Monthly Archives: March 2018

Wednesday of Holy Week

I am re-posting this blog from last year. Today is “Spy Wednesday” and with all the stuff of spy novels in the news, it seems appropriate to think about betrayal, sin and brokenness before the triduum begins tomorrow.

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Today is known in some Christian traditions as “Spy Wednesday.” It is a quirky name to give voice to the timeline between Palm Sunday and Easter. Today, according to the gospel of Matthew (26: 14-16), this is the day Judas makes the decision to betray Jesus. It’s called Spy Wednesday, as in the meaning of ambush or snare.

Leonard Sweet shared in a facebook post earlier today

Today is Holy Wednesday, when Judas resolves to betray Jesus. There is a sliver of Judas in each one of us. 

There is an old legend in which someone has pictured the “Last Day,” the end of history. Everyone is celebrating, dancing in the street, shouting “hallelujah.” Everyone is caught up in the spirit of high jubilation, everyone, that is, except Jesus.  Jesus is standing very quietly over in the shadows by the gates of paradise. When someone asks him why he is…

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Who Is this Man? The Sacrificial Jesus

Holy Week begins. This sacred time invites us into these days of exhilaration, intrigue, theological arguments, exhaustion, betrayal, injustice, trial and execution. That is a great deal of drama to pack in one short week. Yet, often life is like that, perhaps not the extreme ups and downs of being hailed the savior of the world on one day and being crucified and mocked on another, but we know those ups and downs.

In many churches, First United Methodist Church included, the week is filled with special music, services and programs. Yesterday in worship, we celebrated Palm/Passion Sunday, basically the whole week in one hour. The children processing with Palms and adults waving them in the pews was a wonder to behold. Then Pastor Rebecca found a way to engage the whole congregation shouting phrases like: Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  The sanctuary was loud and noisy, just like it might have been that first Palm Sunday. I was moved by the experience. You can watch the entire service here.

I plan to savor every moment of this week from the noon Music and Prayer on Wednesday, to the prayer stations, communion and light meal on Thursday and the service of darkness, Tenebrae on Friday. On Friday evening, when everything is done, I will do what I have done for decades, I will watch Jesus Christ Superstar and prepare my spirit for Easter.

I pray that this Holy Week might be a sacred time for you.

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#MarchforOurLives Wichita

This morning at 10:00 a.m. people gathered for the March For Our Lives rally in downtown Wichita. According to one news site there were over 1000 people. I believe it. I acknowledge that not everyone believes that sensible gun control can be accomplished or should be. I believe that one can honor the second amendment AND put restrictions on certain types of guns and ammunition. I have written about that  in this blog post.  And detailed the several blog posts I have done on senseless violence here.

When the shooting happened on Valentine’s Day at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School I was overwhelmed with sadness, grief and a sense of powerlessness. I wrote about that grief and pain as well. I am so weary of the craziness that seems to allow this kind of violence to happen again and again.

Today, however, felt different. The half a mile walk from our home to the gathering place at Park Elementary was brisk and chilly. I said to my husband, “I hope there are many young people there this morning, instead of just us old fogeys!” As we walked a couple blocks I noticed that there were many cars that were already parked. By the time we arrived at  the school we could see literally hundreds of people: young parents with children in strollers, middle school and high school students, young adults, middle aged adults and older adults. Scanning the crowd seeing all ages and races literally made my heart sing.

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The rally began with young people leading us, high school students encouraging chants and then giving directions. When there were cars parked in a private parking lot, these students took care of it efficiently and effectively.

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Once we arrived at the Old Courthouse downtown, every speaker, save one, was a student, half of them too young to vote.

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Each speaker noted that they are tired of being afraid. They do not want to go to school and have to worry if they are the next one to text their loved ones goodbye. In one way or another, each one said, “we may be young, but we are not going away.” In fact, they were clear that even if they could not yet vote, they had voices and they had passion and determination to change the world into one where children, youth and young adults will not be afraid.

As they spoke, I thought about that Jeremiah passage (1:4-8)

4 Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 
5 ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’ 
6Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’ 7But the Lord said to me,
‘Do not say, “I am only a boy”;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you. 
8 Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.’

Now if you know anything about Jeremiah’s story you know it was not an easy task. He was persecuted, hated and there were many attempts to shut him up. Even in the midst of turmoil and violence, Jeremiah lived out his calling and shared both judgement and grace.

