Saturday, October 31, 2020

Practicing trust


 Proverbs 3:5-6. NRSV

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.


Trust in the Lord.  Not something that is always easily done.  Oh, I say I trust God, but I often have a really hard time actually leaving things in God’s hands.  Sometimes I am really good at it, but other times I fuss and worry over things, asking all the “what if” questions, thinking of all the ways something can go wrong, and second guessing myself.  We are taught, after all, to be independent, to be responsible for our own stuff, not to rely on others to do everything for us.  That makes it a bit harder to really let go and let God.    So what happens is often only sort of letting go . . . like a child asking her parent to fix a broken toy, then in a minute grabbing it back to fix it herself, even though she doesn’t really know what to do.


Before I could learn to trust God, I had to change what I believed about God.  After all, if all I know is that God is judgmental and quick to punish, willing to destroy all the people of the world with a great flood, telling his followers to kill everyone who doesn’t believe in him, even sending his own son to be killed in a particularly horrific way, I am not likely to want to put myself in his hands.  


If, however, I believe that God’s greatest desire is for the people of the world to be reconciled to God and to each other, that God loves me, forgives all my sins when I ask and am willing to accept the consequences of my actions . . . if I believe that God loves me and wants only to be loved in return, then trust comes more easily. That still doesn’t make it precisely easy. 


Trusting in God, allowing God to make straight my path, even to put me on the right path in the first place takes faith - and practice.  When I do all I can do in any given situation, then it’s time to give it to God, trusting that God will see me through to the other side.  I don’t always get it right, but they tell me practice can only help me improve, so I will continue practicing so that eventually I will get it right more often.


Trustworthy God, I am not always good at trusting you.  Sometimes l think I know the right outcome better than you do.  May I remember not to rely on my own human insight and thinking, but to allow you to set me on the right path and make it straight.  Amen.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Faith AND Works


 Ephesians 2:8-9.       Common English Bible

You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of.


How very cool that this should show up shortly after the James “faith without works is dead” passage.   Way too many folks believe that James and Paul contradict one another, that there is a “faith vs works” conflict regarding which they must fall on one side or the other.   This could not be farther from the truth. It is not a question of either/or.  Rather, faith and works are both/and.  


Paul says, “You are saved by grace because you have faith.  You cannot earn your way into heaven.”. James says, “Faith is more than saying you believe. If you truly have faith, then you will be impelled by that very faith to do good works.” You are saved by God’s grace because you have faith and that faith causes you to want to help others.”


There are many things that are believed to be either/or propositions that in reality can be defined as both/and.  Religion and science, for example. It is absolutely possible for these to coexist.  In one of the (required) science courses I took at Chapman, the professor was asked how he could claim to be a Christian and believe in the Big Bang Theory.  I will never forget how he answered.  “Scientists have been able to measure the age of the world back to an impossibly small unit of time, but cannot measure time before the Big Bang.  Nor can they explain what caused the Big Bang. I believe that God said, “Let there be light” and clapped his hands. Bang!  The universe began.” Einstein is known to have said, “The more I study science, the more I believe in God.” Pope Francis studied chemistry prior to entering seminary, and has said publicly and frequently that science and faith working together can solve many of the world’s problems.


I think that many of our current political issues could also be seen as “both/and” if people will only stop assuming they know what the “other side” is yelling about and listen to one another.   It is possible to believe Black Lives Matter and support the police.  It is possible to be Christian and support LGBTQ rights.  


In most cases I can think of, there is a center, a place where both/and exists, a moderate position.  But the voices from that middle ground are rarely heard above the angry noise from one side or the other. 


Faith and works. Religion and Science.  Left, Right and Center.  


Loving God, just as you sent Jesus to bring  a radical message of grace-filled love and forgiveness to the world, so you call upon us to be radical in our love for one another.  May that love lead us to find the quiet center where hate and anger no longer exist, and the peace of Christ rules the world.  Amen.


Thursday, October 29, 2020

Help for High Anxiety


 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.  Let all that you do be done in love.


