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 others...to 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 façade, 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.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Dreaming - as a Lenten discipline

Because I believe that dreaming dreams and taking risks is important to who we are as people of faith I am sharing the following sermon - it was shared with the Trinity United Methodist Congregation on March 8th, 2015.  (Since I write for the ear, please excuse the punctuation.)

Luke 9:1-6   Jesus called the Twelve together and he gave them power and authority over all demons and to heal sicknesses. 2 He sent them out to proclaim God’s kingdom and to heal the sick. 3 He told them, “Take nothing for the journey—no walking stick, no bag, no bread, no money, not even an extra shirt. 4 Whatever house you enter, remain there until you leave that place. 5 Wherever they don’t welcome you, as you leave that city, shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them.” 6 They departed and went through the villages proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.

This afternoon I am heading to Ames – for a Board of Ordained Ministry meeting. Our task for the next three days is to spend time with and interview candidates for ordination.

These are folks who have responded to God’s call and claim on their lives, and they trust that God has called them to be pastors in the United Methodist Church. They have been affirmed by their home congregations, they have completed psychiatric assessments and background checks and have been approved by their district committees on ordained ministry, they have pursued and completed their educational requirements, and are prepared to enter into covenant with the Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church to take their baptism vows one step farther – as ordained clergy.

When the Bishop lays his hands upon the head of those being ordained – this is the blessing that is prayed over the person…   
June, 2010 ~ my ordination as Elder in the UMC

_____, take authority as an elder
to preach the Word of God,
to administer the Holy Sacraments
and to order the life of the Church,
in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

My ordination was a holy moment in my life. More than an accomplishment – it was and still is a confirmation of God’s presence and activity in the world.

Under the authority of our Bishop, Julian Trimble, and the appointive cabinet I have been appointed to Trinity United Methodist Church to preach the Word of God, to administer the Holy Sacraments, to order, administer and arrange our life together as a church – and to serve in the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It is in many ways this same ordination authority that Jesus sent the 12 out under…to go out into villages large and small – two by two – to preach, teach and heal in God’s name.

And it is the same authority that John Wesley received as a young man, where after a short stint as an associate pastor alongside his Father, Wesley was called to serve as a teacher and tutor of young students at Lincoln’s College – part of Oxford.

In 1732, the British established their first new colony in 5 decades…the called the colony Georgia and the city of Savannah was founded. John and Charles Wesley, who had already formed a group called the Methodists, a group based on holiness of heart and life – a life formed around prayer, study of scripture, participating in the sacraments AND actively reaching out to the least and the lost of Oxford England, were recruited to take a risk – and volunteer to serve as pastors and evangelists…

They boarded a ship headed for Georgia and the city of Savannah. In their minds they imagined a grand adventure – heading across the vast ocean to the new world – and once there they would meet Indians – wild savages – and bringing them to know and love God through the power of the gospel message.

Of course, we know not everything always goes as planned…the little ocean voyage – was a mess…

And by the time their ship was tossed too an through by the third storm of the season – the mainsail was in tatters, the crew was even afraid for their lives – and John and Charles’ voices joined the others in sobbing for the winds to stop – and begging God to save them from a watery grave.

All aboard thought they were doomed, except this group of Moravian settlers – who down in the corner of the hold, sang hymns, recited psalms and gave praise to God for their lives and their salvation.

It was humbling to John…here was this exceedingly well educated Oxford professor – and he knew that more than anything he wanted – he NEEDED - what they had…

Once on shore Charles became the personal secretary to the governor and John was appointed to the parish of Savannah –where he set about to order their lives together – he met a young woman, Sophie Hopkey – he fell in love - and while she was in love with him – she was even more ready and eager to be married, but John wasn’t quite sure what to do about marriage – he waited too long – and Sophie married another – heartbroken – John did something really wrong - he used his role as a clergy man to attempt to avenge his broken heart – by refusing to serve Sophie and her husband communion… they brought him up on charges – and out of fear of being arrested John slipped away in the dead of night

John Wesley returned to England… dusting off the experiences of the new world …but truth be told, he was also heart broken…not only for the loss of Sophey, but because he realized that throughout his life John knew in his head about God – but he still didn’t trust God with his heart…he wasn’t all in…he was afraid. Very afraid.

