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New Home on the Web

I have a new home for my Blog. You will no longer be receiving emails when I post. Please come on over and see where I’ve landed: https://beachtheology.com/posts/

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Celebrating Abundance: A Calendar for Lent 2021

Lent is different this year. I created a calendar that highlights abundance during this barren, wilderness season for Living Table United Church of Christ. Each day the cost highlights something many people take for granted. May you find life in the deserted places and encounter God in the depths between brokenness and healing.

Image of a daily calendar that highlights Lent and abundance. It begins with Ash Wednesday.
Image of a calendar page for March, highlighting abundance. It ends with Easter Sunday.
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What’s Growing in Your Garden?

Image of daisies and other wild flowers behind a small white, wire fence in front of fence

I am not a great gardener. I do best with plants that don’t need careful tending and can grow well without me. Wild flowers grow in my front yard and a few herbs and vegetables grow in containers and a small garden in my backyard. I’m never sure how much or when to water and I can’t tell what’s a weed until the plants are a few inches tall. Yet, I love the idea of gardens and I’m more drawn toward the ones that feel more organic and have a bit of messiness to them. Neat, tidy rows of plants is just not my style. That isn’t to say that I am not thoughtful and intentional about what I want to grow.

When I worked as a psychiatric chaplain in a state hospital I led a lot of groups which often focused on spiritual and emotional wellness. A favorite was a group that I led each spring. I had purchased a number of flower seeds and renamed them for the qualities patients wanted in their spiritual and emotional gardens. The seeds would become things like kindness, laughter, wholeness, healing, friendship, love, forgiveness, hope, and so on. Thinking about these ideal gardens reminds me of Jesus’ “parable of the sower.” These are the kinds of seeds that sower would have sown without a care to the kinds of soil they were thrown onto.

Seeds of the Kingdom sown willy nilly as the sower walked through the world. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all could do this. Instead of the fear and anger, destruction and division that is sown so often these days, we could sow seeds of God’s realm every where we go, with everyone we encounter. We are not responsible for how anyone receives the seeds; we are only responsible for the kinds of seeds we sow and the kinds of seeds we receive. We are both sower and soil, though I think it is time to pay attention to the seeds we share and the seeds we allow to grow in us.

Think of Jacob and Esau. Imagine how differently their story might have gone if their parents had sown seeds of division between them. What would have happened if the brothers shared their gifts with each other without demanding payment. Would they have learned from one another and become stronger? Would the history of Israel, our spiritual history be different than it is? It’s easy for us to say how foolish it is that Esau sold his birthright for some lentils and bread. However, we have sold our birthright as God’s beloved for things far less nourishing than lentils, haven’t we?

Our birthright as Christians is to live without condemnation, to live in joy and peace. Yet, every time we sow or accept seeds of hatred or division, we have given away bits of our birthright for what? To maintain the social norms established by previous generations? To hold onto the illusion of superiority? To protect our privilege? This is not what we are called to do or be. Unlike Esau, it may not be too late for us to reclaim our spiritual birthright. We have what we need if we trust God’s abundance over the temporary abundance made by human hands.

It is impossible to ignore that we are living in an era defined by fear and divisiveness. The U.S. government does not care about the citizens of this country who are vulnerable. The current Administration would like to convince us that people who have an increased risk for COVID-19 are to blame for their own vulnerability. The those who are poor are poor because they are lazy. The those who are elderly who cannot afford medications and healthcare didn’t plan appropriately for their retirement. Those with mental or physical illnesses are unimportant because they don’t contribute fully to society. We’ve all heard this kind of nonsense and more. However, just because the government favors white supremacy, ableism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and anything else that enables them to retain their wealth and stay in power, does not make it right or healthy for any of us to support. Moreover, as Christians we have no place participating in or benefiting from fear, hatred, and division. We are called to spread life-giving seeds, not seeds that choke the life out of people.

