May 23, 2020
This is Ascension Sunday when we remember Jesus leaving earth and returning to heaven to “sit at the right hand of God.” In biblical language, sitting at someone’s right hand meant this was a person of great importance, and someone who has a lot of power, position, and prestige. Of course, Jesus would have that as part of the Triune God!
Why did Jesus have to leave earth? It’s a good question. Maybe we need to back up to an earlier question: “Why did Jesus come to earth?” The New Testament writers are full of answers to that one, but the core theological stand can be found in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (NRSV)
Essentially, while Jesus was on earth, and more specifically, while he was active in his mission and ministry with his disciples and followers, he was teaching them about that love of God. He was also training them about how to carry on his work in the world. In order for them to be able to do that with strength and confidence, he returned to heaven, so they would be able to take all they learned and begin to find more followers of the “Way” as some called it.
So, we are at the time of Jesus’ departure and the story from Acts 1:1-11. For the message this Sunday, I found a monologue that offers one person’s idea of what it might have been like to be there. This was written by Rev. Sam Hargreaves and is posted below with permission to use for worship settings. May it inspire and teach all of us a little more. Blessings, Rev. Deb
© Sam Hargreaves/engageworship.org
Ascension Day Dramatic Reading: “Don’t Just Stand There”*
by Sam Hargreaves. Based on Acts 1.
Whooosh! Just like that! Like a rocket, Zoooomm, that’s how he went! Better than any fireworks I’ve ever seen! Wheeeee! And we were watching to see where he was going when a cloud came across, and, well, that was it. Gone. Ascended.
I didn’t want him to go. He’d already left us once, and that was awful. We just didn’t know what to do with ourselves, we moped around, fearful for our lives, fearful for our sanity. I mean, he was our hope, we’d left everything for him. And he had promised that he would never leave us or forsake us. So when he died, what did that mean? Wasn’t he who we thought he was? Was he a fake or a fool, or even a fiend? So many questions and doubts.
We needed him, he was showing us the way, the way to be human, to live without the legalism of the Pharisees or the rule or the Romans. But it was just those things, the rules and the rule, which caused his death. I just didn’t understand.
Then he came back. He came back! Who has ever come back from the dead! (Well, except Lazarus, and that little girl, and… er, well, perhaps I should have trusted him a bit more.) Anyway he rose again just like he said he would. And he gave us convincing proofs he was alive, showing us his wounds and eating fish and everything! I mean, ghosts don’t eat fish, do they?
And he spoke to us about the Kingdom of God, and it all started to make sense, all that stuff we’d heard before but hadn’t really grasped until, well, until he’d died I guess.
One time when we were eating he said “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.”
I got all excited and said “Lord, Lord are you are this time going to restore the Kingdom of Israel?”
He looked at me in his way which means “you haven’t quite got it yet, have you?” I’m getting used to that look.
He said “It’s not for you to know the times and dates the Father has set for his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Whoooosh! Zoooooom! Gone! Ascended. Before I’d even had chance to ask him what he was going on about. And we are all standing there looking up into the sky like a load of ninnies, when we hear a voice
“Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?” Fair question I guess. They must not have see the Whooosh! But now I think about it they did look pretty amazing themselves, all white and shiny, like people from heaven.
They said “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
I looked at my watch and was about to ask if they could give an estimated time of return, but they had already gone.
So here we are back in Jerusalem. We are praying and waiting, waiting and praying, and I can’t say I’m not excited about the coming of the Holy Spirit, whatever that might be. But to be honest I’d rather Jesus came back himself. I need him. No one knows me like he does. No one shows me God like he does.
But I guess even more than that the world needs him. Israel needs to be restored, God’s Kingdom needs to come to this world, and Jesus is the only one to do it, I really believe that. But I’m worried that not one Jesus would be enough, it’s like we need God to send maybe 100 or 1000 little Jesus’, going around and spreading his Kingdom. Little Christs, empowered to do his work. We can’t do it, we are useless. Come on God, we need your help!
© Sam Hargreaves/engageworship.org
*Title, Comments and reflection on this reading by Rev. Deb
May 10, 2020
“No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God live in us, and his love is perfected in us. We love because God first loved us.” Verses 12 & 19 (1 John 4:7-12, 19 NRSV)
This Sunday is Mother’s Day, and I have chosen the scripture from 1 John, chapter 4 to help us think about God’s love and how it can be reflected in a mother’s love. I realize that not all of us have had a great experience with our mothers, so I invite us to think about the person who was a mother figure in our lives.
The list can be long: biological mother, grandmother, aunt, sister, Sunday school teacher, counselor, coach, neighbor, family friend, a single father who has been both father and mother, pastor, or anyone who has nurtured, supported, encouraged, and most of all, loved us. When I speak of “mother,” I hope you will bring to mind whoever was the mother figure in your life.
The scripture from 1 John focuses on God’s love in Christ Jesus. Often the way we begin to understand God’s love in our lives is through the lives of the person or persons who mothered us (fathers will have their day in June!). These verses in 1 John remind us that God’s love was embodied in Jesus who taught us about compassion, kindness, putting aside prejudices, reaching out to even those who were considered untouchable, loving those who are the unlovable.
Maybe that’s what mothers do, too. When we think of the variety of personalities of the children in one family, we must realize that mothers often have to adjust their parenting to fit the situation and the temperament of the child. I know my mother had to do that with the four of us, yet she constantly told us that she loved us for who we are, even if we did things that she didn’t like.
That’s how God works, too. We obviously aren’t perfect, and God loves us anyway. It doesn’t mean that we should continue to do things that are sinful or destructive to ourselves or others, but God won’t abandon us when we have strayed, and mothers who love us do the same. Think of the children who have run away from home and how the mothers agonize over where they are and whether they are all right, longing for their safe return.
We are God’s beloved children. We are in relationship with God, and therefore we are together as the family of God. In order for any relationship to thrive, there needs to be love, acceptance, forgiveness, and strengthening that relationship.
When we love each other and others, God’s love in Jesus is made visible in us, and God can work through us to touch other lives. The church become a place where that can be learned, practiced, and grow. As we practice living in Jesus’ teachings and example, we as a congregation send each other forth to share that love with others. That is not an easy task, especially when we are around people who are hard to love. So, we turn to Jesus who didn’t set boundaries with those around him, but who welcomed, valued, and honored everyone, even those he with whom he didn’t agree. He was and is our example for the ways we are to love and live with one another.
Knowing God brings us closer to the heart of God, and we learn from that relationship even as we learn from a mother’s heart about love. No one is perfect, of course, but the love of a mother teaches us about God at work in our lives and the love God has for us.
I once knew a young woman who had been rejected and mistreated by her mother. To escape her home situation, she married very young, but unfortunately, she was looking for love in all the wrong places. The man she married was abusive, and when she became pregnant, he accused her of having an affair, claimed the baby wasn’t his, and pushed her down the stairs. Unfortunately, she miscarried, but it opened her eyes to her situation, and she was able to escape, eventually divorcing the man.
At that point, she became a professional nanny, and she found a church where she was welcomed with open arms and loved toward wellness. At that church, she was loved by many “mothers,” and she began to open herself to the care and concern her church family offered her. Yet, she struggled to believe that God could love even her. I haven’t seen her for years, but I pray that she was able to find and embrace God’s unconditional love for her and share it with others.
On the other hand, many of us have been blessed to have a mother figure who brought the love of God into our lives, and we may not have even realized it until we were older or even until our mother had passed away.
When my mother was in her late seventies, she showed signs of Alzheimer’s Disease which gradually progressed over the next ten years, and eventually, gradually, she just disappeared as her mind was taken over by the disease. It was during that time that I began to realize how much she really had given me: the gift of music, the love she had for me (for all of us), her gentle and sensitive spirit, and her funny sense of humor that popped out when we least expected it.
More than ever, now that she is gone and has been freed from that horrible disease, I miss her terribly, but I also realize what the depth of her love for her children was and continues to be. I’m so grateful, and because she was a woman of faith, she helped to bring God’s love into my life even more tangibly.
So, today, whether your mother or mother figure is alive, deceased, far away, or nearby, I hope you will reflect on her love for you and how God loved you through her. I hope you will find ways to honor her and cherish the gifts she gave you. May God, who is our heavenly Parent, continue to work through each of us as we seek to be in loving relationships with each other and others.
April 19, 2020
First UMC Rev. Dr. Debra J. Hanson
SCRIPTURE: John 20:19-31 (reading verses 26-31)
You know, I really can’t blame the disciple Thomas for questioning the other disciples when they told him they had seen Jesus, raised from the dead. How many of us would have said, “Yah, right!” and shook our heads in disbelief. So I think Thomas got bad rap! In fact, the other disciples had already questioned Mary Magdalene’s report that Jesus was alive, and she had seen him, so let’s not blame Thomas for wondering!
Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus, immune to locked doors, appeared among them. He wasn’t a ghost that they could see through, but the real thing. His greeting was one of peace, the peace that they could have when it finally sank in that he was really there. So, Mary Magdalene was right – Jesus WAS alive. With joy, they greeted him – all except for Thomas, who was missing at the time. When Thomas heard about it, he wouldn’t believe them, and none of them had believed it at first. They all wanted proof. They all wanted to see Jesus in person, and they all had their chance.
What is the first thing Jesus does after he enters the room – each time he visits? He greets them with peace. He suddenly appears where they are locked inside the Upper Room, gathered together to draw comfort and strength or encouragement from each other. In essence, they were the first church congregation, and that is how we model our Sunday worship: gathering together to draw comfort and strength or encouragement from each other. Of course, our primary purpose in worship on Sunday mornings is to worship, to lift our praises to God, to build each other up, and to encourage each other. We do that in the context of the community of faith. Of course, this year, we are worshiping virtually, at least for a while.
