Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Let your light so shine...

I heard this song on Saturday morning last week on WWOZ It's been on my mind and my running playlist ever since.  Give a listen to Kermit Ruffins' rendition of This Little Light of Mine
In the meantime, I had already written, but was preparing to preach on the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany with texts from Isaiah 58 and Matthew 5 which includes the passage we recite at baptisms as we light a candle, Let your light shine before others, so they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.  So, I have been praying about light...This song just hits the spot! 

We almost sang it as I handed out glow sticks to the kids during the children's sermon. 

Here is this past weekend's sermon.  Maybe take time this week to light a candle, to let Christ's light shine in the midst of darkness, to cast light and love and grace on a broken world. 

February 5, 2017
5th Sunday after Epiphany
Isaiah 58:1-12
Psalm 112:1-9
1 Corinthians 2:1-12
Matthew 5:13-20

Please pray with me,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen. 

Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! 

Such is the call we hear from Isaiah today…the trumpet would have been the call to the temple.  I thought about starting my sermon with the blast of the trumpet….or maybe a vuvuzela…you know…to draw attention…to call people to focus…or to even wake people up?   Because here we are, settled in worship. 

We’ve heard the lessons, we’ve sung some liturgy and some hymns, and now we settle in for the sermon.  Before our time is concluded today we will pray, share in the Lord’ Supper and be sent from this place to serve the Lord until we return. 

In essence, worship is the most important thing we do together. 

Yes, loving and serving our neighbor is important, as is feeding the hungry and visiting the lonely and praying for our enemies…but the most important thing that we do together is worship. 

“It is the place that forms us into the people of God.  It is the place where we inhale God’s love and grace, so that we can be sent forth to exhale God’s love and grace in a broken world in need of redemption.” (Connors)  

The original hearers of Isaiah’s passage were super focused on worship.  You may think, oh, that’s a good thing.  You just said that worship is the most important thing we do together…and yes it is, but the people of Isaiah’s time were too focused on the acts of worship.  They took the acts of worship, like fasting, bowing down before God and self-sacrifice as a way to say, Hey God!  Look at us!  Look at how pious we are!  Look at our fasting!  Look at our self-sacrifice!  Look at these rituals that we do over and over again to gain your attention! 

What do you think is wrong with that picture? 

The very acts of worship were driving the people to think more and more about themselves and their individual actions than those around them and how their actions impacted the life of the community.

Isaiah, the voice of the prophet, calls to the people to remind them that their worship is not just about their individual actions, but how their actions as a community of the faithful has an impact on the larger community. 

The prophets were sent to speak out for God.  (Sound familiar Fundocy youth?) Sometimes the words of the prophets comforted those who were afflicted.  Sometimes the words of the prophets afflicted the comfortable. 

In my eyes, the words of the prophets came from a God who loves God’s people so much…that sometimes they need to be refocused or redirected to the call of God in their lives. 

And that, in essence, is what worship does for us each week. 

It helps us to be refocused and redirected to the call of God in our lives. 

And maybe, one of the most important pieces of that call is the call to community. 

We aren’t called to live lives of disciples on our own in our own individual bubbles.  We are called together into the Body of Christ, into the family of God to reflect and shine the light of Christ in a broken and hurting world. 

Our gospel lesson today is another reminder of who we are called to be.  As you heard the passage read, You are the light of the world!  You are the salt of the earth!  Maybe you started humming the music from Godspell…I know I did. 

But did you know that as that passage was read that Jesus was talking to the community.  The you in both of those verses is plural. 

As a former English teacher it is easy for me to say the plural of you is you.  There is no need to add an ‘s’ to the end of it.  But apparently in these parts it may be better heard to say, yous or youins…although both of those make me cringe. 

Y’all works much better for me. 

Y’all are the light of the world!
Y’all are the salt of the earth! 

Y'all, get it? 

It’s plural, this command and call is being addressed in a communal and corporate way. 

It’s the reflection and sharing of Christ’s light as a community. 

Many of you may have one of these at home.  Especially if you have a newly baptized person in your family.  Because at a baptism, we light this candle, hand it to a parent or sponsor and say, let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven. 

I’m not sure what happens when those candles leave this place. I’ve heard of families that light those candles on birthdays or baptismal anniversaries.  Too often I think these candles are forgotten about.  They are put back in the box they came in and they are placed in a drawer.  Candles in a drawer don’t do much good.

But candles lit…that’s a completely different story. 

