Monday, June 8, 2015

Mustard Seeds

Each Monday, Lakehills UMC provides a meal for the community. We call this meal and time together Bread of Life. We also provide some "to-go" meals for those who cannot come to the church building for the meal for one reason or another. I have been creating a little flyer-thing to go with the meals for those who come for those 'to-go' meals. It provides a schedule of activities going on at the church for the week and a little article about one of the scriptures in the Revised Common Lectionary for the week. I have toyed with publishing these articles off and on for a while as a way of actually using this blog space I have. So here is what I wrote for this week. Do with it what you will.

Mark 4:26-34 (NRSV)
26He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
30He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
33With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

One day, when I was in Hawaii visiting my sister and family, we were driving back home, with the children in the back seat. My nephew said to my niece, “Miranda, did you know that you can move that mountain over there?”

My niece, all of 3 years old said, “No I can’t. I’ve got tiny little arms.”
My nephew said, “Uh huh. Jesus said if you have faith in a mustard seed you can move mountains.”
To move a mountain only requires faith in a mustard seed . . . well that is not exactly what Jesus said. He did say that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we can move mountains. Growing up when I heard these words, I always pictured a big strong tree – one of the cedars of Lebanon or one of the giant redwoods, but as you can see in the included picture (I cannot figure out how to post a copied image here, as I have in the flyer), the mustard plant is not exactly a beautiful tree. In fact, while there are some who cultivate it purposefully, there are also many who consider it a weed, a dirty, annoying weed.
What an unusual image for the kingdom of God?! It just goes to show that, once again, God will not conform to our imaginations. I have read a definition of a weed as “a plant in the wrong place.” Like a weed, God’s kingdom is wild, tenacious, and once it takes root, it will not give up easily. There is some comfort here. Weeds have to fight for their place to exist, so by their very nature, they are tough.
Some may not believe that faith has any place in our world. My Christianity is fine for me, but I need not shove it down another’s throat. For me, however, when I look around and see the world as it is – where violence is more widespread than peace, where children go to bed hungry, where lack of proper health care and proper mental health care keeps people locked in systemic oppression, and where we can hate one another in the name of our country, our religion, or any other reason – I have to believe there is something better. I have to believe that God has a better way for us, and I have to believe that God’s way has already taken root in our world so desperately in need of God by tiny, little mustard-seed-sized acts of faith.

Grow little weed, grow. May God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Church of Blessed Brokenness

To begin -- my mea cupla (or lack there of):
Everyone knows I lack the discipline to blog in any sort of metronomic fashion. When I have time and something to say . . .

Last week or the week before last I listened to a conversation between the guys of the Pulpit Fiction podcast (for those who looked up Ezekiel 25:17 and were sorely disappointed) and the writer Peter Rollins about his new book The Divine Magician. I am intrigued and I cannot wait to read this book, or better yet to listen to this book. I will not allow myself to start another book until I finish When Helping Hurts, but I can totally listen to an audiobook.

Within this conversation, Rollins said something that has been eating at me since. To paraphrase, he asked, what if we ran our church like an AA meeting? I have discussed this idea with some folks already, but it's still bugging me. What if? What if we really did this?

In AA you begin with your brokenness. We do the same in Celebrate Recovery. I am Celia. I am a believer in Christ. I am co-dependent. We begin with our brokenness; we own it. I have made decisions I am not proud of. I have committed actions that moved me farther from God and damaged me and my relationship with God. But I am no longer who I was. I am begin made new by a loving, healing God, and for that, because of God's restoring love, I worship a living, loving God, who is still healing me. I worship a God who is moving me piece by piece, cell by cell, atom by atom into God's kingdom, where I will be fully whole and healed, where I can fully love the Lord my God with my whole heart, soul, and being, and I can truly love my neighbor as I love myself. In God's kingdom, God not only heals my brokenness but uses it for the healing of my other brothers and sisters.

What if, when we gather together for worship, we practice living the healing God is doing within us? When we gather for worship, what we do is practice fully living in God's kingdom. We can be ourselves and be loved for who we are without any pretense, and we can love one another without any barriers. Worship becomes practice, and the more we practice living this way, the better we get at it. It becomes a real habit. Worship as pedagogy for life in God's kingdom, worship as pedagogy for receiving and giving God's healing.

