Sunday, May 31, 2020

A wonderful world . . .

Romans 12:9-11  NRSV

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;

10 Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.

11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.

Outdo one another in showing honor.”  Can you imagine what the world would look like this morning if we all lived according to that suggestion?  Indeed, if all of these suggestions were taken to heart, the world this morning would be a very different place.

I woke up to dueling accusations on the news.  Some voices are saying “The riots are all being caused by outside agitators from the far Left,” while others are saying “The riots are being caused by outside agitators from the far Right.”   I am certain that there are people from outside of Minneapolis who have gone to join in the demonstrations. I can easily believe that some of those are intent on causing harm. I strongly suspect some of those “outside agitators” come from all ends of the political and ideological spectrum, each with their own agenda.  

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil; hold fast to what is good.  If we lived by these words, there would be no racism, because racism is evil.  Good people do hate racism, and ageism, and sexism, and heterosexism, and ableism, and all the other isms.  But we seem to lag in zeal, for we are not working at dismantling the system that created these, and that exists solely to protect the status quo.   

What if today everyone worked at outdoing one another to show each other honor?  What if today everyone said only those things that one says to and about a person for whom they feel affection?  

What if today, we are zealous about our love for God and for all of God’s creatures, and serving the common good as a way of serving the Lord? 

What a wonderful world it would be.

Loving God, teach us to love.  Help us to see what it truly means to love one another, so that we may better serve you.  Amen

Saturday, May 30, 2020

The summer of. . . .?

Matthew 5:6.  NRSV

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

If this is prophecy, may it be fulfilled soon . . .

On Monday George Floyd was killed.  That’s when the demonstrations started.  And then the riots. In major cities all over the country.  Because yet another unarmed Black person was killed for the crime of being Black while living in the US.  We keep hearing of more and more of them. The list is way too long.  For way too long the oppressed in our nation have been advised to be patient, to take it slow, to be happy with baby steps, to be assured change will come.  They are told that the wheels of justice are slow, but they grind exceedingly fine.  But nothing really changes when people just wait.  And people keep dying.  So - riots.    MLK said that “a riot is the language of the unheard.”  

There have been silent vigils and peaceful protests.  There have been oceans of words written and spoken.  And riots.  And fires. And looting.  And it’s beginning to feel like the 1960s again.  I remember the race riots, as they were called.  I remember the contradictory teachings of MLK and Malcolm X (before his trip to Mecca).  

The people hunger and thirst for righteousness. They yearn for a nation that understands that justice is not about courts and verdicts, but about right behavior.  Not just toward one group or another, but just, right behavior toward all persons, everyone who inhabits this land.  For the Native people and the immigrant people: the Euro and LatinX and African American and Asian people.  

Yesterday on Facebook someone posted, “What is your favorite protest song?”  *sigh*. Songs ain’t gonna cut it this time.  They really didn’t the last time, but we pretended they made a difference.  And maybe they did.  Maybe they were just subversive enough that people were convinced by their words. Protest songs are like hymns - we learn our theology from them.  Did I favor unions before I learned “Joe Hill”?  Did I care about the environment before I learned John Prime’s “Paradise”?  I don’t know.  I was becoming socially and politically aware at the time those songs were gaining ground, so  . . . dunno.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness . . . I would hope that is all of us. I would hope that we know we can’t just sit back and watch and worry and moan and complain until change happens. We can’t wait for someone else to take the lead and do the things that need to be done.   We have to be the instruments of change. 

God of justice, may we serve you by right living.  May the example of our lives and our love lead others to follow you, as we do.  Amen.

Friday, May 29, 2020

On being adopted

Romans 8:14-15  Common English Bible (CEB)

14 All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters. 15 You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, “Abba, Father.” 

I read this passage several times this morning.  Each reading led me to see and receive a different phrase until at last I came to an understanding of what it meant as a unit.

First I saw, “Abba, Father” and remembered how in seminary we were taught to use non-gender specific terms for God.  This was partly because God doesn’t have gender, as seen in Genesis 1:26-27.  God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness . . .So God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.”  And partly because many people have issues with the image of Father God, particularly those who have been abused by their human father.  

In the the next reading what stood out was,  All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters . . .you are adopted as his children.”  I thought about adoption, and how people don’t adopt children on a whim, but because they have given deep consideration to accepting a new person - a child - into their lives. When it is a case of adopting a child who is a bit older, then both child and parent have first formed a bond before the adoption is finalized.  An adopted child may be sure that they are not in this family by  accident, but that they were deliberately chosen by their parent.

