Friday, October 9, 2020

Walking the walk


James 2:17.  NIV

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  

James is my favorite of all the New Testament letters.  Paul tells people how to be church together.  James tells people how to be.  

This verse is perhaps the best example of that.  Many people see this verse as contradicting Paul’s words on faith and salvation.  Yes, as Paul said, we are saved through faith and no amount of work will buy our salvation.  BUT James tells us that the faithful will do the things that Jesus commanded - feeding the hungry, comforting the prisoner, healing the sick, spreading the Gospel - for no other reason than because they are faithful. 

For example:  Many people talk about caring for the hungry, but do nothing to help.   Some people talk about caring for the hungry, and then go to volunteer in food banks and hot meals programs.  As Pope Francis said, “You pray for the hungry.  Then you feed them. That is how prayer works.” 

And that is what the faithful do.  We pray for a situation, then we go do something about it.  We pray for change, then we work toward that change.  We have faith that God can handle it, but we know that we are God’s hands and feet in the world, and it is our job to do the footwork.  It is our job to practice what we preach.

Practicing what I preach is what I am going to be doing for the next 10 days.  I will be taking time to rest and regroup as I keep telling others to do. In other years I have gone to spend the better part of a week on a private retreat at St Anthony Retreat in Three Rivers.  Obviously, I can’t do that this year.  So I will be having my retreat at home.   For the next 10 days, October 10th through October 18th,  there will be a vacation notice on my church email, and I will not be checking it.  I will not be posting my Daily Journal to Facebook - I won’t be on Facebook at all.  I won’t even be on Facebook Messenger.   I will be allowing my mind and soul to unwind through prayer and meditation, introspective writing and maybe even some coloring.

God of the Sabbath, you have told us we need to rest from our labors one day each week, and sometimes for a week, and sometimes for an entire year.  Lord, this is hard to do.  We don’t do “rest” well.  May we take the time we need to honor you and rest ourselves as you have told us to do.  Amen.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

It’s a billboard!


Habakkuk 2:2b

Write a vision, and make it plain upon a tablet so that a runner can read it.

A billboard!  God tells the prophet to write his vision on a billboard!  That’s the only way someone running by will be able to read words on a tablet.  Like the writing on the wall that Daniel translated, God wants to make sure that everyone knows exactly what hir* will is.

Have you ever had this happen to you?  You are trying desperately to hear a word from God so you know what path to take, which decision to make and suddenly you drive past a literal billboard with words that point you in the right direction.  I have.   Then the V8 moment comes.  Duh!  Why didn’t I see that before?   Well, in my case, I figure the message had been being sent but I just didn’t pick up on it until I saw giant words that tipped the balance.  I’m pretty good at not seeing the answer until God gets serious about getting my attention.  Not because I don’t want to see the answer, mind.  But because I am coming at the question from a different angle.  So God puts a billboard right where I have to see it.  

I think that’s what church signs are for.  Oh, I know there seems to be an unspoken competition to have the most thought provoking or downright silly church sign.  If you don’t believe me look up funny church signs on Google. One of my current favorites is “Too hot to change sign.  Sin Bad.  Jesus Good. Details inside.”. Church signs are intended to convey information such as the week’s sermon title or details of an event.  They are also meant to provoke interest in that particular congregation - to provide a nudge that tells the reader to come check out this place and these people.  Sometimes that nudge is humorous, like the one above.  Sometimes it is controversial, maybe lifting up PRIDE week, or the BLM movement.  However the sign is used, it tells the driver going by something about the people of that congregation.  Because trust me, if enough people in the congregation objected to the sign, it would change right quick.  

It would be nice if I could figure out God’s will without having to see words on a billboard or a church sign, but sometimes I need that extra nudge in the right direction, like the people of Israel did when prophets spoke.

Persistent God, I really don’t try to be obtuse.  Sometimes I just can’t see what’s in front of me.  I am so grateful that you go to such effort to get my attention, even placing billboards where I need to see them.  May I always look for the signs that point in the direction you wish me to go, so that I might do your will in all things.  Amen.

*hir is a non-gender specific pronoun used when referring to a being whose gender is neither specifically male nor female.  I believe God embodies both/all genders, so I use non-gendered language.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Not done yet

 1 Thessalonians 5:14. CEB 

Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are disorderly. Comfort the discouraged. Help the weak. Be patient with everyone.  

