Friday, July 31, 2020

An invitation

James 1:12  NIV

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

Persevering under trial.  That sounds kind of familiar.  It is what we are doing right now.  And it is hard.  We have been sheltering in place in California for 4.5 months. Some have been out and about to shop and go to doctor appointments, and even work.  Others have been inside this whole time, at best getting outside to walk around the neighborhood.   It is getting very old, even for introverts.  But it is keeping us safe.

In the NRSV, the word temptation is in place of trial.  That’s also pretty right on.  Those who have stood up to the temptation to just get out, maybe even go to a restaurant - socially distanced and masked, of course - are less likely to be exposed to the virus. 

My clergy friends who are still doing on-line worship are reporting that some of their members are really pushing hard to get back to in-person worship.  They further report that most of those are older folks, the ones who really shouldn’t be going to in-person worship even when it begins.  Those whose churches have opened say the same thing - the majority of the folks showing up really shouldn’t be out of the house at all.  

To be fair, in many congregations the members tend to be older folks, many of whom do not have access to online services.  How to reach those folks is a topic of  continual conversations among clergy and their governing boards.   

“How do we reach the people who do not come to us?” is the church’s most persistent and frustrating question.  Whether we are talking about people who are not internet savvy in our current situation, or people who just didn’t want to come to church in the Before Times, how to reach those people is the subject of so many books, so many webinars, so many workshops and classes.  Every one of those promotes a different solution, but so far I have not seen any that work better than personally inviting someone.

Last Sunday some people did just that.  They invited one friend without internet access to come to online worship at their home.  I spoke to one of those guests on the phone the other day and she said she liked it.  This will not work for everyone, but it is a start. It could lead to house churches, gatherings of a few family members or very close friends doing worship together.   Whatever will help us persevere through the trials and  temptations we face in this pandemic will help us grow even closer to the God who loves us.

Holy God, you have given us so many opportunities to persevere in our dedication to your ways. May we take those opportunities and share them with others, so that everyone we can reach will know of your love for us.  Amen.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Comfort food

Isaiah 40:1

Comfort, comfort my people!   says your God.

Some mornings I just don’t see anything in the readings for the day that I feel like writing about - not in the daily lectionary, not in any of the daily devotions I get via email, not even in the Bible Gateway verse of the day.  None of them seem to strike a chord or send my mind on a journey.  Or they do, but it’s not the kind of journey I would want to drag anyone else on with me.  Then something happens, and a verse pops into my mind.

I heard someone at the door, so I grabbed the mask I keep by my desk and went to see who it was.  It was a church member with a bag full of cherry tomatoes and a summer salad her mother had made.  I don’t know what it is about Karen’s mother Corena, but she just seems to know which foods bring me the most comfort.  Last week it was fried chicken and mashed potatoes.  This week it is a cucumber & tomato salad.    

As I walked toward the refrigerator with my salad, I heard a song in my head. “Comfort, comfort you my people.  Tell of peace, thus says our God.  Comfort those who sit in darkness.”   

We usually sing this during Advent, in the days leading up to the birth of the Child, and the triumphant return of the Christ.  We sing it during the darkest days of winter, when it may seem like Spring is never going to come again.  I think maybe this would be a good time to sing those Advent hymns and other songs that bring hope into our hearts.   James Baldwin said, “Hope is invented every day,” and it seems to me that this would be a very good time to invent some hope.  We can do that with songs that uplift and speak to hope, songs like “There is a balm in Gilead”.

Sometimes I feel discouraged and think my work’s in vain, 

but then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.  

There is a balm in Gilead that makes the wounded whole, 

there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.

It is a dark time, an uncertain time, and we don’t know when it is going to end.  New changes come every day, new scientific break throughs, new understandings of what the coronavirus is and how it is transmitted, new orders from our governments.  

So we seek comfort in Advent hymns and summer salads.  And we invent hope.