I went for my annual medical exam yesterday.  It was only the 4th time I have left the house since March 16th.  My anxiety level was very high and so was my blood pressure.  My doctor wanted to know how I was doing emotionally and mentally in the pandemic.  We talked a little about the support group I have surrounded myself with, predominantly other women pastors, and how we continue to encourage one another through our exhaustion and our fears.  She urged me to continue with those connections. 


I have noticed that, although everyplace else seems mired in discord and disagreement, the groups of clergy women I belong to tend to be filled with encouragement, long-distance hugs, prayers and love.  We share the weird stuff (like considering night time a series of naps between snacks!) and the funny stuff (mostly cats) and the soul-killing stuff (funerals, congregational drama, fears for ourselves and our loved ones.). Many of us live alone, or alone with pets, so sharing those things helps us know that we are not alone, that other people are going through what we are going through, and especially that we are loved.  


Maybe we have all been reading and writing on the Love Commandments lately, as I have.  Or maybe we all just recognize that everyone needs a safe place, where they can cry and laugh and whine and complain and be heard.  The being heard part is important.  We’re not looking for answers or advice most of the time. We just need a place where we can let down our hair and our guard.  Then we can return to our lives as they are today, encouraged and strengthened.


Christians are not intended to live and worship alone.  Without a community of faith it can be more difficult to keep alert and stand firm in faith.  That community need not meet in person to be a real, authentic community.  It might be a congregation or simply a group of Christians with a common cause or purpose meeting on Facebook or Zoom, like the Young Adult Group at the church I serve and my women clergy groups.  I am grateful to be one with my sisters in Christ, holding one another in a loving embrace.


Loving God, I am so grateful that you have given me a loving community of faith to help me through this time of uncertainty, fears, and frustration.  May we all continue to hold each other accountable to each other, to ourselves, and to you, through our faith in Jesus Christ, your son and our Lord.  Amen


Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Wouldn’t it be loverly?

 


Matthew 6:10  NRSV

Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  


Another day, another variation on doing God’s will.  


The Beloved Community, the community of humanity that comes about when all of that community is doing God’s will, featured large in sermons and speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Those words - the Beloved Community - invokes for me images of justice rolling down like water, of liberty from sin of all kinds for all persons but especially from the sins that cause people to oppress one another.  Greed, racism, lust for power, hatred, self centeredness . . . the Beloved Community will come about when we all love one another as we love ourselves and as God loves us, each and every human loved exactly as every other human is loved.  


Love and justice and mercy - these are inextricably linked in God’s world.  If the world was a just place, that is, a place where God’s love and God’s will ruled, all of those isms that divide us would not exist.  Social status and wealth would not be factors in the way people are treated.  People would certainly still disagree over stuff, but those disagreements would not result in wars.  No one would go hungry, or die of preventable disease, or languish in refugee camps. Commandments like do not let the sun set on your anger and love your enemies would be obeyed by everyone.  


It would be like heaven - which is exactly the point of this part of the prayer.  We are supposed to work toward following God’s will so well that the earth and all its inhabitants live as the inhabitants of heaven live.  Sadly, we are not even close.  But then again, we are not God, we are not perfect nor are we expected to be perfect.  We are only expected to do our best to live according to God’s will and God’s commandments.


I, for one, am grateful that I am not expected to be perfect.  For much too long I expected perfection from myself, and because I could never achieve perfection I thought of myself as a failure.  Learning that we are expected only to do our best is such a relief - that knowledge has allowed me to love myself better than I used to.  I’m still not really great at that, but it is better most days.  I still have fears to overcome, triggers that paralyze me, and sensitive issues that will cause pain or anger if poked, but I’m better than I used to be.  And for that, I give thanks to God.


Loving God, thank you for not expecting perfection from me.  Thank you for all the people and situations you have put in my life to help me heal and teach me how to love.  May I continue to do my best to love as you would have me do, so that your kingdom may indeed come.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.


 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

A lasting help

 


James 2:14-17. NRSV

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.


I really love this.  I have heard some Christians speak as if all they have to do for salvation IS believe.  They seem to think that if they show up to worship Jesus and talk about Jesus and sing about Jesus and have a personal relationship with Jesus, they have done enough.  I don’t think that’s right.  


