Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Missing the Movie (Luke 11:29-36)

"When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, 'This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.  For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation. The queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here!  The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar, but on the lampstand so that those who enter may see the light.  Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light; but if it is not healthy, your body is full of darkness. Therefore consider whether the light in you is not darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, with no part of it in darkness, it will be as full of light as when a lamp gives you light with its rays.'"- Luke 11:29-36

Among my friends, I'm notorious for falling asleep in movies. I wasn't always this way, but in college I began to develop this bad habit. As with most college students, movie watching was a good way, late at night, to procrastinate in the name of fellowship. Most of our movie nights didn't start until God-awful hours, those times when your eyelids start to get heavy and it's easier to slip into sleep than it is to stay awake, no matter how much you want to keep watching. The darkness takes over, cool, calm, relaxing, as your eyelids rest. Most of us have been to this place where it's easier to shut out what's going on around us and give in to sleep, give in to darkness, no matter how much we want to be a part of the excitement and energy around us. Closing our eyes is our bodies' habitual, natural move when we're tired; the darkness is our resting place.

In this scripture I find myself fascinated with the connection between seeing, having your eyes open, and the light. And in other scriptures, too, we see connections between sleep and light --
"...but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, 'Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you'"(Ephesians 4:13-14). I get the obvious points that these scriptures make -- remain alert, open your eyes to what Christ is doing, stay on guard, what is easy to see is also easy to ignore. In other words, don't allow yourself to miss what's right in front of you -- Christ; don't allow yourself to close your eyes and drift into darkness, into sleep. You might miss the movie!

I get all of these points, and they're all good ones. Wholeheartedly, I believe this is the point Christ (and Paul) is trying to make -- it's easier to close your eyes, to live in darkness, to fall asleep than it is to open your eyes and see, to be a beacon of light (lampstand) for others, to wake up. Jesus' way is the way of faith, of light, of trust -- it's more difficult than giving in to darkness and sleep, especially when we're tired already, when our lives are heavy and we're ready to shut out everything. THIS, I believe is what Christ is calling us to do.

And yet, I'm not fully satisfied with that. I have to believe there is a time for rest. There is a time for sleep. There is a time for darkness. After all, God made day and night. Is it even possibly to be able to recognize light without darkness? Is there a time for darkness -- "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven"(Ecclesiastes 1:1)? It is abundantly clear in scripture that God is in the light, that we open our eyes to see God, but is God not in the darkness too? Is God not there when we close our eyes, when we just can't seem to keep our heavy eyelids open? Does Christ not move in the cool, calm of the night as in the warm, excitement of the day? 

Clearly, I'm no Sherlock Holmes, probably not even Watson. Yet another mystery unsolved by yours truly. I'm still struggling. I hope you will join me, maybe even enlighten me. Until then, peaceful rest and joyful waking!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Ministry of Stopping: Luke 8:40-56

"When Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they had been waiting for him. A man named Jairus, who was a synagogue leader, came and fell at Jesus' feet. He pleaded with Jesus to come to his house because his only daughter, a twelve-year-old, was dying. As Jesus moved forward, he faced smothering crowds. A woman was there who had been bleeding for twelve years. She had spent her entire livelihood on doctors, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the hem of his clothes, and at once her bleeding stopped. "Who touched me?" Jesus asked. When everyone denied it, Peter said, "Master, the crowds are surrounding you and pressing in on you!" But Jesus said, "Someone touched me. I know that power has gone out from me.When the woman saw that she couldn't escape notice, she came trembling and fell before Jesus. In front of everyone, she explained why she had touched him and how she had been immediately healed. "Daughter, your faith has healed you," Jesus said. "Go in peace.While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the synagogue leader's house, saying to Jairus, "Your daughter has died. Don't bother the teacher any longer." When Jesus heard this, he responded, "Don't be afraid; just keep trusting, and she will be healed.When he came to the house, he didn't allow anyone to enter with him except Peter, John, and James, and the child's father and mother. They were all crying and mourning for her, but Jesus said, "Don't cry. She isn't dead. She's only sleeping.They laughed at him because they knew she was dead. Taking her hand, Jesus called out, "Child, get up.Her life returned and she got up at once. He directed them to give her something to eat. Her parents were beside themselves with joy, but he ordered them to tell no one what had happened. " Luke 8:40-56

I've just sat down to start working on my sermon. I know where I'm going with it and I'm ready to knock this thing out! Then the inevitable happens -- someone calls. Sometimes it's an easy task that's asked of me. Sometimes someone has gone to the hospital and I need to visit them. Sometimes it's a matter of life and death. 

I have a tendency to think of these moments as interruptions, annoyances, aggravations. Sometimes I stop what I'm doing; sometimes I don't. Many of us have moments in our days and weeks when something unexpected comes up in the midst of doing whatever it is that we are supposed to be doing, the activities we already have planned.

This is where Jesus is, I think. He's on his way to heal a young girl, but on his way he is stopped. What does he do? He uses that moment. He stops. He takes advantage of the opportunity that is in front of him. He heals. And he goes back to what he was doing in the first place. 

What he doesn't do is equally important. He doesn't keep going. He doesn't say, "hold on, I've got other business, but I'll be back." He doesn't ignore the woman.  He doesn't take care of his more important business first. Jesus uses the moment he's been given. Instead of thinking about this woman as an interruption he thinks about her as an opportunity to serve. She is important to him. 

  What if we treated all of our interruptions like opportunities for service? Would that change our outlook? Would it create more space for us to serve and for God to work through us? More than likely, I believe the answer is a resounding, YES!

It's not always easy or convenient to stop when we're asked. Perhaps there are even times when it's not possible (though, I would think these are few and far between -- If you're like me, you tend to equate impossible with inconvenient). I wonder if being inconvenienced is a part of what we sacrifice in participating with God in ministry. What I do know is God's grace was evident in Jesus' stopping. God's grace was evident in the woman being healed. God's grace was evident in the woman's faith. 

I think an often unnamed grace in this scripture is that Jesus, though he stops, is able to go back to the task he began initially, against all odds and expectations. And because he stops, the healing he does for the girl is even greater than it would have been if he had made it to her earlier.

I think there's a lesson here for us. Today I will start again, and I will try to stop when I am interrupted. I will see that moment as an opportunity. And I will trust that whatever it is that I am doing at the time will be there when I return, by the grace of God.