For all the risk taking the John did –he forgot to trust in God…he was still trying to be in control – he struggled to let God be God – he had this crazy idea that HE was in charge…

In the midst of his pain, in the midst of his suffering – God was there… just as in the midst of our pain…in the midst of our suffering…God is here…and here..and there…

The difference between half way Christians and folks who are all in – is a willingness to let God be God – and to trust that God is with us – even, to the end of the age.

I have known my share of suffering – and together, you and I, have walked in and through some tough times. I know that there is nothing I can do to fix things so that you don’t have to suffer – but I do not have to leave anyone alone in their pain, their hurts, their grief. Ahhhh – but to share in one anothers joy. THAT is what it means to be the body of Christ – Christ present in the midst of the ordinary moments of life.

Another way to look at it is these four simple phrases…

Show up – pay attention – cooperate with God – release the outcome

By virtue of my ordination, I am here for a finite amount of time. I do my very best to be present – to show up – and to pay attention. Through conversations here in our space and out in the community - at concerts, in the grocery or at Dairy Queen – I am always, always, always on the look out for God. One of my spiritual disciplines is to strive to see the world with God shaped lenses…we have talked about this before. And the cool thing is that this is something each and every one of us can (and should) do!

It has led me to connect the dots – and to share with you all from time to time some ideas – some of which fly and some don’t… these ideas aren’t about me – or about my desire to upset the apple cart – they are about bringing people and passions together to the glory of God.

For example - by listening to the yearning of your hearts we have a congregational care team that walks alongside members of our faith community with prayer and comfort, we have an after school program that reaches out to the youth of our community, we have Lifetree Café as a safe place for conversations to happen about faith and real life issues. We have a relationship with the schools at times of crisis and we have a voice at the table of the mayor’s food security task force with regards to hunger issues in our community.

For the past three years a group of women in our community have been meeting as a support group for one another – I am honored to call them friends and even more inspired by the work that they do advocating for their adult children who have needs that are beyond my capabilities…I can’t fix things for them, but I have learned so much listening to them and praying along with them.

A little over a month ago, at Lifetree Café – which is, my friends, one of the coolest things we are doing – I had a discussion with a member of our church about a pocket of folks he knows of who were at one time part of a church,

but the church closed – and they are out in the world, without a faith community – he and his wife grieve for them – and for the loss of community they experienced when their former church closed.

When I asked him what his dream was he said it was to find a space where they could meet and share life together…and not that there is anything wrong with our building, but friends – some folks are pretty intimidated by big fine building…and I have to respect this – so, how do we live into God’s call and claim on us to reach out and care for folks who think they aren’t good enough for a fine place like this?

I also have a dream – placed on my heart by the Holy Spirit - as a result of countless conversations with folks who are in life transitions – I dream of a space where folks can live and be part of a community that is focused on transformation. That sounds vague, but what I have heard and seen is that we need safe places for folks to live, work and get healthy – a healing place.

And as these conversations are swirling around – it was brought to our attention that there was an old church building – right across from Kohlman Park –available for sale – at a very reasonable price.

A few of us have walked through the building – and friends - dreams are being dreamed – and I don’t know if this is something that ultimately will come to fruition – or if Trinity United Methodist Church will even be a part of it – I do know that the mayor is very interested in how churches could work together on projects that provide safe places for people to know and experience God and community in new ways…

And from my point of view - what a thrill it is to see the threads of the dreams of so many different folks coming together in a tapestry of hope…

As you pastor, I am called to dream alongside each and every one of the folks in our parish - to affirm and honor your giftedness – to encourage each of you as you prayerfully consider God’s call and claim on your lives…

I am privileged to be able to remind you of how your gifts for teaching and caring for one another combines with your desire to be a part of a community that loves God and loves our neighbors…this is who we are – as United Methodists – as citizens of this community…

Of course, you may do what you like – this is after all your community – and your church – and I release the outcome…but I will not stop dreaming with you – and I promise to continue to visit and pray and talk together about how God can use us to make our community a better place for all God’s children…because you too have been given authority – by virtue of your baptism – the authority to resist evil and injustice in whatever forms it takes…the power to be agents of peace, hope and love in the world…and for this I give thanks.

