Monday, September 28, 2009

Sermon - "Are You Salty?)

Note to reader: I tend to write to be spoken - not read. Tried to clean it up!

Mark 9: 38-50

38John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40Whoever is not against us is for us. 41For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
42“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.
43If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.
45And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.
47And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
49“For everyone will be salted with fire. 50Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
someone once said: :You can divide the world into two groups of people.
Those who believe you can divide the world into two group of people,
and those who don't.
Jesus' disciples belong to the first group; Jesus belongs to the second

And so the disciples see the world divided into them and us – but Jesus says don’t worry about them. Worry about yourself!
Looking at this text – one of the things I noticed was how many times in 5 verses – Jesus uses the word YOU or YOUR – 10 times in 4 verses – which leads me to conclude that this text may be saying this to us
Discipleship is The road to Self Examination – in other words look at YOURSELF
In these 4 verses that 10 times say you – they 4 times use the word stumble.
And it is saying this – beware of becoming a stumbling block that is going to trip up others.
Do no harm – don’t get in the way of the faith and maturity of another.
Because we are all connected and we affect each other.
Frederick Beuchner describes humanity as an enormous spider web, "if you touch it anywhere, you set the whole thing trembling…The life that I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops…"

So beware of becoming a stumbling block. I would like to suggest three ways in which we can cause people to stumble.
First is our anxiety. Anxiety can be almost contagious.
We have concerns about the future and the instability and insecurity of life that can stop us from living in the present
Our worries about the future can cause us to live closed off lives – afraid to take risks.

And the anxiety we have for others may be rooted in love. some of you might have experienced that as parents. I have watched my daughters make all kinds of decisions – entering into relationships and leaving them, taking jobs, quitting jobs, going to school, leaving school.
And I have to watch it all the time. My anxiety about their future can cause me to encourage them to take what seems to me to be the safe plan….which may not be God’s plan. But I don’t want to be a stumbling block stopping them from living out their life

Some of it is rooted in Experience. Watched people lived through the depression have the same thing – you don’t understand how hard it can be. I have lived through times of want – I don’t want to risk the church’s future. Churches with great big endowments – afraid to spend them on things that would grow the church because of their anxiety about the future. Anxiety is a stumbling block

Second – our judgements can be a stumbling block and shut people down. Part of the human condition – to look for the speck in someone else’s eye and ignore the log in our own. And we may have grown up with people who did that. John Powell writes: “when we were little kids playing with our toy cars or dolls, we heard our parents talking about others. We heard them talking about the people with whom they worked and the people in the neighborhood. Their messages, expressed and implied were recorded in our parent tapes. And of course, we engage in the same behavior.
And there are so many ways in which our judgments cause other people to stumble –

Third our own character flaws can get in the way of other people’s faith. We may be the only sermon some people see.
And if they look at us and they see someone they can’t count on
Someone who gossips with your back is turned
Someone who pretends to be one thing in front of you and someone else when you are not around. Hypocrites.
Someone who is a perfectionist – who has set the bar so high – that they can never be satisfied and no one else is either.

The text is saying – look at yourself and are you a stumbling block for others.
This interrelationship that we have means that our life is not our own – and not only are we damaging ourselves – but we are damaging others in the way we are living our lives

