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Musings Sermon Starter

Call Me Grateful (Mostly)

When I was very young, I wanted to be a marine biologist. I loved the beach in all seasons and collecting shells and rocks and discovering the names of them was one of the great joys of my early life. Then someone told me that in order to be a marine biologist I would have to go into the water… with the sharks. That was a heartbreaker and deal breaker. There was no way I was going into the ocean where sharks were waiting with all their sharp teeth. It took a few years before I discovered another possible career path.

A couple of years after my marine biology dreams were shattered, I read a book that made me want to be a missionary. I’d barely begun to attend Sunday School and had very spotty knowledge of Christianity, but the book I had read stirred something in me. I envisioned a life of travel and service in which I’d go to places in Africa, South America, or India and help dig wells or build schools or hospitals. My young self was deeply moved by the idea that making the world a better, safer, healthier place was a good way to serve God.

In my areligious family, the news of me wanting to be a missionary didn’t go over very well. So I kept it mostly to myself. In the next few years I would become more involved in church and I was intrigued by the idea of ministry in a church setting. I might have been 14 or 15 the first time I said it out loud. Somewhere in these formative years, my call to ministry solidified. And, yet, I was wholy unprepared for what responding to this call would mean.

It meant enduring prejudices and dismissals because I was a woman… distancing myself from the already strained relationships with my family of origin… coming to terms with my own limits and woundedness… confronting my own internal biases and racism and risking lending my voice to those so often unheard… advocating for justice when most people remain silent…  moving half-way across the country… challenging political systems of oppression… Essentially, following God’s call has proved to be the greatest challenge and the greatest joy in my life. I’ve learned a lot about grace and forgiveness from the times when I got it entirely wrong. These lessons have helped me cope with the pain and frustration that the institutional church’s reluctance to change has caused me, and with the rejection I’ve experienced at the hands of the church. At times I wanted to, and even tried to, walk away from ministry, from the church, and from God. Yet, God would not let me go… and I am grateful (mostly).

Reading Matthew’s account of the call of James and John, the sons of Zebedee today gives me a sense of affirmation. James and John, along with Andrew and Peter, followed Jesus without hesitation. For James and John, they left their father behind. For Andrew and Peter, they left their livelihood behind. Jesus was worth giving up the lives they might have planned. Jesus was worth leaving home and family, and all that was expected. Following Jesus gave them passion and purpose, and lives that changed the world.

I don’t think for a minute that my life has or will change the world, but following Jesus has filled my life with passion and purpose, enough to maybe save a few lives. Jesus called people to repent because the Kingdom of God is near. If we change our ways, that Kingdom will come closer. If we stop pretending that we have seen Isaiah’s “great light” and actually look for it, embrace it, and live it, that Kingdom will be so much closer. In fact, it might just become reality.

My life is not what my five-year-old self dreamed of. In fact, isn’t even what my thirty or forty-year old self dreamed of. Following Christ means giving up some self-focused dreams and making room for dreams bigger than we could imagine, dreams of bringing the Kingdom of God into the hear and now in a way that matters. Sometimes I dream of a church where grace and love thrive, where all human beings are truly welcome. Imagine how different things might be if we all had the courage of those first disciples, if we let go of what we thought our lives would be and followed Jesus into a future of endless possibilities…

RCL – Year A – Third Sunday after Epiphany – January 26, 2020
Isaiah 9:1-4
Psalm 27:1, 4-9
I Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23

Photo: CC0image by Lukáš Skucius

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Musings Sermon Starter

On Healing and Gratitude

Gratitude is a part of true healing. One can regain wellness, but without gratitude healing remains incomplete, at least on a spiritual level. Think about the ten lepers Jesus healed as he traveled between Samaria and Galilee. Ten were healed and told to show themselves to the priest. Only one of them returned to give thanks. Perhaps the others were off doing as they had been told. They were no longer lepers and a priest could allow them back into community. Maybe they were grateful. Yet only one expressed gratitude to Jesus and received a pronouncement of wellness. His faith had made him well.

There is a link between gratitude and wellness that we don’t spend much time thinking about. Today is World Mental Health Day with an emphasis on suicide prevention. Maybe we should make a day next week that is World Gratitude Day to help combat the sense of hopelessness that contributes to the every-climbing suicide rates. What might happen in the world if we all to time to give thanks for moments of healing, however fleeting? What might shift in us all if we trusted that God views us as whole and desires healing for ever person? What might ignite in us if we thanked God for healing, large and small? Would we be able to join that one leper in faith making us well?

