Tuesday, March 31, 2015

I wish to see Jesus

The gospel reading for today (John 12: 20-36)  begins like this:

"Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”"

That's an interesting beginning.  the word about Jesus and his "signs" - like  raising Lazarus from the dead! - had gotten him some attention and people from all over wanted to "see" him.  And of course, with the gospel of John that is more than meets the eye - seeing Jesus.  In fact at the beginning of the gospel of John
. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and see.”
And I sit and ponder "seeing Jesus."  These are the last public words of Jesus in the gospel of John as he talks about a grain of wheat that dies, a troubled soul and  :
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

 To see Jesus is to see beyond the signs of power and miracles  to the one who sent him and it is to see the what someone called the "theological trajectory" from death of life.  And in our faith it is easy to  concentrate only on the healings, the miracles, the teachings and quickly pass over the cross at the very center.   Jesus demonstrates God's strength through his humility and vulnerability and willingness to pick up the cross. The hope of our faith is only realized because of the cross. And then I wonder if these who wished to see Jesus - saw him as he hung on the cross. Was that the Jesus they came to see?

And so this morning I find myself thinking about seeing Jesus.  Understanding that to follow Jesus is to embark on a journey of continually seeing more - not having spiritual visions but spiritual vision.  Joan Chittister writes this in her book Illuminated Life

"Vision is not physical.  It is a quality of the soul.
People with vision hone in, laser-like, to the presence of God in life.
They see the holy, bleeding, suffering, feuding world as God sees the world: as one and as sacred.
In love with a loving God, they are impelled to love God's world as God does.  
They set out to love it as God loves it.
They see God everywhere and in everything. 
They stretch beyond the demands of the personal, the chauvinistic, the nationalistic, the sectarian, even the doctrinal, to the will of God for the entire world.
They are not trapped by the pitiful little agendas of color or gender or hierarchy or place.  ....
they immerse themselves in the presence of God until everything becomes for them the presence of God."

Here are the lyrics to a song I like to sing:


Monday, March 30, 2015

Beginning Holy Week

     Yesterday was Palm Sunday and I found myself thinking all day about Jesus coming into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.  A picture of courage - coming in the daylight - and humility.  I am always struck by the  the layers and the depth of the Biblical story.  Just the image of  Jesus on the back of a donkey  is a symbol of this upside down kingdom that Jesus embodies and invites us into.

   One of the readings for today is really important to me.  It is the depiction of the anointing of Jesus by Mary found in John 12: 1-11.  In this gospel the woman is identified by name and she uses the "costly nard" to anoint Jesus feet and wipe it with her hair.  Judas objects on somewhat reasonable and yet  suspect grounds that this was an extravagance and that the money could be used for the poor (of for him!). And Jesus defends Mary: "Leave her alone.  She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.  You always have the poor with you, but you don't always have me."

It reminds me of the incident between Mary and Martha and Jesus when again takes Mary's cause and says."  Martha, Martha,you are worried and upset about many things,  but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.

I have preached on this many times and always Mary's extravagant and very public expression of faith speaks to me.  She is, I presume, responding to his friendship and love for her and his raising her brother from the dead.  He tells her that what she is doing is preparing him for burial.  I wonder - I seriously wonder - whether she had any clue that was what she was doing.  For me, this understanding gives me peace and comfort.  Here is why: I live in this place of questioning what it is I am "supposed" to be doing right now and also questioning whether anything I have "done" has been of value.  And what I come away with from this is that we do what we are prompted to do and trust that God may be doing more with our little offerings than we know.  Than we know in the moment or than we will ever know.

And so, as I begin this week of walking with Jesus to Calvary, my prayer for myself is that I might be present and respond to the promptings of God's spirit.  Even if they may be criticized by others, seem extravagant and wasteful and make me feel vulnerable.  God's work with and through us is always more than we know. 

Here is a quote from Evelyn Underhill

"We are the agents of the Creative Spirit in this world.
Real advance in the spiritual life, then means accepting this vocation with all it involves.
Not merely turning over the pages of an engineering magazine and enjoying the pictures, but putting on overalls and getting on with the job.  
The real spiritual life must be horizontal as well as vertical; spread more and more as well as aspire more and more"
From The Spiritual Life

Friday, March 27, 2015

Breath Prayer

I continue to work my way through Sacred Rhythms and today continue the chapter on prayer.  She recommends a "breath prayer" that is foundational to our spiritual life.  I first learned about "breath prayers" when 25 years ago I read Into the Light: A Simploe Way to Pray with the Sick and the Dying by Ron DelBene . He believes that not only does a breath prayer help us in our own walk with God, but when someone is dying we can pray their breath prayer as we accompany them in their last days.

A breath prayer is a simple concrete way to open ourselves to God's spirit.  It is truly a prayer that comes from the deepest well of our being.  Over the years I have had different breath prayers that I pray throughout the day: in the car, walking, on the toilet.  It is words that come through me and have helped me to stay connected to God.

There are two parts to discerning your breath prayer.  The first is to sit with the question: what do I want?  What is my heart's desire?  It is a question that is not always answered quickly but through time of reflection.

The second is to deciding on the name or image of who God is to you.  So it may we Jesus, shepherd, divine one, God, Lord, Father, etc. etc.

And then we put the two together and find what flows, what comes within a breath, what we can remember (?).   Like Ruth Haley Barton, one of my breath prayers over the years has been the "Jesus Prayer" - "Lord Jesus, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner."  Or some version like
"Lord, have mercy."  It often is all I need to say to feel reconnected and open.

This morning as I sat with that profound question: what do I want?  I found myself realizing that the word "guidance" kept coming.  I need to be guided in the paths of life.  I like that phrase - the paths of life - and not death.  I have spent the past few days organizing journals and pictures from the past and I know that there have been times when I did not follow paths of "life."  And somehow that God - like a shepherd - corralled me back or went and rescued me.  I live always in awareness of grace.
And so, I do picture that I need help in guidance.   And so my breath prayer for today and for some months ahead is "Guide me O Lord in your path of life."  It feels like it fits for now and I am going to stick to it.

I read the day's scriptures and was struck by verses in each of them:

Jeremiah 33  Thus says the Lord who made the earth, the Lord who formed it to establish it—the Lord is his name: Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.

Psalm 118   O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
     his steadfast love endures forever!

Philippians 2   Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

I love all of these verses because they strengthen my faith and encourage me in times like this of looking for guidance.  God is at work within me - and within all who call to him.  God is steadfast!

And so I begin  with this prayer - and will pray it throughout the day and hope that I am paying attention.
Guide me O Lord in your path of LIFE.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

My struggle with prayer

I confess that it is a struggle.  I have a place I go every morning and I have time.  I have Bibles and books and candles and music.  And I continue to struggle with prayer..My struggles are many -  I get distracted, impatient, and even bored.  I wonder what am I accomplishing, what is the point?

