks. People who are angry at God. People who believe they’re doomed to hell, so why bother. People who don’t seem to be part of anything - loners.

But there are a lot of other Lost ones.

The Lost are members of congregations who feel alienated or disconnected somehow. They may still show up, but their hearts aren’t in it anymore. The Lost are the folks who find their church’s theology unbearable, or see more ambition and power seeking behavior than they think ought to be happening in church, and so they wander off. The Lost are the ones who have been driven out of their church, because they have a drug problem or got divorced or came out of the closet, who feel rejected but who desperately want to be part of Christ’s family.

The Lost are Us. Whenever we find ourselves feeling less than, or not a part of, or rejected, or unwanted – we are the Lost. Whenever we find ourselves feeling better than, or needing to be in control, or angry because others question what we are doing - we are the Lost. Whenever we are doing anything that will separate us from God and from each other, we are Lost.

The Good News, my brothers and sisters, is that we don’t have to stay Lost. We can find our way back and join in that celebration, for the path back is easy enough to find.. God has sent Jesus as the Light to guide our way. Through Jesus, through walking the path that Jesus has shown us how to take, God’s amazing grace finds us and bring us back safely from any danger we may encounter. Amen.

Hymn Amazing Grace

Sunday, September 09, 2007

I Will Follow Him Luke 14:25-33

Six years ago this week I was preparing my very first sermon for my very first ministerial position as student chaplain at a retirement community. It was National Grandparents Day, and the passage the lectionary gave me to preach was “hate your father and your mother.” NOT the message I wanted to have to preach on my first Sunday in a room full of grandparents and great-grandparents! I survived that encounter, and I learned a lot. Of course, that was sort of inevitable since I was working in a community full of retired ministers and missionaries and pastors wives, including Doug’s parents.

This is a difficult passage. First, let’s look at what it doesn’t say. Jesus says “hate your family”? How can this be when Jesus always said love everyone? This is easier to understand when you realize that he was using a teaching tool commonly used by rabbis of his time – hyperbole. Making a point by exaggerating it. Not hate, precisely. But rather, don’t allow ties to other people prevent you from discipleship. If you are called to travel – as missionaries are, for example – don’t let your family keep you from following that call. Remember, Jesus’ disciples at the time were asked to travel as missionaries, carrying very little, often gone from their families for long periods of time. If they had stayed at home because of family ties, the Good News of God’s Kingdom would not have gotten very far.

And what about giving away all your possessions, really? After all, Jesus was supported throughout his ministry by people who had possessions – homes and wealth and even his tomb. We’ve come to understand that it isn’t wealth by itself that he preached against. It was allowing the accumulation and possession of things to come between you and God.

And then there’s the bit about carrying your cross.

Often preachers using this passage talk about bearing the cross of personal, financial, emotional or physical problems without complaint, with faith that God will carry us through any difficulty. You’ve surely heard people say something like “Yes, I have constant pain from my arthritis, but it’s just the cross I have to bear.”That’s not really what this passage is about either.

More often this passage used to reckon up the cost of discipleship – what we must suffer and endure if we are truly Christian. We use examples of people like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dietrich Bonhoeffer – both great men, both spoke out and acted against oppression – racism in America and Nazism in Germany. They both walked forward faithfully through difficult and dangerous times, knowing that their very faithfulness could lead to their death. They both gave their lives for those who were oppressed, as Jesus did. That is a piece of the meaning of this passage.

This passage does tell us that Christ must come first in our lives. Following Christ, being a Disciple, means that we are first Christian, then whatever else – child, parent, partner, employee, citizen – whatever. The Cross that we carry is the Cross of being a Christian.

One of the Revgalblogpals asked “So what are you preaching this week – Jeremiah, or Paul or that heavy cross?” And it struck me that there was something wrong with this question. Think about it. Why is it we only seem to talk about the burdens involved in following Christ, and never about the JOY of carrying our cross?

Let me point out that Jesus’ very disciples, the ones who spent all their time, waking and eating and sleeping, in his company, the ones who listened to every word he spoke, weren’t able to follow him to the Cross. When he was arrested they panicked and ran, they hid themselves from the Romans and the Temple guards. And in the case of Simon Peter, denied even knowing Jesus. It wasn’t until later – after the resurrection – after their joyous reunion with Jesus – that they were able to truly follow him – to preach his message, to carry news of the resurrection and the life everywhere in the known world. They faced trouble – Yes. And Yes, they would later face persecution, imprisonment, even death. But they followed him, not as a burden they bore, but as a joyful vocation.

