Tag Archives: Lent

Year of Gratitude April: Week 3

The cold winter has created a beautiful spring. I have never seen the flowers in my yard or in my neighborhood more abundant or beautiful. Recently I have been “so over winter,” so it seems has the spring flowers.

On my walk this morning I was greeted by this very cheery woodpecker

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Can you see it? Right in the middle of the picture. The lilacs across the sidewalk were full and the smell was heavenly!

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In my own yard, my iris are so full of blooms and my wisteria as well.

So as I continue my year of gratitude and particularly this month of finding my growing edges, I am grateful for Holy Week. Today is the last day before the Triduum (the 3 Holy Days of Thursday, Friday and Saturday) before Easter.

Today is known as “Spy Wednesday.” So named, because traditionally this is the day we remember Judas and his betrayal of Jesus. Two years ago I blogged this reflection on this day.  In it, I quoted Leonard Sweet who had written, “there is a sliver of Judas in all of us.”

That phrase haunts me. Holy Week is a reminder to take stock of how how I betray Jesus in word and deed. As I look at the flowers from my walk this morning, I am reminded of the sweetness and beauty of the grace of God. The flowers shown don’t just pop up, but must be tended and watered and the season just right. Yet they are always there, whether they are blooming or not. God’s grace is like that, always there. Whether I turn away or don’t pay attention, God is still there.

So today I am grateful for the traditions of Holy Week. Tomorrow evening I will gather with the good people at First United Methodist Church, there will be prayer stations, foot washing, holy communion and a meal around tables. On Friday we will gather to hear remember those last hours of Jesus’ life and word and music. On Saturday, I will wait. As the people have waited generation upon generation. I will write a thank you note or several to all those people that make Lent a special time.

And I will rise early, Easter morning……for darkness can not stop the light, hatred can not stop love, evil can not stop God on the move. My betrayals and my failings can not keep Jesus in the tomb….After the long night…..morning will dawn….

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God on the Move: Over Fences

On this third Sunday in Lent, God is on the move and people are on the move as well. This morning was the inaugural Chisholm Trail Marathon and Half Marathon. A Boston Qualifier and a brand new marathon for Wichita. the Prairie Fire Marathon which is run in October on basically the same course has thousands attend. It practically shuts down downtown and certainly affects worship. This new marathon did not seem to draw as many runners and we were not as aware of it as early as we might have been. Mostly, I think people got to church, but it can be interesting!

We had several opportunities to give to missions today. A mission lunch to help support the team going to Camp Horizon just south east of us was held and we took a special offering for United Methodist Committee on Relief for the Nebraska flooding. Our neighbors to the north are being devastated, over 74 counties and 85 cities are affected in Nebraska alone. It will be a longer term cleanup and response to help.

The gospel reading was difficult and interesting and challenging. We moved as a congregation over 1300 miles and got to Nova Scotia. I hope we don’t end up treading water this week before we get to land again on our walk to Jerusalem. You can find the whole worship service at this link. I continue to be grateful to see God moving in the world, at First Church and in me.

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Year of Gratitude, March: Week 3

I believe Spring has sprung! Last night was a brilliant super moon. I didn’t even try and take a picture, but it was huge and bright and brilliant on a beautiful evening, the end of the first day of spring. I am more then ready for this season of spring, for flowers, for the planting of seeds and plants and within a few weeks, the outdoor farmer’s markets. Earlier this week I found this in my yard:

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So I am thankful for winter to be at least mostly over and for spring to arrive. Last week, I gave thanks for my home and this week I do too. I have begun the change over of the decorations. The Valentines are long gone, but I had not begun to put up Easter yet. After all, Easter comes late in April and it just seemed too early.

Still, the house looks bare, so the Easter and Spring decorations have begun to go up downstairs. Spring cleaning is one of those things that people talk about. I am sure it has to do with needing to air out our homes after a long winter and to be ready for the new life that spring offers.

Spring cleaning can be more than just our homes, it can be our lives. What have I outgrown this year? What is no longer useful as a tool or as a coping mechanism? What have I hung on to that I need to just let go? For me, this can be about “things” but more deeply it can be about what is going on with me spiritually, emotionally and mentally. Perhaps it is about hurts or resentments I may  be clinging to in stead of cleaning my spiritual house.