As the body of Christ we are called to let our light shine before others that they may see the good works of our community and that those works may give glory to our father in heaven. 

One candle will always break through the darkness.  That is most certainly true. 

But the light of candles, multiple candles, changes darkness in a bold and powerful way. 

The light of multiple candles shines light on the darkness, it allows us to see sin for what it is, the brokenness in our world and the places where we turn from God and turn in toward ourselves.  But it also shines a beacon of hope.  That where light is shined, God is there too. 

Where the light of Christ is shined shows the promise of the resurrection and eternal life. 

Where the light of Christ is shined shows our care and compassion for the community, nation and world outside of our own little bubbles. 

I invite you now to be part of that great light. 

To be reminded of God’s connection to us, and our opportunity and call to share that light with others. 

Please come up, pick up a candle and light it from the Christ candle….let us see how the communal light of Christ dispels darkness and illumines the church and the world. 

Let us pray,
Repeat after me,

Let our light so shine before others
That they may see our good works.
And give glory to our father in heaven.
Let Christ’s  light so shine before others
That it dispels the darkness,
Gives hope to the hopeless,
And enlightens our world
With your love,
In Jesus’ name we pray

Friday, February 3, 2017

Holy moments with others.

Today I had the opportunity and invitation to join my Muslim sisters and brothers in prayer.  

I attended the noon Friday prayer known as Juma at the Islamic Center of Reading.
An invitation was extended to my Lutheran brothers and sisters as an opportunity to to be present in support and  solidarity.  We were invited and many of us attended to show support and presence for Muslims in our community as they worship, specifically in light of the recent orders signed by the president.  

First of all, this was my first experience attending a prayer service in a Mosque.  They knew guests would be present and the members were beyond hospitable in welcoming us into their prayer space.  We were welcomed into their space with care and compassion, with smiles and warmth, with gratitude for our presence.  

We heard a reading from the Qur'an and the Imam shared a message with all who were gathered.  It was a message that encouraged us to remember who we are as people of faith.  While the Imam was specifically talking about what it looks like to live as a Muslim.  He said that it is our actions that show our faith.  It's not our prayer stance or prayer actions, but the actions we take part in every day.  I heard similar themes to the ones I hear in our weekly worship service: care for others, giving to those in need, showing compassion.  

As we bowed in prayer, I was thankful for this experience.  
I was thankful for the invitation, for the warm welcome and for the opportunity to ask questions when the service was over.  
I was also bothered. I was sad.  I am saddened and angered.  Sweeping statements about entire groups of faith are not true or fair and they cause more fear than anything else.  

I continue to pray that as a follower of Christ I am able to do the following things:
I hope that my actions will provide open spaces for people to talk about their faith similarities and differences.  I hope that my words will invite conversation and deeper understanding of my own faith and the faith and faith practices of others.  
I hope that as a leader in a faith community that I model support and care for my brothers and sisters of other faiths.  I hope that I am able to learn more about not just our differences but our similarities.  
I heard about our similarities today at Juma.  Our call to care for our neighbor, to reach out to those in need.  How we do that shows our faith to the world.  

As we live out our faith does it show care and compassion for all of God's creation?  

As I live out my faith do I show care for my neighbor?  Compassion for those in need?  A place of solace and safety for those who are treated unjustly?  Ears to listen to those whose life journey and experience is different than my own? A realization of the privilege I have and how that impacts how I share my faith and how I care for others?  

Many, many questions that will remain in my heart and my mind as time continues to pass.  
More reflections to come . . .

Good and gracious God, 
Thank you for the gift of this day.  Thank you for moments of peace and prayer and community and safe spaces for them all.  Be present in our world.  Guide our leaders to words and acts of justice and peace.  Provide space and comfort for those who wish to worship and respond to their faith in word and deed.  I pray for my Muslim brothers and sisters, for those able to pray in their local Mosque today and for those who prayed at home.  Thank you for their hospitality and care.  Guide my heart, mind and words to share the depth of this experience with others.  In Jesus' name, amen.  

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Focus on others.

And we're back...here we go, February, the focus will be on 'others'.  

I'm not really sure how this will take place, but I'm ready to give it a shot.  

My top three that I listed last night and prayed about were: others, life, family.  

I think now, more than ever, there is an importance of being present, being with and focusing on others.  For me, it means my phone is away when I am spending time with friends or family.  It means that I will be fully engaged with the people who are in my immediate surroundings.  It means for me that in a moment or a situation, it may be more important to focus on the needs, worries, concerns and joys of someone else rather than myself.  Not that it means taking time away from me, but that I am aware of the time I spend with others.  

