Thursday, June 27, 2013

This and That

I just want to post a quick update about some of my activities of the past few weeks. I have engaged in activities that help me to grow and help me to really have a sense of God's work within me and within the world.

First, I took a week long course at Trinity Seminary in Healthy Congregations. Before the course began I read a book called Extraordinary Relationships and during the course we had a large notebook full of material that I continue to spend time with. I keep learning that to lead is to learn about self in order to manage your own anxiety and help others to manage theirs. A congregation is a system and we have to keep getting a "balcony perspective" in order to really see what is going on. There is more to share but the bottom line for me is that I get energy from being in a learning environment and I hope to find more courses that I can take.

Second, Audrey came to Columbus with a group of girls and a leader, Amy, to do mission work. They stayed at Kim and Alan's house and they really had a great experience. I was part of some of it - going to COSI, having them to dinner, joining in the Gay Pride Parade and lining up a couple of speakers for them. It was wonderful to watch these young women learn and really begin to have their eyes opened to the needs of others who were so much less fortunate than they were. Their testimonials in church indicated that their awareness of how they labeled and rejected others in ways that were not Christian. The two speakers I brought to them inspired me as well. Roberto gave a testimonial about AA and how God has worked within his life to slowly bring healing. He was so honest and real and I was happy to get to be part of that. We also had Kwesei come to talk about issues of immigrants in Columbus. Kwesei is a Seventh Day Adventist Minister who is part of our Northland Ministers group. He really described how difficult the journey is for people to come to America from other countries. And he shared that he now discourages others from coming.

Finally, I was able to go on retreat for two days this week. I joined two of my Wellstreams friends at a cabin at Hocking Hills for two days of silence, prayer and sharing. I cannot overstate how powerful it is spend time in this way. I really have to go away physically and be disconnected from all things electronic. Somehow in the midst of nature, walking, word, and prayer God really does speak and restore my soul.

And now I am working on a sermon about this Christian journey and the seemingly hard demands of discipleship from Jesus. Except that to follow this way of love, forgiveness, serving and growing is about the only way that makes sense.

I am grateful for the blessing of being able to do all that is part of my life - learning and serving opportunities and most of all getting some time away with the source of life who really does bring renewal.
God is good - all the time

Monday, June 17, 2013

Father's Day Sermon

I have not posted a sermon for a long time, but someone asked for a copy so I thought I just would put this on the blog.

Luke 7:36 - 8:3
36One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.”
41“A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
44Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
48Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” .

There is a camp song that I like a lot that I have been humming this week:
this love that I have the world didn’t give it to me, this love that I have, the world didn’t give it to me, this love that I have, the world didn’t give it to me …the world didn’t give it and the world can’t take it away. (this peace that I have….this joy that I have….)

This text has a woman whose joy did not come from the world. It came from Jesus
What we see in her is joy at his presence. She is unafraid to go into the house of a Pharisee. She does not care what anyone is thinking about her. She only wants to express her love for Jesus.
She is audacious and extravagant.
Now – the world did not give her this sense of joy and gratitude.
What the world wants her to feel is something entirely different.
You see the world that of that time and this time is a world of rating people.. There was a division within the religious life between people – the pure and the impure. Holy and unholy.. And she was clearly impure. We can talk about how that began – but that is often – still –one of many of the divisions that we make between people.
The good and the bad, the winners and the losers, the successful and the failures.
And in that ranking and rating – what will follow will be rejection. Only certain people are acceptable and welcome. Only certain people belong.
I want to stop for a moment and ask you this questions – can you think to a time when you were going to go someplace and wondered if you would fit in? If you would be welcomed? If you belonged?
Have you ever gone to a party and wondered about those questions….Or tried out for a team or a job and wondered about those questions….Or gone to church?
I wonder if it is in the human condition that we live in a certain amount of anxiety about that – will I fit in? will I be welcomed? Will I belong?
The world – the culture – the religion – the corporate life – the academic world –our family life - we ask ourselves: will I fit in? will I be welcomed? Will I belong?

Because another part of this construct of ranking and rejecting is shaming. What the Pharisees wanted to do with this woman – was to shame her. To make sure she knew that she did not fit in, she was not welcome, she did not belong with good people. Shaming is rejection not because of what you do – but because of who you are.
Jung: “Shame is a soul eating emotion”
Many of us grew up with shaming – could be an youngest child who had no voice, could be slow in school, or too fat, could have had a family that made jokes constantly at others expense Blaming often goes with shaming. Something is wrong and who can we blame. (joke – computer is almost human except it does not blame its mistakes on another computer.) So that the finger pointing and the ducking the finger pointing can be just an exercise that we live with constantly. Rejecting before I will be rejected.
Rating, rejecting, shaming and blaming.
No wonder we live with so much anxiety. No wonder we find ourselves scanning the horizon for trouble, trying to control ourselves and others so that we will not be dismissed, rejected, found wanting.
That is so often what the world has given to us. And certainly to this woman.
And they were critical of Jesus that he did not express these beliefs about her. So they are now trying to shame him for not shaming her. But of course neither he nor she accepts their shaming, their blaming, their rating and their rejecting.
Jesus lives in another reality – and that is in that awareness of God’s presence and God’s mercy and God’s grace. In the Kingdom of God everyone belongs and no one needs to be scapegoated or excluded
Richard Rohr: Jesus is clearly much more concerned about issues of pride, injustice, hypocrisy, blindness, and what I have often called “The Three Ps” of power, prestige, and possessions, which are probably 95 percent of Jesus’ written teaching.
Something happened to her – and that is what we don’t really know in this story. We don’t know that she had previous encounter with Jesus or just heard his words of grace and forgiveness. Maybe she heard his teaching – about loving your enemies……Or Luke 6: 37 – Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn Forgive and you will be forgiven….. Give and it will be given to you
But she heard the message of Jesus which was that she – like everyone – is welcome by God and loved by God. And through the forgiveness of God, her past will not define her.. And she is renamed - She is the beloved child of God We don’t know – only that she recognized that in the presence of this man was something new and freeing and really, really good.
So very different behavior – Not afraid to enter the home of the Pharisee, not afraid of rejection and not afraid to give extravagantly to express her love.-
And in that encounter with God there was not just acceptance but forgiveness. And from that she is showing gratitude…abundant generosity and fearless extravagant gratitude
That is what I see in this text. This love, this peace, this joy is something so different from the message of the world.And that is the message for us today. And that is the gospel. And that is the new way – the way of Jesus.