This verse speaks so loudly to me right now.  We are in a period of history when patience is in very short supply.  Election season is usually fraught, but this year it seems exceptionally volatile.  The pandemic is creating its own divisions, some of which I’m still having trouble understanding.  Some people are deliberately creating violent encounters at what are supposed to be peaceful demonstrations.  

Meanwhile all the usual controversies are flaring up even hotter than the wildfires.  You know, like whether or not climate change is a real thing. Whether or not endangered habitats should be opened up for industry. Whether or not everyone should have access to health care.  And then there is abortion, voting rights, LGBTQ rights, the #MeToo movement. . . . the list goes on and on.  

And all I can think of is me and my sister standing in our cribs, one yelling yes and one yelling no.  I’m supposed to be patient with all of those people? 

So many right now are feeling discouraged. Depression is increasing.  Suicide is  increasing. Domestic violence is increasing.  In the recovery community we are seeing relapse increasing.  It would be so easy some days to just throw up our hands and say, “I can’t.  I just can’t.  I’m done.”

Brothers and sisters . . . comfort the discouraged.  Help the weak.  Be patient with everyone.   Including yourself.  

It is a rough time right now.  Trying to be patient with everyone?  It’s exhausting!  From time to time we will get discouraged, or feel weak and tired.  When those things happen, be patient with yourself.  Allow yourself time to regroup, to get back to your center, whatever that is for you.  Do those things that comfort you and strengthen you - maybe prayer, maybe talking with a friend.  Whatever it takes, be patient with yourself as you regain your courage and your strength to face the next thing.

Patient God, we are so grateful that your patience with us is infinite.  Help us, we pray, to be patient with ourselves when we don’t think we can.  Help us to find the courage and strength we need on the hard days.  Through your beloved son we pray.  Amen.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

The whirlpool of my mind


Isaiah 26:4     CEB

Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord is a rock for all ages.

One of my daily meditation emails usually has long passages to consider.  Today’s was very short, and easy to remember.  I probably should use it as a daily affirmation.

I don’t always remember to trust in the Lord.  I worry about “what if’s” and all the things that could possibly go wrong.  I lay awake some nights with my concerns and fears circling endlessly like the water above a drain.  I repeat all those mantras to myself, like “If you have faith, you don’t have to worry.  If you worry, you don’t have faith.”

Most of my worries these days aren’t about things like how I am going to pay the bills, or buy food, or get enough gas to get to work, although I have had years on end when I had those kinds of worries.  My worries today tend to be about how other people are going to react to situations, or to things I said. I second guess myself and worry about things I wish I had done differently.  I try to practice acceptance - I pray the Serenity Prayer over and over.  I practice deep breathing exercises to calm my body and mind. But when my mind is spinning it is hard to let God’s peace inside.

Every now and again, this verse or something like it will pass through my mind as I lay awake.  And then I have an “I could have had a V8!” moment.  “Oh yeah,” I tell myself. “God’s got this.  I can trust God.  I can just wrap this worry up in gift wrap and hand it over.”  Then instead of worries or mantras about worries, I have a whole list of things I know to be true to keep in my mind.

God is my rock, my fortress.  

Anything is possible with God.  

Where ever I am, God is there also.

No matter what, God loves me.

Gracious God, thank you for your patience with me when I lay awake worrying. I know that you are always there, constant and immoveable.  Help me, I pray, remember that on the nights when my mind is spinning out of control, so that I can let the blessing of your peace into my heart.  Amen


Sunday, October 4, 2020

World Communion Words

(This meditation is the message from our outdoor World Communion Sunday service today at First Christian Church.)

 Proverbs 27:1.  NRSV

Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day might bring.

There are faces in front of me!  Look around !  It’s awesome!  

For the past 6 1/2 months I have been preaching in my living room where the only faces to be seen are cat faces, and they really don’t care what I have to say.  The last time we were together as a congregation we were planning Easter.  Easter passed and we hoped for maybe  Pentecost.  Then maybe August.  We have had no idea what tomorrow is bringing us.  Every day has been another question mark - is this the day things will change?    We are praying to be able to start meeting indoors by Advent?  Maybe sooner? It will depend a lot on what happens in the County, and whether the numbers stay stable for a while, and how successful we are at getting committed volunteers to do things like take temperatures and checking masks, and showing you to your seats to make sure of physical distancing.  But today we are gathering as a congregation to celebrate World Communion Sunday - outdoors, sitting in lawn chairs appropriately distanced, wearing masks, holding our individual communion cups.  We are listening to music, but can’t sing along.  But that’s ok, because the Quarantine Qrew’s singing is awesome, and so is David’s guitar playing.  Today’s service will be very short. But we are together, and we are staying safe.  We do not know what a day might bring.  We really can’t make long range plans cause we just don’t know.

