Friday, November 13, 2015

Elinor Jo Davis ~ November 10, 2015

I wrote this note to share with my daughter and son in law - Hannah and Nelson Davis, after the birth and loss of their daughter earlier this week.  With their permission I share it now, along with my deepest sympathy and prayers for all who have lost children of their own.


Dear Ellie Jo,

Today was your birthday. This morning your earthly mommy and daddy woke up to hope and dreams for the life they would live with you.  They love you so very much.  Mommy has been dreaming and planning for you for a very long time. She is such a wonderful woman and I know you would have been loved and nurtured in a happy and loving home. 

But for some reason you made your arrival too soon. And as much as we wanted you to wait till March it just didn't happen.  It is a mystery that we struggle to understand.  

Your daddy told me about how perfect you are. How beautiful you are and how brave your mommy is right now. He is trying very hard to be brave too. We are all trying to be brave and hopeful. But we are all sad because we just didn't have enough time to share all of the love we have for you with you. 

Today we weep. And tomorrow too. Some day we will be able to hold your little sister or brother in our arms.  And when we do we will be sure to tell them about our sweet Ellie Jo who came too soon and who now is in heaven with your great grandma Ellie (your name sake ) and Alan and Angie and your Great Grandma and Grandpa Wise and all those we love who now rest in peace with our Heavenly Father - who lives with you - in a place where there are no more tears. Where death doesn't have the final word and where one day we will join you.

I love you Elinor Jo Davis. 

Grammie Deborah 

Monday, October 5, 2015

For the Beauty of the Earth

(It was my turn to write a column for the Waverly Newspaper - so here you are, my latest offering.)

Something happened overnight – as the rains moved through – it’s as if nature flipped a switch and Autumn arrived. The pumpkin EVERYTHING sales have foreshadowed Autumn’s arrival…along with our area farmers who have begun to bring in the harvest. It’s an every day occurrence now to have to slow down for lumbering grain wagons being pulled by a tractor up Bremer Avenue.

With the arrival of Autumn Friday night football games are even sweeter, and many of us will trek off to an apple orchard to pick up a bushel or a peck of nice crisp apples. (Have I already mentioned pumpkin everything??)

To me Autumn is a reminder that when God was finished creating the heavens and earth and everything upon it; “God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good.” (Genesis 1:31a)

This morning as I enjoyed the crisp, clean sparkling blue Iowa sky the words of this lovely hymn by Folliot S. Pierpoint came to mind:

For the beauty of the earth, 
for the glory of the skies, 
for the love which from our birth
over and around us lies;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

We seem to be pretty good at oohing and aaahhing over the beauty of our Iowa landscape, but we seem to forget that with goodness comes great responsibility. We, as co-inhabitants of this beautiful world, are invited to be caretakers of the world and everything in it: waterways, the quality of the air, access to food and water and shelter for all people are all part and parcel with being caretakers of the God’s good creation.

I think it is time for the Church to join in the call for the care of creation and I have been so inspired by Pope Francis, who just this summer called all people to “ ‘change direction’ by taking on the beauty and responsibility of the task of ‘caring for our common home’.”

So what does it mean to think of the earth as our common home? We will each have to wrestle with this one, but I think we could start the conversation by thinking about how we would treat a guest to our homes. Do we offer our guests a place at the table? A glass of cool water to drink? Perhaps a bed to rest on? Should we not do likewise with those who share our Common Home?

Last week I was a guest at the Catholic Worker House: Nashville Greenlands. During my stay I was welcomed into the simple rhythm of the community. We prepared and shared meals based on the food that was growing in the back yard, we enjoyed the quiet of the night on the front porch, we walked as much as possible, and spent time in conversation with our neighbors. Simple things that many of us would do more of often - if only we had more time in the day. And maybe that’s the point. In the busy-ness of our lives we have forgotten to stop and be present in the beauty of God’s good creation.

