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The Tempted Jesus

Today is the first Sunday in Lent. The season began on Wednesday. It was an odd day with Ash Wednesday (the sacred day) along with Valentine’s Day (the secular day.) In between the two services, another mass shooting in a high school in Parkland, Florida. I am still saddened by yet another shooting. A couple of days ago I wrote a blog sharing my dismay and grief.

Today in worship as I rewrote my sermon in the last couple of days, I am aware that embracing the tempted Jesus meant believing that no matter what, like Jesus,  we are all called to face the adversary, Satan, and stand up and say not today, not in this place and time.  The Dalai Lama has said “For as long as space endures, and for as long as living beings remain, Until then may I, too, abide to dispel the misery of the world.”

So in worship today, we baptized an adult and called her beloved. We confessed our sins. We heard the gospel of Jesus’ baptism, temptation and call to proclaim that God’s kingdom is at hand. And we focused on what it means to to believe and trust God is with us no matter what. You can find the service video link here.

This story by Brian Andreas was shared in my facebook memories from four years ago

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In the midst of all that is, I pray for love and courage and moments of play to strengthen me and you to believe that God’s kingdom is at hand and we are part of it.

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No words, AGAIN, just grief

I have to admit, I have been avoiding social media in the last couple of days. Other than post Birthday wishes to my friends, and a quick peek, I am not spending much time there. I could say that Lent began and it is part of my Lenten devotion to spend less time on social media and more time with God. That would not be true.

On Wednesday afternoon, as I was going over the service and putting last minute touches on my sermon the news flashed about another school shooting. This time in a high school in Parkland, Florida. I don’t need to post any links it is all over the news. Confronted with services starting soon, I was frozen and unable to figure out what to do. In odds with how I usually handle these things, I didn’t change my sermon. The tragedy was mentioned in the midst of the prayers.

I am immobilized by what seems to be a non-stop litany of mass shootings. I have several drafts over the last year of blog posts that never got finished because I couldn’t figure out what to say. There are so many blog writers that can articulate the grief and pain and anguish better than I can.

In November of 2017, I started a blog and this is what was saved in my drafts:  

Another mass shooting. ANOTHER MASS SHOOTING. This time in another church, a small church, 26 dead,, 20 injured. I don’t know what to say anymore.

I didn’t post last week about the attack in New York City where bicyclists and walkers were run down by a truck. What is left say? I find myself sick to my stomach, numb to the numbers and my mind blank as to how to respond.

There are no words. None that can speak to this insanity.

And then three months later, there are still no words. I have wandered around with tears in my eyes and what little I have glimpsed on social media sites hasn’t helped. The left and the right posted incredibly unhelpful memes pointing fingers. These tactics do not change hearts and minds and spirits or bring back one of those loved ones.

I want to rant and scream and point fingers and assign blame. Instead like Jeremiah, I am appalled and grief stricken over the platitudes and empty words of us all, myself included. In chapter 8, the prophet says:

My joy is gone, grief is upon me,
   my heart is sick. 
Hark, the cry of my poor people
   from far and wide in the land:
‘Is the Lord not in Zion?
   Is her King not in her?’
(‘Why have they provoked me to anger with their images,
   with their foreign idols?’) 
‘The harvest is past, the summer is ended,
   and we are not saved.’ 
For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt,
   I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. 


Is there no balm in Gilead?
   Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of my poor people
   not been restored?

O that my head were a spring of water,
   and my eyes a fountain of tears,
so that I might weep day and night
   for the slain of my poor people!

Or from the thirty first chapter of Jeremiah:

Thus says the Lord:
A voice is heard in Ramah,
   lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
   she refuses to be comforted for her children,
   because they are no more.

In Lent, in some denominations, Christians are marked with ashes. It is a reminder that we are fallible, sinful, prone to go our own way, prone to only look after our own interests to the exclusion of others, with a propensity for evil. We don’t like to admit to sin or at least to our sin being as “bad” as others.