Think about the things you do joyfully – things you do because you can’t not do them.

The image this passage evokes most powerfully for me is the image of the young man who arrived at the doors of Father Flanagan’s Boys Town, with his younger brother across his shoulders, and saying, “He ain’t heavy Father. He’s my brother.” Carrying his brother was hard work, undoubtedly. But it was hard work he did with joy, knowing that at the end of the journey was warmth and safety for both of them. He did it because the most important thing in his life was the love he had for his brother.

Luciano Pavoratti is probably the only opera singer in history who was able to bring opera into the lives of people who typically wouldn’t ever hear it. Most opera singers wouldn’t have been caught dead singing pop music, or appearing in comedy films, and even on Saturday Night Live? He had a gift he joyfully shared with as many people as possible. In an interview he said “this isn’t work – this is what I do because I love it.” He had to work hard – practicing and traveling and taking care of his voice – but he couldn’t stop. To the end of his life he shared his gift with the world, because singing wasn’t his job – singing was who he was.

Teachers – the good ones - don’t become teachers because they’ll get rich doing it. They teach because they love to teach – because it is their vocation. Even when they retire they find ways to keep teaching. You should see Marsha talking about Alternative Christmas with our preschoolers. And Stasi teaching them crafts – these retired teachers continue teaching because it is what they love. They really can’t help themselves. They just kind of fall into teacher mode. Teachers everywhere work really hard, they may be driven crazy by paperwork and administrative stuff and in some places they are in real physical danger when they go to work. But they are teachers, all the time, because that is who they are.

And Ministers – I don’t know any retired ministers. I know a lot of ministers who no longer serve a congregation, or do any ministry for which they get paid, but they never quit being ministers. At Robin Run I watched ministers in their 80s and 90s spend all their time doing some kind of ministry. I know they spent quite a bit of effort helping a certain student chaplain learn what she was doing. A minister’s work isn’t easy. Some of what they do is difficult or emotionally painful or just aggravating, and in the case of missionaries it can be extremely dangerous. These folks serve joyfully to the end of their lives, because they can’t not serve. Being a minister isn’t a job. It is simply who they are.

Some of you know that I watch the occasional football game, and that I kind of like the Indianapolis Colts. When Tony Dungy arrived in Indianapolis to become the head coach of the Colts the very first thing he did, before he even looked for a house, was to look for a church. And this wasn’t something he tried to keep quiet – he brought it up at a news conference! According to an article in Christianity Today, he said that in his college football playing days he was a hotheaded jock, not a mature Christian by any means. But today he is a Christian first. He is very different, as head coach, than the stereotypical cursing, hard driving, abusive head coach. His understanding of how to treat his comes from his understanding of how Jesus would have him behave toward all persons. Apparently, treating football players with respect and love works pretty well. The Colts have a great reputation in Indianapolis and elsewhere – they work hard in the community to do good, they don’t make headlines for drug use or spousal abuse or fighting. And they do win football games.

That’s what Jesus calls us to be in this passage. First, follow him. First, be Christian. Then be whatever else we are. Be Christians in the same way that young man was a brother, Pavarotti was a singer, teachers teach and ministers minister. Be Christian because we can’t not be – because it is who we are. Like Tony Dungy, our Christianity should form the way we do our work, the way we treat other people, the way we act in every aspect of our lives.

Where ever we go in life, we need to go there as Christians, carrying the cross of God’s love, joyfully and with much praise and rejoicing. Where ever we go, we need to follow Jesus along our way. Where ever we go in life, we know we are not going alone, not as simply an individual, but as part of the body of Christ. And even if we’re not certain about the direction, we know there is one who can lead and guide us on our way, who goes before us, who has already shown us the way to go. Join me now in asking him for guidance.
Sing - Lead me, guide me.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Last but not Least James 5:15-20

We’ve reached the end of James’ letter to the church and the end of the Summer Sermon Series. Unlike many other letters written at about the same time in history, James doesn’t use the end of his letter for personal greetings, or a long benediction. Although today’s reading is the last part of the letter, it is certainly far from the least important part. There’s nothing here that can or should be skipped over. The last paragraphs in this letter make some critically important points for living a Christian life.