As I work my way through Ruth Haley Barton's Sacred Rhythms I am given permission to confess this.  She writes:
"One thing I know for sure about prayer these days is that we do not know how to pray.  It is only the young in Christ who think they know how to pray; the rest of us know we are just beginners"

She writes about how - in the beginning of our walk with God - we are full of words and images.  And then we hit a point where prayer doesn't work the way it used to "Our intellectual considerations of the mystery of God and our wordy responses no longer feel very satisfying.. For a while we may try to find a better method, but no matter how much effort we put into it or how faithful we are, nothing happens."

"The experience of having our prayers go cold, as distressing as it is signals a major transition in the life of prayer and thus in our relationship with God.  it signals an invitation to deeper levels of intimacy that will move us beyond communication which primarily involves words and concepts, into communion which is primarily beyond words.  If there are any words at all, they are reduced to the simplest and most visceral expressions. "

After I read and completely resonated with this understanding of prayer, I spent some time with today's readings: Deuteronomy 16: 1-8, Psalm 118:Psalm 1-2, 19-28, Phillippians 2: 1-11.

These verses from Philippians speaks to me today:

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: 
be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.
 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness

As I  ponder this I imagine that prayer is about sitting heart to heart, soul to soul, communing God and coming to that place where we have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus.  Now this is so easy to write and say, but how does it happen?

Of  course, scripture is helpful, but most of all it must be prayer.  Being willing and able to be open to receive God.  So that our prayer is truly about transformation - the renewing of our minds.
And being with God in order to be with God.  What I believe is that this business of transformation is very slow  - but it is real.  As I look through past journals  and  decades of wordy prayers, I know that God was slowly but surely doing something with me.  And I know that God is still working with my fears, anxieties, pride etc.

And so I continue to begin again every morning and know that as I wait  in that vulnerable state that is prayer - and I am open and yet closed.  As Ruth Haley Barton writes "And the truth is, most of us have at least some ambivalence about intimacy; we cry out for intimacy with God, but we resist it at the very same time."

And so my prayer often begins with Help me - help me to be open, help me to wake up, help me to commune with you today.  Help me to pray.

Prayer to begin the Day

Lord, I so wish to prepare well for this time.
I so want to make all of me ready and attentive and available to you.

Please help me clarify and purify my intentions.

I have so many contradictory desires.

My activity seems to be so full of busyness
and running after stuff that doesn't really seem to matter or last.
I know that if I give you my heart
whatever I do will follow my new heart.  
May all that I am today,
all that I try to do today, may all my encounters, reflections, even the frustrations and failings all place my life in your hands.  
Lord, my life is in your hands.

Please, let this day give you praise.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Lectio Divina

I continue to read through Sacred Rhythms (Ruth Haley Barton) and today's chapter was about how scripture is a way that we encounter God. 

She writes a lot about what I already know and have myself taught and preached.  How the Bible needs to be read like a love letter, how it is given to us for transformation and not information.  And that we read it for relationship.

I read through the three scripture for today (Haggai 2: 1-9:  20-23;  Psalm 119:9-16; John 12: 24-50)  and did a little background reading on Haggai.  I wrote notes in my journal about Haggai's theological conviction that God actively worked in his with his people to fulfill his purposes in the world.  It takes courage to follow God in the face our our inability to accomplish the task.  Interesting and important. However, I still did not feel connected this morning.

Then after a shower I returned and sat with the Psalm and practiced lectio divina.  Reading it through several times and allowing the words to go beyond my head and into my heart.  Yesterday I wrote about : "With my whole heart I seek you;" and that is followed by "Do not let me stray from your commandments."  And that is where a connection occurred within me.  My reality is that I begin my day seeking God and then as the day progresses I start to stray - not really trusting God, looking to God, loving others and myself , etc. etc.

Last Wednesday I slept at Audrey's home on an air mattress   I started the night with a comfortable bed and by morning - there was still air - but it was noticeably less.  And that is me.  I start full and slowly lose air as the day goes on. What happens?  A loss of focus?  interest?  faith?  I don't know.  But straying from your commandments is a pretty apt phrase.

Chuck has found a piece of furniture that is going to go in our bedroom to replace a large TV stand that currently houses about 50 journals I have started and stopped over the last 30+ years.  Yesterday I put them in a storage contained  and perused some of them.  Last night I read through a journal I wrote literally thirty years ago as I was ending seminary and beginning my first call in Zanesville. A lot happened during that time - including a divorce.  Some of it was written about but there were a lot of holes.  When things got really hard I discontinued writing for a while. 

Anyway, what I found is that despite the difference in age  and circumstances many of the prayers I wrote then are similar to what I am writing today.  There is awareness of God's blessings throughout my journal and awed by  God's call upon my life and at the same time the exact same "issues" that I continue to struggle with.  I  recognize  that I was and am a woman who seeks God and at the same time I continue to stray. - wanting to be in control, lacking self discipline and forgetting self care. In other words this Psalm and these verses of seeking and straying are my life then and my life now.

All of which points to the reality of the need for "Sacred Rhythms" - meaning practices that bring us back to center, that will fill us up again with spirit, that will remind us of God's presence and power and call upon us.  And bring us back to receive God's love and grace which we need before we can do the work of fulfilling his purpose in the world.

So I end with this blessing by Maxine Shonk

May the God of EVERYDAY bless you, leading you by the hand through each moment, calling your attention to each tiny trace of blessing threaded through your day.
  At the end of every day may you be wobven into the loving arms of God and sleep peacefully as night falls.
May the God of EVERYDAY be with you.



Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Realm of the Spirit

I finally have had a morning in which I was able to sit with God for some time and truly "rest in the spirit."  This past weekend I attended a book festival, Sunday I preached in Akron and yesterday I spent much of the day finish reading a book for book group.

And now today, the great blessing of time in solitude.  I have just begun a new book by Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging our Lives for Spiritual Transformation and today I read about creating space for God in solitude.  Perfect for this morning I could literally feel the soul renewal from being alone with God.

Her chapter on Solitude begins with this quote by Parker Palmer

"The soul is like a wild animal - tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy, self-sufficient.  It knows how to survive in hard places.  But it is also shy.  Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush.  If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out.  But if we will walk quietly into the woods, sit patiently by the base of the tree, and fade into our surroundings, the wild animal we seek might put in an appearance."   From A Hidden Wholeness

After a busy weekend, I was longing for solitude, to be in a place where (to quote Ruth Haley Barton)
"I can give myself with abandon to the lover of my soul, knowing that i am completely safe from anyone else's curious gaze or judgmental glance."  She writes about how Jesus seeks to guide his disciples - then and now into " rhythms of solitude, community and ministry."  What I know for sure is that it is in solitude that I reconnect and find myself in what I would call the "realm of the spirit."

I spent time today with the three daily lectionary readings, all of which had verses that I spoke to me.

 Isaiah 44:
But now hear, O Jacob my servant, Israel whom I have chosen! Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you in the womb and will help you: Do not fear, O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen. For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring. They shall spring up like a green tamarisk, like willows by flowing streams.

I remember you formed me in the womb and that you come and offer me living water.

