April 21, 2019
Luke 24:1-12 (NRSV)
4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.
We really can’t blame the women for their confusion and fear, after all, people being raised from the dead simply doesn’t happen every day. We might even be tempted to blame them for not paying closer attention when Jesus said that he would die and be raised on the third day. Yet, it’s important to try to put ourselves in their shoes to try to understand that we might react in the same way. “How can this be? How could Jesus be raised from the dead? We SAW him die and saw Joseph of Arimathea put his body in the grave,” they might say.
After hearing that Jesus had been raised, their joy must have been so overwhelming, filling them with such amazement and happiness that their feet seemed to have wings on them as they “flew” to tell the disciples. Do we really comprehend the magnitude of what Jesus did for us? Do we relate to what the women must have experienced, as well as the disciples? Have we encountered the risen Christ in our lives?
We have the witnesses of the first followers of Jesus and thousands of people over the centuries who believe in him and believe that he brought forgiveness of sins, reconciliation, and salvation to the world, and that includes us. Now, isn’t that a reason to “grow wings on our feet,” to fly to tell others, to share that kind of Good News?
Prayer: Saving Christ, we give you thanks for your love that was so strong you were willing to die for us and to give us life with you forever. Amen.
April 14, 2019
“Everything in the world is about to be wrapped up, so take nothing for granted. Stay wide-awake in prayer. Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless – cheerfully.” 1 Peter 4:7-9 (The Message)
One of my best friends died from lung cancer at the age of 52 in the year 2000. After her death, I told myself not to take anyone for granted and to appreciate the people in my life. I have been pretty faithful in that – at least some times! How easy it is to forget! We mean well, and we really want to follow through, but life often leads us a different direction, and we allow things, events, aggravations, and challenges to overwhelm us. Those things can distract us from our good intentions to cherish those around us more.
This week, I was reminded again about how important it is to cherish the people in our lives. My husband and I live in a senior apartment building, and we heard that a woman in the building had been taken to the hospital just a few nights ago. Yesterday, as I came out of my apartment, her husband and son were walking down the hallway, so I stopped to ask him how his wife was doing. He told me she had passed away from a massive stroke.
What a shock! The day before, I had talked with her in the hallway while she was on her daily walk through the building. It was how she was exercising during rainy days and the winter months. How unsettling to think that she was no longer alive just a few hours later.
This Sunday is Palm Sunday when we begin our Holy Week journey. Imagine the followers of Jesus who had placed such hope in his leadership, especially as he entered Jerusalem on a donkey (often ridden by kings as they entered a town or city). From a triumphal beginning to the devastation of Jesus actually being crucified and dying, they would have been in shock and disbelief.
We know the ending of the story, and that gives us hope for life beyond life here on earth. Yet, the death of loved ones continues to bring us face to face with the reality that we really can’t take anything for granted. We cannot assume anything, and the passage above from 1 Peter reminds us to “love each other as if our lives depended on it.”
It’s good advice, and once again, I am remembering to keep working at it! I hope you do, too! God bless!
April 7, 2019
“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Isaiah 43:16-21
“A new thing” – uh oh, that means (gulp) CHANGE! So many of us resist change, and it’s interesting because without change, our lives would be miserable. We need to slough off cells for our skin to stay soft and smooth; we need the changes of the daylight so we can work and then sleep for restoration. Yet, we resist change. Over the many years I have served as a pastor, I can’t even count the number of times I have heard people say, “I hate change!”
It is common knowledge (especially among pastors) that the sentence, “We’ve never done it that way before” can eventually stop a church from growing and become a death knell. As I read through the scriptures for this coming Sunday from Isaiah 43:16-21 and Philippians 3:4b-14, I began to wonder. Maybe it depends on the tone of voice and the intention behind such a sentence.
If the person clearly hates change, “We’ve never done it that way before” is a clear signal that they are not open to “a new thing.” However, if their tone is excited, their face lights up, and they say, “We’ve never done it thatway before,” it could be that this project, event, change in the way things are done is worth trying. “A new thing” can be good for a church congregation!
When I was appointed to one congregation, people kept saying to me that they hated change, and I reminded them that maybe change isn’t all that bad. They seemed to be very happy with me as their pastor, and from everything I had heard, they hadn’t been very happy with a previous pastor. Once I reminded them that not all change was necessarily bad, they had to agree that maybe some changes were positive and helpful.
The passage from Isaiah was the prophet’s way of telling the nation of Israel who was in exile that God was at work among them, in spite of how dark and hopeless their lives seemed. Through the promises of change, God was opening doors to a brighter future, one of hope, renewal, and restoration. We, in the 21stcentury church, are reminded this time of year especially, that we are on a journey with Jesus to the cross, to his death and resurrection.