Then, “You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear,” came to my attention.  I thought of all those years - decades, really - when God was a being to be greatly feared, whose attitude toward me was to seek out my imperfections, of which there were many, and inflicting punishment for those imperfections.  And then I considered my current understanding of God, whose attributes of mercy, compassion, justice, and forgiveness have taken away my fear.  I fear God in the sense of being awestruck by God’s mighty power, but not in the sense of always being afraid, as I had been for more than half of my life. 

I came to understand this passage, then, as assurance that God loves me for who I am today.  I came to understand that I need never fear God as I used to, because God is my loving parent, in whose care I have freely put my life. 

Gracious and Compassionate God, we thank you for adopting us to be your children.  We thank you for your loving care for us even in our imperfection.  May we continue to be led by your Spirit.  Amen. 

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Lead me, guide me

Psalm 33:20-22   (CEB)

We put our hope in the Lord.
    He is our help and our shield.

Our heart rejoices in God
    because we trust his holy name.

Lord, let your faithful love surround us
    because we wait for you

When I wake up in the morning, after I remove whatever cat is standing on top of me complaining they are starving but before I get out of bed, I pray this prayer:

Take my will and my life

Guide me in my recovery

Show me how to live.

I’ve been praying that same prayer every morning for over 30 years.  It helps me focus and, like the Serenity Prayer, it reminds me that I am not in charge of everything today. I am, in fact, only in charge of my own thoughts, words, actions and reactions.  So while I might get angry at people or situations, acting out and speaking intemperately will not help the situation, or even make me feel better afterward.  I trust God to help me find the best response, the most loving response.  I have learned it is best not to speak until I have had a chance to consider my response with a “what would God want me to do?” mindset. I don’t always do that well, but I do try.  There is no sense in making a bad situation worse by lashing out in fear or anger. 

I pray that prayer because it reminds me that I can trust God, because God loves me and will shield my soul from harm.  Stuff will happen that might cause physical harm or emotional harm, but my soul will be well as long as I continue to put my hope in the Lord, as long as I trust God to guide my choices.  Because I know these things, I am able to rejoice in God even on days when it seems there is nothing to rejoice about.  I am able to make a gratitude list even on days when I might start out thinking I have nothing to be grateful for.  When I remember to let God take charge of my will and my life I am able to feel God’s love all around me. 

I pray that prayer so that I may live this Psalm.

Holy and loving God, lead us in the ways you would have us go, so that we may always be acting according to your will, not our own.  Amen.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Hello Darkness, my old friend.

Psalm 88:18 
My companions and neighbors you have put away from me, and hidden my friends out of my sight.

Each morning I read the Bible passages the lectionary assigns for the day - a Psalm, a passage from the Hebrew Bible, and one from the New Testament.  I also read several daily devotions and meditations.  Sometimes one of the daily devotions does not match any of those readings, but stirs something in me that the assigned readings do not.  Today is one of those days.  Because when I read this verse from Psalm 88 my reaction was, “Whoa!  This is how it feels.”

This is how depression feels.  This is how many of us are feeling right now, after sheltering in place for over 2 months and seeing a glimmer of light, a possibility that we will be able to be with other humans again soon.  I mean, I love my cats, but their companionship cannot substitute for human contact.   Mind you, I have seen people on Zoom, and at my front door - where they stand at the edge of the patio while I stand inside the screen door.  I have a person who comes and shops for me, so I get to see them for a little while each week.  I regularly exchange cheerful greetings with the Postal Carrier, and with the UPS, FedEx, and Amazon delivery people.  

But I can’t sit down and have coffee and a conversation with them. I can’t hug someone who needs a hug - or get a hug when I need one.  I can’t watch a program on BritBox or Netflix with a friend.  I can’t go have a meal whenever and wherever I want to go. I want to stand up in front of my congregation and see faces while I am preaching!  I really really want to do those things!  

And I do think it feels a bit worse now, when the Governor of California has said houses of worship may begin to gather publicly again under certain restrictions.  I am just as anxious as everyone else to get back to worship, to get back to the way things used to be.

But . . . I have asthma and COPD, so it will be quite some time before it is sort of safe-ish for me to go out.  Even with social distancing.  Even with a mask on.   A lot of folks in all of our congregations are in the same position.  

AND . . . I know it will not be the way it used to be for who knows how long.  Maybe a couple of years, according to some.  And by that time, we will be used to the ways we have learned to do everything. We will be accustomed to  a new way of living and being, and worshipping.