Psalm 119: 10
 With my whole heart I seek you;
     do not let me stray from your commandmen

This is what Ruth Haley Barton writes:
Your desire for more of God than you have right now,
 your longing for love, your need for deeper levels of spiritual transformation than you have experienced so far is the truest thing about you
. You might think that your woundedness or your sinfulness is the truest thing about you
 or that your giftedness or your personality type
 or your job title or your identity as husband or wife, mother or father, somehow defines you.
  But in reality, it is your desire for God and your capacity to reach for more of God than you have right now
 that is the deepest essence of who you are."

Acts 2
spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

God's spirit is real and it is poured out on us and on me. And it gives  inspiration, hope  and power.

As I sat down to be with God this morning I said - as I always do: "I am hear to be with you"
and I wrote this

Come to me, fill me
You cannot fill me when I am full - so may I be empty today
you cannot fill me when I am on the run - so may I be still\
you cannot fill me when I am closed off - so may I be open

 I come again today to be here - with you - to wait in your realm of the Spirit
so that my soul might be watered, my spirit renewed and my life might bear fruit.
May it be so.

Friday, March 20, 2015

He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and the wayward

"He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward.....". Hebrews 5

this text is about Jesus our high priest who is available to us and shows us the way. To prayer, to the " throne of grace.". It is a word for all of us who need the mercy of God because we have to understand our need as "the ignorant and the wayward."

I write this from Charlottesville Virginia where I am attending the "Festival of the Book.". Yesterday I attended three talks about books, which is really talks about history, which is really talks about  Understanding the ways we have been "the ignorant and the wayward."

One presentation  was called "The historic struggle to attain gender and civil rights." we heard three historians talk about their books and we learned ( and remembered) how much society has transformed in the past 100 years and even in the Past 50 years.  I was of the generation that still thought that you go to college to be a nurse, a teacher, a wife.  And my daughters are of the generation that knows that women can do anything and will definitely need to work.

Change like this happens slowly and we can look back at the women of NOW and the leaders in the women's movement.  But one of the writers spoke about the importance of groups like The League of women voters, the YWCA and church women united.  In some ways the movements for racial equality and gender equality worked together but there are many examples of the sexism of the movement for racial equality and the racism of the feminist movement.

All of which is to say that history makes all of us humble.  We look back and see the ignorance and waywardness of our country in the past and know that we may look back at our choices today in years to come and recognize our blind spots and our hurtful actions.

I feel blessed to have the time to sit and learn and struggle and see what I believe is the movement of God's spirit at work in the lives of people.  Change comes because we are willing to learn new ways of seeing and we are willing to face where we have been in order to go someplace new in the future.

It was noteworthy that all of the speakers affirmed the deep faith of those women who worked for together for freedom.  I do believe that it is in our relationship with God that we are able to find grace and mercy to face the past and strength and hope to build a new future.

"restore to me the joy of your salvation and sustain in me a willing spirit."
Psalm 51

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Hearing His Voice

I am writing today from Lynchburg as I sit in Audrey's kitchen. She and Miranda have gone to work and soon I am leaving for Charlottesville and a book festival. Excited to go somewhere new and learn whatever is there today for me.

Books have always been an important part of my life. Reading provides such a great opportunity to stretch your mind and to walk in someone else's shoes. Last year I was interviewed  for a research project about families of gays and lesbians. -At one point I was asked  "how did I come to my understandings about homosexuality?" And I realized that so many of my opinions have been formed by the reading I did as a young woman. Not just reading the Bible, but literature, non fiction and memoirs.  It is reading that  deepens my understanding of the world, other people,  and my self

As we drove here yesterday we were listening to a book on tape, "The Boys on the Boat " which is about a crewing team from Seattle that won the Olympics in the thirties.
 And I just keep learning about what I did not know about so many things.

 I come to the word of God this morning and read some familiar words
"create in me a new heart" and "put a new and right spirit within me." (Psalm 51).  I recognize that growth often comes through learning.  And learning comes through effort and desire. And Books.

So my prayer for today is that I will be open to  new understandings so that there might be a new spirit within me. Today.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Being with God

I have been starting the day with 3 texts and today was no exception. (Exodus 15: 22-27, Pslam 107, Hebrews 3: 1-6)  We have now moved into the story of Moses leading his people to the promised land.   Three days into their journey they are thirsty and cannot find water.  And of course, blame Moses.

“What shall we drink?” He cried out to the Lord; and the Lord showed him a piece of wood; he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. There the Lord made for them a statute and an ordinance and there he put them to the test. He said, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in his sight, and give heed to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you.” Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees; and they camped there by the water.

I cannot understand how a piece of wood will make water sweet.  But I can understand these words: "If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in his sight, and give heed to his commandments and keep all his statutes......"  There it is - being and doing. Listen and do what is right.  And as they followed in the wilderness they came to a place to camp - with 12 springs of water and 70 palm trees.

As I sit in my prayer room this morning I realize that my journey of retirement (which is of course a metaphor for my journey of life!) has been about learning how to be with God.  Listening carefully.

I have retired from a professional life doing for God  more than being with God.  I hesitate to write this but I know it is true.  So much of my time - even in prayer - has been about doing or planning for doing. I purposely have not jumped into anything yet - no interim work, no regular responsibilities but am just waiting for what is coming next for me. It is strange for me because I have a history of "making something happen." . When I saw Loretta,  my spiritual director,  last week we unpacked how difficult it is for me to just BE - with no intent for doing. Just BE with God and in being - receiving God's presence, spirit and love.  Just being. Listening  As I wander on my journey which does feel like wilderness at times.

Ruth Haley Barton writes in Strengthening the Soul of your Leadership:
"Even though they might have preferred a more direct route to their dream, it was eventually a great kindness that God prevented them from encountering more than they were ready to handle.  The roundabout way may not be the most direct route, but it represents a wonderful era in the spiritual life when God shows up in very tangible ways that assure of of his presence on the journey."

So, this morning I reflect on the blessings of the past few days which have really been gifts given to me by God - nothing that I planned or made happen.  Invitations that I said YES to.  It has been my form of  "12 springs of water."  A trip to COSI with Kacey and kids, an opportunity to do spiritual direction, a time of preaching, watching TV with some wonderful women, an invitation to retreat next month.  It is only in reflection that I realize how much God loves me and continues to provide living water.  I only have to receive it.

I do have a sense of being on a journey to some new place. But in the meantime, it is clear that BEING WITH God is primary to receiving the living water that provides daily nourishment.

 Marian Wright Edelman's Guide My Feet

The Nun's Twenty-Third Psalm

The Lord is my pace-setter, I shall not rush,
He makes me stop and rest for quiet intervals;
he provides me with images of stillness, which
     restore my serenity.
He leads me in ways of efficiency through calmness of mind.
And His guidance is peace.
Even though I have a great many things to 
     accoplish each day,
I will not fret, for His presence is here.
His timelessness, his all-importance will keep me in 
He prepares refreshment and renewal in the midst of
     my activity
By anointing my mind with His oils of tranquility.
My cup of joyous energy overflows.
Surely harmony and effectiveness shall be the fruit of
     my hours for
i shall walk in the place of my Lord and dwell in His 
     House forever.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Love wins

This morning I preached again for the first time in 12 weeks at First Christian Church in Ashland.
And I preached on the gospel for today and this verse:

 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."

