Category Archives: stuff about God

Reflecting on the Wilderness

Reflection on Exodus 33:12-23 (October 22, 2017)

I was invited to share a reflection with a Spanish-speaking congregation.  This was my reflection, which was translated and shared with those who attended.

When Moses was praying to the Lord on behalf of his people, there was a separation between people and God.  The people expected Moses to intercede for them.  They had received a promise from God of the Promised Land, and were traveling through the wilderness trusting that promise.  But a promise is not the same as a relationship, and at the end of Moses’ prayer we see that as God passed through the community, it was like they looked up just in time to see God’s back pass by.  The relationship—the face to face conversation—was Moses’ responsibility.

But God invites them into relationship—even in the middle of the desert, and even though they don’t always respond to that invitation.  They were no longer in Egypt, but they were also not yet in the Promised Land.  And yet—even in the wilderness—they are not lost to God.  “I know you by name, and you have found favor in my sight,” we hear in Moses’ prayer.  “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Moses heard and could repeat these messages from God because he entered into God’s presence in prayer on behalf of his people.

Continue reading Reflecting on the Wilderness

Open Space

“To keep the heart space open, we need several things.  First, we almost all need some healing in regard to our carried hurts from the past…  And to be fully honest, I think your heart needs to be broken, and broken open, at least once to have a heart at all or to have a heart for others.” (Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water, p. 11, 12)

These quotes pretty much explain my spiritual journey since college.  I probably came to the second part first.  Rohr talks about the importance of re-aligning the head, heart and body. In my head-centered religion, I realized during college that my heart was not open.  I remember singing the praise song, “break my heart for what breaks yours,” and realizing that my heart didn’t break for much of anything.  And then my friend Nicole died (14 years ago yesterday), and my heart broke.  I began to FEEL instead of just THINK.  A little bit to avoid feeling, and a little bit to get better at feeling, I went back to Kenya and worked in a children’s home, where I met a young girl named Wamaitha who broke my heart a bit more.  Sitting on the bench in the children’s dorm, a crowd of kids tugging at my hair to braid it, and Wamaitha sitting next to me–holding my hand and rocking back and forth singing sounds and words that only she understood–my heart broke open just a little bit more.  When I came back to the States and got involved in a community that didn’t need me to think my way to spiritual maturity, I sensed my heart opening to those around me, and more deeply to a Spirit that is mysterious and beyond comprehension.

At times along the way, I have also realized the need for healing in regard to past hurts.  This has meant counseling and spiritual direction, where I have been able to sit with that inner 8-yr. old who was dropped off at boarding school and give her some space to name her fears and tears in new ways.

I can see the difference it makes as my heart space becomes more and more comfortable being open.  It’s overwhelming and scary–because an open heart space inevitably means the possibility of pain.  Not just pain others might cause me, but I find myself feeling the pain of others…of our culture…of the world more deeply.  Maybe that’s what Rohr means when he talks about a broken heart leading to a heart for others…

the space between us

My Lent devotional this year has been A Way Other than Our Own, by Walter Bruegemann.  There are several quotes throughout the book worth pondering, but here’s what he says about Maundy Thursday that has me thinking today:

“The drama of the towel provided an example for the disciples to replicate:

  • Replicate the truth that you have come from God; you are not on your own.
  • Replicate that the truth that you will go to God; your future is assured.
  • Replicate that the space between you and others is filled with a towel.
  • Replicate that as you travel with towel and basin, you will be safe in vulnerability, treasured in obedience, and free from anxiety” (p.88)

What do I make of this image of the space between me and others being filled with a towel?    The towel is the symbol of vulnerability and humility.  If the space between me and others is filled with a towel, we are open to that vulnerability–both in ourselves and in the other.  We are mutually serving each other…at each other’s feet.

That means not only am I serving my neighbor, but I am open to being served by my neighbor.

Deaconesses (and others) use this image of basin and towel to describe our call to the world.  We receive a basin and towel at our Consecration service.  So I can intellectualize and spiritualize this ritual with the best of them.  But, personally, I am all too aware at how easy it is to keep distance between me and others that is not filled with the towel of service and vulnerability, but is filled instead with fear, criticism, and self-protection.

So what would difference would it make to see the space filled with a towel?

