August 4, 2019
“One man was [beside the Pool of Bethzatha] who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’” John 5:5-6 (NRSV)
Whenever I read these two verses, I want to say, “Well, of course he wants to be healed, Jesus – duh!” But when we look more closely at the rest of the story, we realize that the man consistently makes excuses for his life’s circumstances. Jesus heals him without even having any more of a discussion with him; he just tells him to pick up his mat and walk.
The man does so, but without any other word to Jesus – no thank you, no “thanks be to God!” no intentions of even going to the temple to offer prayers of praise or be inspected by the priests, nothing – zip – zilch!
On top of that, the man is confronted by some of the temple leaders who reprimand him for carrying his own pallet on the Sabbath, which is seen as work. Then, when they eventually find out it was Jesus who had healed on the Sabbath, they reprimand HIM for working on the Sabbath (as if healing was an everyday occurrence!).
While this story is ultimately about the abundance of God’s grace that is offered to anyone and everyone, it always strikes a chord in me because I can sometimes see myself in the man who made excuses and found it more comfortable to stay on his mat for thirty-eight years than to do something that might require hard work and progression to a better way of being in the world.
I don’t shirk my responsibilities, and I work hard at my job and my marriage and my family relationships. What I do make excuses for is not persevering at my weight loss efforts. I will start a program, lose effectively for the first few months, and then get to a point where I eat off the program or plan, start to level out or even gain a few pounds, lose them, and gain them again. At that point, I give up because I can’t see paying for a program with which I don’t follow through. The cycle of on again, off again creates yo-yo dieting and “stuckness” in a pattern that I am not breaking.
This summer a colleague who has gone through many of the same struggles shared a plan with me that has worked for her. The plan doesn’t require that I follow a set menu or even have restrictions on certain foods. It doesn’t require counting calories, points, or leaving anything out of my eating. Rather, it focuses on how I feel about myself and encourages me to create a daily menu that I will enjoy following, and then at the end of the day take an assessment about how I did.
What went well, and what didn’t. Take notes and then create a new plan for the next day with the goal of sticking to my plan as much as possible. The key here is to take responsibility for my own behavior and decisions, to try to make tiny changes every day and to become more aware of how to care for myself, including forgiving myself for not being “perfect,” and just keep trying. I have heard these principles set forth in many other places, but this one opens the door for no excuses because I’m making all the choices from my own preferences.
Interestingly, I had picked this passage from John to study this summer, and I’m preaching on it this Sunday. What the message of the passage offers is that God’s grace is accepting and wife enough for anyone, even me. God’s grace is extended to even those who feel that they aren’t good enough because of some circumstance in their lives that keeps them from feeling their best. God’s grace even extends to those who could care less about it. God’s grace has led me to learn again and again that God loves me the way I am, and that if I want to change something about myself, I have to be involved in the process.
Let us begin to recognize the excuses that keep us from moving toward wholeness and receive God’s grace as a motivator to share the encouragement, kindness, and caring that we are called to share as God’s children – no excuses! Thanks be to God!
July 28, 2019
“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher).”John 20:16
Following the publishing of Dan Brown’s book The DaVinci Codeand the movie version that was released a few years later, many people were speculating about whether or not Jesus and Mary Magdalene had actually been married. Some were outraged, others were speculative, and still other people were intrigued by the idea. Around the time I read the book, I had begun to work on my Doctor of Ministry project, which was titled, “Single Women Thriving in Ministry.” As a prelude to my project, I had several introductory chapters that included some thoughts on biblical women who seemed to have been single, as well as early women ministers who broke through the male dominated role of clergy.
This summer, I have been studying with the congregation, people in the bible who have been faithful in their relationship with God/Jesus. This Sunday, we considered Mary Magdalene. I’m not a biblical scholar, although I have read a lot of written material about this close friend of Jesus. Admittedly, I am a romantic, meaning that I like happy endings, so the idea of Jesus and Mary Magdalene being married caught my attention.
There is some logic to it. Jesus WAS raised in the Jewish tradition and all indications was that he was a faithful practicing Jew. So, it makes sense that he would marry, as was the tradition and expectation in his culture. And then there was the scene at the tomb in the gospel of John. Some commentators have said that only the only woman who would be able to try to claim a body would have been the wife or mother of the deceased. In addition, some of the Gnostic gospels indicated that Mary and Jesus were very close even romantically attached, and it made the male disciples jealous.