I am grateful for the season of Lent (which means spring season) that allows me to focus on my faith and who I am called to be in my faith. I am grateful for a particular place that I call my spiritual home as well as the place I call home each and every day. This week I intend to live out my gratitude through planting some seeds and by letting some things go. What will you do this week to live out your gratitude?

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Year of Gratitude: March

March snuck up on me. In some ways it really did come in like a lion weather wise and through the reaction to the United Methodist Church’s decision around human sexuality. People who are deeply hurt by the decision of the General Conference may find it hard to be grateful in the midst of the grief and sadness and pain. I don’t blame them. I find it difficult to figure out how to be thankful when I am heart broken over my beloved church’s decision.

The challenge in this year of gratitude lies not in the easy weeks, when life is good and everything is going smoothly. The challenge is always to find the grace and gratitude when nothing seems to be doing right and the world seems to be falling apart. In the psalmist words, “How can I sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” How do we keep on singing when hearts are heavy and the road seems impassable?

I believe we do so by giving thanks. Grace abounds and gratitude calls me to a deeper path of faith. I am grateful for the many allies and people that stood up during the process of General Conference offering hope and grace and love. I am grateful for those who found themselves moved to a new understanding of what the church could be and look like. I am grateful for the delegates who gave of their time and energy to represent the church.

So in the midst of that gratitude, I turn to the focus for the month of March.

March 2019

Home: This month is often when people get the urge to “spring clean.” Our homes can be places of refuge and sanctuary. We have other “homes” as well, places where we are our most authentic selves and feel welcomed and appreciated. This month we give thanks for all those places we name as home.

In the Christian tradition Lent has begun. Christians often begin new spiritual disciplines or take on new opportunities to serve. As I am thinking about lent, this week, let’s begin with our church home or our sacred space whether that is with friends at a coffee shop, a home, a building where we volunteer or an actual religious space. Can you write a note to say thank you for that space? Maybe it is to your favorite barista, or a friend, or family member or staff person at your sacred space. Write and let that person know how their life affects you and how their presence in that space makes you feel like you have come home.

Take a little time to center yourself in your sacred space. Breathe and breathe out and connect with God through that space. May the Divine Presence surround you with love, with peace and with grace.

 

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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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The Angry Jesus, text version

I am posting my manuscript from yesterday. I like to remind people that I don’t preach this word for word. The manuscript gives the basic flow of the sermon, the grammar might be questionable, and I do try and note the sources I used. In many ways I could have added much more to this sermon. I could spend a lot of time praying over and pondering these texts.

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We live in angry times and if you don’t believe me, I would invite you to turn on the news, or open your favorite news app on your phone or tablet and it will be right in front of you. Anger leads the news, and it is has almost become normal for people to call names, to yell, to scream to shout down someone else…. Between the right and left, between young and old, republicans and democrats, even in the midst of our own denomination, people are angry, are fearful, are pointing figures, are leveling threats, ….we live in VERY angry times. I am not trying to dismiss or minimize what is happening. There are many good reasons for the anger. People don’t feel safe, they don’t think their children safe, children and youth and young adults don’t feel safe, people don’t feel valued, or they feel attacked or bullied. People are harassed and made fun of or are working and living in terrible conditions There is diversity of opinion as to how we got here and deep and strong moral and ethical convictions that are driving people to stand up and be counted, to stand up and be heard. Sometimes, though, People draw lines in the sand often before they know what some else believes or thinks or understands. Assumptions are made, people do not listen to one another and anger seethes in so many settings…..from Washington to state capitals, to schools and churches and organizations to our own families and neighborhoods….Some of it we understand because of our own moral and ethic viewpoints, but sometimes we don’t know why we feel this why or can’t really articulate the deep anger around us and in us….