What you like to see blossoming in your own spiritual and emotional garden? What would you like to see thriving in the world around you? It is not too late for us to stop giving away our birthright for a flimsy, false sense of security. It is not too late to sow those seeds of life. If we focus on sowing the seeds of the Kingdom, then one day it might be possible for everyone to, as Isaiah says, to go in joy and return in peace.

RCL – Year A – Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – July 12, 2020
Genesis 25:19-34 with Psalm 119:105-112 or
Isaiah 55:10-13 with Psalm 65:(1-8), 9-13
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Photos: CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

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From the Edge of the Unimagined

What’s the point? Why bother? How is Christianity relevant today? You seem like a smart person, why spend your life working in a dying or irrelevant institution? These are just a few versions of the questions I routinely get from friends, strangers, and those seated next to me on airplanes. I usually respond by saying that this is what God has called me to do and be, and I find meaning, identity, and purpose in it. And then the inquirer changes the subject. In the few weeks since Christmas, I’ve been asking myself versions of these questions, too. I’ve been thinking about them, not because I agree with the presuppositions of the questioners, but because I care about the answer.

I’ve recently come to realize that I am part of a dying breed. I am a single career, seminary educated pastor. While I have traveled an unusual path in ministry and in life, the fact remains that I’ve been employed by church or by an institution in a religious role since I was nineteen years old. I have accumulated a lot of skills and more education than might be useful, but the fact remains that I have no other options without returning to school. Recognizing the shifting and changing (hopefully transformations) going on in Mainline denominations, I might not be working fulltime as a pastor until I retire. Many churches are small enough that they cannot sustain fulltime pastors and the larger congregations are still a bit reluctant to call women to their pulpits, let alone women who are not straight. Even so, I am committed to ministry, to church. And here’s why…

Human beings are better, more complete, when we reach beyond our own little lives and experiences. Left to my own devices, I am more inclined to go hide in the woods and ignore the rest of the world than I am to try to engage with it and heal the broken places. Yes, I am an introvert, but without God insisting that human beings are good and worthy of love, I would believe otherwise. God calls us to a greater awareness of ourselves, our neighbors, and Creation. We are good. Our neighbors are good. Creation is good. Now, trusting in this goodness, treat yourself, your neighbors, and the world with the love, forgiveness, kindness, mercy, grace that highlight that innate “goodness.” Maybe you are better person than I am, but I cannot do this on my own. I need God’s reminder that I am good and that the world is good in order to keep seeking beauty, to keep trying to bring more kindness than hurt into the world.

I think of John the Baptist who risked everything to point the way to Christ, Divine Love Incarnate. He lived on the fringes of society, where civilization and wilderness met. He ate weird food and wore inadequate clothing. He was wild and passionate. Out there on the wild side of the Jordan, he called for repentance. He baptized people to remind them that sin could be washed away and that a new way was possible. His passion was seemingly contagious since many came to be baptized. And then when Jesus showed up, the skies opened up and beloved became possible where it hadn’t been much imagined before.

John somehow understood that focusing on human beings and human actions and human sin was inadequate; there was more to life. God wanted to shift our focus and John the Baptist caught a piece of that. He didn’t care what people thought of him. He risked everything to point toward One greater than himself, One who would change everything. Of course, John was a little extreme and I’m not suggesting we all live as he did. However, I am suggesting that John had the right end of things. He believed passionately that there was a better way just ahead and he spent his life pointing toward that way. What do we all spend our lives passionately pointing toward?

I don’t particularly want to spend my time in the places where wilderness and civilization meet. On the other hand, I try to live where wild imagination and unexamined tradition might intersect. The worst thing to ever happen to the church was Bible literalism and the failure to recognize a God who loves first and foremost. From this perception of a legalistic, punishing God arose the need for personal salvation. The Christian focus on saving souls has left the church in tatters. Jesus’ call to love has been largely overlooked. At no point did Jesus say to make sure that a neighbor’s soul was saved from hell before ensuring that said neighbor had food, clothing, shelter, and community. Imagine a world in which we are all as free with our resources as Jesus was with his.