Jesus did and said some very specific things to this first congregation. He greeted them with peace; he commissioned and sent them forth to carry on his work; he breathed the power of the Holy Spirit on them; and he taught them about forgiveness. Peace, mission, evangelism, empowerment, and forgiveness are models for the church. We are called to witness and make disciples for Christ, and sometimes that is a challenge! In today’s scripture, Thomas wasn’t there for the first visit, and he didn’t believe them when they said they had seen Jesus. How many people in our congregations feel that way?
In one of the churches I served, there were a number of folks who would come into my office to talk with me about where they were in their journeys; these were seekers who weren’t sure about all this faith in Jesus “stuff”. Many struggled to believe. Many were there trying to find a way to believe. One woman told me that she came every Sunday because she wanted to know Jesus or at least to figure out why all the other folks believed in him. They were a witness to him, and she was drawn to be among the people who believed. Thomas didn’t believe until he encountered Jesus face to face, but he didn’t abandon his congregation.
Most of us go through times of doubt, and I think this passage tells us that doubt isn’t bad. Notice that Thomas isn’t thrown out because he wanted proof, but he continued to be part of the group and was sent forth to carry on the work of Jesus along with the others. Thomas wasn’t locked out of the room, but was welcomed in. In what ways do we, as a church, attempt to lock people out? In what ways do we lock ourselves in?
When we try to keep out people who are different from us, we are locking people out, and at the same time, we lock ourselves into a pattern that could eventually keep us stuck and without growth. We can feel locked out when we wonder how to help change poverty, homelessness, hunger, abuse, and discrimination and feel helpless in trying to do anything about it. Being locked out can happen when we feel guilty about things in our lives or have bad self-esteem (or the opposite – think too highly of ourselves). We feel locked out when our children do things that we know are destructive to themselves or others or see someone who struggles with addictions or depression. There is a sense of helplessness when we can’t find ways to help.
Being locked in happens when we are blocked by fear, anxiety, anger, and resentment. These things can eat at us and cause us to behave in ways that hurt others or ourselves. A few years ago, I heard of two churches who were newly yoked. They shared a pastor, and they were having all kinds of problems. Neither church wanted to give an inch to the other church, and at one joint meeting, people began shouting and hollering at each other over the ways things were happening. These issues were not about God, but about people being locked into a set pattern of doing things and wanting everything to stay the same even though that’s impossible because they were in a new situation.
Whether locked in or locked out, we lose. If we do things that undermine the work of Jesus because we think something should be done OUR way or because we are stuck on some agenda of our own, we are locked behind or standing in front of locked doors. But, do you know what? Jesus isn’t bothered by locked doors. Even when we misbehave or doubt, Jesus passes through the locked doors and stands in our midst. Even when the church struggles with poor communication, judgmental attitudes toward each other and others, even when we might not help out where help is needed or behave in ways that hurt others, Jesus is in our midst. He’s here right now. Today. Right here with us even though we are worshiping physically apart from one another.
Maybe this give us time to think about what it means to be the Church. Maybe this is when we can hold onto the feelings of support we are experiencing through our daily videos and devotionals. I’m hearing of people who are calling others to check on them and to just say “hi,” and I know from talking by phone or on line with people in the congregation, we are trying to do whatever we can in order to stay healthy and safe. So, even though it may seem like we are “locked in” to our homes or “locked out” of public places, we don’t have to feel that way about our relationship with Christ or each other. Jesus passes through those locks and asks us to live our faith wherever we are. Maybe this time in our lives is a good time to take spiritual inventory and to find ways to let go of things, to forgive others and even ourselves.
One of the directives he gave the disciples was to forgive. Forgiveness is needed in several ways. We need to ask for forgiveness for our own faults and sinful behaviors. Sometimes we don’t even realize we have behaved in harmful ways, and it’s good to take an assessment of what we might have said or done that could be harmful to someone else. Jesus stood in front of the disciples and showed them the scars he bore. As a Church of human beings who are NOT perfect (as in being flawless), we all bear the scars of life and we all stand in need of forgiveness. When we refuse to forgive someone else, that lack of forgiveness stays with us.
Forgiveness is always offered and available to us – no matter what, but we need to be willing to let go of what digs into us and what things we hold against another person and maybe even God in order to really be forgiven. Verse 23 says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” This doesn’t give the disciples or us any great power to forgive others in God’s place; rather, it gives us the power to forgive so that we can move on, move forward in our lives. Forgiveness means letting go of resentment, anger, fear, and the sense of injustice, and leave the judging to God. When we forgive someone else (maybe sometimes it’s a little piece at a time), we begin to trust God to take care of the other person or persons and let go of it. One of the popular sayings in Alcoholics Anonymous is “Let Go and Let God.” It works the same way with forgiveness. WE are not the judges of others – only God can do that.
It’s always good to stop and think about our behaviors and how they might reflect God to others. If something we are doing is harmful, we may want to stop doing it. If what we choose to do and say builds up the other person or persons, that is most likely pleasing to God. Forgiveness is the starting point whether it’s to forgive someone else or forgive ourselves. When we forgive others and ourselves, we open doors – the doors of our hearts and minds so that we can continue to grow. Doubt is part of growth, too. I remember reading somewhere years ago that when we doubt, we just keep on trying, work through it, and trust that God is with us to help us go through growing in our faith and ability to trust in God.
As the Church of Jesus Christ, we are called to witness to our faith through the way we live our lives. The problem is that so many who don’t believe see our imperfections and say that the church is full of hypocrites. There is another old saying I’ve shared with you before: “The church isn’t a haven for saints, but a hospital for sinners.” This is where Jesus stands in our midst. This is where we practice forgiveness, healing, acceptance, and moving forward. This is where we witness to each other in our faith journeys and support each other in difficult times. This is where we are trained to go live in an often-hostile world that doesn’t want to hear our witness.
During these uncertain days of COVID-19 that has affected our world, it would be easy to doubt, easy to blame, easy to complain. But, maybe this is a time for growth. Maybe this is a time to renew our covenant with Jesus; maybe this is a time for connecting with others by phone, email, ZOOM, FaceTime, or social media to support and encourage because the love of Christ will infuse our lives and help us to understand more fully the love God has for each one of us and for our world.
As we journey through these challenging times, let us remember that we are not alone. The risen Christ is with us, we have each other, and we have been given the gift of people who are guiding us through the medical concerns that COVID-19 brings. Be safe, be careful, wash your hands often, take precautions, and reach out if you need to talk with someone. May God fill you with hope, joy, peace, and love. Amen.
April 12, 2020
“. . . the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples . . .’” (Matthew 28:5-7a)
I wonder. I wonder what it would have been like to be there with the two Mary’s standing at the tomb. When the earth began to quake and an angel came down to talk with them, I suspect I would have been hiding behind something or on the ground quaking in fear. Apparently, that is what they did. Even the guards who had been charged with guarding the tomb were terrified and froze in place.
But the angel’s words brought good news – news too wonderful and fantastic to really absorb. As the women listened to the angel’s instructions, they must have been filled with confusion, amazement, and disbelief. Yet, they were told to go quickly, to tell the disciples that Jesus had been raised from the dead, and to let them know they were to meet him in Galilee.
They began to run to share the news, and suddenly encountered Jesus himself! Falling at his feet, they worshiped him, and he, too sent them to tell his disciples to meet him in Galilee. The women became the first evangelists, sharing the good news of Jesus’ resurrection! They had a personal encounter with him and eventually, the other disciples did, too.
It would have been a challenge to understand all that happened, and Jesus’ followers, who were in despair and grief one moment, would have experienced a huge shift to wildly joyful and awed. It is easy to focus on the negative, isn’t it?
As I have thought about what is happening in our world with the COVID-19 virus and how it has touched all our lives either through keeping us away from each other and being very cautious, it seems like it would be so easy to dwell on those negative things, the restrictions, losses, fears, and wondering, “now what”? I’m sure that is what the disciples of Jesus went through after his death.
The message they missed or forgot was that Jesus regularly told them he would be put to death and then raised again after three days. They lost the hope, the belief in God’s promise, and the confidence that things would not just die with him. Somehow, they missed the longer picture. Jesus had been training them all along to carry on his work, to take on his mission and ministry of bringing the love of God to the world. When he ascended into heaven, he commissioned them to do just that!
That is our commissioning, too as his followers! We are called not only to have hope, but bring hope into the world. Our task is to carry the Light of Christ into the world through our own actions. We can believe in God’s promise and have confidence in the power of the Spirit who guides us and leads us and even pushes us to offer acts of compassion, kindness, caring, and help.
Jesus emerged from the tomb to a world that was the same one in which he died, but from the moment he encountered the women, the future looked brighter, filled with assurance of God’s presence and the belief that we, as Jesus’ followers, can make this a better place. That continues every day of our lives when we are committed to being the Church.
COVID-19 may be a horrific challenge in our life time, but if we think of the hundreds and thousands of challenges that have faced our world, we also can see that somehow on the other end of things, humanity learned something and was able to emerge stronger, with the confidence that we can make it through whatever faces us. As followers of Christ, we know that because Jesus is alive, we have life in him, not only in the future, but right now, today, in this time and place and as we move forward.
One of my mom’s favorite hymns was “Living for Jesus,” which is how she lived throughout her lifetime.