Perhaps this is God's plan. Perhaps this is how it can happen that God's kingdom with come on earth as it is in heaven. Rollins also discussed this reality that seems to be for us (humanity), that is our inability to be okay with not being okay. Think about it. When our friends are hurting, it is our nature to try to to cheer them up -- 'oh! cheer up! It will get better.' We seem to be uncomfortable with sadness, with grief, with anger, with what we classify as negative emotions. It is as if we have to pretend these are not real. We are so uncomfortable with these "negative emotions" that we will do or say anything to avoid them, even temporarily, and even if what we do will only temporarily remove pain but will enable and even sustain the cause of the pain. We would rather pay a utility bill for someone than get involved the messiness of another's life that contributed to the poverty that created the need in the first place. In writing a check, have we actually healed someone?

Reality is that we live in a world where war seems more common than peace, where children go to bed hungry. We live in a world where spouses abuse spouses, and the earth itself seems to have had enough of humanity's abuse. In short, we live in a broken world. We have to learn to be in our sadness, in our brokenness. When we are grieving is the friend who tells us "this" was all part of God's plan and we should be happy for our loved one who is with God now, or is it the friend who sits with us in silence and allows us to cry who offers real healing? If we are unwilling to acknowledge this sadness, this brokenness, how will we ever see it healed? I we cannot acknowledge our brokenness and practice receiving our healing, will we ever allow ourselves to be healed? Can we really receive God's salvation, if we cannot acknowledge our sin?

It is in our brokenness that God begins our resurrection. I think Rollins may have actually changed the direction of where I will begin my dissertation. Maybe, maybe not, I will have to read the book first.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

I know; I know. It's been forever since I have posted in my blog. It's been so long that I had serious difficulty remembering which site I used for my blog. It's been so long, I'm pretty sure that no one in my current charge is even aware I have a blog.
Nonethess, I had some thoughts today and this seemed to proper area to post about them.

When I got home today from worship I was tired; I mean really, really tired, the kind of tired I have not been in years. Just to set the record straight, the day was normal -ish, for a Sunday. I woke at about 6:40 am, having slept for about 7 hours or so. I drank some coffee, and I had breakfast. There was nothing physically wrong with me to make me tired, but I was I'm-not-even-hungry-I'm-so-tired tired. So what was it?

Today being the last Sunday before Easter, we celebrated Palm Sunday. Actually, like many United Methodists we celebrated Palm / Passion Sunday today. Therein lies my hypothesis. We began the services with the procession of the palms. My liturgists read the story of Jesus' triumphal entry from Mark's gospel. In the second service the choir processed singing Hosannas. It was beautiful.

But it was not long into the services when it was time for me to read the Passion Narrative. Two chapters from Mark will take something out of you, no matter what you had for breakfast. In fact, it was during the second service, right after I finished reading the Passion narrative that I first noticed how tired I was. I still had a sermon, and all of the responses to the Word to go.

As I have read and understood the logic, we (not sure exactly who the "we" is) have begun combining Palm Sunday and Passion Sundays using the logic that we cannot and should not go from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday without the Passion, and many of our congregations do not participate in the Holy Weeks services, where the Passion stories are told. As a result, they miss all of it. I agree that we should not go from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday without the Passion. Truly we cannot experience the resurrection if we do not experience the cross, but I am not sure that Palm / Passion Sunday is good for us. I am not sure it is emotionally or spiritually healthy for us. 

I think it may be too much to transition from the Palm procession to the Passion in such a short amount of time. I think we may need the entirety of Holy Week to experience the Passion, in smaller shorter doses, for our own spiritual health and our theological well-being. It reminds me of a comment I heard once at an OSL retreat, several years ago. The speaker said something to the effect of, 'we Christians try to swallow the Holy Divine whole and we wonder why it gives us indigestion.' What I mean to say is that the Passion narrative is an important part of who we are as Christians, and I think it is not healthy to feel it all at once.