Compassionate God, we seek comfort and healing, we seek that balm that brings wholeness.  May your Holy Spirit revive our souls and show us where hope lives.  Amen.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Planting seeds

Mark 4:30-32 (NRSV)

30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

I love this parable about planting a teensy tiny little seed and having it grow up into a huge shrub.  This could be because I love mustard.  I love yellow mustard, dijon mustard, spicy brown mustard, champagne mustard, mustard mixed with pickle relish for my hot dogs and my new favorite - dijonaisse. If it says it is mustard, chances are really good that I will like it.  

It could also be that I love this parable because I believe that is what all of us are supposed to be doing all day every day - planting little seeds in people’s hearts.  When we are out and we are treating every human as if they are of great value to us, we plant seeds about Christians.  When we are careful in our social media posts to focus on the positive instead of the hate, when we disagree without name-calling or insults, we plant seeds about Christians.  When we behave in ways that show the fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, we plant seeds about Christians.  And when we nourish those seeds with loving care they will continue to grow and change hearts and minds.

We also plant seeds about Christians when we do the opposite of these things, and unfortunately those seeds have sprouted very well indeed.  A seed will always grow toward the light and if it cannot find the light in one direction, it will grow in another.   Way too many people find Christianity as it is practiced publicly to be judgmental, hypocritical, and basically about as far from loving one another as is possible.  And while we might say, “Not all Christians,” that’s not going to change anyone’s mind.

Tiny seeds, even when it seems like they are not getting a lot of attention, tend to grow if left where they are planted.  How many times have you seen a tree growing up through a crack in the pavement?  When a seed is given half a chance, it will grow toward the light, like the oak tree in a parking lot.  We need to be really careful about what seeds we are planting, because if a heart cannot find the light in the behavior of the Christians it meets, it will look for it somewhere else and grow in that direction instead. 

God of grace and love, we are grateful for the seeds of love that have been planted in our hearts.  May we always be careful to plant only the seeds that come from the fruit of the spirit, and may those seeds may grow always toward your light. Amen.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Here, there and everywhere

Exodus 24:1-2 (NRSV) 

Then God said to Moses, “Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship at a distance. Moses alone shall come near the LORD; but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.” 

This passage was the basis for one of my morning devotions today and I really could not resist it.   Especially as I read it immediately after a phone conversation with a church member.  She had attended our online worship service for the very first time on Sunday and said it was very nice, “but when are we going to be able to come to church in person again?”  I had to tell her the same thing I tell everyone with that question - we have absolutely no idea.  The Board meets on Zoom every month, kind of all look at each other and shrug our shoulders.  We know it isn’t time yet, but we have no idea when that time will come.

What we have instead is worship at a distance.  Only a few people - our Quarantine Qrew of musicians - gather in the sanctuary.  The rest of us must stay at a distance from the sanctuary and from each other.   This of course is not at all related to the scripture, but it is where my mind took me right away this morning.   And this writing is, after all, my journal on how I respond to a Scripture reading each day, which sometimes take my mind far afield of the real or intended meaning of the reading.  😊

It did strike me, however, that this passage speaks to how we think about our relationship with God.  In the earliest days it was believed and understood that God was actually present in certain places - on the mountain where Moses met with God, in the tent of the ark of the covenant while the Hebrews traveled all the way up until Solomon built the Temple, and thereafter in the Holy of Holies, the innermost part of the Temple.  Only Moses could face God on the mountain. Only the high priest could face God in the sanctuary.  All the people had to keep their distance, because God is too wonderful and terrifying for ordinary people to meet face to face.  Over time and with the rise of Christianity that changed, although there are Christian traditions in which only the priest may approach the altar.  

We proclaim that Jesus said “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am with them”.  We believe that God is present everywhere all the time.  It is nevertheless hard for us not to think of the sanctuary as God’s House, the place where God lives.  We want to be in the place where God lives.  We want to gather as a body in that place.  It is frustrating that we must worship alone or with just our family members, in our own homes.  It is frustrating that we can see the sanctuary on our computer screens, but cannot be there in person.   

Maybe it would help if we took this passage (completely out of context) as directions for how to approach God right now, in the midst of a pandemic.

“Come up to the Lord, and worship at a distance.”  