For me it also means purposely listening to voices that are different than mine.  Voices that come from diverse backgrounds and experiences.  It means listening to others as they share stories in hopes that we can learn from one another.  It means learning my own story and how it impacts the lives of others both positively and negatively.  It means reaching out to experience the lives and stories of people around me in my neighborhood and outlying community.  

It means taking the time for others each and every day...expanding my daily prayers, expanding the music I listen to, the books I read, the tweets I follow and the people I meet.  

It will be interesting to see how this shapes the next month of 2017.  

I'll be sure to keep you posted.  

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

One month of focus: a recap.

One month into my one word and it's time (for me to see how it shaped this month for me.)

Some daily changes I made to help overall focus included the following: No Facebook in the office. (I have messenger to keep in touch with folks and only logged on once or twice to post things for church.)  
I moved my Facebook and Instagram apps into a folder marked focus, on the second screen on my phone.  That way I can't see alerts or posts on my main screen and if I'm tempted to check things out, I slow down and smile when I read the word focus.  
I have taken to always playing music or Netflix during cardio at the gym so I do not get sucked into different news channels that get me all fired up.  
I have found that at work and at home, making to do lists are very helpful for my focus.  They help me from getting sidetracked and help me to make the most of my time.  

I hadn't planned on it, but took time each evening to jot a short note about my focus for the day.  
Here are some of the things I focused on this month...
Being present in worship
Coffee & reading :)
Reading at work
Lack of focus
Sleep and healing
Being present
Strength and flexibility
Fitness and family
Being real
Small group
What I can do
Females (meeting, talking, and praying with 3 awesome women in my life)
Youth and music
Rest and work
Time management

It's interesting...that as I let the word focus impact my life each day, I have not set the goal of something specific to focus on each day.  These journal entries or notes are reflections on how I saw focus during the day.  I guess I worry that if I set a goal for a day or a week or a month it feels like more of a resolution than letting the word impact my life.  But I wonder what a month would look like with a focus on one thing.  From the list above...I have so many things I could focus on that it is hard to decide...or hone my focus.  Ha!  

But seriously, I think picking one for the month of February could be a good thing.  
I have a few that are jumping out at me on the list above.  I'll write them out before heading to bed tonight and pray on them and see how my mind and heart are focused in the morning.  

I'll post at some point tomorrow with a word for the month.  

Thanks for being part of my one word journey.   

Friday, January 27, 2017

True Sadness

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

At our text study this week, we talked, prayed and discussed the beatitudes.  While we entered into conversation about Matthew 5:1-12 we spent some time focusing on blessed are those who mourn.  We wondered what grief we all carry.  I wonder if it is a deep longing for all to know the love of God in Christ Jesus, or a deep longing for there to be peace and justice in our country and our world, or a deep longing for hate speech and anger to subside so that people may talk with one another about very divisive issues.  

We are in the season of epiphany...a season of light.  One of the things I realized (post text study) is that the light that shines in the darkness not only reveals the presence of Christ in our midst, but it also shines on the sin and darkness in our world.  The brighter Christ's light shines, the more we see the sin and brokenness in our world, and it drives us to the cross, the place where death and sin are conquered, not by our doing, but through the actions of God.  

We didn't talk about this text, but I started thinking about this passage from Romans:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:19-23)

What if it's not only we who are crying out, longing for a world of peace and hope and forgiveness and love.  What if all of creation groans and longs with us?  

We are just lifting the voices of all who cry out in the world.  

My new favorite song speaks, too, to this text and idea.  (My mind works in mysterious ways.)  First of all, my new favorite band is The Avett Brothers.  I know, just catching on...if you're a long time fan, let me know your favorites.  But what drew me in was the song, True Sadness.  Go ahead, give it a listen here. What caught my attention in a restaurant and on the radio was the upbeat tune.  It took me a while to wrap my mind around the chorus and title being True Sadness.  It doesn't sound like a song about sadness, but it speaks to the deep longing, it speaks to our ability to cover our sadness with layers and layers of joy or imitation joy, but the sadness is still there.  

The chorus is:
"But I still wake up shaken by dreams
And I hate to say it but the way it seems
is that no one is fine
Take the time to peel a few layers
and you will find
True sadness"

I think it speaks to this deep longing, to creation crying out and groaning for the revealing of the children of God.  I think it speaks to blessed are those who mourn...because mourning, crying out, and longing for peace and justice and for the children of God to be revealed is something we will all cry out for until we are all gathered together in the Kingdom of God.  