Living for Jesus a life that is true, striving to please him in all that I do,
Yielding allegiance, glad hearted and free, this is the pathway of blessing for me.
O Jesus, Lord and Savior, I give myself to thee, for thou, in thy atonement,
Didst give thyself for me; I own no other master, my heart shall be thy throne,
My life I give, henceforth to live, O Christ, for thee alone.
(The Faith We Sing #2149, verse 1, T.O. Chisolm and C. Harold Lowden)
Jesus gave his all for us, and we are asked to share his story, live our lives in his example the best we can, and share the gift of love and care for others because of his love for us. May we be like Mary Magdalene and the other Mary as we go forth to tell the story and be an Easter people. Amen.
April 5, 2020
Genesis 7:11-12, 17-18
11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, . . . 2 The rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights. 17 The flood continued forty days on the earth; and the waters increased, and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth.
The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a habitable land; they ate manna, until they came to the border of the land of Canaan.
18 Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.
1 Kings 19:8
8 [Elijah] got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
[Jesus] fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.
The forty days leading up to Easter made me think of the forty days of Lent and the number of days we suspect we will be staying home and suspending worship. It may end up being over 40 days in isolation, staying home away from others and following the orders from our state governments.
In the Bible, the number 40 was significant. The number itself was used as an indication of “a very long time.” Whether it rained forty days and nights, the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, 42 years, or even more, it meant that they wandered a long time. Moses spent a long time on the mountain with God when he was given the ten commandments. Elijah ate and it sustained him a long time. Jesus fasted and was tempted for a long time.
And then there is Lent, which began on Ash Wednesday and ends on the Saturday before Easter. Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays. The forty days represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation and preparing to begin his ministry.
As we believe in the United Methodist Church, Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection. Christians focus on relationship with God, growing as disciples and extending ourselves, often choosing to give up something or to volunteer and give of ourselves for others. (From umc.org, Ask the UMC, a ministry of United Methodist Communications).
This year, our Lenten journey is different. This year, most of it has been spent at home without gathering together at church or even in small groups to study, pray, or read scripture together. This year, our Lent has an opportunity to spend time in reflection and self-examination, and it is a time when we as a world have the opportunity to re-learn what it means to care about others and show kindness and concern toward others.
So, this week, I have thought a lot about what this all means for us on Palm Sunday, a time when we would wave palm branches and remember Jesus’ grand entrance into Jerusalem. As I mentioned, this is the beginning of Holy Week, remembering the journey of Jesus through the last week of his earthly life. The scripture for today is from Matthew 21:1-11 tells us how Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey and the people shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David!” They waved their branches and laid cloaks on the ground, signifying that a king had entered the city.
But Jesus was no ordinary king. As he told Pontus Pilate during the time when he was being tried, “My kingdom is not of this earth.” And, truly, Jesus’ kingdom is far removed from what we would think of as an earthly kingdom. This Holy Week is unlike any we have ever experienced, and this Lenten season has been one spent in isolation.
I have spent a lot of time on Facebook over these weeks reading stories about acts of kindness and caring. One of the things that I posted was from the Clergy Coaching Network, and it read: “And without warning our focus on things faded and all that really mattered was what kind of human we decided to be.” (JM STORM)
That is what Lent is all about. That is what Jesus faced throughout his ministry, and especially as he rode that donkey into Jerusalem where he would face very human experiences and a very human death on the cross. Jesus cared about people. Jesus cared about sharing God’s love, God’s compassion, God’s kindness. There were times when he was justifiably angry because of the way people were treated, maligned, ostracized, and marginalized.
Maybe this year’s Lenten Journey – forty or more days in isolation – has opened the door for us to really “get it.” To really “get” Jesus’ message of hope, of love, of kindness, of treating others with respect and honor. The “stay home” message has opened doors for all of us to grow, to become more fully who God wants us to become as followers of Jesus.
Today, would have been communion Sunday, so my husband, Dave and I would like to share this service with you shortly. In the meantime, we all can continue our journey through this Holy Week. There are many resources that will help us to experience it in worshipful ways. And next Sunday, we will celebrate Easter together from a distance, knowing that we come together in spirit and in the love of Christ and by the grace of God.
Let us pray: Move us, Holy God. Move us through this Holy Week as we follow Jesus’ journey to the cross. Help us to grow in grace and in our love for you, and next Sunday, as we celebrate Easter, lift our hearts with the joy of hope and the knowledge that, because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we have life in you forever. Amen.
March 29, 2020
John 11:17-27 (NRSV)
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him . . . Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
John 11:1-45 tells the provocative story of Lazarus, brother of Martha and Mary and good friends of Jesus. Martha and Mary had sent word that he should come to Bethany quickly because Lazarus was ill and dying. What did Jesus do? He stayed where he was for another four days. Really, Jesus? Why?
Even his disciples questioned him, wondering why he didn’t go, but they also were afraid that, if he did travel to the Jerusalem area, he would be arrested by the religious leaders. Of course, Jesus had every intention of traveling to Bethany, but he told his disciples that his delay was to reveal the glory of God. As usual, his disciples didn’t understand, but they went with him anyway.
When Jesus did arrive, as we read in the scripture passage above, Martha immediately went to meet him, and through her tears, she questioned Jesus – why? Even Jesus’ assurance that her brother would rise again was little consolation to the grief and loss she felt. But here we have this marvelous affirmation of faith from her, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” (v. 27)
When Mary arrived, she fell at Jesus’ feet, and, like Martha asked, “Why?” “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” At that point, Jesus weeps. We aren’t sure why he weeps, but he must have been greatly moved by the grief and loss around him, and, he may have been thinking of his own impending death.
The miracle of Lazarus’ being raised from the dead is powerful. He was restored to his family and offered a second chance at life. His sisters had their brother back, but, in a short while, they would lose one of their best friends within a week’s time to death on a cross – more grief and pain.
How do we deal with such grief? I have posted a longer sermon on this passage on our web site, and I invite you to read it. The title is “Called Out,” and it talks more about grief and loss and our reactions to it. However, it seems to me that as we take this journey in these weeks of staying home and being cautious because of COVID-19, we can learn something from Martha, Mary, Lazarus, and Jesus about being “Called Out.”
So many of us are used to just going some place to shop or visit someone, to have lunch with friends, or enjoy a date night with our significant other, but all that has changed. It’s as if the world has stopped or at least slowed down to a crawl while we wait this out, and that is what we must do. As we take precautions, we find ourselves wiping down everything, washing our hands repeatedly (not a bad idea anyway), staying at least six feet apart, and staying home out of public places as much as possible.
What we are experiencing is a sort of “entombment,” and maybe there are some who feel that Jesus has “tarried too long.” How do we deal with the questions: “Why is this happening” or “Where is God in all this”? It would be easy to say, “God isn’t here. God ignores us. God doesn’t care. God doesn’t answer prayer.” But I think it is helpful to look at the sequence of events in this story about Lazarus.
Jesus tarried. There are times we struggle to hold onto our faith when it feels like God is hiding somewhere or ignoring us.
Jesus wept. God enters into our deepest pain and sorrow with us and understands because
Jesus experienced the same things we experience.
Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb. There are times when we hear God’s call in our lives to open doors, giving us guidance and direction in life, calling us away from destructive places in our lives.
Jesus told others to unbind Lazarus and let him go. There are times when we need to feel unbound from something and set free to move on in our lives. Sometimes that happens with the help of others who are called by God to be our companions on the journey. Sometimes it is those who love us and care about us and who stand by us that helps God’s love to sink in. Like God, they don’t give up on us. Like God, they help us to unbind the wounds and bring healing. Like God, they stay with us even when we feel alone. They bring the presence of Christ to us through their caring actions.
Lazarus represents humanity with all our weaknesses and faults. The raising of Lazarus teaches us that Jesus’ love and God’s power are greater than we can understand or imagine. Lazarus, Martha, and Mary help us to understand that we can cry to God, rant and rail against God, yell at God, and God is okay with that. Lazarus reminds us that we are mortal and fully dependent on God as our creator.
This week, I have been moved by the ways people are sharing acts of kindness and care. On the news, we saw a story about a boy who was supposed to have a big birthday party to celebrate turning nine. It was cancelled, but a group of people in his town organized a birthday car parade and drove by with “Happy Birthday” signs, honking their horns and singing “Happy Birthday” to him as they went.
My 97 year old dad is in a nursing facility, and one of my cousins went over to visit, standing outside his window and talking him on their cell phones. They had a great visit, and it really made his day.
A group of teachers organized a parade to drive around their neighborhood to greet their students and let them know that they missed them.
People are dropping off food, picking up mail for neighbors, organizing sing-alongs from their porches, playing long distance games, and even sitting in their driveways to share a meal and conversation from a distance. We can celebrate the kindness and caring that is being shown. And let’s not forget to thank the grocery clerks, medical personnel, first responders, and so many others who are working to be sure we have essential services.
As brothers and sisters in Christ, we can model that kind of love and care for each other and others. Together we can be in touch in the best ways we know how – phone calls, emails, or Social Media, and, of course, prayer.
It may seem as if Jesus has tarried too long, but we can trust in his words, that good will come out of this, and we can see the glory of God revealed again and again even in the small things. When this has finally passed, we, too, will emerge from our tombs or cocoons of isolation and celebrate Easter on whatever Sunday we are are able to worship at our church again. In the meantime, we will continue to worship together through video, daily devotions, and emails.
Take care of yourselves, follow the medical experts’ advice, be safe, and know that you all are in my prayers, and we are here for you all. If you need something, please call the church office at 603-436-6038. God bless.