Eternal God, you are omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent - all powerful, all knowing, and everywhere present.  Help us to remember that it only seems like we are worshipping at a distance, for our own houses are also your House, and you are there and everywhere with each of us.  Amen.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

There are no words

Romans 8:26-39

8:26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.

The phone woke me at 6:30 this morning.  “Pastor,” she said. “My nephew passed from Covid.  He was only 48. His wife and his four children couldn’t even visit him before he died.” 

This is the first of these phone calls I have received.  I expect there will be more before it’s over.  There really are no words.  There never really are, when a loved one dies. But this time all I could do on my end of the phone was shake my head, and say “Oh Virgie, I am so sorry.”  And she replied by saying, “Tell people, Pastor. Tell them that this Covid is no joke. I know a lot of people think it isn’t real, but it is!”  

Thank God the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  There really aren’t any words - not for the grieving, not to speak out loud in prayer, not even to speak silently in my heart.  In place of words there are only tears and sighs.  There is only, “I am so sorry.”

I keep hearing numbers, insane numbers, numbers I can’t even imagine. . . 4,250,000 cases of Covid in the US - 453,000 just in California.  146,000 deaths from Covid.   400 new cases just in Fresno County yesterday.  

And I keep seeing posts on Facebook asking if anyone really knows someone who has Covid, or who died from Covid.  

“Tell people, Pastor,” she said. “Tell them that Covid is real.”  

I can’t grieve for 146,000 people and their families.  It is simply too much - the numbers are too big.  But I can grieve for Mike and his family. I can weep and sigh and shake my head.  I can still hear her voice on the phone, words coming between the sobs. “My nephew passed of Covid this morning.” 

Merciful and Loving God, sometimes there just aren’t any words to pray.  Sometimes there are only sighs and tears.  May you hear these as our most heartfelt prayers, for they come straight from our hearts to you.  Amen

Friday, July 24, 2020

Not this again!

Psalm 105:4-5. NRSV

Seek the Lord and his strength;

    seek his presence continually.

Remember the wonderful works he has done,

    his miracles, and the judgments he has uttered

Wait.  This sounds a lot like yesterday’s admonition to pray continually.    

My other choices came from Psalm 137, “How can we sing the Lord’s songs in a foreign land?”  and Proverbs 28:15  “No one who conceals transgressions will prosper, but one who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”  I know I wrote on both of those topics lately.  Something tells me these are all things I need to focus on right now. This happens to me.  A lot.  To quote Chrys Cymri, author of an urban fantasy series, “I wondered whether God was giving me a message or just having a good laugh at my expense.  In my experience, it’s often difficult to distinguish between the two.

You know the kind of thing that constitutes God having a good laugh - praying for patience and suddenly finding yourself waiting for EVERYTHING!  The check is late, the line at Starbucks and everywhere else is long and slow, the package is delayed in shipment, the sermon takes hours to upload . . .  Very funny, God.  I get the message.  (This would be why I do not pray for patience, by the way.). 

So - pay attention to God all the time.  Remember all the good stuff God has done and will continue to do.  Accept that the current reality is the way things are just for today.  Be willing to admit wrongs out loud, in front of God and everybody.  

These all sound so simple.  Not easy, because right now what is easy is to be distracted from the Good News by the bad news and the sad news.  What is easy is to focus on what’s wrong and who is responsible for it instead of accepting the situation as it is and moving forward.  What’s easy is to say “Sorry, not sorry,” and then go on to do that same thing over and over again.  Doing the easy thing, in my experience, is rarely the same as doing the thing God wants me to do.

Seek the Lord and his strength . .  continually.”  Seeking and relying upon the Lord’s strength is where my strength comes from.  I need to remember that, all the time.  Knowing that God is with me no matter what the situation makes it easier to sing, even in this foreign Covid land.  And that writing I told my sponsor I was doing, but haven’t really started yet?  Not doing it is all my bad, and I will get right on that.  Really.  It’s not like I have anywhere to go. . .