John Wesley returned home to England – a broken man – and he could have just cashed it all in, returned to Oxford, taught a few classes – and become some obscure, bitter, angry old man. Instead he wrestled with his fears – he confronted his doubts – and he found through prayer, conversations with spiritual friends, and studying the scriptures the one thing – the one thing that he had been missing when he was out on the ocean…

Assurance

Confidence in God’s love for him –even him.

This is something that sets us apart from other denominations – it is built into our doctrine – our statements about what we believe – we are saved by grace – by faith in a God whose goodness is irrefutable – we should have no doubt about this gift – because it is God’s to give – and he gives it to us with abundance…

As a result of the gift of God’s abundant grace, John Wesley became emboldened – we may joke about it a bit – about John’s conversion experience on May 24, 1738 – when John Wesley wrote in his journal that his heart was strangely warmed by the realization that God loved even him. It’s what we call his Aldersgate experience – but it was just what he needed to be able to dream and risk again…we will talk more about that next week.

Grace – its all about grace – and if you remember nothing else from our message today – know that grace is a gift – it is not deserved…Grace is a reflection not of our goodness – but of the generosity of God. Grace is surprising, overwhelming and amazing! For this gift I give thanks.

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

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Ab-nor-mal...an advent journey of sorts


"Celebrating Advent means being able to wait. ...whoever does not know the austere blessedness of waiting - that is, of hopefully doing without - will  never experience the full blessings of fulfillment."  Dietrich Bonhoeffer  

Abnormal...the words hit me like a ton of bricks...how could something that was designed (and used) to provide nurture be abnormal?

ab·nor·mal
abˈnôrməl/
adjective
  1. deviating from what is normal or usual, typically in a way that is undesirable or worrying.

For a month I tried my best not to worry, between various mammograms, ultra sounds (of course they couldn't do a biopsy the 'normal way'), and finally the big day - the stereotypic imaging truck came to town (you really don't want to know).

A biopsy is not something to blow off.  It is a big deal.  A big hairy deal.  Especially when your mind has time to think of the 'what ifs.'

Fortunately, for me, the results were another interesting word: benign.  

be·nign
bəˈnīn/
adjective
  1. 2
    MEDICINE
    (of a disease) not harmful in effect: in particular, (of a tumor) not malignant.
    synonyms:harmless, nonmalignant, noncancerous; 
    benignant
    "a benign tumor"

'What a relief' my son texted when I finally, after a days delay, had the results.  'THANK Heavens' and 'YAY' and 'that is spectacular news' from my other children.  

spec·tac·u·lar
spekˈtakyələr/
adjective
  1. 1
    beautiful in a dramatic and eye-catching way.

Not all women are as fortunate.  

And yes, I kept it silent.  And I probably could have shared with others...but ABNORMAL sounds so broken and plain messed up.

After living with the relief of my diagnosis for a week, I realized that my silence continues to add to the stigma of: pastors as 'other' and breast cancer as something we talk about in hushed voices, because you can't really say the word 'breast' out loud in polite company.

breast
brest/
noun
  1. 1
    either of the two soft, protruding organs on the upper front of a woman's body that secrete milk after pregnancy.

My right breast now has a little piece of titanium in it, as a marker for the radiologist.  Next fall, when I have my mammogram I will see it on the screen.

Get your mammograms, gals.  Know your family history.  And if you get called in for more pictures, don't go on-line and try to look up the what ifs...but DO tell a friend.  Sometimes the most loving thing we can do is invite others for the journey.  I am grateful for my children for being a non-anxious presence during this season.