And so the text ends with a different image – of salt so that the question is – are you becoming a stumbling stone or are you becoming salt. Salty!
And let me talk about three qualities of salt that we can demonstrate
1. Bring healing –It kills most germs on contact. It burns when it hits a raw spot, but is very effective in cleansing a wound so it can heal. Becoming an element of therapy and healing because in the days of Jesus salt has been used as a means of medication and as a means of healing diseases and infirmities.
There is power in the name of the Lord – power to heal – power to bring people into a greater place. When we are the salt we potentially bring healing into every situation that we enter.
People need to know the reality that broken lives can be made whole again in Jesus Christ. There is healing for the spiritually sick who need Jesus.
2. Add Flavor It brings flavor and taste. That means that salt brings taste to the tasteless and flavor to something that does not have any flavor.
Picture popcorn without salt– needs a little salt – brings the flavor, enhances the flavor. We are called to bring out the “God flavors” in life– the flavor that we bring is a flavor of joy and love and peace.
We - meaning people as individuals, we - meaning the church the comes and enhances the culture. We bring flavor – that is harmonious. And salt makes everyone and everything taste better.
3. Act as a Preservative Salt has also been used as a substance of preservative through the ages to maintain and keep; things live longer. preservative. Our ancestors used salt to cure food to be used later. Country Ham, Corned Ham, Beef Jerky, and salted fish were staples of their diets. In the time that Jesus spoke there were no refrigerators to store the meat and it was very hot. The meat could spoil in the heat so salt was rubbed on the meat to preserve it. The salt prevented the meat from spoiling.
And we too are here as the salt – as people of hope who know that God preserves, that God endures, that our help comes from the Lord. We know that there is nothing that will separate us from the love of God.

So the question – are you a stumbling block or are you salt? The disciples divided the world into two groups – but Jesus does not.

Because the answer is – if we are honest with ourselves – we are both. At times we are a stumbling block – not only to the faith of others but to our own spiritual growth. Our anxiety, judgments, character flaws do us in. Without a doubt. And we experience what you can only call hell on earth

And other times we are salt – we are full of God’s spirit and those who are near us experienced God’s love and light and joy.
The text also expresses how one becomes salt.
This verse – Everyone is salted with Fire – the fire not of hell but of refinery. The fire through which we learn – (like Psalm 124) that Our help is in the name of the Lord.

And we don’t learn that through a good sermon or Sunday School or Bible study. We learn it through some hard experiences in life – when the enemies attacked us, when we were afraid the flood would sweep us away, when we felt like we were prey for the enemy. And we learned that God was there – was our rock and our redeemer.

Times like that are the refiner’s fire. In the Christian Century this month Christine Bartholomew writes about living with cancer and lupus.
She writes this: “sickness can make your relationship with God stronger in the strangest of ways. Sickness can give us permission to be mad at God. We can scream, yell and kick our legs until we’re blue in the face. The great thing about getting mad at God is that God is big enough to take out anger. He does not run from our angry words or turn away in pain. God is big enough to take our sorrows and empathize with our pain.
He takes anger and finds ways to show us love. It may take us a while to give ourself permission to yell at God for what has happened to us, but God will love us through our anger, even when we scream. Then God can hug us and wrap loving arms around us. This is the power of God shown in sickness……

Sometimes he uses our weaknesses as a way of refining us and making us able to walk a little closer with him. “For everyone will be salted with fire.” Through the fire of pain and suffering we gain our depth, our flavor, our salt.

Through our suffering, we receive the gift of God’s undeniable presence. God’s Spirit walks into hospital rooms, sits beside our bedside and holds our hand. And sometimes, of course, it is the body of Christ – the church, the salt, who embody our Lord.

We will all go through the refiner’s fire – but not everyone will become salt. Some continue to be more stumbling blocks than salt – self protective, self centered, self pitying. That’s a mystery to me

All I know is this – we are here because we have heard our Lord call us – to be disciples of Christ to continue to walk with Lord
Continue to do self examination and continue to look to the Lord – knowing that our help is in the name of the Lord

End with one more quote from Christine Barthalomew

God is constantly refining us with fire, whether that fire be conflict, persecution or sacrifice. These events can change us and draw us closer to God. This is a work of sanctification, not salvation. We may walk into heaven suffering, limp and lame, but we will walk tall.

Weekend Update

Yesterday I was as tired as I have ever been on a Sunday morning. So as I type this I am happy that it is Monday morning and I slept 8 hours last night and I have a day off.

Friday night Kacey and I went to a movie and dinner to celebrate her birthday. This had been postponed from Monday when I drove to Lima to be part of an uncomfortable meeting for the regional church. That day was the beginning of a very tiring week.