I believe there is an anemnasis that happens in the whole of our worship services, not just the Eucharistic prayers. If this is so, then we do experience the Passion narrative as we hear it, again and again. It is not just a story. It is part of who we are, and we need time with it, way more time that I had with it today in either worship service. We need time to let the story affect us, let it move us. We need time to feel what we feel about our God who loved us enough to become one of us and to be obedient even unto death, even death on a cross. Christ's Passion should not be thoughtlessly consumed like a Big Mac. If so what should be provisions for our soul becomes a food-like substance -- yeah, you can eat it, but there is no nourishment in it for you.

I have no real conclusion for these thought, except to say that I will have to do something different next year.
The peace of God be with you all, and may your Holy Week be Holy indeed.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sermon Scraps from Feb 5, 2012 Mark 1: 29 - 39

This Sunday I preached on Mark 1: 29 – 39, which, in the NRSV, reads:

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, "Everyone is searching for you." He answered, "Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do." And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
I chose to focus on the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law, and I think that was the sermon I was supposed to preach. Still, I cannot seem to get something out of my head about this pericope. Mark says that Simon and his companions hunted for him (Jesus) when he had gone to pray in the deserted place.

There are a few common themes to Mark’s gospel that are important to note. The two words that appear most in Mark are “and” and “immediately” (kai andeuthos). Mark is a series of run-on sentences, which apparently are fine in Greek. And everything happens immediately. But every so often, Jesus steps away from everyone and everything to pray. When he does, they always find him and bring him back.
This leads me to ask a few questions:
  • Why do people feel the need to seek for Jesus and not as much now?
  • Was the gospel he proclaimed different than the gospel we proclaim?
  • Why are we chasing people to come to us, when the people were chasing Jesus?  
I do not have answers to these questions, but I still ask. I think there is something in the immediacy of Jesus’ ministry. People needed healing; they needed the Kingdom of God to be real. They needed and they needed now.
I do not believe that we are any less in need of healing, but I am not sure we are acting with the same immediacy. The Kingdom of God can wait? The healing you need, you can wait until next week, when I have more time, right? Maybe we as the church need to try something different. Maybe if we present the gospel with the immediacy of the Kingdom of God being at hand instead of come to my church, we have a good pot luck, maybe . . . These are people’s lives we are talking about. But I wonder if we even believe that the Kingdom of God is at hand. We certainly do not always act like it. The Kingdom of God, it is coming someday. But Jesus began his ministry saying the Kingdom of God was at hand. The love, we have to offer through Jesus is right now, immediately.

Again, I do not have the answers, but I think chasing people and begging them to come to our church service is not the same as initiating them into the kingdom of God (for more on this understanding of evangelism, see William Abraham’s The Logic of Evangelism). Maybe if we really got involved, got touchy-feely, and stepped into the reality of the everyday-life of others and the messiness of others, and loved our neighbors in such a way that God’s love would shine forth through us and change their lives . . . Maybe  . . .
My sermon was about our need for touch. Touch heals, but it is not safe. When you lay hands on another, you are not unaffected. When you hug another, you may get dirty too. When you walk alongside another, you may be ridiculed, mocked, and hated too. When you love others, you may experience a miracle. I am convinced there is no other way to show the love of God except to let God love the unloveable through you. If we were doing this, maybe . . . Just maybe we, the Body of Christ, would be hunted too.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Sermon Scraps Mark 1: 21 - 28