Sometimes I picture God sort of hovering above us all, saying “No! That is not what I planned for you to do! Follow the plan. I had people write it down in black and white - and sometimes red - for you!”. As I said in this morning’s message, we are really good at messing up God’s plans, at making decisions that take us in a different direction than intended.  In the Old Testament God keeps going back to the people of Israel, showing them the error of their ways, and turning them back in the direction of the plan - over and over, they veered away from the plans God had made for them.  God’s plan is for us all to take care of each other, to do justice, love kindness, and walk with him.  God’s is not always an easy path to follow, but it is really easy to get sidetracked. 

God tried so many times - sending judges and prophets to urge the people to do as they had been commanded to do.  God gave them commandments, and the Law, and over time they decided it was more important to worry about the details of each law than the overall message it gave - Love God with all your being, and love all other people as you love yourself.

So God sent Jesus, a human person who embodied God’s Word - God’s own son - to tell us and show us what that meant.  To remind us that God’s plan for the world is to live here on earth as if it is God’s own dwelling place.  Jesus walked among us to heal the sick, to cast out evil spirits, to preach Truth in ways that anyone could relate to - not as an academic, or a lawyer, but as one of us, as someone who embraced all humanity.  God’s hope was that this time the people would listen.  This time for sure.  But as we all know, only some of the people listened.  The powers that be did not.  Jesus was tried, and tortured and crucified.  And then, he rose from the tomb - he appeared to the disciples and ate with them, reminding them through those meals who he was, whose he was, and what God desired of us.  What God expects of us.  What God planned for us.  After that time, whenever Christ’s people came together to worship God, they shared a meal of remembrance, the bread and cup that remind us of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and of God’s love.

We, Disciples, share this meal every Sunday.  Not all other Christians do. But today, on World Communion Sunday, this meal is being shared all around the world in remembrance, in unity, and in gratitude for all of the gifts we have received from God, especially the gift of Jesus, the Christ, whose love for us all brings us to this Table.  In gratitude for this great sacrifice, let us offer ourselves, our own gifts and talents, and a portion of all our resources back to our God, so that the work of sharing the Good News with all of the world may go forward.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Love them all


Luke 6:27-28 NRSV

27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 

I spent yesterday keeping one eye on my fact check app, watching conspiracy theories and outright fabrications from both Left and Right fly through the interwebz.  Some of them made me laugh out loud, others made me shake my head.  All of them made me wonder how anyone comes up with these things. 

Periodically I checked Facebook. Someone had said that “all those supposed Christians are celebrating that the President is sick!”  And maybe that was happening someplace, but I did not see any such thing on my feed.  Probably at least 50% of my friends are ministers, and another 30% are Christian lay people.  I did not see any of them celebrating his sickness.  Oh, there were a few who suggested he deserved to get Covid after denying it was serious for so long, but no one celebrated. 

Rather, what I saw was an outpouring of prayer for his well being, and the First Lady’s, even from the most  anti-Trump people I know.  They did not suddenly start liking him, or supporting his re-election, but they did pray for his health. They did this because they are Christians, and Jesus was pretty clear about who we are supposed to love.  Everyone!  Friend, enemy, stranger - everyone.  Loving someone means you don’t want them to die of such a terrible disease no matter how much you might dislike them. 

Whether you support or oppose the President’s re-election, I would invite all to pray for his recovery, and the First Lady’s, and that of everyone who has contracted the novel coronavirus.  

Lord God of all people, help us to remember that we are to love every single one of your children.  No exceptions.  We ask the blessing of your healing love upon the President, the First Lady, and all who suffer because of this dreadful virus.  Amen. 

Friday, October 2, 2020

It only takes a spark

 John 1:5. NRSV

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.

Have you ever noticed how even the tiniest spark of light shines like a lighthouse beacon if it is really dark out?  

