Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

The Unbreakable Covenant

I’ve been on vacation for the last few days. These days this means time at home to relax, to watch TV, to read, to be creative, and to think. I haven’t even been able to really enjoy the approach of spring because I am still healing from a stress fracture in my shin. So you might imagine that I’ve spent a lot more time than usual thinking. And what have I been thinking about? The words of the Prophet Jeremiah, among other things. My thoughts keep going to the unbreakable covenant that is promised. A covenant that will be written on the hearts of the people of God, on our hearts.

What, then, is written on our hearts today? I think Love is written on all of our hearts, I really do. However, it gets buried under pain, fear, anger, regret, grief, anxiety, and suffering. Love gets buried under spiritual scar tissue and is sometimes really hard to find. If it wasn’t there, the covenant Jeremiah promised would be broken, and we know that God doesn’t break promises, let alone covenants.

You see, I believe that Jesus is the fulfilment of the covenant that Jeremiah spoke of. If we take seriously the words of John 3:16, “God so loves the entirety of the Cosmos…” then we must ask ourselves what being a member of the Body of Christ has revealed in our hearts. Jesus was all about Love. His actions were about healing and literally re-membering (reconnecting) people to community. His words challenged the Empire and those in service to it. He was all about community, wholeness, and liberation. None of these things were to benefit the individual; everything Jesus said or did was to teach us how to Love – our neighbors as ourselves, as God Loves.

The depth of what is written on our hearts can only become clear, can only rise to the surface in relationship, in community. We need one another to heal, to removed the scar tissue, to allow Love to come to the fore. Church ought to be the place, the community, that fosters healing and wholeness. Never should the Body of Christ add to the scarring that obscures the Love that is in our spiritual DNA.

The pronouncement coming out of the Vatican this week is inconsistent with what is written on our hearts. Excluding LGBTQ+ folx from the fullness of community is hurtful. Saying that queer folx are welcome but saying that our sexual expression and our marriages are sin fractures rather than heals. It is not loving to accept only the surface level of a person’s identity. It’s like saying that brown-eyed people are welcome only if they wear dark glasses because their brown eyes are a sin. Besides, when it comes to the Body of Christ, if one of us is queer, the Body of Christ is queer and all the rules, judgment, and exclusion becomes self-loathing. Isn’t this the very opposite of the covenant made manifest in Christ?

When will we start holding up our end of the unbreakable covenant? It’s only unbreakable because God doesn’t let go of God’s end of it. God’s steadfast Love really does endure forever, no matter how deeply we bury it. Though why we bury it is another question.

There is enough in the world to add scar tissue, to obscure Love. Why do we add to it, especially as the Body of Christ? It’s time we ask ourselves what is written on our hearts, not on the surface but deep down where only God has a clear view. Living at the surface where all the scarring is only adds to more scarring.

We can do better than this. Healing. Liberation. Wholeness. Community. These things allow the Love that is written on our hearts to come to the surface. If we are not welcoming, forgiving, serving, loving then we are likely adding more scars.

Isn’t it time we live out our truth as the Body of Christ, make manifest the Love that it written deep within?

RCL – Year B – Fifth Sunday in Lent – March 21, 2021 Jeremiah 31:31-34  • Psalm 51:1-12 or Psalm 119:9-16  • Hebrews 5:5-10  • John 12:20-33

Photo: CC0image by edmondalfoto

Categories
Poetry

Grace in the Wilderness: A Poem for Easter 2020

Grace in the Wilderness

an eagle flies
across the sunset skies
wings spread in benediction

a boy peddles lazily
with gas station flowers
balanced in his hoodie pocket

dogs behind fencing
tumble and play
pausing to bark as we pass by

mostly masked faces
hands raised in greeting
keep a healthy distance

small green leaves
unfurling after winter's sleep
reach out in new life

an empty tomb
waited to be noticed
by women bent on grieving

the angel gives a new direction
what you seek here
look elsewhere

a mistaken gardener
calls Mary by name
opens her being

Jesus lives even now
with arms wide open
proclaiming everlasting love

we who come in fear and grief
missing the benediction
and the new life

take a breath
listen for the One
who calls us by name

we keep company with death
heedless of the angel’s words
seeking what is not here