Once again I have been called to repentance for neglecting my blog. I will do my best to keep it up. I do not promise a weekly post, but I will (once again) try not to forget about it entirely. Thank you for your patience with me.
Yesterday I preached on Mark 1:21 -28. In the NRSV, it reads:
They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God. ‘But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ 26And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He* commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him. ‘At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
In my sermon I said that anything that comes between God and you, God and God’s love for you, or God and God’s will for your life is not of God. Anything that separates us from God is not of God. This leads me to ask, what is it that we allow to come between God and us?
God has a purpose for us, a mission or a job that we are specifically designed and made to do. This is not to say that God has only one plan for us. The book that the Bend UMC’s Bible study group just finished last night discussed what it means to be in or out of God’s will. The author described a time in his life when he felt he was outside of God’s will. He left Austin, left his church and moved to Ft. Worth to work on his DMin. He felt that during those three years he was outside of God’s will. He said eventually God brought him back to Austin.
I am not sure that God’s will is ever that specific. Is it not just as likely that God will use what we give God? Here’s my logic: I have felt that answering my call to ministry was somewhat inevitable for me. I was made to be a pastor, and God has been preparing me for this vocation as long as I can remember. One of my former parishioners has told me when she was younger, she also felt called to ordained ministry. We have talked about it a great deal, and I can see such gifts and graces in her life, but she was reared in a denomination where women were not given the opportunity to serve as ordained clergy. Now that she is in the UMC, a denomination that would welcome her gifts, she feels she is just ‘too old now.’ Yes, she is near to retirement age. That she has not answered this call on her life the way I did does not mean she is any less faithful. Instead of becoming a pastor, she is a vibrant and enthusiastic church volunteer and leader. She has reared two boys and is now enjoying a beautiful granddaughter. She is a brilliant and dedicated public servant, and she can offer the church gifts of which I could never dream. Here is what I think: She was offered the opportunity to serve God in one way. She chose a different way, and God still used her gifts for the church, and still blessed her.
Here is another example. In our discussion last night, one of the Bible Study-ers said that she always felt called to be a pediatrician, but her brother talked her out of it. Instead, she became a music teacher. Were children any less blessed because she was a music teacher? I think not. I think God used her love for children to bless her and others in a new way.
I refuse to believe that there is only one path for our lives, and I refuse to believe that if wander off that path, there is no hope. The reality of our free-will is such that God does not interfere with our decisions, but instead God uses those decisions to work out God’s plans. Paul writes in Romans 8, “We know that all things work together for good* for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (NRSV). That does not mean that everything that happens is good or in line with God’s will and purposes, but God can and does work good out of what happens.

So to circle back to my sermon and the beginning of this post, it is not that we could do the wrong thing and interrupt God’s will for our lives. Yes, we can and do sin, which is contrary to God’s will for our lives, but that’s not what I’m going on about here. Instead, I am talking about fear. It seems to me that we are afraid to do much of anything for fear we will do it wrong, fail, or worse find out it was not what God wanted us to do. More than anything, I think God wants us to try, just try, be willing to step out in faith with an attitude that says, ‘I don’t know if I’m doing it right, I don’t know if I’ll succeed, but I know I can do something.’ Not doing anything for the kingdom of God is simply unacceptable, and it is not of God. To that we should (to paraphrase Jesus) say ‘SHUT UP.’ We have a purpose and a job to do, and if we are willing, God will use us to build the kingdom.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Meanwhile back in Texas

In the last couple of weeks, I have found myself struggling. I am decidedly and firmly against the death penalty – not a popular stance in Texas, mind you. Still I believe the state is not God, however often we tend to confuse the two. Only God should pronounce such judgment on a person, not the state. I have been very comfortable in my position for a number of years now, that is until the last few weeks.

Each month I receive a list of people the State of Texas intends to execute. Last week, I struggled; I admit it. While the nation was talking about Troy Davis in Georgia, Texas executed Lawrence Brewer. Brewer was convicted in the death and torture of James Byrd. This is the kind of crime that makes me sick to my stomach. When I received his name, I admit, I didn’t want to do my usual work. I didn’t want to pray for him, though obviously I prayed for the Byrd family. I didn’t want send a letter on his behalf to anyone. But am I against the death penalty for everyone, or just those who committed a crime that doesn't make me sick? or that I don't remember?

As I struggled with my own heart this week, I came across an article in the Huffington Post. I’m going to try to include a link for it here.

I don’t know how to resolve my own issue, but I think that I try, somehow pleases God, at least I hope so. That I try to find compassion for Brewer I think is pleasing to God; maybe not.

Monday, September 12, 2011

I normally wouldn't do this, but as I have been reading about what some preached yesterday, I feel compelled to share my sermon from 9/11/11. Yes, I preached about forgiveness, but what I believe is a more realistic, livable form of forgiveness.

Yes, I believe it is time for us to forgive our attackers. I have heard of others who preached that if we are not able to forgive those who have hurt us, we will not be forgiven. Hear this: our forgiveness (our salvation) does not come from our actions. We are forgiven (and saved) by God's grace. We cannot earn our forgiveness, we can only accept it.
That said, we need to forgive those who attacked us, not because they deserve, or even because we want to. We were hurt, terrorized, and that has held power over us -- violence has begotten violence. It's time to let our anger go.

