Tag Archives: grace

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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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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Sunday’s Service, Festival of the Christian Home

Yesterday was Mother’s Day in the United States. I know that it is a complicated holiday and not the least of which has to do with the sometimes chessy card and commercials that encourage people to honor their mothers. Yesterday in worship, I preached about how this holiday filled with both joy and sorrow. In the United Methodist tradition it is called the Festival of the Christian Home which allows the focus to be on home, rather than on whether or our mothers were amazing or a mess. In my own life, I heard from my kids, on Facebook my son said I was wonderful and my daughter posted this wonderful Story People card: (on if it is on Facebook it must be true, right?!?!)


How I would like that to be true….I certainly write often enough that I long to love that was God loves and they way I see God loving and gracing the world in Jesus. In the end I do trust that the Divine Spirit is making their Home with us, in fact I am clinging to it.  Here is the service from yesterday:

http://sundaystreams.com/go/firstwichita

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Mother’s Day and All will be Well

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day in the United States. Celebrated with flowers, candy and often meals, mothers are praised and loved and remembered. However, this day can bring mixed feelings for many. Those who have longed to be mothers, grieve. Those who have lost their children to death, to disease, to addiction, to broken relationship grieve. Those who have lost their mothers to death, to addiction, to broken relationships, grieve.

I am one of those who is “motherless.” My own mother died not quite four years ago. While her transition was a good one, there are things I miss. I am sorry she was not able to see me appointed to First United Methodist Church. She worked there as a receptionist and I grew up there. She would have been thrilled for me and (not a little proud as mom.)

I am also, one of those women who happen to be a mother and a grandmother. Mother’s day becomes a joy as I celebrate the love I have for my children and grandchildren and appreciate so many women who have mothered me and mentored me throughout the years.

Today is also on some calendars the Feast Day of Julian of Norwich. There is some discrepancy as some celebrate it on May 13 and others on May 8. Since tomorrow is Mother’s day in my neck of the woods, it makes sense for me to reflect on this amazing woman today.

Julian-Norwich-2

Not much is known Julian, not even if that is her real name. What is known is that she wrote a book around 1395, the first known to be written in English by a woman. Her Revelations of Divine Love is filled with such amazing imagery and faith.

There are many sayings of Julian’s that are important to my faith journey,

” As truly God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother.”

“Our Savior is our true Mother in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come.”

These next words, are the ones I return to again and again and again.

When I first saw that God does everything that’s done, I didn’t see sin, and I saw all is well. When God did show me sin, He said then, “All will be well.” God also said to me, “You won’t be overcome,” and these words were said adamantly, and I was convinced. They gave me certainty and strength against every tribulation that might come.
God didn’t say, “You won’t be attacked” or “You won‘t be overwhelmed” or “You won’t be upset” or “You won’t be stressed out.” No, instead He said, “You won’t be overcome.” God wants us to pay attention to His words, and always be strong in our certainty–when things are going well and when things are going terribly–God wants us to love Him and delight in Him and trust in Him with all our heart, and all will be well.

All will be well. All will not perfect or fun or wonderful. Julian lived in times of great uncertainty, illness, pain. Out of that experience she was able to speak of great strength, comfort and love. Her words centuries later still speak of a Divine Love that never lets us go. A love that is with us in life and in death and in life beyond death. A love that promises each of us that we are beloved and graced beyond anything we can imagine.

In Julian’s words: ” All shall be well, all shall be well….for there is a Force of love moving through the universe that holds us fast and will never let us go.” As I think about Mother’s Day, I pray for all to know that Force of love that will never let us go. I pray for the certainty that “all will be well and all manner of things will be well.”

The author of Second Timothy reminds him “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother and your mother and now in you….rekindle the gift of God that is within you.”   Jesus, in the gospel of John states, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”  The promise is that God is at work within each of us, by the faith given us by mothers and grandmothers and mentors and by living out Jesus’ command to love God and love one another. The Force of Love makes its home with us and in us…and all will be well.

As a motherless child, as a mother, a grandmother, an aunt and a friend, I am certain that God loves me and loves us all. In that certainty, I trust that God is rekindling the gift of grace and love within me.  As I remember and give thanks for the mothers and grandmothers who have offered me love and faith, I  am graced to serve.