Meanwhile, we will keep looking for ways to do the things we miss safely.  And while we are doing that, while we are at home missing our friends and neighbors, missing human contacts,  we can cry out with the psalmist, 
1. “Lord, God of my salvation, by day I cry out,
    even at night, before you—
2  let my prayer reach you!
   Turn your ear to my outcry! 

Loving God, even when it feels like we are alone and mired in darkness, we know you are with us.  Hold us in your arms, we pray, that we may feel the comfort and healing power of your love.  Amen.  

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Self Control?!

1 Peter 4:7-11 Common English Bible (CEB)
The end of everything has come. Therefore, be self-controlled and clearheaded so you can pray. Above all, show sincere love to each other, because love brings about the forgiveness of many sins

Be self-controlled and clearheaded?  Seriously?  But it’s the end of everything!!!  

Although we have no way of knowing for sure, this may very well have been the way the people who heard Peter’s letter reacted at first.   They were expecting Jesus to come back any day.  They were being persecuted.  Peter himself was in Rome, in prison, soon to be executed.   It was a fearful time, full of change and worry.  How on earth can he counsel self-control and clear-headedness? And so we can pray?   We are praying!

This reaction resonates with me.  I have days when the idea of clear-headedness is as foreign to me as, well, as the idea of staying inside my house for over 2 months would have been 3 months ago.  I thought we would have maybe 14 days in quarantine and then we could pick up where we left off.  That was so naive.  I’m sure I’m not the only one.   As each new and conflicting report was made public the idea of what the future would look like kept changing until now I can accept the fact that the future will look nothing like the past.  That’s about as far as I can get right now.  

And the idea that we have to be self-controlled and clear-headed in order to pray??  I was praying perfectly well, thank you very much.  “Help me!” is a prayer.

As time passed I started to calm down a bit. I developed a routine that helped me get enough rest and relaxation while still getting my work done - not working from wake-up to sleep as I was the first couple of weeks.  I started cooking more adventurous and healthy meals, especially after I subscribed to a fresh produce delivery service.  I became re-acquainted with things I enjoyed as a child.   I started treating my days off as sacred days - although truth be told,  that just started last week.  I started doing the deep breathing exercises that I have had programmed into my watch for months and always ignored.   I started paying really close attention to how everything tastes - because loss of taste is an early symptom of the virus - and found this caused me to eat more slowly and deliberately as I savored each bite.  Practicing self-control in these and other ways, I became much more clear headed. 

And my prayers progressed from “Help me!” to prayers of love for all people, because we are all going through this and we are all reacting differently.  I became better at praying compassionately not just for first responders and essential workers and the sick, but also for the people who are dismissive and angry, whose words and actions are feeding the feelings of division -  on both ends of the spectrum.  I pray for the people who upset or anger or worry me that they may receive all the good things, all the blessings that God showers us with daily - peace of heart, understanding, compassion, mercy . . . in order that I may forgive myself for being angry or worried or upset.   When I can pray lovingly and sincerely with a clear head and self-control, Peter tells us, they bring about forgiveness of many sins.  

Forgiving God, may we move toward self control and clear-headedness, even in the midst of distress and worry, so that our prayers may help us better love one another and ourselves.  Amen.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Musical Prayers

Psalm 96:1-2
1 O sing to the Lord a new song;
    sing to the Lord, all the earth.
2 Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
    tell of his salvation from day to day.

We dearly love singing in church.  We love our choirs, and singing as a congregation.  We love belting out our favorite hymns, clapping along with the praise music, being brought to tears by lyrics.  We can get lost in the music and the feelings as we lift our voices and sometimes our hands up to God.

But it looks like we won’t be able to do that for a while.  Oh, we get to sing along with the Quarantine Qrew during our online worship on Sunday mornings.  But singing alone at home even with the very best singers leading us - and there is no doubt in my mind that ours are indeed the very best - isn’t quite the same as singing in community.  But it looks like it will be quite a while before we can be comfortable doing that.  

I didn’t grow up with hymns or congregational singing.  When I started attending a Disciples congregation in my 40s I didn’t know any of them - except for the ones I learned at Blue Grass Festivals on Sunday mornings.  I dearly loved the Gospel music and quickly learned some of the most popular, which I would belt out at the top of my voice in my car or the shower.  It was the closest I came to prayer for some years. Over the years in college and seminary I began to become familiar with the hymns in the Chalice Hymnal, but still didn’t know the old favorites.  It wasn’t until I started taking a communion service into a women’s retirement community that I had the opportunity  to learn some of the old favorites.  Now those are the ones that stick in my head as prayers when I am most in need of comfort and solace.