Over a decade ago I found redemption while working as a clinical chaplain at a state hospital. I had spent so much of my life hiding my struggles with depression, an eating disorder, and suicidality. By the fall of 2008 these struggles were mostly in the past, but I felt a lot of shame about them. I still wondered if my early mental health challenges were a reflection of my inadequacy as a Christian. Gratitude wasn’t absent from my life, but it wasn’t at the center. I was too busy trying to hide where I had been, that I never took time to be grateful for having made it through.

When I started working at the state hospital, I discovered that my past struggles were an asset. I knew what it was like to be a psychiatric in-patient. I knew what it felt like to feel hopeless and powerless. I knew the lies depression whispers in the bleakest moments. I also knew that these things were survivable. I could offer authentic hope. One day I found myself remarkably grateful for all that I had been through. I was not grateful for the suffering. I was grateful for the survival, survival that led to me embracing and enjoying life. Survival shifted to wholeness when gratitude entered in. God had placed people and opportunities in my path that all led to healing. I didn’t know how well I was until I could whole-heartedly give thanks to God for all things.

Maybe those other nine lepers took time to figure out that they, too, had been made well. They could see their healing, but maybe it took a while to experience their wholeness and give thanks. Gratitude doesn’t always come immediately. Some of us are slow healers and need time to realize just what has happened in our lives. Maybe gratitude would come quickly if we practiced it more freely and more intentionally.

What are you thankful for today? In this moment, I am grateful I have access to good healthcare. I’m also grateful for the dog curled up under my feet and the cat curled up behind my head. When I stop to look around, I’m thankful for season change and the beauty of autumn leaves. I can list a number of people I am grateful for, too. Mostly, though, I am thankful for my life, my work, my wife, and all that God calls me to be a part of.

Gratitude doesn’t depend on our wellness, though. We can be grateful for the simplest things when we are struggling in body, mind, or spirit. Being grateful for a hot cup of tea, a text from a friend, a smile from a stranger can shift our spirits. In those moments we step closer to the wholeness God sees in us. Perhaps in our moments of gratitude, we also bring a little healing into the world for someone else.

Gratitude won’t fix anything that is wrong in the world. It will, however, open us to the possibilities of a better future, a future that honors God, neighbor, self, and creation. If we stop taking our lives for granted and give thanks for this day (and every day), we might discover that we are bearers of divine love and hope that the world desperately needs. It doesn’t matter if gratitude comes quickly to you, like that one leper, or if it is slower to come to your lips, possibly like the other nine. What matters is that we cultivate gratitude always and everywhere. It’s not a contest or a means to show God’s favor. Gratitude is simply acknowledging all that God has done for us.

Thank you for reading. May you be filled with gratitude. And may you run and tell the others the glories of God.

RCL – Year C – Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 13, 2019
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 with Psalm 66:1-12 or
2 Kings 5:1-3,7-15c with Psalm 111 and
2 Timothy 2:8-15 and
Luke 17:11-19

Photo: CC0image by John Hain D

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Musings Sermon Starter

Mind Your Own Talents

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I remember very vividly the first conversation I had with someone about gender identity. I had just come out as a lesbian (I later came out as bi) and had lost my job as a consequence. The day I was packing up my office, I met a person in the outer doorway as I carried my boxes to my car. This person unexpectedly admitted to me that they were not comfortable in their body and wanted desperately to know what it felt like to have a female body. They described, at length, the desire to know what physically, outwardly being a woman felt like. I think what I managed to say was something like, “I’m sorry you’re having this struggle. I’m not sure what to say.” I was not at my pastoral best in that moment, nor did I have any understanding of what it might mean to be trans*. No one had ever shared such thoughts with me before this. To be honest, I’ve thought about this person often over the years and wish I’d been in a better position to respond with compassion and understanding.

Years after this first rather awkward conversation, I worked in a psychiatric hospital and listened to the medical and clinical staff argue about the treatment of trans* patients. Many of them were stuck in the old days when being trans* was considered pathological. My job as chaplain was to advocate for patient’s rights. I did this to the best of my ability. Over my six years at the hospital, attitudes changed and a person’s gender identity was beginning to be considered in terms of a patient’s comfort rather than as a symptom of their illness.