So what’s the point? Why church? For me it is a question of reaching beyond my own little life, beyond my own perceived limits and shortcomings to benefit of the greater good without negating myself. If I share my passion for saving lives and bringing healing into the world, maybe something new and good and transformative will happen, and others will join with me. Then we will have community in which we share the joys and struggles of seeking to bring Divine Love into the world. We will share in God’s love and the knowledge that we are not alone. Essentially, Micah had it right. If we want to be church, if we want to be the body of Christ in the world today, we must focus on justice, kindness, and moving humbly through the world trusting God’s presence.

The point is to leave the world a better place. I need religion to help me do that. For me, it’s Christianity. For you, it might be something else. However, if your religion is not helping you to find healing, hope, love, and joy for yourself and those around you, you might need a different path. For the time being, I’m going to try to follow John the Baptist’s example. I’m going to live on the edge of where society wants me to be, call for repentance, and proclaim that God is still wanting to that new thing so that we may live in peace on a thriving planet.

RCL – Year A – Second Sunday after Epiphany – January 19, 2020
Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm 40:1-11
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

Photo: CC0image by SarahRichterArt

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A Plumb Line Prayer

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Amazing and merciful God, how easy it is for us to forget that we are your delight. You we rejoice when we follow your holy ways and envision a future of goodness and grace for all your people. We blame you for divisions and strife. We justify our wars by saying that you are on our side. We rationalize the abuse of our enemies by telling ourselves that they are not your people, that their sinfulness exceeds your tolerance. In truth, you have told us that we are to love our neighbors indiscriminately. Moreover, we are to love those with the greatest need more fiercely and more immediately. Shower us with your mercy, O God, until we live by the plumb line you have repeatedly dropped in our midst.

Patient and steadfast God, you continuously call us to live in peace, leaving none behind. We hear your call. We know that your love endures forever. What you ask of us is not beyond our reach; it is not higher than the heavens or on the outer edges of the sea. For all of Creation to live in justice is not an impossibility you hold up to tease us with what we cannot have. If we trust you, it is possible for us to turn aside from our human ways. It is possible for us to love with your love. Enter our lives anew, Holy One, silence our fears and smother our distrust that we may live in harmony with all.

God of wonder and mystery, you love us still. You love us when we are filled with fear. You love us when we are filled with hate. You love us when we are filled with judgment. You love us when we think we are better than our neighbors. You love us when we think are neighbors are better than us. You love us when we blame others for creating the chaos that flows through the world. You love us when we abdicate responsibility for engaging in justice work. You love us through all our foolishness. However, you delight in us when we act with love and seek to bring your realm into the here and now. Flood every corner of our being with the strength of your Spirit that we may have the courage to love with your love, always.

God of near and far places, how foolish we are when we think you are limited to one people, one language, one religion, one way of life. All people are stamped with your image. Every language has many names for you and words of praise for all that you are. At core, each religious tradition seeks to teach your holy ways and encourage us to follow them. You are the giver of all life. If we claim to follow in Christ’s way there is no room for hatred of peoples from other countries, those who speak other languages, those who call you by different names, and those whose culture is not our own. If we belong to Christ, then racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and all the other labels that thrive on our fear have no place in us. Heal our brokenness. May we live as one body with many parts.

Living, loving God, we are grateful for your patient love. Over and over again you call us by name, claim us as your beloved, and fill us with your Spirit. Hear our gratitude for your presence among us, your arms that hold us, your vision that sees our wholeness. May we trust in your love, your grace, your forgiveness as we seek to embody Christ more fully. May the praises we sing and the words of gratitude we whisper transform our fear into hope, our hatred into joy, our judgment into grace, and our ambivalence and apathy into action. We are your people. Your Spirit lives and moves in us. Let us trust in you enough to recognize you in ourselves and in all whom we meet.