So without further rambling, here is the sermon I wrote for Sunday, September 11, 2011. It's not exactly what I preached but it's close. It's a little strange that I'm letting others see my sermon manuscripts (they're usually only for my eyes).

Then Peter came and said to him, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?"


When I say the word forgiveness, what comes to mind?

Healing of a relationship, restoration of relationship, things going back to the way they were. Reconciliation. Forgive and forget, that’s what they say. I don’t know about you, but I’m still not ready to forgive and forget what happened to us on that bright sunny Tuesday morning.

When I tell people that I think Psalm 137 is one of the most beautiful and one of my favorite psalms, I get some strange looks.

By the rivers of Babylon, there we say and we wept. These words were written after the Babylonian exile, after the Israelites had returned to the promised land, and probably before reconstruction of the new temple had begun, that’s purely speculative on my part. By the rivers of Babylon there we sat and wept. On the willows, we hung our harps.

How can I sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? The psalmist asks. How can I sing the praises of God, when it seems to be that God is too far away? Does that sound familiar? I don’t know if any of you caught frontline this week on PBS. They had an amazing show about faith and doubt in 9/11. They interviews people from many faith traditions. I was moved by an Episcopalian priest who said, I lost my faith in the face of that evil, I lost my faith. God felt so far away, it was like God wasn’t there anymore.

You need to hear me as I say this, God was there. If it felt like God was absent on that day 10 years ago, it was because God grieved with us. God hurt with us. God was in the towers, in pentagon, in Pennsylvania. God sat with us by the rivers of Babylon and wept with us. And I think even God would have had trouble singing on that day.

Our psalmist gives us words to talk about real pain, pain that is indescribable. Horrors beyond what we can say out-loud. The psalmist has named our pain. And the thing about pain like this, about grief like this is that it tends to become anger.

Remember o Lord, against the edomites, on the day of Jerusalem’s fall, how they said, tear it down, tear it down, down to her very foundations. Remember against the edomites o lord, those who conspired with our enemies to bring about our destruction. Remember Lord, what they did, as if God could ever forget.

Happy shall be they who pay you back. Happy shall be they who take your children and dash their heads against the cliffs.  We want blood. Not just the Babylonians, but the blood of anyone who had anything to do with it, even those who celebrated.

It should tell us something that we’re asking God to remember, to act against those who hurt us. It says to me, that maybe God isn’t acting the way we want. God is not bringing about the vengeance we feel we deserve in our timeline. If God is not acting against the edomites, perhaps it’s because God is the God of the edomites. Can it be true that one who created us also created them? Could it be that God is big enough to love me with all my pain and anger and the hatred that fills my heart, and sit by the rivers of Babylon and weep with me and still love those who hurt me, too? Is God that big? Is God’s forgiveness available for them, too?

I went to workshop a few months ago about forgiveness. Let me tell you, there’s a lot of things that forgiveness can mean and even more that does not mean. Forgiveness rarely means that everything goes back to the way it was. Forgiveness does not mean forget. It doesn’t even have to mean restoration of a relationship. I could spend hours talking all about the different kinds of forgiveness, but there’s one that I want to focus on today. The Hebrew word mechila is a forgiveness of debt, where there is no reconciliation, but the one who was hurt decides that the debt is no longer owed.

There’s not new relationship, but the debt is simply wiped away. There’s no amount of compensation, there’s nothing to be done that would heal the hurt we have experienced. There’s not payment big enough, there’s no act of contrition that will satisfy, and so we simply release it. Not for them, not for them, but for us. Because if we cannot release it, if we stay by the rivers of Babylon, weeping, sitting with our pain and anger and calls for vengeance, the temple will never be rebuilt.

In all of the destruction of 9/11, there was one church destroyed at ground zero. St. Nicolas Greek Orthodox church. Because of the red tape we put in place to block a mosque from being built near ground zero, we have also prevented a church from being rebuilt. We cannot be who God calls us to be with hatred in our hearts.  And when we think it’s too much, when we think we can’t do it, if we are even just willing to try, we will find that God with us, has removed our harps from the willows, and is ready to lead us in song. There’s another psalm written around the same time as 137 that may help.

Psalm 103