But Friday was pure blessing. The move The Informant was very entertaining, kind of quirky and engaging. It took a while to understand that the main character was a genius liar who happened to be bi polar. What a story. I loved it. (Saturday night I happened upon an interview with the author of the book on CSpan too). We then had dinner at Kacey's fav restaurant California Pizza Kitchen at the bar. No wait and really fun to do that. I will do it again - Chuck will love it! And then perusing books and pumpkin cheese cake a coffee. A perfect evening.

Saturday I went to a listening workshop for my Wellstreams program. I continue to learn the amazing blessing of listening and how healing it can be to be listened to. I am learning so much through this program. However, by the time it was over, I was wiped out. So I actually passed on a fellowship event at church - a wine tasting party. It is so unlike me to not do something for church - but that is how tired I was.

Sunday morning I finished up the sermon - which was about how we can be stumbling blocks for others or salt. (or both!) and about how we are salted with fire.
“For everyone will be salted with fire"

At the back of my mind all weekend is Lisa Baluk and her family who are right now being salted with fire. We met Lisa about 2 years ago as she came home from Philadelphia to be cared for by her parents as she was receiving chemo. She was 29 years old with breast cancer. Our healing team would give her reiki before her chemo or operations. She also came to my Bible study. I cannot understate what a sweet beautiful young woman she is and how much she has meant to me and to the church. We watched her struggle, lose hair, grow her hair back and go into remission. She went home to Philadelphia. This past June on a visit to Columbus she came to church and told us the story of the swans who came to comfort her when she would visit. It is all so inspiring.

This week we found out that her cancer has returned and is in her lungs and liver. She had surgery Friday to check out her lymph nodes. It is all very hard - watching Lisa, her parents, her husband. And we all love her too. So, we heard that this weekend she was in so much pain she went back to the hospital. That has been a constant reminder to me of being "salted with fire." These are the times that we say that God is with us - but we may not see it at the time.

This morning as I wrote my prayers I can only trust that God will give everyone of us who love Lisa the guidance and the strength to be present to her at this time. It is a hard journey for her regardless of what happens.

Please keep her in you prayers.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Catching up

Well, it has been a while since I have written into this blog so I have a few things to catch up:

1. Our house has changed radically - Marnie and Reagan and Addie have moved into a house in Minerva Park - only 3 miles away. We enjoyed them, but it is nice to have just the 2 of us here and to be starting over again. That is what it feels like.

2. I now have a prayer room again and it is nicer than the last one. I am getting ready to be a spiritual director and this room is part of that. this is where I start the day with journaling and reading. And it feels so good. yesterday someone from church wanted to talk to me, so we came to the house and talked in the prayer room. It felt so good.

3. In two days I will start as a guide - a spiritual guide in our
"practicum" part of our class and I am anxious and also excited about it. Our third term of school has started and it is all about when we will be directing - it is going to happen.......soon

4. I was on TV last week. I gathered with members of my church and the community - 300+ people - at Tamarack Circle near our church to pray for peace and an end to violence. The media was there and I got interviewed and had my 3 seconds of fame on the 11o clock service. After the reported asked if I "felt different" after we prayed I didn't know what to say - but I said something that actually did not sound terrible. I wasn't embarrassed. That's all I will say about it. I don't like to be on TV - but they spelled my name right and the church.

5. We had our outdoor worship service this week and it was really nice. For my sermon, I made three points that started with "C" (about conversation, child, challenge) and handed out a cucumber for each point I made. This is an homage to Herb Hicks who used to do that stuff in Zanesville - and because I did not have the powerpoint clicker in my hand!

6. Last week I did a funeral and a wedding. and as always, if I had the choice, I would pick the funerals. It is always good to be with families in their time of need and see how they work together during difficult times. I saw a bit of dysfunction in the family for the wedding - pray that all will go with with them.

7. I can hear better than I did 5 days ago because my wonderful doctor spent over 4 hours removing earwax from my right ear. I hesitate writing about this because it sounds so icky - but I read about 200 pages of my book for book group through the process and by the end I could hear my doctor breating. I also found out that my car runs loud! Who knew? Not me!

I guess that is enough for now. My second day off in a row when I did work. That's why I am always planning vacations and a sabbatical ahead. Keeps my spirits UP!!!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Julia Cameron

I like her. I really like her.