For the beauty of each hour
of the day and of the night,
hill and vale, and tree and flower,
sun and moon, and stars of light;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

Each hour and each day we have a choice. Just as many of us chose to step outside the other evening to watch the eclipse, we can (and should) choose to be more mindful of the gentle rhythm of God’s good creation and our common home. I honestly believe that our lives, and the future of our children depend on it.

On the sixth day God completed all the work that he had done, and on the seventh day God rested from all the work that he had done. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all the work of creation. (Genesis 2:2-3)

May you and yours be blessed as you enjoy this beautiful Autumn, please don’t forget to pause to take it all in.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Looking for God in all the right places

(To follow is my column for the Waverly, Iowa newspaper.  It was published on Thursday, July 23, 2015.  I'm sharing it as I continue to process my experience of riding a bus from Livingston, Montana to Salt Lake City to pick up my son's car that had broken down in Utah last month.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015.  Salt Lake City, Utah.  I am writing this at 6:00 am Mountain Time, from the lobby of the bus depot. It's not the article I had planned to submit this morning, but it's the one that's on my heart - so please bear with me. 

A quick break in Dillon, Mt
I've spent the better part of the past 12 hours riding on a Greyhound bus with 10 strangers. While it is doubtful that we will ever meet again, my time spent with them has impacted me in ways that I'm still sorting out.

More than one is traveling with all of their worldly possessions in backpacks and suitcases. One young man is on his way to Las Vegas, his leg in a cast. He's hoping to get a fresh start but isn't quite sure where he will live once he gets there as the shelter he arranged to stay at won't take folks with injuries 'for liability purposes.' He lamented that they are a Christian place so he doesn't understand why they won't take him. I told him I'd pray for him, so now every time he sees me he asks how I'm doing and calls me sweetheart. I am old enough to be his mother.

Another young man just gave someone who was asking for help fifty bucks. When I asked him about it he said he had been stranded before and if he has extra he is glad to be able to help. "The guy seemed genuine, you can just tell."

There's a woman with dreadlocks sleeping across her luggage. She looks exhausted. When we had an hour layover last night she offered me her blanket to stay warm.

It's strange to feel connected to folks when we don't even know one another's name, but I do feel a connection, not just because we have shared an adventure. It's because I see Christ in their faces, in the ways they treat others. People who might not fit in back home in Waverly made space for me without the formalities of knowing what I do for a living or where I'm from.

It may seem odd but I feel very safe right now, even though I am way out of my element. I am at peace and that is more than enough. We are living in the moment, waiting expectantly for what's next in our journeys.

To be honest I am fighting back my mothering instincts. I'd like nothing more than to invite everyone over, cook a big meal and provide a shower and a bed so that they can get a good night’s rest. I wonder if this is what Jesus asked of Mary and Martha - open their home and extend hospitality at a moment’s notice to whomever was traveling with Jesus.

As I think about that I imagine it had to be exciting for them to be a part of the movement that was changing the hearts and lives of Israel. And so, when Jesus scolded Martha to come and sit down and just be, it seemed so out of place; there was a meal to prepare and beds to be made, and yet Jesus said softly, stop doing Martha, and just be.

This is what I have been invited to do this night. I can't fix anything. I can't change circumstances. I need to just be. Watch. Trust that God is present and doing the heavy lifting.

And so I pause and give thanks for God’s mercy and grace. I pray that those who are on this journey find safe places to land and that their lives are a blessing to the world. And I wonder how I (and the community of Waverly, too, for that matter) can be a part of the movement that changes hearts and minds in Jesus' name in new ways.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Do you not care? A meditation on Mark 4:35-41

To follow is the manuscript of my sermon on Sunday, June 21, 2015.  Not only was it Father's Day, but it was also the day after our community welcomed 10,000+ guests for the Gentlemen of the Road music festival.  But more important, it was the first Sunday following the Charleston massacre at Emmanuel AME church.

(Please note this is my preaching manuscript, which was written for the ear, so punctuation is not perfect)

Mark 4:35-41    Jesus stops a storm

35 Later that day, when evening came, Jesus said to them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” 36 They left the crowd and took him in the boat just as he was. Other boats followed along.