As I have pondered this, I realize I have no solutions or answers; it is among the many that I have on my “question list” for when I get to heaven! However, I have a feeling that we can only study the scriptures, and particularly John’s story of the resurrection, which then leads me to feel that, if nothing else, there was a special friendship between Jesus and Mary.
Although she didn’t recognize his voice initially (why would she – she thought he was dead!), when he said her name, there was something in his tone that made her realize she was with Jesus. This scene from John has always filled me with such joy because of Jesus’ care for her and his sending her to tell the disciples.
If their friendship was one of confidant, mentor, and companionship, in the sense of good friends, then it would make sense for Mary to recognize Jesus’ voice when he spoke to her in a certain way. We recognize our friends’ voices on the phone or in other situations without having to be told who is speaking, and our friends are important to us because we trust them and know that they care about us.
So we can learn from Mary about following Jesus faithfully, about being a close friend to someone, and about loving them through thick and thin. Mary was a loyal and committed friend who initially financially helped Jesus and the disciples in their ministry, and she most likely shared her faith in him and her joy following his resurrection with others for the rest of her life.
We sing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” and maybe it is a good reminder that we can understand a little more from Mary Magdalene about what that means and apply it to our own lives, our own relationships. May we continue to walk faithfully with Christ. Thanks be to God!
July 21, 2019
“God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?’ And he said, ‘Yes, angry enough to die.’ Then the Lord said, ‘You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?’” Jonah 4:9-11 (NRSV)
Jonah, Jonah, Jonah! God called you to a Ninevah, an Assyrian city and enemy of Israel, where you were supposed to call the people to repent and turn their ways from war and destruction to peace and cooperation. Yet, Jonah, you did everything you possibly could to avoid this responsibility, including running the opposite direction.
God didn’t give up on you, and eventually, you followed God’s direction with a huge and startling response. Not only did ALL the people of Ninevah repent, but even the animals! That should have made you happy, Jonah, but instead you became angry. You stomped out of that big city and sat down on the edge of the city wall where you pouted. God provided a bush from a gourd that grew to give you shade, but the next day it shriveled and died.
So, then you were angry about the bush. God couldn’t figure you out. You were angry about the bush just as you were angry about the repentance of the Ninevites, and you barely did anything to call them to repentance – just seven short words. When they repented, you were mad. Maybe you were mad because God actually cared about them, and maybe deep inside, your fear was that God would forget Israel. But your job was to do what God asked, not to judge what God did. If God wanted to change the destruction that had been planned for that city, that was God’s business, not yours.
Let’s face it, God will do what God will do. God knows far more than we do, and God’s grace extends far beyond our comprehension, even when we don’t agree with it!
My husband and I were married while I was serving a church in central Maine, and as the time for new appointments came up in the early Spring, I figured we would stay were we were for another year due to being newlyweds. However, I was moved to southern Maine after only six months of marriage. It meant that my husband had to find a new job, and I had to start with two small churches that had been yoked together.
I became Jonah. I didn’t want to go, and we had a very hard adjustment. So did the churches. It took two or three years, but finally things settled down, and we discovered that it wasn’t as bad as we had anticipated. There were many people who were glad we were there, and we received a lot of support from the congregations as they learned about my style and saw how involved my husband became in the life of the two congregations.
There are times in our lives when we are asked to do something we really don’t want to do – take a promotion that sends us away from where we had lived for many years, go into chemotherapy, watch a child pack up and move to another state and a new job, send our children off to school, and the list could go on and on. I think I have discovered after all these years, that the more we fight that kind of change, the harder we make it for ourselves.
I retired out of the two churches I served in southern Maine, and then, after a year, I returned to the pastorate part time. A year off had given me new perspective and fresh eyes to see the people of God in a new congregation. Most of all, I was able to see how God worked through it all so that many good things would happen to serve God in the churches where I was appointed.
Next time you feel like Jonah, maybe stop to think about why God has called you to do whatever it is that you resent. Ultimately when we discover the grace of God in the calling, we can let go and allow God to work through us! Thanks be to God!
July 14, 2019
“[Jesus] answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ [The Canaanite woman] answered, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’” Matthew 15:26-27 (NRSV)
Ouch! Did Jesus just call the Canaanite woman a “dog?” Really? If so, why? I have read this story for years, and it wasn’t until I was in seminary that I realized some of the implications of this exchange.