I find it somewhat interesting that this march happens the day before Western Christianity celebrates Palm/Passion Sunday. In another place, far away, Jesus rode into Jerusalem proclaiming a different kind of world, a different kind of kingdom. His love and grace in the face of hatred and violence is model that has been used since then to change the world. I grant, the world is still a violent hate-filled place, but following Jesus for me means continuing to stand up against all the powers of evil in this world. In fact, Holy Week is an invitation to do just that.

I have already read and heard the voices that are trying minimize these young people’s efforts and their pain. “Car accidents kill more young people,” or “suicides” and while that may be true, I can not imagine having to live in a world where I would have to be trained as young as kindergarten to avoid a shooter. Our children have grown up since Columbine  in a world I never imagined. This is not normal, nor should it be made normal.

I can no longer pretend that this is not hurting and damaging our children’s very souls. The survivors of these acts of violence will live with consequences of my inactions, of our inactions for the rest of their lives. More guns are not the answer and arming teachers doesn’t solve the problem either.

I believe sensible gun control provides part of what we need. Yes, I know that “criminals” will always be able to get guns. That doesn’t mean we have to make it easy. Obviously metal detectors help, but in the end, I think we need to be far more proactive. Limiting access to assault style weapons and the magazines that allow them to fire more rounds quickly is a start. The only purpose for these kinds of weapons is to kill human beings, which is why they should be limited to the military.

I also believe that the many violent video games with active shooters are part of the problem. I know they are “games” but the very fact we have thousands of people who have fun killing others on a screen is problematic. I have even caught myself wondering about the television shows I watch. I love when the good guys take out the bad guys, often using guns. Whether it is one of the superhero shows or a police show, the violence is pervasive through the entire hour. Maybe I have become immune to violence and think it solves the problem.

I am so proud of these students who have chosen to make their voices heard even as people disagree with them. I am so proud that they organized marches (which is not easy thing to do) with the help of adults in order to get their message out. I am hopeful for their sake, that they can bring about change, that they can work for peace, for justice and for a better world. They have begun the lifelong journey of working for what they believe.

During this Holy Week, Jesus faces down evil without violence. When he was being arrested, in the gospel of Matthew, one of those with him pulled out a sword and sliced off the ear of a slave of the high priest and Jesus said: “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26: 52)

Violence breeds violence, I know that. So I intend during this next week to pay attention to the violent tendencies of my heart. I intend to look to my thoughts and my spirit to see where I am hateful, where I am less than what Jesus calls me to be. I will pray for these students who are beginning to walk that long road to work toward change. I will pray for my city, my state and my nation as we wrestle with what it means to care for our children and to keep them safe. This Holy week walk invites me to remember how quickly I can go from parades to passion, from Hosanna to Crucify. May my heart and soul and spirit this week be one of grace, of peace and of faith in in the One who brings new life and resurrection through the power of the cross.

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The Loving Jesus

It is not easy to get my head around the fact that next Sunday is Palm/Passion Sunday. Lent seems to always surprise me by its suddenness and then again by how quickly the forty days fly by. Usually by this time there are far more spring flowers that have bloomed here in my part of the world. Perhaps because Easter is fairly early this year, I have not seen many, at least not yet. I planted all kinds of tulips and daffodils, but they have yet to appear.

Today was a wonderful day at First United Methodist Church. Between the first service in the Chapel and the second service in the sanctuary, I was visited by two third graders and two fourth graders. I had promised last fall when they received their new Bible, if they would read one of the gospels and come see me, they would receive a very large Hersheys bar. I would ask them what was their favorite part or story and what was one question they had. What a delight for me, to have them visit me in my office, to tell me what they had read and give them their treat.

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Now of course I have grownups who want a chocolate bar. I have said, “ok, but your questions are going to be much harder!!!”

Today in worship we reflected on the “Loving Jesus.” This Jesus is somewhat different than the “Compassionate Jesus” we looked at two weeks ago. Today the gospel was John 8:1-11. If you know about the lectionary, only the Roman Catholics include this reading in the readings on this Sunday, the Fifth Sunday in Lent. All others use a reading from John 12.