37 Gale-force winds arose, and waves crashed against the boat so that the boat was swamped. 38 But Jesus was in the rear of the boat, sleeping on a pillow. They woke him up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re drowning?”

39 He got up and gave orders to the wind, and he said to the lake, “Silence! Be still!” The wind settled down and there was a great calm. 40 Jesus asked them, “Why are you frightened? Don’t you have faith yet?”

41 Overcome with awe, they said to each other, “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him!”

I would love to take a pass this morning – we’ve had a long weekend…we’ve welcomed 10,000 or so guests to our community – we’ve dealt with re-routed traffic – and as a church we offered hospitality to literally hundreds of people over the past 3 days. We have been blessed to be a blessing…we truly live in a wonderful community. We have seen the very best of humanity – and that is something to cherish and celebrate.

A nice, simple message about Jesus taking care of us no matter what the storms of life may be would make sense – would be lovely – and would fit in well with what many of us have experienced in our lives. We’ve all known days of joy – as well as days of trials and tribulation

Or I could preach about Father’s Day….maybe I should do that...

But truth of the matter is that I am sick – and I am tired – and the Holy Spirit will not give me a pass, not this Sunday.

This Sunday I have to hold the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other – in tension with one another - because when you get right down to it – there is nothing simple about Jesus or his message of radical love, peace and justice. Making nice isn’t going to cut it

My heart is broken about events in two cities - both very near and dear to me…

I have never been to Columbine, Sandy Hook or Fort Hood Texas – but Charleston – I worked in North Charleston for a season of my life – I know and love this community… the news of the tragedy there this week…makes me deeply sad.

In Charleston, South Carolina – a young man was welcomed into a Wednesday evening Bible study at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church – a historic Black church that was forced to split from the Methodist Episcopal Church –because of the racist behavior of our spiritual forefathers and mothers nearly 200 years ago - back in 1816.

Wednesday evening, after an hour of fellowship and conversation – after an hour of prayer and opening up the scriptures together – this young man – in cold blood – killed:

Cynthia Hurd, 54, branch manager for the Charleston County Library System

Susie Jackson, 87, longtime church member

Ethel Lance, 70, employee of Emanuel AME Church for 30 years

Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49, admissions counselor of Southern Wesleyan University

The Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41, state senator, Reverend of Emanuel AME Church

Tywanza Sanders, 26, earned business administration degree from Allen University

Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74, retired pastor (died at MUSC)

Rev. Sharonda Singleton, 45, track coach at Goose Creek High School

Myra Thompson, 59, church member

I think its important to hear their names and to grieve their deaths… and I think its important to say – enough is enough – this was plain and simple a hate crime – and we have no place for hate any more

Enough is enough – we have to say it together, friends –

Enough is enough – not only are we fellow citizens of a wonderful country – but we are first and foremost citizens of the kingdom of God – a kingdom centered on the goodness of God’s creation – a kingdom that says that we – you and I – are created in the image of God, we are bound together by a sisterhood and brotherhood based not on the color of ones skin, but on the compassion in ones heart – a kingdom that was built on these powerful words from Jesus’ first sermon – reading from the Gospel of Luke chapter 4 – beginning with verse 16:

Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been raised. On the Sabbath he went to the synagogue as he normally did and stood up to read. 17 The synagogue assistant gave him the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.

He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners

and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the synagogue assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed on him.  He began to explain to them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.”

This is the basic message of Jesus’ ministry –

offer good news to the poor, proclaim release to the prisoners,

recovery of sight to the blind and liberate the oppressed!

And it was lived out in his life, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven – and in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost – and we – as sisters and brothers in Christ, bound together by virtue of our baptism are called to continue his work – because the Spirit of the Lord IS upon us – and we, you and I as Christ followers, have been anointed to…

preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners

and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed!

We know these things…we really do…and Charleston is so far away, whatever could we have done to stop such senseless violence?