Father’s Day – We remember God as our father. One of many expressions of God. Father God. And some of us can really resonate with that. My father was my biggest supporter – who loved my no matter what. Whose face lit up in my presence.. So to express this understanding of God as Father is very easy for me.

But the truth is that not everyone has had such a father. Some of us had fathers who were hard on us, blaming, shaming, controlling and often rejecting.
A childhood accident caused poet Elizabeth Barrett to lead a life of semi-invalidism before she married Robert Browning in 1846. There's more to the story. In her youth, Elizabeth had been watched over by her tyrannical father.
When she and Robert were married, their wedding was held in secret because of her father's disapproval. After the wedding the Brownings sailed for Italy, where they lived for the rest of their lives. But even though her parents had disowned her, Elizabeth never gave up on the relationship. Almost weekly she wrote them letters. Not once did they reply.
After 10 years, she received a large box in the mail. Inside, Elizabeth found all of her letters; not one had been opened! Today those letters are among the most beautiful in classical English literature. Had her parents only read a few of them, their relationship with Elizabeth might have been restored.
God is not found in the actions of the father and the mother, God’s love is shown in the actions of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Who never stops sending letters and who never stops wanting reconciliation.

I remind you of the greatest father’s day story of all – the story of the prodigal son – which is really the story of the prodigal father – whose love is excessive, audacious, generous, extravagant and abundant.
Whose youngest son walked away from his care and his home to live on his own. Independently. And found himself – in the far country, taking care of the swine and eating at the servants table.And when he returned home – he did not find shame or blame
He found only grace and a party that was prepared for him. Let’s have a party – the lost has been found. Let us rejoice in the abundant life of grace received! And so, on this father’s day the word that I lift up to you this morning is not actually found in the text – but it is underneath all of the actions of this woman.
And it is receive. She has received the grace of God. She is living the abundant life in knowing that regardless of the messages of the world in which she is living
She is the beloved of God. She is – as she comes to Jesus – forgiven, made new, healed, strengthened. She will not be defined by her past mistakes but she will be renamed and accepted. And she finds that place where she belongs. With her Lord Jesus.
A lot of times during the week as we live in a world that is not always accepting, understanding, welcoming – as we dodge the arrows of shame and blame – we can forget who we are. And we can so easily fall into mirroring those thoughts and actions.

We come here Sunday mornings to remember and to “re – member”
To come back to this way of life – a way of receiving grace as we need it and then showing the radical love of God - who is like a daughter who keeps writing letters seeking reconciliation, who is like a father who waits for his son to come home, who is our Father who wants us to know that we are HIS and with him we are always the beloved.
This day let us answer the letter. Let us come home. Let us live in the kingdom

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Prayer Walking

Today I "prayer walked."

This summer I am encouraging people to consider this form of prayer. And so twice a week I will meet whoever comes to the church so that we can prayerwalk - not together - but at the same time.
This morning one person joined me.

We began with silence and then each of us took a piece of paper from the table that was upside down so we could not see it. They were various Bible verses.
Mine was from Psalm 146

"The Lord opens the eyes of the blind,
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down
The Lord loves the righteous."

And then I went walking for about 25 minutes using this verse as a mantra. Saying these words, singing these words, allowing them to really come into my mind and my heart.

I found myself repeating - Opens....opens, opens, opens....the eyes of the Blind.

What I know is that I am so often blind and, of course, I don't know it. I only see what I see. So there is comfort and challenge that the Lord is opening my eyes. I want to see more -beauty and presence of God. But I also want to see the needs here in my church and family life. It is easy to focus on what makes me comfortable and not see the challenges that bring me to awareness of others and my own helplessness without God.

And so, as I begin this day I begin with this prayer for God who open me up and help me to see.
I think this is a good beginning of this summer prayer time.

We ended by reading a blessing from "Blessing Upon Blessing" by Maxine Shonk

"May the God who calls bless you with ears to hear the voice of God in the cries of the poor, the whispers of the meek, and the silence of the helpless.
May you hear God's call in cricket and bird song, in thunder and rain, and in the prayer of children.
May the God who calls bless you."

I look forward to prayerwalking on Thursday morning.