Then with what is happening in our own world we come to our John reading. Even though we are surrounded by anger and hatred, this Jesus is a little surprising and stunning. I suspect we prefer a different kind of Jesus, perhaps that compassionate Jesus I spoke of last week or the loving Jesus we often describe. We want to a benevolent Jesus who agrees with us, who loves us who approves of us and is kind of tame and easy to get along with, a fun and interesting Jesus, pointing out other people’s sins not our own….The Jesus who turned over the tables in the temple and yelled at those who made it a “market place” and the Jesus who spit out “Get this stuff out of here….” Is not a tame at all? This Jesus is filled with what appears to be barely contained rage. He made a whip out of cords or ropes, turned over tables and chased the merchants and the money changers and all the animals out of the temple

Like every other Jewish believer in the region Jesus goes to Jerusalem to the Temple for the Passover. What set Jesus off? It isn’t like what he found was unexpected. It was business as usual and probably a brisk business at that…People came to the temple to do their religious duty, to live out their faith. If they brought animals and they were not perfect, they had to buy ones from the Temple. Or if they didn’t bring any, again they had to buy them at the Temple Roman money was not usable in the Temple so it had to be exchanged for Jewish money. Hence the money changers and the merchants. There was nothing out of the ordinary happening. What is going on here?

We often use this text to talk about the Angry Jesus. It isn’t the only place where Jesus appears angry, when he denouncing religious leaders who are leading people astray, when he calls them names (like you brood of vipers) The thing is, the text doesn’t actually say that Jesus is angry. Not any of them. I went looked. And re-looked. I checked different translations. Not there. Yes it states he turns over tables, condemns those who are selling things and changing money. But the text itself never says he is angry. Jesus certainly acts angry. His actions are pretty violent and scary, but they are actions of righteousness. Jesus doesn’t appear in the gospels to be the kind of person who is angry all the time, who wanders around with a chip on his shoulder, in fact he is often seen having a good time and doing amazing and wonderful things. In this passage, He saw injustice and unfairness and acted upon it. I think that is so hard for us. When we get angry we tend to be either hot heads, we get angry fast and then are done or one of those who go for a slow simmer and when we erupt…it is explosive! Jesus keeps his head in his anger, his anger is precise, almost like a surgeon cutting out a tumor or a farmer, weeding a crop

Beverly Wildung Harrison said this in a work titled, “The Power of Anger in the Work of Love.”      Anger can be either positive or negative. Indeed, it is right to be angry at injustice, and problematic to be apathetic toward injustice. The challenge for Christians is to “harness the power of anger in the work of love.”

In our Ephesians passage is says, “Be angry, but do not sin; do not let the sun do down your anger, and do not make room for the devil” I think that is critical. Jesus was angry, it seems often in the gospels, but it wasn’t because he was slighted or overlooked. Jesus anger was focused on those who pretended to be religious and spiritual, but actually were just greedy and selfish. Jesus anger focused on political and religious systems that took advantage of the poor and needy, the young and old, the outcast and stranger. Jesus anger was not about bitterness or resentment or revenge. Paul noted that we are to “put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice” that is the kind of anger and resentment that seethes and destroys from the inside. That is the kind of destructive feelings that that ends up eating us alive, literally. This is not the kind of anger that Jesus embodied, an anger that worked against injustice. Jesus, in the words of Beverly Harrison, harnessed the power of anger in the work of love. A few years ago the Wichita State Shockers coined the phrase “Play Angry.” It was an interesting phrase and at the time I was a bit uncomfortable with it. Anger can be very destructive, anger can be out of control. As I watched the end of the season and the next and the next, I began to see that the phase “play angry” was not about bitterness or wrath, but about intentionality. Wichita State had been underestimated, put down and mocked because they were not of the elite basketball schools. Who did they think they were? To play angry was not to be play mean or under handed but to play with heart, with energy, with passion with an intentionality to do one’s best and of course the phrase has stuck. Almost every sports caster now uses the phrase….Jesus’ anger was not about being underhanded or mean, but about a passion for what is right, what is just, what is good, what is God’s intention for the world.