Now I pastor a church that welcomes trans* people into the full life of the community. And I have to admit, that it was a steep learning curve for me. I had to face my own discomfort with asking about pronouns, and with the use of gender-neutral pronouns. I listened as individuals described in significant detail their gender confirmation surgery and all that that entailed. I’ve listened to the stories of those who are marginalized by society and, often,  the larger queer community. And I’ve allowed those stories to touch my own.

While I cannot pretend to know what it feels like to be trans*, I do know what it feels like to be on the outside of community that is always lumped together. We talk about LGBTQ+ community like it is a unified whole, but there are divisions. As a bisexual person I have seldom found acceptance within the queer community. My sexual orientation has been called into question by more than one person. It’s hurtful and frustrating. If this is the case for me as someone who is bisexual and cisgender, how much more painful and frustrating is it for trans* people who have their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression called into question?

I’ve also watched the struggles my wife has gone through. She is cisgender but has masculine characteristics. She has been questioned on her choice of public restrooms and, on one notable occasion, assaulted by a woman who felt the need to verify my wife’s gender. There are no circumstances in which this kind of fearful, judgmental behavior is acceptable.

In addition to these things, on some level I know what it is like to feel animosity toward one’s own body. While the struggles of someone with an eating disorder are not those of someone who is trans*, that sense of hating one’s physical appearance, of feeling betrayed by one’s body, of the internal identity not matching the outward appearance, translates to a certain extent. I have, on a very deep level, developed empathy for the trans* people I have come to know and love. It is this empathy that allows me to listen, to hear the pain and the joy, and to celebrate the beauty and wonder that God creates in each human being.

I share all of this to raise the question of judgment. In the parable of the talents, judgment only came from one place. Those who were given talents didn’t bicker with each other, or criticize each other on what they did with what they were given. Their only responsibility was to use the talents to the best of their ability and in a way that was pleasing to the one who had given the talents. What the others did with what they were given, wasn’t any of their concern. The one who had given the talents was the only one who was in a place to express approval or disapproval. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all keep this in mind.

When it comes to gender identity and gender expression, this is between the individual and the One who created them. The rest of us should only offer support and love, without judgment. It is not our business to judge another person for how they embody the person God created them to be. It is, however, our business to embody Christ for one another. Oh, and it’s our business to make sure we are fully embodying the person God created each of us to be as well.

As Transgender Day of Remembrance nears and the knowledge that 25 trans people were murdered in the U.S. alone in 2017, this parable reminds us to pay less attention to the way other people embody themselves. Moreover, we ought to be asking ourselves if the way we inhabit our bodies is pleasing to the one who gifted them to us. Perhaps if we shifted our focus in this direction, then we would be in better shape to love our neighbors as ourselves.

When it comes to the church, I often say, “as with one, so with all.” This means that if one person struggles with something, The Body of Christ struggles. So when it comes to our trans* siblings in Christ, I will say this: The Body of Christ is trans*. Isn’t it time we responded with love, with respect, and in celebration of the giftedness of the church as it truly is?

RCL – Year A – Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost – November 19, 2017
Judges 4:1-7 with Psalm 123 or
Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18 with Psalms 90:1-8 (9-11), 12
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

Photo: CC0 image by aydiny

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liturgy Prayer

A Confession for Ordinary Time

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One: Holy God, you ask so little of us. You shower us with grace upon grace, flooding our hearts with love and forgiveness, and still we fail to notice you. We keep insisting that you come to us on our terms to comfort us and heal us. We want spectacular evidence of your love while we sit back and do so little. Hear our prayers as we confess our distance from you.

One: You show us a path that leads to justice, kindness, humility, and love.
All: Yet, we can hardly take a step without condemning our neighbor with fearful, hateful words or actions. We turn from those living without shelter and want someone else to fix the problem.
One: You lead us in ways of holiness and wholeness where all are welcome.
All: Yet, we refuse to follow justifying our inaction with traditions built on racism and white privilege. We reject immigrants and question refugees and grow angry at our own discomfort.
One: You invite us into relationships of trust like those you had with Abraham, Isaac, and Rebekah.
All: Yet, we turn away, proud of our independence. We laugh at the ring in Rebekah’s nose and refuse to acknowledge our claim on us. We close our hearts to the most vulnerable among us because we are afraid of our own fragility and finitude.
One: You offer a life of abundance and freedom.
All: Yet, we cling to the ways of scarcity. We would rather keep what we have than risk losing any of it for the sake of a future we can’t believe will be full of good things. We simply do not trust that sharing our resources and expanding our communities will make us healthier and stronger.
One: You wait so patiently for us to follow where you lead.
All: Yet, we wait for you to mend what we have broken. We prefer to blame you for all the conflict, suffering, and destruction so we can remain on the sidelines while others sacrifice themselves for the sake of justice, peace, and healing.