Our hymns are one of the ways we pray. Martin Luther, leader of the Reformation, is reputed to have said “Singing is praying twice.”  Whether or not he said these words, they are absolutely true.  Prayer is something that we can do in public with everyone else, as when we pray the Lord’s Prayer together.  It is also something we do in the privacy of our own homes, or our cars, or wandering around outside.  Sometimes those private prayers take the form of song.

Lately I have been waking up with a hymn in my head, a prayer, in fact, that resonates with my heart and soul, and I have been singing throughout these last several days.

I need thee every hour, most gracious Lord.
No tender voice like thine can peace afford.
I need thee, O I need thee.
Every hour I need thee.
O bless me now, my Savior, I come to thee.


Saturday, May 23, 2020

Trust me

Matthew 8:24-26 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
24 A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him up, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm.

We’ve all heard someone say, “I slept like a baby,” or “I slept like a rock.”  There are those who brag about being able to sleep through anything, and others who wake up if an ant sneezes in the other room.  (OK, I don’t know whether or not ants sneeze, but I think you know what I mean.)  Some of us can’t sleep in strange places, others can fall asleep at the drop of a hat, even standing up.  

In this story the disciples are terrified in the storm and don’t understand how he can sleep through it. “Wake up!  Save us! We’re all going to die!”   And Jesus just sort of shakes his head, probably heaves a big sigh, says “Really, guys?  You woke me for this?”,  waves his hand, and the sky and sea are as calm as calm could be.  He may or may not have gone back to sleep for the rest of the trip across to the other side, but I do know he needed the rest.  He had been healing the sick and choosing disciples.  He was going to be casting out demons when he got where they were going.  All of these things take energy, and naps are good. 

Sometimes it does feel like he is sleeping when we most need him. Something happens that we think is a big deal, we cry out for help, and - nothing.  And we’re here saying, “Lord, how can you sleep through this?  Don’t you know I need you right this moment?” Jesus says, “Oh you of little faith.  Why are you afraid?  It’s almost like you don’t trust me to take care of you.”    

I am sure the disciples did all the things people are familiar with boats know how to do when a storm comes up, but when they had done all of those things, they turned to Jesus for help.  When they didn’t know what else to do, when the storm got too big for them to handle themselves, they called upon Jesus.  They didn’t know him yet as well as they would by the end of their journey together.  So they were fearful and worried. Perhaps the thought occurred to them that maybe he couldn’t help.  They didn’t quite trust that he would wake when the time was right for him to step in, and so they woke him with their cries.

We do that, sometimes.  We do everything in our power to solve our issues, whatever they might be, and when we have done all those things we leave the result to Jesus.  Maybe we think he’s asleep, or not paying attention. Maybe we think he doesn’t know what the result “should” be.  So we worry and are fearful, and take back our resolve to leave the solution to him.  “Oh, you of little faith. You have done your part, now leave the rest to me.  You don’t get to determine the outcome. Don’t you know I will make sure you have what you need, when the time is right?  I will not let the storm carry you away, if you just trust me.” 

Lord of solutions, grant us to trust that you will wake and do whatever is needful to help us through a situation when we cry out to you for help.   Amen.  

Friday, May 22, 2020

Responding to Grace

Ephesians 2:8-9 NRSV
 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 

I heard a priest being interviewed on the radio about the precautions they are taking to reopen the churches in his particular diocese. This was not significantly different from the precautions everyone else is planning - massive disinfection of the church building, masks, no singing,  no hugs or handshakes, people/household groups seated 6 feet apart from each other, only a certain number of people allowed in, etc.   But they will celebrate communion because, he said, “the sacraments are how we receive God’s grace.”  

One of the things that I am most grateful for in my life is that God’s grace is poured out freely, undeserved, and unasked for.   I know that I do not deserve God’s forgiveness and mercy, but these are poured out upon me anyway.  Even on the days when I doubt, God showers me with grace and blessings.  As I was told during my early years in recovery, “God loves you, and there is nothing you can do about it.”  I cannot lose God’s love. I can reject it, and God will still love me.  I need not do any good works, perform any particular act, or pray any specific prayer in order to receive God’s grace.  I simply need to believe.  

One of the gifts of grace is that it causes me to want to please God.  While it is true that we do not receive grace because we have done any particular good works, it is also true that our acceptance of that grace causes us to desire to help others.  Our love of God and our gratitude for God’s love makes us want to share that love with others - even with people we do not like.  This is the very point James was making when he said “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.” (James 2:26). 