Monday, October 13, 2014

What's With Demons? A Struggle to Understand Luke 8:26-39

WARNING: Highly subjective and potentially offensive content. If you can deal with that, read on.

"Jesus and his disciples sailed to the Gerasenes' land, which is across the lake from Galilee. As soon as Jesus got out of the boat, a certain man met him. The man was from the city and was possessed by demons. For a long time, he had lived among the tombs, naked and homeless. When he saw Jesus, he shrieked and fell down before him. Then he shouted, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don't torture me!" He said this because Jesus had already commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had taken possession of him, so he would be bound with leg irons and chains and placed under guard. But he would break his restraints, and the demon would force him into the wildernessJesus asked him, "What is your name?" "Legion," he replied, because many demons had entered him. They pleaded with him not to order them to go back into the abyss. A large herd of pigs was feeding on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs. Jesus gave them permission, and the demons left the man and entered the pigs. The herd rushed down the cliff into the lake and drowned. When those who tended the pigs saw what happened, they ran away and told the story in the city and in the countryside. People came to see what had happened. They came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone. He was sitting at Jesus' feet, fully dressed and completely sane. They were filled with awe. Those people who had actually seen what had happened told them how the demon-possessed man had been delivered. Then everyone gathered from the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave their area because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and returned across the lake. The man from whom the demons had gone begged to come along with Jesus as one of his disciples. Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return home and tell the story of what God has done for you." So he went throughout the city proclaiming what Jesus had done for him." Luke 8:26-39 (CEB)

Give me sin. Give me darkness. Give me weakness. Give me hatred. Give me evil. I can handle these topics. But DON'T give me demons. Few things give me more uneasiness than demons. I just don't know what to think about them. Perhaps the problem is, unlike this passage in scripture, I've never witnessed a demon fleeing from a human body into the bodies of swine. Perhaps the problem is I'm not really sure about things I can't see. Perhaps the problem is I just don't like the idea that something could have so much control over a human without their consent. Perhaps it's a little of all that.

To say the least, this passage gives me pause. I'm not 100% sure of what to make of it, but I'm gonna try. Lets start with things this scripture tells us about the nature of demons:

  • they are embodied (take possession of bodies)
  • they are embodied multiple times (many times it took possession of him)
  • they are strong forces to be dealt with (person with demons has to be restrained)
  • they cause people to do things to harm others (why else would a person with demons be chained and guarded?)
  • they cause people to be alone, separated from other people (they forced him into the wilderness)
  • they can work together (many demons in one body)
  • their preferred residence is in a body rather than in "the abyss"
Again, I'm not sure I've ever seen a demon, at least not a little horned devil, or a spirit that inhabits a body, as many horror movies would have us believe are the manifestation of demons. But I can think of some actions that fit this description. It seems that these demons:
  • are systemic and repeating -- they can be passed from one body to another and they happen over and over again
  • are difficult to overcome and may even have to be overcome multiple times
  • separate a person from loved ones, making them alone
  • come in groups
  • do harm to a person and others who come in contact with that person
Two things in particular come to mind -- addiction and abuse. For now, lets stick with addiction.

Those who experience addiction experience the desire to participate in whatever activity compulsively, repeatedly. Addictions are extremely difficult to overcome and they continue to be a struggle throughout a person's life -- it's not like once it goes away it's gone for good. Addiction returns. Addiction can create a sense of loneliness, misunderstanding, and separation from loved ones and it is also strongly tied to other issues like depression. Addiction causes hurt to those who come in contact with it.

Now, this definition is not actually as nice and tidy as I make it appear. In fact, there are reasons NOT to think of addiction as a demon. My main problem with thinking about addiction as a demon is that it seems to make things black and white in terms of what people can do about it. In this scripture, it seems clear to me that the person inhabited by a demon has very little, if any, control over his own body, which leads to the conclusion that either the demon can be completely in control or God can be completely in control, but the human has very little control. This argument seems like there's no space for me to interact in my own story, and that makes me a little uncertain because I truly believe that God doesn't do all the legwork -- I have to be involved too. But if I really do have zero control that leaves me with two options: If I'm an addict and it's because a demon has inhabited me, then I have no responsibility for my actions because it's the demon, not me. On the flip-side, if I'm an addict and God can take control, then why hasn't God taken control? 

Do you see yet, why this topic gives me such a pain in the brain?!

So, I'm just going to have to deal with the fact that I don't have all the answers. Maybe demons are something that plague us all. Maybe they are things like addiction (even "small" addictions like food addiction, shopping addiction, sleeping addiction -- I don't know, I just made that last one up). Maybe they're not. You'll have to come to your own conclusions about that one.

But here's what I do see happening in the passage. Through Christ, God helps a man break a pattern, a system that has become a much a part of his life as breathing. Through Christ, God relieves a man's pain, if only for a while. Through Christ, God puts right relationship between this man and his community. Through Christ, God is present to this man and changes his life. 

That's some really good stuff. And yet, I still find myself in the position of the community onlookers, seeing the God's power and love, and being afraid of what I don't understand. I find myself full of questions instead of answers, because, you see, I can live with life as I know it, but I'm scared of what life might look like if God healed my demons. Would I be healed forever? Would they come back? Would life be better? What would I have to do differently? These are the questions that plague me. These are manifestation of fear inside me. Maybe, just maybe, these are my demons. What are yours?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"For the [Big] Birds"