In my Ash Wednesday sermon, I gave permission for people to not berate themselves, that instead of giving up chocolate or candy, to give up bitterness and anger and give it up to Jesus among other things. I am not berating myself, but I am confessing that I do not know how to address this kind of evil in the world. I am ill equipped to change hearts and minds and spirits and lives in a way that stands against the forces of evil and destruction and death that are so often made real in these mass shootings. I am an utter failure at encouraging and helping people be change agents in this world of violence and hatred.

What I can do is stand in God’s grace and love and be challenged to not give up, to believe that God is still active in this world and has not deserted us in the mess we have created. Thoughts and prayers are not enough to bridge the gaping canyon between so many people. Thoughts and prayers will not change the violence, the hatred, the bigotry. Thoughts and prayers will not heal the deep despair, pain and fear so many feel.

In verse 16 of Jeremiah 31:

Thus says the Lord:
Keep your voice from weeping,
   and your eyes from tears;
for there is a reward for your work,

and a promise of a new heart and covenant for a people in exile:

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.  (31: 33-34)

I will trust that God is challenging me, and perhaps you, to not turn away from what is happening, but face the evil in the world with power given through the goodness of God’s grace and love. If Lent teaches me anything, it is that I believe in a God who is embodied in Jesus. In Jesus, God confronts evil all the way to the cross. Jesus doesn’t shrink away, but stands against the powers of evil. Jesus proclaims a new way of livings and reminds me and us all that the kingdom of God is at hand.

Last year, Jan Richardson, a woman of great words and beautiful paintings wrote an Ash Wednesday blessing for the ashes. In it she writes, “did you not know what the Holy One can do with dust?”

She finishes the blessing with these words

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made
and the stars that blaze
in our bones
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

So I am remembering what God can do with the dust and ashes of my life. I am reminding myself that out of my confession of all that I am unable to accomplish and do, that God is already creating in me a new heart and writing the law of love within it. Out of the tears and grief and prayers of my heart and spirit, God is making sure to empower me out of my frozen state into a renewed commitment to the reign of peace, justice and love I have been promised in Christ. During this time of Lent, I will focus on the journey of Jesus. I will walk the long road to the cross filled with evil, betrayal, injustice and pain and believe that there is resurrection and new life yet to come.

 

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Loving Our Neighbors

Today we finished up our sermon series “The Character of a Methodist.” Sunday was filled with moments: an update on missions and an invitation to participate, two children who shared why camp changed their lives and faith and every person who came to worship (or received a bulletin in the mail) was given a Valentine. On top of that, it is for many Christians, Transfiguration Sunday, the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany before Lent begins.

We did it all and more in worship. I used the Mass Mutual “The Unsung” commercial from last weeks Super Bowl. It was shown at least half an hour before the kickoff, so many didn’t see it. It’s long for a commercial (two minutes) but for me speaks to what “loving our neighbors as ourselves” looks like. You can find the commercial here.  I recommend watching it, even if you don’t care to watch First UMC service today.

Loving God first with heart, soul, mind and strength is what we are challenged to do as followers of Christ. Loving God is made real in the fullness of the law, which is completed in loving one’s neighbor the same way one loves one’s self. Sometimes I shudder to really think that through: how I treat others, how I love others is a witness, a statement of how I really think, believe, love and live out my faith in God. The final worship service (and others in this series) can be found on the church’s website through this link.

As the season of Lent looms in the next few days, my prayer is that all of us might truly love God and that love be made real in everything we say and do.

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Loving God with all our Mind

Yesterday we continued our sermon series based on John Wesley’s essay “The Character of a Methodist.”

Jesus said we are called to “Love the LORD our God with all our hearts, with all our souls, all our minds and all our strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.” This series is focusing on each one of those statements and this week we looked at how we love God with our minds. Personally I think this can tricky. One the one hand we think ourselves into a state of anxiety and uncertainty. Or we can dismiss what we think and focus only on the heart and spirit. I think we are called to dedicate our minds to do the will of God.

You can find the link to the worship service here.