The first verse talks about someone else shining light on the darkness...

The final verse, I think, lifts up the fact that we are simultaneously sinner and saint (a very Lutheran thing).  

"I cannot go on with this evil inside me
I step our my front door and I feel it surround me
Just know the Kingdom of God is within you
Even though the battle is bound to continue"

For me...that evil inside me, that battle continuing is our continual need for the cross, and the presence of Christ in our lives and our world.  That we can't conquer sin alone.  That we can't banish the darkness with our own good deeds.  But by the grace of God we are able to let Christ's light shine through us and around us.  And may that light continue to baffle the darkness in our world.  May that light illuminate our world as a sign of hope and peace.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Where to begin?

Since inauguration day, many, many things have been happening.  

Events that have evoked celebration and joy.
Events that have evoked fear, worry and concern.  

My word for the year is focus.  
As I spend time sifting through different posts on different social media sites, it is hard to focus on what is actually happening.  It's hard to focus on issues that I feel are important, not only to me, but to  my neighbor (locally and around the globe.)  

I've been trying to focus my energy and attention on what is important...and my mind keeps jumping.  

I get that people have different opinions.  
I get that we don't always agree.
But I also struggle greatly with how we have been interacting with one another and treating one another.  It's perfectly okay to see a post you do not agree with and just move on. Sometimes that may be the smart choice.  

Now, back to focusing...seeing as I need to think about it all the time.  

I tried to think about how to focus in our fast paced political situation.  I tried to think about how to (as educated as possible) to follow all that is happening.  I tried to figure out where to begin.  
And when I did, I remember where it all started for me.  

At my baptism.  That's when by God's act, I was welcomed into the Body of Christ.  When I was in middle school I was confirmed.  I affirmed my baptism.  I confessed the creed and I was asked this question:  You have made public profession of your faith.  Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism:
to live among God's faithful people, 
to hear the word of God and share in the Lord's supper,
to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, 
to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?  

And I responded with, "I do, and I ask God to help and guide me."

Living among God's faithful people (the family of faith at Trinity) I pray that as I am fed and nourished in word and the Lord's supper that I am able to share the good news of God in Christ through word and deed (sharing the good news of God's love for all of God's people, the good news of forgiveness of sins, the gift of grace and that you are loved no matter what!), to serve all people (ALL people), following the example of Jesus (and Jesus asked who is your neighbor? My neighbor is the person who lives across the street and across the nation.  My neighbor is someone who looks just like me and shares my faith, or more likely, my neighbor has different color skin, learned a different language growing up, has a different faith or does not practice a religion, is a different gender, is surrounded by a family who loves them or who lives alone, my neighbor is someone who may not even have a place to call home, my neighbor is someone who struggles to make ends meet or is financially well off - I'm sure I've missed some similarities and differences here, but you get the idea.  My neighbor is who I am called to serve...not myself.  Especially when I have a voice.  I feel that I am called to speak for those who have no voice and to listen to the voices that are different than mine so I can better understand how we can come to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.  

Justice and peace in all the earth...for me that means starting at home...moving into the community and across the nation and globe.  It means writing to and calling my representatives.  It means not allowing hate filled speech to be part of interactions I have with people.  It means taking time each day to read or visit multiple news sites to compare and contrast the news stories that are hitting my news feed.  It means being as educated as much as I can be to the faith and beliefs of others so I can enter into conversation with others with humility and love.  

This by no means is the answer...
This by no means will make anything easier...
But I hope and pray that I will be able to share my voice as a voice of care, compassion and love for others as we navigate a new administration together.  Remembering our call to care for others...and to work for justice and peace in all the earth.  

Until tomorrow...

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Sermon from this past weekend.

January 15, 2017
2nd Sunday after Epiphany
Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm 40:1-11
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

Since we don't read the Psalm each week, I read this before the sermon. (Psalm 40)
I waited patiently for the Lord;
   he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit,
   out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
   making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
   a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
   and put their trust in the Lord. 

Happy are those who make
   the Lord their trust,
who do not turn to the proud,
   to those who go astray after false gods.
You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
   your wondrous deeds and your thoughts towards us;
   none can compare with you.
Were I to proclaim and tell of them,
   they would be more than can be counted. 

Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
   but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt-offering and sin-offering
   you have not required.
Then I said, ‘Here I am;
   in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do your will, O my God;
   your law is within my heart.’ 

I have told the glad news of deliverance
   in the great congregation;
see, I have not restrained my lips,
   as you know, O Lord.
I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
   I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
   from the great congregation. 

Do not, O Lord, withhold
   your mercy from me;
let your steadfast love and your faithfulness
   keep me safe for ever.

Please pray with me,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock our strength and our redeemer.  Amen. 

Six years ago on a Friday evening my ministry in this place began.  Surrounded by 30-ish youth and many adult chaperones we were given final directions on how to get to the Hilton in Harrisburg for the Harrisburg YouthQuake.  I jumped right in and have been loving it here ever since. 

Each year following that first year I’ve enjoyed attending the quake.  Well except for last year with that 30+ inches of snow…it was good that we stayed home. 

One year the keynote speaker was Tiger McLuen.  They youth enjoyed his larger group presentations and the adult chaperones were able to attend two adult leader sessions with him as well.  My one big take-away from the adult session was this.  As he talked about youth ministry he said, number one: It’s all about you.  Talking with the adults he said you need to be a person to whom and with whom the youth can relate, you need to be accessible, open, understanding and honest.  We thought, okay we’ve got this.  We understand, it’s all about us. 

And then he said and number two:  It’s not about you. 
A few of us thought, huh?  But he continued to explain…as soon as you have their attention, trust, relationship, you immediately get out of the way and point to Christ.  And we all went, oh….that totally makes sense. 

Hey, look at me, look at me!!! Now, look there! (at the cross) 

You ebb and flow between the two (it’s all about me….it’s not about me) and while relationships deepen, you continue to point to the cross and to Christ. 

And that…is the same thing that John does in our gospel lesson today.  John has been out and about baptizing and calling people to repentance, in preparation for the coming of Christ – look at me, he says, look at me!  This is my message to you…and then John has their attention and he says, look – here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Look, here comes Christ.  Look….this is the one you have been waiting for and preparing for…not me…but him. 

For us today, we are still seeking that savior…the one who takes away the sin of the world, the one who has experienced our joys and our pains and continues to be there for us no matter what and the good new is: The messiah has come! 

And the even better news is:  It’s not you! 


Am I right?  We look at the people in our world around us, looking for the one who will save us…well that person has already come…in Christ. 

God is present with us here and now through the gift of the Son, Jesus Christ, the Messiah…the savior. 

Does that mean the life will be smooth sailing? Oh, heavens no.  We will continue to live our lives in a broken world, one where we struggle with death and dying.  A world where we struggle to feed the hungry, care for our neighbor and work for peace and justice for all the world.  A world where we struggle and argue with others about the state of our environment and the state of our nation.  A world where we seem to speak more than we listen. 

Yet in the midst of it all…God is with us. 
We are reminded of that in the word of our psalm for today.  
“I waited patiently for the Lord;
   he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit,
   out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
   making my steps secure.”

Upon reflecting on this psalm, a colleague wrote, “God is present with us in the pit and has the power to draw us out, but a life of discipleship requires turning right back around and entering the pit once again, in the name of preaching good news to those still held captive within it.” 

God is with us, especially when we are most in need of a savior.  And we, then, turn and return to the depths or the pit where others may be to proclaim that good news, that they too have been saved, that they too are free from sin and death to love and serve their neighbor.  Because in essence that is what we continue to do for one another.  Someone drags us out of the pit…and we are able to be there to lift up others….the cycle is cyclical….I wish we could be pulled out of that pit once and be good to go…but we return to that place sometimes through fear, sometimes through doubt, sometimes through loss and sometimes because we have lost all hope. 

But the truth is this: Our present hope stands on the solid foundations of the past, saving acts of God. 

Look as we might, to the world around us for a hope for the future…our present hope stands on the solid foundation of the past, saving acts of God. 

Whatever the future may bring, we look to it, knowing all that God has done for us in the past, knowing that God is here with us now and that God will continue to be with us in to the future.  May we, go forward, knowing what God has done in the past, proclaim that good news…and point to the cross so that others may see and know the presence of God and the hope in Christ Jesus. 

Let us pray,
O God,
None can compare with you, for your wondrous deeds for our salvation are without number. 

Make us bold witnesses to your faithfulness that all the earth may rejoice in your love toward us in Jesus Christ our Redeemer.  And let all God’s people say, amen.