John 8 is one of those “problem” scriptures. The story is not included in the earliest manuscripts of John. Most versions either footnote these verses, beginning with John 7:53, or put them at the end of the gospel John, some at the end of the gospel of Luke, others bracket them and note they are questionable in terms of the oldest version of the gospel that we have.

What is also interesting is that the early church “fathers” referred to this story regularly and it includes a cultural phrase that has been around a long time. How often have we heard “let the one who is without sin cast the first stone?” This phrase comes directly from this story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery.

You can find the whole service of worship here.

I am praying that I may love as Jesus loves this day and always.

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Reflecting on Saint Patrick

I really like this day. If I am Irish, it is only a little bit. I don’t particularly like corned beef and cabbage (although I haven’t a reuben sandwich I didn’t like.) I am not into green beer or beer at all, or Irish whiskey (my sister did introduce me to Jameson’s and ginger ale with a twist of lime which is pretty tasty.) So, obviously I am not in it for the food or the drink.

This morning, Andrew and I “wogged” (combination of walking and jogging) the 7th annual Saint Patrick’s day 5K.

29250264_10156480625594274_6703938178002190336_nThis year the charity was the Shriner’s Hospital for Children. We did the race 7 years ago and signed up last year, but were unable to participate because I was presiding at a funeral. It was colder than I liked but it always feels good to finish and keeps me moving by signing up rather than sitting all the time!

This day tends to be centered around too much drinking and partying, which is not something Patrick would have appreciated or encouraged. Still, people wear green, do silly things and celebrate a saint who might actually shock them.

I find myself fascinated by St. Patrick. There is not much known definitively about Saint Patrick. He was active in Ireland in the fifth century. He didn’t drive the snakes out of Ireland (as legend tells), but maybe with God’s grace he drove the snakes out of his own heart. In reading his Confessions I am drawn to his struggles, his lack of education, his ache of “not getting it right.” He was accused and humiliated for something he done as boy, and he received a call to go to Ireland, which he did not want to do. There is some evidence that he disliked the Irish (and why wouldn’t he since they had kidnapped and enslaved him) and then his heart was changed and he grew to love the people he served in Ireland.

What I appreciate most about the story that is known, is that Patrick having been kidnapped from home as a teenager, forced into slavery, embraced faith. He ran away, went home, offered himself to God and ended up back among those who had abused him. The link to his “Confessions” above is only a few pages long and in reading it, his lack of education, his struggles with the powers that be and his passion for his ministry that finally includes the people of Ireland is moving.

In our current world, we embrace hatred and xenophobia like a badge of honor. We nurse hurts and spew bitterness and resentment all over social media. Now, in the last few years, we can become viral immediately with just 140 characters. Just think what St. Patrick could have done before he finished writing his confessions, BEFORE his heart had been moved from hating those who kidnapped and enslaved him to embracing his calling, his mission and a new found love for that same people.

In the middle of Lent, it seems to me that is what the “kin(g)dom of God” is all about: enough love to overcome hate, enough grace to overcome bitterness, enough forgiveness to overcome resentment. God can drive out the snakes of hatred, of prejudice against those who are not like us, of resentment of those who have wounded us and hurt us and instead bring the grace and forgiveness and mercy to the most broken of hearts.

A prayer, attributed to St. Patrick is one of my favorites. You can find a beautiful sung version

I Arise Today

A portion of that prayer I share:

I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendour of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.
 
I bind to myself today
God’s Power to guide me,
God’s Might to uphold me,
God’s Wisdom to teach me,
God’s Eye to watch over me,
God’s Ear to hear me,
God’s Word to give me speech,
God’s Hand to guide me,
God’s Way to lie before me,
God’s Shield to shelter me,
God’s Host to secure me,
+ + + + + + +
Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
+ + + + + + + + + + + + + 
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
 
I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

On this day, I am grateful for the One who is on my right, my left, before me and behind me. I am grateful that the legacy of St. Patrick is one of grace, of forgiveness and of a changed heart. Today, I bind myself to the One who guides, who leads, who creates and calls me to love as I have been loved. May I see Christ in all I meet, for I am graced to serve.