grief and fear accompany us
yet do not know our names
and offer no promises

behind the masks
across the six-foot divides
Christ arises

on this virus-infected Easter
let us come
with our tears and fears

experience the emptiness
the loss and despair
of world-wide grief

may we also see
benediction in the rising and setting sun
new life all around us

Christ is risen
the promise of steadfast love
the hope of eternal life continue

Breathe deeply
God shows no partiality
and always provides

Grace in the wilderness
in the fear-filled places
in the heaviness of grief

may we see Christ
in every face
in every place

may we breathe in
the scent of hope
the promise of new life

from this moment
be forever changed
by Love for Love

Christ is risen
Christ is risen indeed
Alleluia

go in peace
thanks be to God
amen

RCL – Year A – Easter – April 12, 2020
Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6
Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24
Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43
John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10

Photo: CC0image by RENE RAUSCHENBERGER

Categories
liturgy Poetry Prayer

A Confessional Prayer

Ever-patient God, 
Jeremiah's ancient words stir within me
You let truth tumble from his lips
down through the ages
to land on my restless spirit
sour grapes are frequently easier to ingest
than the word You would inscribe on my heart
this troubling truth awakens desire in me
yet do I reach for society's sour fruit
or the sweetness of Your words and ways?

Maker of mercy and miracles,
the psalmist sings of Your help and Your hope
while I continue to reach for grapes
knowing my lips will pucker and I will remain hungry
my reluctance to accept the sweet abundance You offer
makes me wonder if I am wrestling with You
or with my own misguided need to be strong and fr
please hold me fast until I hear you calling my name
one more time, breaking the spell woven
by society's deceitful lies
masquerading as nourishing,desirable fruit
though they serve only to sour all
may I have the courage to endure Your grip
and the wisdom to receive Your word (again)


Fierce and gentle God,
how often I have turned from Your ways
let go of Your promises
as if Your word means nothing
as fragile and fleeting as ash in the wind
Your love is endures through all things, all times, all places
when pain is overwhelming, You abide
when I am lost and wandering, You remain
when I insist on eating those deceitful grapes
You wait with honey in hand
for that moment of repentant return
how is it that any of us are worthy of Your love
Your mercy
Your forgiveness
Your eternal patience?

Giver of life and love,
Forgive me for choosing simple, self-serving actions
over the complexity of Your ways
of loving neighbor and self
of serving You and creation
Forgive me when I pester You with trivial concerns
and the sourness of my prayers distances me
from the sweetness of Your love
Forgive me when I fail to turn to you with gratitude
with full recognition for all that is good in my life
Forgive me each time I don't see You
in a neighbor's need
Forgive me for thinking I am on my own in the wilderness
as if You aren't there
along with that immeasurable cloud of witnesses

Gracious God,
write Your word on my heart anew
even knowing that we will wrestle again (and again)
and my pestering prayers
won't always be filled with true need
my deepest desire is to live in Your abundance
build Your kingdom
travel Your holy ways
and embody Your love
always
I am yours

Amen.

RCL – Year C – Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 13, 2019
Jeremiah 31:27-34 with Psalm 119:97-104 or
Genesis 32:22-31 with Psalm 121 and
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 and
Luke 18:1-8

Photo: CC0image by Elias Sch

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Unexpected Godliness

Did you know that Mattel, the maker of Barbie, introduced a gender-neutral doll this week? It’s true. It’s a doll with a child’s shape prior to puberty and comes with wigs and gender neutral clothing. The doll is gender fluid with accessories to embrace diverse gender expression. What an amazing gift for children who are gender expansive as well as children who identify as male or female. As a girl who loved dolls and dresses as much as baseball and jeans, I would have loved this doll. In fact, I kind of want one now, even though my pronouns are she/her/hers and I am comfortable with my cis identity. If I had a child today who liked to play with dolls, I would purchase these dolls without hesitation.

Unfortunately, my delighted response to these dolls is not shared by everyone. In fact, there are a whole lot of people who call themselves Christian who are horrified by these dolls. They think  that because the Bible only mentions male and female being created in the image of God, then only male and female can exist. This is a fairly narrow reading of Genesis 1:26-27. There is room here for a far less literal interpretation. God (who is referred to in the plural here) creates humanity whose gender ranges from male to female, on a continuum. Of course, the ancient peoples would not have heard this verse in this way. However, there is no reason to limit what we hear just because the first hearers had a different experience of God and the world than we do.