God is doing a new thing over and over because we are a resurrection people! We live in Christ and have hope in the promise of new things that are presented to us every day. God is doing a new thing, and it is good!
March 10, 2019
“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all is generous to all who call on him.” (Romans 10:12 NRSV)
Have you ever felt out of place somewhere? When we read the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, we can find many teachings that tell the people not to “mix” with foreigners, and yet, there are also places where the aliens and outsiders are welcome. Jesus set an example for welcoming the outcasts and marginalized of society. He went out of his way to find them, to heal them, and to open the doors for them to return to their families.
Paul writes in the letter to the church in Rome that there is no longer distinction between Jew or Greek. This is pretty radical for the Jewish nation to accept when they had tried to follow the teachings of the Torah. Yet, Jesus himself has opened doors for ALL to be welcomed and accepted as part of the family of God.
Think about times when people have been (and continue to be) excluded. Racism has been a powerful force in our world for many, many years, and it continues to exclude people from the so-called white majority. As I mentioned in my last blog, the LGBTQIA community has long been told to “straighten up” and “be heterosexual.” Many in that community have been kicked out of their childhood homes and disowned by their families.
Women have fought the battle for inclusion for years, and, while it’s better, there is still sexism out there. Ageism – excluding the seniors and elderly pushes them to the margins of society, as if their usefulness is over, and yet, in ancient times, and in some other cultures, the older family members are seen as the wise ones, the matriarch and patriarch who are revered and a treasured part of the family unit.
Believe or not, even pastors feel left out at times! The nature of our work means that we interact with many people, and sometimes we have huge expectations put on us. The pastor’s work is to provide spiritual leadership and guidance, but we are told not to have friends in the church because it would be playing favorites. If we aren’t careful, we may not establish support groups where we can find listening ears and understanding from other clergypersons. Certainly, it is not appropriate to share our struggles with the congregation unless it is for a good sermon illustration that leads us back to God.
Sometimes children feel left out and ignored, and the list could go on and on. But this passage from Romans is a reminder that in God’s family, NO ONE is excluded! There is no distinction between Jew and Greek, between straight and gay, between old and young, between men and women, between different ethnic groups and races! Now – THAT’S GOOD NEWS!!!!
May we believe it, live it, practice it, and speak out to support it! Amen!
March 3, 2019
“And all were astounded at the greatness of God.” Luke 9:43a
This Sunday, March 3, is Transfiguration Sunday when we remember Jesus on the mountaintop with three of his disciples and his transfiguration with brilliant, blinding light, a meeting with Elijah and Moses, and the voice of God booming that Jesus was the beloved Son, “Listen to him!”
This past week was a special session of the Untied Methodist Church’s General Conference which will most likely lead to a split in the denomination. Yes, I did write “Untied!” Interestingly, I have typed that by accident many times by reversing two letters without realizing it. Fortunately, I have been able to correct it before sending it out, but this time, I was deliberate in my use of “Untied.”
Sadly for many of us, the General Conference voted to retain the exclusive language that prohibits LGBTQIA folks from ordination, prevents pastors from performing same sex marriages, and retains the language that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. In fact, the Traditionalist Plan, which was the one voted in by a very narrow margin, tightens the restrictions and punitive results of “disobeying” the Book of Discipline.
The result of this was far from transformational unless we consider that it is most likely the final blow that has fractured the denomination and will bring about the separation of the UMC. There is much pain caused by this decision because so many of us do not see the Methodist Church as exclusionary, but inclusive. At one point, the theme “open hearts, open minds, open doors” was touted as the way the UMC was, but in reality, it has not been open to the LGBTQIA community.
Our work during this “meantime” is to minister to those who have been hurt, welcome them, include them, and keep on ministering to each other, our communities, and the world in the best way we know how. The transformation will emerge, a metamorphosis to a new thing. Isaiah 43:19 says to the nation of Israel while they are in exile: “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
What will the “new thing” be? We don’t know. We only know that we are at the foot of the mountain waiting for Jesus to come down. In front of us we have wounded and hurting people who need healing, who need someone to walk with them and know that they are loved and accepted. We will be about that work while God leads us to the “new thing” whatever it may be, and then we can quote Luke 9:43a: “And all were astounded at the greatness of God.”
February 17, 2019
“[Jesus] said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’”Mark 5:34 (NRSV)
This passage is from a much larger story in Mark 5:21-43, often called a sandwich story where there is a story within a story. A synagogue leader had sent for Jesus because his daughter was dying, and while Jesus was on the way, a great crowd pressed around him. In the midst of the crowd was a woman who had suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years, a condition that would have made her unclean and untouchable. Having this disease, she would have been marginalized in her society, unable to live with her family, near her friends, and expelled from the synagogue lest she “contaminate” it and everyone who went there.
