Monday, March 24, 2014

This weekend's sermon.

March 23, 2014
3rd Sunday in Lent
Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 95
Romans 5:1-11
John 4:5-42

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. 

Two old men, life long friends are sitting across from each other playing checkers.  One breaks the silence of the game to say, gosh…we’ve been friends for a long time, but for the life of me, I just cannot remember your name.  The other friend looks up, stares at his friend and sits in silence for a while.  Eventually he takes a breath and speaks and says, “How soon do you need to know?” 

How’s that for a moment of relief and grace? 

I heard this on the radio a few weeks back, when I was trying to get to my tried and true station, but all that would come in was a Christian radio station.  Truth be told, I don’t often listen to Christian’s just not a go to station for me.  So here I was, listening and I caught this joke…which spoke to me instantly. 

I was drawn in, thinking that the friend whose name had been forgotten was going to lay into his friend for forgetting in the first place.  Yet, he himself, could not remember his name either.  I heard (in a place least likely for me) a word of forgiveness and grace. 

Isn’t that how God almost always breaks into our world and our lives?  In the places least likely? 

It’s definitely the case with our gospel lesson this week. 

We are in a much different place then we were last week.  Last week we heard about Nicodemus (a leader of the Jews) coming to Jesus in the dark of night, to ask questions to learn more about who Jesus was and what his mission was. 

This week, it is broad daylight…the middle of the day, actually, at the public well, when a Samaritan woman comes to draw water and meets Jesus. 

Two meetings….one in the dark, one in the light. 

One a respected leader….one an outcast in society. 

Both asking questions of Jesus…and allowing Jesus reveal who he was…who he is…to them and to us. 

As we enter this story, we seem to get caught up in the line that describes this woman’s past and present.  When Jesus says to her, “You have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband”.  Yet if we read more closely we discover that neither John as narrator nor Jesus as the central character tells us her current state is a result of sinful behavior.  Jesus at no point invites repentance or, for that matter, speaks of sin at all.  She very easily could have been widowed or have been abandoned or divorced.  

Five times would be heartbreaking, but not impossible.  Further, she could now be living with someone that she was dependent on, or be in what’s called a Levirate marriage (where a childless woman is married to her deceased husband’s brother in order to produce an heir yet is not always technically considered the brother’s wife).  There are any number of ways, in fact, that one might imagine this woman’s story as tragic rather than scandalous.

So instead of getting caught up in the how and why of this woman’s situation, maybe we should focus on Jesus addressing her, engaging her in conversation and revealing to her who he is as Messiah. 

That may be the biggest challenge for us in hearing this text…seeing beyond the characteristics of the woman, to see that that does not matter to Jesus…and if it does matter to Jesus he is going to her in spite of who she is, where she is from and what she has done (or has had done to her) and reaches out to her to show her love and grace. 

And then here’s the kicker….she get’s it.  She is changed, transformed and leaves her bucket, leaves the well….and goes to tell others.  That’s the thing with grace.   When we’re changed, received into God’s arms, surrounded by love and forgiveness…how can we not continue our lives, shouting for joy and sharing that amazing good news with others?  Each week, in this place, we are greeting the same exact way. 

We come together…knowing our faults, foibles…knowing our weaknesses, our struggles our pains, hurts, sicknesses and sadness.  And God reaches out to each and every one of us…no matter what.  No matter what we’ve done this past hour or week….to say, hey, I know you….and you are forgiven and loved. 

In terms of John’s story and world, this nameless woman has pretty much everything stacked against her: she is a Samaritan in this Jewish story, a woman in a male-dominated world, has lived a challenging and probably tragic life, and is very likely dependent on others. And yet after her encounter with Jesus she leaves her water jar -- perhaps symbolic of all the chores and difficulties of her life -- behind to live a new and different life and to share with others what God has done for her.

Gosh, how can we see this with new eyes?  That God’s grace reaches farther than we can imagine?  The God reaches out to the people and places where we think God doesn’t reach or will not show up. 