Have you ever seen The Pixar Short Film "For The Birds"? If not, check it out HERE before reading on.
Lets talk about these birds for a minute. At the beginning, it’s pretty clear these little birds enjoy their space enough to fight over it with one another. They act pretty selfishly, actually, don’t you think? If you looked at that telephone line closely you could see that the line was more than big enough for all the little birds, but they just don’t want to share. Their space gets especially messed up, though, when the big bird hits the scene. They are all squished together and that really makes them angry. Though they weren’t even friends with each other to begin with, they find a common enemy and they turn on him like vultures. They tweet about him, they gossip about the big bird, and they laugh at him. He’s pretty goofy and not like them at all. When he tries to hang out with them, they get rid of him.
I like to call this a “lunch table” situation, otherwish known as the “Forest Gump bus dilemma”. This film really takes me back to school days when that one really awkward, goofy looking kid walks into the lunch room and is trying to find a place to sit, but everyone say “seat’s taken,” or think it. People all over the cafeteria who don’t get along with one another all agree on this – that kid isn’t welcome. We see this at church too, and in the workplace – people just aren’t sure about the new guy, so they talk about him and spread rumors, gossip, not taking into consideration that the very person they’re talking about is, in fact, a human being with feelings like they are. But, no, that doesn’t matter. Those little birds just chatter away, not thinking about the big goofy bird in the room, not making room for him, not befriending him, but separating themselves from him and hurting him with their words and avoidance and exclusivity, and gossip, only thinking of themselves.
Lets consider Galatians 6:1-10:
Brothers and sisters, if a person is caught doing something wrong, you who are spiritual should restore someone like this with a spirit of gentleness. Watch out for yourselves so you won't be tempted also. Carry each other's burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are important when they aren't, they're fooling themselves. Each person should test their own work and be happy with doing a good job and not compare themselves with others. Each person will have to carry their own load. Those who are taught the word should share all good things with their teacher. Make no mistake, God is not mocked. A person will harvest what they plant. Those who plant only for their own benefit will harvest devastation from their selfishness, but those who plant for the benefit of the Spirit will harvest eternal life from the Spirit. Let's not get tired of doing good, because in time we'll have a harvest if we don't give up. So then, let's work for the good of all whenever we have an opportunity, and especially for those in the household of faith.”

Well, well… it looks like these birds are dealing with problems similar to those of the church in Galatia. It seems that Paul is reminding the Galatians not to participate in these group shaming activities like bullying and gossip, leaving others out, treating people as if they are less than we are because they look different, speak different, act different, have different customs, etc. It seems those little birds are fooling themselves because they sure seem to think they’re important, that they deserve their space, that they are better than that big goofy bird that's nothing like them.

We deal with problems similar to those of the church of Galatia too. Sometimes we are that big, goofy bird. We come into a new situation and all we desperately want is to be accepted by those around us, and all those around us are doing is excluding us. That hurts. A lot. We have all been there at some point or another. Sometimes we are those little birds. When we’ve gotten settled in our ways it’s easy to stick to the people we know, the other little birds like us, and to ignore those other big birds that don’t fit into what we already know. Those big birds in our lives might not even be people; they might be perspectives that are different than ours that we reject, they might be opportunities we reject, and, yes, they might be people that we make fun of, or ignore, or exclude, or neglect to invite into our group to share space in our lives. We’ve been the big bird, we’ve been the small bird. When life throws us situations that that give us the opportunity to act like those little birds in the film, what are we to do?

1. We are to carry each others’ burdens. That means including the outsider and understanding the outsider so that the outsider becomes the insider; we’re not to add to others’ burdens by excluding them, laughing at them, and forcing them away. That can be really tough when everyone else is making fun and excluding. But we can remember what it's like for us when we've been there, and we can do our best not to exclude. Not only are we to not add to their burden, but we are to gently correct those who are doing so. We are to be examples for others of what justice and equality look like. We are to listen, and understand; we don’t always have to agree, but we are to honor other people.

2. We are to believe that each person is as important as we are. The scripture today reminds us that if we think we’re important when we’re not, we’re fooling ourselves. Everyone has something to offer. Everyone’s voice deserves to be heard. Everyone’s perspective deserves to be valued. Every person deserves to be honored, not humiliated, not excluded, not judged, but loved, understood, and included. Not always agreed with, but heard and accepted.

This is who God calls us to be. This is the type of person Jesus exemplifies – the guy who shares meals with the hated, the guy who calls the poor to be leaders with him, the guy who touches those who are unclean, the guy who forgives the unforgiveable, the guy who accepts those nobody else will accept. If we agree that we are to be like Jesus, which I think we do, then we are to accept, to honor, to include, to understand, to love those who are big, goofy bird that look different than us, sound different than us, think different than us, act different than us. That’s a tall order. It’s not easy.

But the good news is that somehow in carrying each others’ burdens, in gently correcting our friends and neighbors in their judgmental actions, in being corrected ourselves, in treating people as if they are as important as we are (because they are)… we will produce great things. We will build great relationships, we will encounter wonderful ideas and fantastic creativity, we will be challenged, we will learn how rewarding it is to love our neighbors. And if we don’t, well, we saw the film, didn’t we? We will get caught "naked as a jay-bird," so to speak. We will never get to know the joy that we’re missing out on, the joy that God wants for all of God’s people. Why would we produce devastation in peoples’ lives when we could produce good instead? Why would we want to live barren, naked lives ourselves when we could live lives full of joy and peace and goodness instead?

Watch out for those big birds, those ideas, and those people, that you exclude, that you ignore, that you judge, that you humiliate. Perhaps it is time for those of us who have received the Holy Spirit to make space in our lives for those people. Perhaps it is time to invite them to sit on the telephone pole with us. Perhaps it is time for us to change the end of the story, to change the end of our story.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Turning “I’m bored” Into Pirate Ships and Meeting God

       I recently had the pleasure of going on a cruise to celebrate my graduation from seminary. It was WONDERFUL in a lot of ways – it gave me a chance to reconnect with the people who were with me, it gave me a chance to rest, it gave me some time to myself, and it gave me a chance to be bored. Now, hear me out. I know you’re probably thinking, “boredom doesn’t sound so great to me.” Especially those of you with kids who frequently torment you with complaints of boredom, or those of us who do everything we possibly can to keep ourselves busy and free of boredom, probably don’t so much appreciate the opportunities that it brings
       But parents, friends, fellow workaholics, and plan enthusiasts, think back to your years as kids. Remember those times when you had long summers off or weekends when you didn’t have anything planned? Remember those times you begged your friends to come over or your parents or siblings to play with you? Remember when they said no? What did you do? Did you go outside and discovered that your back yard was actually a pirate ship? Did you make up a game that didn’t actually keep score of anything but could keep you busy for hours? Did you climb a tree? Did you beat your previous record of how many times you could hop on one foot? Did you draw a picture? Did you journal? What did you do when you were bored?
       I can remember some of my most creative inventions and most memorable stories coming from those “I’m bored” moments. Perhaps boredom is needed. Perhaps boredom is the gateway to creativity, and, consequently, a gateway to God. I’m often reminded that as those people created by God in God’s own image (Genesis), we are made to create as God creates – to create relationships, to create other beings, to create love, to create memories, to create games, to create moments… to create. We meet God in those moments, don't we? We get to see what life is really is when we live as the people God has created us to be.
       Perhaps the enemy isn’t boredom. Perhaps the enemy is being overinvolved. Maybe we are stifling the amazing things we could be doing by filling all of our minutes, and hours, and days with work, and activities, and entertainment. Do we ever just give ourselves a moment to be bored? Do we ever just take a few minutes, a few hours, a few days to let creativity happen? Perhaps we are not giving God an opportunity to use us creatively because we don’t give ourselves a moment to just be. I wonder what my life might look like if I took more time to be bored. Maybe I’ll do just that. Maybe I’ll find my backyard pirate ship again. But may I’ll find an bigger treasure than that.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Rewriting the Rules