March 22, 2020
“Amazing Grace” – 3/22/2020
SCRIPTURE: John 9:1-7 (8-41)
THEME: God’s amazing grace is for everyone.
Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound!)
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see. (verse 1)
Many of us know the hymn, “Amazing Grace,” which was written by John Newton. The story behind the hymn is a powerful one; it is well worth doing an on-line search to read the entire story. The gist of how this came to be written is that, during the 18th century, Newton ran ships that transported slaves from Africa to England, but eventually, he realized that what he was doing was against Jesus’ teachings and what God would want. He felt that he was a great sinner, and yet he also recognized that, by the amazing grace of God, he was forgiven and offered an opportunity to change his ways and have a new start.
Although the man in today’s scripture lesson was born blind and in a very different situation from John Newton, Jesus’ disciples wanted to know if the man was blind because of his sin, or maybe his parents’ sin? Jesus said: “None of these. Instead, this would be an opportunity to glorify God through healing the man.” Jesus healed the man, and for the first time in his life, he could see with his own eyes. The rest of the story about him showed that the Religious leadership harassed him, constantly asking who had healed him, and the man couldn’t understand why they were so upset. He repeatedly said, “I don’t know; all I know is that he healed me.” Yet, with each interrogation, the man began to realize that Jesus was someone far beyond comprehension, and when he saw Jesus again, he knew that this man who had healed his blindness was the Messiah.
While the religious leadership in this story was more concerned with the man having been healed on the Sabbath, Jesus was concerned with showing compassion for him and offering him grace. The formerly blind man grew in faith and in his confidence in following Jesus, and he the more he seemed to be in trouble with the religious leaders, the stronger he became. There is a story that relates to the blind man’s growing strength, and I think it helps us to learn about going through tough times in our own lives. I have not been able to find an author for it, but it is called, “A Carrot, an Egg, and a Cup of Coffee”
A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one arose. Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil; without saying a word.
In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Turning to her daughter, she asked, “Tell me what you see.” “Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied.
Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled, as she tasted its rich aroma the daughter then asked, “What does it mean, mother?”
Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its insides became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.
“Which are you?” she asked her daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean? Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength? Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?
Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest, do you elevate yourself to another level? How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?” (received as a forward on e-mail)
The blind man was definitely the coffee bean. His healing gave spiritual sight and a certain boldness that was surprising. In contrast look at the religious leaders. The more the man questioned them, the harder the rigid shell they had put up became. They were greatly offended when, at one point, the man asked if they wanted to become disciples of Jesus, too. Think about the challenges our world faces now with the pandemic. We have a choice to complain, feel despair and fear, or to make something good happen while we social distance, maybe stay at home in self-isolation, and take care of ourselves if we should become sick. Our calling now is to be kind, compassionate, and follow Jesus’ teachings to offer love and grace to others, even if it is from six feet, six miles, six hundred miles or six thousand miles away.
If we ignore the opportunity to bless others, we block God from being able to work through us. God’s grace is offered to everyone. Just as Jesus didn’t abandon the man in our scripture story today, and he doesn’t abandon any of us either. Jesus welcomed everyone. Jesus excluded no one. Jesus saw value in every person. God’s grace is for all people, and that is God’s call for all of us as we seek to be faithful follower of Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t promise that everything will be perfect – which is clear from today’s story about the blind man. Life wasn’t so great after his healing. But his faith in Jesus grew stronger, and that is the promise Jesus has for us, too. As we travel the journey through the Coronavirus spread, we may deal with fear and worry for ourselves and our loved ones. We do have a responsibility to take care of ourselves and our families and friends. But we can also trust that by the grace of God, we will get through it, knowing that right now we may be in hot water, but in the end, we will be stronger and have learned some things about ourselves and about the grace of God in our lives.
We will have the strength for this journey; we have companionship on the journey; and we don’t need to be afraid. It takes trusting in God’s goodness and grace, and following the common-sense guidelines put out by our health professionals. While we are all staying in quiet places and doing what we need to do, maybe we, like John Newton can also reflect on God’s amazing grace and find ways to offer that grace to others.
Thank you for who you are and Whose you are as God’s precious child. God’s blessings on your journey.
Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound!)
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see. (verse 1)
March 15, 2020
“Jesus said . . . ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’” John 4:13-14 (NRSV)
Maybe this is a timely scripture passage given the whole pandemic with the Coronavirus. In my years as a pastor, I have struggled with decisions about not holding worship services during snow or ice storms, but this is the first time I have had to announce that we are suspending services for two weeks due to health risks. It is important to not put our people at risk regardless of what the issue is – the people come first.
These decisions do not come easily, but ultimately, after a lot of prayer, consulting the church council, other colleagues, the doctors in our congregation, and information from the medical world in general, we chose to take precautions. We haven’t closed the church building, but we will not gather in a larger group to worship. Instead, we will probably try “virtual worship” for the first time. Maybe God is pushing us in new ways.
Jesus was always pushing the boundaries. He saw a woman at the well in Samaria, and he engaged her in conversation. This was unprecedented: first he spoke with a woman in public, something that was not acceptable in his culture. Second, he was in Samaria, a territory that was usually avoided by the Jerusalem Jews because of conflicts. Third, she was at the well in the middle of the day – the hottest part of the day – apparently to avoid the other women who would have been at the well earlier. We discover in the conversation between Jesus and this woman, that mostly likely she was seen as a woman with questionable morals because she had previous had five husbands, and the one she was with at that point was not her husband.
Meeting Jesus at the well changed her life. She suddenly encountered someone who honored her, placed value on her life, and offered her salvation – the living water – the water only Jesus could give.
As we move through this pandemic, may we realize that we may panic and feel afraid, but that ultimately, we have choices: take care of ourselves by following all the suggestions the medical world offers, pray, read scripture, keep in touch either by phone, email, Skype or FaceTime, sending cards, and limit our TV watching. Do something to take care of ourselves and take a break from the incessant negative news. Most of all, know that God is with us and cares about us, honoring who we are and offering us living water of life.
Oh yes, drink plenty of water and get some rest. God bless! Rev. Deb
March 8, 2020
Nicodemus said to [Jesus], “How can these things be?” (John 3;9)
Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a ruler in the temple who went to ask Jesus a lot of questions about God, faith, living more fully into God’s ways. Jesus taught him a lot from what we find in the few verses from John 3:1-17. Most of all, one of the “take-away’s” I have from this passage is how hard it is to change when all your life you have had a way of thinking and doing things.
When I grew up in a very small town in Iowa, I took the Bible at face value. Having been raised in the American Lutheran Church in our home town, I learned from our Sunday school and confirmation classes about the faith journey. It still was pretty much face value, but as I grew older, I began to question what I had learned as a child.
Jesus’ answers to Nicodemus brought questions, confusion, and a sense of wonder. At one point, Jesus even asked him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” (John 3:10) Nicodemus was puzzled by being “born from above” as a requirement for entering the Kingdom of God.
After years of studying and having two degrees in ministry, I have to say that my learning often has only just begun. About the time I think I have it “all figured out,” I discover that I have so much more to learn. Maybe one of the things Jesus wanted Nicodemus – and all of us – to learn is that we never stop learning, and we can never have all the answers. What we do have is the power of the Holy Spirit to inspire and guide us, the traditions of the church to inform us about what has taken place, the scriptures that we can study and from which we can learn, and our own understanding that pulls it all together for us to ponder and consider.
We know some things, but hopefully our minds and hearts will always be open to learning more and growing more in our relationship with God in Christ Jesus.
March 1, 2020
“Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. Then, the tempter came . . .” Matthew 4:2-3a
Some of you who know me are aware that I have struggled with weight all my adult life – well, since puberty, actually. When I was in the seventh grade, my mother, who was also very weight conscious, took me to the doctor who put me on a 900-calorie diet and gave me diet pills. Thus began my yo-yo journey with losing and gaining weight. I couldn’t even venture to know how many pounds I have lost and regained, then added more to it.
At my heaviest, I was 260 pounds, and at my lightest, I was 134 pounds. Both were to the most extreme place I had ever been, and fortunately, I have not repeated either of those numbers on the scale since then. However, I go up and down with every new weight loss solution I find, and I buy book after book on which diet to try. Most of the time I might try them, but ultimately, I end up going back to Weight Watchers.
During one of my book-buying frenzies, I found a book that suggested fasting. It even went so far as to say that I should force myself to throw up. I didn’t buy that book! First of all, I HATE to throw up! And, secondly, I couldn’t imagine ever going without food. You see, what happens in the mind of someone who loves comfort food is that we have to keep filling our stomachs because we have lost our ability to know when we are full.
So, fasting for even a day would be impossible in my mind; however, I have had counseling and many hours sitting in a Weight Watchers class, as well as doing an on-line course that helped me to start naming my issues, and in the past ten years, I have definitely seen improvement in eating healthier and attempting to get more exercise. What I realize is that most of it is a change that needs to take place in my head as I re-train my mind to control my stomach, rather than the other way around.
Jesus was able to resist the temptations the devil handed him on the mountaintop. He was probably tired and, as the scripture says, he was famished. That is when temptation would hit him the hardest. Yet, he was able to claim God’s promises for him and follow through the mission and ministry to which he had been called.
Very obviously, I am NOT Jesus, but I can learn from him. Sometimes fasting from other things such as sarcasm, unkind words or thoughts, jumping to conclusions, or any other negative reaction to things or people is a good place to begin. This year for Lent, I am taking on that kind of fast, but I am also enter yet another diet. This time, I am starting a program to help me work on pre-diabetes. I pray that I will turn to God when I feel tempted, and also better recognize when my hunger feelings are about really being hungry rather than needing something to comfort me.