It is fitting that this journey happened during Advent, a season of anxious anticipation.  I continue to wait with hope.

peace, love in Christ,
Deborah

Saturday, December 6, 2014

An Advent reflection

 
Somewhere between Silent Night and Joy to the World a baby rests and new mother and a father wonder what just happened. As the mother of four children I can relate to the fragile perfection of a new born baby but before you know it they grow up! As sweet as it is, Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus can't stay forever paused in the tableau that is reflected in Hallmark cards or the manger scene on our living room table.

We may hate to admit it, but truth is Jesus was a normal baby, toddler, child, teenager even - in every way. It would be nice to think that he was perfect, never had a temper tantrum, never climbed a tree too high and of course never refused to eat his broccoli, but that is what makes Jesus so amazing - his humanity is not unlike our own. His experiences are our experiences.

The Message Bible sums it up like this: "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood." (John 1:14)

This is the hope and promise of the Christmas season. What was started in Bethlehem is still going on today as the Word of God, Jesus, the love of God made flesh at Christmas continues to speak to us through word, songs, and our compassion for our neighbors.

It’s interesting to think about, but until the present age most of the stories of Jesus had been taught by mothers and grandmothers. In my conversations with young mothers most of them feel unprepared to instruct their children about God. Does our current life style allow moms, and dads for that matter, time to share their faith with their children? Or asked another way: have we embodied the stories of God’s love at Christmas, let alone in our lives, enough so that we are comfortable sharing our faith with our kids?

That’s the beauty and importance of being part of a faith community. In a church parents have an
opportunity to learn more about God so that they may become light bearers and story tellers for their children, very much like the shepherds who raced to see this marvelous thing that the angels spoke about – a child – the Messiah – born right there in the neighborhood!

“As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed." (Luke 2:15-18)

May I be so bold as to invite you to consider sharing this Advent and Christmas season with one of your neighborhood churches? You don’t have to dress up to come to church, you can even sit in the back row or in the balcony if you like. When you come to church you’ll find imperfect folks seeking to know more about this God who was willing to become more like you and me. How cool is that!?


It is my prayer that you find joy this Christmas season. That you experience love beyond your wildest dreams, that you are able to tell your children the stories of the first Christmas with wonder and hope – knowing that God is with us now and will always be with us. This is the good news that we so desperately need to hear and share!

Hark the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn King!

Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled"

Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies

With the angelic host proclaim:
"Christ is born in Bethlehem"

Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"
(Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Charles Wesley)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Crazy little thing about reading the Bible...it could be dangerous!

Sunday, September 28th, we had the privileged of giving Bibles to our 3rd graders and to our first year confirmands. The lectionary text, Matthew 21:23-32 seemed like a perfect opportunity to share with our children, as well as adults, how to be faithful in both reading and giving authority to Scripture.

Just as we enjoy giving presents - we need to be aware of how to use them...and I side with Karl Barth, in this day and age we need to read the Bible with a newspaper (or smartphone) in one hand.

(please forgive dashes and .....'s this is my sermon manuscript for the day)

******

I believe that in many ways reading the Bible in the 21st century is harder than it was as little as 100 years ago… there are many reasons – for one, many of Jesus’ stories and parables are agriculturally based – and we are by and large a society far removed from the small family farm.

We are also privy to more information than ever before. 100, 200, 300 years ago the Bible may have been the only book in the house… when it was dark and cold outside a family would read the bible – in huge chunks – faith, church, scripture reading became part of the fabric of the family and the community…this changed as books became more affordable – and people started actually owning books – think about it - in the 50s and 60s and on through the 80s even what was the essential book that every house hold have?

World Book encyclopedia – and a Webster’s dictionary. Weekly – probably daily we’d hear three little words from mom – ‘look it up’!

My set of World Books are in a box in the attic – for some reason I still have them. It is faster – and more expedient to look it up on my phone – or have siri do it… –

In the 90s people started buying personal computers…and 10 years ago – not only did most homes have computers, kids even had their own email address. And then, Facebook was born – and now we have dozens of ways to connect with one another, to share ideas and to hear the opinions of others on a wide array of topics…

We have more power in our personal devices than the Apollo rockets! How did they get to the moon and back without one of these?