It felt good to be back in a Disciples Church, to say the Lord's prayer in community, to receive communion and yes, to preach the word of God.  Always when I am preaching my first audience is myself and it is a word I need to hear.

First Christian Church is Ashland has a really nice worship space with chairs (not pews) in sort of a horseshoe.  In the front they had about a half dozen suitcases to represent that we need to let go of our baggage during Lent.  As I preached I really felt that the message was bare bones basic - Christianity 101 which is simple but easy to forget.

It was about salvation - a word that has been used and misused by the church - when people decide we are the arbiters of who is "saved" and who is not.  Jesus does save however - he saves us from a life of being burdened by sin.  He saves us from a life of being consumed with self.  He saves us from the values of the "world" into a new life in the Kingdom - which is centered on love, compassion, forgiveness and reconciliation. And he trusts God enough to go to the cross and then with the resurrection we know that we too can trust this God of love.  Love wins.

  And you might say - this sounds kind of obvious. But I will tell you it is easy to lose sight of for me.

In his book The Song of the Bird Anthony De Mello has written a number of "parables".  Here is one

Shout to Keep Safe - and Certain

A prophet once came to a city
to convert its inhabitants.
At first the people listened to his sermons, but they
gradually drifted away till there was not a single soul
to hear the prophet when he spoke.

One day a traveler said to him.
"Why do you go on preaching?"

Said the prophet, "In the beginning
I hoped to change these people.
If I still shout about it is only to prevent
them from changing me."

And so I sit writing this and feel blessed to once again get to think about, write about and speak about this basic understanding of faith and really MY life.

God is good all the time - and love wins.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Nick at Night

Today's texts include John 3: 1-13 which is the story of Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night.  As always I have preached about him - and in fact will be preaching tomorrow in Ashland mentioning him.

What is so meaningful to me about Nicodemus is that he  - like me - is a religious leader of advanced age who is truly a seeker.  We can talk about coming "at night" and not wanting to be seen to be seeking out this man Jesus.  But even that speaks to me as nobody knows all the ways in which I find myself seeking, seeking, seeking.

When I was a teenager I think my Mom thought I was too serious at times - always wondering about "the Big L" or the meaning of life.  When I could be doing something important like cleaning my bedroom or being nice to my sister.  And now 50 years later I am still that person wondering in the heart of me - what more, what's next?  what's it all about Alfie?

And this text has Jesus speaking with images that I struggle with and wonder at and actually LOVE.

"Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.  What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not be astonished that I said to you. You must be born from above."  The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."

or this is how Peterson translates it in the Message

“You’re not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person submits to this original creation—the ‘wind-hovering-over-the-water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. When you look at a baby, it’s just that: a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch—the Spirit—and becomes a living spirit.
7-8 “So don’t be so surprised when I tell you that you have to be ‘born from above’—out of this world, so to speak. You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.”

What I hear in this and believe and trust is that the Spirit - the uncontrollable, mysterious, God given Spirit - can Re-Form us and Re-Create us.  But contained within these images of spirit, birth, wind is the understanding is we have to trust God's movement - God's invisible movement that is at work.

And on the one hand I absolutely do.  And on the other hand, I am trying to figure out things that I can't "figure out" but need to trust.  God. Jesus.  Spirit.

It always comes back to this.  As easy as it is to say and write and as hard as it is to practice.  But confession and prayer helps.  

Ted Loder has a wonderful prayer for all of us seekers

Hear me quickly, Lord
for my mind soon wanders to other things
   I am more familiar with
      amd more concerned about
         than I am with you.

Words will not do, Lord
Listen to my tears,
   for I have lost much
      and fear more.
Listen to my sweat,
   for I wake at night,
      overwhelmed by darkness and strange dreams.
Listen to my sighs,
   for my longing surges like the sea - 
   urgent, mysterious, beckoning
Listen to my growling gut,
   for I hunger for bread and intimacy.
Listen to my curses,
   for I am angry at the way the world
   comes down on my sometimes
      and sometimes on it.
Listen to my crackling knuckles,
   for I hold very tightly to myself
      and anxiously squeeze myself
       into others'expectations
         and them into mine,
      and then shake my fists at you
           for disappointing me.

Listen to my footfalls,
   for I stumble to bring good tidings to someone.
Listen to my groans,
    for I ache towards healing.
Listen to my worried weariness,
   for my work matters much to me
   and needs help
Listen to my tension,
   for I ache toward accepting who I am
      and who I cannot be
Listen to my hunched back,
   For sometimes I can't bear
      the needs and demands of the world anymore
           and want to put it down,
               give it back to you.

Listen to my laughter,
   for there are friends
      and mercy
         and something urges me to thank.
Listen to my humming
   for sometimes I catch all unaware
      the rhythems of creation
   and then music without owrds
        rises in me to meet it,
      and there is the joy of romping children
          and dancing angels.

Listen to my blining eyes,
   for at certain moments
   when sunlight strikes just right,
   or stars pierce the darkness just enough,
   or clouds roll around just so,
   or snow kisses the world into quietness,
everything is suddenly transparent...
and something in me is pure enough
   for an instant
   to see your kingdom in a glance,
   and so to praise you in a gasp - 
\         then gone,
               but it is enough.

Listen to me quickly, Lord.

for disappoint

Thursday, March 12, 2015

God is so Good

The scriptures for today are about God who is good - and it includes the covenant with Noah, Psalm 107 ("O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good) and Ephesians 1: 3-6 ("who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.")

As I read these texts I found myself drawn again to The Message because that language is so often clearer to me.  Where in the NRSV the Psalmist writes: "Let the "redeemed" of the Lord say so" Peterson translates it as "all of you set free by God."

When I was in the Wellstreams program a new idea for me was that another word for God was "freedom." God rescues us and sets us free.  And that is what I need always.

And I have come to believe that the spiritual journey is one of growing in our freedom.  The freedom from sin is the obvious one.  We do not have to be weighed down with guilt or shame.  But it is more than that.  We can talk about freedom from addictions and those things that bind us.  And then there is freedom from fear and maybe most importantly - freedom from self.  From being caught up in ourselves - how we appear, look, act.  The ways in which we are inhibited and kept from really experiencing joy and peace.

I love the way Peterson translates Ephesians 1: 3-6:
" How blessed is God!  He's the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ and takes us to the high places of blessing in him.
Long before he laid down earth's foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love.  Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) he wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son."

And so, this morning I ponder the gift of God - this love and freedom that is being offered to us.  And I recognize that too often I fail to receive it and live in it.  My prayer for myself today is that I may listen for this voice of love and freedom and relax and rest in this love and grow in the freedom that God offers me.

Here is a Psalm I wrote that speaks to this.

