Letter To Students

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Matthew 5:13-16 You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

My Dear Students,

     You are precious to me, and I am so thankful for all that we have learned about God together. You have been attentive and have participated well in your learning. Your questions have helped me grow as your teacher. Christian education is discipleship and discipleship does not end with a graduation. Discipleship is ongoing. 

As you embark on this new endeavor, this new opportunity, all that you do, will be used toward remaking the world. That is the task of a disciple of Jesus Christ. Though your study, your work, may not at all be religious, you are on a path that both will serve to preserve as well as expose new ways of thinking in our world. Thus, you will be both salt and light as Jesus teaches in the fifth chapter of Matthew.

Salt makes food taste good. You are the salt of the earth, you have the capability to do good on earth. Whatever you contribute to this world can make a positive impact for our society, culture and environment. Our best work may be something we did that we dont even know about, something we offered to impact anothers life that did not cost us anything it all, it happened simply because of who we are. That is when Gods grace truly becomes real.  Often we dont recognize those who help us to grow until years later. One woman who was salt in my life at an early age, was Mrs. Goddard. She was the music director at the church in town, and she knew our family. I think she saw us four little girls as a gold mine for her choir. So every week, she would pick us up for choir practice. On Sundays during church, I remember that the priest would have the children whose birthday it was come forward for a blessing, It must have been about my sixth birthday and I was in awe, fearful of the holiness of God, and too nervous  to approach the priest, to get that close to the altar, the holy space for God. Mrs. Goddard sensed my pounding heart and she held my hand all the way through that blessing. Today, the hymns that I know by heart are the hymns she taught me as a child. One in particular is Jesus Calls Us”… little did I know and little did she know the impact she was making on my life. You see, God uses people to make His grace real.  People who are salty, bring flavor to our lives.

Salt also makes us thirsty. If the only thing you can find in your heart is a desire to know God, that is enough. It is the intent of your heart that will lead you to further knowledge of Christ. There are two ways to acquire knowledge of God, one is through study.  Read the scriptures, all the scriptures, read the church fathers, read from Christians like Martin Luther King, Jr. Study with a small group, to bring further perspective. You will find others who are as thirsty as you are. The second way to acquire knowledge of God is to simply practice your faith; pray, worship, offer your service to others, these practices turn your knowledge into experience. Experiencing Gods love and grace happens with increasing awareness the more we step out in faith to do the difficult, yes, if it is easy, we tend to rely on our own abilities to perform, but when it is difficult, we have to rely on our faith in God, remember that and dont be afraid to practice faith. Practice often, yolk together with other Christians, and practice together.

I want you to be aware that salt, can fail to do what it is intended to do, it can be useless. Not everything you learn will be useful, and some of what you do, will also be cast aside. Apathy and anger are both ways that salt looses its ability to be useful. There is a way to retain salt in your life, always measure what you do by the love you offer others. Love is the single most power that redeems the world. Love is not always saying yes, saying no can also protect and preserve life. Discernment is done through prayer, asking God for direction and inviting the Holy Spirit into your heart will guide your most challenging faithful responses. When you find the rich place of saltiness in your life, you will have found love and it will preserve, protect and promote life for you and others. On every exam you take, remember that love is always the right answer.

Everything you build that will last, that which is eternal, is built on love. When things come tumbling down, they only fall to the level where love is exposed. Always look for love in the brokenness of your life. When your relationships fail, do not be dismayed, for there are riches found in forgiveness and especially taking care to be forgiving of your own mistakes. Later on, rich opportunities will come your way to be the forgiving presence for someone who has not yet experienced that blessing. Saltiness is revealed as we grow spiritually and personally, we change and we persevere, increasing our saltiness.

Jesus also said, “You are the light of the world. There will be a public dimension to your life, thus do not put your light under a bushel. Your lamp will light up the hill for others. Our Christianity should be visible to everyone, visible to your new professors, visible to the checkout at the grocery store, visible to the child on the playground, visible to your employers, visible in the way we park our car, or in the language we use at a ball game. Jesus did not say you are the light of the church, he said, “You are the light of the world. Archbishop William Temple is famous for saying, The church is the only institution on earth that exists for those who are not its members.

A light is a guide, like the lighthouse that guides ships into shore, your light guides others to solid ground.  Discipleship is not a secret, privatized act but leads us to public ministry that reaches and includes others. Good works are the light that point beyond themselves toward God. Putting your light on the lampstand lights the whole house. The scriptures say, we the church are the light on the hill, we light the whole city!