Merciful God, your strength sustains me.  May I continually seek your presence and the knowledge of your will, so that I may always choose the right thing over the easy thing.  Amen

Thursday, July 23, 2020


I Thessalonians 5:16-18. (CEB)

16 Rejoice always. 17 Pray continually. 18 Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus

The first time someone told me that they pray continually I was seriously confused. I was still having trouble trying to understand about prayers that I didn’t have to memorize and use at special times - like grace at meals and the rosary and responsive prayers during mass.  The entire concept of talking to God as if God was an actual person was completely new.  And then someone told me, “I pray without ceasing.”  I tried to wrap my mind around how I might do that, but I really couldn’t picture what that is like.  If I am consciously praying all the time, how can I pay attention to anything else? 

I understood about giving thanks in every situation because I had learned to do daily gratitude lists, and discovered that I could be grateful for the things I didn’t like as well as the things I like.  For example, being grateful for catching a flu bug because it forced me to stay home and rest.  

I understood the rejoice always part.  When things were tough, my sponsor at the time used to say “God didn’t get me clean to be miserable.”  She taught me to try to keep a positive outlook on life, to celebrate each new day no matter what it brought. I’m not always good at that, but I know that if I fail today I can always aim to do better tomorrow.

But praying continually?  It took a while - and by “a while” I mean at least 10 years - before I could come to some understanding of this.  By that time I had learned that I’m not all that good at extemporaneous prayer, or at spending any length of time focused on just praying. I’m not one of those people who is comfortable being asked to pray out of the blue.  I muddle through ok, but unless the Spirit is really strong in me that day I feel awkward and tongue tied.  The seminary professors who taught us about worship design and writing prayers told the class one day.  “You all know I play the piano,” he said. “I’ve been playing for 50 years or more.  I can play pretty much any written music that is put in front of me.  But I cannot play the blues. I can’t just sit down at the piano and improvise around a theme. It is not my gift.”  I have finally accepted that I’m like that.  I’m good at writing prayers, but improvising is not my gift.  

Except for that whole “pray continually” thing.  I have found that I am actually pretty good at that.

I am a popcorn pray-er.  Because I am really easily distracted, people and situations pop into my brain all the time - and I pray as soon as I think of them.  I hear the unemployment report and pray for an individual I know who is not working.   I see a picture of a redhead and pray for a red headed person I know.  Or a box of raisins, and pray for someone I know from Sunmaid. The prayer is short and focused on that person or situation.  It’s pretty much a continuous process, because. . . . Squirrel!  

This may not be how other people understand praying without ceasing, but it’s what works for me.

Holy God, for all the different gifts we have each received, we give you thanks.  We rejoice in your gift to us of Jesus the Christ, and of everything he taught us to know about you.  Let us be willing to pray always, every minute, that your will might be done in all things.  Amen.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

One day at a time

Psalm 112:7 (CEB) 

They will not be frightened of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.

I heard a social scientist interviewed the other day talking about the dangers of spending too many hours watching the news or scrolling on social media in times of troubles - like now.  When a crisis happens we tend to glue ourselves to the TV screen or other media outlet and watch obsessively, even when they are only repeating the same news over and again.  We did it after President Kennedy was shot and after 9/11, just to name a couple  The difference between those and our current situation is that those were finite events.  They happened and what followed was the response to the event.  

It’s been over four months of sheltering in place.  The coronavirus is not over.  We don’t know when it will be.  We don’t know when a treatment or a vaccine will be available.  We don’t have any idea how long we will have to live with social distancing and face masks and food deliveries and no hugs.  Science is discovering new things about the virus every day, changing what they thought they knew even just last week.  Living in constant stress and uncertainty is not healthy emotionally or physically, or spiritually.

The best thing we can do for ourselves right now is remember that God’s got this.  That’s not to say we can just go out and do whatever assuming that God won’t let us get sick.  We do need to use our brains, listen to the scientists, and keep ourselves safe.  But God is with us, holding on to us in our uncertainty.  God is with the scientists as they work frantically to find answers.  The best we can do right now is live life one day at a time and trust God to take care of the future.   We need not be frightened no matter how bad the news gets because no matter what, as long as we trust God, we will be ok.