During the sermon I shared this prayer from St. Anselm in the 10th century as one way to focus our minds on seeking God and learning from God.

O Lord my God,
Teach my heart this day where and how to see you,
Where and how to find you.
You have made me and remade me,
And you have bestowed on me
All the good things I possess,
And still I do not know you.
I have not yet done that
For which I was made.
Teach me to seek you,
For I cannot seek you
Unless you teach me,
Or find you
Unless you show yourself to me.
Let me seek you in my desire,
Let me desire you in my seeking.
Let me find you by loving you,
Let me love you when I find you.

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Praying Always

“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 will do.

“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.”

I learned these words quickly, music does that for my heart and soul. I carry this prayer with me in my comings and goings, in my solitude and in my community. This prayer, these words of St. Francis has sustained me in life’s highs and lows.

The deepest desire of my heart and spirit is to have “right faith, certain hope and perfect charity.” When I pray those words, I am not aiming to be perfect in terms of making no mistakes. “Right faith” isn’t about an arrogance that I know it all or understand it all or an am expert. For me, right faith is tied to the hope, a certain hope that God is always with me and that God’s perfect love (charity) will guide and direct me.

Faith gives me courage to live out the will and grace of God. Hope sustains and undergirds the belief that Emmanuel, God is with me. Perfect charity becomes God’s spirit at work in my spirit, that I might love as God loves and learn to love in a deeper and more holy and grace filled way.

God knows how much I long to discern God’s will and way for my life. Asking God to bring light to the darkness of my heart  is not so much about being depressed as to acknowledge how many things cloud my heart and soul and mind. There are so many things that get in the way of my being a conduit for God’s grace and love.

So on this day, when I have a brief pause in a schedule that has been way too busy these last few weeks, I pray this prayer and I share it with you.

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It is Well With My Soul

Yesterday’s worship service was good for my soul in so many ways. In both the 8:15 and 11:00 service I listened to Trevor Stewart play viola and in the latter service the Chapman Stick. I first heard him on a Saturday at the Old Town Farmer’s Market and promptly bought his CD. The choir sang beautifully, but also, some of my favorite hymns were sung.

I have loved the hymn “It is Well With My Soul” for so long. The words written by Horatio Spafford after several tragic events in his life, he lost a son, his livelihood in the Great Chicago Fire and then his four daughters on ship crossing the Atlantic to Europe. It is said he penned the words to this song near the spot where his daughters drowned on his way to meet his grieving wife. This is one of my favorite renditions of that hymn. In worship, we ended the service with this hymn.

Our sermon series is focusing on how DO we love God with all our hearts and all our souls and all our minds and all our strength and our neighbor as ourselves? This service was looking at our soul work and how is it we can find peace in our souls.

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I used this great quote from John Wesley that I received this last week at the Order’s and Fellowship meeting.

“Whether you like it or not, read and pray daily. It is for your life: There is no other way; else you will be a trifler all your days….do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow.”

A link to yesterday’s worship service can be found here

How is it with your soul today? How will it be with your soul this week? I pray it will be well with your soul and that through your life, your heart and your spirit God’s grace and love is made real in the world.

 

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#ClergyShaming

It has been an interesting week. I usually come to clergy events with mixed feelings. I know not to expect over the top great continuing education. Annual conferences don’t have those kind of resources to usually underwrite top-notch events. In all my years of ministry that has been true. Occasionally someone has been brought in that was pretty great, but mostly I don’t expect it. I go to national events for those kind of experiences.

I go to annual conference events mostly for the fellowship, seeing people I only see a couple of times a year. This year was no different. I have heard Michael Slaughter more than once  and heard OF Clif Christopher so I knew it would be ok, or perhaps more accurately, I thought it would be. I am saddened and angry that it was not.

It is hard to know where to begin, but suffice to say that after thirty plus years of ministry I did not expect the overwhelming arrogance and maleness of the event. When I was a young clergywoman (and yes I was young once) I expected to do a great deal of translating. There were not many clergy women and so all the examples and all the stories were about men and for men and were usable by men. Jokes were often about male experience and too often with women as the lesser partners in the mix.