Our first computer cost 5000 (they threw in a printer) and we had a whopping 50 megabytes of storage! That’s about enough to store 25 pictures today!

There’s something else – because of the sharing of information – around the globe – we have access to more data – I fear that my 1972 World book is woefully inadequate compared to a September 28, 2014 Google search on just about anything…I was at lunch with some members of the church and a name came up – we wondered if it was a bible name – and low and behold one of the ladies pulled out her phone and looked it up – and we learned that it was indeed a Bible name!

Fun fact – according to a Time magazine article written on the eve of World Water Day – the source is the UN…

Out of the world’s estimated 7 billion people, 6 billion have access to mobile phones. Far fewer — only 4.5 billion people — have access to working toilets.


We are in a new world – a world that requires us to learn and understand and comprehend in new ways… its not bad – it isn’t a burden, but we can’t expect to continue reading the Bible, or anything else for that matter, with blinders on either…Karl Barth, one of the greatest theologians of recent times wrote that one should start every day with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other –

People want meaning – we want to know why others would choose to believe the way they do…we have reasons we like the Hawkeyes or the Cyclones…and we make room for UNI fans too… we just have to be able to articulate why…

this is the blessing of reading scripture with resources that we have available – resources that help us to understand better the context of 1st century Israel…

We have heard it said that the Bible is timeless and has timeless wisdom for us – and I agree that this is true – but we do grave injustice to scripture if we impose our own 21st century understanding and values to a document some 2000 years old written for an audience that was educated in a totally different style of learning from ours.

I say all of this to wrap our minds around this morning’s reading…

Matthew 21:23-32     Jesus’ authority questioned

23 When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and elders of the people came to him as he was teaching. They asked, “What kind of authority do you have for doing these things? Who gave you this authority?”

24 Jesus replied, “I have a question for you. If you tell me the answer, I’ll tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things. 25 Where did John get his authority to baptize? Did he get it from heaven or from humans?”

They argued among themselves, “If we say ‘from heaven,’ he’ll say to us, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But we can’t say ‘from humans’ because we’re afraid of the crowd, since everyone thinks John was a prophet.” 27 Then they replied, “We don’t know.”

Jesus also said to them, “Neither will I tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things
.

Parable of two sons

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. Now he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’

29 “‘No, I don’t want to,’ he replied. But later he changed his mind and went.

30 “The father said the same thing to the other son, who replied, ‘Yes, sir.’ But he didn’t go.

31 “Which one of these two did his father’s will?”

They said, “The first one.”

Jesus said to them, “I assure you that tax collectors and prostitutes are entering God’s kingdom ahead of you. 32 For John came to you on the righteous road, and you didn’t believe him. But tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. Yet even after you saw this, you didn’t change your hearts and lives and you didn’t believe him.



Reading this passage as is – we would rightly agree that Jesus is once again in a verbal sparring match with the religious authorities of his day…

But there is a set up – that we will miss if we don’t back up a few verses…

This is actually the day after Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem – a day we call Palm Sunday…we know about Palm Sunday, right? Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem – on a donkey colt – Hosanna! Hosanna! The people cried – as they waved branches and put their cloaks on the road before him – a sign that they were recognizing Jesus as a potential leader – a victor, maybe even, the messiah!

After he arrived in the city…

Matthew 21:12-17 (The Message)
12-14 Jesus went straight to the Temple and threw out everyone who had set up shop, buying and selling. He kicked over the tables of loan sharks and the stalls of dove merchants. He quoted this text:

My house was designated a house of prayer;

You have made it a hangout for thieves.

Now there was room for the blind and crippled to get in. They came to Jesus and he healed them.

15-16 When the religious leaders saw the outrageous things he was doing, and heard all the children running and shouting through the Temple, “Hosanna to David’s Son!” they were up in arms and took him to task. “Do you hear what these children are saying?”