Maybe some of you have had similar issues in dealing with temptation of some kind. May we study the scriptures for answers, hold onto Jesus’ hand as we walk this journey of life and the challenges we face. God bless us all!
February 23, 2020
“And Jesus was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.” Matthew 7:2 (NRSV)
Jesus was transfigured in front of his disciples, dazzling them with a light brighter than anything they had ever seen. What was the objective? I suspect it was to once again try to get across the fact that he was truly the Messiah, the Son of God. Peter had declared that much just a few verses earlier, and within another few sentences had tried to talk Jesus out of saying that he would suffer and die. He just hadn’t really caught on.
I can understand that. I don’t listen the way I should when I’m praying. Instead, I run ahead of myself and pray for what I want and say “amen.” There, that’s done, so I go on my way. But when we look at verse 5, we discover that God’s voice boomed from heaven, much like it did when Jesus was baptized. In fact, the same words appear: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased.” But there is a short sentence that is added: “LISTEN TO HIM!” (capitalization mine)
People often think that the clergy have a special connection with God, so they ask us to pray. In reality, all clergy started as lay people, and we all had to learn how to pray either by ourselves or in a group. For some, it may come naturally, and after a while, most of us have practiced praying in front of others so much, that we can do it when asked.
But how practiced are any of us at listening? That is, listening to God, listening to others, listening to our hearts, listening to the still small voice or the shouting voice of the Spirit that tells us to pay attention. When we listen, we begin to recognize that voice of God in our hearts and minds, and our lives begin to grow, develop, and change – transform – into the children of God that God knows we can be.
The journey of faith is far more than reading the Bible, worshiping together, maybe attending a Bible study, and saying some prayers. They are all important and part of the growth, but following Jesus is about learning from him and listening to his direction in our lives. It is growing in God’s grace and learning how to take on the mind of Christ. We are transformed bit by bit and piece by piece as we LISTEN, pray, and listen again.
May we open our hearts to God’s touch, teachings, and tenderness as we continue to live in grace and share that with others.
February 16, 2020
“Now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NRSV)
Two days ago we celebrated Valentine’s Day. I was curious about St. Valentine, and I did some research about him. He was apparently rather subversive, performing weddings when it was forbidden, helping people quietly, and encouraging love to grow. This was, as I remember, even against the law in his city or country. He continued to defy the authorities so was arrested, imprisoned and eventually executed for his disobedience.
Wow! If we think that this is ridiculous, well, it would seem that way, but then all we have to do is look up some of the crazy laws that states have passed that also seem a little far fetched. Maybe that’s the point. God’s love may seem impossible to understand, but God doesn’t give up on us – thanks be to God!
When we choose to follow Christ, we make a choice to love as God loves, and that is where we get into trouble because our feelings and reactions so often get in the way of having a wholesome, healthy relationship with others. Families argue, couples break up, co-workers disagree and a feud begins, we even have words with other drivers on the road!
We aren’t perfect, and God knows that. The description in 1 Corinthians 13 is of God’s love and how we are called to love each other and others as the church. It’s not romantic love, but “agape” love, the Greek word for a love that including kindness, caring, acceptance, and building up the other person.
What if we kept that in mind throughout our dealings, not only as the church but also as a brother, sister, parent, child, spouse, daughter, son, niece, nephew, friend, church family member, resident of this earth? What if we started remembering that what lasts forever is the love of God in Christ Jesus and expressed through us? What if we read those few passages from 1 Corinthians 13 (or memorized them) and repeated them as a prayer every day so they became ingrained in our minds and hearts and developed into a part of who we are?
I wonder if we could start a new trend in this world: one of kindness and caring, of using words and actions that build up rather than tear down, making this world a better place – one person, one event, one situation at a time. I wonder . . . what if . . .
February 9, 2020
“You are the salt of the earth” . . . “You are the light of the world” . . . Jesus told his disciples. (Matthew 5:13-20 NRSV)
In this passage from Matthew 5, Jesus is instructing his listeners, and mostly his disciples about what it means to follow him. Being the salt of the earth and the light of the world is an indication that we have a foundation, strength, direction, and purpose in our lives. This is a message to today’s church.
We are called to follow in Jesus footsteps, to practice what he taught, and to live, not for ourselves and our own ambitions, but to make a difference in positive ways to others. We build someone else up, support those who are hurting, show kindness and compassion to those who are “down and out,” and keep growing in our own relationship with Christ. As the church in the world, we can make a difference, sometimes more in actions than in words (although words are certainly necessary at times!).
I often feel led to preach on what it means to live as a disciple of Jesus, following in his ways, living his teachings, and being there to care for others. There are also, quite candidly, times when I wonder what difference my words are making because I still see behaviors that hurt, hear words that put down, witness lack of understanding and working together. But then, I keep reminding myself, that I am only a messenger, and what people do with the message is truly not up to me, but to the Holy Spirit.
On the other hand, I also experience “salt and light” that happens from many people who are quietly visiting the sick, making phone calls to the lonely, sending cards of support and comfort, taking a friend to lunch, lifting someone else’s idea up instead of their own, eagerly working with others to build up a program or ministry of some kind, and many other evidences of the work of Christ happening in the world.
Ultimately, none of this is about me or any one person except for Christ, because what we are called to do is manifest his love, his compassion, his acceptance, his amazing grace to others. May we continue to strive for such wonderful things!
February 2, 2020
What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash –
I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend. He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning…to the end.
He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears, but he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years. For the dash represents all the time they spent alive on earth and now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own, the cars…the house…the cash. What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash. So think about this long and hard; are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left that still can be rearranged. To be less quick to anger and show appreciation more and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile…remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.
So when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash, would you be proud of the things they say about how you lived your dash?
By Linda Ellis
January 26, 2020
“And [Jesus] said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” (Matthew 4:19-20 NRSV)
If you have ever fished, you know that it isn’t not a “quick” sport. In other words, it takes patience and willingness to wait. Okay, so Jesus called his disciples as they were fishing in the Sea of Galilee, and he used wording that would strike a chord with them. They knew fishing, so, Sure! Fishing would work! But fish for people? Uh, hmmm. What does one use for bait, and then, what does one DO with them once they are caught.
Jesus spent his ministry trying to teach them just that, and they eventually (after his death, resurrection, and ascension) figured it out. The church was born, not with just a few people but with thousands, and I daresay maybe even millions of people who were “caught” and brought into the Christian family.
Our calling as the Church of Jesus Christ in the world is to offer Christ and the loving, saving grace of God to others. We are called to set an example, to minister to those who are hurting, to offer hope to the poor and marginalized, to nurture each other and to be the hands and feet of Christ to the world.
What is our bait? Love. Not romantic, deep feeling love, but the love of God that is shown in acceptance, compassion, kindness, and grace. God’s grace is so wide and deep and high and long that it encompasses all who seek to have a relationship with God, but everyone needs guidance and encouragement, as well as a companion on the journey.
How are we companions? How do we offer Christ to others, even if we don’t speak? In what ways are we examples, helpers, and sharing God’s love? Let’s go fishing!
January 19, 2020
“When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi . . . where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’” (John 1:38-39a NRSV)
I don’t know about you, but when someone invites me to see something they have or a place where they have been, I’m curious about it and would most likely go there with them. My husband is an avid amateur photographer, and he becomes very enthusiastic about the newest pictures he has taken, mostly of wild life, ocean scenes (especially surf), and things that he sees through his camera lens that I would not see.
The unique thing about my husband is that he is blind in one eye, yet he sees way more that I see with two functioning eyes. Maybe that is what today’s passage can teach us – pay attention and check things out. In our society today, we often feel that we need to ignore things that go on around us, but observing, listening, watching, and noticing are helpful in seeing things we would never expect to see.
I’m sure that Andrew and Simon Peter, two of Jesus’ first disciples, never expected to meet the one they came to understand was the Messiah. Fortunately, Andrew noticed and ran to get his brother who became known as “Cephas” or Peter, the rock upon which the church was built.
What are we looking for? Maybe we really don’t know, but I do know from my husband, and from the disciple Andrew, as well as many other people in my life, that when we stop to observe, listen, and notice, opportunities open up to us when we, like Andrew, can share Christ with others through our behaviors, choices, words, and actions.
Let’s pay attention and live mindfully, even with expectation that God will speak to us and lead us to act in ways that help to manifest the presence of Christ to someone else. May it be so.
January 12, 2020
“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17 (NRSV)
These were the words Jesus heard immediately following his baptism. When we baptize someone in the church, we talk about God naming and claiming the person as God’s own child. It is the official initiation into the family of God and one of the sacred moments in our lives. We will experience other sacred moments, but this is a significant one, because, like Jesus, God names us and adopts us.
Many people don’t really understand that baptism is a life time process, not a one-time event. Baptism is a way of living, following in the ways of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. Well…that can be a really hard thing to understand, can’t it? Some of what happens is that the child, youth or adult doesn’t stay with the church and grow in grace in the context of the community of faith.
While I’m more than aware of the faults of people who attend church (because we are, after all, imperfect human beings), I am also aware of the many, many moments of grace and blessings that take place within the community, including forgiveness, support, and love. But, let’s face it, most often, we have to let people know that we want to be interactive and involved. While there are some who will connect with us, sometimes we have to give building relationships a try.
The primary relationship we have is with God through Jesus, who teaches us about God and sets and example for us. He also shows what community is about with his disciples and all those he touched and for whom he cared while he was on this earth.
