Praying Always

I wrote this two years ago. After listening to Pastor Robert Johnson preach this morning at St. Mark United Methodist Church, this piece is still true. I have been out of the pulpit for the month of January and return next Sunday. Pastor Johnson reminded the congregation today to remember we are called and have a purpose. That no matter what, God is with us. Those two sentences do not do justice to a powerful sermon. I still prayer and sing this prayer….Most high and glorious God, give light to the darkness of my heart (and of our world).

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“Most high and glorious God, bring light to the darkness of my heart. Give me right faith, certain hope, and perfect charity. Lord, give me insight and wisdom so I might always discern Your holy and true will.” – St. Francis of Assisi

A few weeks ago in worship I shared how this prayer has guided and directed me for almost all my ministry. Not just the words, but the song. John Michael Talbot recorded it on his album Troubadour of the King. Here is the version I sing every morning and every evening.

I sing it as I wake and when I go to sleep, when I wake up in the middle of the night wearied with all kinds of inconsequential things or by major happenings in the world. When I need to pause in the middle of the day and discern what I will say or what I…

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Cautiously Hopeful for the United Methodist Church

Two weeks ago, a group of representatives from across the United Methodist Church which included advocacy groups and bishops released a statement that they had come to an agreement for how to have an amicable separation of our denomination. That article from the Great Plains Annual Conference website includes links for the protocol and the FAQ and the list of those who participated.

In the relatively short amount of time since this press release was shared there have been numerous responses: some positive, some negative, many trying to figure out how this late in the game this could be accomplished (It is possible and will require a great deal of work and for the General Conference itself to be open to working toward a solution.) Having read the materials, I saw immediately this was a compromise for both sides (progressives and traditionalists) and no one group “got” everything they wanted.

I have shared numerous blog posts on the issue of inclusion in the United Methodist Church. You can find them herehere, here, and the week of the special called General Conference in February, 2019, I posted three, two before,  and the one written after the One Church Plan failed and things looked bleak for full inclusion.

For my entire ministry I have wanted nothing more than for the United Methodist Church to fully embrace our LGBTQ siblings. On Facebook I posted a response from Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, one from the Pacific Northwest Conference, and one from a friend of mine David Livingston, who was a delegate in 2019 and will be a delegate in May. All of these, in my opinion, very helpful for those of us who are trying to figure out how to be the church and specifically the United Methodist Church in the future.

I shared all of this information because yesterday at the Orders and Fellowship gathering in Lincoln, Nebraska, our current Bishop Ruben Saenz, Jr announced in the spirit of the protocol he would abide by the abeyance and not proceed on any charges brought for doing same gender weddings or against gay clergy pending the outcome of General Conference. This is a HUGE!!!

Six years ago, our former bishop announced exactly the opposite. Toward the end of page three and the beginning of page four of this pdf, Bishop Scott Jones announced he would do one hundred trials if necessary for clergy who disobeyed the Discipline, regardless of the cost. Another stunning announcement which was devastating to many clergy and laity.

I am not sure how it is I tend to miss this big announcements because I am usually at everything! I missed this because I am on a one month study leave, and the last time, in January of 2014, I had left early because the local church I was serving was in crisis. Either way, I was not present in the room when these big statements were made.

There is no way to describe how delighted and thankful I am for Bishop Saenz to make this statement. I know it is not a “forever” promise, as it has a time limit. Still, it speaks to me of a hope that this General Conference may find a way through this “mess” we are in as a church.

Honestly, I am tired. I am tired of the angry tirades and the hateful posts and statements that have filled social media and sermons and blog posts. I am honest that I really do not understand why we can not live and let live. All the theological rants and ravings about biblical authority and scholarship notwithstanding, I believe underneath it all the argument is about power and money and who wins and who loses. I am tired and done with the arguments.

So, I have somewhat bowed out of the debate and chosen to live and preach and pastor what I believe: God loves you and God loves me and that the deepest power in the world is the power of love to change lives and transform communities. I serve a congregation that doesn’t agree on everything, socially and politically we have great diversity. On the issue of full inclusion, we are mostly of one mind and heart. We will continue to offer hope and faith and love to all people.

Our welcoming statement written by our youth and adopted by our church council:

First United Methodist Church will live out the love of Jesus Christ by including everyone, accepting others for who they are, treating others the way we would want to be treated, respecting all, loving all, and affirming the full participation of all regardless of nationality, race, class, culture, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, and age.

I am grateful to our youth and to our congregation for this statement that we will continue to live into and share. I am cautiously optimistic for the future of this church I love and have loved for decades. Even though I am “tired” I am not leaving and I plan to stay to work toward a church that fully embraces all of us as beloved children of God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Study Leave, Part 1

Today, I am two weeks into my study leave. I am sitting in a local coffee shop in Tuscon, Arizona. I walked earlier this morning here and have been drinking coffee, reading and writing while looking at the Catalina mountains. A beautiful day, the sky is bright blue with clouds drifting across. The mountains dominated the view majestic and strong.