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For the Love of Jesus, I am not going away

Yesterday, the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church (UMC) released its decision on a request from the South Central Jurisdiction of the UMC concerning the application of certain paragraphs from the Discipline on the nomination, election and consecration of bishops. In shorter terms, the question had to do specifically with the nomination, election and consecration of Bishop Karen Oliveto from the Western Jurisdiction of the UMC, and the paragraphs have to do with “self avowed practicing homosexuals.”  Here is the link to the full review of the case before the Council.

There are a “lot of words” out there on this case, before the Council met and now since they have released their decision. For non United Methodists, the Judicial Council is basically our Supreme Court. They make decisions based on requests from United Methodists that question acts by bishops or pastors or annual conferences and rule on what is “lawful” or “constitutional” within the UMC. The Judicial Council doesn’t make the laws or the rules that are within the Discipline, they only make decisions as to whether entities within the church are following them, or upholding them. The General Conference is entrusted with writing or rewriting or changing the Discipline every four years.

The church, for some time, has wrestled with the issues surrounding human sexuality. This is not the first debate the “church” has had over biblical issues. The church has split over many other kinds of issues, over power, over structure, over biblical authority, over slavery, over women in the ministry, divorced people in the church and in the ministry, over the use of alcohol, playing cards or dancing. I am not making light of the conversation and deep divide that is in front of the UMC right now. I am pointing out, that the church is constantly struggling to figure out how to be the church and how to live out following Jesus Christ in a real way in each generation.

The Methodist church divided over slavery a little over 150 years ago. Each side believed they were right. Slavery is biblical, there are verses in place as to how to treat a slave appropriately. And yet…..I do not believe there is a church left that still believes that “owning” another human being is Christian. Women have been in the pulpit just a bit over a 100 years, and yet it was not until 1956 women were full members as clergy. There are still people who walk away from the church when a woman is appointed as pastor. There is plenty in the New Testament to cling to if one wants to deny women the opportunity to live out their call as pastors and preachers and teachers. It has only been since the 1970’s that divorced people could be ministers. If a pastor went through a divorce he (and at that time it was usually a he) had to turn in his credentials. Of everything that I have noted, divorce is the one thing that Jesus had some very strong and judgemental words to say. (Matthew 5: 31-32)

I was saddened by the Judicial Council’s ruling, but not surprised. Their job is to rule on what the Book of Discipline states. As someone who has been clergy for 35 years, I know what the Discipline states and have worked to change the language. Our, as in United Methodists, statements that all people are of sacred worth and that homosexuality is not compatible with Christian teachings is contradictory. Obviously I disagree, but the Discipline states what it states, so the decision by the ruling should not surprise anyone. Judicial Council’s function is not to question or change what is in the Discipline, it is only to rule on whether or not the question before them is valid and then what if any acts are in violation of the Discipline. The Western Jurisdictions College of Bishops released this statement. The College (which is the name of the group of bishops for a particular area) already has had Bishop Oliveto’s “case” under review. The sad thing is that her jurisdiction elected her with no dissenting votes, which is practically a unanimous vote. They elected Bishop Oliveto because they believed she had the gifts and the graces to lead the church forward. Her assigned annual conference also have many who agree with her giftedness for the church.

I am saddened by this because I continue to see the best and brightest and most gifted people turned away because they are gay or lesbian. Men and women are told they are sacred worth, but not holy and sacred enough to share their lives and their gifts for ministry in the church. Some congregations won’t even allow them to be on staff or in leadership. I, divorced and remarried, am allowed to stand up Sunday after Sunday and preach grace, love and hope and promise and faith and the good news of new life in Jesus. Yet, someone, who happens to have a different orientation than I, is denied that privilege not because of an action that Jesus clearly condemns, but on the basis of their “being.”

I have been told that those who think the church needs to change should just go away or start a new church. What if those who had worked diligently for slavery to be abolished had just gone away? Or those who worked for full inclusion of people regardless of the color of their skin had just gone away? Or those who worked for the full inclusion of women just went away? I have loved the United Methodist Church my whole life, I am not going away. I am not leaving. I want to be part of bridging the divide that honors what I believe is the real grace and love of Jesus for ALL people.