Amen.

RCL – Year C – Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – July 14, 2019
Amos 7:7-17 with Psalm 82 or
Deuteronomy 30:9-14 with Psalm 25:1-10
Colossians 1:1-14
Luke 10:25-37

Photo: CC0 image by lumix

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Confession: Repentance and Witness

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 in the shadow of the cross
 in the echoes of the empty tomb
 in the busyness of everyday
 in the restlessness of the night
      to what does my life bear witness?

      some days I forget
            for part of the day (or the whole of it)
      some days I forget
            that my life is a living testimony to the One
      some days I forget
            that for some, mine is the face of Christ
            that my words are Christ’s words
            that my hands are Christ’s hands
            that my love is Christ’s love
            for some who know I call myself Christian
                  some days I get it all wrong

                  the lure of vain words and the power of lies
                  can settle in and whisper their own deceitful truth
                  and lead me away from all that I am created to be
                  letting me blend into a crowd of other lost souls
                  easily enticed with illusions and shallow promises

           then there are the moments when I remember
                 I remember that I am God’s beloved
                 I am part of the Body of Christ
                 I embody Love
                 I bring the Realm of God into the here and now
          when I remember
                 I am God’s own heart
          and I breathe deeply filling myself with the Breath of Life

          repentance opens my eyes to see where I have not
                followed Christ
                or loved my neighbor
                    or loved myself
                or been a careful steward of Creation
          again and again

          with each breath I take, forgiveness frees me
               to take a step in a new direction
               to reach out to one who seems other
               to find rest in my weariness
               to see how Creation comes alive again
          in this season of new life
 
in the shadow of the cross
     I lift my eyes to Hope
in the echoes of the empty tomb
     I hear the promise of life renewed
in the busyness of everyday
     I serve in gratitude
in the restlessness of the night
     I remember I am God’s beloved
          and my life is a witness to the glories of Resurection

Thanks be to God.
     Amen.

RCl – Year B – Third Sunday of Easter – April 15, 2018
Acts 3: 12-19
Psalm 4
1 John 3:1-7
Luke 24: 36b-48

Photos CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

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Palm Sunday: Time to Choose (Again)

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What did Jesus see when he went into the Temple on that day he returned to Jerusalem? He’d just been welcomed into the city with shouts of “Hosanna!” and waving of branches. It wasn’t a spectacular parade as parades go, but it was an enthusiastic welcome to be sure. From the excitement of the small crowd he goes to the Temple. Mark tells us he goes in and looks at everything. Then he goes to Bethany to spend the night, presumably with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

Maybe I’m still caught up in last week’s image from John’s Gospel of Jesus and his troubled soul. I imagine Jesus looking into the future and seeing the bleak reality of what he faced. He knew that Roman officials and Temple authorities alike wanted him dead. He probably hoped that God would provide another way for him, for the people of God. After that slow donkey ride with people shouting, “Help me!” or “Save me!” They believe him to be sent by God to claim the throne of David. Jesus rode a donkey, not a big white horse, and the people still thought this humble man would free them from Roman oppression.

Did Jesus go into the Temple to look for God’s presence? Did he go looking for an affirmation that there was something worth saving? Did he hope to find sanctuary in that sacred space? Who knows? He walked in, looked around, and left. Was his heart heavier or lighter when he went back to his donkey? If he was looking for sanctuary, he didn’t find it. Did he what he saw confirm that he was doing the right thing by risking his life?

So many unanswerable questions! I wonder if it would be any different today. Would Jesus find what he was looking for in any of our churches? Would he find friends embracing him with Love? Would he find hallowed ground, protected at all costs from humble people like him? Would he see the fullness of life or empty, outdated spaces holding echoes of the glory days of the past? Would he find holy space for a quiet prayer and silent affirmation of his call? Would he see evidence of a faithful people, a people worth risking his life for?