"The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made. All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your faithful shall bless you. They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom, and tell of your power, to make known to all people your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. The Lord is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds. The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down." -Psalm 145:8-14 

      How do I love you, God? Let me count the ways. You are gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, you’re good to all, you’re compassionate, everything you made will thank you because you’re so great, and all those who are faithful to you will bless you (they’ll be evidence of how wonderful you are)… and the psalm goes on. But it gets interesting around the last verse we read today, verse fourteen: “The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.”
      Many of us have heard something about God at some point or another about God helping us get back on our feet (amIright?). Even praise songs refer to this image of God picking us up off the ground. Maybe you recall singing the song “All in All,” and singing at the top of your lungs, “when I fall down, you pick me up, when I am dry you fill my cup, you are my all in all.” This idea of God picking us up when we fall isn’t new to many of us. But that isn’t exactly what this verse says here, is it? It doesn’t say when I fall down, God picks me back up. Instead it say, when I am falling God holds me up. The psalmist isn’t talking about after we’ve fallen, they're talking about about the very moment when we trip, we stumble, and we begin to fall, and in that moment, God catches us on the way down.
      Parents and kids out there know that kids get lots of bumps and bruises, lots of scrapes, lots of injuries from falling. While I'm not a parent, I'd bet that most parents, if standing close to their child and could stop them from falling when they tripped by grabbing them and steadying them, would do just that. I can remember driving in the car with some friends and their mom when suddenly their mom slammed on the breaks. One of my friends was sitting in the front seat and her mom’s arm immediately swung out in front of her to stop her from going forward too fast (apparently that’s common… my friend called that ninja move the “mom arm”). If we can, we keep the ones we love and those in our care from being harmed before they get too deep into trouble – that is, we try to stop the scraped knees and falling into the front of the cars.
      We’re in God’s care. God does this for us. God holds up those who are falling, those who trip. And lots of things trip us up, don’t they? We walk along doing well, going to church, being kind to people, going to bible study, inviting a friend to church, then BAM! Out of nowhere we trip up on something (maybe calling someone an ugly name). God catches us, and we’re forgiven, but we still remember, and we walk a little less tall than we did before. But we do keep walking and get back on track, we do the right things, say the right things, then BAM! Another tripping spot (maybe a loved one dies and we turn into ourselves and drink just a little too much to try and forget). God catches us, and we are forgiven, but we don’t’ forget. We remember, we carry that weight and the weight of former tripping places, and we bend under that weight just a little bit more. The cycle continues. And when we get tripped up by enough of whatever it is that is our own personal stumbling block enough times, we become ashamed of ourselves for tripping over and over again, whether it’s brought on by circumstance, by choice, or by accident. We’re ashamed, we’re bent over, we’re bowed down. Our shame becomes a part of who we are, even though it’s not who we always were and it’s not who God made us to be.
      This happens to all of us. It’s inescapable because we’re not in total control of our lives; other peoples’ decisions, good and bad, effect us and what happens to us. As much as other people can be blessings in our lives, other people can also be stumbling places in our paths. As much as we can raise others up, we can be tripping points for others too. (1 Corinthians 8:9) Sometimes we're aware of it, and sometimes we're not. For me, this image begs the questions, "where are we causing others to stumble" and "where have we participated in shaming other people?"
      I saw this video (it’s a commercial) on Facebook last week and things just clicked… I thought this is a very real way that we continue to trip and continue to trip up others, maybe in a way we haven’t even considered or realized before.

      Sometimes we become ashamed of who we are, we become bent over because the world gives us a set of rules, some written and some understood, and people in the world play by those rules and perpetuate them. We all do, whether we're aware of it or not. This doesn’t just apply to little girls and learning that doing something “like a girl” means they're doing it in a way that's less than. All the time we tell little boys to “be a man,” meaning hold in your anger, your frustration, don’t show your emotions, suck it up. “Be a man” and “like a girl” are only two examples of how rules are set for us and we perpetuated by us, even though they hurt all of us. We become ashamed of who we are. We become bent over, and the weight that we carry gets heavier every time we’re told to be a man or told that we do something like a girl. These sort of rules, these words, can cause us to stumble from the path God has for us, the way that Christ teaches us – walking as a beautiful child of God, the path that Christ sets for us. 
      But the rules can be changed. At least, that’s what this commercial suggests at the end when across the screen it reads, "rewrite the rules." God can show us the way to begin that change, that rewriting of the rules. Not only does God catch us as we stumble each and ever time, but God also helps us to stand up straight again, unashamed of who we are, a forgiven people (over and over and over again). And God helps us to have the strength not to buy in to everything we’re taught in society, but to change, to rewrite what's expected of all of us.
      The rules are there for us, but they are not set in stone. God is constantly catching us as we fall. God doesn’t let us hit the bottom, no matter how often we trip and no matter how bent over and ashamed of ourselves we become. God catches us and helps us to straighten up. Often, God does this through other people even though sometimes other people are the very things that cause us to stumble. It’s complicated, isn’t it? This world we live in, these people we are, and these people we know. People are complicated, situations are complicated, and there are lots of jagged edges on the sidewalk of life that we can trip on. But no matter how rugged our path, God catches us when we trip, we are not allowed to fall all the way, in life or in death. Romans 8:35-39 reminds us of this truth: 

"Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution,  or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, 'For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." 