Holy God, you are worthy of our love and our trust.  May our fear and uncertainty about the future be removed from us, so that we may live each day the best we know how, trusting that you are in charge.  Amen

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Just as I am

Psalm 139:14

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Wonderful are your works, that I know very well.

I did not always believe that I was wonderfully made.  

To be clear, I always believed that that thing called the human body which God created is a wonderful and amazing thing.  All of these parts that work together - so many bones and sinews and muscles, the brain, the heart, all of those organs that do whatever they do so that everything works together properly - this is beyond amazing.

But as for me, Maria, this particular person in this particular body . .  Not so much.  If I listened to others, especially some family members, there were so very many things wrong with me.  Depending on the year, I was too thin or too fat.  I was too short.  My hair was too straight. (Except during that wonderful period in the 1960s when people were literally ironing their hair on an ironing board to get it to look like mine!)  There was long list of things about me that, according to them, were flawed or simply inadequate. I kept hearing that I simply was not good enough, physically, mentally or emotionally, and I believed all of those things.  I did not believe anyone who tried to tell me differently.

I was 40 years old before I started learning that maybe they were wrong.  I had been working with daily affirmations to help develop a more positive mindset, and they seemed to be doing the job.  Then one day I was directed to stand in front of a full length mirror naked and say “I love you, Maria.”  Every day.  Until I started to believe it.  This turned out to be an excellent example of “fake it till you make it.”  It took a year.  A whole year of looking at my naked body with all its flaws and saying I loved it before I began to believe it.  It may have helped that I put a cartoon on the mirror that said “God don’t make no junk.” 

Twenty-nine years later I am still dealing with body image issues.  It is only a matter of some months since I decided that I was going to stop driving myself crazy counting calories or points or whatever so that I can get down to the “ideal” weight for my height.  I stopped worrying about fitting into the size 10 clothes in my closet instead of size 16.  I still don’t especially like the view from the side, or the view of my chin(s) from underneath, but for the first time in forever I can say “Meh” instead “OMG” when I look in the mirror.  For the first time in forever I can praise God because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  

Today I believe I am a beautiful child of God, just the way God made me, because God don’t make no junk.

Creator God, for everything you have made, we thank you and lift our voices in praise.  We thank you especially for ourselves, our minds, bodies and souls, for you have made them to be wonderful.  May we accept ourselves as your beautiful children, formed in your image.  Amen.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

God’s House

Genesis 28:15 

15 Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."

God speaks these words to Jacob in a dream.  When he awoke he named the place where he was Bethel, which in Hebrew means House of God.  

This was one of my readings for this morning. Another was Psalm 90:1 “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.”   The devotion attached to that reading was titled “Where do you dwell?”  

Most of us think of our church buildings as God’s House.  We go there to worship God.  We go there to be part of the Christian community.  And right now we cannot go there.  We have no idea when we will go there again.  One of the most common refrains among Christians these days is “I want to go back to church!”   

And God says, I am with you.  I will keep you.  I will bring you back.  I will not leave you.

If we say that we dwell in God, and if we believe the words that God spoke to Jacob, our building is the least important part of our faith.  I miss it.  I miss the beauty of the stained glass and the old wood.  I miss being with my congregation. I miss singing with everyone.  But - the building is not necessary to my faith.

As I write this I am also watching the clock, because worship will begin in just about 30 minutes.  I will worship from home.  I will sing along with the Quarantine Qrew.  I will listen to the Pastoral Prayer, and even though I wrote it, the voice of the reader is so beautiful that it becomes like new for me.  I will watch myself preach -  that’s kind of weird. Then, I will share the Lord’s Supper with all of you, listening as the Elder speaks the words Christians have used for centuries, eating my cracker and drinking my coffee along with you and whatever you are eating and drinking.  I know that you are sharing that meal with me, and that knowledge blesses me.