Consider the things that we rely on light for today. Plants and trees grow because of sunlight. We now have solar panels that can transform light to electricity. Small beams of light, lasers can be used for healing. In the same way, disciples of Christ are beams of Gods light sent to bring vitality and energy toward life, to offer growth and understanding, and bring healing works that glorify God.

On those days when it seems like there is a lot of darkness, remember that Jesus said in the gospel of John, 9:5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. Look towards the light and you will find Christ. Yes, like the early disciples, whatever work you are called to will at times put you in places where others will revile and persecute you. Unlike the salt that loses its capacity to season food, your light cannot be hidden. The darkness can never overcome the light. Understand that. Darkness can never overcome your light. Sometimes we are to go to places of darkness to bear light. Author Annie Dillard writes, You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary.[1]

The best part of what your faith will do as you move out into the world is engage you in the wonderful mysteries of God, how every ending is a new beginning, how the last things become the first things. You will find that your greatest weakness becomes strength. You will receive through giving. You will be most free when you are bound in service to others. You gain your life through losing it. You will find the eternal spring not outside of yourself but deep within, where God will refresh your life, and give you life each day and in every circumstance. Remember that in the heart pounding moments of your life, you are not alone. God is with you shining light to lead your way. Neither salt, not light are given for your own personal enjoyment, they are to be carried into the world, go and be salt and light for others.

I will remember you in my prayers, even better, Christ who is sitting at the right hand of our heavenly Father is interceding for us all. Go forth in faith and in love, for you are blessed to be a blessing in this world.

Signed, your pastor, friend and sister in Christ. Amen.


[1] Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk, Expeditions and Encounters, (New York: Harper Perennial, 1992) 43.

First Fruits

DSCN1359When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. Acts 2:1-3

Do you know why the community was gathered in one place? They were in Jerusalem for the offering of the first fruits, a festival called Shavouth. An unblemished perfect sheaf of wheat or barley was given to the priest to wave over the altar in thanksgiving to God before the harvest. No flour was ground, nothing taken to market, no bread was baked until after the offering of the first fruits. The community was giving the very best of their lives to God even before knowing the benefit of the harvest which would occur 7 weeks later. The offering of the first fruits is when the Holy Spirit showed up to empower the community.

We celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. The experience of the Holy Spirit is near and dear to the heart of Methodism. John Wesley was working to revitalize a stale church, a church that was caught up in theological arguments, a church of individuals, and a church that had yet to uncover how to extend God’s grace. After John Wesley experienced the Holy Spirit, which he described in his journal as “my heart was strangely warmed,” on May 24, 1783 , the Methodist movement took off. The cross in United Methodism has a flame attached to its base to remind us that the Spirit is the basis of our relationship with the living God. Augustine called the Holy Spirit the bond of love. The Spirit bonds us in love to God the Father and God the Son. The Father and Son cannot exist without the Spirit. We cannot live without Love either.

Many people well intended people think the Holy Spirit is that which nudges them towards whatever feels good. After all, in the gospel of John, the Paraclete is most often translated as the ‘comforter,’ and we often misinterpret the experience of the Holy Spirit as that which gives us permission to act in whatever way we think feels best. What feels best is unfortunately not always necessarily what is faithful. John Wesley called the work of the Spirit in our lives, sanctification. It is the grace present when we are empowered to love God and one another. The work of the Holy Spirit works within the entire community. It is the power of the Holy Spirit at work when we remain devoted and honor God. It is the work of the Holy Spirit when we give the very best of ourselves even when we don’t know what lies ahead. It is the work of the Holy Spirit when we care for and minister with one another. It is the work of the Holy Spirit when we get along well both in work and in play. It is the work of the Holy Spirit when our humility and acceptance for another is expressed in community. Through the Holy Spirit, we inspire one another on to good deeds.  Like the water in a mountain spring, the life of the Spirit cannot be contained in community either, it spills out and gushes forth becoming a blessing for the world.

The full Pentecostal blessing is intended for the whole family of God.
We wait and hope for this.

Love Wide

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God send messengers to inform people about the way God is about to act. “Do not fear” is the most commonly used preface to the word delivered by God’s messengers. It is human instinct to fear change, especially change that occurs without our own control. Fear might be the antithesis to faith. If the prophets and angels had said, “have faith, for God is about to do a new thing,” would that mean the same thing?

Change almost always asks us to let go of one thing and take on another. We change addresses. We change jobs. Most of the time, transitions are not about an equal exchange. I love the kind of change that incorporates who we are and where we have been into who we are becoming. One perfect way to consider this is when a new family member enters our circle through birth or marriage. Change widens our experience especially when we let go and learn how to embrace the new. Another not so easy way to embrace change is when a clinical diagnosis is made. Change during illness may not feel like a widening experience. It may mean accepting many new limitations. I had one friend enduring cancer who told me that even as she was letting go, her prayer life was expanding. She was entering into the expanse of God’s love. Her faith was widening. Why do we wait for a diagnosis to do such a thing?