My parents told stories about black out drills during WWII when air raid wardens would drive up and down neighborhood streets to make sure no light escaped the houses.  They said that even someone smoking a cigarette outdoors at night could be reprimanded!  The theory was that enemy planes could not drop a bomb on a target they couldn’t see.  From having been in airplanes at night, I am quite well aware how bright the lights around a parking lot or sports venue are from 35,000 feet.  Residential neighborhoods are easy to spot, also, with lots of little twinkling lights in clusters.  I don’t know whether a lamp in a window would be visible from the air, but better safe than sorry, right?

On the other hand, light does overpower darkness.  If you have ever looked at the stars from the mountains or desert you will note that they are much brighter and there are more of them than can be seen in more populated areas.  It’s called light pollution, which keeps the night sky from ever being dark enough to allow those celestial lights to be fully visible.  

It’s really hard to make a room fully dark. I have trouble sleeping at night if there is light in my room.  (I can nap in the middle of the day just fine.  Go figure.).  If the moonlight is peeking through my drapes, or if there is green light on an electronic device in the room, or even if the lighted face of the clock in the room across the hall from my room is facing in precisely the right direction - that tiny bit of light can keep me awake.  

And that gives me hope.  In the darkest of days, or nights, just a spark is enough to break through the dark.  Like the mustard seed and faith, just a spark is sufficient to fill hearts with hope.  One of my favorite hymns begins with the words, “It only takes a spark”... just the tiny spark of God’s love.  Just the tiny spark of hope.  Just the tiny spark of good in the midst of trouble.

God of light, I am so grateful for the hope I receive from the smallest of sparks, the good deeds of your children flickering like candle light in the face of oppression and injustice.  May you use me as one of those lights to drive back the dark.  Amen.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Falling short


Colossians 3:14

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 

Verses on getting along in peace and harmony keep coming up in my devotions, which I blame on God.  I have learned that when God really wants me to pay attention to a particular thing, that thing will show up in my life in a number of ways.  It’s kind of like praying for patience, which I do NOT recommend.  Praying for patience typically results in suddenly having to wait for everything - the longest check out line, traffic jams, check in the mail is late, Amazon delivery is late.  You name it, you’ll have to wait for it.  

Clothe yourselves with love.  This is certainly not what we are hearing from the news and social media these days.  We keep hearing hate and divisiveness, accusations and counter accusations.  The language of love - words like caring, compassion, empathy, mercy - seems to be entirely gone from the national vocabulary.  

Me, I preach love every Sunday. I write about love most every day.  So, I have to wonder why God keeps putting love language in front of me lately?   Perhaps I am not clothing myself with love?  I confess I do get angry about some of the things I see and hear, but I make every effort not to lower myself to that level. . .

And that right there is where I am falling short.  The idea that I am somehow at a “higher” level than someone with whom I disagree.  There is arrogance involved in that  attitude, that they need to change their thinking to bring it more in line with my thinking.  I have spent the last 30 years learning to allow others to be themselves, to make their own mistakes, to have the right to their own opinion and way of living.  It seems that I haven’t fully embraced that lesson just yet.

I mean, some things are simply wrong. Period.  Murder is wrong.  Arson is wrong. Threatening the life or livelihood of another is wrong.  Rape is wrong. Treating someone differently because of their race, gender, religion, etc. is wrong.  Hate is wrong.

But beliefs and opinions that differ from mine?  They are not necessarily wrong, just different, unless those beliefs or opinions grow into actions that will cause harm or damage to others.  For example, it is one thing to believe that the husband should be the head of the household.  It is another thing entirely to believe that, as head of household, he can beat his wife and children into submission.    (October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.)

Loving acceptance of others the way they are, as God accepts all of us, sometimes seems almost impossible.  But it is what we are called to do.

Loving God, you call upon us to love one another.  You know how hard that is for us, especially when we disagree vehemently about stuff.  May we be reminded that people are different from one another, and that is as it should be.  Help us to love without judgement, so that we may live in harmony as one people in your care.  Amen.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Holy Wisdom


Philippians 1:9-10. NRSV

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless

When God asked King Solomon what gift he would like to have, he said, “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil.” This pleased God so much that Solomon immediately received the gift of wisdom.  Indeed, that is what he is best known for.  (1 Kings 3:9, 12)

The gift of wisdom, the ability to determine what is best, is a precious gift indeed.  When we are filled with love for all of our siblings, it becomes easier to see what course of action is better for all people.  Clean air is good for all people.  Clean water is good for all people.  Healthy forests are good for all people.  Poison-free food is good for all people.   That’s pretty easy.