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The Scandalous Jesus, Text Version

Here is the text version of yesterday’s sermon. I did edit on the fly because I had about 15 minutes to preach instead of the 18 we had scheduled. That is both the joy and the burden of being live on television each week. If I care for the congregation who worships through tv, then trying to make sure they get the whole of the sermon is important and means that sometimes I have to be more succinct than I would like. Then again, maybe that is a very good thing!! I attempt to give credit where credit is due. I think I could preach on this topic for several weeks. Here is the video link to the service.

 

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I was in a meeting where we were talking about leadership. The conversation was around “Good enough” It was an interesting conversation. What does it mean to be good enough. When is what we do good enough? What is the one thing we wish our parents had said to us? Growing up? What do we wish we had heard our parents say as adults? Mostly everyone said they wish they had heard they were good enough, that they were loved and this was okay to fail, to make mistakes. That was interesting conversation and one I have pondered again and again particularly as I wrestled with our scripture this week. How often do people use words or actions to point out why someone else is not good enough, is flawed, has problems or isn’t acceptable. look at our scripture today…it begins with the complaints of people about Jesus and John.

For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners! (Luke 7:3-34)

John is too good and Jesus is not good enough. John comes to them with all kinds of spiritual disciplines and they complain, Jesus does the opposite, parties and hangs out with undesirables and people don’t like that either. In fact it’s ridiculous who Jesus hangs out with, prostitutes, tax collectors, undesirable people, with questionable reputations and backgrounds. But it isn’t like he doesn’t get invitations to do exactly that: eat and drink with sinners AND with reputable people, with Pharisees, or for our purposes the religious leaders, the leaders of the community, the people you want to be seen with, you want these people to know your name and to invite you to their events. One of these leaders, Simon, invites Jesus to dinner. At this dinner, an uninvited guest shows up…not just any guest a woman…with a reputation. It doesn’t say what….but she certainly raises eyebrows and isn’t someone who is welcome in such a setting. First, women didn’t eat at the same table with the men, it just wasn’t done. Second, she uncovered her hair. Now that doesn’t matter that much for us, but there are still Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions where women’s heads are to be covered. She takes down her hair, uses a beautiful ointment, bathes his feet with that ointment and her tears and wipes it with her hair. In general, she is making a spectacle of herself. It was shocking and uncomfortable for the men at the table. Simon is thinking to himself, if Jesus knew who she was, really was, if knew how bad she was, what her reputation was, he wouldn’t let her near you. Simon was judging her and Jesus…She was not good enough to be with the men at the table, she was not good enough to be in Jesus presence, was not good enough to touch him.

Jesus, knowing what is going on tells a story. Simon wants to get it right, wants to show he is good enough, that he knows stuff. In today’s terms, it goes like this: there are 2 debtors, one owes just under 2 years salary the other just under 2 months salary. The creditors cancels both their debts. Who do you think loved the creditor more? The answer the one that had the greatest debt!! Right. Here I find myself knowing what is coming next…oh Simon you are so set up! When Jesus points out the woman, the hospitality she offered Jesus that Simon did not….no water for his feet, no oil for his hair, not the basic amenities expected when one was a guest Jesus points out what mercy and forgiveness and grace look like in one who had been outcast.

You see Simon didn’t think that woman was good enough, Simon was looking down upon her from his religious superiority and was wallowing in how he was better….And I, I in my own sense of the superiority am thinking the same thing about Simon. How we work to be good enough at the expense of others being left out, or looked down upon so I, we can feel superior.

Jesus continues to point out how the religious leaders of the day were constantly making judgments about people and in doing so, forgetting that following the law or the rituals was not the only thing important about faith…indeed, Loving God and Loving others is the bottom line, but it seems that they and we get caught up in the definitions…what does it really mean and how do I know whether I am getting it right or if I am good enough or if I have done everything I need to do in order to be perfect, to be loved, to be cared for, to fit in, to make it. Today, there is a mission lunch benefitting the Raise My Head Foundation. This organization is the passion of one of our members Vicki Bond, it’s purpose is to provide a residential community program for women breaking free of sex trafficking, addiction and homelessness. Talk about human beings who have been surrounded with an understanding that they are not good enough. These women have been used and abused in ways many of us can never understand. They have been treated as property and Raise My Head provides a place where they can heal, where they can learn and where they can find a life of freedom and health.