While Jesus is looking around inside the Temple for whatever his troubled soul needs, the crowds outside disperse. The ragtag group that followed Jesus wandered off toward their own homes, celebratory branches dragging on the ground. Meanwhile, on the other side of town, the remnants of the Roman parade linger. Speeches about safety and the power that Rome has to rule with authority and quell any revolution people might be whispering about, reach desperate ears. It isn’t likely that people shouted, “Hosanna!” as the Roman contingent entered Jerusalem in numbers. However, they likely hoped that mighty Rome would save them from despair, poverty, and violence. I suspect too many people were there that day, witnessing the wrong parade with misguided longings.

Perhaps today as well. With all the people enamored with the glamorous promises of “Rome” do enough of us shout “Hosanna!” for us to be heard? Is it possible that over the years our churches might be too much like that Temple was on that first Palm Sunday. What do we need to do, or be, or change, so that Jesus might be less troubled? Are we, as church, the embodiment of Christ? Would Jesus see in us an affirmation of all that he taught, lived for, and died for?

Maybe our hosannas will ring truer this year. Maybe this year Jesus will hear us genuinely asking for help, asking to be saved from our own human frailty. Maybe this is the year that we will finally see that Jesus is the One who comes in the name of God to free us all from oppression, not with a sword like that first crowd thought, but with Love…

RCL – Year B – Palm Sunday – March 25, 2018
Mark 11:1-11 or John 12:12-16
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

Photo: CC0 image by Stefan Schweihofer

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Show and Tell: The Sacred Version

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When I read about Stephen Hawking’s death, tears came to my eyes. In that moment, I felt an acute sense of loss. It’s not that I had ever met him or had any deep understanding of his work. But there is something about a person who continues to speak and work and change the world even as their body is ravished by disease. He gave me hope. His way of being in the world reminded me that there are no limits to what I or anyone else can accomplish when we focus our gifts and use them well. Stephen Hawking made me believe that I could do whatever it is I’ve been created to do even when my body imposes limits on my energy and movement. When I listened to his words or read his books, I believed “more” was possible. When he died, I felt like the world had a little less hope in it now that this vibrant person is gone.

On the other hand, I know that folks with Stephen Hawking’s tenacity have been around as long as human beings have. The Prophet Jeremiah was likely one such person. I cannot imagine having to deliver his message to the people of God in his time and place. On the other hand, there is such power and promise in his message that I want people here and now to receive it. God is forever expanding and reshaping the covenant God has made and will make again with the people of God. Rainbows weren’t enough. A personal invitation didn’t hold the people to God. Stone tablets were broken even before the people even grasped them. All through the wilderness and through the years, the people of God wandered away from God’s covenant with them. Then along comes Jeremiah to say that God is going to make a new covenant that will be unbreakable because it will be within them, on their hearts in God’s own handwriting.

Jeremiah’s words weren’t heard very well. We still don’t quite get it. There’s only one word God would ever want to write on our hearts and we struggle with it so much. God would write LOVE on our hearts – love of God, love of self, love of neighbor, love of creation. It’s a word that is engraved within each of us as surely as we are created in God’s image. Yet, humanity on the whole is pretty awful at loving the way God calls us to love. Imagine what the world would be like if our children didn’t have to advocate for gun control… Or women didn’t have to take to the streets to bring attention to sexual harassment and abuse… Or People of Color didn’t have to plead for their lives… What would the world be like if we all went in search of this indestructible covenant that is our birthright?

Years after Jeremiah tried to describe this amazing gift God places within each human being, Jesus embodied this covenant of love. Simply to show us how it can be done. Even then, people didn’t understand what he was about. Even in moments of Show and Tell, or, more accurately, Tell and Show, people still didn’t get what Jesus was about. In John’s Gospel we have this curious interchange right after Jesus as entered Jerusalem, triumphantly I might add. Palm branches have just been strewn at his feet and the “Hosannas!” still echo through the air. Yet, the momentum stopped right there.