It becomes complicated when the desire for profit gets in the way. Companies who fill the air and water with pollutants would incur a great cost to clean up their act, and that would greatly reduce profits.  Cutting the Forestry Department’s budget for wildfire management pleases people who want lower taxes.  Factory farms that spray crops with all kinds of noxious chemicals to increase production would make less profit.    

We can do this kind of comparison with almost any issue in our society. Very few things are either entirely good or entirely bad.  Wisdom is the ability to discern what is best.  And wisdom is a very rare commodity, indeed.  “For wisdom is like her name; she is not readily perceived by many.” (Sirach 6:22)

Wisdom begins with a willingness to listen carefully and with an open mind to both sides of an issue in order to seek the truth that often lies somewhere in between.  According to the Psalmist:  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. (Psalm 111:10). and “The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom, and their tongues speak justice. (Psalm 37:30). 

Wisdom begins with knowledge. Knowledge requires that we look beyond the surface arguments to determine all relevant facts.  Wisdom requires that we gain insight into the context and background of any given situation or report, and often requires questioning what we think we know.  The knowledge we gain in this way leads to the ability to discern what is right or wrong, just or unjust, what falls on the side of love and what does now.

Loving God, give us wisdom. Give us willingness to learn as much as we can before making decisions.  May our love for the other lead us to acts of righteousness and justice. Amen

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

My heart sings


Psalm 28:7 

The Lord is my strength and my shield;

    in him my heart trusts;

so I am helped, and my heart exults,

    and with my song I give thanks to him.

“With my song I give thanks to him.”. Yes, very much this.  

At 10:30 on Sunday mornings I am sitting at home in front of my computer with my communion elements close by waiting for worship to begin.  It begins with gathering music, then praise music and during the rest of the service there will be prayer music, message and communion and offering and benediction music.  Most of the time I sing the hymns lustily and with feeling.

Sometimes the voices of the Quarantine Qrew enrapture me and move me to tears so that I cannot sing.  But that’s ok.  My heart sings along with them.

I have heard people say that “If I cannot sing, it does not feel like worship”.  And I agree.  Which is going to make going back to in-person worship services that much harder for us. 

When we return to worship in our beautiful sanctuary, we will not be able to sing.  

We will not be able to pray the Lord’s prayer in unison or respond to the Pastoral Prayer together.

Even though we will all be wearing masks. 

Even though everyone has had their temperature taken on the way in.  

Even though we will be sitting  far apart from everyone except our own family.  

Even though we will not be able to hug each other.  

Even with all those precautions, we still won’t be able to sing.

For the safety of everyone present, and their families and friends and co-workers we cannot sing. 

That’s going to be hard.  I cannot imagine what that will feel like.

So I will continue to sing at home for as long as we worship at home.  I will continue to let my heart sing with the Qrew, and know that I will be able to do that, at least, when we come back together.

God of singers and musicians, from the earliest days we have worshipped you with music and thanksgiving.  We have written psalms and hymns to praise you.  We love to sing together, but when we cannot, help us to remember that we still worship you with the song in our hearts.  Amen

Sunday, September 27, 2020



Psalm 25:7.  NRSV 

Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;

    according to your steadfast love remember me,

    for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!

One of the things that should be on my gratitude list every day is my absolute belief in God’s grace and forgiveness - that God really does forget about my transgressions and the sins of my youth (although to be honest my “youth” did last until I was nearly 40).

In the church of my upbringing we went to confess our sins every week.  We would be given some penance - usually lots of time spent on our knees praying - and be granted absolution.  Which would have been fine and very Biblical.  “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”. (John 20:23).  But then I was taught that even if I confessed everything and received absolution, even if that happened in the last minutes before I died, I would still have to endure punishment in Purgatory for every one of the sins of my lifetime for thousands of years before I would be forgiven fully and allowed to enter Heaven.  

When I started attending 12 Step meetings people told me over and over again that:

There is a God, and it is not me. 

God loves me just as I am and wants only the best for me.  

God gave me free will so I could make my own life choices.

God will  forgive me everything, if I ask.  

Eventually I began to believe them.  I learned to go over my day each night, seeing where I went wrong and determining to do better the next day - and seeing what I did well so that I could keep doing that.