We will be never be fully separated from God in Christ. We will never fall all the way. God will not allow it. God calls us to remember that we are beautiful, to not be ashamed of who we are and the places we have tripped up in the past. Instead, God calls us to live as a forgiven people who forgive ourselves and change the rules of life to be this standard – that we love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. (Matthew 22:37-39) We are to live in God’s image, standing up straight, doing what God does for us -- catching others when they stumble. We are to be people through whom God works to straighten others up, to remind others that they are not to be ashamed of who they are because they are beautifully and wonderfully made, like us.
     The question remains, "how can we be those people that God uses to straighten others up?" Stop buying into and reinforcing the messages and rules of the world that men and women are supposed to be one thing or the other, that being “like a girl” is less than being like a boy and being like a boy means “being a man”. It means not giving in to everything that society tells us – we’re not pretty enough, masculine enough, fat enough, thin enough, fast enough, smart enough, creative enough… that we are not enough. We are enough. God made us beautifully so that we might be able to walk upright, unashamed, proud of who we were made to be, and so that we might help others to see God’s magnificent work in themselves. Be aware of how you treat men and women differently, of how you treat each other in general -- people of different colors, people of different incomes, people of different ages, people of different able-ness, people of different orientation, people of different genders, people… we are all people. Treat others and yourself as if you are made fearfully and wonderfully, a beautiful creation made in God’s image. Change the world’s rules so that they do not continue to bend us over and cause us to stumble. God catches us so that we might catch others. God loves us so that we might love others. Let us live as forgiven people who walk tall and straight, who are proud of the human beings we are made to be, who know the grace of God, and who live sharing that grace with the rest of God’s creation. Let's rewrite the rules.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Kingdom in Bloom

A seed has been planted in us and around us. God has promised us that it will grow, it will come to fruition. We have hoped and dreamed about what it will look like. We have done what we could to nourish it with our gifts. And it is finally here. The kingdom of God is in bloom, as promised!
       It seems the Holy Spirit has finally arrived on the scene as Jesus suggested in Ch 1. I suspect it’s not quite what people imagined, though. God shows up in a really big way – in a very loud noise and shows up in fire. (Different than the how God shows up for Moses – in a still, small, voice, he wasn’t in the storm or the fire… BUT like with Moses and the burning bush and like with the ark of the covenant (where the Hebrew people believed God lived, and what they took with them while wondering in the wilderness, God's presence revealed in flame). People have little pillars of flames alighting on their heads, and they are able to speak what the Spirit is saying to them. Not only that, but those who hear them can hear them in their own language. People from all over the world they knew  are speaking in their own languages and everyone else can understand. In this diverse mix of people, the Holy Spirit makes it so that they can understand each other, and God makes God's self known by flame.
       What do you think that would be like? What if you could suddenly understand someone who was speaking to you in Spanish or French or Italian or Arabic or Hebrew or German, even though you couldn’t understand them just moments before? What if you heard a tornado-like wind and then saw fire light on top of peoples’ heads, maybe even on your own. Would you think you were dreaming? Would you think it was impossible? Would you think it was amazing? Would you be scared? Would you be excited? Would you be shocked? “How can this be,” they ask?  Even though they were promised the spirit, they didn’t know what that would mean. They didn’t know it would mean drastic change in their outlook, their world perspective. 
       When we encounter the Spirit, we are changed, our world is changed, our outlook is changed. We can talk to and understand people that we couldn’t understand before – maybe even people we thought were out of their minds for thinking the things they thought. Things become clear that weren’t clear before. Have you ever been thinking about the right thing to do in a situation and you’ve been really stuck on what the answer is? But you talk to someone and suddenly you realize the answer has been there all along, we just couldn’t see it or understand it. When we encounter the Spirit, we see it, we understand it, our outlook on the world is changed, our outlook on others is changed. We are changed. And that’s a good thing.
       As believers, we are united in that change that happens in us. We talked about gifts last week, remember? The body is one in Christ but has many members – we are united in this change that we experience in the Spirit, even though that change results in different gifts. We are one in God, we are one in our transformation by the Spirit, we are one in our giftedness. We are one in the Spirit’s alighting on us, transforming us, helping us to understand things we never understood before. Helping us to do things we’ve never done before and lead with our gifts in ways we’ve never done before. That’s a good thing, a very good thing. 
       But these things – understanding each other when we haven’t before, having our perspective changed, being unified in Christ – in one spirit with different gifts – these things can be really disturbing and challenging to those who don’t understand the Spirit. Not everyone understands this change, do they? The people who saw all of this happening but didn’t experience it themselves actually think those who have been filled with the Spirit are drunk… they have been drinking new wine, they say. To them, these people who have been filled with the Spirit look foolish, silly, they’re saying crazy things. They’re like the town drunks – nobody should actually take them seriously. I mean, what they’re saying is gibberish. The Spirit has filled them, and they are prophesying, and they look like fools. People don’t know what to make of this. So they blame alcohol… it couldn’t possibly be God. Sometimes, when we are scared by how the Holy Spirit moves because it moves in unexpected ways, we see it and make excuses, try to make sense of it in ways we understand – that’s not God, they’re just drunk… There’s no way that could happen so lets not even give it another thought… it’s impossible…They don’t understand. They mock. They make fun. They make excuses. We mock. We make fun. We make excuses.
       When the Holy Spirit fills us, we are changed, we are united but different, and not everybody understands the change that the Spirit brings, not everyone welcomes the change that the Spirit brings. Sometimes we don’t even understand this change, or we excuse it as silly or ridiculous, or illogical. Because the Holy Spirit does some pretty radical and unexpected things. The HS brings people together who wouldn’t normally be together and helps those communicate with one another who wouldn’t normally communicate with one another. The HS changes our worldview. The HS makes us look foolish to outsiders. The HS makes some really uncomfortable and they try to explain it away because the HS challenges us to do things we don’t normally do, things that society doesn’t always condone or appreciate… 
       …Like giving up power – that’s one of the things society tells us is important, right? Power is control over others, it’s wealth, it can get you almost anything you want or need in the world. But power is selfish. Power is about what I want, what I can do. It’s not about loving our neighbor or loving God first, it’s about loving myself first and giving God and neighbor the leftovers, the scraps. The world teaches us to take care of ourselves first, others can wait, God can wait. We are taught to be selfish. But being filled with the Holy Spirit is selfless – In Romans Paul says, “The attitude that comes from selfishness leads to death, but the attitude that comes from the Spirit leads to life and peace.” Being filled with the Spirit leads to selfishness, lack of power. That’s crazy and foolish to those who don’t understand.
       Being filled with the Spirit leads to reconciliation with one another. In John 20, Jesus breathes the Spirit on his followers and they have the power to forgive. Reconciliation among people happens through unity in the Spirit. The Spirit empowers us to be united with others in forgiveness and reconciliation with each other. That’s a challenge in our world where we are taught if someone hurts you it’s good for you to hurt them back, to teach them a lesson, to give them a taste of their own medicine. You hurt me, I hurt you, we’re even. It’s all about getting equal, right? No. When we can forgive instead of equalizing, getting even, we are doing a selfless act. Forgiveness, reconciliation, is what happens when a person is filled with the Spirit. And forgiveness brings peace. That’s crazy and foolish to those who don’t understand. 
       The Holy Spirit brings with it amazing gifts, good changes. The world doesn’t always recognize these changes in perspective and the actions that result from those changes as good. These things look crazy and foolish to those who don’t understand. But this is the fulfillment of what Christ promises his followers – the Holy Spirit will come. When you pray for the Spirit to fill you, to be with you, do you think about what that means? Do you think about how that will change you? How it will change us? How it will change the world? God makes a promise through Jesus. God and Jesus keep their promise. Are we ready for that? Are we prepared for the amazing gifts that God has for us? Are we prepared to look crazy to our neighbors? I don’t think we’re ever fully prepared for any of it. It will be difficult and it will be scary and it will be awesome and it will be exciting and it will be terrifying and it will be rewarding. But God is with us. We are reminded by the flame – God is here, God is in us. And when God is with us and in us we can face anything. 
       This seed has been planted, a promise has been made that the Spirit will come. The seed has been nourished, we have used our gifts and God has given the Kingdom to the world. Now, God’s promise has been fulfilled, the Spirit has come, the KOG is blooming, and we get to be a part of it, we get to receive from God the Holy Spirit, a huge gift. Don’t make excuses for how it can’t be God, how we’re not ready for it. The kingdom may look different than what we’re used to, it may look different than what people expect of us, but it is beautiful, and it is wonderful, and it is of God. Be brave. Lets be willing to look a little crazy. Lets allow God to fulfill God’s promise to you in filling you with the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Nourishing the Seed of the Kingdom... What does it take?