One: Let us pray together…
All: Holy God, you have always responded to your people with steadfast love and faithfulness. Forgive us for our inability to follow you. We know that you yearn for the day when we set aside our fearful, self-protective ways. Open our hearts to all the ways in which we benefit from racist systems and discriminatory world-views. You would have us live in peace with all our neighbors. You would have us care for Creation with gentle, grateful hands. You would have us love and serve you by loving and serving all humankind. Forgive us. Mend what we have broken inside ourselves that we may be the mending that the world needs. May we let go of our self-serving sin to truly become your body here and now.

Silent prayer

One: Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
All: We come and take on this yoke of forgiveness and love. May God’s love for us be made visible in all our words and deeds. In Christ’s name. Amen.

RCL – Year A – Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – July 9, 2017
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Psalm 45:10-17 or Song of Solomon 2:8-13 or
Zechariah 9:9-12 with Psalm 145:8-14
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Photo CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe</a

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Musings Sermon Starter

Holy Improbable Promise

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I was maybe 10 the first time someone told me I would be a great mother one day. I was already babysitting by then, and in a year or so I was much in demand. I babysat after school most afternoons and many Friday and Saturday nights for years. At thirteen I started having dreams about having my own children. These dreams continued for years, always featuring a black-haired, blue-eyed boy and a red-headed, green-eyed girl. I was sure these dreams were some kind of a promise since they happened often. Sometimes, I still dream about these children.

The reality is that I have no children. I considered adoption in my mid-twenties and again when I turned 30 and once more in my late 30s, but life circumstances made it impossible then. In my early 30s I was told that my uterus was “inhospitable.” At 40 I had a necessary medical procedure that made pregnancy even more unlikely and then in my mid 40s I had a hysterectomy. For many years, every time I saw a pregnant woman, I cried. It was hard to reconcile the life I lived with the life I thought I had been promised.

As a result of my experiences with infertility, I have a strong affinity for the barren women of scripture. Now at 50 I read this story of Sarah once more and, I too, laugh. What more could be done? Sarah who had most certainly passed her child bearing years hears that she is to conceive and bear a son, the long-promised progeny that would give way to descendants too numerous to count. She was incredulous, and, just maybe, a little hopeful that with God all things might be possible, even the improbable. If it were me, I would laugh at the unlikelihood of it all, laugh until my laughter turned to tears of gratitude at the possibility of so much more.

This is how Sarah’s story hits me on a personal level. Yet, there is something much deeper in this story that echoes through the Gospel text. It’s what allows the disciples to go out into the wider world proclaiming good news that will put their lives at risk. In spite of Sarah’s laughter at God’s preposterous promise, she does, indeed bring a son into the world. And she names him, Isaac which means, essentially, laughter. Then Isaac goes on to have children of his own and one of them becomes the father of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. This makes Israel the child of Laughter. Perhaps, this is how the people of God have managed to survive captivity and oppression over and over again. Somehow, someway, they have held on to this identity as children of Laughter. Maybe the laughter that spilled from Sarah’s mouth that day took root in the spirit of all those who would come after her…

The church would do well to pay heed to this lesson. The church was born out of a promise, one nearly as preposterous as the one Sarah and Abraham were given. Jesus promised his disciples that the Holy Spirit would come to them and remind them of all that he had taught. From there the followers of Jesus would become more numerous than anyone ever thought possible. Perhaps the echoes of Sarah’s laughter were enough to keep them going in the early days when it looked like there would be no future for the church.

Now we, as church, are quite old. So old, in fact, that many of us find it hard to imagine that there is a new way of doing things. We cling to what we know. Like Sarah and Abraham we have adjusted to the way things are and made a comfortable life for ourselves. Yet, there is more to the promise than comfort. There is more to the hope for the future than a repetition of the past. All around us there are signs that God is doing a new thing, whispering promises of offspring even when churches are closing and people are scattering. There are signs that the life long-promised is stirring within us, even those of us who believed ourselves to be barren. There is life here; the Spirit still moves.

What is it that God is asking of you? Maybe it is to bring life to a place and a people who gave up hope long ago and have become far too comfortable in their pews… Maybe it is to share laughter at the imaginings of a God who can see the church changing and growing in unexpected ways… Maybe it is to be among the midwives who will nurture and care for the life that is stirring?