First, he says Above all do not swear. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. In this James simplifies the words of Jesus reported in the Gospel of Matthew 5:33-37 ‘Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.” But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

Our Quaker brothers and sisters take this statement very seriously indeed, so seriously that for a long time they were unable to hold any public office in England and other European countries because they refused to swear on a Bible. They still don’t – when testifying in court or being sworn in to public office, they affirm they will tell the truth, but will not place their hand on a Bible and swear to it. In part there is the problem of false swearing. If, for example, I believe a certain thing to be true and swear to it, then it turns out that what I believed to be true isn’t, I will have sworn falsely. Think about it – have you ever looked all over for something, maybe even accused someone of moving it, and then, upon finding it in an unexpected place said “What’s it doing in the garage? I could have sworn I left it in the kitchen!” Had we sworn we would have sworn falsely, even though we believed our words to be true. James, however, doesn’t just echo the commandment against swearing falsely, but simply says “do not swear” at all, ever.

James said don’t swear because speech between brothers and sisters should be truthful, and each one should be trusted to be truthful.. Speaking plainly and truthfully with each other is the basis for community. This simplicity and trustworthiness in speech carries over into the language of prayer. James has already addressed this a bit elsewhere in his letter. In the first chapter he says that one who is suffering should not say “I am being tempted by God” And earlier in this chapter he cautions us against seeking revenge against the source of our distress. Rather, we should simply lift our pain up to God who is the source of healing and grace. Likewise, anyone who is happy should sing praises to God, giving all honor to the one from whom all blessings come.

Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord..

In the world James lived in, there was no separation perceived between the health of the body and the health of the soul. Body and soul were inseparable in life and were treated together. Our medical science today separates not just body and soul, but even all the parts of the body. If you go to your general practitioner with an upset stomach, you may end up seeing half a dozen specialists before someone is able to figure out exactly what is the matter. This is not necessarily a good thing – because the whole body is connected. We know that emotional or spiritual upset affects the way our physical body feels. There is a growing trend in the medical community toward holistic medicine – toward treatment of the whole body. In James’ world, this was a given. So medical treatment included treatment of the soul - anointing with fragrant oils, laying hands on the sick person. The oil and the physical contact return the one who has been alienated by illness into the community. The act of visiting and anointing and praying also brings the one who prays back into contact with that alienated one. That simple human touch reaches across pain and loneliness and brings us together.

The seminary I attended was a Disciples ecumenical seminary. My classmates came from many different Christian denominations and traditions. We had different beliefs about theology and practice and prayer. Most of us would respond to “will you pray for me?” with “Yes of course” and then add that person to our prayer list. But Millie treated these requests differently. Millie was a Baptist woman in her 70s who had been called to the ordained ministry somewhat later in life than most. And she was on fire! When the Gospel Choir would sing in chapel, she would get so excited that she’d be jumping up and down praising Jesus as we went back to our seats. The first time I asked Millie for prayer I expected her to say “yes, I’ll pray for you” But what happened was that Millie wrapped her arms around me and began to pray – out loud, right there in the middle of the hallway near the library. She praised God and called upon God to shower me with love, to forgive my sins, to heal my soul even as the surgeon would work to heal my body. I felt so much better when she me go. The touch, the caring, the immediate response, brought me back into the community from which I felt isolated by my illness. And it left Millie jumping up and down, praising Jesus.

Prayer is good for the one praying and the one being prayed for. When we are suffering in any way, it is our responsibility to ask for prayers – not just for our own benefit, but for the benefit of those who do the praying. If we do not ask for prayer, we are alienating ourselves, and rejecting our community. When we pray, especially when we are praying for someone else, we draw closer to God. Prayer is powerful. The act of praying, especially when we are praying with another person, brings blessing upon both the one praying and the one being prayed for. When we pray, as James directs, for the forgiveness of sin in the one who is ill, we are following the example of Jesus, who often told those who sought healing “Go, your sins are forgiven.” The purpose of prayer is the healing of the soul – the removal of fear, an ending of isolation and alienation, the assurance of God’s love and forgiveness.

Can our prayers make it stop raining for three years and six months, then bring the rain back as Elijah did? Probably not. Can our prayers help another heal from the pain of isolation and loneliness that illness brings? Absolutely. Can our prayers bring back one who has strayed, one who has wandered from the truth, one who has isolated herself from the body of Christ? Certainly. It happens all the time. It happened to me.