Last week we talked about this seed that had been planted -- the seed of the Holy Spirit that would flourish and grow into the Kingdom of God. In the 8:00 service last week I asked the kids, "what do you need for a plant to grow?" They got one of the things pretty quickly -- you need water for a plant to grow. Of course! Seeds need to be given water, not too much and not too little, to grow properly. If we don't water them they wither, if we over water them they wither. And who has the control over how much water they get? Whoever is caring for the plant, the gardener. The good gardener watches the plant, cares for the plant, waters the plant, shelters it if it needs it, plans to have it cared for if they leave. It takes a lot of work to be a good gardener.
At  first glance this scripture seems to have very little to do with us. Some of us may know the story, others may not. It's not one we hear a lot and it's really one that's kind of gory and, frankly, makes me uncomfortable. This is what happens: The disciples (The Apostles plus other followers) go back to Jerusalem, and the inner circle of Jesus' followers remain devoted in prayer (remember last week we talked about seeds being planted in them, and it was time for them to discern, to contemplate God's vision and dream for them and for the world without a physical Jesus around, so they do.), they go to Jerusalem and they wait in prayer with one another (the Apostles and some other followers, which included women -- wow!). We find out that the followers of Jesus' way number about one hundred twenty, just larger than the group we had here last Sunday and this Sunday. Judas dies in a pretty gruesome way, and he had betrayed Jesus, so he needed to be replaced.The body of Christ needs a new leader to help the Kingdom grow. There are all these followers and they are lacking one of their leaders. The seed has been planted, but its lost one of its gardeners. The leadership needs to be defined in order for the Kingdom to grow like it needs to. The seed needs a good gardener to nourish it. Actually, the seed needs lots of good gardeners to nourish it. 
They needed to replace the one that had left. Their job couldn't be done without strong, gifted, leaders to nourish Jesus' movement. So they do what they have to do in order for the Kingdom of God to grow. They pray together to God (they do this first thing -- before talking, before casting lots -- they pray.) Then they discern. They ask themselves, what does God want? Who does God want for this? Who has the gifts for leadership? Who will care for and nourish God's people, Jesus' movement, the Kingdom of God? Who will this gardener be? They come up with two, Matthias and Justus. They offer these to God and God helps to make it clear which is God's choice through the casting of lots. As the youth and I were talking about casting lots earlier this morning we talked about what it means. It's similar to if you pray that God will show you what you need to see when you open the Bible, then you open it and read. It's trusting that God will use what you have offered to God to clarify what you need to do. The disciples cast lots and discover God's choice for a good gardener who will nourish God's seed. 
This isn't such a bad formula for us, is it? Pray. We can do the same things the apostles did in figuring out our place in God's Kingdom. We pray, we listen to God, we think about where we are gifted, we dream about the places our gifts can be used to grow God's Kingdom. We talk about it with other followers of Jesus' way. We offer ourselves up to God and we look for ways that God is making it clear to us how God will use us in nourishing this seed of the Kingdom. (Now remember what the kingdom of God is -- it's where the hungry are fed, the thirsty are given water, the imprisoned are set free, the widows are cared for, the children are welcomed, the sick are healed, the unforgivable are forgiven...) We have to think about, talk about, and offer to God whatever our gifts are. We have to offer to God and wherever we believe we are called to use them in receiving the Kingdom from God, in nourishing the seed that God has planted. 
The truth is, not all of us will be like Matthias. Not all of us are gifted in the area of leadership of big movements. But we are all gifted, and we are all called to use those gifts to water the seed of the Kingdom. We are all called to be good gardeners. Remember that passage in 1 Corinthians that talks about the body of Christ...

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. - 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 (selected) 

The body of Christ needs all its parts to function well, it needs all of us to nourish the seed. The question is, which part are you? Which part am I? Where do we belong in the kingdom? What are our gifts? We are called as good gardeners, to water the seed with the many different gifts God has given us. 