Whatever God is up to, it’s okay to laugh. It’s okay to be unbelieving. It’s okay be stunned into silence. God will do what God will do to keep laughter alive in this generation and the next. Just don’t get stuck. Keep looking for what God is up to and be ready to jump in and do your part.  And don’t be surprised when your laughter at the impossibility of it all gives way to tears of gratitude over the abundance of the gift of it all. In our old age, we will give birth to a new generation and that generation will know laughter and joy because they will be the embodiment of Christ, beloved children of a God who delights in us. This is what has been promised to us because, after all, we are part of that impossible promise that prompted Sarah’s laughter, are we not?

RCL – Year A – Second Sunday after Pentecost – June 18, 2017
Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7) with Psalm 116:1-2,12-19 or
Exodus 19:2-8a with Ps 100
Romans 5:1-8
Matthew 9:35-10:8, (9-23)

Photo: CC0 image by Dan Evans

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Musings Sermon Starter

The Power of Gratitude

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When I worked as a clinical chaplain in a state psychiatric hospital, I frequently led groups on gratitude. I would begin the group by asking people what they were grateful for. Predictably, they weren’t particularly grateful for anything. After all, they were patients in a psychiatric hospital and did not want to be. They were all experiencing a mental health crisis so acute that they were admitted to the state hospital against their will. What’s to be grateful for?

We’d start off slowly, though. Anyone have breakfast this morning? Yes. Can you be thankful for the food even if it wasn’t what you would have liked? Yes. Anyone have coffee this morning? Yes. Can you be thankful for that even though there was no caffeine in it? Yes. And then someone would be thankful for a safe place to sleep. Then for clean clothing. Then for a family member or friend who was feeding their cat. And the list would grow from there. After a few minutes we would have a list with hundreds of things they were grateful for. Sometimes, someone would be well enough to be thankful for the care and treatment they received, and for the possibility of doing better with new medicine.

From the list we generated together, we would go on to talk about how they were feeling since we started to look for things to be grateful for. Mostly, they felt a little better, a little more hopeful. Maybe things weren’t so very bad. Maybe things could get better. Someone would invariably state that being grateful made them feel better and we’d talk about that. It turns out that when you’re looking around for things to be thankful for, it’s really hard to focus on all the negative stuff. So then we would talk about how to make gratitude part of every day. Maybe some of the patients did manage to begin practices of gratitude, and maybe they didn’t. However, I did.

I spent many years not feeling very grateful. Sometimes it was because I didn’t believe I deserved what I had so I was more waiting for it to disappear than expressing gratitude. In other ways, I failed to notice the gifts God had given me. Leading groups on gratitude with people with severe mental illness shifted my whole self-understanding. I stopped being like the nine lepers Jesus spoke about. You know, those nine that were healed and didn’t come back to give God thanks. Instead, I began to see my life as an amazing gift, and I started to give God thanks.

And I started in the hard places. I thanked God for my early experiences of suffering because over the years they had been transformed into strengths. I wasn’t exactly grateful for the trauma or depression. I was grateful for the healing that made the broken places stronger. I don’t believe for a second that God made bad things happen to me so that I would learn what I needed to learn. However, I do believe that without having been through the difficulties of my childhood and young adulthood, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Healing was slow and painful. So slow, in fact, that I missed it for years.

Then I found myself in a ministry setting that redeemed all the despairing places in my life. All the suffering I had spent years locking away somewhere had purpose and meaning. It wasn’t that my experiences were the same as the patients I met. Sometimes there were similarities, of course. But the value was in that I had a depth of understanding in which empathy was deeply rooted. Because of where I had been, it was easier for me to walk with people who were in such indescribable emotional and spiritual pain. If I had come to believe that God had been with me through all my struggles (and I had), then I could confidently say that God was present in the psych hospital, too. And for that, we could all be grateful.

Since those days, I’ve been much quicker to move to gratitude. Last month when I fell and broke two fingers, I really was grateful that my injuries were not more serious. Just two days ago I had surgery to correct double vision that has worsened over the last 30 years. The results are not what I expected. Yesterday, the surgeon asked me how mad I was at him. He wasn’t entirely kidding. My distance vision may take some time before it is not double, but it could very well come around to single vision. I couldn’t be more grateful for the changes I have already experienced. He was surprised that I was not angry, frustrated or anything other than grateful and willing to do whatever I needed to do for the best possible outcome. Why focus on the headache, when there is so much to see?