In Matthew 15, Jesus tells this woman that he saw himself as being charged with saving only the “lost sheep of the house if Israel.” Did he see his mission as being one of changing centuries old traditions, beliefs, and practices? Well, good luck with that! All we need to do is look at the resistance to change in many churches to know that people don’t want to have something or someone new come to their church and change things! “We’ve never done it that way before” has been called the “death of a church.”
What is behind his treatment of the Canaanite woman who was hounding and begging him to listen to her and heal her daughter? Jesus doesn’t even listen to her at first; he just keeps walking as if she doesn’t exist. Could it be that the writer of Matthew was attempting to show that Jesus needed to be reminded that he was intended to be the Savior of the WORLD? Maybe the writer wanted to show that Jesus had to overcome prejudice before he could minister to everyone.
Oh, I know, that could be reading too much into the story. However, if we really think about this story and Jesus behavior, maybe we can learn something from it. Think about it: Jesus was raised Jewish and was a faithful practicing Jew. He knew is Torah and worshiped at the temple or synagogue regularly. Many considered him to have authority from God that far surpassed the religious leaders, so it is logical that he was attempting to bring reform to the prevailing Jewish religious teachings.
In addition, Jesus knew the history of his nation, and he was aware that the Canaanites were considered outsiders, in spite of the fact that his ancestors had taken the land from the indigenous people, who happened to be the Canaanites. They were enemies trying to live together in a very small geographic area. Jesus might have been so focused on what he saw as his mission and ministry to the Jewish people, that he just didn’t want to deal with a foreigner who was considered an enemy anyway.
But the woman’s belief that Jesus could heal her daughter was so strong, she finally got through to Jesus. Her words stopped him short, and he complimented her on her strong faith and told her that her daughter would be healed, which is what happened.
I wonder, was Jesus changed by this encounter? It would seem as if that was the case. Were the disciples’ minds opened to the possibilities of ministering to gentiles? To their enemies? To the outcasts? Well, Jesus did eventually teach that way, and the last official apostle, Paul, was charged with bringing the good news to the gentile nations, so this Canaanite woman may have opened some minds!
How about us? How willing are we to welcome even the outcasts? How willing are we to pray for and be kind to our “enemies?” We have many opportunities all around us. How is Jesus calling us to minister, and what can we learn from others?
Blessings, Rev. Deb
June 23, 2019
Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”1 Kings 19:9b (NRSV)
The prophet Elijah was one of Israel’s most famous prophets. He called the people to live faithfully with God, and God performed miracles such as making a widow’s rations of a little flour and oil last much longer than expected, reviving that same widow’s only son after he died, and winning an “altar duel” with the prophets of Baal to show whose god was the true god.
When this was all over and the queen of the kingdom, Jezebel, learned that Elijah had done this, she was furious and threatened to kill him. So, instead of shrugging his shoulders and trusting God’s guidance and protection, he suddenly lost all his courage and ran away. Once he was out of Jezebel’s territory, he collapsed with exhaustion, prayed for God to take his life, and fell asleep under a broom tree.
God persisted with Elijah and provided food for him, then led him to a cave on Mount Horeb. As the prophet stood at the opening of the cave looking out, God’s voice came to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He immediately begins whining about being the only prophet left (which wasn’t quite true), and he indulged in a lot of self-pity. It all turns out well in the end, and Elijah finds his strength and courage once again. On his way home, he commissions his successor, Elisha, who goes with him as sort of an “on the job training.”
What would cause Elijah to lose his courage? Why, after all his successes and knowing that God had been with him, would he suddenly “wimp out” and run away. I mean, he had defeated 300 prophets! One wicked queen made him afraid? Maybe his adrenaline had run out, or maybe he suddenly realized the enormity of what had happened and couldn’t believe it. Who knows!
The point for me was that I often go through similar situations. Sometimes my confidence and courage falter. Most often, I can’t really explain what happens when I experience that, but I suspect that it’s because I have forgotten WHO it is behind my confidence to begin with. When I’m not anchored in God’s presence, when I neglect my spiritual disciplines, when I forget to pray, when I don’t count my blessings regularly, when I start to think that I can do this work on my own power, the anchor I throw out is made of Styrofoam (so to speak).