Worship is just 45 minutes once a week.  My faith is 24/7.  It guides - or is supposed to guide - my words and actions all of the time.  I don’t always get it right, but I can lean on God when things go sideways for me.  And I can be assured that one day we will be back. We will worship together in person again.  We will sing together again.  We do not know when. I know this because God says:  

I am with you.  I will keep you.  I will bring you back.  I will not leave you.

Gracious God, you are our dwelling place.  Even when you have no tent, no temple, no beautiful place of worship in which to live, we worship you where ever we are. Grant that we may wait faithfully and patiently for the time of our return, knowing in the meantime that every place is Beth-el, the House of God.  Amen.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Spock and the Psalmist

Psalm 139:23-24. NRSV

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;

    test me and know my thoughts.

24 See if there is any wicked way in me,

    and lead me in the way everlasting

I have enjoyed reading science fiction and fantasy ever since I picked up Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time when I was about 12.  Frequently these stories will include characters who can read minds.  Now and then the person with that ability will be asked to use it to solve a crime or to learn some critical piece of information locked in another’s mind - like Spock’s Vulcan Mind Meld, which allows two persons to temporarily share their thoughts. “My mind to your mind.  Your thoughts to my thoughts.”  

More often than not, however, either the mind reader promises to stay out, or the people around them work to develop mental walls to keep them out.  No one seems to want another person - not even a dear friend or lover - to be wandering around inside their head reading their every thought.  I can understand that.  There are times when I don’t even want to know what’s going on inside my head.

The Psalmist, though, says to God, “test me, and know my thoughts.  See if there is any wicked [or hurtful] way in me.”   Earlier in this psalm he had been complaining that there was no where he could go to escape God.  Now he wants God to know everything about him - his innermost thoughts and deepest desires.   He wants to know if there is anything about him that is wicked, or hurtful in any way.  And then, he wants God to guide him in the way he is supposed to go. 

I remember complaining loudly the first time I had to share a Fifth Step - to admit to God, myself and another human being the exact nature of my wrongs.  I said, God already knows everything I ever did wrong, and so do I, and nobody else needs to.  My sponsor, however, insisted that if I wished to be well, this was an important part of my healing.  She said that I would learn I was neither as terrible as I feared nor as great as I wanted to be, but that I needed to accept myself as I was, warts and all, before I could move forward.  She said that inviting God to come in to help me learn who Maria is would be terrifying and liberating.  She was right.  

We tend to believe that God knows all of our thoughts, and everything about us.  So why invite God in?  Because there is a huge difference between just passively allowing God access and throwing open the doors to our hearts and turning on the lights so that God can see into every nook and cranny, all of the places where we may have hidden things even from ourselves.  In making the decision to invite God in, we remove the cloak that covers a multitude of sins, and proudly reveal our nakedness to the One who loves us most. 

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

    test me and know my thoughts.

See if there is any wicked way in me,

    and lead me in the way everlasting


Friday, July 17, 2020

A bag of tomatoes

Psalm 86:15-16

15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,

    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

16 Turn to me and be gracious to me;

    give your strength to your servant

Apparently I need to be reminded of God’s goodness this week, because that seems to be the theme in the daily scripture readings.  

That has always been my experience.  Whenever there is something I really need to hear and embrace, it is everywhere I look - assuming I am paying attention.  It’s kind of like getting a new car.  When I am driving in my new car suddenly I see cars just like it everywhere.  They have always been there.  I just wasn’t paying attention before.  

Right now I am seeing meditations on God’s goodness everywhere.  My daily readings are all about God’s goodness and mercy and steadfast love.  (There is also stuff about smiting my enemies, but the only enemy I can think of is the novel coronavirus, and God has set brilliant scientists all around the world to work on smiting that.  All I can do is pray for them as they work.) 

It might be hard to see God’s goodness at work in the world right now, what with the virus and wildfires and people all raging at the same time.  There are not enough doctors, nurses, firefighters, or supplies.  Millions of people are out of work, out of money, worried about eviction and food and medication.  Businesses are failing, deaths are rising . . .  Sometimes I just want to sit and weep.