This tendency to limit how God continues to speak through scripture is really my point. A toy company ought not to be more inclusive, understanding, supportive, and embracing of people than the church is. This just shouldn’t happen. We haven’t learned anything if we are not leading the world in practice of love, healing, and true inclusion. Jeremiah’s symbolic purchase of land reflecting God’s promise that the people of God will always have a home, means nothing if we don’t trust the continuing promise. The warnings of Amos fall on those who refuse to listen if we continue in our comfortable, “normative” lives while others barely survive on the edges of society. If we count ourselves among the godly while those around suffer for a lack of love and acceptance, then we have not followed the advice given in 1 Timothy. What have we learned from Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus if we treat those around us as less than human while enjoying our riches?

I am tired of the Bible being used as a weapon or a litmus test for God’s blessing. The full diversity of human beings is not mentioned in the Bible, nor is the full diversity of creation. Just because the Bible doesn’t mention something, it doesn’t mean that it is not pleasing to God. The people who wrote down the stories that are included in our sacred texts could only write from what they knew. They could only experience God through what was familiar to them. They did their best to tell what they knew of God based on their experiences of the world. They did not experience all there is to know about God or all there is to know about human beings or all there is to know about the created world. I think they would all be surprised to know that we are still reading their words today, maybe even more surprised at the contortions (and distortions) people go through to take the words literally.

The theme of God’s liberating love comes through the texts more strongly than anything else. When human beings fail to attend to these holy, loving ways, then the consequences can certainly be ugly. God does not inflict divine punishment nor divine rewards on individuals of communities. Yes, to the ancients it seemed that way. However, we can see that the disasters that struck God’s people were a direct consequence of them straying from God’s ways. And the better times were a consequence of keeping with God’s ways. These things are descriptive, not prescriptive. Selfish ways bring about destruction and devastation. Loving ways lead to strength and growth.

Jesus told the parable about the rich man and Lazarus for a reason, and it wasn’t to say that wealth is bad. People who enjoy wealth and treat others as less than human are not living out God’s love. They may one day find themselves on the outside of community, looking in and wondering where they went wrong. This is a lesson church would do well to pay heed to.

If we do not embrace the fullness of humanity in all its diversity, including gender diversity, the church will be pushed further and further from the center of society. God promised all that the people of God will always have a home. Jesus warned us again and again to care for the vulnerable among us. We must trust God’s love for us enough to embody it for everyone, without exception. This is what it means to be godly and to live in that home God has promised.

Mattel shouldn’t be more godly than the church. It’s that simple. Now what are we going to do about it? Do you trust God’s promise of a home, God’s liberating love for all people, to embody that love and share it with all whom you meet?

For more sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year C – Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 29, 2019
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 with Psalm 91:1-6,14-16 or
Amos 6:1a, 4-7 with Psalm 146
1 Timothy 6:6-19 and
Luke 16:19-31

Photo: CC0image by Gerd Altmann

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

No More Worthless Things

Someone left a message on one of my blog posts this week asking me to contact him to “discuss the role of women in church.” Not likely. You want to take the Bible literally when it’s convenient. You want to say that women can’t be clergy, that marriage is “between a man and a woman,” that God uses storms to punish sinners, that prosperity is a sign of God’s blessing, and a few other things. However, you let the call for repentance from the prophets and from Jesus go unheeded. You ignore Jesus’ call to care for the vulnerable. You would rather spend time arguing about what the bible does or does not say than actually trying to embody Christ in service to your neighbor. No, I’m not going to discuss the role of women in church with you.

Of course, our more conservative siblings don’t have the corner of the market on biblical literalism. It’s the default setting here in the U.S. Yet, we are also only literal when it is convenient for us or when we want to reject the God described by biblical writers. It’s easier to engage in discussion about what is or isn’t in the Bible than it is to discern what God may be asking of us. It is easier to say we are “not that kind of a Christian” than it is to proclaim what kind of a Christian we are. It’s easier to cling to our traditions while complaining about the many who no longer seek a faith community than it is to transform church into something that meets the needs of people around us. What might it take for us to leave behind the tedious and petty things that divide us and focus on building the realm of God?