I imagine it would make quite a difference.

As Bruegemann says, as we travel with towel and basin, we will be safe in vulnerability, treasured in obedience, and free from anxiety.

Safe.  Treasured.  Free.

Yep.  I imagine it would make quite a difference.

 

Redemptive Violence and 24

A few weeks ago I listened to a Robcast about the “lie of redemptive violence.”  In this podcast, Rob Bell explains how this idea of redemptive violence–that violence in retaliation for wrong-doing can be justified–is deep in our society…and even in our theology.  But it’s really a myth, and he goes on to talk about how the “Jesus narrative” provides a powerful alternative to this myth of redemptive violence.

So I had this podcast in my mind and was pondering this concept of redemptive violence, when I had a brief window in my regular schedule of television shows and was looking for something to watch.  So (don’t judge me) I settled on the final season of the show 24.  In this final season, counter-terrorism expert Jack Bauer is called on once again to save the U.S. from the threat of a terrorist attack.  Jack Bauer spends the next 24 hours trying to neutralize the threat in order to preserve peace.  And, of course, in quality mediocre television drama fashion, lots of people are tortured and killed in the race against time.  And at the last minute, the president of the United States has to decide what lines can or cannot be crossed for the sake of a signed document called a ‘peace treaty’.  To the show’s credit, it does not tie all the pieces together nicely at the end, and the whole thing ends with a bit of a question about who exactly ‘won’ after all that fighting and revenge.

Continue reading Redemptive Violence and 24

Love Has Come: a New Year’s Sermon

Sermon: January 1, 2017 (1st Sunday of Christmas)

“Love Has Come”

Matthew 2:13-23

A friend of mine is a missionary in South Sudan, living and working in a refugee camp. She homeschools her 3 boys while her husband does leadership training and discipleship in the community.  And she loves it.  Bethany shares through facebook and her blog the many ways she experiences the richness of life and love in the desert of South Sudan, amongst people whose language and culture she doesn’t always understand.  She wouldn’t trade her life for anything, as far as I can tell, and genuinely feels like she is where God has called her to be.  As you may know, South Sudan is a country that has been plagued by civil war for the last decade, probably more.  For as long as I can remember, there has been tension and violence in Sudan.  Bethany reported on facebook this week that they spent the days around Christmas literally lying on the floor in their house to avoid getting caught in the crossfire between warring militia.  On Dec. 27 all the missionaries in South Sudan were evacuated.  Bethany and Eli describe more about their Christmas weekend in this blog post.

Continue reading Love Has Come: a New Year’s Sermon

Put down the book and get into the story

I was setting up my nativity characters for chapel this week, and was reminded about a preschool chapel last year that became the central illustration in a sermon I preached on Dec. 20, 2015.  The sermon was in the context of a ‘Traveler’s Christmas,’ a Christmas Eve service for those who would be travelling over Christmas.  I found the manuscript to that sermon and realized I needed to hear it again this year.

Text: Luke 2:1-20

Last week in preschool chapel here at Grace, the kids were helping me tell the Christmas story.  I had a few sets of characters scattered around up front, and together we organized them to look something like a nativity scene.  And because I know that epiphany doesn’t come until after Christmas, the kings were a distance away from the rest of the animals and characters.  Someone noticed this and said, “the kings don’t have a star to follow!”  Without missing a beat, the kid sitting next to me holding the picture Bible put it down and jumped up, saying, “I can be a star…like this!” and he spread his arms and legs out while we sang “Go, tell it on the mountain.”

grace-preschool-star

I tell you that story tonight because it was a moment full of joy and life that I just can’t get out of my head.  But also, the more I think about it, the more I think that kid got it right.  For many of us, this story we read in Luke 2 is really familiar, and every year we arrange the various pieces of our nativity sets to illustrate the story…and then we stand back and admire it from a distance.  In fact, I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we keep the whole message of Christmas at a distance.  We distract ourselves with questions about the historical accuracy, the literary details, the cultural specifics.  Maybe we honor the traditions of those around us.  Maybe we even find meaning in these traditions for ourselves.  But, for the most part, we keep this God who breaks into the world at a distance.