God forgives our sins and then allows us to start fresh as though they did not happen.  Each day is a new beginning, a new opportunity to choose the good, to make the decisions that are most likely to please God.  I am so grateful that my God loves and forgives and cares about me, even me, no matter what I did in the past.

Forgiving God, your willingness to forgive and allow a fresh start as many times as necessary is overwhelming.  I do not deserve your loving care and compassion, but I am so grateful for them.  I love you Lord and desire only to do those things that will please you.  Help me to choose the right today.  Amen

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Thy Word

Psalm 78:1
My people, hear my teaching;

    listen to the words of my mouth.

My first reaction to this sentence today was a snarky remark.  I will definitely be hearing words today. I’ll be listening to words for 3 hours during a virtual Annual Gathering of the Christian Church in Northern California/Nevada.  There will be reports and words and business items and more words.  I am so glad I don’t have to drive anywhere, but bummed that I won’t be able to see and hug all my friends.  

It seems like life is a series of “ooh, I like that part. . .but not so much that other part.” Or like a box of chocolates.  But at least with a box of chocolates you can pick the next one with a fair idea from the shape of the candy what sort it will probably be.  We can’t always choose the outcomes of the random events life brings us with any degree of accuracy. 

Who knew that there would be so much good to come out of Covid19 and the resulting shelter in place orders?  A lot of bad stuff, yes.  But it’s also forcing us to reach out harder to keep everyone connected with the congregation.  It has shown us the gaps in “All means ALL”.  Video worship means more people can be connected while at the same time some people who were at church services regularly can’t connect, so we have to work harder to connect them.  We were forced to step WAY outside our comfort zones to do things we never pictured ourselves doing.  Those of us who can work from home have found ourselves overwhelmed, overworked, and overstressed and have FINALLY started paying attention to the oft repeated suggestions that we take some time for ourselves so we don’t burn out.  

In my case, I started getting serious about taking Monday as Sabbath Day a few months ago.  Then I instituted a new thing yesterday called “No Distraction Writing Day” because I kept having trouble getting all the things that needed to be recorded written ahead of time.  Only checked email once in the morning and then again when my writing was done.  No Facebook or Messenger.  It felt very strange to know when I woke up today that I didn’t have a deadline looming over me, because the stressful part was already done.  I did take many hours longer than usual to get the sermon to turn out ok, and I was whupped when I finished so I never did get to the Daily Journal.  *sigh* Regardless, I think this will be a good thing for me, and for the church.  It gives me the opportunity to focus solely on the Word without distraction from outside.  

Among the words out of God’s mouth was love your neighbor as you love yourself.  It seems to me that Covid19 has given us new opportunities to love, to share of ourselves, to reach out and to care for ourselves in ways we never did before.

Lord of Words, your words have given us direction, encouragement, and comfort.  They have energized us and provoked us to action.  May we be committed to listening to and learning from your Word, and then acting on what we have learned.  Amen.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Tear down that wall


Ephesians 2:14    NRSV 

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 

If only.  If only the dividing wall of hostility would be broken down.  If only we could agree to at least discuss our differences and be willing to listen to one another.  If only . . .   And I’m not even talking about politics. I’m talking about Church!  

Paul was talking about the divisions between the Jews and Gentiles, the continuing arguments over whether Gentiles needed to be circumcised before being baptized and follow the dietary regulations.  Even then there were deep divides within the one Church, which I am sure really frustrated Paul who firmly believed that all of those things were side issues.  He continually wrote encouraging Christians to remember that they were Christians first - not Jew or Greek, man or woman, slave or free, eaters of meat or just vegetables.  He continually wrote that those things were not the important thing - the important thing is Christ, in whose death and resurrection we are all freed from the chains of sin.  

Clearly he was not successful.  There was one holy apostolic Church for a minute, then the splits began.  Christianity is currently divided into three general categories - Orthodox Catholic, Roman Catholic, and Protestant.  As each of these has also split over the centuries, often over something so small that all the others scratch their heads wondering what is the big deal, there are now so many different Christian traditions that no one can come up with an accurate count of them!   The number of total Christians can be figured, but not the number of all the different traditions of Christians.  Even then, quite a few of those different traditions refuse to accept the others as Christian to such an extent that over the last 2,000 years we have tortured and killed each other over our differences, in the name of Christ.