Jesus said, “Yes, I hear them. And haven’t you read in God’s Word, ‘From the mouths of children and babies I’ll furnish a place of praise’?”

17 Fed up, Jesus turned on his heel and left the city for Bethany, where he spent the night.

Then there’s a whole section where Jesus is so frustrated he zaps a poor fig tree – we won’t go there today…

Now, can you see with this background the implications of today’s reading…by throwing out the money changers Jesus was upsetting the economy of the Temple - and it was a major feast week - folks were coming from all over the known world with their own moneys - and it had to be changed into temple currency so that they could buy their offerings for Passover week. 

No temple money, no sacrifices, no sacrifices and the visitors to the city were disobeying the rules - breaking God's commands as overseen by the religious leaders of the day.

But when Jesus threw out the money changers he did something else that could be overlooked at first reading..."Now there was room for the blind and crippled to get in. They came to Jesus and he healed them."

God's economy was being transformed by a new way of looking at the value of things, people, and the institutional systems that were in place.

NOW we can understand why the religious leaders were questioning Jesus' authority – by what right is this, this Galilean trying to re-write our rules, our laws? By what right is he re-defining our way of life?

From whom does Jesus get his authority?

From the Father…of course we know the answer to the question… and because those who were less learned trusted Jesus, responded to John’s baptism by water and the spirit and put their faith in God as taught by Jesus – their path was the one of the son who repented and turned toward the fields.

So whats our excuse?

We have all of these resources at our hands…we have, hopefully, a clearer understanding of who Matthew was writing to, and the religious and political events of the day…are we going to do something? Are we going to respond to God’s call and claim on our lives???

Or are we just going to give lip service to God?

We can see the unfolding of Jesus’ last days – days where his actions spoke as loud as his words…the implications of clearing the money changers – wasn’t as much a political action as it was to make room for those who were on the fringes – on the edges of society – outcast and prevented access to the Father… just as his verbal sparring with the religious leaders –

He wasn’t condemning them, but he was prodding them to walk the walk that they were espousing…

To turn their lives around and repent – to say yes to God and for their yes to mean yes…to enter the vineyard and gather the harvest of all…not just those who looked like them and dressed like them – but expand the net to gather in God’s beloved children – even the tax collector and the prostitute have a place in the Kingdom of God…

Reading scripture this way is dangerous, boys and girls… you have a choice – as you break in your new Bibles…and for us older folks – as we read our Bibles…

You may read it as an old book that has some words that help us be nice people…or you can dig in with your eyes wide open – explore the world as Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul knew it…a world not too unlike ours, when you get right to the core of it…

And you can then let God’s word illumine your lives and inspire you to be kind and gentle and passionate about the building up of the Kingdom of God – so that it means something when we pray…thy kingdom come, thy will be done – on earth as it is in heaven.

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

*****
Just out of curiosity:

What is your favorite scripture passage?  Why?  What is happening in the Story of God before and after the verses you know and love?  

Would love to hear from you!

Peace,
Deborah


Sunday, August 10, 2014

what we can learn from Peter and a fellow by the name of John Wesley

To follow is this morning's sermon - using the lectionary reading from the day with a good dose of John Wesley's early life, I invite us to consider what it means to get out of the boat in our faith journey.

(please forgive the punctuation and grammatical errors - this is my sermon manuscript)

Matthew 14:22-33:

22 Right then, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead to the other side of the lake while he dismissed the crowds. 23 When he sent them away, he went up onto a mountain by himself to pray. Evening came and he was alone. 24 Meanwhile, the boat, fighting a strong headwind, was being battered by the waves and was already far away from land. 25 Very early in the morning he came to his disciples, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified and said, “It’s a ghost!” They were so frightened they screamed.

27 Just then Jesus spoke to them, “Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

28 Peter replied, “Lord, if it’s you, order me to come to you on the water.”

29 And Jesus said, “Come.”

Then Peter got out of the boat and was walking on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when Peter saw the strong wind, he became frightened. As he began to sink, he shouted, “Lord, rescue me!”