When the disciples came to Jesus asking what to do when the multitudes had followed him and were hungry, he told the disciples “You feed them.” Jesus didn’t tell his disciples to sing and worship all the day long, but to go out and care for others - feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick.  And that’s what they did.  Yes, they gathered to pray and hear about Jesus and share the meal of remembrance, but they also pooled their funds so they could feed the widows.  They went out into the community doing good things for whomever needed their help.  And yes, he did tell them to spread the Good News that God’s Kingdom was at hand, but that was in addition to the caring for people part, not instead of it.  


In order to be obedient to the Lord, we must do more than call out, “Lord, Lord.”  Jesus said, ““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.” (Matthew 7:21).  Discerning the will of God is not always easy, but we do know for sure that God desires us “to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our Lord.” (Micah 6:8


It’s a case of walking the walk instead of just talking the talk.  We can talk about God and what God wants from us all day long, but unless we actually do those things, unless we actually act on the love that we have for others, Paul tells us it is “as if we are a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1


If we are to be truly faithful, then like the 1st century Christians we must demonstrate our faith by reaching out to those in need, whether their need is physical, emotional or spiritual.  It is not enough to say “Peace be with you,” if we do not try to help them find lasting peace.  It’s like the way some agencies deal with homeless people.  They don’t just offer a meal and a shelter for overnight, but work with that person to learn why they are homeless and how their situation can be changed for the long run.  Our best work in the world will help everyone be their best self, reconciled with God and with each other.


Loving God, we want to do what you desire that we do.  Help us as we seek the best ways to show our faith, caring for all of your children in their hour of need, whatever that need might be.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.



Sunday, October 25, 2020

Togetherness

 


Ephesians 5:19-20. NRSV

. . .sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.


How appropriate for this reading to show up in one of my daily devotional readings on a Sunday.  Worship will begin online in just a few minutes and I do so look forward to it!  I can calm my heart and mind during the gathering music, be welcomed into the worship space along with everyone else, open my heart for the prayer, hear the scripture read, watch the sermon, share communion with everyone, hear a call to discipleship and accept the blessing as we prepare to return to our regular activities.  And I get to sing - or to just listen, because the Quarantine Qrew sings so beautifully that sometimes listening to them touches my heart even more than if I was singing.  In short, I get to worship.


That might not seem like a big deal, but you see, I don’t get to worship like that when we meet in person.  Leaving aside the busyness of writing and prep before worship begins, I am busy throughout the entire service. Even when I am not actually speaking I’m watching what is going on in the entire building. I’m counting bodies for our records - because we have to keep track of attendance.  I’m paying attention to who either hasn’t shown up recently or has become more regular in their attendance, who has changed their usual seat, what the sound guys are doing, whether the presider is picking up on their cues, where the Elder is that’s supposed to run around with the microphone for announcements and prayer requests, and keeping a very close eye on those little children who are trying to light the candles on the Table.  During silent prayer time, I am listening to footsteps walking back from lighting candles so I don’t end the silence too soon.  


Understand - I am not complaining.  I love what I do.  But as I rarely get the opportunity to be part of a worshipping congregation, I can forget how good it feels to be part of the body of Christ at worship. If nothing else good comes out of the pandemic, these last several months of being able to participate in worship every Sunday just like everyone else have been a huge blessing for me.  


Great and Holy God, I lift up my voice in gratitude and thanksgiving for the opportunity to worship you, to sing your songs and share the meal at your Table together with the whole body of Christ, even though we are not physically together.  May this feeling of community continue even after we return to our buildings.   In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Do you hear that?

 John 5:39-47.    New Revised Standard Version

39 “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. 40 Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.


The dispute over “letter of the law” versus “spirit of the law” is clearly not a new one.  Jesus tended to get most grumpy toward those persons who insisted that it was more important to obey the words as they were written rather than the intent behind those words.   


“Keep the Sabbath holy, do no work” is pretty specific, with the Sabbath day understood as a day for putting aside all other things in order to focus on and honor God.  However, the prohibition against working should not prevent one from saving a life.   How better, after all, to honor God, than to save one of God’s children?  Are we not told to love our neighbor?  How can allowing them to die in order to obey the letter of the law be in any way construed as loving them?  This was Jesus’ point at least, when he pointed out to the Pharisees that even they would rescue their donkey if it fell in a well on the Sabbath. 


