Monday, October 2, 2017

I don't know.

October 1, 2017
17th Sunday after Pentecost
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Psalm 25:1-9
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

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

In the 1957 book, Dynamics of Faith, the Lutheran pastor and theologian Paul Tillich wrote the famous words, “Faith is not belief without doubt.  Faith is belief in spite of doubt.”
“Faith is not belief without doubt.  Faith is belief in spite of doubt.”
For Tillich, these words would not just be theoretical words in a vacuum.  Paul Tillich held onto his faith in a particularly difficult situation and time. He was a pastor and professor in Germany during the 1920s and 30s. 

The church was a challenging place to be during this time.  You see, many of Martin Luther’s writings we were being used to promote anti-Semitism.  And the largest protestant Christian movement in Germany sought  to, among other things, strike the Old Testament from the Bible due to its Jewish origins.  They also banned people with Jewish heritage from the ordained ministry and even questioned whether it was proper to baptize people of Jewish descent. 

They even tried to change the focus of Christianity from the cross and resurrection to Jesus’ conflicts with the Jewish authorities.  They were trying to make Jesus the lead Aryan warrior in their campaign against the Jews.  Paul Tillich came into conflict with these so-called ‘Christians’ and lost his job as a seminary professor when Hitler came to power.  Yet in 1957 he was still able to proclaim his faith in Christianity despite his doubts. 

Now meet, Bishop James Pike a popular Episcopalian leader who became the Bishop of California shortly after Paul Tillich shared those words of faith and doubt.  Pike’s time as bishop was controversial.  He became associated with Dr. Martin Luther King who was a deeply polarizing and controversial figure himself.  Pike promoted civil rights for blacks, he ordained a woman as a deacon (even though her ordination wasn’t approved until after his death) and he was in favor of gay rights. 

Pike wasn’t just controversial because of his social positions.  He was a man who was not afraid to question the theological positions of the church, either.  He questioned just about every one of them.  In the end, he went to Israel to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and died in the desert while he was looking for answers.  Bishop Pike’s most famous quote was that Christians need to have ‘fewer beliefs, but more belief.’

Both of these leaders are going to make any history book that is written about 20th century theologians.  Both wrote many books and were on the faculty at respected universities.  Neither one was afraid to say, “I don’t know.” 

“We don’t know.” 
These are words that take a prominent role in today’s gospel lesson.  Of course, the context of these words was very different than when we hear them from Paul Tillich or Bishop Pike…their words are a confession of human limitations, an expression of humility.  When we hear these words spoken from the Pharisees, it’s a political maneuver. 

Their alternatives are to acknowledge that John the Baptist’s mission (that is his preaching and command to baptize) was from God or to claim that it was of human origin (that is that he was a false prophet.)  In the first case they would have to explain why they hadn’t accepted his message; in the second case they would run afoul of the popular opinion of John: that he was a true prophet. 

It’s important for Matthew to show here that not only are the leaders influenced by the crowd’s opinion, since they seek popularity and are jealous of Jesus.  Matthew also lifts up that the crowd, which has played a positive role throughout that narrative but has not yet definitively decided for or against Jesus, does indeed have influence and responsibility.  The leaders decide that it is better not to answer at all. 

But even if the words we hear from the Pharisees are not genuine, there are places in the Bible where we hear the more humble, “I don’t know.”  Even Paul, the first Christian theologian and someone who was never hesitant to declare his own convictions, honestly admitted that we cannot always know how to pray. In his letter to the church in Corinth, he admitted that he didn’t even have all the answers when it came to his personal visions.  Only God knows everything.  And it is in God that Christians put all their faith, despite not knowing the things we cannot know. 

“We do not know,” is actually a very Christian confession. 

But on the other hand, as Christians, there are things we can say we do know. 

Our faith is based on and in Jesus Christ.  Christians believe that in his life, death, and resurrection, we get a glimpse of the divine.  We believe that through Jesus, we can see God.  What is true of Jesus Christ is also true of God.  That isn’t a statement that can be proved in any empirical sense.  That’s where faith comes in. 

In Jesus we meet a God that loves and cares for the sick, the poor, the oppressed.   We meet a God that spreads love to all people even though it means violating every artificial social, religious, and purity boundary that human beings could devise.  Even in his crucifixion, Jesus he continued to tell us, from the cross, that God loves us. 

And not even death could stop him from coming back, offering forgiveness to his betrayers.  That’s the Jesus that we confess.  That’s the loving image that Christians claim show us God’s true nature. 

As Christians, we feel comfortable saying, “I don’t know,” to all sorts of questions about life and the afterlife.  We don’t need to know all the answers because we know we don’t have to worry.  We are in the hands of a God who loves us.  A God who didn’t put up a defense even when we were killing God in Jesus.  Since God loves us that much, then we don’t have to worry that we will be taken care of, even if we don’t know the answers.

Some of the things we should know is that Jesus Christ is and Christian faith should be, understanding that we are all one human family in God’s eyes. 

It’s about proclaiming the good news that God loves everyone no matter who they are.  It’s about knowing that our life here is not all that there is and seeing ourselves in the perspective of something bigger.  That’s what we learned from Christ.  It’s okay to say that we don’t know about the rest.

The God we see in Christ doesn’t give us all the answers.  But that God gives us something better –courage.  Despite the promises of some preachers and religions, life will always be an uncertain thing.  We all know this.  We can never know what is coming next.  But we have a faith that allows us to live each day with a confidence others may not have. 

We have the promise that nothing we do, don’t do or anyone else ever does can snatch us out of the God’s hand, no matter what happens in this life.  Because we live with this, we can also sometimes live with the words, “We don’t know.”