I am convinced it is easier to see God working and give thanks when we are on the margins or in the between places. The Samaritan Leper, the double outcast, was the only one out of ten to run back and give thanks to Jesus for his healing. Gratitude flooded my life while I worked in a psychiatric hospital, a place truly on the margins where people are somewhere between illness and health. Now as my body heals, I experience the miracles of broken places mending and new vision as I am between being broken and being made whole. I am right there with that Samaritan leper singing God’s praise.

There’s nothing better than gratitude to change how we see the world. Perhaps we should all just take a few minutes and give thanks for the blessings we have lest we become a part of the nine who just went away without knowing true healing.

RCL – Year C – Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost – October 9, 2016
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 with Psalm 66:1-12 or
2 Kings 5:1-3,7-15c with Psalm 111 and
2 Timothy 2:8-15 and
Luke 17:11-19

Photo: CC0 image by lohannaps

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Musings Sermon Starter

Come, Holy Spirit, Come

2016-05-11 11.34.18Many years ago I was the interim pastor at a small church and was free to celebrate Pentecost without regard to that congregation’s tradition. We decided that it would be confirmation day for the small group of youth who had been going to classes and they wanted red balloons among other things. This was long before I knew anything about latex allergies so red balloons it was. They were tied in bunches all over the sanctuary and there were red streamers galore. It was a day of joy to be sure. Until a balloon escaped and wrapped itself around a ceiling fan.

For all I know that balloon is still there. While the Trustees were not amused because accessing those high ceiling fans was problematic, I found it very funny. These balloons were symbols of the Spirit, the Spirit we think we have tamed. The one rogue balloon reminded me that we have not tamed the Holy Spirit and we still cannot predict where she will go and she is very likely to present us with quite a bit of challenge.

As I contemplate Pentecost this year, I am surrounded by the beauty of Holy Wisdom Monastery in Wisconsin. I’ve come here to work on my next book, Embodying Christ: Being a Lifesaving Church. It is about my experience with suicide – part memoir, part theological reflection, and part clinical response. Beginning to write this book has provided me opportunity to look back at my life differently than I ever have before. I can see where the Spirit was moving even when I thought I was completely alone.

This is true for my personal story as well as my professional one. As I was walking through the rain-soaked woods this morning, listening to all the bird calls, sliding on the mud and wet grass, it occurred to me that the Church has no idea what power it holds. We have built beautiful buildings that are now crippling many congregations. We have created dogma and doctrine and rules of membership that keep people away. We have forgotten that we are stewards of Creation, agents of Grace, bearers of Hope. We think the Spirit is with us when we feel good. We choose not to remember the unsettling capacity of the Spirit to discomfort the comfortable and lead us to places we would not go on our own. The Spirit still calls as surely as those early morning birds I heard this morning. I’m not sure we are listening to her very well.

We worry about how to get Millennials into our congregations. We think if we have someone who can bring in young people and their families, all will be well. In the meantime, we’ve forgotten the power of the God we worship. We have long-neglected the flames of passion for fear of not being politically correct. We are reluctant to claim Christ as our path to God, a path that requires unbridled, unconditional love for ourselves, our neighbors, Creation and Creator. Why would young people want to join a church where the flight of the Spirit is disrupted by ceiling fans and traditions more often than she’s allowed to move where she wills?

2016-05-09 18.28.40.jpgWhile walking earlier today through wet woods and prairie on my way to a small lake, I noticed dear, rabbit, and fox tracks. I heard the call of a wide variety of birds and the sound of yesterday’s rain dripping off the newly leafed branches. Violets, purple and white are scattered everywhere. Other early wildflowers bring patches of yellow, white, and purple to the grassy path I walked. The sense of aliveness in this place awakens something in me. It’s been a long time since I’ve awoken to the sound of the woods in the morning. I yearn to breathe in this life, to be a part of the wildness that lies just below the surface.

This is what worship should do, this is what church should be. When we gather to worship God, there should be evidence of a barely contained wildness. A wildness that beckons to all, inviting all to stop a while and breathe deeply this breath of life that will change, challenge, and empower us.

As we celebrate Pentecost this year, may we experience the wildness of the Spirit that set those early heads on fire. May her winds blow through our lives and our churches to clear a path for passion. May her touch set our hearts aflame and connect us with the wildness that lies just below the surface. As a birthday gift to the Church, wouldn’t it be great to set her free?