Even when a group of 10 or 12 denominations came together with the stated intention of forming an agreement whereby we can all worship together, our often small seeming differences kept us from coming to an agreement for decades!  

And yet - we all have Christ at the center of our being.  We all worship the same God, serve the same Savior, celebrate the same resurrection.  How is it we find so much to disagree about when the core of our belief is Christ?  As Rodney King famously said, “Why can’t we all just get along?” 

Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace, we really should be able to accept one another in your name.  Yet our differences of opinion over ritual and tradition and even which translation of the Gospels we should use keeps us firmly on opposite sides of the fence when there should be no fence at all.  Help us accept each other, Lord. Help us work together in your name to bring the Beloved Community to the earth, as it is in heaven.  Amen

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

All the things . . .

 Romans 5:3-4 CEB

But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.

Sometimes when I read this particular verse I think of the people of whom we might say, “She’s only happy when she has something to complain about.”. I’m pretty sure this is not the sort of response to problems that Paul is referring to.  Rather, he was talking about the ones who face down problems daily and just kept going - problems like poverty, racism, lack of health insurance, chronic illness, underemployment.  In pandemic time they add things like having to figure out how to get their kids educated without access to the internet while they themselves need to get to work every day so they all have a place to live.   Paul was talking about the folks who just keep doing the best they know how, whom every one in the community looks up to, who welcomes everyone and is willing to share what little they have with others who have less.  These are people of great character - and we all know some of them.  You can recognize them by the glow that seems to surround them, the glow of hope and faith, the knowledge that no matter what, everything is going to be alright.

I don’t have much in the way of problems in my life today.  Mine are more like first world person with privilege problems.  But even those can seem pretty overwhelming at times.  Sometimes I wonder how I am going to get through.  I’m being pulled in a half dozen directions. It’s not just that there is too much on my plate. It’s like I am sitting in front of a giant Thanksgiving Dinner that I have to eat all by myself.  Maybe trouble produces endurance, but when there are so many things in front of me, where do I even start?

At times like that I have to remind myself of the age old question “How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.” And the other one, “Where should I start?   At the beginning.” It’s not always clear where the beginning is, but if I take a moment to settle myself I can usually find a starting point.  Whether it is a multitude of writing deadlines, or cleaning out the closets, once I get started all I have to do is keep going, doing one thing at a time, until I get finished.  

God of all the things, I know that with you any thing is possible, but sometimes there are just so many things to be done.  Help me to remember that I only need to do the next indicated thing, one thing at a time, until I have finished all the things.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Forgiving through love


1 Peter 4:8. NRSV

Above all, show sincere love to each other, because love brings about the forgiveness of many sins.

I have found that it is so much easier to forgive someone you love - and by love in this instance I mean think of fondly.  If I like you anyway, forgiveness is not nearly as difficult as it is to forgive someone I already have issues with.  If I like you anyway, I am more likely to cut you some slack and let bygones be bygones.  If I don’t like you, however, each new incident tends to bring increased dislike and more difficulty in forgiving you for your behavior.

And it doesn’t matter how many times I tell myself I can love someone I don’t like, that in fact God requires that I love even the people I don’t like (or truly despise) - it is sometimes hard to wrap my mind around how to actually do that.

Then something happens to remind me of the difference between love and like.  In this time of Covid and wildfires it is not hard to imagine a tragedy touching the life of any person.  Maybe the person I dislike becomes seriously ill, or has an accident, or something else bad happens to them.  Then I immediately turn to concern for their wellbeing.  I pray for them, and I might seek tangible ways to help.  Any dislike or resentment is put away during time of crisis.

This is what Love is - the desire for another person to have all the good things I want for myself.  Not the perfect job or bigger car or visible good things.  Rather, peace of heart, joy, contentment with my lot in life, serenity, willingness to serve those in need...

In order to forgive, this is what I need to be able to do - to put my love, my desire for all persons to recognize God’s blessings in their lives ahead of my dislike of an individual.  In order to forgive I begin to pray for that person to have all those good things, blessings, and before long love replaces resentments and anger. I may still dislike you, but I can forgive you.  

Forgiveness does not require forgetting.  In the case of an abusive partner, for example, I have been able to forgive the behavior but remember it, and keep my distance for my own safety.