Jesus spoke about letting go of life in this world to be one of his followers, bear fruit, and honor God. I’m sure he received a lot of blank stares as he spoke. Maybe even a few shouted, “I don’t get it” before Jesus gave a very real example. He just finished telling people to let go of all the things they valued to make room for the love of God, when he demonstrated exactly how it’s done. He told God that he was anxious about the events unfolding round him. He didn’t want to do it, even though he knew that this demonstration of God’s love for the world was exactly why he had been born. God affirms this, and people continue to do what people do. The reminder buried in the example is that God’s love is for all people.

We have been told. We have been shown. God has written LOVE on our hearts. When will we live it? When will we embody Love without question or hesitation? When will humanity reach the point where hope and life will shine brilliantly through all people, not just a few of the extraordinary ones? Jesus changed the world to show us that it’s possible. As Lent draws to its end, what will you do to follow Jesus with more than words?

RCL – Year B – Fifth Sunday in Lent – March 18, 2017
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:1-12 or Psalm 119:9-16
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33

Photo: CC0 image by Bianca Mentil

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The Wisdom of a Covenanting God

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When I contemplate my little life, I marvel at God’s extraordinary patience. With me, yes, and also with the rest of humanity. How is it that God has remained steadfast in God’s love for us? I mean, how many times does God have to spell out what we need to do to live in peace before we grasp it? I can’t even get through a day without losing patience with someone or something (usually some electronic device that I can’t make work). How has God made it through millennia without smiting the entire planet and starting over?

Winter weariness has definitely contributed to my thought pattern, but my thinking is more a result of contemplating covenant. God has covenanted with humanity for longer than we can remember. I think about Noah and the covenant that stated a truth not understood then or now – God does not destroy. To participate in this covenant, human beings should also refrain from destruction of one another and the planet. Look how well we’ve done that! Then there was Abraham. God promised Abraham a multitude of descendants who would become great nations. Abraham got his descendants but God is still waiting for the great nations to emerge. We haven’t even begun to try to walk blamelessly before God with any consistency.

With the echos of “do not destroy” and “walk blamelessly,” we come to the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai. The Ten Commandments. So, if we want to refrain from harm to one another and Creation and we want to be blameless before God, all we need to do is follow these Ten Commandments. Simple enough. God must have thought so. Moses must have thought so. Yet, we human beings can’t make it through a day without breaking at least one commandment. Then we have the audacity to blame God or someone else for our inability to live in Love. All I can do is shake my head and marvel at God’s tenacity. God hasn’t given up on us yet.

Paul reminds us that God’s foolishness is beyond human wisdom. Good thing, too, or we’d all be dust by now. God foolishly loves the whole of Creation. So much so that God continued to expand on the covenants of old. God keeps making them bigger, bolder, more dramatic to see if we will ever catch on. Instead of paying attention, we point and say that even Jesus got angry and flipped over some tables. Right. Jesus got angry and did something to restore justice. He didn’t just post on social media that the situation was horrible. He went to the money changers and kicked them out of the Temple courtyard. Jesus didn’t do this because he was having a bad day. He did this because people had failed to live in Love and were profiting off of the poor. Jesus tried to show us how to live in Love, a Love that does not abuse its privilege but ensures that all are valued, particularly in God’s house.

In case you can’t tell, I’m in need of some soul reviving. Perhaps you are as well. The world is an exhausting place and trying to live into the Covenant writ large in Jesus takes a fair amount of energy. I wonder what it would take for us to trust in the perfection of God’s ways enough to experience the sweet life that would flow into us. Wouldn’t it be something if we could live without destruction, be blameless before God, honor and strengthen the community around us, and take action to ensure justice for all of God’s beloved? I know these things are easier said than done. We have a few millennia of practice behind us and we have yet to succeed.