It’s all too easy for us to let our own expectations and prejudices get in the way of the places where God’s grace will reach.  How can we see…as this woman saw…Jesus…in the world, in our lives and in the lives of people and places we don’t expect him to be? 

How can we see….with new eyes…that we are all God’s children that in those moments when we feel least valued, ignored, hurt, challenged, that God embraces us.  And that God does that to all others, too. 

How can we keep that grace to ourselves? 

We can’t.  It’s going to keep reaching…beyond our reach, beyond our grasp and outside of the places we think it should reach.  Because that’s grace.  Unending…ever reaching…all encompassing…grace. 

Would you join me in prayer,

Gracious, loving God. Open our eyes.  Help us to see Jesus.  In our hearts, our lives and world.  Really help us to see Jesus in people, places and situations where we don’t expect him to be…help us to always see you love and grace in all people.  And now may the peace, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say, amen. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

pros & cons to an online community

Here are some thoughts I've been having about living in a media filled day and age.  They are in no way complete, but just a few things that I've been thinking about.

I'm probably a Facebook addict...I scope it out from time to time (daily) and have absolutely loved the opportunity to reconnect with folks from many different areas and times of my life.  From friends from elementary school, to camp and college friends, to friendships made during my junior year in England, and my family friends.  Not to mention, it's another place/space to connect with folks from my congregation.  It definitely has its perks.  You can share good news with hundreds of folks at once and share in many, many birthday greetings.

But I do have to say that maybe I'm worried that there are more cons than pros.  Or maybe there is more of a chance of cons, if we're not careful out there.

Part of living in the immediacy of this online world, we can err on the side of expecting posts or pictures from folks when we want to see them.  Does that make sense?  You know that a friend got married....and you say, when do we get to see the pictures?  Or friends just returned from a trip and you want to see all about it.  It's as if as soon as you know something has happened, you expect to see the proof.  I think it's very important for us to remember that not everyone will share information or pictures the time frame or manner we expect them to.  We need to remember that in such a public forum....the things and pictures people share will depend on exactly what they want to share and when they want to share it.  An instant world has completely challenged our patience.

I worry, too, as a pastor and a friend about people posting comments or status updates that seem to passively ask for help.  Here's the thing...if you are really hurting, really need help, or just feel's time to connect with people face to face.  Log out, and pick up the phone to find a time to get together with someone who loves you and cares about you and can listen to what is going on in your life.  Try as we might with 'comments' and texts....the face to face interaction is so much better.  (That's just one of the reasons I'm part of a community of faith....but that's another post for another time.)
Because here's the other piece to this....what if you do post that things are really crappy right now....and no one comments or reaches out to you about're probably going to feel worse.  And maybe, if I'm your pastor AND your friend on Facebook, I may miss that update...and it's not that I don't's just that I don't check all the updates from folks in my congregation every day.  (Because that would be creepy in itself.)  I'll say it again, if you're really hurting or lonely or just sad....tell someone....face-to-face....and we'll find some help together.

And, as you read updates, or see pictures....and everyone else's life looks perfect...remember this:  we can post only positive status updates, we can photoshop pictures...we can make our pages look absolutely perfect...and under the surface things may not be that don't compare your life to someones life on Facebook.

Here's the thing, too, think before you share...think about why you need to share that information or that picture...think about how that person feels about you sharing something about them....and I think it's most important to think about whether it will help or hurt.  Seems so simple, right?  But be nice out there.  We live in a world that already groans with death and pain...we don't need to add extra painful comments or a place/person/online entity that promotes positive comments and care for your 'online' friends and family.

Thanks for reading....listening....and just being out there.

Now go connect with someone face-to-face.

Until the next post +peace.

Friday, March 14, 2014

140.8 (not that it matters)

I weighed in yesterday....a fraction of a pound more than last week, but it doesn't matter.  My goal is to stay under 145.  Since I'm pretty close to last week, I'm going to maintain my current calorie guide and see how this week goes.  Granted, there are car bomb pancakes, car bomb cupcakes and corned beef and cabbage in my future, but it should be just fine.