This Christian organization lives out this scandalous good news of Jesus, you are forgiven, you are free, you are beloved. Again and Again Jesus pushed back against the religious institutions of his day, against the culture of his day and with word and action stated that all people were good enough, that all people were worthy of love and grace and forgiveness. Jesus lived out the real truth that God loves the people who are overlooked and left out. Paul describes it this way: Christ is our peace and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility between the groups that were far off and those who were near:

you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone (Ephesisans 2: 19-20)

That would have been shocking for Simon the Pharisee and those around that table…how could this woman be part of the household of God, how could Jesus treat her the same as he was treating them, the leaders, the faithful, the righteous and holy ones….

Because Jesus lived out the reality that everyone of us is good enough….everyone of us can receive and know mercy, forgiveness, peace, grace and love. Jesus looks that woman in the eyes and basically says…I don’t care what you have heard, I don’t care what others have said, In God’s eyes you are good enough, you are loved enough, and you are forgiven. Grace is yours.

Isn’t that what we all want. We drive ourselves so that others will know we are good enough, smart enough, strong enough, successful enough, perfect enough. In doing so, we often try to find ways to point out in what ways others are not: Think about all the generational talk about millenianal and boomers, Gen Xers and Generation Y, we say snarky things because of course our generation is the better one!

Even in the life of the church, we tend to judge on whether or not we think someone is good enough….The church itself draws the lines….you are in and you are out. you are good you are bad….you are good enough, you are not. That isn’t what Jesus says and in fact when Jesus criticizes, I hate to say it, it’s about folks like me and like you. The ones that try so hard to be good enough, that I, we, begin to act and believe we are in, we are superior, we are better. Nothing could be further from the truth….what we have been given is grace, not exclusive grace, but grace that is available to all people in all places and in all times. How do we live it out? Like the woman Jesus’ feet, perhaps first and foremost we need to experience grace and mercy forgiveness. We need to pour out our fears and loneliness, our sins and sorrow at the feet of Jesus. We need to acknowledge what we have done in order to feel good enough, to be perfect enough, to be successful enough. We need to acknowledge how we keep others out in order that we might be in, that we put others down in order that we might be up, that we exclude others in order to feel better about ourselves.

Hear the good news of the gospel my friends….You are forgiven….mercy is for all of us, Grace is sufficient for all our needs, God loves us and because of that good news, we are called to offer the same for others. The challenge is, of our course, to view all people as Jesus does, that all people, all people are beloved children of God, that all people are good enough, for they are our brothers and sisters, it doesn’t matter our age, our gender, our race, our ethnic background, our sexual orientation, our maritial status, our immigrant status, our social or economic status, whether we have money or not, ALL people are beloved children of God, members of the household of faith, made one through the gift of Jesus Christ.

This week my friends, may we view every person we meet as beloved son and daughter of God. May we look into their eyes and know they are our brothers and sisters. May God “Help us accept each other as Christ accepted us. Teach us as sister brother each person to embrace. Be present Lord among us and bring us to believe, we are ourselves accepted and meant to love and live.” (from the United Methodist Hymnal, Help Us Accept Each Other, #560, Fred Kaan words)

 

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The Scandalous Jesus

Today’s service was filled with so many wonderful elements. We had Bassel and The Supernaturals The have been in worship and in concert at First for the last three years. Their website describes their music as “neo-soul and funk with captivating lyrics about love, loss, and a war in Syria that has affected Bassel Almadani’s family along with 10,000,000 others.” The music speaks from the heart for the Syrian crisis that is in the news daily.

We also brought in new members, both in person and through our television congregation. I mentioned Raise My Head Foundation in my sermon and because our mission lunch was a fundraiser for this amazing ministry and outreach. The founder, Vicki Bond, has a passion for creating community for women finding their way out of the sex trafficking and addiction. This wonderful residential community offers hope and new life to these women.

Today, I reflected on not being “good enough.” Imagine my surprise when this video crossed my twitter feed this afternoon. If you can access the twitter video it is only a bit over three minutes, the other video on you tube is over 20 minutes. It is Adam Rippon receiving the Human Rights Campaign’s Visibility award. It is beautiful, reminding people to not be afraid, that people are stronger than they believe, smarter and more powerful.

You can find the copy of our worship service from today here. We are halfway through the season of Lent. Jesus continues to surprise and shock me. I long to follow and live faithfully.

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