Then I hear “Yoo Hoo!” at my front door, and it is a church member - masked and distanced - leaving a bag of tomatoes from her garden for me.  I know that acts of kindness like this are happening all over the world.  

And in this simple act I see God’s love and grace.  

Gracious and loving God, thank you for sending reminders of your love to my door.  May these reminders help me to show your love to others even as it has been shown to me.  Amen. 

Thursday, July 16, 2020

A little help from my friend

Romans 15:5 (NIV) 

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had.

I received a postcard from a dear friend in Florida yesterday.  She said, “I believe that when all this virus mess is behind us, we will see how truly courageous and brave and strong and hopeful we truly are.”   This morning I was greeted by this passage from Romans in one of my daily meditation emails, which reinforced her words.  They may not look the same to you, but they do to me because of this:  

She is the person who taught me about her God, the one who loves all of us and forgives when we ask to be forgiven.  The God who is sad when we mess up, and joyful when we return to the better way.  The God who grieves with us and rejoices with us, is filled with compassion for us, and wants only the best for us.  That is the God who gives us the courage and bravery and strength and hope that we need to get through “all this virus mess.”  And that is the God I believe in today, thanks in very large part to my friend in Florida.

Coming to believe in that God and following my friend’s example, I learned a little bit about how to love the unloveable, how to pray for blessings on people I really don’t like, how to forgive things I thought were unforgivable. . . things that are part of that “attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had.”  

Right now, during this “virus mess”, we need encouragement and endurance even more than usual as we walk through the daily fears, frustrations and uncertainties caused by all the Covid19-related restrictions - the isolation, the unfulfilled need for human contact and human touch, even the shortage of disinfectant wipes.  God provides the strength we need to endure and the encouragement which allows us to accept today as it is.  

Gracious and loving God, we give you thanks for your daily blessings and gifts.  May these gifts help us to be more like Jesus, loving one another as he did, and as you do.  Amen.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020


Ephesians 4:31-5:2

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

5:1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 4 includes a “this not that” sort of list - things that Gentiles did but that those who accept Christ should no longer do.  Do not lie but speak truthfully to your neighbor.  Do not steal, but get a job doing something useful so you can share what you earn with those in need. Do not let the sun go down on your anger.  And then comes verse 31 - Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” 

Wow.  If only we could spread that around the internet!  I don’t mean “go delete all those conversations and comments that contain these things.”  Rather I would pray for a  miracle to instill these words in every Christian, at least.  Everyone else, too, but especially the Christians who have trouble with the whole “forgive as Christ forgave you . . .walk in the way of love” thing.  ‘Cause, you know, that’s our thing. “They will know we are Christians by our love” - but you really can’t feel the love when we are calling each other names.  Neither the folks on the left nor the folks on the right have a monopoly on judgmental and hateful speech toward and about the others.  Just sayin’

It has been my experience that people are rarely convinced to change their minds when they are being screamed at and called names.  Rather, receiving that sort of treatment seems to bring out the adolescent in us and tends to make people dig in their heels.  Then the”conversation” devolves into the sort of argument my mother said she walked in on one day when my sister and I were supposed to be napping - standing up in our separate cribs yelling “Yes” and “No” across the room at each other.  Or the sort of thing one might hear on a playground. “You’re wrong.” “Oh yeah? Well, you’re ugly.”  This sort of “conversation” is pretty much guaranteed not to go anywhere.   

In his letter to the Ephesians Paul says that as Christians, we are “to put off your old self, . . . to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”  We are to only say what “is helpful for building up others . . .that it may benefit those who listen.”    I will be the first to admit this isn’t easy. Trying to do this consistently calls for much biting of the tongue.  I am really not good at that.  But if we are truly to love one another, we have to practice love and compassion instead of using the love commandment as if it is a weapon.  It is not a weapon.  It is a healing balm.

God of Love, we are so grateful for your compassion and forgiveness, for the grace with which you accept us even in our sinfulness.  May the healing power of your love fall upon us so that we, in turn may pour out love upon each other, especially those with whom we disagree.   Amen.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Soul Friends

Soul Friend

Psalm 142:1-3. NRSV

I cry aloud to the Lord;

I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy

I pour out before him my complaint;

Before him I tell my trouble.