Certainly I am not in Kansas. I am here with Andrew staying with friends that make these few days possible. Often I am not good about accepting invitations. I love offering them, but making myself get out of my own routine and rut is not always easy. When my friends found out I would have this study leave they immediately invited us to come down and stay with them. Having offered numerous times, I was excited and blessed to say yes.

Tuscon offers the right amount of warm days and cool nights to enjoy. The sun shines bright and the landscape so different than I am used to.

Even the United Methodist Church I attended looks much different than the churches in the midwest. The sanctuary looks out upon the mountains.

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Different scenery and different climate don’t necessarily make me think differently, but allow my imagination to go in new ways. My heart and spirit soars looking at the mountains and taking in those amazing saguaro cactus. I am breathing and praying and pondering and wondering and being amazed at this wonderful world we live in.

So today, I am grateful for the warm sun, the blue sky, the green cacti and the space and time to read, write, rest and ponder anew God’s amazing grace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2020, A New Year

I am not sure how long it is going to take me to quit writing a 1 and go to a 2 for the year, but in fairness I have been writing a 1 first for ten years. On this day, the first day of January everyone I know is already sick of the best of the year lists and probably are sick of “A new decade” is upon us. No amount of arguing is going to to convince some people that the new decade begins with a “1” not a “0.”

No only have I seen the “best” lists for last year but for the last ten years. I don’t intend to add to them. I am not sure I could if I wanted to. I am fickle when it comes to books and movies and music. I like what I like at the time I like it!

Today, I begin a month long study leave. The 2016 United Methodist Discipline (PP 350.2) allows and encourages a month long study leave every four years. Truth be told, in my experience, I don’t know very many UMC clergy that actually take a leave to study and read and pray. I have only taken one myself and that was 9 years ago. Both this time and the last time it was possible because my Staff Pastor Parish Committee supported and endorsed it AND I had and have capable staffs who cover all the worship and preaching and pastoral care and administrative functions.

I am not good about letting go. I was supposed to have vacation time with family beginning the 27th and mostly I did. There was a funeral that I had helped plan and worked with a woman for several months. She died Christmas Day, so yes, I did that service on December 30, which meant phone calls and texts to make sure everything was ready for the service. On that same day, late afternoon, I removed my church e-mail from my phone and left the church laptop at the church. I knew that if I did not, I would be checking my e-mail regularly, even though I said I would not.

So, it is the first day of January, the first day of 2020 and the first day where I have no responsibilities at the church. When asked what I intended to do for a month I said, “Sleep until I am not tired, Read and read some more and then start sketching out a couple of books that I have been thinking about.” Interestingly enough, I have already started writing one book. I have been reading and actually sleeping. I look forward to feeling rested.

I don’t know what I will get “done” per se, but I am deeply grateful for the time away. Having time to ponder, to pray, to have space to read and wonder and to create is a gift. For all of it, I give thanks.

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Women of Advent: Bathsheba

How did we get to the fourth Sunday of Advent?!? I know, I know, there are four Sundays every year, but this year is a bit more compact. For the church I serve, First United Methodist Church, the last few days are filled with special and moving events.

Last night we held our Blue Christmas service. The last three years Leslie Coates who preaches at our evening service off site and works with our outside “art” connections has done an amazing job of creating a meaningful service. Along with the lighting of the four candles, he finds poems that speak to different kinds of loss and uses actors to memorize them.

We have a gospel group that sings powerful music, with a short sermon, then a variety of rituals: lighting of candles, holy communion and anointed prayer. Every year, I think it can’t get any better, but it does. The poems if interested were: “Ending With a Line from Lear” by Marvin Bell, “To My Future Caregiver” by C.W. Buckley, “To the Young Who want to Die”, by Gwendolyn Brooks, then Isaiah 40: 1-5, 28-31.

Today we celebrated the fourth Sunday of Advent and the candle of Love. Bathsheba’s story is in many ways harder than the others. In 2 Samuel, she is silent, passive almost. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth actively were part of their story even when they crossed all kinds of boundaries. Bathsheba is used and probably would have discarded had she not become pregnant. She ends up being the mother of a king, and honored and blessed.

In Matthew’s gospel, however, she is the only one not named by her name, but by the name of her first husband. David’s sin and abuse and outrageous behavior is noted and remembered. I paired that with Joseph’s story. I am grateful for Emmanuel “God with us” in this messy world. The full service or the sermon alone can be found here.

This Sunday was the last Sunday that Brett Valliant our director of music and organist would be with us. He is moving to Arizona to be one of the principal organists at Organ Stop Pizza. Brett is truly one of the most amazing musicians I have ever worked with. I have been so honored to work with him the last three and a half years. His videos show his great range. He is known all over the world. I am grateful for his music and am so happy for him.

Tomorrow night is Brett’s 20th annual Christmas concert. He started the concerts to pay off the debt on our great Schantz organ and has continued his concerts to build a maintenance fund for its upkeep. the concert will be live streamed.