The good news here is that God’s steadfast love truly does endure forever. While I feel like humanity might just be running out of time, I’m not sure God would agree with that assessment. As we journey through the wilderness, barrenness, chaos of this Lenten season, perhaps we can search out the places where God’s love breaks through all our foolishness. Perhaps we can look around us and see the signs of God’s continuing covenant with us and be thankful. Perhaps we can join with others to create communities of faith committed to embodying Love, the very opposite of our tendencies toward destruction, self-focus, and individual needs. Maybe this will be the Lent in which we give up our human foolishness (that insists we don’t need God) and embrace God’s foolishness (that insists on Love)…

For further sermon ideas, try here.

RCL – Year B – Third Sunday of Lent – March 4, 2018
Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

Photo: CC0 image by jacqueline macou

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Be Like Mary

Mary didn’t mean much to me as a child. Of course, there was the coveted role of Mary in the annual Christmas Pageant. Even that was a big disappointment in seventh or eighth grade when it was my turn; there was no live baby Jesus that year. Someone grabbed a doll out of the church nursery and wrapped it in a receiving blanket without noticing that one eye no longer closed and it had turned a cloudy white with age and disuse. It wasn’t exactly the moment of devotion I had been hoping for. I spent my time trying not to make faces of disgust when I was supposed to be “pondering.”

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Outside of Christmas, no one ever said much about Mary and I didn’t think much of her, either. Then I took a youth ministries course during my ThM (Master of Theology), and Kenda Dean introduced me to a Mary in a paradigm-shifting sort of way. I think it was the first day of class when Kenda handed out diaper pins and told us we were all pregnant with the Holy Spirit, and it was our job to bring Christ in the world and step out of the way. In other words, to be like Mary, to bring Jesus into the world and get out of the way so that our story is Christ’s story.

Later in the semester Kenda talked more about Mary. She pointed out the obvious – Mary was a teenage, unwed mother who changed the world forever. The importance of this perspective to youth ministry cannot be understated. (You can read more about Kenda’s youth ministry approach in this book and elsewhere) It has also remained at the core of my ministry with other marginalized and overlooked folks. Someone the world dismisses as unimportant can bring Christ into the world in an extraordinary way. It happens all the time. We never know whom God has chosen in any given moment. Should we not be treating all people as theotokos, bearers of God?

More than 20 years later, I still have the diaper pin and I often think about Mary and her role in changing the world. She did something so brave and altruistic that world has literally never been the same. She was no body special. She was a girl betrothed to a carpenter. Her parents had, no doubt, arranged the best marriage they could. This engagement didn’t elevate Mary. It’s unlikely that she was different from anyone else in an observable way. Yet, through her, the impossible happened and God took on human form.

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If Mary could do such a thing, there’s hope for the rest of us. Because Mary did what she did, we know that God finds favor with all of us. We know that we are God’s beloved people. This is the essence of church, is it not? If we trust this and live out this concept that God has found favor with us, then it is on us, as church, to do as Mary did, to be theotokos. We are to bring Christ into the world, and step out of the way so that our story becomes Christ’s story.

This is why we make the journey to Bethlehem every year. We travel through the wild places full of chaos and joy to kneel before a babe in a manger. We kneel to remind ourselves that we are not God, that our ways or not God’s ways. If we have made the journey, we are aware of the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love that is embodied in the Christ-child. As church, we are called to embody these same qualities, we are to bring Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love into the world and step back to let Christ’s story continue.

It’s easier said than done, of course. Let’s not forget this call as we return to the wild places. Let’s not get distracted by those with power and the illusions they create to maintain oppression. Let’s remember Mary beyond the Christmas story. May we all make her a model for Christian living – Bring Christ into the world and step out of the way. May the story we live in the coming year be a continuation of Christ’s story.

RCL – Year B – Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 24, 2017
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Luke 1:46-55 or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

Photos CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe
The bottom photo is of a print that hangs in my office. If anyone knows who created this beautiful image, please let me know. The print is unsigned and was hanging on the wall when I arrived.