There are many bumps and mountains and disappointments in the long round to justice, to the reign of God. I never thought I would see in my lifetime, all the changes that have been made. I never thought I would live to see gays and lesbians being able to marry legally, to have the same basic civil rights that I enjoy. And yet, it is now the law of the land as well as the law in many countries around the world. In the church, I have seen many things that are disappointing, but I have seen a movement towards equality and justice. Baby steps, I tell myself, baby steps.

Yesterday, in Egypt, Pope Francis spoke these words, “”History does not forgive those who preach justice but then practice injustice. History does not forgive those who talk about equality but then discard those who are different.” While I know Pope Francis was not speaking about the UMC, he was speaking about equality and justice. I will continue to work for what I believe is true justice in the UMC. I will work with and walk with those who are most hurt by our lack of compassion and grace. I will not walk away or leave, because I believe that I am called to do the working of inviting, including and proclaiming God’s grace for ALL. For the Love of Jesus, I will continue to Stand Up!

 

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Giving Thanks

Today I give thanks for so many things: family, friends, a job, a home I love, a chance to cook and for the people who will gather around my table tomorrow. Thanksgiving week usually tends to be a slower week at church, even though we are gearing up for Advent.

Today, once I got home, it was full swing into getting ready for company. We had kids and grandkids coming home. We finished up cleaning and making beds. For me, it was cooking and baking.

I tend to do as much preparation as I can before a big feast day. I want to enjoy the day and not spend the whole time in the kitchen. Tomorrow, three of us will participate in the ‘Say Grace’ 5K race in the morning. The money supports a ministry of the United Methodist Church and it’s fun.

So, today I made a chocolate bourbon pecan pie, caramel apple banana muffins, a cranberry tart.

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I tasted the cranberry curd….oh my is it tasty! I also bought pies from the youth, so dessert is covered! We smoked a natural ham in the smoker and I I just pulled the turkey out of the oven.

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My twin sister is bringing the green bean casserole and the make ahead mashed potatoes. The 7 layer jello salad will be done before the evening is out. There will be relishes, corn and dressing to finish up tomorrow.

When it is all said and done there will be ten around my table and I couldn’t be happier. Surrounded by love and laughter, that for me is the bedrock of Thanksgiving. The food is important, but the fellowship is what makes the feast.

So from my house to yours, may you experience love and laughter this Thanksgiving and may grace and gratitude bless you.

 

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Valentine’s Day Reflections

I actually enjoy and love this hallmark/FTD holiday. I didn’t used to. There was a time I loathed it or at least disliked it a bunch! About twenty five years ago I wrote a pretty cynical article for my church’s monthly newsletter. I didn’t mean it to be so down, but my first marriage was ending and I had stood in front of a row of Valentine’s and couldn’t find one to buy for my husband. It was a time of sadness and uncertainty.

I had friends who wrote me and called saying that was just not like me. And to tell the truth it was not. Valentine’s had never been my favorite holiday. Too much teenage drama back in the day, but even so, cynicism is not my style.

So I started to re-look at the holiday. It is not untruthful to claim that the florist industry and candy industry has taken it for their own. Throw in greeting cards and jewelers and the pressure to have the “perfect” love day magnifies.

The Christian tradition, however, does have its roots in love. Love of God and love of neighbor and in the words of the old camp song, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Except of course, when Christians are not known for their love, but rather for the bigotry and prejudice and for being judgemental.

So, those many years ago, I chose to re-claim Valentine’s day. I began by buying boxes upon boxes of children’s Valentines. You know the kind that come 30+ to a box and children give them to each other at Valentine Day parties at school.
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And I sign them, literally now, hundreds of them. They go in the worship bulletin and we have a “love” fest at church. The first few years it surprised me how happy those little Valentine’s made people. It became clear over time, those were the only valentines some people received. It also became clear to me, that even with all the “grinching” about the day, I can’t think of one person who doesn’t want to hear they are loved.

So, in my little world, once again people will receive valentines tomorrow in worship. I will talk about love, and I will emphasize that mostly love in known through what we do, not what we say. The little things we do for one another matter and paying attention to one another can transform the world.

So on this day, I share a vintage Valentine wish to one and all.
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May love abound. May each one know that they are loved deeply by the Divine source of Love. In that love I am graced to serve.

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