Julia is the author of The Artist's Way which I read about 15 years ago and it really has helped me to understand about the artist's life - that is to say the creative life.
And we are all artists and we all have different forms of creativity.

This book is designed to be a project that you go through every week - there are different assignments for you to do. And the purpose is to help remove the blocks to being creative.

One of the basic understandings of her process is the idea of "morning pages" - starting every day writing three pages - notebook sized pages. It is a way to get it out - the stuff inside yourself and it really helps you to see what you are carrying around inside yourself. It is just amazing. Many people if I tell them about it are immediately resistant and often in a judgmental way. Because they are too busy with important stuff and I must just have an easier life. Anyway, that has been my experience in talking about this to others. And I know how hard it is to do this - which is why I so often do not. but I also know the process works well.

When I do morning pages - I often am writing to God about the events of my life. Getting it down on paper is invaluable in later seeing and understanding with greater clarity what is going on. But that is just me -

A year and a half ago Susan and I went to a workshop that she led on creativity. In Sedona. And it was wonderful. I blogged about it at the time. The way she led us was as important as the understandings I received in the workshop. And it brought me back to moarning pages for a while and just to re-learning how much God wants us to be creative.

The reason I write this morning about it is that I picked up a book by her yesterday at the library called "Faith and Will." It is really interesting to me. First of all - it has no chapters - it is like a long talk by Julia about her relationship with God. She has written it at a time in which she is experiencing a "God absence" or "A dark night of the soul." Her writing it is a way to help her through this time. And these times are part of the life of the faithful.

Her experience and expressions of God are not at all tied to religion but they really speak to me. She is kind of "out there" and even writes honestly about her issues with having nervous breakdowns - but as I read this book I feel so connected to her understandings about the life of faith.

Check it out.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Morning Ruminations

I woke up very early this morning thinking about listening to my soul.

At class on Saturday we did an exercise that I am still pondering. We were in a group - each person had a turn with the "stick" and when it was our turn we took 20 - 30 seconds and listened for a question from our souls. Then handed it to the next person who did the same thing and they answered the question. After that they listened for the next question.

I found myself patiently waiting for my turn and when it came, it came. I heard the answer clearly and after that I heard the question just as clearly.

Since then I have thought alot about listening to my soul. And I know that there are certainly times when it happens - often in sermon prep, or Bible studies and in conversations. Sometimes I experience what I can "soul moments" of happiness when I can almost see the flowers blooming and the butterflies within me. At least that is how I name it when I know it.

All of this makes me want to be more attentive. Live in such a way that I am clearing out the noise to hear and not distracting myself with those things that numb me.

None of these are new ideas. Just a kind of different way of getting to what god wants for us.

My soul is a place of deep peace and joy. But it is also where I experience pain. And it is a place of connections.

Sunday night I went to the Songfest at Bethany Christian Church. Churches from Columbus and Cincinnati - predominantly African American - came together bringing their choirs to sing. The purpose of the celebration - beyond worship - was to raise money for scholarships for African American seminarians.

The singing was often powerful. The choirs were not that large - but very "soulful"
I can still see the face of one of the women who was doing a solo with her choir. She sang about how the Lord lead you "through it" She was at least 60 - maybe 70 or even 80 years old. And I wondered about how much she has been led through. Of course, I don't know. But I do know that as a 60 year old white middle class woman that while my life has had suffering and pain, there has also been privilege. The privilege that comes from being born into a college educated family and just being in the dominant culture. And wondered how different her life experience had been.

Often Soulful singing - comes of suffering and awareness of suffering and compassion for those who do suffer. The music Sunday afternoon may not have been "pitch-perfect" but it was full of soul.

I just write this - ruminate on it - understanding that God wants me to be connected to all of it - the pain, the struggle, the joy, the celebrating. That is what makes life rich.

And as I write this I realize that the blessed life is found in being able to learn and listen to other people's stories that are unlike mine. Hearing not only my soul but their souls. Hearing their stories so that maybe we will connect in some ways of the spirit.

Because we are one in the spirit. If only we knew it.