Throughout the summer we’ve been hearing James instructions on how to live as a Christian. We’ve been given direction on how to Love God and our Neighbor. How to be faithful to the example of Jesus the Christ.
Endure difficulties with faith and to turn our backs on temptation, praying for God’s guidance.
Really listen to the Word and to each other, with our hearts, not just our ears and our minds.
Act in response to what is really being said, not what we think is being said.
Be faithful, for faith will draw us to do good for others.
Welcome everyone equally into the body of Christ
Show love to everyone equally, without prejudice of any kind.
Do not judge one another.
Seek always to find common ground for agreement, avoiding conflict.
Be very careful how we use words, for words create the realities in which we live.
Be humble, and know that we forgiven.
Be patient. Know we can’t force others to change, but we can pray and wait for willingness.
Live as one community, speaking simply and truthfully, praying together, confessing our own sins and forgiving each other, as God forgives us.
And in every circumstance, Pray, for prayer brings us closer to God and to each other.

The words we have heard in this letter are words with which we can change our lives and by changing our lives, through our example, we can change the lives of others. These are truly words to live by – these are wonderful words of life.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

A time for grief, a time for joy

It has been a horrific week. Last Saturday morning a long-time member of the congregation died unexpectedly. Sunday morning another - a woman in her 70s who was just baptized last Easter. Monday after spending time with both grieving families I had to take my beloved bunny, the Reverend Samuel T Rabbit, to the vet where he was eased out of this life. Tuesday I could barely function.

What I faced Tuesday morning was what was already going to be an unusually busy week. I had to finish writing a grant for our preschool which was due on Friday and I had to prepare the monthly newsletter so our members could receive the paper version by September 1st. Luckily the web version is easy to do once all the writing is completed. Then there was the usual bulletin preparation and general office stuff. And on top of these, planning a funeral and doing my own grieving while working with the two bereaved families.

I cried out in despair as the psalmist did, first to God, then to friends. I shared my grief, my anger, my concern that I wouldn't be able to do what I had to do. I received consolation and strength, the assurance that God was walking alongside of me. I cried and worked, and cried some more.

Tuesday afternoon I received a phone call from a friend, who had a bunny she wanted to give me. I agreed to see how Mr. Whiskers and I would get along. Tuesday and Wednesday my friends surrounded me in person and virtually, and prayed with me. By Thursday all the work I had to complete was finished and I was able to go to the church to truly celebrate the life of one who has gone home.

I feel good - able to sing praise songs in the morning as I used to do. The grief over two humans and one bunny is still there, but no longer paralyzing. Mr. Whiskers and I are getting along well - he's a glutton for being petted, and has started looking excited when I come out in the morning, and coming over to nuzzle my face. He's not my Sammy, but he's really helped me get through the pain of loss.

Thank God for friends and prayers and bunny rabbits.


Friday, August 17, 2007

Friday Five: Word Association, Redux

It's a while since I played Friday Five on Revgalsblogpals

This one is patterned off an old Friday Five written by Songbird, our Friday Five Creator Emerita:

Below you will find five words. Tell us the first thing you think of on reading each one. Your response might be simply another word, or it might be a sentence, a poem or a story.

1. vineyard
Growing up we had a grape arbor and some of my favorite times were spent sitting under the vines by myself eating those thick skinned Concord grapes. I especially liked peeling off the purple skin to see the pale green fruit inside. Do you suppose this could have something to do with why I like to be outdoors surrounded by green growing things for prayer and meditation?

2. root
vegetables - potatoes, beets, carrots.

3. rescue
The Utah coal miners - just this morning news came that 3 of the rescuers were killed and others injured trying to reach the trapped men. Someone on the news said what better way to die than in the attempt to save lives. Sounded kind of biblical.

4. perseverance
endurance with a hint of stubborness

5. divided
Christianity - hence the Disciples' motto "Unity is our polar star"

Sunday, July 08, 2007

An Unexpected RevGal Meet

We have one or two visitors most weeks, but today's worship was already going to be something special, with many visitors expected. Twenty-some members of one family were coming from all over the world (literally) to see a baby blessed and dedicated to Christ! I made sure we had twenty worship bulletins over and above our usual number of extras.

Half an hour before worship I welcomed two young men dressed all in black and metal, as the regular greeters weren't on duty yet. I was delighted to learn that they had looked us up on the internet and checked our website before coming. They were looking for a church that celebrated diversity. One of them said he was completely new to "the whole church thing."

Just as the prelude began I saw a woman I didn't recognize walk in the back door and straight up the aisle to the 2nd pew. Wow. By the time we stood for the call to worship one side of the church was nearly full and the usual latecomers hadn't yet arrived! We ran out of bulletins, and the deacons quickly made up an extra tray of cups for communion, which are two of my favorite "problems" on a Sunday morning.