And of course, Tuesday is Christmas Eve with two services.

Thes last few days of Advent have all the “feels.” Joy, sadness, gratitude, wonder, hope, love, and peace. Preparing for Emmanuel, for the birth of the Christ always seems like surprise. Like the first Christmas, I am never quite ready, never know quite what to expect.

What I do know, is that God comes whether I am ready or not. God enters the world, this world, messy, painful, exciting and joy filled when we are not looking. I know that Christ comes again and will bring light in our darkness and hope into our despair and love into the most hateful places. I lean into that faith and trust that Emmanuel is here and will bless us again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Women of Advent: Ruth

It was a chilly damp Third Sunday of Advent. The roads were fine, there was a light dusting of snow on the ground and a mist in the air. We lit the pink candle, the candle of joy.

Traditionally, when Advent was a season of penitence, the third Sunday was a break from the fasting and the somberness of the season. The pink candle and vestments if pastors or priests have them are a break from the dark purples and blues. Called “Gaudete” (Rejoice!) Sunday, the song of Mary is often read or sung.

On this Sunday we came to the third woman in the genealogy of Jesus, Ruth. One of two books named after women, the story of Ruth is beautiful. Ruth’s story is also one of redemption that is greater than just a quick read of the four chapters of the book would suggest.

After all my research, I still got part of the story wrong. Ruth is Moabite. Moabites according to Deuteronomy 23:3 are banned from the assembly of Israel to the tenth generation. I said that this people came from Noah and his eldest daughter. WRONG!! A parishioner came and let me know it was Lot. And I said, “are you sure? I researched it!” She said, “yes I am sure.” And she was right! I came right back to my research and it was Lot and his eldest daughter. I have no idea where I got Noah!

Any way, the story is still ugly and awful. After the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s daughter’s had no prospects for husbands. So they took matters into their own hands and got their father drunk so they could have children. The eldest daughter’s son was Moab. Deuteronomy states that the Moabites did not give water or food to the people Israel when they were in the wilderness. There is a long history of bad blood between the Moabites and the Israelites.

The point is, that Moabites were hated and considered unworthy to be part of the Israel. Along comes Ruth, committed, faithful and willing to do what it took to care for her mother-in-law Naomi. A Moabite! It is a beautiful story, but also one of great depth and from Ruth and Boaz comes Obed, who is the father of Jesse who is the father of David.

The deep power of Mary’s song and Ruth’s story bring meaning to the pink candle of joy. Out of grief, out of uncertainty, God brings joy and comes to us as we are. God does not shrink from our human predicaments or prejudices but comes among us with grace and love.

The worship service or the sermon itself can be found at this link.

 

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A Charlie Brown Christmas

On December 9, 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas was aired for the first time. I do not remember whether or not we watched that year as a family, but my hunch is that we probably did. I remember watching every year, along with How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

While I have a love of almost all things Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas has always  had a special place in my heart. The music, the ice skating, Snoopy’s decorations and the sad little tree make me smile every year. And every time I watch it, I wait for Linus to share the Christmas story from Luke, the second chapter.

Several years ago, my associate Rev. Christopher Eshelman pointed out that as Linus shared that story, something amazing happened. When Linus recited the lines, “And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not,'” Linus drops his blanket. Linus, who is mocked by his sister Lucy for his clinging to his blanket, drops it when he proclaims the angels message.

Now, I am not sure how Christopher found this insight, but it was long before the many blogs I have seen about that moment since then. The point is, that in this simple children’s cartoon program there are some amazing moments, not the least of which is Linus’ ability to drop his security blanket.

I suspect all of us have a bit of these characters in us: Lucy’s superiority and snobbiness; Pig-Pen’s ability to attract dirt;  Charlie Brown’s feeling of being a loser and always on the outside and of course, Linus’ insecurity and need for a blanket. We may not live out these characteristics every day, but I suspect they show up at different moments in our lives and often when we least expect them.

“Fear not!” the angel proclaims. Linus proclaims it to Charlie Brown in the confusion as to why Christmas is important and what it means. Everyone of those characters needs the promise and the hope of “Fear not!”

Fear not Lucy, you don’t need to be better than any one to be loved. You are loved and you don’t need to put anyone down in order to receive that love. Fear not Pig-Pen! Yes life is sometimes messy and downright dirty, but you are loved and you don’t have to clean up your act to be loved.

Fear not Charlie Brown! You don’t have to figure everything out to be loved, your don’t have to be perfect or have it all together. You are loved. Fear not Linus! Yes the world is scary place sometimes, and it is okay to need blanket now and then. You are loved!

Fear not! Behold I bring tidings of great joy! Christmas is the good news of God among us. God comes into our messy, anxious, uncertain lives and says “you are loved!” We do not need to fear, God is not overwhelmed by our bumbling, crazy ways of trying to feel better. Instead, in Jesus, God puts on this fragile human body, and reaches out with grace and hope and proclaims, “you are loved. you are accepted. Fear not!”

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