Perhaps even more importantly, having done all this I can then forgive myself for the anger and resentment I have allowed to take control of my mind.  I can forgive myself for whatever my part in whatever the situation was that required forgiveness in the first place.  

Forgiving God, I cannot imagine forgiving the same people over and over as I know you have done.  Yet that is precisely what you require of us.  May I love others sufficiently that I can forgive, even as you do.  Amen.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Breathing out and breathing in


1 Peter 4:7b NRSV

“Be self-controlled and clear headed so you can pray.”  

I am reading a new book of daily devotions - I know, another one.  This one was written by my friend and colleague, Sandhya Jha and is titled “Liberating Love: 365 Love Notes from God.” (Available from Chalice Press and  Today’s meditation came from 1 Peter 4:8-11, which sent me back to read the rest of that chapter.  I was struck by this - the 2nd half of verse 7.  There is so much for me to consider in just this one verse!  

This is why these daily meditations I write help me so much.  In writing a sermon I have to research and study and consider for whom I am writing and even put my feelings aside.  In these daily writings I can focus closely on one or two verses, and just respond with how it makes me feel.  These journal posts help me reach into myself and grapple with fears, pain, prejudices, denial as well as celebrating the joyful stuff.  

Be self-controlled and clear headed so you can pray.”  Right?  When my mind is spinning at 1,000,000 rpm I cannot pray.  I have to take a breath or twenty and calm myself in order to approach God with any words beyond “Lord, help me!”. Those words are good, and I use them a lot, but sometimes I need to speak my needs and fears out loud so that I can hear them more clearly.  When I am clear headed and under control of my emotions I am better able to see my situation, and to see what parts I can do and what parts I need to give to God.  

When I try to pray in the midst of reacting to the insanity of whatever crisis is going on, I often find myself doing a lot of circular thinking, or thinking I am in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.  That is sometimes true, but usually not.  I won’t be able to see past that if I don’t take the time to settle myself.  

Breathing out slowly, I let the frustration and panic go.  Breathing in deeply, I welcome God’s love and peace into my heart.  I may have to do that quite a few times before my mind and heart have calmed down enough to begin praying.  Sometimes all that does is allow me to begin praying the Serenity Prayer,

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

Sometimes it takes all of this to get to a point where I am clear headed and in control of my emotions and reactions enough to really speak to God, and then - and this is the most important part - listen for God’s response. I can hear a lot better when my mind is open and calm.

God of peace and quiet, I come to you for answers and for assurance.  I know that I cannot hear you when my mind is running at high speed.  May I always remember to breathe and calm down enough to listen when life is making me crazy.  Amen.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Words of love.

 Ephesians 4:29      New Revised Standard Version

29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.

This is what I think pretty much any time I get on Facebook these days.  Even the kindest, gentlest people I know are beginning to be angry at the anger and rudeness.  That little angry face icon shows up more and more often - and that’s on the pages of ministers and other religious folk!  It would probably easier for me just to stay off social media, but a lot of my work takes place there.  I learn more about the families of my congregants and what is going on with them on Facebook than any other way.  In many circumstances it is the only contact I have with people.  So I have to be careful when reading posts to not let the anger get to me.

Speaking for building up seems to be a lost art.  We are quick to say, “Hey, that’s wrong. Don’t do it that way!” than to ask a person why they are doing whatever in the way they are doing it. They might need to be directed to do the thing differently, or you might learn a different way to do the thing. You never know.  When a child gets a low grade on a report card, praise them and encourage them to do better, don’t call them stupid and ask why they didn’t work harder.  See if they need help with the subject.  

I am as guilty of this as anyone else.  I often have to bite my tongue before the wrong words come out. Sometimes I don’t bite soon enough and I cause pain to another, which is rarely my intention.  Even customer service people who are giving me the one answer I really don’t want to hear deserve to be treated with grace and kindness.

If we truly love one another, we will speak gently, giving guidance and encouragement to the best of our ability.  But it seems, sadly, that our go-to reaction to anything that we disagree with even a little bit is that (overdone) meme of the two women screaming and pointing at the cat sitting at the table.  All of them look angry and accusatory, even the cat!  There is no grace evident in that picture at all.

It might be best to consider these questions before speaking:  “It is true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?”   

Loving God, help me to learn to think first before speaking.  Let the words that come from my mouth always be spoken with love toward the other, that they might not cause pain.  May I always temper anger with love, and speak with grace and care to every person.  Amen.