Christianity is not meant to be lived in isolation, but in community. That can sometimes be hard work and a series of learning by working through conflicts, being involved in studying the Bible, praying, worshiping in the context of the congregation, and being part of the activity of the church.
Some of that activity is outreach where we make a difference through missional projects, trips, or ongoing programs. Baptism sends us forth into ministry.
So, baptism isn’t something WE do, except for the ritual, welcoming, and assimilation into the community of faith. Ultimately baptism is what GOD does, and the Body of Christ, the church, takes the responsibility for nurturing us into spiritual growth and wholeness.
YOU are God’s beloved in baptism. Do you believe that? How do you try to live it? How will it help you to make a difference in the world? These are things to think about as we continue to grow in God’s grace. Many blessings!
January 5, 2020
“When the [Magi] saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage.” Matthew 2:10-11 (NRSV)
This first Sunday of the year 2020 holds many thoughts in our churches and in our lives. People have made resolutions for the new year, and some have already broken them. We see Australia burning, war in so many places, hateful words being spewed from many mouths, anger, violence, fear, poverty, and, as the old saying goes, “The rich get richer and poor get poorer.”
I know. I’m not starting this on a very positive note, am I! But if we think about how the world was when Jesus was born, there really isn’t much of a change in human nature or the presence of greed, the need for power, and the intentions of domination. We really do need a Savior – then and now.
Jesus’ entrance into the world was an Epiphany – God coming to be one of us, to live our lives, to know what it is like to be a human being. Doesn’t that make our God more compassionate and seeking healing and wholeness for a work that continues to be broken?
The Magi – the Wise Men – were Gentiles who traveled far to see this king of the Jews who was forecast in the stars. The journey must have been long and grueling, but they persevered. They were not Jewish, but they may have had some understanding of Jewish culture and religion. Obviously, they were intelligent and thought-filled people who journeyed on a pilgrimage to see “the new-born king.” (Even though Jesus would most likely have been a toddler by the time they arrived.)
These scholars who studied the stars were brave and, on a mission, to meet this amazing child who would be king, not king of the Jews or king of any earthly domain, but king of heaven and most of all, king of people’s hearts. I wonder sometimes wonder how changed they were from the journey. When they returned home, did they travel again to find the child? Were their hearts moved to love him and to know God because of him?
We don’t know. What we do know is that they were overwhelmed with joy at finding him and they knelt to worship him, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These gifts were the gifts that would help the holy family flee to Egypt and afford to live there, even though they would have been refugees. These were the gifts that were the precursors of Jesus’ life: gold fit for a king, frankincense for the presence of the Spirit, and myrrh often used in burials.
Most of us are Gentiles, and the presence of the Magi presents the idea that Jesus was truly born for and became the Savior of the world, not just one group of people, but ALL people. And now, we, the Church of Jesus Christ, have been called to rejoice in his presence with us, share his love in the world, strive toward making the world a better place – maybe even one day at a time, one person or situation at a time.
May we seek Jesus every day in our lives, and may we be faithful in carrying on his work in the world.
December 22, 2019
“This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:12 (NRSV)
This Sunday, our children will present a pageant to the congregation depicting the nativity story of Jesus. They have been preparing for weeks to do this, and they become very excited and nervous as they put on the pageant. Every year, it is the custom to have a pageant on the last Sunday before Christmas, and each year, we try to find new scripts to offer it from a little different angle.
Some of our children have not really been in church much, so for them, it is still new. Others take it in stride and know the story backwards and forwards. Regardless, there is a sense of excitement and wonder as they tell the old, old story of the birth of Jesus.
Maybe it’s that this time of year is almost always magic for most children. Unfortunately, there are many for whom Christmas is a sad time of year. It brings up memories of the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, not having enough to barely scrape along, or any number of things that make someone feel blue when they think they are supposed to be happy and joyful.
There are a few churches who present a “Blue Christmas” service on the longest night, December 21st. Most people don’t really understand it, so they don’t attend; however, those who go usually find some relief and permission to know that it is all right to feel the way they do.
For years, I have felt blue at Christmas. I finally realized that it was because I had moved 1600 miles from my family of origin and had not been with them for Christmas except for two years when I flew back to the Midwest in time for the big day.
More recently, I have felt blue following my mother’s death four years ago, because my mom LOVED Christmas, which was evident in the HUGE amount of decorations they had. She would decorate the whole house and their tree was overloaded with ornaments she had collected over the years.
Regardless of what triggers blue feelings or how joyful we might be with all the festivities, parties, shopping, and whatever, it is SO important to remember that ultimately, Christmas is about “Emmanuel – God with us.” We may not have a sign that sends us to find a baby in a manger, but we DO have the joy on children’s faces and the reminder that God became one of us to understand us and relate to us in human flesh.
I say this often: “Jesus understands; therefore, God understands. Jesus knows our joys, sorrows, celebrations, down times. Jesus know what it is like to have family and to lose loved ones; he knows what it means to have friends, and then he knows how it feels to have them betray him. Jesus has lived like us and loved like us; he has wept and laughed, found quiet time and been at parties. He has set an example for us and walks with us. God understands and is with us – EMMANUEL – God with us!
May your Christmas be one that brings Christs ever more fully into your life, and regardless of where you are on your journey, may you find hope, peace, joy, and love because of Christ’s love for you. Merry Christmas!
December 15, 2019
“When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no martial relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.” Matthew 1:24-25 (NRSV)
As I have thought about those who were present or at least an influence on Jesus’ infancy, I am again drawn to Joseph. Last week, I wrote my thoughts about Mary, and we have more information scattered throughout the gospels about her, but barely anything about Joseph. Yet, without Joseph, Jesus would have been considered illegitimate, something in that day that would have landed him in a whole different circumstance.
Joseph, we understand from the genealogical list at the beginning of this chapter, was of the line of David, which opened the door for Jesus to be the fulfillment of the prophecy that the Messiah would come from David’s family. I think that Joseph, like Mary, must have been a remarkable person, raising Jesus as his own, teaching him what it meant to be a faithful Jewish male, and setting an example for him. Matthew describes Joseph as a righteous man, one who was in right relationship with God.
Both Joseph and Mary trusted God to guide them and lead them, and in that trust, they found courage to face ridicule, gossip, shunning, and hardships. They listened to God, and Joseph didn’t seem to question God’s call to him to be Jesus’ earthly father. He seemed to be a kind and steadfast man who would be the right one to raise Jesus, along with his wife and Jesus’ mother, Mary.
Ann Weems has written a poem called “Getting to the Front of the Stable” about Joseph in her book Kneeling in Bethlehem, p. 50. She encourages her readers to not leave Joseph at the back of the stable, but to put him up front where he can be recognized for the part he played in raising the Savior of the world. May we all appreciate those who influenced Jesus and cared for him throughout his life. This week, we celebrate Joseph of Nazareth, Jesus’ earthly father.
December 8, 2019
“Mary said, “here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Luke 1:38
Have you ever experienced life upheavals? Maybe you worked for a company that decided to move you to an office position in another state or even country. Or when you were married, you decided to move away from home for a fresh start with your spouse. When the children arrived, your life would never be the same. At the death of a loved one, we are never the same and need to find new ways of living without them physically present in our lives. There are many more situations that we could list, but the idea is that there are times in our lives when upheaval happens.
Now, put yourself in Mary’s shoes for just a minute. She is twelve years old, just barely into the age when she can bear children. Although she has been preparing to be a wife and mother all her short life, she was still just a child. Then this divine being appears and tells her she will be a mother, and not just any mother, but the mother of Jesus the Son of God. Ahem. Really?
Of course, she questions the angel, but with the brevity of the passage from Luke 1, we don’t really get the full impact of this pronouncement or her between-the-lines reaction. A hundred thoughts must have flown through her head. Who me? Why me? What are you talking about? I can’t do that? What will my family and community say? What will JOSEPH say? I could be stoned to death for being an unwed mother! This is impossible.
We don’t have all those questions, but given Luke’s later comments that Mary pondered all these things in her heart, we can be sure that she was a discerning person with thought-filled reactions and decisions, even at the tender age of twelve. Her “yes” to God would plunge her into a lifetime of heartbreak and worry, as well as joy and happiness. Mary answered God’s call with “yes.”
How do we answer God’s call in our lives? I think God would appreciate thoughtful time given to make decisions as well as talking about the call with trusted people in our lives. Mary didn’t have such a luxury, but we most likely do. How will we consider where God is calling us to serve others in this world? How will we really hear who God envisions for us to be and become? We can learn a little from Mary, especially in the annunciation and the birth story.
We learn that ultimately, she said, “yes” because she trusted in God’s presence with her and with her child and Joseph. Her “yes” changed her life, but she was one more reason that the world was changed because of her Son. Let us listen for God’s call and trust that God walks with us through anything that happens as we enter a new journey.
December 1, 2019 First Sunday in Advent
In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. Luke 1:5-6
This Advent, I decided to take a look at some of the main “characters” in the story of Jesus’ birth, starting with Zechariah and Elizabeth. Zechariah waited and waited to be able to enter the Holy of Holies – a great honor and privilege among the priests at the Temple. Finally, after many years of waiting, his name came to the top, and he would be the next priest to go into the inner sanctuary, where he would lift prayers, burn incense, and be in the very presence of God.
Zechariah also waited for many long years, with this wife Elizabeth, to have a child, but as the years passed, it was clear that Elizabeth was barren, and there would be no children. To their friends and neighbors, as well as the other priests and the women in the town, the couple would be shamed because of their lack of child bearing. Many would have thought that they had done something to displease God, and that truly was the attitude toward anyone who couldn’t have children. They had fallen out of disfavor with God for some reason or another.
