Wednesday, March 30, 2011

everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another

This is the Lenten devotion I shared at the Waverly ecumenical gathering over the noon hour today.  While it is targeted to some outreach opportunities here in Waverly, perhaps it will help bubble up some ideas in your faith community as well!  Peace, Deborah

Spring is coming, the urge to play in the dirt again is bubbling up inside of me.  And yet every year about this time I realize that my houseplants are a mess. 
My worst offense is always against my lemon tree – I have had this lemon tree for 10 years.  Each summer it resides outside on the porch, the leaves lush and green and the blossoms are so fragrant.  Then, it must come inside for the winter – and somewhere along the line the aphids come – they come every year.  Everything gets sticky – I walk around the house looking for lady bugs to put on the lemon tree to eat the aphids – I think they even get overwhelmed by the sheer number of the little critters.  Eventually the leaves start to drop, and even tho I wipe down the branches of the invaders I never seem to get them all.  Right now my lemon tree looks very puny, and sad.
We have been in this cycle for 10 years now – my lemon tree and I.  I could just give up and put it on the curb, but – about twice a year it is loaded with the most beautiful and fragrant blossoms and we have even had a lemon or two – I guess that's why I keep it alive.
Does this cycle of growth and decline remind anyone else of anything?  I don’t know about you – but it sort of sounds like the situation our Churches are in…
For the past 30-40 years the mainline church has been in a cycle of decline.  There are many reasons for this; families are smaller, the institutional mainline church has lost its authority in our culture, folks are better educated and asking more questions that put the relevance of what seems to many as a watered down religion in question.  But perhaps, the main reason is because we are more concerned about saving the institution of the church (our denominational structures, our buildings, our traditions – and good old ways) rather than focus on what the church is here for in the first place:  love God, love one another.  Simple as that.
I’d like to read from the Gospel of John – chapter 13
It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus.  Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”  Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”   “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”  Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”  Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
“I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.’ “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am. Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”
After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”
His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”  Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”
Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.
So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.
When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.
 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
A meal with friends, the master washing the feet of his students…the betrayal… and the new command – love one another – as I have loved you, so you must love one another – by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another…
It couldn’t be more clear – or more simple – but how are we doing in this department?  Are we more concerned about who goes to which church – or who has the latest greatest thing going on at their house of worship – or are we using the gifts and graces that we have been given to pull together and love one another – and serve those who are the least and the lost – the ones who are most vulnerable and in need in out community?
I ask us this today – because we don’t gather together very often in a faith based setting – and while this is lovely and important – we need to be challenged to do so even more…
Not to add to our worship attendance numbers, not to increase our offerings or anything like that – but to do as Jesus commanded us to do – to do as Jesus modeled for us - love one another…in radical ways – if he said it, and did it in real life, he must have meant it!
These Lenten meals should be the starting point – not the destination – we have a number of opportunities to reach out to our community in the coming year – for instance – with school letting out at 2pm each Wednesday starting this fall – are we going to be able to pull together as a faith community and do a community wide after school program – OR are we going to be in competition with one another to see who can pull of the best, most attractional program?
How are we growing our food and feeding ministries that have a great beginning with the Monday night community meals – but could do so much more if we had a way to transport folks to St Pauls?   What about the other 26 days of the month when people are looking at their bare cupboards?  Or even more important – when folks are eating meals all alone – and praying for a Christian friend?
Are we going to just pull off the aphids on our lemon tree and continue as we have been doing for the past decades - or are we going to look for a systemic transformation that will set us on the path to loving God and loving one another as Christ loves us – in radical new ways?
As we sort out how to be meaningful and relevant in our community – Christ’s message will always win out – God’s love will win in the long run – I personally want to be a part of it – and I hope you do too.  So let's not wait any longer!
In the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

taking a load off

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."  (the words of Jesus, the Christ.  Matthew 11:28-30)

Truth be told, it has been a long winter.  Still adjusting to the new church/community, kids activities, eldest child graduating from college and moving out west...lots going on.  I had honestly about reached the end of my rope.  I really wanted to go to a conference in Memphis, but the Bishop accepted our invitation to come to Trinity UMC the same week - I saw no way to pull it off.

Thanks to the encouragement of our staff parish relations committee and our truly amazing Administrative Assistant, Mary, I not only got to leave town for the conference - I got to take a couple of vacation days at the start of the week!  I am now meandering around my old stomping grounds in West Tennessee with Memphis being my ultimate destination.