When I stood up to greet our visitors during celebration and prayer concern time I introduced the 2 young men, invited the large family to introduce themselves, greeted some "regular visitors," then turned to the woman in the front. Suddenly I realized "I know that face." It was Mother Laura, a RevGal! What was she doing sitting in my 2nd pew when I knew she had an unfinished paper and a trip to England on her plate for today?

It really was a wonderful service. The sermon seemed to go well, the parents were beaming, the baby was beautiful in a long white satin gown, She even seemed to enjoy having her forehead anointed with fragant oil. The young men said they would come back, the family provided a lovely lunch, and Laura and I got to spend a little time in conversation before she headed back to her computer.

There were some little weirdnesses, of course. The pianist played 2 verses of the hymn on the wrong side of the page before she realized her mistake. My microphone kept cutting in and out. But that's just the kind of normal Sunday stuff that helps me remember that I'm not in charge.

The blessings always outweigh the weirdness and today was a perfect example of how that happens. A beautiful baby was blessed and dedicated and will be part of my church family from this day forward, even though she and her parents live in Australia. Two young men may have found a place of worship where they feel welcome. Mother Laura and I got to meet in person, and she hopes to be able to come back again. And she got to spend time in worship to renew her spirit before finishing her paper and getting on the plane.

This has truly been a day of new beginnings and many blessings.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Friday Five: Hasty Edition

Reverend Mother of the Revgalblogpals says:
Whoops! I have been in a family-induced haze these few days, with the July 4 holiday and taking time off while relatives are visiting. So I literally lost track of what day it was!

So rather than make you guys wait even one minute longer for the five, I'll dig up an oldie:

Today, what are you:

1. Wearing
My day off favorites - denim skirt and tee shirt with sandals

2. Reading
A member of the congregation lent me a bagful of mystery novels by Steven Saylor whose stories are set in Rome during last century before Christ.

Also, Being Disciples of Jesus in a World by Foot and Thornberg

3. Eating
I'm really trying to eat less as I prepare for vacation so I'll look good in my summer clothes, doncha know. Luckily there are lots of fresh fruits and veggies available to go with the chicken and fish. Now if I could get my congregation to send fruit home with the pastor instead of cakes!

4. Doing
Day off or no, I have to go up to the office for a few minutes as my secretary is on vacation. Somebody has to let the Developmentally Challenged cleaning crew in. After that shopping for a room airconditoner (it's REALLY hot in So Cal and the bedrooms aren't airconditioned!) then settling down on the couch to return to ancient Rome in the pages of one of the books above.

5. Pondering
In large part because I'm preaching on Hearing and Doing the Word (James 1:17-27) this week, I'm seriously pondering why it is so difficult for us (me included) to really listen to anything for more than about 15 minutes. Once upon a time Christians could sit and listen to stories about Jesus, letters from Paul, sermons, etc. for hours on end. Now anything that lasts more than 15 minutes is too long. I even choose scripture readings for worship that will fit on 1/2 a sheet of paper so the reading doesn't last too long! Is it the of our world where everything comes in bytes? Are we conditioned by the length of time between commercials in TV programs? Which, incidentally, keeps getting shorter. . . Hmm

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Before Faith Came

Galatians 3:23-29
On Friday a dear friend of mine graduated from college. As we celebrated at a party Friday evening I looked around at all the people – babies, children, and adults of all ages – I looked at all the stages of life present – and I considered the differences between childhood and adulthood.

When we are young, we are surrounded by rules! Don’t leave the yard without telling someone. Never swim alone. Don’t cross the street by yourself. Clean your room. Don’t eat candles. Put away your toys. Don’t take toys away from others. Don’t hit people.

And we’re surrounded by people who check up on us to make sure we follow the rules – parents, older siblings, babysitters, teachers . . . Who discipline us when misbehave, or don’t follow instructions.

As we get older we have more freedom to make our own decisions. The new college graduate had no one standing over her to make sure her papers and other assignments were completed. She disciplined herself, knowing what had to be done and doing it, taking responsibility for her successes and failures. She didn’t have many failures, mind – she graduated Magna cum laude! – while working full time.

It was much the same way in Paul’s time. Among the Greeks and Romans of Paul’s time, children were put in the care of a tutor, a disciplinarian, who was often brutal in his treatment of the children in his care to ensure that they would learn and obey. In this passage, the law is being likened to this kind of disciplinarian.

"Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith."

When Paul wrote this letter to the Galatian Christians, one of the major issues in the church was the conflict between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians. Many of the Jewish Christians in Galatia were insistent that Gentiles must be obedient to the laws of Moses in order to be accepted as Christians – in order to justify that they were worthy of God’s love and forgiveness. This was, after all, the understanding that Jews had held for over 1,000 years, since Moses brought the tablets of the law down from Mt. Sinai. These Jewish Christians saw themselves as superior to the Gentile Christians because of their obedience to the law. Here Paul speaks to the Gentiles, encouraging them, and assuring them that they were equally worthy, equally justified, continuing his argument that Christians are justified by faith, not by obedience to the laws of Moses.

Paul was not saying the laws were no longer of any worth, but that obedience to the law was not the primary focus for Christians. Christians – whether Jewish or Gentile - showed their worthiness of God’s forgiveness through faith – not so much faith in Christ, as faithfulness to Christ. The disciplinarian is no longer needed, for faith has given the Gentiles the freedom of adulthood.

"As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise."

Today, anyone can wear anything they like. Rich people shop on Rodeo Drive in raggedy clothes, and poor people buy designer knockoffs at Ross. When I look at you, I can’t tell just from your clothing whether you are poor or wealthy, well educated or illiterate, or even where in the world you might come from. In Paul's time, clothes really did make the man. The clothes a person wore were determined by class and social status, and governed by laws. Just because you could afford a toga didn’t mean you could wear one – you had to be a member of the nobility. The color purple was worn only by royalty, although members of the Roman Senate could wear a tiny stripe of purple on their togas. Anyone could tell with just a glance where you stood in society based on what you had on.

For the early Christians, the image of clothing themselves in Christ had a very specific meaning. At their baptism, every new Christian received a new robe as they emerged from the water, identical to every other baptismal robe, a very tangible symbol of the new life they were entering. For those early Christians, the image evoked with the mention of their baptismal clothing was the image of equality. Just as they were all clothed the same in baptism, so as Christians they are equal – Jews and Greeks, equally Christian. Men and women – one in Christ. Slave and free – equal in status, equally loved by God, equally forgiven. As Christians, as members of the body of Christ, they are now to relate to one another in perfect equality. They were to relate to one another in perfect equality in the community that is the Christian ideal – in the way that God intends for all people to live in the world to come.

Now when the individual members of this community of Christians left the place of worship to go back to their places in the world, they were, of course, still Jewish and Greek and male and female and slave and free. They did the same work they always done, they still held whatever status or lack of it in the world that they held before. What changed, what was expected to change, was how they treated each other – as equals in every way. What changed (and what attracted others to this new religion) was how they treated their neighbors – these new Christians reached out to help the sick, the poor, the oppressed – not just other Christians, but anyone in need.

While they continued to wear the clothing required by the laws of the world on the outside, on the inside they were clothed in Christ. They were dedicated to one purpose – to carry the Good News of God’s love and forgiveness to all the world. To spread the teachings of Jesus, and to do that by embodying the commandments to love God and all of God’s children. To share everything they had with each other for the survival of the community.

We are called to that same purpose, that same equality, that same commandment to love, that same community. Consider the church to be like the network on those Verizon wireless commercials on TV. As a member of the body of Christ, you have all that huge crowd of people standing behind you, giving you support, each contributing his or her own special skills. And you are likewise one of those people, freed by Christ to recognize the gifts and graces of all the others. Held up and nurtured by that body of saints who have come before, and who walk along with you.

The path on which our faith takes us, each of us individually, will be different. We are each called to a different ministry, a different path through life, a different way of serving the children of God. Whatever path we follow, whatever decisions we make, let it be the one that Jesus sets before us.

Hymn: I have decided to follow Jesus

Friday, June 22, 2007

Friday Five: Hot Town, Summer in the City...

Revgalblogpals invite us to talk about summer

Hot Town, Summer in the City...or town, or suburb, or hamlet, or burg, or unincorporated zone, or rural area of your choice---pretty much anywhere but the southern hemisphere, it's summer. (Australians and others, consider this an invitation to take a break from winter for a while.)

1. Favorite summer food(s) and beverage(s)

Fresh fruits and veggies! I grew up on a farm and summer meant harvesting our kitchen garden - watermelons and corn and string beans and tomatoes and asparagus - yum!