We know what it’s like to wait for something to happen. We know the anguish of wanting something so much that we agonize during the waiting time. We also know the disappointment of not having whatever it is we wanted come to fruition. It’s heart breaking, but somehow, we go on and keep trying or find something else or another way forward.
I once had parishioners who tried and tried to become pregnant, and when they were not able to conceive in the usual way, they had numerous invitro procedures, none of which took. Disappointment after disappointment dragged them down, until finally the insurance ran out, and they made the decision to adopt a child.
Then came more waiting. They researched adoption agencies, signed up with one, and did everything they were supposed to do; then waited, and waited, and waited. Finally, one day, they received a phone call from the agency that a child was going to be up for adoption. The mother had four other children, she and her husband were divorcing in a messy situation, and she felt she could not care for a fifth child emotionally and financially.
They flew out to be with the mother when she gave birth and saw their son born. He was so tiny, but they were thrilled and fell in love with him immediately. After a few weeks they returned home with him to great celebrations, and he was baptized a month or so later. Their waiting had turned to joy, and they felt that this was definitely the right move for them.
No matter what it is that we long to have happen in our lives, I think we can learn from Zechariah and Elizabeth that, even though we may not receive what we want, waiting on God takes patience and trust. They received a son, and for those of us whose prayers are not answered the way we would like to see them answered, we can learn from my parishioners that there are sometimes alternatives, and if there are no alternatives, we can be creative and look to some other thing to help us feel fulfilled.
God will help us and lead us, and when we remain open to something – anything – happening, and trusting that God knows what we need, we may discover that together with God, we can be creative and open to new ideas and hopes. That is part of what Advent is all about: expectation, waiting, patience, trust, hope, peace, and ultimately love. May we all find those things during this season and all year long.
November 24, 2019
“[Jesus, the Christ] is the head of the body, the church.” Colossians 1:18
Oh how easy it is to forget this! We ALL forget it at times! People think they know what is best without for a church without checking in with God first, without having prayers of discernment together, without listening to others who have alternate ideas.
The first time I was reminded of this was during a sermon by my dear mentor, Carlton Daley who is now sharing his broad smile and positive attitude with God’s heavenly chorus. Carl filled in one Sunday when the regular pastor was on vacation, and he preached a sermon with the title, “Who’s in Charge Here?” The sermon stayed with me, and I asked him if I could have a copy which he graciously gave me.
He talked about the importance of church leadership, lay and clergy, and how they were called to work together for the good of the world. In his message, he included descriptions of the mission and ministry of the church, and he complimented the congregation on their active efforts of “inreach” (nurture) and “outreach” (missions).
But then he threw in the question, “Who’s in charge here?” He had prepared us well as we heard him challenge every one of us to remember who was the head of the church. It wasn’t the lay leader, the choir director, the head of the Trustees or Finance committee, or the Chairperson of the Staff Parish Relations Committee. No, the head of the church was and always is Jesus Christ. He is in charge, and it is through him that we find direction, guidance, an example, and the ability to BE the church.
We are the church because we have been called by Christ to serve in whatever time and place we find ourselves. By serving, we accept that Jesus is the head of the Body, the Church. We commit ourselves to that when we become part of any congregation.
It is so important to remember to follow in Jesus’ ways by watching what we say, do, and how we act – always with respect for the other person, and always seeking the other person’s good, whether or not we like that person. How hard it is to be consistent in our living, but then, following Jesus is a journey, not a static place of sitting and waiting. When we follow Jesus, we are actively serving God in whatever way we are able.
Jesus IS the head of the church. It is good to remember that and to monitor our behaviors and words. May we hold onto that claim that we are all God’s children, beloved and the pride of God’s life because of Jesus, the greatest gift of all. May it be so.
November 17, 2019
“. . . in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”Philippians 4:6b (NRSV)
This week, I chose to use the Philippians passage that is suggested for Thanksgiving. It is good to think about giving thanks in all things as the passage above suggests. Earlier this year, I began a blessings and gratitude journal. Every night I write down five things for which I am grateful. I have to admit that most of them result from accomplishing tasks that I do during the day.
But doing the journal reminds me that I have so many things for which to be grateful. I am on two blogs, both with other women and both with totally different purposes. When I read some of the things that are happening in the lives of many of the women, I am reminded about what a blessed existence I actually have. My life is sometimes very complicated, and other times it is very simple and quiet.
Yet, I have a husband whom I love and who loves me, stepchildren and grandchildren with whom I get along (even though we rarely see them), a job I love, a congregation of great people, a father, siblings, and other relatives in the Midwest with whom I am in touch. And my health is good.
As Paul says in Philippians 4:11, “. . . I have learned to be content with whatever I have” is what has finally happened in my life. Maybe it was years of counseling, studying the scriptures, lots of prayer and conversation with God, and reading books that have helped me to realize that all the materialistic stuff can disappear, but God is still there. All the pettiness, arguments, hurt feelings, and relationship challenges aren’t worth it because life is too short.
Giving thanks every day and writing it down has helped me to focus on the good stuff in my life. Even on the days when I don’t feel like writing down anything except “God” and “Dave” (my husband), I still work at coming up with three other blessings. It has made a different in my attitude, in the way I act, in the way I think, and the resistance I sometimes have to doing certain tasks has eased away.
Thanksgiving for what we have is more about relationships with God and others than possessions. Certainly, we can be thankful for our material goods, but when we focus on God and others, our priorities seem to fall into place. And that is something for which to be thankful.
Maybe we be thankful and count our blessings, not just at Thanksgiving, but every day, every moment! Thanks be to God!
November 3, 2019
“Do onto others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6:31 (NRSV)
This scripture comes from Jesus’ “sermon on the plain” found in Luke. It is less well known than “the sermon on the mount” in Matthew, but it still has strong words for us as we learn or maybe I should say, continue to learn, from Jesus about what it means to follow him.
Whenever I read or quote Luke 6:31, I am reminded about how often it is mis-quoted. I have heard it as, “Do onto others as they do onto you.” It is amazing how eliminating a few words can change the meaning of a sentence. In addition, taking scripture out of context can distort it and provide rational for abuse and mistreatment of others.
I wonder. What would happen if we all actually followed “The Golden Rule” as written above? Could we imagine it? Maybe people would smile at each other more often, or listen to someone else – I mean REALLY listen to them and not just nod our heads while we hear what they are saying. What would happen if leaders of countries sat down and sincerely tried to find a way to live peacefully in this world? What would happen if those who have much shared generously with those who have little.
The questions and suppositions could go on and on. What seems to bring it home for me is whenever someone has lost everything in a fire, to flooding, from a natural disaster, or other circumstance. Recently, we learned of a woman who ended up taking in her young granddaughter, and the girl arrived without anything but the clothes on her back.
When we put a request out by email to the church folks, we had lot immediate responses, and clothing came in quickly. In fact, my husband I have breakfast every week day morning at a Dunkin Donuts, and we happened to mention to two other regulars who come in for their breakfast, and the next morning, we received four coats, and a bag full of NEW clothing that one of them had bought.
Our church responds with great generosity when they learn of a need, and I have witnessed that in so many ways on social media, in news stories, and through the generosity of other churches and civic organizations. We are humans who love to care and give to others when we know of the need. “Do onto others as you would have them do onto you.”
The response is great when it comes to materialistic need, and what about spiritual and emotional need. What would happen if we could act on the questions I asked above to help others grow in grace and know God’s love through us. Is that not what we all want for ourselves? What if we engraved the golden rule on our hearts and minds and lived it for all we were worth? Would that not make this world a better place? I would hope so! Who says we are not able to make a difference!
October 27, 2019
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (paraphrased from Matthew 22:37-40)
This is my life passage. What does that mean? It means that it is etched, even in paraphrased form, in my heart, soul, and mind and is the guiding verse for my life. God comes first, and I love God. Loving neighbor and self can often be difficult, but it is what we are called to do, so I work at it, trying to find the positive even when I’m feeling negative about someone or about myself.
My prayer is that it will become so thoroughly ingrained in me that it will inform my words, actions, thoughts, and reactions. However, being human, I know that it will also be a life-time journey. So far, it has been one that has taken many twists and turns, had many ups and downs. Other Bible verses have led me through some of those, but the foundation and core of my belief in God and my recognition of my part of the relationship with God and others continues to be The Great Commandment.
It’s interesting to serve a congregation, especially when your birthday falls on a Sunday. I have never felt bothered by how old I am, and birthdays to me are a celebration of the life we have been given. So, I also celebrate my parents, siblings, friends, and others who have enriched my life and given me so much for which to be thankful. It has taken many years to reach this point of thankfulness, but I think my life passage has helped me grow and mature in faith to this point and will continue to inform my life as I grow older in years.
Today, October 27 is my birthday. How will I celebrate it? I will lead worship, share my thoughts on my life passage with the congregation, and celebrate the God who gave me life, second chances, guidance, correction, and love throughout my life. I’m confident that love will never end and will be with me through the rest of my earthly life and beyond.
Maybe I have become more introspective and philosophical as I have aged, but I like think that it is years of talking with God either from my head and/or my heart that has led me to see more clearly where God wants me to be and how God wants me to live.
My prayer for all of you is that you will find your life verse if you haven’t already, and draw closer in your relationship with God. May it be so.