Jeremiah lamented the foolish ways of God’s people. He pointed out how far from God the people had strayed, not for the first time. It seems we human beings have a startling capacity to choose “worthless things” and become rather worthless ourselves. We have a tendency to blame God for the hard times, the times of scarcity and suffering, and credit ourselves with times of abundance, the times of success and happiness. How long will we worship the false gods of our own making rather than seek the God whose steadfast love outlasts our foolishness?

While we keep digging our cracked cisterns, God keeps whispering of Living Waters that quench thirst and nourish parched souls. Today’s gods have more names than Baal and they are not always made of gold, but they are just as false. These gods will lead us to pursue our own personal pleasures or our individual successes. They will keep us divided from our neighbors and enamored with our own sense of power. They will not lead us to wholeness. They will not lead to justice. They will not set anyone free. Yet, they are demanding and will consume us if we don’t leave them behind.

In Luke’s Gospel Jesus tells the parable about the wedding banquet. He saw how people entered a banquet room and took their seats as honored guests. He cautioned them about assuming how important they were compared to other guests. Jesus also had something to say about who should be invited to such a feast. The guest list shouldn’t be confined to those for whom feasting was normative. No. Those we wouldn’t dream of inviting should be called in to sit at the table and eat their fill. (Where’s biblical literalism when it might do some good?)

Isn’t it time we stopped hiding behind our fears and started to live as the people of God in more than just name? If we call ourselves Christians how can we be silent when children are in cages? When the government seeks to take away women’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights? When ICE is given the freedom to pursue everyone whose skin is not white or whose religion is not Christian? When the poor are blamed for being poor? When racism is held up as the national standard? When people in the U.S. (and elsewhere in the world) are dying because they do not have access to food, healthcare, or shelter?

If we are Christians, where is the proof that we are members of the Body of Christ? Where is the repentance? Where is the service? Where is the love of neighbor and self? What will it take for us to love one another as God loves us? If you and I don’t do something to change what is, then who will? We never know when angels might be hanging around.

God is still waiting for us to give up these worthless things that we so value and drink deeply of the Living Water. It’s not too late…

If you are looking for more sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year C – Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – September 1, 2019
Jeremiah 2:4-13 with Psalm 81:1, 10-16 or
Sirach 10:12-18 with Psalm 112 and
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 and 
Luke 14:1, 7-14

Photo: CC0 image by michael gaida

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Hope is at Hand

christmas-eve-436138_1280

Tear gas used on toddlers at the Mexican border. War and violent conflicts continuing in more than twenty-five countries. A national climate report with dire implications. These things are inconsistent with Advent. How is it possible to focus on the ancient story of love and promise when the world seems bent on hatred and destruction? We are, as were Isaiah’s people, a “people who walk in darkness.” When might we “see a great light”?

Despair blankets much of the earth. Where do we find hope when all things point to destruction? What hope is there for a country whose government sanctions tear gas on children and tries to erase Trans* people? Where is the hope for countries who turn away refugees and asylum seekers and make it illegal to be queer? Where is the hope for cities with significant racial disparities? Where is the hope for the neighborhoods of unknown people and varying traditions? Where is the hope for households divided by politics, religion, fear, or hatred? What can possibly chase away the heavy, clinging despair?

Jeremiah told the ancient Israelites that the days of God’s righteousness and justice are surely coming. This was good news when Jeremiah first proclaimed it. It’s good news now, but I’m not sure people hear it or believe it. It’s hard to get excited about making the spiritual journey to Bethlehem when the world seems so focused on destruction. The nights are endless and cold and there is no sign of dawn on the horizon. And, yet, the seasons change and the liturgical seasons change. We are called to seek light even in the midst of the most oblique depths.

Jesus knew how easily we can lose hope for the world, for our country, for our communities, for our families, and for ourselves. He demonstrated how to keep hope alive by empowering the powerless and challenging those who claimed authority but did nothing to help those in need. Even in his last days, Jesus kept trying to tell the disciples that they could continue the work he had begun.