31 Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him, saying, “You man of weak faith! Why did you begin to have doubts?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind settled down.

33 Then those in the boat worshipped Jesus and said, “You must be God’s Son!”


******

At the age of 32, having completed a couple of years of teaching Greek at Oxford college and knowing that he wasn’t suited for traditional parish ministry like his father, John Wesley volunteered to be a missionary to the colonies. He felt like God had called him to bring the Word of God to the settlers and the savages who lived along the new frontier. 
A young John Wesley

Crossing the ocean in 1735, long before satellites, an understanding of the weather and first class cabins, was not an easy voyage…it would take more than 3 months for John and his brother Charles, on the tiny wooden ship to cross to the Province of Georgia, where John was to be a missionary to Savannah and Charles would serve as assistant to James Oglethorpe, who had established the colony of Georgia in 1733.

The Wesley brothers had the very best education possible in their day, like their father they were ordained priests in the Anglican Church – they wrote and spoke numerous languages including Greek and Latin, they also took serious holiness of heart and life – that whole living like Jesus lived and taught, they really believed it – this is something that many of the Anglican priests of the day didn’t do. For John and Charles serving God was their life – they studied scripture, they visited those in prison, they cared for the hungry and poor, they went without so that they could give all they had away.

And yet, John would admit, that he did this as much out of fear as out of any other emotion – he worked tirelessly to please God….but did he know a loving, merciful compassionate God at the young age of 32… Oh, and one more thing - he was afraid of dying because he really was not sure what would happen when he met Christ face to face…

Going to the new world satisfied this longing to do something that mattered, he wanted to be a man of significance, but he wasn’t quite sure what this would look like.

On board the ship – Wesley and Charles had a regular schedule…its enough to make your head spin… Wesley wrote in his journal:

Tuesday, October 21.—We sailed from Gravesend. When we were past about half the Goodwin Sands, the wind suddenly failed. Had the calm continued till ebb, the ship had probably been lost. But the gale sprang up again in an hour, and carried us into the Downs.

We now began to be a little regular. Our common way of living was this: From four in the morning till five each of us used private prayer. From five to seven we read the Bible together, carefully comparing it (that we might not lean to our own understandings) with the writings of the earliest ages. At seven we breakfasted. At eight were the public prayers.

From nine to twelve I usually learned German, and Mr. Delamotte, Greek. My brother wrote sermons, and Mr. Ingham instructed the children. At twelve we met to give an account of one another what we had done since our last meeting, and what we designed to do before our next. About one we dined.


The afternoon and evening continued in this manner. and you wonder why they were called – Methodists?

The only thing to change their schedule was when a storm blew up…
Robert Salmon:  Storm at Sea

Saturday, January 17.—Many people were very impatient at the contrary wind. At seven in the
evening they were quieted by a storm. It rose higher and higher till nine. About nine the sea broke over us from stem to stern; burst through the windows of the state cabin, where three or four of us were, and covered us all over, though a bureau sheltered me from the main shock. About eleven I lay down in the great cabin and in a short time fell asleep, though very uncertain whether I should wake alive and much ashamed of my unwillingness to die. Oh, how pure in heart must he be, who would rejoice to appear before God at a moment’s warning! Toward morning, “He rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm” (quoting from the Gospel of Matthew 8:26)


You can see how John, this well educated and proper theologian was a mess – not only because he was afraid, but because he understood deep in his heart that he shouldn’t be afraid, and yet, he couldn’t see any other way of being.

On Sunday, January 25 John writes:

At noon our third storm began. At four it was more violent than before.  At seven I went to the Germans. I had long before observed the great seriousness of their  behavior….In the midst of the psalm wherewith their service began, the sea broke over, split the mainsail in pieces, covered the ship, and poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up. A terrible screaming began among the English. The Germans calmly sang on. I asked one of them afterward, “Were you not afraid?” He answered, “I thank God, no.” I asked, “But were not your women and children afraid?” He replied, mildly, “No; our women and children are not afraid to die”

How is it that this small group of immigrants who were traveling to the new world to start a new life for their families – were able to calmly singing praise songs and reading scripture? – not just the leaders, every last one of them!