October 20, 2019
“Now you are the Body of Christ and individually members of it.” 1 Corinthians 12:27 (NRSV)
October 20 is designated Laity Sunday in the United Methodist Church. In many ways, it is a misnomer. Every Sunday – actually, every day – is a celebration of the laity. In Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, he teaches them how to be the church by using their God given gifts to make a whole. We are connected, and everyone has gifts and talents to use in ministry to carry on the work of Jesus in the world.
Not everyone does everything, but we need many hands and minds to help the church function and grow. The pastor is only one part of the church and is designated as the spiritual leader and guide. However, the work of the church is accomplished most by the laity, men and women who build up the church through helping to lead worship, serving on committees, being good stewards of the church physical and financial resources, as well as the human resources in relationships among and within the congregation.
Everyone is needed: the committee leaders, worship helpers, coffee fellowship preparers and servers, musicians, Sunday school children and teachers, office staff, fund raising participants, Bible and book study groups, people involved in outreach programs, people who send cards, show support, and offer nurture to others, and many other ways that we function together at the church.
In one of the previous churches I served, a 90-year-old woman kept saying that she felt so frustrated because she just couldn’t do anything to help. We decided to ask her to be our “sunshine” person who sent out birthday, anniversary, get well, sympathy, thinking of you and other types of cards. She was thrilled and did a wonderful job. Another woman was chronically ill and felt that she was useless, and we asked her to be a prayer warrior. Armed with a prayer list and her Bible, she prayed daily for many in the congregation, community, and world. Everyone has a place. Everyone is needed to complete the Body of Christ.
So, God is calling each one of us to use our gifts – whatever they may be – to make a difference in our congregations and in the world-wide Body of Christ. May we find those gifts and build on them so we can continue to make a difference!
October 13, 2019
“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare, you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7 NRSV)
Have you ever ended up moving to a place where you didn’t want to be? Maybe you were married, and your spouse had a job in a different city, so you decided to move there instead of staying where you were. Or maybe a loved one died, and you were thrown into grief and despair. Or maybe your friend quit being your friend for some reason or another. Or maybe you were transferred to a new place for your work. There are many scenarios we can name when we were suddenly where we didn’t want to be.
My husband and I were married in February after six months of courtship and knowing very quickly that we were meant to be together. In March, I received a call from a District Superintendent asking me to move to a new appointment with two (not one, but two) churches. My husband assured me that he would be fine and could find a job anywhere, which is true because he is an excellent salesperson.
However, the move happened in June, and it turned out to be where neither one of us wanted to be. I left a congregation that I loved dearly and whose members had seen me through a number of events in my life. We had bonded and had a great relationship. Church attendance had grown while I was there, and our Sunday school mushroomed from about three children to over twenty. My husband’s job was lucrative and one he really enjoyed.
So the move turned out to not be so lucrative for him, and I faced challenges that kept me awake nights and stressed me out a lot. Here we were in a “foreign” land, married about four months, no friends, no connections outside the church and his job, and feeling unhappy about being there. In fact, I started trying to find another kind of work, and I kept asking God to help me find a way, but there was no answer. And, that was the answer: I was supposed to stay where I had been planted.
The first two years were the toughest, and I continued to pray for something else, yet, I didn’t want to give up on the fine folks in the two churches, so we persevere, albeit somewhat grudgingly. The nation of Israel had been sent into exile in Babylon, away from their homes, separated from some family members, and feeling lost and alone in a foreign land.
Then along comes Jeremiah, who, up to that point, had been warning and warning them to return to God’s ways or they would be exiled. Well, they were exiled, and they were in despair and didn’t want to be there. In his letter to them from Jeremiah 29:1-7, he tells them that they may as well settled into their new locations for the long haul. In others, build houses and live in them, marry, have children, encourage them to marry and have children. Make the best of it.
And then comes verse 7 where he tells them to “seek the welfare” of where they live and pray to God for them because, as they prosper, so would the Israelites. That is what I discovered when I was moved to a new location to serve two churches at the same time. I could ignore the fact that I had been planted there for a reason and quit the work I loved doing, or I could make the best of it. No. Actually, I could thrive there because I was doing God’s work. So, I prayed – a lot – and even more – for the welfare of the congregations and for wisdom and guidance to count my blessings, be in relationship with my husband, and take care of myself as well.
Over time, things became better, and I stayed ten years, moving over the bumps, up and down the hills and valleys, and finally leveling out so we could be in effective and productive ministry together for the last five years I was there. My husband’s work began to improve, too, and we found time to have quality time together. It’s all in the attitude. When we bloom where we are planted, we find peace with ourselves and peace with God. May you plant your seeds and know that wherever you have been planted, God will work through you. Keep on keeping on!
October 6, 2019
“. . . for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28b
This Sunday is World Communion Sunday when we remember Christ in Christian churches all over the world. Isn’t it interesting that we seem to need a special Sunday to remind us of that? Shouldn’t we be remembering it all the time? Well, I suppose we do, but maybe we just need a Sunday to renew that connection.
When I was growing up in Iowa, we didn’t have people who were “different” from us. It was an all-white, protestant, town, and the only time we saw someone who was of a different ethnic background or race was when we ventured into the city. Even then, the closest city was pretty much the same. Thankfully, many places are not becoming more integrated.
As I grew up, I realized how sheltered I had been and how much fear was part of my perceptions of “the other.” We celebrated World Communion Sunday back then, but I guess my geography just never sank into my understanding of it. My first encounter with African-Americans came when I was a Girl Scout Camp Counselor on the east coast when inner city children delighted me with their love, hugs, and enthusiasm. (Other children did, too, but in my mind, the people of color were supposed to be different in everything.)
Thankfully, my prejudices began to be more informed, and I began a life time of working on my racism. It will continue for the rest of my life. We are all one in Jesus, who was a middle eastern human being who was raised Jewish. Now that would be way on the other side of the scale for me, as a white protestant.
The thing is, when we recognize our prejudices toward one group of people, we begin to change all of our assumptions, labeling, and understanding toward other groups of people. When we invite Christ into our hearts and promise to follow him, we begin to see that he treated all people with respect, love, and care. How can we not do the same?
My life is so much richer because I have been blessed to know many people of different races, ethnicities, who live in other countries, speak a different language from mine, and who have smiled and welcomed me into their world, if even for a short amount of time on a mission trip. My heart is much bigger and my mind is more open to recognizing the oneness we have and to know that our diversity is a blessing rather than something to fear or resist. May we all keep our minds and hearts open to being one in Christ. May we continue to grow in understanding, care, love and joy as we celebrate Christ in our midst.
September 15, 2019
“Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Colossians 3:13 (NRSV)
I haven’t written a blog for a few weeks, and I’m not really sure why. As I pondered this, I kept getting a feeling that I was supposed to write about forgiveness. Normally, I try to write about the scripture passage for the upcoming week, but every time I thought I would blog, the theme of forgiveness came back to me. Well, I decided to practice what I preach and go with the nudge of the Spirit with the hope that maybe if anyone reads this blog, they might find my ramblings helpful.
A week ago, I listened to a morning meditation that was on forgiveness, and the three points that the speaker made about forgiveness struck a chord with me. First: when you don’t forgive someone who has wronged you, you are giving them more power over you. I wonder how many times I have hung onto the wrong and not let go of my anger or disappointment or grudge toward someone who I really needed to forgive. I needed to forgive so that I could move forward with my life and remove the toxins from my spiritual, emotional, and mental health.
We tend to take things so personally, and when we have been offended or perceive we have been offended, we grab onto it and thrash it around in our minds and hearts. Maybe (and I know no one really wants to do this) – just maybe – going to the person to talk about it might resolve the issue! I have a family member who is hanging onto something against another family member, and when I suggested that maybe they should talk, the answer was, “Well, we’ll see.” Hanging onto the grudge isn’t getting that person anywhere except to negatively affect the relationship. Why let the other person have that much power over us? Let it go, throw it away, and move on.
Secondly: It’s about the other person.Whenever someone offends us, mistreats us or dumps on us, it is more about where they are than where we are. Okay, so maybe we have done something to upset them, but I really believe that in the majority of cases the situation can be resolved as long as both parties are willing to communicate. However, if the other person refuses, we need to remember that we have extended the “olive branch,” and ultimately, it isn’t about us but about the other person. Again, hanging onto something is detrimental to our own self-esteem, our peace of mind, and our ability to make peace not only with the other person, but with ourselves.
Third, and last: That person has lived a different life. We don’t know what they are going through.When we immediately take offense at what someone else has said or done, we have shut the door to understanding where they are or what the issues are in their lives. If we can try to put ourselves into their shoes, we might find that they are having problems in their lives, and they “took out their frustration” on us. Or they misunderstood what was intended. Or they are just in bad place and weren’t ready to deal with us for some reason or another.
I’ve heard that television reflects life, and when I watch movies romance or mystery in particular, most of the upsets happen because people don’t talk to each other, but make assumptions. Being open and truthful about what is going on can resolve the onset of many conflicts. We really don’t know what is going on inside someone else or why they behave the way they do, but it would be good to not immediately decide that it has anything to do with us. If it does, we need to talk with that person.
There are times when the forgiveness is hard to do. Sometimes it takes years to gradually let go of something. The important thing is to try and keep trying. Forgiveness still is about our ability to move on rather than the other person’s need for it. If they ask for forgiveness, it makes it a lot easier, but in so many instances, that just doesn’t happen. Forgiveness is about us. It’s about freeing ourselves from the things that keep us from living a full and holistic life, and it’s a constant process.
I hope and pray that anyone who reads this might find something that will help them in their lives. I know reflecting on it has helped me. May God bless you with an open mind and heart.
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.