Widen Our Understanding

ways-of-deliverance-jpg

Eternal Companion, who is amongst and within us,
This moment is our to receive your beams of light and love no matter what our struggle. Help us admit that we are all empty and unfinished. Rather than allowing our circumstances to build walls, break down our resistance until understanding widens into ways of deliverance and peace. Remind us to persevere in the one relationship that helps us to navigate all the rest. Amen.

 

Advertisements

Coves of Peace

Divinestream

Divine Stream, who daily ushers us into rivers with unfamiliar currents,
Use these moments, O God, to slow us down enough for attending to the fullness of your Presence. Interrupt the routine of our schedules to notice the overlooked blessings around us. Stir our depths until your love surfaces. Turn us toward the healing found through your wondrous creation. Whether we are employed or not, use the work of this day to bring those who are hurting toward quiet coves of peace. Amen.

Christ is King

extinction

Almost 99 percent of all species ever are now extinct. And according to some scientists, about half of the species now alive may be extinct by 2100.  The human relationship with creation may or may not have significant impact on why this is so. We could theorize that our presence on earth has a cause and effect relationship on some species. Or we could say that the extinction of species, like dinosaurs was random. Did you know there is a general decrease in amphibians world-wide, the Golden toad, a rainforest creature, was last seen in 1989.  I think I told you that I rescued a snake from this very floor a couple of weeks ago, “Save the snakes,” we could form a ministry around this. Is extinction, the cessation of species , a  part of God’s plan for the earth?

Today is Christ the King Sunday! Some people don’t like the suggestion that Christian’s  live under a monarchy,  that using the term king for God is not helpful, but Christ is not similar in any way to any form of democratic government, God is not up for re-election every four years, God does not rule under a system of checks and balances. And there is no similarity under the current democracy, where the result of the work being done by the government is increasing division rather than unity.

God’s plan is to move from death to resurrection. God can be trusted completely, to take us beyond where we have experienced love, mercy and peace. Our vision for Christ the King is so limited, we see the things that are becoming extinct, including wondering if the church will be extinct, instead of seeing all that is coming alive in the world. Even though the church is in transition, we are at an important time in history, never before have there been so many people who don’t claim to practice any faith, and yet clearly, God has set this sanctuary in the middle of community, God who holds all things in unity. God is not domesticated by us, not managed or manipulated, Christ brings us to live outside ourselves, to go beyond where we have gone before, sounds like star trek, but really do you trust God to take you beyond where you have experienced love before? Anyone who has had a taste of the love of God knows this is a scary thing to accept, because when you get a taste of God’s love, you don’t stay the same, everything changes. Yes, your whole life changes, what you do, who you spend time with, how you spend money, where you go, God’s love moves you to places and people you have never been to before. God’s love moves us from death to resurrection.

Do you trust God to take you beyond where you have experienced mercy before? There is no mistake, no transgression large enough for God to turn his back on you, God suffers your sin. God takes it into himself so you can be whole. Are you ready to let go of the sin, are you ready to let go of the behavior, of anything that holds you back from living fully in the face of God’s mercy, not just once but everyday. Have you thought that God might call you to forgive another’s transgression so they can have fullness of life? Has God given you that gift, that opportunity to experience that kind of mercy? God’s mercy moves us from death to resurrection.

Do you trust God to take the church beyond any experience the church had in the 1950’s? Are you getting what I am driving at? We don’t want God to work for us, domesticated by us, we don’t need God to take us where we have already been, we can do that ourselves. Christ is King, Christ alone is righteous and his kingdom extends beyond our experience. The pattern of our faith, is death and resurrection, are you ready to follow that pattern? Are you willing to receive the resurrection here? Listen up my friends, this is important: The resurrection is going to happen whether you are willing or not.

In the early part of the gospel of Mark, Jesus is teaching and he goes home, it was impossible for them to even eat because of the crowds gathering, and his family go out to seize him and they say, “He is out of his mind.”  The church should be dreaming for the day when we follow Christ so closely that we too, are accused of looking crazy.