The power of Jesus’ anger was not at the traditions or the spiritual practices but at the tunnel vision that only the practice mattered, buying the right animal, using the right coinage was what was important…not what was in the heart. And spirit When Jesus overturned the tables he wasn’t just angry about the sales and the money changing, some of which was necessary for people to fulfill religious duty, his anger was that what was happening in the Temple went beyond what was necessary and became a burden for many who came to live out their faith. There were being oppressed and in some ways robbed by those who were supposed to serve

Jesus was angry….because the religious leaders of his day acted as if they loved their religious traditions loved their interpretations of scripture, loved their money, loved their political and religious power more than they loved God and others. They talked a good line but did not live it. They were the very pictures of hypocrisy not because they practiced their faith, or the followed the law, but because they were blind to God, God’s love, God’s Word, God’s truth, and God’s Son. His anger was a work of love as he tried to counter a culture that was taking advantage and not paying attention to what was in front of them, the very presence of God. In the other gospels this event comes so late, in part, because it was the catalyst which drove the religious and political to plot his downfall and his arrest and execution

In John, this event comes at the very beginning of Jesus ministry because John isn’t as interested in the order of the events of Jesus life as he is in theology and symbolism. From the beginning of this gospel, he starts with the big picture: In the beginning was the Word, Jesus, who was God and is God and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth., John shows us God in Jesus acting on behalf of the world. As we have often heard from the prophets, anger and love are just different sides of the same coin. God loves us so dearly and so deeply and despairs when God’s people take advantage of each other, over look the suffering, the outcast, the least, the lost and the lonely. When Jesus speaks of tearing down the temple and raising it back up, he is speaking of a relationship with God that is not rooted in a building or in religious practices, but in Jesus himself. This anger, is born out of love of God and love of neighbor. It is not about tearing down, but actually a building up for the kingdom of God. When Paul pushes the Ephesians to let no evil talk come out of their mouths, when they are challenged to not grieve the spirit, but to be kind and forgiving, it is so that the work of love might be known. Be imitators of God….which means that our anger, when it is righteous anger must be focused and tempered by love and faith that God is at work in our world. So many are trying to do what is good and right, this last week the students that are speaking and marching do so out of love, for the friends they have lost and to find a way to act against all the violence and hatred in this world. What are we doing? How are we making a difference for those who have no homes, who are being destroyed by mental illness and addiction, but poverty and hatred? How are we focusing, not wrath or resentment or bitterness, but anger, Christly anger at the works of evil in our world? We are called to be the change agents, to use the power of righteous anger to make a difference, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to the house the unhoused, to welcome the stranger, the outcast, the lonely, the afraid. Not anger to judge, but to love as Christ loves. Begins at the table, here where we seek forgiveness for all we done and left undone and find mercy and grace to be imitators of God in all we say and do. And we begin here at the table. We confess what we have done and left undone. We are offered God’s love and mercy and given strength for the journey. So this week, God of love, and God of power, grant us in this burning hour, grace to ask these gifts of thee, daring hearts and spirits free. God of love and God of power, thou has called us for this hour. (taken from the hymn God of Love and God of Power, The United Methodist Hymnal)

 

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The Compassionate Jesus

Today was quite a Sunday in so many wonderful ways. It was what we call a “packed” service and we had even taken out one element. What that meant is I had the joy of trying to cut my sermon down by ten minutes or less. I did some before I walked up to preach, the rest was done as I was preaching.

Mostly I don’t mind. Worship is more than a talking head, a preacher who is imparting his or her wisdom. But I was saddened in a way, because there were some things I really wanted to say. I wanted to share an icon, Christ the Redeemer, the Savior of Zvenigorod. I love this icon for to me the eyes are like no other icon, filled with compassion. Since I didn’t get to share it in worship, I share it here:

Andrej Rublew/ Der Erloeser/ nach 1420 - Andrei Rublev, The Saviour - Andrei Rublev, The Saviour

There are more modern versions, but this one is the original, written in the 1500’s and found in a barn in Russia in 1918.

Today we commissioned two new Stephen’s ministers and a new Stephen Ministry Leader. This ministry is such a gift to those who are blessed by their Christ like presence. We are all called to be compassionate like Christ is compassionate and these men and women take it very seriously.

The whole of the service today was a blessing. You can find the service in its entirety at this link

This season of Lent is a journey, exploring the many facets of this man Jesus who is an icon through which we see God. Jesus is the compassion and love of God made real. May we continue to deepen our faith during this season of Lent.

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