Looking at the Gospels, we can see that Jesus is trying throughout to get the Pharisees and Sadducees to understand that slavish devotion to the Law is not the way to the Father.   Right living is.  Hearing what Jesus is saying about caring for one another with compassion and mercy is.  Mostly they didn’t listen. They weren’t willing or able to see that sometimes the higher law must take precedence.  


Sometimes we don’t listen, either.


Loving God, we know we don’t always put the love commandments at the forefront when we are interacting with others or making decisions.  Sometimes we just don’t listen.  Give us ears to hear, Lord, that we might listen better, and do your will.  Amen


Friday, October 23, 2020

Is this too hard?


 James 2:8. NRSV

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”


I read four meditations daily, as well as the readings listed for each day in Bible Gateway and the Revised Common Lectionary.  That probably sounds like a lot, but most are emailed to me and the RCL is bookmarked in my internet browser, so settling down to read them doesn’t require any great effort on my part.  Paying attention to what I am reading is a little harder, especially if I haven’t had enough coffee yet.   As I read through each one I pay attention to what resonates with my spirit on that day.  Sometimes I am amazed that some seem to be on the same theme, or follow another one from earlier in the week perfectly. This week it has been like that every day.  The readings from my 12 Step meditation book have been in harmony with one or more of the Bible based readings every day.  The theme has centered around our love for God, our willingness to surrender to God’s will, and loving one another by caring for each other.


It was in 12 Step meetings that I first learned it is possible - and necessary - to love everyone else, even if I didn’t like them.  That was kind of a hard concept to wrap my mind around, and took a while to really grasp.  It began by simply wanting the good for every other person in the room.  “I might argue with you today, but if you need help tomorrow I will be there.”.  I could do that.  It was a little more difficult to extend that to people who had harmed me or others - abusive (ex)husbands, serial killers, rapists . . .  That is a LOT more difficult.  Doable, but difficult.  I knew a man who used to pray daily for Charles Manson and I just didn’t get it for the longest time.


Right now there is such anger and division in our country.  Trying to speak lovingly of other people, especially people with whom we disagree and whose reaction to us is violent in speech or action - this is hard.  It is hard to not respond in kind.  Praying for them to have all the good things we desire - peace of heart, compassion, open-mindedness, joy, love - taxes our abilities and our willingness.  But this week has been all about willingness to do God’s will, loving God, loving the other.  So we must extend love to even those we might consider enemies.  And that love is still based in the idea that I might argue with you today, but if you need help tomorrow I will be there.  


You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”


Loving God, it is hard to really love the neighbor.  It is hard to want someone who has hurt us to receive blessings.  But this is your command and your law, and I want to do your will.  Help me, I pray, learn to love in this way.  Amen


Thursday, October 22, 2020

Looking at the Law


 Psalm 1:1-2. NRSV

Happy are those

    who do not follow the advice of the wicked,

or take the path that sinners tread,

    or sit in the seat of scoffers;

2  but their delight is in the law of the Lord,

    and on his law they meditate day and night.


This seems to me like a reinforcement of yesterday’s verse,  “I want to do your will, my God.”  It tells me that if I truly want to do God’s will then I should spend my time focused on the law, specifically the two commandments Jesus called most important in Matthew 22:, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”   


Anyone who has heard me preach more than once can probably attest to the fact that I mention these two commandments in almost every sermon.  The first four commandments teach us how to love God, the next six tell us how to love our neighbor.   Loving our neighbor, so far as the Ten Commandments tell us, consists primarily of not hurting them - do not steal, do not lie, do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not covet.  This is pretty normal, as far as laws go.  Our own body of laws also focuses primarily on what not to do and the consequences you will suffer if you do what you are not supposed to do.  


When we look at the full expansion of these commandments, we find that in addition to all the possible ways to break the commandments and the punishments for each of those acts, the people of Israel are commanded to do much that is positive in addition.   Jesus expanded on this in Matthew 25, noting that we are expected to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the sick, visit the prisoner, give drink to the thirsty, and welcome the stranger (another thing that I bring up in most sermons and pastoral prayers).  It seems pretty clear that if I am focusing on doing these things, if I am focused on the Law, I will not be doing what the wicked, the sinners and the scoffers are doing.   