In Luke’s Gospel Jesus paints a very vivid picture of what will happen before his return. Most of what he describes is happening in the world right now, without question. There are signs of the earth’s distress and there is confusion among the nations as to how to deal with it. People live in fear of what is coming next. On the other hand, not very many of us are looking for clouds bearing the Christ who will bring redemption. Fortunately, Jesus doesn’t stop here. Signs of doom and gloom have always been around and people haven’t really paid them much heed.

Lest we get distracted by the very human ways of death and destruction, Jesus continues. The seasons will continue to change. Summer will gave way to fall. Fall will yield to winter. Winter will melt into spring. Spring will brighten into summer. Plants and trees will bloom, grow, and die. When these things happen, according to Luke, we will know that the Realm of God is near. And we should pay attention.

This is good news of truly biblical proportions. As long as we have life and breath and earth continues its journey around the sun, the Realm of God is near. When the world is shrouded in despair and the light of hope is not visible, followers of Christ are called to do as Christ taught. It is our job to bring the Realm of God into the here and now. We are the bearers of hope for those who live in the gloomy depths. We who embody Christ are the lamplighters and the hope igniters. In this there is redemption and the glory and power of Christ.
As we embark on this Advent journey and light the candle of hope, let us remember that human ways are not God’s ways. We can do better. We can denounce violence in all its forms and challenge those with authority who glory in fear and oppression. We can learn ways to live gently on this earth and heal the damage we have done. We who embody Christ can ensure that no one is erased or outcast or unseen. We can demonstrate the Love Jesus taught. We can do this here and now because the Realm of God is at hand. Let us all repent and make it manifest. This is hope. This is real. This is now.

If you are looking for sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year C – First Sunday in Advent -December 2, 2018
Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-10
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36

Photo: CC0 image by Gerd Altmann

Categories
Musings Story

More than a Dream

sunrise

Some of you know that I have this deal with God about angels and visions and such things. Most of the time God keeps God’s end of the deal. I agree to firmly believe that angels and visions are real and God agrees to communicate with me when I dream so that I can say, “It was just a dream.” As I said, God usually keeps the bargain and last night was one of those times when I dreamed of being in God’s presence.

As is typical for me, I found myself on a deserted stretch of beach early in the morning. Only a hint of sunrise tinted the dark horizon red. Out of the darkness, a voice said, “I really wish you wouldn’t resist so much.” In the dream, I knew exactly what the person was talking about.

“Well,” I said after brief reflection, “I really wish you wouldn’t make it so hard.”

Laughter mingled with the cries of the gulls. “I’m rather used to all night wrestling matches and I don’t get to engage in them as often as I once did.”

“So why are you complaining about my resistance? I don’t particularly enjoy wrestling with you. It’s exhausting and you have a way of getting what you want, anyway.”

More laughter. “If you know I get what I want, then why struggle so much?”

I’m a bit exasperated at this point. “Because I don’t always recognize it’s you I’m wrestling with and then I don’t always know what you want. If you could be a little more clear…”

There’s silence as the deep crimson line of sunrise expands. Then the voice whose presence I can feel but cannot see says, “I’m as clear as I can be. We both know that my ways are not your ways.”

“Your mistake,” I say. “You could have made it easier on yourself if you had made it so that human ways were holy ways.”

“True. But how hideously boring for all of us!” I heard the smile.

“So, why did you keep me up all night this time?”

Silence mingles with the fading night as orange tints spill into the red and gulls call out their morning greetings.

“I have something I want to write on your heart.”

“Seriously? No wonder I was wrestling with you. Can’t you just tell me since we’re talking now? Instead of, you know, scribbling something on my heart.”

Laughter swells with the waves rolling onto the shore. “You couldn’t hear me if I said it ten thousand times. It needs to be written on your heart so you can find it in the silence after the storms or when despair has a grip on you or when you feel completely lost. I have to write the word I have for you on your heart so you will always know where to find it.”

“Crap.” I take a breath of salt air into my lungs and hold it for a moment. As I let it out, I recognize the truth in what I’ve been told. The word really does need to be written on my heart. I take another long, slow breath before I consent. “Okay, then. Will it hurt?”

“Probably, it’ll hurt often and for as long as you have breath.”

“Wait!” I say with force. “Are you telling me that this is like what you did to Jacob? He limped for the rest of his life and I’m guessing everyone knew why.”