My body seems okay with a little splurge from time to time and the random day off from working out, too.
I finished reading Food for Life this week.  While several things stuck out for me as I read, I was really struck by the idea of 'time pollution.'  Yup, time pollution.  Throughout the book, Jung writes about how food and sharing it is a gift from God and it should be something that brings us joy.  Yet living in such a face paced society, we barely slow down to sit and savor food, let alone all the other things we do every day.  It's as if our time is polluted.  It's too full of activities, chores, work, school, hobbies, family, name it.  As soon as you start thinking about all the things that fill your day, it's all too easy to become overwhelmed.  Our time is polluted.  And when we think about how full our time is, we begin to worry about how much of it that we have, and then we find ourselves slipping into seeing the time that surrounds us as something that is in scarcity, rather than abundance. I know, we do have a limited time here on earth.  Living through the season of Lent with both young and old facing terminal illnesses...I'm aware that we will not be here forever.  I get that.  But, the time we have with one another can be seen as something we have in abundance.  Even those facing death sooner than others...take time each day to just stop.  To just do one thing at a time.  Stop the multitasking, stop the cramming of one more thing in....and just be, either on your own (if you need the space) or with family.  Preferably around a meal table.  Take time to be engaged with one another, to see the blessing and abundance of time and food in your life and give thanks to God.  Then be together....cry, laugh, whatever is best for you....but just celebrate that time together.

On a completely different note, I received a few complements in the past week from different folks at the gym who have noticed my weight loss.  It's felt good...not just the complements, but also the support from my gym community.  The folks at LJs Fitness have been super supportive and encouraging as I've been on this weight loss journey.  While they did not know about my weight loss plan that began in December, they have continued to encourage me to try new things and keep up the good work.  (You'll get a gentle ribbing if you've been away for a while, but it's all in good fun.)
I may have treated them to some car bomb cupcakes today. :)  And we'll all work them off in the next few days.

I'll be starting Sharing Food tomorrow.  (I haven't been reading everyday...but I'm trying.)  I'm also trying to blog more about what I'm reading....we'll see how that goes with this new read.

But until then, enjoy your time, your loved ones and yourself.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ready for Lent? Yes.

I may be a day early for Lent, because I'm ready. 

Oh, don't get me wrong, I made 2 King Cakes (one for home and one to share) and I had a piece last night and had a piece with both breakfast AND lunch today....and even with pancakes galore for dinner, there will be room for one final piece tonight after Bible Study. 

As I mentioned in my March newsletter article and on this blog, I've been working on weight loss and now, more importantly, maintaining that loss.  So today, I began some of the reading that I plan to use during my morning devotions and they will probably surface during meal times as well. 

Today I read the preface from Food for Life: The Spirituality and Ethics of Eating by L. Shannon Jung. I think part of my devotional time will mean going back to some journaling time as well.  (That was a great practice for me last why did I stop that?)  We'll see if some of my journal musings show up here, I'm sure some of them will. 

After that read, I'll move into Sharing Food: Christian Practices for Enjoyment also by L. Shannon Jung.  I'll follow that with My Name is Child of God, not "those people" by Julia Dinsmore who gives a first person look at poverty. 

We'll see where these three reads take me.  Truth be told, I've leafed through the first two from time to time (based on the random highlighted sections) but do not remember seriously sitting down with them.  And in light of weight loss and management being a current concern of not just mine, but also as pastor in a congregation that celebrates around food, it's something I think about every day. 

As I took my yearly health assessment, I paused when I hit this question: 

Are you a prayerful eater? 

Hmmm....I pray before meals, but I'm not sure that's what they were asking. 
I wonder if incorporating reading and journaling into my prayer time this season will shape my eating into prayerful eating...but maybe I need to learn what that actually means first. 

Thanks for reading along over the next 40, what about you?  Is the season of Lent a time for you to pick up a new practice or shed an old habit? Do you remove something or add something that helps you turn away from distractions and enables you to see God at work in your life? 

Blessings and peace.