Loving God, I want to do your will, following your teachings always and not the ways of the wicked.  May I always delight in your Word and your Law, so that I might keep walking along the path you have set before me.  Amen.

Take my life

 


Psalm 40:8.  Common English Bible

I want to do your will, my God.

    Your Instruction is deep within me.


Now and again one of my Bible-based daily meditations strikes the same note as one of my 12 Step daily meditations.  When that happens I consider that to be a sign from God that this is something I need to pay special attention to.    Today Bible Gateway and Just For Today both talked about actively working toward doing God’s will.


I want to do your will, my God.  Reminds me a bit of Paul talking about doing things he does not want to do in Romans 7:14-25 - a “Spirit is willing, flesh is weak” kind of thing.  “ I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. . . . with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.” Likewise, I’m sure the disciples wanted to stay awake while Jesus prayed, but I imagine sitting waiting in the dark after a very long and emotional Passover day was a bit more than they could do right then.  


Of course, the disciples were dealing with very explicit instructions.  Most of the time we can’t be certain of whether what we are doing is God’s will for us.  I tend to think that if an action is more about love and serving others than it is about me, it probably aligns with God’s will.  In my case, I often find that if there are two roads and I really want to walk down one because the other looks too hard - God’s will is somewhere along the hard road.  But that’s just me.  


I want to do the things that are most pleasing to God, so every morning I pray a prayer I learned in 12 Step meetings, “Take my will and my life, guide me in my recovery, show me how to live.”  I’m fairly sure I am not successful in turning my will and life over to God all the time, but I am sure I manage now and again.  After all, we have received explicit instructions - Love God with all that you are, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.


My God, I want to do your will.   I don’t always succeed because I am human and prone to giving in to my weakness, but I do want to.  Help me to follow directions and do as you would have me do in all things.  I pray this in Jesus’ name.  Amen. 



Tuesday, October 20, 2020

A new song


 Psalm 98:1 

Sing to the Lord a new song,

    for he has done marvelous things


Singing.  I miss singing with the congregation, so much.  I do sing at home during worship.  The cats seem to be curious about the noises I am making, but there is no one else to hear or to share the feelings with.  Yes, I am singing along with the Quarantine Qrew, just as I sing along with the cast of Hamilton, but I am still singing alone.  The music still moves me, even to tears sometimes, but it is not at all the same as when we are singing in church and some of the folks raise their hands in the air or place them over their hearts and I can see tears falling through the veil of my own tears.  I miss that, so much.


Sadly, I know it is going to be a long while before we can sing together like that again.  Even when we do return to in-person gatherings, we will not be able to sing as a congregation, even with masks on and appropriately distanced from each other.   I think the Qrew will be able to sing - I’m still checking on that - but the rest of us must keep silent.  We won’t even be able to pray the Lord’s Prayer together.  It is going to be very different, and probably very difficult for most of us.  We are so used to singing together that it’s hard to even imagine what worship will be like if we cannot sing.


For several years I wouldn’t sing with other people.  Never mind singing in church - I wouldn’t even sing along with the radio when everyone else in the room was singing!  For a lot of years I sang in a band in bars, and in my mind music was part of the life I had to leave behind when I stopped using and drinking.   I did, however, sing when I was alone in my house or while I was driving - often Amazing Grace or other hymns and Gospel songs I knew.  I would use my voice to worship and pray, when I didn’t know how to pray with my own words.   And I would weep tears of gratitude while I sang, for the marvelous things God had done for me by putting people in my life just when I needed them.  


We have no way of knowing when it will be safe again to sing as a congregation.  We do know it will be very difficult to be silent when the music is playing - just as it will be difficult to leave the children at home and wear masks and wave at our friends instead of hugging them.  But for the present, that is the world we are living in.  So we will sing a new song to the Lord - a song that is sung silently, within our hearts.


Holy God, you created music.  The heavens and seas and birds and whales all sing their own songs, songs you have given them.  We, too, have received the gift of song from you, and we thank you every time we use it to praise your name.  May this time of silent music in our hearts be as pleasing to your ears as the songs we sang aloud in the before times.  Amen.

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.