And yet, my heart is broken – not only by the events in Charleston – but also – because of events closer to home.

I have heard about the contentious Waverly City Council meeting last Monday night. Words slung like weapons - singling out – these people – or those people – hateful words such as those have no place in our gatherings, let alone in our City Hall.

As people of faith we have to say enough is enough!

As people of faith we have Jesus as our guide – all people – are God’s beloved – all people are valuable and have something to contribute – and all people come under the protection and love that we, as United Methodists, call – Prevenient Grace – the love and care of God before we are even aware of God’s love, mercy and grace – offered without cost – freely, freely it is given….

What are we doing friends? How could we have gone so astray????!!!

I think a lot of the issues we stem from the same issue the disciples were facing in that boat that night…fear….

Tired from a full day of traveling around Galilee with Jesus – they set out on a boat to cross the lake – Jesus, fully confident in the skills of the disciples – half of them were fishermen after all – immediately curled up in the back and went to sleep –

But as storms are wont to do – the winds kicked up – and the waves started breaking over the side of the boat – and the situation got away from them…and they were afraid…not just afraid – they were terrified – surely they were about to die!

I don’t blame them – we are wired, as mammals – to respond to frightening situations with a fight or flight instinct –

but as people of faith – we are shown a third way….a way of peace, justice, mercy, compassion, love for one another –available not just for those who look like us, not just for those who talk like us, not just for those who make the same income or have the same vacation itinerary as us…for all God’s children. All means all!

And the disciples knew this…and yet, they still cried out –

Jesus, Master – do you not care that we are perishing? We will surely die!

We could ask the same thing of the churches here in Waverly, across our state – or from sea to shining sea – do we not care that children are dying? Do we not care that we lack adequate mental health care for our citizens? Do we not care that church folk, at prayer, are massacred? Do we not care that hateful words are being spoken in our City Hall?

God cares – and as people of God, we must care too.

Reverend Emily Scott, pastor of St Lydia’s church in Brooklyn, writes about this passage from the Gospel of Mark and about how important it is for each of us to stand up and speak out for justice, civil as well as moral justice…she writes…

In Biblical literature, the sea is where the great chaos monster resides, and going out upon the sea is to be subjected to that fear, that chaos — the closeness of everything we cannot control.

For some Black Americans, life is lived out in the midst of that storm. Lived out in the knowledge that your life, the life of a friend, the life of a family member, could be taken in one interaction with a cop gone wrong.

And this week, as we have seen, in the refuge of the sanctuary, in the midst of prayer, by a young white man who has made hatred and white supremacy the center of his belief system.

People of color live life in the midst of a storm that they cannot simply step away from our out of. As white people, we have the privilege of seeing the storm from the outside, stepping away when we choose.

But Jesus is in the midst of the storm. He’s standing next to those who have been weathering it for a long time. And our job, plain and simple, is to follow Jesus.

It’s time, church, that we follow Jesus…

It would have been a whole lot easier to talk about Father’s Day – or about how Jesus is always with us in the midst of life’s storms…a whole lot easier indeed.

In the name of God the Father, The Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day reflections...the Rest of the Story

This week's article for the Waverly Newspaper reflects on the Rest of the Story about Mother's day:
I had almost forgotten that this Sunday is Mother’s Day. Truth be told, it is a bittersweet time for me
My mom, Elinor-Ann, and me
– my mom died in 1987 and while I have a wonderful stepmother, I still miss my mom. Because we were both so young I never got to ask her about parenting let alone about what it was like when she was expecting her first child. And so I approached my own job as a mother with a great deal of fear and trembling and prayer.

Too often we associate Mother’s Day with bouquets of flowers and boxed chocolates, but it can be a really challenging time too. Some women, by circumstance or by choice, never have the opportunity to be a mother, others have had to scrap and fight to provide for their children and others have lost children to illness or accidents. Each life has a story and each story is part of the fabric of our community.