Quiet laughter, like a gentle breeze, floated around me. “Well, I suppose it’ll kind of be like that. You won’t limp, exactly. You might not notice any difference since the word I’m going to write on your heart has been in it since before you were born. Others will see it, too, and they’ll know that you have spent time with me.”

“You know I’m not a fan of this mystery-type stuff.”

“I know. You’re a bigger fan than you allow yourself to acknowledge.”

“Maybe, but I’m okay with that.” I turned away from the beauty of the sunrise to face the direction I thought the voice was coming from. “So are you going to do this thing? Write a word on my heart?”

From a distance that could have been inside or outside of me, I heard more laughter which was strangely soothing. It was as if the owner of the voice took great delight in spending time with me. Mixed in with the laughter came the assurance, “I already have.”

The sun was up over the horizon now and the bright, fiery hues of sunrise were giving way to blue sky. I stood on the waters’ edge, feeling the coolness on my toes, and looked down into my heart. And, sure enough, there was a word there. Yet, as the light changed, the world appeared to be different. I watched this for a while. Compassion became love became kindness became grace became forgiveness became hope became joy… an unending turning of goodness was written on my heart. All I had to do was be still and I would notice. And then when I am active, others will notice.

I woke up still smelling the salt air and sure that God’s word is engraved on my heart.

RCL – Year C – Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost – October 16, 2016
Jeremiah 31:27-34 with Psalm 119:97-104 or
Genesis 32:22-31 with Psalm 121 and
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 and
Luke 18:1-8

Photo: CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

Categories
Musings

ALL.THE. THINGS.

movement-415768_1920

All. The. Things. Seriously, the last two weeks have been the busiest 14 days of the year and there is no letting up in sight. Two weeks ago, on the eve of Labor Day weekend, I fell and broke two fingers on my right hand. When I met with my spiritual director a few days later, he asked me if there was any kind of spiritual metaphor in my fall. At the time, I laughed and said something like, “Sure. If I go too fast without paying enough attention, I fall. I fall because my depth perception is non-existent (eye-surgery scheduled in two weeks) and I need to be more careful when moving more quickly.” The conversation moved on from there.

I hadn’t really given much thought to the question because I don’t think God communicates with us through such physical experiences. God didn’t make me trip so I would slow down and be more attentive. Then I read the texts for this week and was thrown back to a very vivid memory of my eight-year-old self in church on a Sunday morning. And then my spiritual director’s question hit a little closer to home.

I was in third grade when I started attending church. Of course, in those days kids stayed for the first 10 or 15 minutes of service and then went to Sunday School. It was during one of those children-exiting-worship moments when the congregation began to sing what I heard as, “There is a bomb in Gilead to heal the seasick soul.” I had been seasick and knew how awful that felt, and I really wondered what kind of a bomb could blow seasickness right out of a person. And was Gilead any place near enough to go and get it?

Of course, I eventually saw the lyrics and understood my mistake. But all the activities of the last two weeks and my packed calendar create a kind of motion sickness. Team meetings. Sunday School lessons. Bible Study lessons. Worship preparations. Pastoral care. Doctor’s appointments. Congregational leadership retreat preparations. Conference leadership retreat  preparations. Rallies, protests, trainings, and actions in the community. The list goes on without end. I’m not complaining and I am truly grateful for the vital and energetic congregation I serve. It’s just that right now I’m having trouble finding balance.

However, there is a balm in Gilead for sure. Jesus is pretty clear about how to find it, too. We cannot serve two masters. It’s not possible. We cannot serve God and mammon. Mammon, though an outdated word, better describes what Jesus is getting at here than simply saying, “wealth.” It’s more than just money. It’s the kind of richness or riches that inhibits a person’s relationship with God. These days, it could be nearly anything that is valued for its own sake rather than those things which draw us closer to God in gratitude or service.