Saturday as I packed my bags I considered all that I would need for the week - warm weather clothes, cold weather clothes, jeans as well as dress clothes.  Shoes for the conference, for walking and for hiking...I know I overpacked!

I also decided to change purses - this is a huge deal because it happens infrequently.  I also downsized wallets...another huge deal.  Interestingly, my 'new' purse seems too light.  Like nothing is in there.  I do a double take every time I pick it up and put it over my shoulder because obviously something I need has to be missing...but it isn't.

This got me to thinking about the extra baggage that I have been carrying around...then I read my friend, Rev. Matthew Johnson's, blog post today - - and that really got me to thinking!  Why are we so determined to hang on to our stuff?  Why do we carry so much stuff around with us in the first place?

If Grace, God's grace, is what its all about (and I believe this to be true) then why do we continue to heap coals on top of ourselves.  I think that Jesus was, is and always will be about love and helping us to lighten the load by teaching us to love our Triune God (first and foremost) and love one another.  Nowhere does this mean we are to beat one another up, or even ourselves up, over stuff.  No wonder Christians are considered hypocritical and judgmental - geesh!

When I went to seminary I asked everyone I could "what is Grace?  Prof. _____ what is your definition of grace."  Never got the same answer - from anyone.  Maybe thats the problem...we don't know, experience, or even identify Grace when its right in front of us...we either cover our eyes out of shame, or we are too afraid to see that God is in our midst each and every moment of the day...we get too bogged down in stuff, in minutia, in our own needs that we miss out on the blessings upon blessings that God is trying to bestow on us - on you and on I.  This is especially true for folks in the church, I fear.  We are so goal oriented, we are striving for the prize, even when its the right thing to do, that we miss out on the blessings, burn out and get frustrated and wring our hands, and we miss God's grace.

But its here, there and everywhere, Grace, hope, joy, love...and it's waiting for us to drop all of that stuff that is weighing us down and scoop it up and then share it with someone else.  You see, that's the other cool thing about Grace - not only is it free, and broadcast all about, its also best shared with others. 

Time to turn to the One who is gentle and humble in heart and rest our souls, my friends. 


Thursday, March 17, 2011

I'm not really whining...just making observations!

A couple of weeks ago, as I was mulling over what to give up and what spiritual disciplines to take on for Lent, I made a pretty bold decision...after much deliberation I kept Facebook, but decided to give up soda, high carb/fried/ processed foods and I decided to take on the discipline of simplicity (it's way past time to de-clutter).  We're about 1/5 of the way through Lent and I have come to a few conclusions...

1.  It is, in fact, easier to give up Facebook than Diet Pepsi.
2.  Processed foods are everywhere, so giving those up means a pretty radical diet (and pretty impractical when I am going to be out of town for a week during Lent - what was I thinking?)
3.  My closet and dresser are a whole lot more organized and less cluttered once I took away everything that was:
   a.  not worn in a year
   b.  too big
   c.  I just don't like it any more
4.  I have too many t-shirts - I have not culled through those yet
5.  I miss Diet Pepsi - a lot

This has really made me think about Spiritual Disciplines and fasting in particular.  I will need to do some more thinking about this when I don't need an afternoon nap to function...sigh...

any thoughts from folks out there?

Have you given anything up for Lent?  Have you, instead, taken anything on?

How is that working for you?

in Christ, together,

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday,

100 + young people
weeping in the streets
disappointed by how the
had let them down.

in below freezing temps,
they carried picket signs:
"Save Our Sherman"
"Save Our School!"
their cries blowing in the wind.

The church is close by...
come inside,
we will feed you,
warm you,
provide a place for you,
to think and yes,
even pray.

And they came

At noon
they entered the sanctuary
and heard the ancient story
of how God calls his people
this is not how God wants the world to be!

100+ high school students
and 6 church ladies
who said, "we aren't part of a protest are we?"

106 beloved children of God
the sign of the cross
on their foreheads;

"remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

I shall never forget the Ash Wednesday
when the children
gave me a voice.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


I purchased it in the late winter of 2007. We didn't have much money for extras then, it was my last semester of seminary, and we were cutting things close.  But I couldn't resist...I feared that the picture frame would fall into the wrong hands.