Margot’s Psalm

My enemies are always present and speaking
    With seeming authority
    And perfectionist advice
    And  anxious certainty
    They speak words of NO
    Don’t….Wait…..Not Yet
    You can’t ….. You shouldn’t,,,,,,,Your time is over
    There is nothing new to see    To find      To be
    You need to be Practical
My enemies warn me about losing control
    Be careful!  You could fail
        Or  look like a fool
    Watch out! You could start a fire
Or release a flood
My enemies come with strings attached
    Strings of propriety, normalcy, reasonableness, sensibility, self protection
    And they tell me “This is for your own good.”
        “This will protect you.”
        “This will keep you safe.”
And I think I am safe and also becoming dry ….and bored….and isolated….and lifeless.

And then I hear your voice
    I hear you in early morning hours as you speak your words of love
        You come in the noonday sun and show me visions of grandeur
            You appear in the night and plant your dreams of possibility
You speak softly and persistently your words of YES
    I love you and I have always loved you.
        You are my beloved
I am l awakening  your soul
        I am igniting  your spirit within you
I am  filling your life with my light.
        You can trust me with your life
You speak and the strings start to fall away
    I breathe in the peace you have for me
I move with freedom and dance with joy
    I sing the songs you want me to sing
    I see the mountains you want us to move.

I listen for your voice today
You speak and the voice of the enemy is silenced
You speak and world is new and life is a gift
You speak and I am free.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A House of Prayer

The texts of today continue with the theme of the building and the life of the Temple. (Ezra 6: 1-16, Psalm 84 and Mark 11:15-19)

In Mark we have another picture of Jesus driving out "those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple" and he said - "My house shall be called house of prayer for all the nations."

Interestingly, just this morning as I sat in my prayer room, I thought how much I miss praying with others at church.  Prayer is an important part of what we do together.  I found myself thinking about
  • Holding hands with the worship leader and elders and praying before worship in my office
  • Holding hands and praying with the Bible study at the end of our time together
  • Praying in the morning during Advent and Lent - in silence with Ruthie and Gerrie and Kerry and Gail and others who would come during that time.
  • Praying after staff meeting
  • The prayers of the elders during worship at the table
  • Holding hands and praying The Lord's Prayer after communion.
What I know now more than ever is that my faith is strengthened through prayer in community.  It is nice that I have the time and a place in my home to pray - "my prayer room."  But there is something profound and powerful that happens when believers come together and pray.

While in the local church we do not have moneychanges any more, we can lose sight of the fact that it is our praying that needs to be central to our life together.  It is easy to find ourselves caught up in a lot of activity that takes away from God's call to love, peace, wholeness and justice.  It is prayer that transforms people and a community.

Today I see my spiritual director and tomorrow my peer group from Wellstreams gather with me, so I have the comfort of that time of prayer.  My prayer for myself and others is that we might find our Temples - our people of prayer - our community - as we continue on our journeys.

Another Blessing by Maxine

May the God who forms COMMUNITY be with you.
May you engage this God in mutual attention to what is holy and fulfilling for the other, to what brings joy and delight and depth of understanding.
May your communion with this god move you to growth in your inner spirit and to warmth and compassion for a world that awaits connection with its Creator.
May the God of COMMUNITY bless you all your days.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Your Dwelling Place

I write this with Addie asleep upstairs in my bed.  She was sick at school and I brought her home with me to rest.  There is great satisfaction for me in being able to be the place where a little girl can come when she is not feeling well and needs to sleep.  I imagine that my home is a safe place for my family  - a place of welcome and acceptance.  I hope so.

When I was a young mom, there was nothing like going home to be with my parents in West Chester, Pennsylvania.  We lived  in Cincinnati and then Lebanon Ohio and just getting on the Pennsylvania Turnpike told me that I was on my way home.  And when we got there my husband and I slept in the basement on a lumpy hide a bed and the girls were in bunk beds.  Not comfortable - but it was home.  Inexpressible what it feels like to be home.

Now there is no place to go to like that anymore.  My parents moved away from the house that was "home" and then eventually left this earth to go to their "heavenly home."  And while I think I provide a home for family members and friends I know that at some point, this home will be too much for us to care for.    And what that says to me is that all of our earthly homemaking  and homedwelling is always going to be transient. 

All of which makes me thnk of Pslam 84 - " How lovely is your dwelling place" writes the Psalmist.
  Or as it says in the Message
What a beautiful home, God-of-the-Angel-Armies!
    I’ve always longed to live in a place like this,
Always dreamed of a room in your house,
    where I could sing for joy to God-alive!

This Psalm reminds me that we can find our home in God.  That as we go through all the stages of life, all the ups and downs, the mountains and the valleys, that God can make anyplace home. 

4Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise.
5Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
6As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.

.I know that not everyone has wonderful memories of "going home" to be with family.  For some people their home is a place of conflict and criticism.    I also know that not everyone has  experienced the unconditional love and grace and God. Not everyone has experienced church life as a place of acceptance and healing.  Not everyone experienced the movement of spirit and the ineffable peace in the holy encounter.

That was always one of the most difficult parts of being a pastor.  We come with our own life experiences and our own judgments and resistance.  All I can say for myself is that I now believe that prayer and meditation  is one of the ways in which we cross the threshold and enter into that dwelling place with God. 

And it is in that dwelling place that we come home to ourselves and God finds a home in us.
End with a blessing of Hospitality by Maxine Shonk

May the God of HOSPITALITY be with you, making a home within your heart and blessing you with Divine Presence.
May you be the one with welcome in your eyes and the warmth of embrace etched upon your hand, the hand you extend to everyone who blesses you with presence.
May the God of HOSPITALITY be with you.


Monday, March 9, 2015

Preparing the Foundation

I am all over the place this morning as I try to read the scripture and sit in prayer and meditation. There are times in which I feel really connected to God and at peace.  I have a sense of love and almost depth as I spend time in prayer.  And then there are times like today when I am my mind is thinking about yesterday and tomorrow and next week and I cannot concentrate.   But I am here.

The texts are about the temple. 
i Kings 6: 1-4: "In the four hundred year after the Israelites came out of the land of Egypt, i the fourth year of Solomon's  reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, he began to build the house of the Lord.  The house that King Solomon built for the Lord was sixty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and thirty cubits high."....I include this because what is noticeable is the amount of detail in this text about time and preparation.  There is nothing haphazard here - but an intentional building as directed by God.

Psalm 84 - "How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!  My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord"  I have a strong foundational  memory of my parents' choir at First Presbyterian Chruch West Chester Pennsyvalnie  singing the anthem from Brahm's Requiem that was based on this Psalm.  I can picture my father, in back row center, singing bass and my mother to the left  singing alto . It is all tied together in my mind - God, the church, my family.

1 Corinthians 3: 10-23  Paul writes: According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation and someone else is building on it.  Each builder must choose with care how to build on it.  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.....Do you not know that you are God's temple and God's spirit dwells in you?