Start today, limit your fear and love wide as you experience changes in your life, and become the new thing God is doing in our world. Join me in considering ways for the church of Jesus Christ to be transformed, that we might demonstrate limiting our fear and widening our love for the world.

 

Neighborhood Landscapes

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I love driving into our neighborhood. The road passes over a creek, trees stretch their arms to the sky, and sometimes a hawk flies into view or deer stand still in the landscape. I have a sense of communion with each of our neighbors who are shaped and formed by this same landscape. We see one other daily while walking our dogs, driving to work, attending to our lawns and caring for our children. When the wildness of creation tosses a snowstorm our way, we shovel and share eggs and milk as needed. At times, the landscape becomes still and invites us to do the same. We share a common and connected life with our neighbors.

My active role in the church has given me another neighborhood to dwell in. We are clergy and laity, women and men who are shaped and formed by the particular landscape of tradition. The common life we share is under tremendous strain. We cross bridges and climb over fences in order to reach others cut off by social and cultural divides hoping to share the landscape of God’s love which we confess is so deep and so vast that even we cannot fully grasp it.

I am fully convinced that what the church needs, in fact, what the global neighborhood needs, is to practice resting silently in the One who shapes and forms us by grace, forgiveness and mercy. As we become part of that landscape, we might find our connected, common life is already here.

Welcoming in the New

How did you welcome in a New Year? Many of us attended a party with friends, family, food and music and waited until the Big Apple in Times Square dropped.. Did you enter this New Year concerned about whether your work will create more stress than benefit? Are you concerned for how you will make ends meet? Are you concerned about the side effects and efficacy for the health care treatment that you receive? Or were you able to welcome in this New Year excited for what lies ahead, for how God will shine light into your days, and wonder for how God will use you?

Perhaps we can do both. Perhaps we can enter this New Year with an appreciation of the difficulties of navigating our faith in this broken world. Perhaps this New Year will call us to make ends meet through life giving relationships that make all the difference for how we manage our families, our lifework and our recreation. Perhaps we can enter this New Year, knowing that in the midst of our illness, God will use us for someone or something beyond our understanding.

Welcoming in a new year for me always means welcoming in new people. Each year I am blessed by making new friends. Do you have a plan for welcoming new people in your life this year? Those at work? In your neighborhood? At the bus or on the metro? At your church?

Jesus made friends with everyone, the disciples and the lost, children in the family and those outside the family, the rich and the poor, the healthy and the ill. He sent the disciples instructing them, “ Therefore, be as shrewd and snakes and as innocent as doves.” Even in the time of Jesus, making friends and sharing the love of God was a risk taking mission. Jesus instructed the twelve in Matthew 10, “Go to find the lost sheep, preach this message, the kingdom of God is near.” Jesus instructed them to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy and drive out the demons. He warned them about the difficulties they would encounter, saying “Do not be afraid, the very hairs on your head are numbered.”

We make friends in the knowledge that God is with us, that our truest form of sharing Christ comes through friendship, journeying alongside one another to encourage, keep one another accountable and strengthen our faith. It’s time to welcome in the new! Let’s look forward to all the Holy Spirit will send in our midst in the year ahead. I am sure we will find Christ revealed in each of our new friends.

Beyond The Tomb

Easter was just three weeks ago, a joyous celebration of the Risen Christ. Easter is more than a day, it is a season celebrating victory over the death, of fulfillment over loss, of intimacy with a God who will not leave us alone. Clearly, the disciples who hid in the Upper Room had their questions and so do we.

When confusion becomes the norm, when loss and decline are inevitable, and emptiness stares us down so we can’t see our way out, there, we anxiously weep and wait. There is nothing more to do. Our best plans have been interrupted.

This is the church today. This is the United Methodist Church today. And the Risen One is waiting beyond the tomb in a form we do not recognize. We might take the road out of town and get back to our fishing boats. We might look for the one who is reaching for healing. We might let the children come close. We might seek the lame who sit outside the gates. We might meet at the well with those who worship differently than we do, listening and learning. We might not worry about the sin of others because of our own. We might be sustained by the bread and the cup.

The Alive One is not in the tomb, not in the confusion, not in the loss and decline, not in the emptiness but waits for us to listen to be called by name. Those who listen and hear come face to face with the Risen One, overflowing with joy, they will go get the others.