Tag Archives: no words

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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Speaking out

I am tired. I don’t know about you, but I am weary of the hate-filled rhetoric. There are many times I might have blogged, but chose not to. I,often, have no words, I who am supposed to have a “word” for everything. I am a preacher after all, and am called to have something to say in times of joy, in times of sadness, in times of uncertainty, in times when words seem to fail.

I often have had to something to say, when there has been horrible violence:

Horror and Violence in the nth degree

Prayers for Paris,  

Another Shooting

When there are times that are anxious:

Anxiety, Fear, and Rumors of Wars

When I am upset and overwhelmed by racism or sexism:

Standing up, Speaking Out, Praying for Peace

#MeToo

And my blogging started years ago with the shooting of Dr. George Tiller and then the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford in a post:

Words Matter

Today, once again, I KNOW that words matter, that denigrating human beings and their homelands is bad, period. I can not be the only tired of the words that are coming from our nation’s capital. Words matter, language matters, manners matter and holding one’s self to a higher standard matters. It matters when the president of the United States does not condemn racist language or hateful speech. It matters when the president of the United States uses twitter to belittle other people, to bully other people, to make policy statements or post anything untrue. Words matter, even on twitter, even in private meetings about immigration.

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As an “old pastor,” one who has been around for a while, I often talk with new clergy about things that matter, words, certainly, but also dress and behavior and the higher standard to which we are held. It isn’t fair, it isn’t! When I was young, I lived in a very small town and not long after I was there, some of the people came to talk to me about how I dressed when coming downtown to pick up my mail. I saw nothing wrong with wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Some people saw it differently and said they didn’t want to be embarrassed to introduce me as their pastor.

Did that upset me? You bet it did. However, I decided as a young clergy woman, I had enough strikes me against me that I didn’t want my appearance or my clothing to distract from my service, my work, my calling, my ministry. I probably over dressed for a long time, but no one ever said they were embarrassed again about the way I dressed.

I also over the years have become aware that my facial expressions, my aside comments, my overheard comments and critiques can also be incredibly damaging. I confess, I have not always done well or that I don’t still fail pretty regularly. Rolling my eyes at things I think are ridiculous, making comments about situations or people, these are not only unhelpful, they are wrong and hurtful.

Anyone in public service, whether ministry, or teaching, or government are held to a higher standard of behavior and they should be. We are called to be leaders, we are called to thoughtful rhetoric. That doesn’t mean we have to agree with everyone. It doesn’t mean there can not be deeply held beliefs that are divisive. It doesn’t mean there can’t be heated argument, debate and disagreement.

What it does mean is that WORDS MATTER. Using offensive language to describe a person’s home country, making insulting and derogatory comments about human beings is unacceptable as a public servant, or for anyone. The Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church have made this statement about the offensive remarks .

I would invite the President, but more importantly all of us to re-think how we behave in private and in public. What he says, what we say can make a difference for good or ill, for peace or violence, for what is right and what is wrong. As a follower of Jesus, I am convicted that I must stand against racism, bigotry and words that incite hatred and violence.

My words matter, as do all of ours. I call on all of us to stand up against hatred, against racism, against any language that is used to put down, bully or insult other human beings regardless of their race, their age, their nationality, their gender, their orientation, their religion. I, we, can do better than this. Let us choose justice, let us choose goodness, let us choose a higher road and a higher standard for our behavior.

 

 

 

 

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No words

The last few weeks, my siblings and I have been walking that final journey with our mother.  The kindness of so many people has been so evident in their care of my mother. It is a blessing to watch and to be part of the love she receives in these last days..

As many have walked this same journey, they might appreciate the struggle that words bring.  Finding words or the right words to describe what is happening is difficult at best.  My mother is at a place where articulating words is almost impossible, but she still at times tries to share.

I remember a song from the musical My Fair Lady, “Words, words, words, I’m so sick of words.”  The song’s title is “Show Me.”  The youtube.com version is not a particularly good video cut, but the point of the song is that it’s not the words that matter, but the actions, hence the title “Show Me.”  Eliza Doolittle sings she is sick of words and wants to “see” what the words are supposed to mean.  

I am not sick of words.  I am not frustrated like Miss Doolittle, instead I am searching for words.  The English language does not seem to have enough synonyms for the response to the question “how are you?”  When the response is “okay” or “fine”, those words do not give a depth of meaning and yet, when I, like many others are walking holy paths, there may not be other words.    The other responses or synonyms are “all right, fair, middling, so-so, not bad” and they also do not articulate what is happening.

Being a midwife for someone from this life to the next is hard work, holy work, sad and joyous work.  Sometimes answering “okay” is the only answer when asked “how are you?”  It is not a silly response or an untruthful one.  For me, I don’t have the words to describe all the feelings that walking this sacred path with my mother entails.  

My sister took a couple of pictures yesterday of her and of me and my mom.  Rather than describing, perhaps “showing” makes more sense.

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Hands intertwined while she sat with mom and our mother slept, having moments, few and far between when she was lucid.  Or perhaps this:

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Small sips of water to wet her mouth and throat from the drying effects of the oxygen.  Both times wrapped in a cuddly warm animal print blanket, purchased by my sister, in order that she feel warm and cared for no matter what is happening.

These are truly sacred and holy moments which defy description but are blessed by the presence of Love and the Divine Spirit.  I believe that when John talks about “the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us” the gospel writer is not writing those phrases in order that people might “talk” about the Word, but might experience the Holy and Sacred presence of the Incarnation.  It is not so much about “words” but about God’s place among God’s people, fully, and present.  

As I walk these days, these hours and these moments, I deeply appreciate Paul’s words, “that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God.”  My mother’s journey will take her from this life, from love here, to life and love in the everlasting presence.  She is not separated from God, neither am I, nor my siblings nor any who have ever walked this final journey with a loved one.

Perhaps, in the end, no words are needed, only the strength, the power and comfort of Love.

 

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