Perennial favorite summer beverages - water, iced tea and iced coffee. New favorite beverage - iced green tea

2. Song that "says" summer to you. (Need not be about summer explicitly.)

Summertime ( . . . and the living is easy) Somebody want to remind me who the artist was?

3. A childhood summer memory

When I was about 5 I had my first, very own watermelon patch. I checked it every day for a melon and on July 4th found a Miracle! A huge, ice cold watermelon was sitting next to the vine! It was a while before I figured out that Daddy had bought the watermelon and put it in the spring house to get cold, then put it in my watermelon patch as a surprise. :-)

4. An adult summer memory

Worship in the Woods in Indiana. We all went to a member's house who lived on a large property with lots of trees and flowering plants. We set up chairs on the lawn for worship, music was old favorites sung a capella, the pastor and student minister (me) dressed in jeans and Guatemalan stoles to lead the service. Worship was followed by a steak dinner that couldn't be beat!

5. Describe a wonderful summer day you'd like to have in the near future. (weather, location, activities)

I'd really like an early morning (like, Dawn!) walk on the beach. Then a breakfast featuring fresh fruits, a wander through a small town with lots of shops. Lunch somewhere, spend the afternoon in a big chair to read and nap in, dinner somewhere. Hmm - food without me making effort seems to be a large part of this wonderful day. :-)

Optional: Does your place of worship do anything differently in the summer? (Fewer services, casual dress, etc.)

I'm in So California - dress is always casual. :-) Traditionally here nothing changes in the summer. But this year beginning in July we will be starting worship 1/2 hour later, choir will be on break, and Monday Bible Study will take a vacation. Even the church Board will not meet in July. (Yippee!)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Spring Cleaning

There are just a few days left until summer begins so it's time to do Spring Cleaning at the church. Not one of those big church work-days, but the one-person-only sorting and clearing out decades worth of broken crayons, unused education materials, outdated posters and stacks and stacks of songsheets that haven't been used since the 1960s. It's time to sort out the CDs and put them on shelves instead of randomly stacked on the floor. And to trace all the wires and plugs in the choir loft to see which one goes to which electronic device, if indeed they go to anything. You know, the kind of sorting and cleaning that comes with changes in our education and music staff. I can't wait!

That's not the only spring cleaning I need to do, though. I need to do some serious self examination and clear out the things that keep my soul cluttered. I need to look at the kinds of tasks I do and determine if I really need to be doing them. What is really important, and what wouldn't matter to anyone if it wasn't done? I have to examine my calendar and see what the best use of my time really is. Do I leave time for prayer and meditation, for study, for spending time with The Husband? (I already know the answer to that one - No!) Do I spend enough time with individual members of the church when they're NOT in the hospital? (Also No!)

It seems that as each year progresses I find myself bogged down in the details of administration and forget all about the larger picture of what I have been called to do. In June, my anniversary month, I look back over the year and invariably discover that, once again, I have slid back into the same rut. Office hours, paperwork and meetings take up the majority of my time. How does that keep happening?

So . . . it's time to do some Spring Cleaning. May the Spirit blow through my life and clear out the spiritual clutter that keeps me from moving forward.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

When we are living

Galatians 2:15-21

I didn’t go to college until later in life. I entered Chapman University as a freshman in 1995 – I was 44 years old. And while I was pretty determined to have a college experience as much like that of my much younger classmates as possible, I had pretty much figured that I was not going to be in a sorority. Who would want a 44 year old married woman? One of the most surprising things that happened to me, therefore, was having a group of young women come to me and ask me to be part of a new sorority that was opening on campus – a Christian (Lutheran based) sorority. I did join that sorority, and through my sisters I learned a lot about other Protestant churches and their beliefs. Some of them came with some pretty serious rules for living. One of my sorority sisters always wore long skirts, because her church taught that God hated women who dressed like men, so she wasn’t ever allowed to wear slacks. Didn’t even own a pair of jeans! There were a whole lot of things she couldn’t do that the rest of us could, and we made adjustments in scheduling and in the activities we planned so she would not be excluded. I spent a lot of time being grateful that, as a Disciple, I didn’t have to deal with rules like that. Because you see, the thing about all those church rules is that we get to a point when the rules are the most important thing, and we forget that what God wants most of all is our love.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul said to other Jewish Christians like himself
“we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.

This teaching was really tough for people like Paul, who had spent their entire lives studying and interpreting and living by the law of Moses. Strict obedience to the laws had been the framework of his whole life – and now that framework was unnecessary. He could no longer say, as the Pharisee praying in the temple said in Luke’s gospel (18:12) “Lord, I give you thanks that I am not like other people, thieves, rogues or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give a tenth of all my income” and believe that this was enough.