When my spirit goes faint within me,

It is you who watch over my way.

I miss a lot of things during this time of sheltering in place.  One of the things I miss the most is the hour I spend every month with my Spiritual Director.  Every month since March I have emailed her on our appointment day with my regrets. Every month I hope that next month it will be different, and I will be able to see her.  

Spiritual Director doesn’t really describe the relationship clearly.  The certificate on her wall says “Spiritual Director,” but her actual role is more like the Celtic concept of Anamchara or Soul Friend.  She is the person with whom I discuss my prayer life and my spiritual health.  I tell her about my spiritual practices, and what is going on in my heart.  I share my joys, my celebrations, and my level of contentment with my vocation.    When I have doubts, I tell her.  When my heart aches, I tell her.  When I am having trouble praying, I tell her.   She does not give me answers, or propose fixes for any issues I might have, but she does listen. She might suggest a prayer focus, but mostly, she listens to me and encourages me and prays with me.  She sits in silence with me, holding open a space for God’s response.   

Every time I walk into her space my whole being relaxes.  It is a safe place, a comfortable place.  I need this in my life - a person who can sit still, grounded and grounding, holding space while my mind spins, to help me connect with God in the days “When my spirit goes faint within me.”   

I think we all need someone we can turn to when our minds are spinning, when our spirit is weary and we just need someone to listen for a minute.  Or if not a person, a place we can go where the world does not enter with us, where we can sit in silence and wait for God to speak.  

A place where we can feel God hearing our cries, and watching over us when our spirit grows faint.

Loving God, we thank you for the friends of our soul, and for the places and practices you have put in our lives to help us to connect with you when our minds spin out of control.  May we always be willing to share our troubles, and to listen for you in the silence.  Amen

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Singing solo

Psalm 92:1-4

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,

    to sing praises to your name, O Most High;

to declare your steadfast love in the morning,

    and your faithfulness by night,

to the music of the lute and the harp,

    to the melody of the lyre.

For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;

    at the works of your hands I sing for joy.

It is Sunday, the Lord’s Day.  Today we will gather for worship - not in body but definitely in spirit.  We will gather in our individual homes around our individual computers, tablets, smart phones, and smart TVs to watch and listen as a variety of people from our congregation offer worship to God.  One of the high points, as always in our congregation, is the singing.

Four young people - Jorge, Kenneshae, Jessica, and Joe - each record their part at their own homes.  Then Jordan takes all those recordings and puts them together so it sounds like they are singing as a group.They all have beautiful voices and when those voices come together it is glorious!   When we watch the worship service we don’t see the singers, but the words to each hymn so we can sing along.  I must confess that, since we have started pre-recording everything, more often than not I just listen, basking in the sound of their song.   

It is good to give thanks to the Lord.  At the works of your hands I sing for joy.  

I know I should be singing. I love to sing!  Joe told me recently that he really doesn’t feel as if he has worshipped if he cannot sing.  I can understand that.  When I lift up my voice in a hymn, I am more fully participating in the service.  I am no longer “just” part of the congregation, I am an integral part of the worship.  I cease to be an audience and become a worshipper.

Right now, singing is dangerous.  Singing in public - with other people around - is dangerous.  In California right now there is a State wide ban on singing in worship.  We aren’t even allowed to have a soloist or cantor!  Instrumental music only, or a music video - but no singing at all. Because singing is dangerous.  The droplets from our breath that carry the virus travel farther when we are singing, or preaching.   

So we sing at home, giving thanks to the Lord for all that we receive.  We lift our voices in song, glorifying and magnifying the name of our God.  We sing as a congregation, even though separated from one another, joining in with the Quarantine Qrew as their harmonies reach to the heavens.  For the Lord has made us glad by the work of his hands, and we sing our thanks and praise.

Holy God, even though I might not want to sing alone, still I will lift my voice to you in worship, giving thanks and offering you my everything.  For everything I am comes from you, and I am grateful.  Amen.