RCL – Year C – Pentecost – May 15, 2016
Acts 2:1-21 or Genesis 11:1-9
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21
John 14:8-17 [25-27]

Photos: CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

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Bidding Prayer Emerging Church liturgy Prayer Uncategorized

A Bidding Prayer for the Living of These Days

Come, let us pray for faithful people everywhere.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
Loving Creator, you are the Alpha and Omega of all that is. The names we have for you are more numerous than we like to admit. The theologies we have constrchurch-59514_1920ucted cannot define or contain you. Remind us that you call people of all ages and places and reveal to them a way of love and peace. While language, tradition, and beliefs may separate us, you make no distinction among those who honor you by seeking paths of loving kindness. Replace our judgments and fears with courage to see you in the face of neighbors and strangers.
God of compassion and mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Come, let us pray for the church as it gathers here and elsewhere.
people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
God who lived among us to teach us the way of peace, you yearn for us to turn to you. Your heart breaks when war and violence are perpetrated in your name. If we are to be the Body of Christ here and now, then we must offer hospitality and sanctuary to all who seek it – especially when asylum seekers speak a different language, call you by another name, or look different than we do. Remind us of the ways in which you spoke truth to power and set people free. Strengthen and encourage us to speak that same truth until justice is available to all.
God of compassion and mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Come, let us pray for all people, especially our enemies.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
Ruler of all, robed in majesty, Holy One, we cannot imagine that you love everyone with the same unconditional, unearned love. We like to pretend that our way is the only way that honors you and that you love us best. Yet, if we are truthful, then we know that you love those who hurt us including the people of ISIS and Boko Haram and their hateful, violent acts hurt you as well. Yet, your love goes on forever. We are to live in this steadfast love. Give us the courage to lift our enemies before you and respond to hatred with your love and reminding ourselves that hateful, violent actions do not come from you.
God of compassion and mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Come, let us pray for this nation that is home to so many peoples.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
Gracious God who is, who was, and who is to come, you have blessed us with an abundance and desire for us to share with those in need. We’d like to beliewelcome-976277_1920ve that our country is your favorite, yet we know that your love knows no bounds. We’d also like to believe that the troubles of other countries are not ours. You call us to bear one another’s burdens and to care for those who cannot care for themselves. Set us free from the fear that binds us to brokenness. Speak your truth to those in power and empower those who hide in shadows to join together in the work for justice and peace.
God of compassion and mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Come, let us pray for the marginalized, the overlooked, the dismissed, and the forgotten people all around us.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
Indwelling, ever-present God, you would make your home in us. All of us are created in your image and you would make each of us a temple of the Holy Spirit. Nothing can change that – not homelessness, mental illness, disabilities, economics, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other category we have created that enables us to devalue another human being. You tell us to love our neighbors and ourselves without qualifiers. May the day soon arrive when we can see you in whom we meet.
God of compassion and mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Come, let us pray for all who are grieving.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
Eternal God of both the living and the dead, we turn to you for comfort and hope. Grief has touched us all this week. We feel the pain of Lebanon, France, Iraq, and Nigeria and of those much closer to home who have lost loved ones to violence and suicide. Remind us that the way of violence is not your way, that you came to show us how to live in love and peace. Even now, as we reach for that peace that passes all human understanding, we ask for your forgiveness, your healing, and your grace.
God of compassion and mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Come, let us give thanks to God.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
Patient and generous God, our words fail to express the gratitude we offer. Even in times of sin, darkness, and despair you continue to love us and wait so patiently for us to return to the light of your love. Your truth calls to us over and over again. May the gratitude we feel in this moment open us even more to the power of your Holy Spirit to transform us that we may transform the world in love to bring about your peace.
In Christ’s holy name we pray.
Amen.

sol-979325_1920

RCL – Year B – Reign of Christ Sunday – November 22, 2015
2 Samuel 23:1-7
Psalm 132:1-12 [13-18]
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Psalm 93
Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37

All images from Pixabay. Used with permission.

Categories
Poetry

A Poem about the Widow’s Mite

Here’s a poem from my book, Negotiating the ShadowsIt’s based on the Mark text for this week.