I include all of this today to see the movement of the texts that they put together.  The temple is a building, Paul is building a foundation that is a community a church and then the temple is in you.
This dwelling place of God  is a place, a people and a person?  Well, yes.  It is.  I think of the dwelling places of God  in my life - whether it is particular churches, the Chautauqua Amphitheatre or Camp Christian.  Places that are God places for me.  I think about times in community when I experienced the spirit and felt loved and called and inspired.  I think about the times in which the spirit of God was especially real to me - giving me words, or insights, or grace. 

However, in the dailiness of living, there are definitely many days like today which begin not with a sense of a strong foundation - but with shapelessness and ennui.  But the good news is I am here.
And trusting in the routine of morning prayer and the power of the spirit as I give God my time and try to be present and open.

And so, in my retirement I am blessed to be able to have time to ruminate with God's word in the midst of my own inconstant being.  And I trust that this time is part of the foundation that brings strength to my soul and purpose to this day.

I will end today with the serenity prayer in its entirety.  It is one of my favorite prayers.

Serenity Prayer

 God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

And as they say at the end of an AA meeting - Keep coming back!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

How close will you follow?

This question comes to me as I look at the text for today.  It is Jesus "cleansing" the temple as recorded in the gospel of John.  You could say that he makes a spectacle of himself with a whip of cords driving  our the animals, pouring out the coins of the money changers and overturning tables.  There are enough details to see that it was something memorable.

And again, I have preached on this quite a bit.  The emphasis on animal sacrifice made worship more readily available to those who could afford the animals.  It was another barrier.  And then people came and started to make money off those who merely wanted to worship God.  And you can say that they lost sight of what it was all about to begin with.  And of course, this has been the challenge of church forever - all the ways we can create barriers to worship and make it safe and comfortable only for some.  And the ways we lose sight of the spiritual reality and focus on the material.  Even as I write this I want to write "blah, blah, blah." 

What I remember, however, is the Jesus does not then walk away from the temple.  He continues to teach and preach in the temple.  That is important for all people who want to follow that "spiritual but not religious" path.  I continue to believe that we need a framework and our sacred traditions which can help us to continue to connect to the Holy One. 

But most interesting to me this morning is just thinking about how it must have been to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Because he was so unpredictable.  He calls them, teaches, and shows signs and wonders that point beyond himself to God.  And he has this courage to confront what needs to be faced and to respond in the moment. 

Many years ago I went to a series of lectures by the noted theologian and writer Huston Smith about good and evil.  He has written extensively about world religions.  When I heard him speak he was in his 80's I think.  And when asked if would be continuing his work  he said that now he was going to concentrate on his faith - Christianity and continue to learn about who Jesus is.

That is what came up in me this morning as I read this familiar and hard to understand text.  Eugene Peterson writes: "There are no experts in the company of Jesus.  We are all beginners, necessarily followers, because we don't know where we are going."  And I would say - that if we are following Him - we don't know where he is going.  

And so today I begin again.  Following .......

I end with a prayer by Ted Loder

Help us to believe in beginnings, O God, 
to make a beginning,
 to be a beginning, so that we may not just grow old,
 but grow new each day
 of this wild, amazing life you call us to live
 with the passion of Jesus Christ,
 in whose name we pray.  Amen

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Experiencing God

 Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God.  They took their stand at the foot of the mountain.  Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord had descended upon it in fire; the smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln and the whole mountain shook violently.  Exodus 19:17

The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.  
Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.  Psalm 19: 1,2

And he was transfigured before them....Then Peter said to Jesus, Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."  He did not know what to say, for they were terrified  Mark 9: 3,4

The texts today are about God's HOLY  and perhaps TERRIFYING presence.  .
  • The text from Exodus has only Moses having a direct encounter with God.  It says: "Then the Lord said to Moses, "Go down and warn the people not to break through to the Lord to look; otherwise many of them will perish.  Even the priests who approach the Lord must consecrate themselves or the Lord will break out against them." 
  •  On transfiguration mountain only three disciples are invited to go with Jesus where his clothes and visage are dazzling white and there is a cloud overshadowing and a voice from the heavens.
These are the original "mountaintop" moments of people experiencing the presence of God.  And as I read about them, I know that they are real.  Because I have had times like this.  Times of knowing that God has "broken through" and is present with me in a closer way that is holy and yes - scary.
It has happened on silent retreat and in daily prayer.  It has happened on a walk at Sharon Woods and at the beach on the Outer Banks.   And sometimes when I look back I recognize God broke in with sermon preparation or in a conversation with a friend. All of this is impossible to explain or to control but it is very real.

This morning I find myself thinking about resistance.  My resistance to God's invitation to go deeper, to go higher, to come closer.  There are so many ways.  When I first started the Wellsprings program for spiritual direction I had an image of me riding a bike and always putting the brakes on when I started to go to fast.  And I think I have a lot of ways of putting the brakes on when it comes to truly entering into relationship with God.  I put on the brakes when I limit my time with God in prayer, when I dismiss the holy with a "rational" explanation, when I keep going back to the same places.
I put on the brakes because I am afraid of crashing or looking foolish.  I put on the brakes because of my pride and my fear and my anxiety.

I know that our life is more than a search for the mountaintop "Aha!" moments.  I do not want to trivialize this journey with God into something I create and do. But what I know is that always there is something more in the invitation of God for me.  And it is to experience God's holy presence and allow God to "melt me, mold me, fill me, use me."

I was drawn to a book in my library today - Inner Compass by Margaret Silf.  She starts it like this:

The Invitation....
is made out in your name,
but who are you?
Who is this person who feels drawn to explore the spiritual treasures that lie within you?
Yes, within you...
Not in some closet in the sky or the bishop's office.
Not in some divine database, to which only the elect hold the password.
But in you.
Jesus said it himself:  "The Kingdom is very close to you.  It is in your heart."
Six centuries before Jesus a Greek philosopher who rejoiced in the name Empedocles said something else that might interest you.
"God" he said, "is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere."
Now there's a thought to ponder.
Because that "center" is in every human heart - recognized or not.
That "center is in you.  It is the very essence and heart of you you are.

And so we arrive deep in the WHO  center.  Not everyone has the courage to go there.  There is glory, sure, but there is also shame in that center.  To be truly there, before God, we will be invited to take off our protective masks and allow ourselves to be known - and loved - just as we truly are.  That encounter with the living God may challenge us way beyond our comfort zone.  But it will be the most important adventure of all, because it is what we are all about.

Your WHO center is the place where God is growing God's unique Dream in you.
The invitation is to discover that Dream and to live it.


Friday, March 6, 2015

The meditation of my heart

Let the words of my mouth
     and the meditation of my heart
     be acceptable to you, O Lord,
     my rock and my redeemer.

This is the last verses in Psalm 19 - one of the readings of today.
These are familiar words - often used before a preacher preaches or prays.
 Here is the way Eugene Peterson translates them in "The Message"

 These are the words in my mouth;
    these are what I chew on and pray.
Accept them when I place them
    on the morning altar,
O God, my Altar-Rock,
    God, Priest-of-My-Altar

I guess the meditation of my heart is the way I chew on the word of God.  I am writing this late in the day because i spent the day with some clergy colleagues sharing who I meet with monthly.  We share our lives with each other and in doing so we really are chewing on the word and the  work of God in our lives.