I want some of that, Wesley thought to himself… how could they be so calm?

When they finally landed in Savannah in February, 1736, John’s quest for ‘some of that’ continued – Wesley’s time in Savannah did not end well, he actually left under the dark of night for refusing to serve communion to an on again off again girl friend and her new husband – poor John.

On the way back to England he wrote the following…

"I went to America, to convert the Indians; but oh! who shall convert me? who, what is he that will deliver me from this evil heart of mischief? I have a fair summer religion. I can talk well; nay, and believe myself, while no danger is near; but let death look me in the face, and my spirit is troubled. Nor can I say, 'To die is gain!'

John Wesley’s spiritual wrestling would continue for another 6 months or so – until his heart was strangely warmed during a Bible study with some Moravians on Aldersgate Street.

It was after this that John was pushed and pulled out of the metaphorical boat – to take up preaching outside of the confines of the ordinary church buildings – an occasion that he called most vile - and yet it was in doing so that he began to have a passion to preach and teach the least and the lost, the poor and the down trodden all over England. His brother Charles returned to England and joined him in this venture – and within 50 years the Methodist movement, a movement based on 6 to12 spiritual friends gathering together for prayer and support of one another - was thriving – all over the British Isles and across the new world as well.

6 to 12 spiritual friends – to walk alongside each other, to encourage one another, to hold another accountable in Christian love. To turn to in good times as well as bad, to be willing to open up ones heart to call the other into account….

This is in our DNA, friends…as Christ followers and as members of the United Methodist Church. I believe that the United Methodist church as we know it will die, unless we begin to be more intentional about being in relationship and community with one another – forming groups of fellowship, study and accountability – just as Jesus did with his disciples…

It was because of his relationship with his brother Charles, George Whitfield, Moravian missionary Peter Bohler and others that John Wesley was able to face his greatest fear – a lonely death and a life with out meaning – and stepped out of the boat.

As I think about Jesus – and this morning’s scripture lesson I can’t help but think about the other 11 disciples – we make fun of Peter some times, for being brash, and pushy and yet – here he is willing to step out of the boat…

The other 11…not so much…why do you think they were too afraid to get out of the boat…was it fear of seeing Jesus as one who could command the very sea? Walking across the water was an act of power and strength – surely he IS the Son of God they thought when they realized it was Jesus coming their way. Maybe it was the wind or the rain or perhaps their own self-centeredness that made them deaf in the moment, unable to fathom let alone hear God’s call and claim on their lives…they were unwilling to take a risk for the Master’s sake.

So what’s the point of these two stories?

Well – what about it, church? Are we like Peter – willing to stand up and take a step out in the churning waters, willing to risk failure for our love of God, our faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior? or do we prefer to throw a tarp over our heads and wait out the storm?

Remember most of the disciples were fisherman –  they weren’t afraid of the storm – they were afraid of the miraculous appearance of Jesus!   Look again at Matthew 14:

24 Meanwhile, the boat, fighting a strong headwind, was being battered by the waves and was already far away from land. 25 Very early in the morning he came to his disciples, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified and said, “It’s a ghost!” They were so frightened they screamed. 27 Just then Jesus spoke to them, “Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

Are we going to live a life of fear, wrapped up in our own individual insecurities or are we going to take a step in faith, and commit to walk with one another as disciples of Jesus?

Twentieth-century Presbyterian theologian and writer Frederick Buechner writes, 

“The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you. There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.”

Its here…waiting for you…a meaningful relationship with God through faith in Christ, this is possible by being in unity and community with people who care about you – and will support you as your life blossoms with hope and encouragement, leading to a future with meaning…

Are you ready to step out of the boat?  If so, let's talk about how you can take next step to be a part of a small group here at Trinity UMC.

Remember – Jesus is here saying the same thing to us as that did to his first 12 disciples…

“Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”  

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