The frame is made of some sort of resin material.  In the upper right corner is a cross made of three 'rusty' nails.  They look like the kind of nails used for effect during Lent.  The kind of nails we pretend were used to nail Jesus to the cross.  The frame part itself is fairly wide - a little over 2 inches all the way around I would say - and the surface mimics stone.  It makes me think of the tomb where Jesus' broken body was laid to rest.

But what gets me, what eats at me, is across the bottom, and skewed to the left.  The word 'imagine' is indented into the surface of the stone.  "imagine..." Imagine what?  Imagine... the nails pounding into Christ's flesh?   Truth be told, I don't really like thinking about Christ's passion and death.  Take me straight to the resurrection, please - its a lot less messy and painful.

But here's the really fun part, what then do we do with the space suitable for a 5 x 3.5 inch photo?  What sort of photo would one put in this gaping hole?

Rusty nails, hewn stone, imagine... I have no idea.  5 years later I continue to be at a loss.  And so, the picture that came with the frame continues to be there.  The profile of a young woman with a dangling earring - a model from who knows where on a frame that says; imagine...

Perhaps thats the problem with Lent.  We don't quite know what we are supposed to DO with it.  Fast?  Sure - I can do that - gave up french fries one year - of course that was an easy one - I was the one making fries in the fast food restaurant on campus - who wants to eat stuff you cook for 12 hours a week?
Pop?  sure...but never can I imagine giving up caffeine - I am too addicted - I need it to function later in the day.

I know someone who is giving up meat for Lent - hmmm... a farmers daughter giving up meat?  Perhaps.  Though that's about all the boys want to eat for dinner.  Last year I gave up facebook.  That was pretty tough.  I fear I am a bit addicted - but then I just substituted another multi-media drug for it - I was on Twitter several times a day checking in on 'things'.   Seems a bit hypocritical as I consider my fast for this year.  Of course, there are those who say that we shouldn't fast at all, it's too catholic to give anything up, instead we should take something on - I could go with that one.  In fact, last year I gave up facebook AND took on extra time for prayer and reading scripture.  I want to be sure that I cover all my bases you know - and do everything right.

funny how a simple picture frame can be such a challenge
Some have suggested putting a picture of a mission team in the frame.  Others have said stick in a picture of a place that you enjoy, that would be the mountains of North Carolina, with Colorado a close second.  I don't think I would want to put a picture of my four children in there - I don't want to imagine MY son or daughter nailed to a cross, dying alone, for the sake of the world.

On Good Friday, 2007, my youngest son, Justin, was hurt out on the playground by our home in Apple River.  I heard his screams from the open window and when he made it to the house, I saw that the corner of his mouth was ripped wide open.  We raced to the nearest doctor who injected Novocaine into his wounds and sent us on to Freeport - about 35 miles away.  There a doc took 45 minutes to rebuild his lip and repair his mouth and cheek.

Later in the day when it came time to walk over to the church to lead the community in the Good Friday service, I just couldn't do it.  My son, my precious son, bled in my arms that day - I could so relate with Mary, Jesus' mother.  Instead I stayed at home and held Justin in my lap (he was only 7 and would let me do that then).  Justin still bears the scars of that day, he will need some additional surgery some day and we don't call it Good Friday in deference to the memory of the day he was hurt.

I shared with one of my professors how difficult it was for me to proclaim the Resurrection story with joy on the third day.  He wisely said; 'thats what the time in the tomb is for,' I just needed to allow myself a little more time in the tomb.

imagine...  I don't want to imagine the things that we, God's beloved children, have done to one another the 2000 some years since Jesus' passion and death.  I don't want to imagine the injustices that continue even to this day.  The things that Jesus the Christ bled and died for on our behalf so that sin could once and for all be defeated.  It would be nice to imagine that we lived as if we believed that sin was overthrown, that God's kingdom is here and now.  This is what I would like to imagine - given the chance - that God's grace, mercy and love washes away all of the hurts, anger, fears and dashed dreams and reprioritizes our lives so that we would really and truly live lives as agents of hope, peace, love and joy.  (God's grace, mercy and love can overcome our hurts, fears and disappointments - but it takes a lot of work on our part to be open and vulnerable enough to receive this amazing gift.)

I guess this is what I want to imagine this season of Lent - and it doesn't have anything to do with giving up french fries, or chocolate, or caffeine, or even facebook.  It has everything to do with living as a child of God, a beloved, precious child of God.  One who is called to love God first and foremost and then love one another as Christ loved us.   No strings attached.

Can you imagine what a wonderful world it would be if we could all go there?

in Christ, together,