This group has been very important to me in the last few years because we have all shared the same experience - which is bringing the Word to God's people through preaching.  There are times that it seems so  daunting  to preach the word.  It is easy to limit ourselves to superficial readings, to skim the surface, to speak about what seems comforting and not confronting.  It is easy to worry more about whether the sermon is "acceptable" to the congregation and not even consider whether it is "acceptable" to God. And when I think of all the sermons people have heard through their lives, it seems like my little offering is just that - Little.  But there is more than that to consider today.

And I wonder how many of us think about this verse just in our daily lives.  What are the words of our mouths?  what are the meditations of our hearts?  Not just preachers - but all of us who follow God. Because when I preach I have thought through those words - the biggest challenge is the words that come in reaction and in defensiviness.  It is the words that come out of my insecurity and my pride that are probably not "acceptable."

And so today during this Lenten time of self examination I will spend some time humbly opening myself to God.  And asking - as always - for grace and mercy.  Forgive me for those words that have expressed more love than judgement.  More fear than faith.

Here is a Blessing From Maxine Shonk

May the God of HUMILITY bless you.
May your acknowledge the truth of who you are in God's eyes: fearfully, wonderfully made!
May this truth penetrate your awareness and bring you to a place of humble gratitude for your life.
May you stand humbly before your friends and proclaim your giftedness and call their gifts from them.
May the God of HUMILITY be with you.


Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Holy People

"The crucial insight and realization, which opens up a whole new dimension of personal growth, is this: Something in me - my attitudes, my vision of reality - determines all my actions and reactions, both emotional and behavioral.
 Something in me is writing the story of my life, making it sad and sorrowful or glad and peaceful.
Something in me will ultimately make the venture of my life a success or a failure.
The sooner I acknowledge this, taking responsibility for my actions and reactions, the faster I will move toward my destiny: the fullness of life and peace.
This fullness of life and peace is our legacy from the Lord. "  The Christian Vision: The Truth That Sets Us Free by John Powell.

This quotation seemed like a good introduction to one of the readings of today - 1 Peter 2: 4-10.  It reminds me of how important it has been to me to be anchored in the word of God because there is where my vision of myself, others, and God becomes clear.  There is where I begin to find that fullness of life, identity, purpose and freedom.

And so, this text has been very important to me over the years as I have grown in my faith.  It is in so many ways the antidote to loneliness, loss of identity, disconnection that can overwhelm us. .  It is a reminder of the possibility of a  life of knowing who you are and whose you are.

I love this: "you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nations, God's own people."  There area couple of things I particularly notice this morning.

Holy - I remember the first time that Sister Breda called me a "Holy" woman.  And at first that sounded strange to me, but now I live in that identity.  Holy does not mean pure of perfect but it means being "set apart."  And to follow Jesus and try to live into a way of life that is centered on love, hope, peace and trust in the invisible God does set us apart.  We are holy as we are entering into this relationship in which we are opening ourselves to being changed by God.  I always quote Frederick Buechner who said we are in a process of being changed from a sows ear to a silk purse.  And so this relationship with God is writing the story of my life - which is a holy person who is becoming Christlike.

Connected - Today as I read this text I noticed this phrase: "like living stones, LET YOURSELVES be built into a spiritual house."  Again and again God is wanting us to be part of something bigger than ourselves.  Let us be built together into a spiritual house.  Does this mean a church?  A Christian movement?  I don't know - I only know that there is power and encouragement in community and unity.  I know that the work of justice cannot be done by individuals alone but we have to work together.  I know that we need each other but it is a decision to be connected.

Living Stone - This is one of my favorite images - and part of it is because my given name at birth was "Margaret Livingstone Gersen."  It was much later in life that I came to embrace the Living Stone of 1 Peter.  It almost sounds like an oxymoron - a LIVING stone.  However the living part is what God does for us - he makes us alive.  A favorite quote by Iraneaus - "The glory of God is man fully alive."  These days I come every morning to my prayer room and in some sense I am saying to God - "Wake me up, bring me back to life again."  It is so easy to be numb or asleep and miss out on what God has for us in our days.   A LIVING Stone.  And the stone part for me speaks to something real and solid and steadfast.  I WANT to be a living stone. 

As I write this every morning I fear I sound holier and more faithful and sure than I am.  I truly stumble around in wonder and doubt and belief.   But I know it is helpful to begin the day with the word that always leads me into reflection and rumination about this life I have been given.  And helps me again to say YES to God today.

Here is another quote from John Powell:

"When Jesus asks us to pray "Thy Kingdom come," he is instructing us to ask for the grace to say "yes" to the loving invitation of God who opens wide his arms to gather to himself our human family.  Just as there are stages of intervention and invitation described in the New Testament, so there are various stages of intervention and inviation in your life and in mine.  Your life and mine are like microcosms of the long gradual coming of the Kingdom in history.  Each life, your life and my life, is a series of interventions inviting a response of love.  In his book Prayers, Michel Quoist writes:

Help me to say "yes"
I am afraid of saying "yes" Lord
Where will you take me?
I am afraid of the "yes" that entails other "yeses."
I am afraid of putting my hand in yours,
    for you hold onto it...

O Lord, I am afraid of your demands,
   but who can resist you?
That your Kingdom may come and not mind,
that you will be done and not mine,
Help me to say "yes."

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Letters to a people in Exile

One of the themes of the Bible is exile.  Living as strangers in a strange land.

Jeremiah's message is a word of reassurance to the people who are in exile. (Jeremiah 30: 12-22)  It begins with a reading of reality -" your hurt is incurable and your wound is grievous." And I sit and marvel at the poetry of this text.  Walter Brueggemann has a wonderful book called Finally Comes the Poet and in it he writes about the power of poetry.  And in it he says that it is the poet who is able to get past our numbness so that we might be able to see and feel and respond.

What I find myself pondering this morning is the reality that we - as followers of Jesus - are living in exile but often we pretend we are not.  I wonder if  we try to fit in to the life and the values of this culture.  I wonder if we become used to and participate in  the violence, the competition, the consumerism, the superficial pleasures of this world and miss much of what God is doing and wants to do with us.

And so the prophet, the poet, the Psalmist, the Savior comes to awaken us to the reality of our God who wants to be in relationship with us.  This relationship makes us aware of his presence, our sin and brokenness, his call, his grace.  Here is what Brueggemann writes 

We can hardly endure the strange juxtaposition and sovereignty and grace: the sovereign one who is shockingly gracious, the gracious one who is stunningly sovereign.  The shock of such a partner destabilizes us too much.  The risk is too great, the discomfort so demanding.  We much prefer to settle for a less demanding, less overwhelming meeting.  yet we are haunted by the awareness that only this overwhelming meeting gives life."

This morning I just want to ponder some of the words of the text and allow them to soak in and see what they bring to me today.

And you shall be my people, and I will be your God  (Jer 30:22)

Psalm 30
O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, make known his deeds among the people.