I have extracted the “inner” story about this woman because it has such a powerful message about faith, grace, and the love of God. We can only imagine her desperation in sliding into the crowd, trying to remain “invisible” as she pushed toward Jesus to simply touch the hem of his robe. Imagine that kind of faith – “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” No one would be the wiser, and she would finally find relief from the disease that can isolated her from everyone.
What she didn’t realize was that Jesus felt the power go out of him. He asked who had touched him, and the disciples were incredulous. “Everyone is touching you, Jesus! Look at the crowd that presses in.” But Jesus stopped and looked around asking who had touched him. To the woman’s credit, she came to him, knelt before him and told him the truth. Instead of a reprimand or being whisked away to be punished, Jesus greeted her with kindness, compassion and love.
He recognized her faith, a seemingly small bit of faith, but in it, she found healing and wholeness. She was restored to health, and she was restored to her family and her home. Jesus had made her well, given her recognition, and called her “daughter.” He restored not only her physical health, but her emotional and social health as well. In a society where disease and illness were seen as punishment from God, Jesus turned the tables, commended her on her faith, and assured her that she was free from her disease.
Today, we sometimes see miracles of such healing. Maybe they happen after a doctor treats us, or we have surgery, or we do whatever we need to do in order to become healthier. Maybe they happen from persistent and constant prayer and supplication for healing. Or maybe someone find it in reading the scriptures and believing that God will heal them.
I suspect that doing our part, reaching out to “touch Jesus’ clothes” helps in many healings in our lives. This is one of my favorite biblical stories (and I have MANY!) because in it, I see more than just Jesus healing the woman. During Jesus’ day, women had no status and were seen as possessions. They were expected to keep their place in society, and then, for this woman, she had the added burden of her disease.
Her courage and bravery, as well as her desperation to be made well, led her to do something she would probably never have considered if she had just been part of the crowd. She believed so strongly in Jesus’ power to heal that she acted in a powerful way to be an example for anyone who seeks healing and wholeness. If she had not acted, I wonder if Jesus would have stopped. If she had simply brushed against his clothing without thinking about it, she would not have found healing. It was her act of faith that got Jesus’ attention. It was her belief that God would work through him that put this story into the scriptures, and it is from her that we can learn that God has given us the ability to ask, to seek, to find, to hope, and to share love and compassion with others.
Sometimes we are healed by healthy relationships; sometimes we are healed by spending time with someone who can counsel us through our own doubts, fears, and need for “finding ourselves.” Healing can take many paths and look different for everyone. Where is God leading you to find healing in your life? Where is God calling you to help be part of healing in someone else’s life? How will your faith move you to greater wholeness? I invite you to study this passage as you consider the answers. Thanks be to God.
February 10, 2019
“When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.”Luke 5:11 (NRSV)
What an amazing statement! These men who fished for a living on the Sea of Galilee (also known as Lake Gennesaret) worked hard to make a living. They actually worked for the occupying Roman government because everything in Israel at the time belonged to Caesar. Whatever they caught was sold, and they received only a small portion of the proceeds, but they still needed to work in order to support their families.
Then this man appeared at the shoreline with crowds of people following him. The men in the boat may not have even paid much attention to what was going on since they had to wash their nets and pack them away. Apparently, their night time nets were made of linen and not used during the day, so they knew they had to take care of them for reuse the following night.
When the man, Jesus, stepped onto Simon Peter’s boat and started teaching to the crowds, it caught Simon’s attention. We have no idea what might have been going through Peter’s mind, but he probably wondered at the audacity of this guy who just used his boat for preaching. Yet, Peter and the rest of the group must have listened to what Jesus had to say.
Jesus instructed them to put their nets into the water again. In spite of Simon Peter’s objections that they had fished all night and caught nothing, they did as Jesus requested. Their nets were so full they could barely pull them into the boat and called for help from other crews nearby.
At that point, Simon gets it and falls at Jesus’ knees, recognizing his sinfulness, and even more, knowing that there was something special – divine – about Jesus. Simon realizes his own unworthiness in light of the miracle that just took place. Jesus reassures them and tells them to follow him.
This is when an even more amazing thing happens! They drop everything to follow him! What was it that would cause these everyday ordinary, hard working men to leave it all behind? What was it about Jesus that would compel them to follow him? How could they just give up all they had and did in order to go around with a homeless itinerant preacher from Nazareth, of all places?