In these last few weeks, I’ve felt the pull of these powerful, little gods often. I’ve wanted to just keep going and make sure everything is done perfectly. I haven’t wanted to ask for help or even acknowledge that two broken fingers have slowed me down in any way. I’ve wanted to get things done more for the sake of achievement and checking them off my to-do list than in service to God. Several times I’ve had to take a deep breath and remind myself that these things I have on my to-do list are holy things. They are to be done in service to God and the people of God and not for any other reason.

calendar-547619_1920The “motion sickness” I have experienced frequently over the last few weeks occurs when I forget to breathe deeply in the Holy Spirit and just focus on tasks to be done. When I stop to remember that my busyness is useless if I am not deeply connected to the God I serve, balance and mindfulness are much easier to maintain. I was correct in my early hearing of that hymn, though. There is a bomb in Gilead to heal the seasick soul. The motion sickness we get from trying to do all the things, can only be blown out of us by the power of the Holy Spirit. You know, that balm that can truly heal the sin-sick soul. My spiritual director was also correct about the metaphor. I fall when I go too fast to pay enough attention and allow my flawed depth perception to guide my feet.

In this season of busyness as the church program year comes into full swing, it’s easy to forget what we are about. It is easy to get distracted by the glittering little gods of our day. We need to choose repeatedly, day by day or moment by moment, which god we will serve. Will it be the pretty ones who will keep us off balance and stressed? Or will it be the One who calls us to the way of peace?

To quote another old hymn, “Guide my feet while I run this race. Yes, my Lord. Guide my feet…”

RCL – Year C – Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 18, 2016
Jeremiah 8:18-9:1 with Psalm 79:1-9 or
Amos 8:4-7 with Psalm 113
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Luke 16:1-13

Top Photo: CC0 image by Ian Holstein

Bottom Photo: CC0 image by Anna

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter Uncategorized

Choosing Life: Shouldn’t this be Easier?

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“Choose life,” the prophet says. Choose life over the deadly ways of lesser gods. Choose life over all that shines, sparkles, and glitters. Choose life over what you possess and over what possesses you. It sounds so easy and desirable. Sure, until Jesus comes along and names the cost right out loud. If we truly choose life, we have to let go of everything.

Years ago I had a therapist who told me that the choice to live or die was mine. She told me that I could choose to continue the self-destructive behavior patterns of my eating disorder and die, or I could choose to change my thoughts and behaviors and live. She made it sound so simple and so enticing. I wanted to choose to live. What she didn’t tell me is that it would be hard and it would be the background music of my life. She didn’t tell me how many things in the world would conspire against my choices, especially when I chose life.

During my second semester of college, I did start making healthier choices. However, there was a cost. Instead of focusing all my energy on food and the powerful cycle of starving, binging, and purging, I had to face the depression and trauma that led me down the eating disorder path. And it was ugly and painful and I didn’t want to deal with it. It was so much easier to “feel fat” than it was to feel pain, fear, and sadness. It was easier to run ten miles than it was to face the feeling of worthlessness that pursued me. It was easier to romance death than to embrace life. Embracing life meant accepting that the past could not be changed and that I had value as a human being, as a child of God. It also meant letting go of pain, anger, and fear. I had to let go of the very thing I thought defined me. Would people see me, recognize my suffering, if I weighed more than 100 pounds?

Choosing life was risky. I had to learn that I was more than a painful bundle of eating disordered thoughts and behaviors. I had to stop paying attention to the hyper-critical voices of self-hatred that had protected me from the intense pain of my childhood. Choosing life meant stepping out of the safety I had constructed and set out, instead, on a path that would lead me to discover just who it is that God created me to be.

Those early days of recovery were hard and painful beyond the words I have to describe them. In many ways they seem so distant from the person I am now. In other ways, they are closer than yesterday. Strangely, enough, I’m still not great at choosing life consistently. There are times when the eating disordered voices that still hum along in the back of my head get quite loud. It can take a lot of energy to ignore them sometimes. Though, choosing life is bigger than that these days.

Choosing life means letting go of the protections of privilege. Choosing life means taking a risk to try to alleviate someone else’s suffering and maybe getting it wrong. Choosing life means showing up to advocate for justice even when most would prefer to keep the systems of oppression in place. Choosing life means finding my own personal value without considering the numbers on the scale. Choosing life means letting go, every day, of the things I reach for to fill the empty places and define me to make room for the Spirit to move in my life in new ways. Choosing life means sitting still long enough to hear God’s voice and having the courage to respond. Choosing life means putting in the effort to live a life of love when it would be so much easier to give into the pervasive culture of anger and fear.