Which is why it is interesting to look back in history and explore the origins of Mother’s Day. The first call for a Mother’s Day dates back to 1870 when Julia Ward Howe, author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, wrote a ‘Call to Action for Women from all Nations’ to gather together to advocate for peace. Her Mother’s Day proclamation speaks to the pain and brokenness that she saw in the aftermath of the Civil War:

Arise then ... women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies, Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience…

It wasn’t until 40 years later that Mother’s Day was recognized as a holiday on a national level, by president Woodrow Wilson, thanks to the work of Anna Jarvis, who also called for women to advocate for peace as World War I raged in Europe.

As a daughter, a mother of four, and a citizen of our wonderful country, I too pray for peace. I pray for peace as I watch a city in our own country torn apart by violence, I pray for peace when I read about the struggles of our veterans, men and women who responded to their nations call to serve and protect, I pray for the mothers (and fathers) around the world who teach their sons and daughters about charity, mercy and patience.

This Sunday, as we gather in our homes, in our places at play and in our houses of worship to celebrate our Mothers, let us join our hearts and minds and voices together to pray for peace, for justice, for hope for the households of our community.

Let us pray for families that work hard to be caring and supportive of one another and let us seek ways to help other families gain strength.

Let us pray for families suffering because of abuse, who feel separated from God, who experience constant hardship, or are without homes.

Let us also pray for families that are judged wrongly, for those caught in a system of mistrust and greed, and for families for whom the world is a cold and uncaring place.

Let us give thanks for families who read the scriptures, pray together, worship in the home and seek to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

Let us ask God to help us remember that justice was not meant for only a few but was intended for all. Open our eyes for the ways we as a community of faith can be a witness to all in our homes, in our communities, and in our world. (adapted from the Prayer for the Christian Home)

This is my Mother’s Day prayer.

Today I give thanks for my step-mom, Bonnie and for my children - who teach me each and every day about what it means to be a mom.  Bless you all this Mother's Day and every day!  May we infuse all that we do with the love that comes from God our mother and father...

my step-mom Bonnie and my dad

So blessed to be my children's mom

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Crazy little thing called Grace

A sermon based on pie AND grace?  Why not?!  The season of Lent continues with a message that I shared with Trinity United Methodist Church on March 15, 2015.  (please forgive the punctuation - I write for the ear)

Ephesians 2:8-10

8 You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. 9 It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. 10 Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.

Luke 15:1-7

All the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen to him. 2 The Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3 Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose someone among you had one hundred sheep and lost one of them. Wouldn’t he leave the other ninety-nine in the pasture and search for the lost one until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he is thrilled and places it on his shoulders. 6 When he arrives home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost sheep.’ 7 In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who changes both heart and life than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to change their hearts and lives.

It was just about this time of year – 11 years ago – when I was in my first year as a pastor when we had this hair brained idea to take a group of kids from our church on a mission trip. A seminary classmate up in Wisconsin had formed a team to do Hurricane relief work on the outer banks of North Carolina and they had some openings – all we’d have to do is come up with $300 a piece and we’d be able to tag along.

Before long we had our team…only problem was, I had never been on a mission trip before myself. Sure I had done lots of service projects – but never a full blown get on a bus – traipse across the country with a group of young people and adults mission trip…

And then, there was the money – the community was rural, agricultural and, quite honestly – folks were barely scraping by. There was no way the families could afford $300 to send their kids on a mission trip! We’d have to get organized and do some fundraising – and quick!

Our first step was to pray – and then, we took stock of our resources – thankfully we had a secret weapon – Lola…and we had 13 young people eager to work hard. Yards were raked, garages were cleaned out…and then..don’t forget Lola…

Lola was the most sought after baker in the area – she made pies…pies so good that at the home basketball games, when there would be a cake auction – the first thing to go was Lola’s pie – before ANY of the cakes!

Lola was a member of Apple River United Methodist Church – and she volunteered to help us make pies to sell – all we had to do was take the orders…so, the tradition of baking pies for fundraisers was born – that first Easter we baked well over 100 pies…at $10 each, with donated ingredients, that’s a great fundraiser!