There is no depth to it, and it will not hold me still and focused but lets me drift into other places. Sometimes, I can even find myself in a strong current that pushes me even farther away from my reliance on God, so it is with great effort that I correct things in order to move back to the true Anchor.
For Elijah, the answers came not in wind, earthquake, and fire, but in the sound of sheer silence. Maybe when I’m feeling adrift, I need to sit still and listen, along with the other things that help me stay connected with the Spirit who helps me stay on track. Perhaps you have discovered a similar experience. Maybe it would be helpful to think of Elijah when you do. May God bless your day!
June 16, 2019
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might.”Deuteronomy 6:5
In Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus answers a lawyer’s question by quoting the Shemawhich is in the passage above. This is the life passage and heart of the Jewish faith, one that they are instructed to recite twice a day, teach to their children, write it on their doorposts, and even on their foreheads. When I was in Israel, I saw Many orthodox Jews wearing little boxes on their foreheads, which is following the Deuteronomy instructions.
The interesting thing about Jesus, who was a faithful Jew, is that he often took the old teachings and re-introduced them by expanding them. In Matthew 22, he added to the Shema, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus was all about taking things one step further to help his followers (including us) learn a little more about the depth of God’s love for us. I wonder what would happen if we as followers of Jesus would actually follow what he calls this greatest commandment.
What would happen if we loved God with all our hearts, souls, and might? What would happen if we loved our neighbor as ourselves. Maybe some of us really need to love ourselves better. I suspect our world would be a better place, and maybe – just maybe – there would be improved relationships, more peace and cooperation around our globe.
This Sunday is Father’s Day, and it is also Trinity Sunday. We are reminded that the traditional formula for the Trinity is “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” In more recent times, the trinitarian language has been expanded for a variety of reasons, but I suspect that it helps us see more of wideness of the many roles God plays in our lives. When we think about the many roles father’s may (or sadly may not) play in our lives, we may interpret God’s love in a variety of ways.
I share a brief story about a close friend whose biological father left when she was only three years old. He and her mother divorced, and he never really claimed her as his daughter. When she was eight years old, her mother’s second husband adopted her, and two years later, he also left with their divorce. During the time of her mother’s third marriage, my friend ended up staying home to care for her dying mother who had ovarian cancer.
Shortly after her mother’s death, her grandmother insisted that it wasn’t proper for my friend to live with her stepfather, so she moved in with her grandmother and never saw her stepfather again. During her life, every father-figure she had left and disappeared.
I asked her how she felt when she prayed “Father” for God, and her answer was, “God is the only father who will never leave me and who will always be there for me. I’m thankful for her witness of faith and her courage and perseverance in her life. She died at a very early age of 52 of cancer, and her faith was strong in God, “her father” through the entire time.
Fathers sometimes bring a mixed bag, but when fathers – or father figures – live Jesus’ greatest commandment to love God with all their heart, soul, and mind, and their neighbor as themselves, they build relationships with the children, family, and friends, and set an example. God, the three-in-one, blesses them and all of us. May you have a blessed day!
June 9, 2019
“. . . from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability.”Acts 2:2-4 (NRSV)
Pentecost is an interesting holy day in our churches. Some worshipers never even hear about it, and others never stop hearing about it. Maybe we are just so far removed that we can’t really comprehend what happened to “birth the church” on that day: the rush of a violent wind, tongues like fire landing on each person’s head, and the sudden ability to speak a foreign language! My goodness! I suspect many of us would react by running out of the building.
In some churches, even clapping to the music is seen as undesirable. When I was growing up, a woman in our congregation, upon seeing a guitar being used during worship, said “THOSE other instruments don’t belong in church!” Um, wait a minute. Read Psalm 150, used during Jewish worship, and celebrating God’s presence: “Praise God with the trumpet sound; praise God with the lute and harp! Praise God with tambourine and dance; praise God with strings and cymbals; praise God with loud clashing cymbals!” (Psalm 150:3-5)
Some churches have praise bands, some still use the organ. Others have cd’s, and others use piano. Regardless of how we praise, we are called to praise, which is what the disciples did on that day of Pentecost when they were so filled with the Holy Spirit that they just couldn’t contain themselves. And they sparked (pardon the pun) a movement while those flames danced on their heads, and they gave the message of God’s love in Jesus Christ. It was a message too good not to share!