Discerning those gifts starts with knowing some of the ways God gifts humans. Do you remember when I told you earlier, that I asked the kids at the 8:00 service what a seed needs to grow? They answered water. But a seed needs some other things too. A seed has to first be rooted before it can grow, so that it can absorb water and so that it stays steady in the ground. In discerning our gifts to grow the seed, we need to realize that the seed of the kingdom of God is firmly rooted in scripture. As we discern our gifts, we look to scripture to think about ways God may be gifting us to work in God's kingdom. Though they are a good place to start, lists in the bible are not exhaustive; there are other ways God can gift us. But they are certainly a place to start in beginning to think about how God gifts us. We begin our discernment with knowing scripture, with roots.
But discernment, figuring out how God gifts us and how we are to use those gifts, doesn't end at scripture and prayer. That's not enough. Discerning our gifts begins with thought and prayer. Then it continues with conversation with each other (like the disciples). Finally, it ends with leadership in using your gifts to nourish the seed of the kingdom of God. 
So the seed is rooted in scripture, it is nourished with good gardeners' leadership in areas of their giftedness. but what is missing? There is one other crucial part of a seed's nourishment. What is it? The sun. This we have no control over. That stinks, doesn't it? We can be rooted in scripture, we can nourish with gifted leadership in all areas, but we can't control the sun. There are things about the kingdom of God that we will never have control of. Why? Because no matter how hard we try to keep control over the things we love, the things we care for, the seeds we nourish, other people are involved, other elements are involved, and where others are involved and unknowns are thrown in the mix, we don't ever have total control. We don't get to have total control. Thank God for that! I don't want ALL of that responsibility, do you? But the seed needs the sun too. The seed needs what only God can provide. We've got to ask God to be in all we do because things of God flourish, but things only of people wither and die. The seed of the kingdom of God needs to be rooted, yes, needs to be watered, yes, but it also needs what we can't give it -- the sun. 
So where does that leave us today? What's your take-away? It's time for us to start seriously considering what our gifts are and where and how we can use them in leadership, nourishing the seed that God has planted by leading with the gifts that God has given us. That starts with learning scripture, prayer with one another, and discussing with other followers. Where can your gifts be used? Are you called to create a new ministry? Are you called to Hope House? Are you called to the hospitality team who provides for us on Sunday mornings? Are you called to set up communion once a month? Are you called to teach your small group? Are you called to create a small group? Are you called to pray for the church? Are you called to reach out to those who aren't here? Are you called to sing with those at Stonebridge? Are you called to visit shut-ins? There are many places for God's gifts to us to be used. Where are you being called to use your gifts? Where are you being called to serve? How are you being called to nourish God's kingdom? We are all called to serve, we have all been gifted, we are all called to nurture God's kingdom. What does that look like for you? The seed of God's kingdom has been planted in us and in the world. We must do what we can to nourish it, knowing scripture, being in prayer, being in conversation with other followers, leading where we are gifted, knowing that God does God's part, but not always knowing what the outcome will be because other people are involved and God is involved. But we do our part, the part to which God calls us and for which God gifts us. 
The seed of the kingdom of God needs lots of good gardeners who can nourish the seed of the kingdom in different ways. Will you be a good gardener? Will you lead in service? Remember that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed -- starts of teeny tiny but eventually flourishes into a great bush that shelters all who live in it. It starts as a Seed. It puts down roots, the sun provides food the gardener provides water. And it grows. It grows so much that as it was nurtured, it nurtures those who come to be with it just by being what it is. Will you be a good gardener? Nourishing God's seed begins with God, but it continues with us. 

In the name of the Three-In-One, 

Scriptures for further reflection:
Romans 12:4-8
1 Cor 12:4-11
Ephesians 4:11-13

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Seed Is Planted, What Now?

"Theophilus, the first scroll I wrote concerned everything Jesus did and taught from the beginning, right up to the day when he was taken up into heaven. Before he was taken up, working in the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus instructed the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed them that he was alive with many convincing proofs. He appeared to them over a period of forty days, speaking to them about God's kingdom. While they were eating together, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for what the Father had promised. He said, "This is what you heard from me: John baptized with water, but in only a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." As a result, those who had gathered together asked Jesus, "Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?" Jesus replied, "It isn't for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."  After Jesus said these things, as they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them. They said, "Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven." - Acts 1:1-11 (CEB)
      We’ve been in a season of change. Take graduation, for example. There are pictures all over Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram of happy graduates, their families, and their friends. Yes, this time of year change is in the air. If you’ve ever graduated before you remember what it’s like.
      You’ve been preparing for years. You've been learning from your teachers, soaking in information about how to do things, learning new skills. Your teachers and classmates have been planting seeds in you, giving you new perspectives to think about, starting something in you. You do things you never dreamed you’d do, you make some of the closest friends you’ll ever have, and you all have the same goal – to graduate, to walk across that stage, and get that piece of paper that validates all you've been working toward. You’re willing to do anything to reach that goal. Your energy is focused, directed, on that goal. You're single-minded in what you do. Everything is leading to graduation. If you can just get that diploma everything will be good, life will be waiting for you on the other side of that slip of paper they give you. You get closer to graduation, you prepare, you order invitations, you plan for your family to stay in town with you, you plan parties, you order your cap and gown. Finally you graduate. You walk across that stage, get your diploma, take lots of pictures with your family, selfies with you friends. Then you go home, your family leaves, the parties are over, you look at your diploma and think, "all this for a piece of paper?" And you’re left, just waiting, thinking, "what now?"
      All of this preparation, all of this learning, all of this work you’ve done for this one goal, and it’s not exactly like you expected it to be. It’s kind of anti-climatic. You've learned all this stuff, I have all this knowledge, You've been taught what to do, but You don’t know where to go from here. You don't have a goal to work toward anymore. You’re left, without a new goal, just waiting, thinking, "what now?"