19For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.

Jesus said he came to fulfill the law, and taught his followers that all the laws could be stated in the two greatest commandments “Love your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your strength, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” These two laws created a new framework for Paul and other Jewish Christians. All those laws that had bound their lives were – not irrelevant exactly – but no longer the be all and end all of their existence. New Christians would not have to be circumcised before baptism. Gentiles and Jews, men and women, slaves and free persons could all come together for worship and for meals. The laws that had separated the Jews from everyone else were no longer the most important thing in their lives. Now their primary focus was faith in Jesus Christ – in obedience to his teachings, especially the teaching that love for God and the neighbor took precedence over all the other laws they had lived with for so long. The important thing – the most important thing – was living to God – allowing Christ to live within us.

Which brings up a question I was asked recently. Someone came to me and wanted to know “How do I let Christ into my heart?” That’s a tough one, really.

There is series of children’s books by CS Lewis you are probably familiar with, ‘The Chronicles of Narnia.” The first one, “The Witch, the Lion and the Wardrobe,” was recently made into a movie. Near the end of the final book the end of the world comes to Narnia, and all the people and creatures are judged by Aslan the Lion, who is really Jesus. One man, who had done good all his life in the service of an evil god, was embraced by Aslan as one of his own, and the man said “Lord, I am not yours. All my life I have served that other god.” And Aslan said “My child, when you did the good thing, the loving thing, even for though you thought it was for that other, you were doing those things for me.” All his life this man had Jesus in his heart, even though he wasn’t aware of it.

So maybe it’s not so much about getting Jesus into our hearts – he’s already there. It’s about letting him out. When we are being our most noble, when we are living in such a way that God’s love seems to shine through us, we are letting Christ out of our hearts to be a blessing to the world.

A clergy colleague suggested that perhaps instead of asking “What would Jesus do?” we should ask “What is Jesus already doing if we just give him room to live?” Maybe we should ask “What can I do to get myself out of the way and allow Christ room to work?”

And she told this story: There was once an especially tense church meeting in which two men, both good men and respected leaders, found themselves passionately advocating opposing viewpoints. In the heat of the discussion, both men became ungracious toward each other, and Matt, one of the men, stormed out. Everyone was shocked because this behavior was so out of character. Fifteen minutes later, Matt returned with a basin of water in his hands, a towel over his shoulder, and tears in his eyes. He knelt before his opponent, removed his shoes and socks, and began to wash his feet. When he’d finished, he said, “please forgive me. I’ve treated you very poorly. I realized after I left that, if you were so passionate about this issue, there must be a good reason, and I need to at least listen.” 

Once that man let go of his tightfisted effort to make his religious point, he discovered the presence of Jesus Christ already there, ready to change the tone of that meeting, and ready to reconcile two brothers in the faith. The "Christ in him" drove him back into that room.

And truly, the Christ in the other man allowed him to accept the foot washing – to accept the offer of reconciliation.

Paul said “I have been crucified with Christ; 20and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”

Wouldn’t that be great? To be dead to all the things that separate us from God so that Christ could always live in us? To always be loving, generous, merciful, kind, forgiving and compassionate?

I'd love to be dead to self – to be crucified with Christ - so that Christ could always come out of my heart through my words and actions, but that's just not reality. In reality, I can be judgmental, quick to jump to assumptions about other people, ready to gossip, selfishly concerned with what I want or think I need, or just plain unkind. Sometimes I’m afraid that if I give generously I won’t have enough. Reality is the constant struggle to put self behind me - to be kind and generous and forgiving. Reality is knowing that I'm going to fall short of the ideal, but being willing to keep trying to get out of the way so Christ can work through me.

How do we let Jesus out? Focus on him. Call on him. Read the gospels and try to do what he taught us to do. Look for the blessings in our lives, even the smallest. Whatever we focus on is what will be present in our lives – so if we focus on blessing, if we focus on the good, if we focus on helping and forgiving, then these are the things we see, experience, are enabled to do.

We let Christ out when we are drawn to do even the smallest blessing for another and then do it. When we aren't worried about what others will think or if doing something good for someone else will leave us with less - time, money, whatever. To live for Christ, serving God’s children, who ever and where ever they may be, seeking always to act in love. When we are loving, we are living. And when we are living, we belong to God.

Hymn Pues Si Vivimos (When We Are Living) 536