Before we knew it we had met our goal and we were on our way to Cedar Island, North Carolina.

We traveled with a group from two other churches – and while the kids were working in the neighborhood, helping the residents of the fishing village recover for the storm the year before, I was watching and learning from Josh and Stan as they lead the group.

Each day we’d have a hearty breakfast, pack our lunches, go out in the community and work in groups. We’d have a devotion during lunch break, go back to work and then return to the church in the afternoon for some R&R before supper and worship together.

Much of how we did mission trips the next three years in Apple River and then two years in Spirit Lake are modeled after what I learned from Josh and Stan. They were both musicians – so we had a band a long – the work was meaningful, the worship was great and I soaked up lots of good ideas – along with an idea of some things to avoid – all in all – it was such a blessing and a launching pad for some terrific experiences for youth as well as adults over the next 6 years.

I wish I had some pictures, but truth is – these adventures were before Facebook – and digital cameras.

But let’s go back to pie…yes pie.

What I didn’t realize is that the greatest gift – the biggest take away wasn’t the work we did on the mission trips….it was the pie – the experience of working together to bake pies, Lola patiently teaching us how to make them – so they would be perfect – and delicious and worthy of being called Lola’s pies…

the excitement of the pie baking days was great energy for our church – and those who bought them were actually really appreciative – they loved not only the pies – they liked being a part of our fundraiser! By the way, the tradition continues – and this year they made nearly 300 pies the week before Thanksgiving!

And….i learned HOW to make pies…something I had failed at miserably for my 42 years prior to my appointment to Apple River United Methodist Church. Don’t get me wrong – I love pie…

But, my mom - well she couldn't make a pie crust that was worth eating.  Harsh words, for sure - but true none the less.  And MY poor pie baking skills?  Well, I based that on a genetic defect, thanks Mom.

Under Lola’s tutelage, I learned how to make a darn good pie crust.

And I have shared the recipe with others…the recipe has been emailed, copied, posted on Facebook – and even projected on the screen during worship!

It’s not a secret – but a gift – to share…

Sorta like grace.

Our lesson this morning from Ephesians is all about Grace…

You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. 9 It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. 10 Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.

Adam Hamilton in his book, Revival: Living Faith as Wesley Lived it, expands on this with what I believe is the best definition of Grace that I have heard or read…and this is saying something, because I have asked people for years for a definition of grace that speaks to the simplicity and yet the awesome wonder of this word…

Hamilton writes:

Grace, as Paul uses it, is an act of kindness, an expression of selfless love that is completely undeserved and is given without any expectation of repayment.

We are never more like God than when we are giving selflessly to others. Because God created us to live in this way, we seldom feel more alive and joyful than when we are serving, blessing, and helping someone else.

That is grace.

How amazing is Grace! In Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost we have been given the greatest gift – Satan does not have the last word – death does not have the last word – sin does not have the last word – they were defeated by Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross – and It is a gift of God’s love and forgiveness – poured out lavishly for you – and for me.

Last week we left Wesley at Aldersgate, where his heart was strangely warmed by the realization that God loved even him. God’s forgiveness was a gift for him too – how he missed it, we will never know – but he finally had the assurance that he needed to be able to live more fully as God’s beloved son. Charles Wesley captured this sense of gratitude in the hymn And Can It Be that I Should Gain – we will sing it as our closing hymn this morning…

What happened next is faith in action – or grace – grace upon grace even…

John and his brother Charles were compelled to share their story of how God was working in their lives with everyone they met – their passionate embrace of God’s grace took them out of the comfort of the University – a pretty safe place to be – and out to the world.

The message they shared is the message that Paul was getting at – First – that grace is a quality of God’s character whereby God loves, blesses, and forgives humanity despite our sin.

In other words, God loves us and doesn’t give up on us…God’s forgiveness is extended to each and every one of us…thanks be to God!