      When have you experienced that moment? When have you worked unimaginably hard toward a goal for what seems like forever, then it finally comes, you’re left without a new goal, without knowing where you’re headed? When have you been left thinking, "what now?"
      The disciples are at that place. They know Jesus, they know he’s risen, they get to speak with him and be with him for 40 days. They’ve eaten with him, Thomas has touched his side, and they believe that he is real, not just a ghost or apparition. They believe Christ is the Messiah, they’ve heard what Jesus, their teacher,  has to say about the Kingdom of God and they are ready for it. They’ve done a lot of learning and preparation. Years worth of preparation.  They’ve been single-minded, they’ve been directed, focused on receiving the Kingdom of God through Jesus. They’ve seen what the Kingdom of God can look like, and should look like by the way Jesus has lived and shown them how to live. The Kingdom of God is the hungry being fed, the thirsty having water, the widows being cared for, the imprisoned being set free, the naked being clothed, the sinners being forgiven. Jesus has taught them about what the Kingdom of God is, how to receive it from God. He has planted a seed in the disciples. 
      The disciples know what Jesus can do now that he’s back, alive again. "Oh, good, Jesus is back – now he can do what he was supposed to do in the beginning – bring the Kingdom of God to Israel," they think. But what they are expecting to happen, doesn’t happen. "Jesus," they ask, "are you going to restore the kingdom?" Like the teacher he is (maybe you've had professors like this before), he doesn’t give a direct answer – it would be too easy to give a simple "yes" or "no." Instead, he says something like, “You’ll just have to wait and see. BUT… I can tell you what’s going to happen next. The next step is that you’ll receive the Holy Spirit very soon, and then you'll be my witnesses, first here, then a little outside this community, then even further away, and finally all over the world." Cue the disciples again, "But Jesus, are you going to restore God’s Kingdom?" [shoulder shrug and Jesus exits] Jesus leaves, and they are left alone, watching and waiting for something big. You're left waiting, thinking, "what now?"
      That feeling can be frustrating, it can be aggravating, it can be infuriating, it can be confusing, it can feel lonely, it can make us anxious. "Jesus, I just want to know what is going to happen! Can’t  you tell me what’s going to happen? Will I find a job? Will I get into grad school? Will I get married? Will I have kids? Will I be able to overcome my addiction? Will I make it through this divorce? Will I get to see my kids again? Will I get a second chance? Will I learn to be content? I just want to know, please tell me!" But instead of getting a direct answer, we get a disappointing answer. 
      "You don’t get to know. God knows, but you don’t get to know yet." That's the hard part, I think. The not knowing what's going to happen, or when it's going to happen. And we’re left waiting, thinking, "what now?"
      Let us remember the comforting word that Jesus gave to his followers, the word that he still gives to his followers today -- You’ll have the Holy Spirit to guide you.  The Spirit will lead you in the right direction. How do we know it's the Holy Spirit? We know it’s the Spirit because the Spirit will lead us to do what Jesus has commanded, to love others as he has loved us. We will know it is the Spirit because it will produce fruit. We will know it is the Spirit because it will work toward the growth of God's kingdom – the widows will be cared for, the hungry will be fed, the imprisoned will be set free, the thirsty will be given drink, the naked will be clothed, the uneducated will be educated, the sick will be well. These are signs of the Spirit working toward the kingdom. You will get to see these things in your own life and in the world as the Holy Spirit is given to you and moves in you. Jesus, in living his life and receiving the kingdom of God, gives us this glimpse, this vision, a seed of hope in us, that the Kingdom will be built by the Holy Spirit moving in Jesus’ people, in the church. But right now, we’re left visioning, wondering what it will look like in our own lives, what it will look like in Henning Memorial United Methodist Church, what it will look like in Sulphur, LA, what it will look like in the United States, what it will look like in the world. A seed is planted in us, but we are left wondering how the Holy Spirit will build the kingdom of God using the church. We are left wondering, thinking, "what now?"
      We are left with a seed. We are left with a seed that has great potential. If you’ve done any gardening before, you know that seeds, once planted, can take a really long time to grow above ground. It takes weeks before you get to see any kind of green pop above the dirt. It takes even longer before you actually see a sizable stalk. It takes even longer before you can see the fruit of your labor, even the smallest little glimpse of it. There is potential, there is promise. But you plant it and you wait. For a long time you wait, hoping to see results, hoping you’re not waiting in vain. A seed has been planted in us.
      This is what Jesus tells his disciples, this is what Jesus tells us: "I promise, the Holy Spirit will come. You will witness to what you have seen in me – you will witness to what I have taught, you will live what I have taught, you will witness to my death and resurrection, you will live like I am alive in you, because I am. And you will see fruit." But for now, we wait. And we think, what now? Knowing that we receive the Holy Spirit, knowing that eventually the seed that has been planted will grow, knowing that if God is in it our seed will flourish and produce fruit, knowing that Christ keeps his promise to us, knowing that the Holy Spirit moves in ways we don’t understand and in moments we don’t expect, knowing that God has a plan for us, trusting that God's timing is right even if we don't get to know when it is… we wait. we vision. we hope. We dream. And we ask God, what now?
The seed of the kingdom of God has been planted… God, now what?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy (?) Mother's Day!

Today I reminded of the many women who have influenced my life positively. I am truly grateful for all the women who have cared for me, cooked for me, driven me to and from school and many other activities, cheered for me, cleaned for me, made me clean, taught me what's important in life and what's not. In short, well, relatively short, I'm reminded of all the women who have mothered me along the way and have given me the great gifts of love and a good example to follow.

I am also reminded of the many who do not share in my positive experience of mother figures in their lives.

I am reminded of those who have lost their mother figures.

I am reminded of those who will spend this Mother's Day alone for the first time.

I am reminded of those who have lost their children, for whatever reason.

I am reminded of those who are unable to have children, though they may try.

I am reminded of those whose experiences with their mother figures have not been experiences of love, kindness, and compassion.

I am reminded of those who have been neglected by their mother figures.

I am reminded of those who never knew their mothers, for those whose mothers were taken from them too early, and for those who were taken from their children too early.

I am reminded of those mothers who have given their lives for their children.

I am reminded.

I am reminded, and I am thankful for my Mother. I am reminded of those mother figures I have lost along the way, and I give thanks. I am reminded and I grieve for those who hurt today -- in all the excitement of the day, you are not forgotten. I hold precious the time I have left with my own mother and mother figures, remembering that each moment is precious, each memory is special, each pearl of wisdom should be internalized, and each laughter should be felt. I pray today that I have the opportunity to mother and mentor some in my life's journey, that I can make a difference even for just a few. I pray that I can pass the torch that so many have passed before me. But mostly today I remember. I remember and I give thanks. I remember and I grieve. I remember and it brings me hope. Most of all, I remember and give thanks for God who mothers me without fail, who will be with me till the end, who will love me, care for me, protect me, guide me, teach me, and pursue me all the days of my life.

Today I remember.