From that small band of followers, Christianity grew, and we can find churches in thousands of towns, cities, and country sides. So, if Pentecost birthed the church (meaning the movement of Jesus followers), then our job as that church in the 21stcentury is to nurture and grow it. Whether we lift our hands in worship or kneel in the pews, whether we have a formalized liturgy or a free-form way of worshiping, we are still expected to share that love of God with others.
We know this because of Jesus’ promise that he would be with us throughout the ages (see the end of the gospel of Matthew). He commissioned the disciples to carry on his mission and ministry, and through them as the founders of the church of Jesus Christ in the world, we are also commissioned.
How we do that depends on how willing we are to listen to the guidance of God’s Spirit who nudges, whispers, pushes and shouts at us in our worship, fellowship, studies, prayer, discussions, and activities as God’s church. If we aren’t on fire, so to speak, then let’s figure out what we are called to do! Let us pray “Come, Holy Spirit” and mean it, and watch for the Spirit’s arrival, and act as the Spirit leads us! Happy Holy Pentecost!
May 26, 2019
“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:40 (NRSV)
This Sunday we will hear the story and mission of Seacoast Family Promise which is an organization that provides housing for homeless families. These are families who are working and trying hard to find a place to live, but have not been able to do so thus far. A number of churches in the Portsmouth area take turns housing, providing meals, and offering a safe place for them to stay overnight during the week, and we are part of that ministry.
As I thought about the scripture passage above and how providing a place for these families, I was also struck by our definition of mission and ministry. Seacoast Family Promise is an important a vital ministry in our area, to be sure. What else could be described as offering ministry to “the least of these who are members of my family?” We provide space for packing bags that give food to children who might otherwise go hungry over the week-end: Ending 68 Hour of Hunger. We also provide space for some wonderful programs such as AA, Planet Rangers, and a variety of other programs. These, too are very important ways of reaching out to others to share the love of Christ.
Yet, I sometimes wonder if we think that what we do for Christ, in our minds anyway, has to be huge and noticeable, such as going on a mission trip to another country, offering a soup kitchen or clothing closet, finding ways to change the world. While these certainly ARE important missional outreach, I wonder, too, if there are other ways that may not be as visible.
Here are some examples: putting together hygiene packets with toothbrush, toothpaste, soap band aids, to leave for the homeless, combs, tissues, etc. for the homeless; visiting someone who is sick or shut-in; sending cards to those who need encouragement or the knowledge that someone is praying for them; giving up road rage; smiling at people when we pass them; doing something nice for someone unexpectedly; showing courtesy and respect even when we don’t feel like it; taking a meal to families who have had a death or other loss; and any number of small acts of kindness.
What DOES it mean to “do it to one of the least of these?” Maybe it is as simple as asking questions based on the rest of the scripture passage: “Who is my family?” and “How does God want me to care for this person?”
It’s food for thought! Have a blessed day! Rev. Deb
May 12, 2019
“Now in Joppa there was a disciples whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs . . . All the widows stood beside [Peter], weeping and showing him tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them.” Acts 9:36-37, 39b (NRSV)
This Sunday, I am preaching about Tabitha (or “Dorcas” in Greek) and how God worked through her to make a difference in her community. We know little or nothing about Tabitha except that she lived in Joppa, cared for the widows, made clothing for them, died for some unexpected reason, and then was brought back to life by Peter. When she was brought back to life, the widows were ecstatic. They would not have known what to do without the person who had been their life line.
Widows without a male head of household often were cheated out of their assets, forced out of their houses, and lived on the streets. Tabitha provided for them so they would not be destitute. She used her resources and gifts to make a difference in their lives.
This is Mother’s Day, and I was reminded about Tabitha’s love and care even for adult women who had nothing. In many ways, she “mothered” them. Don’t we all need “mothering” even when we are older? This week I have seen many posts on Facebook about people’s mothers and how much they meant to them. Mothers often provide the unconditional love of God to their children, often without even realizing it. It was through my mother and her mother, my maternal grandmother, that I initially learned about God and God’s love.
Of course, there were times when I had issues with my mom. I never wanted to be a “stay at home mom” or be afraid of conflict like she was. It really wasn’t until she was well into the stages of Alzheimer’s Disease that I realized the many gifts she gave me. I was also fortunate to have a number of “adoptive” mothers wherever I lived. Maybe I seemed to need extra mothering, but I consider my aunts and some of the women in the choirs in which I sang like mothers. Several of them called themselves my “Cape Cod mother” or my “Maine mother.”