A Widow’s Wisdom

a simple offering
outweighed all others

combined
two copper coins

almost without valuebusiness-72174
took on significance

she gave to You
all she had

with intent
others offered bits

pieces of notable
value

thinking they honor You
and themselves

giving what they will not miss
in abundance

they missed
abundantly

the widow’s gift
lies unseen today

many cling to little
in hopes of more

or less
fear of losing

everything of importance
but gaining nothing of value

Your words were simple
directed at your followers

then and now
witnesses to You

two worthless coins
mean everything

when there is nothing else
to give

true life requires giving
to You

in abundance
without fear of emptiness

with trust and gratitude
for You offer

life
abundant

where two small coins
have value

canoe_01and one poor woman
has purpose

and wisdom
blessing

any and all who see her
as You did

giving every little bit
for the possibility

You hold out
to any and all

who give You
two copper coins

(or everything we have
and everything we are)

RCL – Year B – Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost – November 8, 2015
Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17
Psalm 127
1 Kings 17:8-16
Psalm 146
Hebrews 9:24-28
Mark 12:38-44

Photos from Pixabay. Used with permission.

Categories
Emerging Church Musings Sermon Starter

Between Idolatry and Rejoicing There is Gratitude

2014-10-08 16.13.59Something odd happened this morning. Odd in a good way. I had prepared a group activity for my usual Wednesday morning group called, “Building Hope.” It turned into more than a simple activity for my patients. It actually went far deeper than I would have ever guessed. The exercise  is a simple activity in which I had a tree without leaves painted on a poster board. I handed out apple cutouts and ask the patients to write down whatever they feel grateful for. We had a good conversation about gratitude and how it shifts one’s focus to positive things even while it doesn’t change the negatives. Then we stuck the apples on the tree.

Next, I handed out leaf cutouts and asked them to write on the leaves anything they wanted to let go off, let fall off like the autumn leaves. We talked about these things as we stuck them on the ground around the bottom of the tree. And then the hard part of the discussion. What keeps you from letting go? What prevents you from feeling grateful for what you do have and are able to do? They named a few things like illness, envy, frustration, and habit.

This little exercise made me think about the ancient Israelites and the early Christians in Philippi. My patients weren’t exactly creating idols or rejoicing in the Lord, but the underlying issues are rather similar. Gratitude came easy for them. They could name many things they were grateful for from the beautiful fall weather to family and friends who love them. Recognizing what they needed to let go of was also easy. They did not hesitate to write down guilt, anger, shame, illness. But, ultimately, they could not see gratitude as a way of letting go. It’s hard. Sometimes too hard is what they said.

I think of those Israelites who had so much to be grateful for, so much to rejoice in. But they had forgotten the parting of the sea, the manna from heaven, the water from stone, and the smoky lightning and thunder that accompanied Moses giving them the ten commandments. They could only see the wilderness around them and they were desperate for a god they could see and touch.

I suspect that those folks in Philippi were having trouble remembering all that God had done for them as well. They were probably only seeing the arguments over how to live as a proper follower of Jesus, the persecution of believers, and the difficulty of going a new way. Otherwise, why would the advice have been to rejoice in the Lord always? I’d bet there was some yearning for a god they could see and touch, too.

And, honestly, I’m right there with them. I want answers to the evils of ISIS, global warming, ebola, and war. There are days when I can only see wilderness for miles. It’s lonely and scary. I’m not about to build a golden calf to help me let go and make room for gratitude and joy, but I will admit that I’ve worshipped lesser gods with flimsy altars. They sneak in without needing much of an invitation. They take over quickly with their illusions of satisfying the deep hunger and the ever-present yearning for a peace that will last.

These little gods that create the illusion of happiness are a poor substitute for the God who saves and truly does offer peace and joy. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s all about gratitude. If the Israelites had focused on all that God had blessed them with and given thanks right there in the middle of the wilderness instead of seeing only their fears, they would have had no need of a golden calf. If the Philippians had remembered all that Jesus had done for them instead of focusing on whatever issue was dividing them, they would not have needed a reminder to rejoice in the Lord. If I remember God’s deep and abiding love for me, then I have no need of the little gods that populate my life. Like my patients realized this morning, gratitude doesn’t change the bad stuff, but it helps to make us less afraid to let go enough to make room for change in us.2014-09-17 11.13.15-1

I’m still thinking about this need to remember and be grateful in an active kind of way. There would be so much more room for joy and gentleness if worry didn’t take up so much room. These things won’t fix the problems in the world immediately, but what if everyone followed the advice given to the Philippians so long ago?

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

RCL – Year A – Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 12, 2014
Exodus 32:1-14 with Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 or
Isaiah 25:1-9 with Psalm 23
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14