The problem is that these things are so hard. Jesus was pretty clear about that. Of course, he was pretty clear that while there’s a cost to choosing life, the reward is greater. I wish I was better at choosing life. I wish I didn’t get distracted by pretty things. I wish I wasn’t so quick to anger and could wake up joyful each day. I wish I never had to quiet the voices that tell me I’m not good enough and I’m too fat. However, I’ve never regretted choosing life. I’ve only regretted the times when I have chosen lesser gods.

From days long forgotten, God has been reminding us to choose life and warning us against the flimsy promises of false gods. God has also been quite clear about the costs of choosing life. We will have to let go of everything we think makes us who we are to make room for the Holy Spirit to shape us into who we were created to be. There’s nothing quite like choosing life to lead us into the presence of God. It’s too bad that there is something within us that is so reluctant to run full-speed down that path. In the meantime, there is grace.

O God, you have searched me and known me. 
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; 

you discern my thoughts from far away. 

You search out my path and my lying down, 

and are acquainted with all my ways.

RCL – Year C – Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost – September 4, 2016
Jeremiah 18:1-11 with Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 or
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 with Psalm 1
Philemon 1:1-21
Luke 14:25-33

Photo: CC0 image by Jill Wellington

Categories
Prayer

A Little Worthlessness and a Lot of Love: A Pastoral Prayer

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Holy and steadfast God, you have loved your wandering and distracted people for more generations than we can remember. You have forgiven us when we turned to other gods and regathered us when we scattered ourselves. Jeremiah speaks of a time when your people “went after worthless things,” and became “worthless themselves.” These words, written in ancient times, hold truth for us now. We have pursued so many things that leave us feeling worthless and empty. Remind us that you are the One who is living water and that our lesser gods hold no life for us. Forgive us for repeating this sins of our ancestors, and reclaim us once more.

Ever-patient God, you wait for us to sing aloud of your strength, to shout in joy to you. So few remember your saving acts and many stumble in the pursuit of human ways. You long for us to come to you, to seek your counsel, and listen to your wisdom. You have saved your people from themselves over and over again. Yet, here we are. We have wandered far enough from you that we have forgotten the sweetness of life in you. Pry open our narrow views and let us taste the goodness you have planned for us. Inspire us, once more, to set aside our selfish ways. May we build communities of forgiveness, grace, and love where condemnation, fear, and hatred now abide.

Loving and forgiving God, you provide constant reminders of your love for us. You call us to “mutual love” and remind us to show hospitality to strangers for they might be your messengers. You have so clearly laid out for us the way to live as your people. We are to look down on no one, not even prisoners. We are to be careful not to be consumed by the desire for money and wealth because they so easily become the focus of our worship. You want us to remember those who have gone before us in faith, trusted you, and stood unafraid in the face of conflict, ridicule, and rejection. We tend to live in fear, protecting what we have. You would have us live boldly, doing what is good, and sharing all that we have with those around us. Infuse us with your love once more so that we cannot forget that you are with us and we have no cause to be afraid.

Persistent and passionate God, you call us into our best selves. You remind us that we are no more or less valuable than our neighbors. There is no shortage of your love for us. We do not need to neglect or condemn or neighbors in order to feel better about ourselves. Your table is open to all, without exception. We may arbitrarily decide that whole is better than broken, or healthy is better than sick, or straight is better than queer, or white is better than black, or I am better than the person next to me, but you would say otherwise. You claim us all as your own and expect that we will embody your love to one another with the same generosity and abundance. Moreover, you want us to do this with joy and humility. Heal the deep insecurity of our hearts and shower us with your forgiveness. May we one day be your church without division.

Ever-present God, the truth we so often fail to remember is that you are always with us. You wait patiently when we fill our days with worthless pursuits. You watch as we separate from each other in anger, fear, ignorance, and hatred. You hold out hope for us even when we embrace empty gods of our own making. You have written your love for us in the pages of sacred story, in the beauty of creation, and the deep silences of our hearts. Continue to be merciful, Holy One, until we learn gratitude, hospitality, humility, and peace, until we trade human ways for holy ways. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

If you are looking for sermon help, you might want to read here.

RCL – Year C – Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 28, 2016
Jeremiah 2:4-13 with Psalm 81:1, 10-16 or
Sirach 10:12-18 with Psalm 112
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14

Photo: CC0 image by Jonny Linder