Tabitha’s mothering was a good example of how we all are connected as God’s family. When we see how our Sunday school children relate to the teachers who work with them, we can see not only teaching, but mothering. These are women (and men) who love the children, share God’s love with them, and teach them by example, story-telling, and reading the scriptures with them about the heart of God.
This Mother’s Day, may we remember those who were mother figures in our lives, who brought the heart of God to us, and loved us with that kind of eternal love. Have a great day!
May 5, 2019
“Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Corinthians 9:6-8
This week First United Methodist church will receive financial pledges for the coming year. Although giving financially is very much a part of stewardship and often become the only focus of stewardship, the idea of being God’s stewards extends far beyond money.
Think of all the things with which we have been entrusted: our lives, our families, the earth, animals, reptiles, birds, and even insects! We have also been given day, night, health, changing seasons, inventions, calendars, schedules, responsibilities, relationships, and possessions.
As a pastor, I am very aware of my stewardship of time, particularly since I am paid to work half time. Of course, I realize that being a pastor is never part time because it is an identity rather than a job, a calling rather than a chosen occupation. Yet, in order for me to do the work I do, I need to be a good steward of my time, my self-care, my financial resources, and most importantly, my relationship with God and others.
For me, the key to good stewardship; that is, living as God’s steward on this earth, is to be a caretaker of everything we have. Take time to rest, spend a quiet evening with family, manage money so we aren’t careless, give generously of time, talents, and treasure, and keep God at the top of the list.
When we remember that we are God’s appointed caretakers, not just of a few things, but everything, we have a good foundation on which to build in living a life of stewardship. Yet, as our scripture passage above reminds us, giving and living generously happens in a spirit of gratitude and the desire to take an assessment of what we can give.
If we give grudgingly, we aren’t being stewards, and we create an attitude of resentment and possibly anger. No one is forcing us to give, whether of our time, talents or treasures, but if we should feel guilty or give because we feel pressured, we have approached the idea of giving from a negative point of view. It is far better to not give at all, then.
So, we can take an inventory of what we have to offer and decide where we would like to expend the resources we have so that we can make a difference in our world. Let us develop an attitude of gratitude and be thankful for what God has given us, and share according to the way we feel led to give. God bless!
April 28, 2019
Then one of [the lepers], when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Luke 17:15-17 (NRSV)
How do we identify with this man who was healed? Can we imagine what it would feel like to be an outcast at least twice as much as others in that – or our – society? One rejection would have come in that the man was a leper. During Jesus’ day, leprosy was more than just “Hansen’s Disease,” which would eat away flesh. Any rash, discoloration, or unusual redness could be considered “leprosy” and render the one who had it as “unclean.” That person was then, by religious law, unable to have contact with others and would have been forced to live outside the city walls.
It was in these encampments where ethnicity was pretty much ignored, and the second reason for this man to be outcast would not have been as important to those in the camp. He was a Samaritan, one who was considered an “enemy” of Israel. The Samaritans had remained in the area of Palestine during the exile, and many had intermarried with those who lived in that are, non-Jews particularly. This meant that the Jerusalem Jewish community saw them as “half-breeds,” and thus, not part of the “true” chosen people.
When Jesus healed the Samarian leper, he not only made him well physically, but he also restored him to his family and to his community. The man was so overcome with joy at seeing his healed skin that he returned with thanksgiving and praise to thank Jesus. Most likely, he would have been expected by the other Jewish lepers to go to a priest in Samaria because, at their healing, the old taboos on fraternizing with Samaritans would have returned.
So, who are the ones we consider both lepers and/or Samaritans today? I suspect we would have a long list, depending on our own background and history. Instead of suggesting people who might be on the list, I invite us all to reflect on what that would mean to us. Who do we ignore, avoid, criticize, or put down because they are different from us? How do we reject them? In what ways do we perpetuate the “labels” and popular opinions about them? What can we do, following in Jesus’ example to not discriminate against someone who is considered “taboo” to make a difference in our society.
It is not an easy task, nor is it something that we accomplish immediately. We need to educate ourselves about “the other,” and see them as human beings who deserve love, kindness, acceptance, and respect. Jesus really does set an example for us. Maybe studying his actions will help us in our journeys toward welcoming others and honoring where they are, and who knows, even becoming friends! We CAN make a difference! God bless!
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.