Continue reading Put down the book and get into the story

baptism-water

The 2nd sermon: “Remember who you are”

In pondering the sermon for this Sunday, I discovered that I actually had two sermons.  This is the one that won’t get preached.

Text: Matthew 5:13-16

In the movie Lion King, Simba is born into greatness.  A descendant of the king, he is told from a young age that he will one day rule over the pride land.  He doesn’t do anything to deserve this honor.  It’s just who he is.  It’s his identity—not because of who HE is, but because of who his father is.  And Simba is raised to be confident and comfortable in this calling.  He can sing and dance with his friends, saying, “I just can’t wait to be king,” because his calling is clear to him.

But then he starts listening to other voices.  After a serious accident, Simba listens to his uncle who tells him he has failed at life and must run away.  And Simba does.  He runs away and loses sight of who he was born to be…he loses sight of his calling.

Continue reading The 2nd sermon: “Remember who you are”

The Boat…

My congregation is doing a 6-week sermon/study series based on the book by John Ortberg, If you Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat.  I’ve been familiar with this book for quite some time, but I don’t think I’ve read it.  The book is based on the story of Peter walking on water, and the basic premise is that to really experience the fullness of what it means to follow the call of Jesus, we need to step beyond the safety and security of what they know and walk directly into the storm.

So this first week we were invited to ponder what boat we are in that maybe Jesus is calling us out of.  Ortberg says, “Your boat is whatever represents safety and security to you apart from God himself.  Your boat is whatever you are tempted to put your trust in, especially when life gets a little stormy.  Your boat is whatever keeps you so comfortable that you don’t want to give it up even if it’s keeping you from joining Jesus on the waves.  Your boat is whatever pulls you away from the high adventure of extreme discipleship” (p. 17).

As I was pondering this for myself, I began to wonder…what if the church (structured religious institution) is my boat?  What if I’m missing out on something bigger because all I can see is what I’m doing now…which is good and important and genuinely matters.  But is there somewhere beyond this to which I am being called? Continue reading The Boat…

jesus-and-mary

Seasons…

I recently listened to a podcast by Rob Bell called “Seasons.” He talks about taking his son to college, and realizing that with the change of seasons, come both joys and challenges–even if that change is good and necessary and life-giving.  He connected to the story of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene shortly after the resurrection, where Jesus says to Mary, “Do not hold onto me” (John 20:17).  He reflected on the challenge for Mary of releasing Jesus from who she knew him to be…letting the season of having Jesus among them in bodily form change.  This was hard for Mary.  It was hard for the disciples.  It’s often hard when seasons come to an end and something changes.

I could quickly see the connection to my own changing of seasons, as I left one position earlier this year and am gradually adjusting to a new position. With this position comes both joys and challenges.  One of the very real dynamics for my position–and many youth ministry positions these days–is that youth ministry looks different now than it did several years ago.  And yet there’s a strong desire to re-capture what youth ministry used to look like–large groups of teenagers coming together on the church campus on a regular basis.

But as I listened to Rob Bell reflect on this encounter between Jesus and Mary in the garden, and the reality of seasons, I saw a strong connection to my ministry.  I could see myself in Mary, clinging to the hem of Jesus’ robe and saying, “please…stick around…in a way that I can see you and touch you.  Stick around and keep doing the things I know you can do.  Stick around because I have figured out what life is like with you around.”  And I could see Jesus saying to me, “don’t hold on to me…let me be among you in new ways…let me be within you and around you in new ways…let me send you to the others with a message…don’t hold on to me.  It’s more abstract and harder to define, but ultimately my message won’t get beyond this defined community until you let go and let me be different than what you’ve known so far.”

I could hear Jesus saying something similar to the church:  “do not hold on to me.  Let me be different than the concrete way you may have known me in the past.  Let me be among you in new ways.  I am sending YOU now…”

Imagine if Jesus had stayed in that garden.  Because it was safer, more comfortable, more familiar.

But imagine what can happen because Jesus did NOT stay in that garden.

liturgical calendar

The rhythm of faith and life

One of the things I love about being part of a liturgical church is that the rhythm of the church year teaches me new stuff about the ongoing life of faith.  In the context of writing a sermon recently, I was reflecting on it again.  This is the bit that didn’t get into the sermon: Continue reading The rhythm of faith and life