Scott Harrison, a young affluent man who lived and worked in NYC in the 90’s living the kind of life he describes as having it all. He was a rep for alcoholic beverages,  he was paid to drink, he went from bar to bar being served by others, he spent all of his time in nightclubs, and even  his girlfriend was seen on billboards. He was up there in the ranks of those who live the NYC highlife. Eventually he found his outwardly successful life felt inwardly spiritually bankrupt. He started reading scripture. He decided to go do something worthy of serving others. When he first applied to work for a nonprofit, he was rejected by every one. His friends thought he was out of his mind. Finally one nonprofit told him that if he could pay them five hundred dollars a month, he could come on board their medical ship. They treated people in Africa who had facial tumors because of the poor quality water they drink. Scott Harrison is the man who began an organization called Charity water. Since 2006, they have funded 9, 458 water projects in 20 countries. He was willing to go beyond where his life experience had taken him.

A friend of mine lost her son to a brain cancer, he was 21. This coming week of Thanksgiving, her family is running a blood drive, to save the lives of other children dealing with the same illness. She is willing to go where her own life experience did not take her, she is going beyond to watch for relief in other families, because you know what, these other families, she will tell you that they are her family, too.  

I don’t for a minute believe that extinction is God’s plan for humankind. I don’t believe for a minute that extinction is God’s plan for the church, I believe that resurrection is. Resurrection was not just something that happened to Jesus, my good friends, resurrection is the transformation of life in all its forms, in all its need, bringing it beyond our current experience. It is not what we ourselves do, it is what God does in us. God alone gives us life. God alone is making us one. God alone will bring us to unity. Here these words from the prophet Ezekiel, “God alone will put the sanctuary among them  forever. “  Christ our King, is our God and we are blessed to be his people.

Letter To Students

DSC01048

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.

Pondering the Heavens

DSC01387It seems like every time I look up this summer, the sky has been filled with beauty. One day it is the rosy peach sunset, the next white puffy clouds, rainbows and even lightning storms have enchanted me and captured my attention. The night sky spreads constellations over our heads in the darkness drawing us toward a sense of the eternal.

It says that God separated the vast waters to create the heavens in Genesis. In the New Testament, we hear that Jesus is going ahead to prepare a place for us. So much has been written about heaven especially by those who have been close to death and survived. As a child, I was not nurtured in churches where the teaching oriented one toward heaven as our ultimate goal. My practice of faith has emphasized the here and now.

When I do stop to ponder life after death and our entry into heaven, I think about being totally encompassed with the immense love of God. I imagine a joyous reunion of perfect love with our Creator. And today, I looked up into a clear blue sky with few puffy clouds and the earth around me glowing, even in the midst of illness, hunger, struggle and conflict, the heavens hover over our lives, and the immense love of God surrounds us. There is nothing we can do to have God love us more and nowhere we can go to get more love than right here under this canopy of light.

DSC01406

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.

A Visual Peace

DSC00709

Do you remember how you FELT the first time you encountered God? Take some time to revisit that experience. What is God revealing to you now? 

Try this, sit back, close your eyes if you want, take a deep breath and let go. Take another breath and relax as you exhale. Now for just a few moments, visualize one of the beautiful Spring flowers you have seen through this last week, perhaps a blooming bush or tree caught your attention. Breath in its fresh scent. Notice the color and texture of the flower in your mind’s eye. Bring as many details as you can remember, the stamen and pistil, the petals and stem. Follow the flower down through the stem to its roots, where this last week’s rain saturated the ground offering this flower nutrients from the soil. Imagine that all this flower needs to create beauty is being provided by our Creator.

Now take a moment to consider your own life. Imagine God caring for your life in the same way the flower is cared for. Consider the things God is nurturing your life with at present. There is nothing you need to schedule or arrange,  nowhere you need to go for the moment, just take some time in the assurance that God is already providing all that you need to bring meaning and purpose to your days. As the flower opens up to reveal the blessing it offers, imagine your life gently opening to reveal something God is using to bless others.

Now look around the garden of your life, at all the other blooms. What attracts or repels you? How is your life connected to the others? Walk right to the center of this garden to the Source of peace and contentment. Inhale that grace deeply. Take a moment to soak up the peace you feel. 

When you are ready, you may return your attention to your surroundings and stretch.