And second – Grace is God, actively working by the power of the Holy Spirit, to draw us closer to God and to restore us to what God created us to be.

You are beloved – you are beautiful – you are precious in God’s sight…we each have unique characteristics – and yet we are bound together by virtue of our baptism into the family of God – a great big beautiful, messy and altogether wonderful family…

Are you owning the gift? Do you appreciate the radical nature of what God is telling us?

That’s the difference, I believe, between an Old Testament understanding of God – and a New Testament understanding of God… At just the right moment in history, God came to earth – to set the record straight…God revealed himself through the life of Jesus.

Jesus in his life here on earth sought out the least and the lost – because they seemed to get it…we would know them as the sinners and tax collectors – and the Pharisees were pretty unhappy with Jesus – they wanted him to conform to their rules and image of what the messiah was supposed to be all about – but Jesus would have none of it…

The more ‘unsavory folk’ were used to the harsh realities of life – and so Jesus’ stories resonated with them –

he taught them with stories about lost sheep and the prodigal son and missing coins…to help them see that each person – every one of us- is beloved…unique…and necessary for the health of the whole body!

With these examples and definitions of Grace in mind, let’s take a few minutes – share with someone nearby and experience you had this past week that was an act of kindness, an expression of selfless love that is completely undeserved and is given without any expectation of repayment.  (pause for conversation)

With these images in mind – can you see how what we need more of is the hope that comes from following Christ – and less on the things of this world?

One more story – and then a challenge…

Wesley amp’d it up at his society meetings – he and his friends got busy visiting those in prison and sharing what they had with widows and orphans – but everything changed when his buddy, George Whitefield – sent an invitation for John to join him in Bristol – to preach and teach the workers there…

At first John refused the invitation – he was an ordained Anglican priest – he didn’t have a pulpit in Bristol…what Whitefield was proposing was preaching out in fields for heavens sake! but when a poster came in the mail – advertising that the Rev. John Wesley would be preaching – well, what else could he do…?

And the rest, is history

Wesley shared his story – how he experienced the transformative grace of God.  How his heart was 'strangely warmed' and in the midst of this, lives were transformed by his powerful witness.

We each have a story of God's grace.  We each know someone who could perhaps benefit from hearing our stories.  How will you share your story this week? Who will you share it with? How will you go about sharing yourself selflessly so as to honor God?

We can only do so by the power of the Holy Spirit – and so this will be my prayer for each and every one of us… that we tune in to God this week - and seek out ways to share God's love with others in new ways!

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

a healing place...for ALL God's children

Posting some of my sermons from this season of life - as we consider God's call and claim on the Church (note big C Church - the church across the connections) to walk alongside be places of healing, hope and reconciliation...(note that I write for the ear, and thus the extra dots and dashes to slow me down...)

Mark 1:21-39

Jesus and his followers went into Capernaum. Immediately on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and started teaching.  The people were amazed by his teaching, 
for he was teaching them with authority, not like the legal experts.  
Suddenly, there in the synagogue, a person with an evil spirit screamed, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are. 
You are the holy one from God.”

“Silence!” Jesus said, speaking harshly to the demon. “Come out of him!”  
The unclean spirit shook him and screamed, then it came out. 
Everyone was shaken and questioned among themselves, “What’s this? A new teaching with authority! He even commands unclean spirits and they obey him!”  
Right away the news about him spread throughout the entire region of Galilee.

After leaving the synagogue, Jesus, James, and John went home with Simon and Andrew.  Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed, sick with a fever, and they told Jesus about her at once.  He went to her, took her by the hand, and raised her up. The fever left her, and she served them.

That evening, at sunset, people brought to Jesus those who were sick or demon-possessed.  The whole town gathered near the door.  He healed many who were sick with all kinds of diseases, and he threw out many demons. But he didn’t let the demons speak, because they recognized him.

Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer.  Simon and those with him tracked him down.  When they found him, they told him, “Everyone’s looking for you!”

He replied, “Let’s head in the other direction, to the nearby villages, so that I can preach there too. That’s why I’ve come.”  
He traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and throwing out demons.