It is the case that God’s grace, being freely and undeservedly given, also falls upon those who do not respond, who do not accept God’s love into their hearts.  Just as rain falls equally upon every place, so grace falls upon every person.  Whether they respond to that grace is a matter of choice - they might or might not choose to return God’s love.  For what good is it to say, “I believe,” when our actions show that our belief, our love for God, and therefore the neighbor, is limited.  As Jesus said in Matthew 7:21 ““Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

Loving God, we give you thanks for the gift of your grace.  Help us to respond to your love with our own, pouring it out upon others in the same way that your love showers us.  Amen.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Breaking the chains

Galatians 5:13-15    NRSV
13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

I have discovered through writing this daily meditation that there are a lot of lines in scripture I haven’t paid a lot of attention to, even in passages that get preached with some regularity.  Look at this one, for example.  We are totally used to hearing about being slaves to one another, and importance of the law that tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves.  But I don’t recall ever focusing on the part about biting and devouring one another.  

If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”  Wow.  That’s a pretty stark warning and a vivid description of the very opposite of loving one another.   It’s also a fairly good description of the examples we see every day in our society.  TV shows like Big Brother and Survivor come to mind, where the very premise of the game is win at any cost - cheat, lie, steal, do to each other before they can do it to you.  When focused on winning at any cost, and getting mine even though that leaves you with nothing, I am not only not loving the neighbor, I am not loving myself.  When greed and the fear of not having “enough” rule my life there is little room for compassion and caring.  We saw lots of that at the beginning of the shelter in place orders, when people went into stores and bought all the toilet paper, and all the hand sanitizer, and all the disinfectant wipes, and all the meat, way more than they would ever need, leaving nothing for the next person.  It seems to me that this kind of behavior can be described as biting and devouring the neighbor. It is certainly not loving in any way.   

“ . . .do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.”   Let the needs of the other person become more important than your own self indulgent desires.  I want to keep all that toilet paper for myself, but the loving thing would be to leave some on the shelf for the next person and share what I have with someone who does not have any.  The loving thing is to buy just as much meat as I need for a week or two, and leave the rest for the next person.   And if I happen to have extra, share that with someone who has less.  

“ . . .you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters.”  We were called to break our chains and become free from sin, free from causing harm to others, free from anger, feaf and greed.  Freedom allows us to see others - all others - as God’s beloved children, our own siblings, whom we can love just as we love ourselves.  

Gracious God, touch our hearts that we may answer your call to freedom, loving and serving each other in Christian love. Amen

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

A Song for the Sabbath Day.

Psalm 92:1-4  NRSV

1 It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
    to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
2 to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
    and your faithfulness by night,
3 to the music of the lute and the harp,
    to the melody of the lyre.
4 For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;
    at the works of your hands I sing for joy.

My Bible has titles for each of the psalms.  This one is called “A Song for the Sabbath Day.”     Singing and Sabbath have been much on our minds of late, as we try to figure out what worship will look like when we do start meeting in the sanctuary again.  Because one of the things that looks pretty certain, at least for a while - there will be no singing.  Possibly a soloist or a very small group, but no choir and no congregational singing.  There are just too many examples already of congregations who tried that, using all the best practices to keep themselves safe by social distancing and using masks and disinfecting, but started a new round of infection from Covid19 among those who attended, regardless of their efforts.  

I heard an Episcopalian priest interviewed yesterday who said she didn’t know what worship would feel like if she could not pray by singing.  She went on to say she wasn’t even sure she would be a Christian if she couldn’t sing.  I understand that, sort of.  We do sing our faith.  We sing our praise, we sing our grief, we sing our gratitude, we sing our beliefs.  If we cannot sing together. . . what will that be like?  

One of the things I am enjoying about our online worship is the opportunity to sing as lustily as I like, because I am at home and no one can hear me.  If I miss a note or sing off key or even get the words wrong because I am singing with my eyes closed, it doesn’t matter.  Our singing is led by a quartet with amazing voices,  so I am not really singing alone.  Singing my faith with others is empowering, and it will seem strange if we cannot.   

However - I didn’t learn all those hymns I love so much now until I was in my forties and attending a Disciples congregation.   The congregations I grew up in did not sing during regular Sunday worship.  There was rarely any music at all - only on very special occasions.  I loved those special occasions, but they were few and far between.  That did not mean worship was not worshipful, or that we just sat back and observed.  Worship took effort.  There was a great deal of participation in the worship service through responsive readings, which meant you really had to pay attention to what was going on at any given moment.   

Although we can not know what the future brings, we do know that no matter what, our worship will be a time of praising and glorifying God, whether or not we can sing.  

O Lord our God, we come before you singing your praises, even if we cannot sing.  Even if we must keep silence, the songs of our hearts will glorify you.  Amen.