Friday, October 9, 2020

Walking the walk


James 2:17.  NIV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 8, 2020

It’s a billboard!


Habakkuk 2:2b

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Not done yet

 1 Thessalonians 5:14. CEB 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

The whirlpool of my mind


Isaiah 26:4     CEB

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

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

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

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

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

God is my rock, my fortress.  

Anything is possible with God.  

Where ever I am, God is there also.

No matter what, God loves me.

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


Sunday, October 4, 2020

World Communion Words

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

 Proverbs 27:1.  NRSV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Love them all


Luke 6:27-28 NRSV

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 2, 2020

It only takes a spark

 John 1:5. NRSV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Falling short


Colossians 3:14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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