Fast forward to 2018. I would guess at least one-third of the room were clergy women. Women serve on the cabinet, as executive directors of our institutions, and are senior pastors of large churches. To have session after session with little or no positive examples of women’s leadership is unconscionable. PARTICULARLY in these days of the #MeToo movement.

The opening session and the example of a prostate exam and the doctor being somewhere “his wife” hadn’t seen was terrible and inappropriate and if not boundary crossing, it was border line. Women have been having “invasive” exams since their teens. Humilitating? Ok, but don’t expect everyone to have a moment of sympathy. It wasn’t funny for many and frankly wasn’t needed. Then the comment by the other speaker “Sorry I’m off the market ladies and I know she’ll (his wife) “have my supper ready.” The context was about thank you’s, but again it was inappropriate. There are far more examples that could have conveyed the same point, unless of course you are more interested in using the same tired “good ol’ boy” strategies for the 21st century.

Using military examples can work for some people. However, using the example of being in the Gulf War and having the Iraqi’s surrender was in my ears terribly demeaning and racist. The point the speaker was trying to make was that we need to be trained as Christians rather than pretend to be Christians. The example was that the Iraqis were wearing an Iraqi uniform, carrying Iraqi guns and when confronted with the American troops surrendered. The way it was told was patronizing. And the tag line of the solider who only had twelve bullets for his gun and needed back up in case those P.O.W.’s got ruly just was icing on the cake. How many other examples are there of people who are “pretending” to be Christian can we use that doesn’t look down on another country or another people? How about cowboys that wear the ten gallon hats but have never ridden a horse? Or snow bunnies who go to the lodges wear ski clothes but never get on the slope?

And the Body shaming was stunning. I was not personally affected by that other than amazed that it was being said. Comments like, “you can not be an effective leader if you overweight.” That was said in more than one way and in more than one session. I am ten pounds overweight and know it. Others are being humilated by being told they are ineffective and “fat.”

 

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I talked and heard from dozens of women and men who were unimpressed and saddened and even sickened by what was happening. Yelling at clergy, at anyone and telling them they are dumb and stupid for not doing something is not just unhelpful, it is abusive. The thing is, there was so much potential and opportunity to help clergy to learn and grow. One young woman said to me (and I have permission to share), “I don’t care if he wants a Mercedes convertible, I don’t appreciate being told that getting my Master’s degree was stupid and going into debt to do so on behalf of the church was dumb. He can talk money to me all he wants, what I want is enough money to pay my children’s pediatrician bills.”

I am not listing every comment I heard from the speakers or from my colleagues. I may have another blog coming on this subject. I know the purpose of the conference was to help clergy in terms of stewardship and reaching out to change lives. Yelling at clergy, telling them they have done it all wrong, regularly using like stupid and dumb usually is not very motivativing. I believe it counter-productive. Frankly, I am DONE with listening and exposing myself to people who think they have all the answers and are insulting to my intelligence. I am DONE with male jokes, the mansplaining, and the clergy shaming. Done.

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I want to motivate clergy to do better. I want people, my colleagues, myself to be healthier, stronger and more productive. I don’t want the church to fail or to miss opportunities to change lives or make a difference in the world. What I do want is an environment that is healthy, that is encouraging, that is godly and that does not demean or belittle or stereotype. I want a  place that does not assume that everyone is the same, that every church is the same and that every person will come with the same abilities and gifts.

In fact, isn’t that what “church” is all about? We are the body of Christ, not all alike, with different gifts and abilities, and we are brothers and sisters. We are the beloved children of God.

So, I say #TimesUp church! #TimesUp! We can do better, we must do better if we think we are going a reach out beyond our walls. I don’t want to have one more #MeToo story from the church. No more verbal abuse, no more #bodyshaming, no more #ClergyShaming. Not only do we need to do better, we need to be better than this.

 

 

 

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