Throughout the gospels, we read about how the disciples struggled to understand Jesus and were regularly amazed at what happened over and over again to show them and others that Jesus brought, or was, the very presence of God into the world. They knew that there was something powerful about him, and, in spite of their continuing struggle to “get it” about Jesus, they stayed with him.
He called ordinary people to follow him – ordinary men and women, just like you and me. What does it mean for us to give up everything and follow Jesus? There are many ways to answer that question, but I suspect the first and foremost way is to make Jesus number one in our hearts and lives. We give our lives to Christ, and the other answers will be made clearer as we follow him.
When we leave behind those things that keep us from putting Jesus first, we are unencumbered by materialism, love of money, or idolizing things or people. Once we have our hearts set on Jesus, the other things fall into place as we seek to live our lives productively, making a difference for Christ in the world. It is a journey, one that we don’t take alone because Jesus is with us, as well as a lot of companions that are on the journey, too. Thanks be to God!
February 3, 2019
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a NRSV)
In 1 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul instructed the church in Corinth about what it meant to be the church. He reminded them that they all had been given gifts to share equally and that together they made up the Body of Christ, which is a call to bring Christ to the world.
In the next chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, Paul offers some of the most beautiful poetic writing about love. Often, this is used at weddings, and certainly, it gives a couple who are entering into their married lives together a lot to think about in the way that they share their lives together and how they act in love.
What I wonder is whether or not they understand that this is a description of God’s love and how we are to love as followers of Jesus. Paul’s instructions are that love is intended to come from the heart of God, which is then reflected through us. Although I think this is an appropriate scripture to use at a wedding, it is an important teaching for congregations to hear it regularly in the context of worship, study, and living. Maybe it should be read periodically at meetings or church gatherings that are not weddings.
The love described in 1 Corinthians 13 is an idealistic love, one that only God can truly live all the time, but we are asked to grow into that love as those who are part of the Church. We don’t live up to that calling all the time, and we sometimes demonstrate negative behaviors. Instead of finding patience, kindness, generosity, endurance, acceptance, hope, truth, and honesty, we see things to criticize, hang onto grudges, push our own ideas without listening to everyone, and show a lack of forgiveness toward those who have hurt us. Learning to live in the love of God, especially as Paul describes it, takes a lot of awareness and energy.
Forgiveness helps us to keep trying when we fail, to restore relationships when we have offended or been offended. Faith helps us persevere. Hope brings us to a place where we believe that the love of God will prevail. And love – the love of God – the love we have for one another – never ends.
I wonder. I wonder what would happen if all those who profess Christ as Savior would act in love as often as possible. I wonder how we would be transformed. More than that, I wonder how the world would be transformed. It seems to me that we have the mandate from God to do just that. Love is a verb, an action, a way of living. Faith, hope and love abide, these three, and the greatest of these is love. Let us live the love of God in our world.
January 27, 2019
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ . . . Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:12, 27 NRSV)
Last week’s lesson was from the first eleven verses of 1 Corinthians 12, and it leads into the lesson for this coming Sunday about the Body of Christ. The first part of chapter 12 talks about the gifts of the Spirit, gifts that are offered to all followers of Christ, but not everyone receives the same gifts.
In the Corinthian church, there was division and arguing over whose gift was the best and most important, and that’s not all they argued about. Included in their debates were how to serve communion, what practices they could keep from their former pagan religious rituals, who was the greatest leader: Paul or Apollos, and a variety of other controversial and divisive issues.
Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth was his way of teaching them about following Christ, putting their priorities in place and using their gifts to build up the church, forming unity. He reminds them that the Spirit gives gifts differing according to each individual but joined with all the other gifts in order bless the church as a whole.
It follows, then, that Paul continues his teachings with the congregations about being the Body of Christ. In the midst of sharing the gifts of the Spirit, the church folks were and are even today reminded that everyone – EVERYONE – is important and has something to offer.
Individually, we cannot do all that needs to be done in the mission and ministry of a church, but together, making up the body of Christ, we form a whole and bring Christ to the world. We need God; we need each other; we need to set an example for others in the ways we resolve conflict, communicate with each other, and, most of all, remain connected to Christ as the head of the church.
Far too many church people allow themselves to be sidetracked and distracted by gossip, hanging onto their own ideas of how things should be done, pointing fingers when something doesn’t seem to go their way, and other divisive behaviors.
As the Body of Christ, the call for all of us as part of that Body is to seek ways to build each other up, listen to one another, communicate in love, and focus on our mission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” which is the mission statement of the United Methodist Church. We can admit that we don’t do this well at times, but also, by the grace of God, we keep on trying.
May God continue to guide us and inspire us through the power of the Spirit and the sharing of the gifts we have been given to build up the Body of Christ together.