The first chapter of the Gospel of Mark packs a lot into it! No shepherds, no manger, no angels…instead we have Jesus - the Son of God – baptized, tempted and then beginning his ministry proclaiming with authority –

“Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! 
Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” (Mark 1:14-15)

And how does Jesus share this good news? By showing up – showing up where God’s people are gathered - in the synagogue – in their homes – in their villages – and everywhere in between…and while he is there he speaks truth in dark places, he renounces the spiritual forces of wickedness – and proclaims the goodness of his heavenly father.

In our baptism we are adopted into the family of God – and as we claim the name Christian we are given power to fight against evil and oppression wherever it presents itself. How are we using this gift from God?

And in our times together – in our worship, our fellowship, our bible study, our prayer time…we experience God through acts of Justice, through experiencing beauty…and by telling our story… we have a foretaste of the kingdom of God.

But as I shared with the children – people are hurting – even here in our midst, just as in Jesus’ day – there are people right here who are in emotional, spiritual physical pain – and who desperately need the Good News…

What if church was the place where healing happened? Isn’t this part of our call – as the Body of Christ in the world today?

We, the mainline church, have a reputation, you know – of being the place where good people gather… where one must put on a fa├žade, a mask, of righteousness… Peter Rollins, a theologian and philosopher from Ireland writes in his book, The Idolatry of God, about the disconnect between our worship places and other places where people gather – how do people hear the truth about God - in word, music and I’d add in action?…Rollins writes…

My concern is that most of the actually existing church acts as a type of drug den with the leaders being like the nicest, most sincere drug dealers. What we pay for are songs, sermons, and prayers that help us avoid our suffering rather than work through it.

In contrast I am arguing for collectives that are more like the professional mourners who cry for us in a way that confronts us with our own suffering, the stand-up comedians who talk about the pain of being human, or the poets singing about life at the local pub.

In other words, a church where the liturgical structure does not treat God as a product that would make us whole but as the mystery that enables us to live abundantly in the midst of life’s difficulties. A place where we are invited to confront the reality of our humanity, not so that we will despair, but so that we will be free of the despair that already lurks within us, the despair that enslaves us, the despair that we refuse to acknowledge.  

Now I am not presenting an argument for the disbanding of our worshipping community…but what if we were more intentional about offering a place for people who are hurting to gather for healing? What if rather than being uncomfortable with suffering we embraced it – so that suffering isn’t what defined us – but that God’s love and loving community along the way was what defined us?

What if we owned our junk, our brokenness – rather than let suffering define us, rather than let pain defeat us, what if we were to say that despite our pain – we are confident that God is in the midst of it…

In this morning’s gospel lesson we see Jesus healing in the sanctuary, in the home and out and about…friends, it may seem like a nice thing that happened a long time ago, but I am here to assure you that healing does happen by the grace of God. But we have forgotten how…or we’re afraid of that kind of power… what if Trinity United Methodist Church were to say – we are ready to be the healing church in Waverly? Not to provide answers, but a safe place to ask hard questions… that, is a bold vision for the Church my friends.

Given the realities of the world in which we live –how are we as the oldest, most established church in the community, reaching beyond our walls to provide healing to our neighbors…providing safe places for community to gather and walk alongside one another?

What can we do to extend the love of God to the least and the lost among us…and among those in our town who are at the end of their rope (or very nearly so?)

What do we who ARE in a good place - have to say to those who are in ‘survival mode’…for trust me, survival mode is not a great place to be… for a season of my life I was living day to day, moment by moment – not quite sure what would happen next as me and my family navigated some huge changes…it was not easy…there is a great deal of shame wrapped up in failure – and a huge amount of energy can be spent walking the tightrope and putting on appearances.

These are some of the questions that this text invites me to wrestle with today… the Good News is that we are not alone….God is with us – God is with us in our gathering, in our worship, in our homes, and in our villages… and we are not alone. Thanks be to God.