Remember the wonderful works he has done,
his miracles, and the judgments he uttered.

John 12

While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light

May this be a day of in which I experience that "overwhelming meeting  with  God of love and grace and judgement and mercy.  May I be awake and aware and walk in the light.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Faith, Sacrifice, Trust

The text for today is may be the most challenging in the whole Bible.  Genesis 22: 1-18 is the story of the God's call to Abraham to take his son, his only son, Isaac who he loved to the land of Moriah and offer him as a burnt offering.

When I was in seminary 33 years ago I did my very first exegesis on this text because I found it so difficult to understand.  I don't now know what I wrote at that time - I have preached on it several times and continue to struggle.

One of the questions  with this story  is how far do we take it. There has been so much written about this in both Christian and Jewish scholarship.  Kathryn Schifferdecker wrote "There is a Yiddish folk tale that goes something like this: Why did God not send an angel to tell Abraham to sacrifice Isaac?  Because God know that no angel would take on such a task.  Instead the angels said, "if you want to command death, do it yourself."  I have read descriptions of the trauma afterwards to both Abraham and Isaac.  One person suggested that Isaac's weakness with his sons Jacob and Esau stemmed from his trauma of his father almost killing.  How far do we take this story?

For me, it has a truth in it and it actually goes back to what I wrote about yesterday in terms of spiritual formation and detachment.  It seems to me that there are several characters in the Bible  - such as Abraham, Joseph. Moses and David whose stories are told in such detail that we can see how God is working and transforming them.  With Abraham there is over the course of 10 chapters a change in his trust of God.  When before he tried to save himself through duplicity (twice) now he is trusting that God will provide the lamb. But he is willing to trust and allow it to unfold.

This story is linked to Jesus going to the cross and himself being the lamb.  We rememberthat in Gethsemane he earnestly prayed - "if it be thy will, take this cup from me."  And then walked into his crucifixion without which we would not know that power of God and the glory of the resurrection.  Even this story - of the death of Jesus - raises the question of how far do we go in our interpretation.  I have heard sermons (and saw the movie "The Passion of the Christ) which seemed to emphasize the violence and the physical pain of Jesus.  At the same time too often we skim past it to get to the Easter Lilies and the Risen Christ.

These Lenten readings invite us to struggle and so today I do. I hate that this seems to be saying that God tests us - I hate it because I know that so often I fail that test.  And I see here that clearly God does provide but we do not really know about God's provision until we put God to the test by trusting God with every part of our lives.

I have done a lot of reading about this text this morning and can't remember who said that faith is about two hearts bound together - Abraham and God.  Jesus and God.  Margot and God. And in this relationship each of us can be hurt.

Someone wrote: "Relationship with the real God is not for the risk averse."  One of the other texts for today is Hebrews 11: 1-3; 13-19 which includes this:  "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."  So I pray this morning for courage and faith to to truly trust God.

A Blessing by Maxine Shonk

May the God of COURAGE be with your,
helping you to embrace the darkness and pain of the journey, calling you to stand in love with those who suffer.
May this God carve her faithful love into your heart.
May your inner self be transformed so that you can see more clearly your own journey as one of peace, hope, and solidarity.
May the blessing of COURAGE be on you.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Laughter, Joy, Forever

Today's readings are full of joy and as I look back on yesterday's "set your mind" message, they remind me of the hope and joy and peace that God wants for us.

The readings are :
Genesis 21: 1-7 - The long promised miraculous baby Isaac is born and Sarah says: "God has brought laughter for me: everyone who hears will laugh with me."
Psalm 105: 1-11, 37-45 - "O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples. (vs. 1) "For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham, his servants.  So he brought his people out iwht joy..."
Hebrews 1: 8-12 - But of the Son he says, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom."  ("You’re God, and on the throne for good;
    your rule makes everything right." The message)

So I start this week with remembering the miracles that God brings to every life including mine. And I know that to begin with God is to begin with love and a sense of wonder.   I was drawn this morning to re read my underlinings from a wonderful little book The Way to Love by Anthony Demello.

The way to love that he writes about is a way of letting go of our attachments and living in the present moment.  He writes this: 
"God's kingdom is love.  What does it mean to love?  It means to be sensitive to life, to things, to persons, to feel for everything and everyone to the exclusion of nothing and no one."

"How can you come to possess this kind of love? You cannot, because it is already there within you.  All you have to do is remove the blocks you place to sensitivity and it would surface..
The blocks to sensitivity are two: Belief and Attachment.  Belief - as soon as you have a belief you have come to a conclusion about a person or situation or thing.  You have now become fixed and have dropped your sensitivity"
Attachment - First comes the contact with something that give you pleasure: a car, an attractively advertised modern appliance, a word of praise, a person's company.  Then comes the desire to hold on it it, to repeat the gratifying sensation that this thing or person caused you.  Finally comes the conviction that you will not be happy without this person for thing, for you have equated the pleasure it brings you with happiness."

"The symphony of life moves on but you keep looking back, clinging to a few bars of the melody, blocking your ears to the rest of the music."

 I know that there is suffering and disappointment with my life and every life, but I also know that it is our beliefs and attachments that get in the way of appreciating the joy of this day and the blessing of this moment.  And seeing what is right in front of us.

He ends the book like this
"It is enough for you to be watchful and awake.  For in this state your eyes will see the Savior.  Nothing else, but absolutely nothing else.  not security, not love, not belonging, not beauty, not power, not holiness - nothing else will matter anymore."

And so today, I pray for awareness and openness to the wonder, the miracles, the love that is here in this blessed life.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Set your mind

"Looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Here is a verse I know well - especially the part that says - "Get behind me, Satan!" I've used that line every time somebody offers me sweets.  ha ha. Actually I have preached on this a bit - and like the idea that "Get behind me" means "Follow me."  That makes sense and sort of softens the sting.

But this evening as I sit with this I am struck by "For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."

And then the question - what am I setting my mind on?  Today it has been a lot of binge watching "House of Cards" about people who are setting their minds on self gratification and power. Religion was peripheral with one shocking scene where Frank spit on a statue of Jesus. (a little over the top in my estimation.)  And the truth is that I can certainly binge on many things and find my mind all over the place.

But as I sit with this tonight I think that prayer is "setting our mind" and  Bible reading is "setting our mind" and that is pretty clear.  But there are other ways we set our mind on the divine - choosing to love and not judge, choosing to be grateful for the good experiences, choosing to focus on hope and possibility and not fear and despair.  There is some choice in this.  And there is a practice that over time leads to a changed mind and a changed life and a changed world.  I believe that.

Paul writes:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12: 1,2)

8Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:6)

When I set my mind on the divine, I remember that God is here all the time, loving and growing and working.  All the time.  And my prayer for myself and for anyone who is reading this blog is that we might continue on this journey of looking up for the signs of wonder that God has for us - whether it is a cross in the sky or a cardinal in flight or just the sun peeking out of a cloud.  As our UCC bretthren say - God is still speaking.  May we set our minds and see past ourselves to whatever God has for us today.