So as you go about your week, be guided and guarded by a God that loves you. 
Know that through God’s love, you are free to love and serve others, to share a hope and a promise of eternal life…and to not know all the answers, because you are loved by a God who loves you, no matter what. 

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, August 21, 2017

Loved and forgiven to be the church.

August 20, 2017
Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
Psalm 67
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15:10-28

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

Let me tell you…this sermon did not come easy this week.  Wrestling with the texts and praying for the Spirit to intercede while listening to and reading the news and following the current climate through social media so many things have been swirling in my heart and mind this week.  It’s times like this when I am thankful that our church uses a lectionary, that the texts for each week are already decided and that the preacher doesn’t need to pick which texts to use.  It is often a surprise when we think about the current climate, and find ourselves hearing scripture that speaks to what is happening in our world today. 

That being said, we continue to pray for the Spirit to intercede, to open our hearts and our minds to hear how God’s message of love and grace speaks to us this day, and how it calls us to be the church in our community, nation and world. 

This week our Gospel lesson extends a call to us, but it does so by challenging us to think about who we are, how we act and how God’s grace transforms us. 

It’s in two parts today.  We begin with Jesus teaching his disciples about purity.  He reminds those following him that it is not what we take in that is impure, but it is what comes from us, that is not clean.  He explains that all the evil intentions and actions come from within. 

After Jesus has had the opportunity to teach that true purity comes from the heart, he is approached by a Canaanite woman. 

Jesus is approached by an outsider…by someone who is not from the area, a woman without a male escort, following Jesus, one in whom we would not expect her to believe. 

Jesus silent response to her pleas shocks us….well, it shocks me.  Earlier in this text we know that when he was surrounded by over 5,000 people, he was full of compassion for them.  He healed them and fed them.  Just last week, when Peter was out on the water and said, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately responded with an outstretched hand. 

You would think that Jesus would have the same compassion for a woman with a sick daughter, yet Jesus remains focused on what he believes his will is. He is called to save the house of Israel, that is the group to whom he is to minister. 

After some sharp interaction between Jesus and this woman, he seems to put her in her place.  She admits her standing and her origin, and persists that she still deserves even a crumb of this abundant grace that God has to offer through Jesus. 

Jesus finally decides that her faith is great and her daughter is healed. 

How does that strike you? 

On one level, we may be surprised at Jesus initial harshness to this woman.  Because she is not of the house of Israel, she does not receive the grace of God? 

Yet eventually, the grace does extend to her.  It pulls us back to Isaiah, where we know that the Lord’s house will be a house of prayer for all people. 

After this healing, we do not hear anything more about this woman.  We do not know if she evangelized about Jesus, or committed her life to following him, we do not know what her faith outcome is from this act.  Nothing is said about her response to this grace. 

Yet that’s the point, isn’t it? 

God’s grace and love abound to each and every person, no matter what.  Whether people acknowledge that gift or respond by sharing that good news…everyone receives it. 

We are reminded through our texts today that the church is a place that welcomes the outsider, no matter who he or she may be.  The church is not a place where only people we deem appropriate are welcome.  The church breaks down the walls of prejudice and exclusion to create a place for all to come and pray. 

The church breaks down the walls of prejudices and exclusion to create a place for all to come and pray. 

This is not something that only happened in Biblical times, this passage speaks to us loudly and clearly today. 

Though the story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman, we see God at work, transforming Jesus and the ministry that he did.  We see in this story, Jesus’ humanity, that focused on the mission at hand, he too, was in need of God’s grace and transformation.  Amy Jill Levine writes, “Jesus realizes that he can yield his own position of authority, his own job description, for the sake of someone who has no authority of her own, and this yielding shows he cares about the people, and more — he listens to them. She, on the other hand, demonstrates the model of the Sermon on the Mount: she persists, cleverly, without elevating the violence. Everyone wins.”

Keeping that in mind, that even in the midst of active ministry, Jesus was continually guided and shaped by God’s mercy and grace, so, too are we. 

And in today’s day and age, we are desperately in need of God’s grace. 

We know the evil that surrounds us each day. 
We have heard the hate filled speech of white supremacists. 
We have seen the evil represented in Nazi flags and torch carrying marchers. 
And perhaps, we have felt the fear that surrounds these words and actions. 

And yet, we are called to be the church. 

This week I began rereading, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison.  I came upon this quotation,

"We are not Christ, but if we want to be Christians, we must have some share in Christ's large-heartedness by acting with responsibility and in freedom when the hour of danger comes, and by showing a real sympathy that springs, not from fear, but from the liberating and redeeming love of Christ for all who suffer.” 

"We are not Christ, but if we want to be Christians, we must have some share in Christ's large-heartedness by acting with responsibility and in freedom when the hour of danger comes, and by showing a real sympathy that springs, not from fear, but from the liberating and redeeming love of Christ for all who suffer."

Transformed by love and forgiveness, we must act with responsibility, not by silently accepting hateful words and actions by groups like neo-Nazis and white supremacists, but by publicly denouncing them. 

By saying that this place, this church is not just a welcome place for all, but a place that welcomes those who have been hurt, those who are broken, those in our society who have been treated unfairly, or excluded because of the color of their skin, their gender, their economic status or any other aspect of themselves that may make them different. 

And thanks be to God for grace and forgiveness, because we haven’t always gotten it right in the past, and while forgiveness doesn’t change the past, it does enlarge the future.  It’s a reminder of the continual changes that we can make because we are forgiven of our sins. 

We are continually made new in Jesus Christ, to show a real sympathy that springs not from fear, but from the liberating and redeeming love of Christ for all who suffer. 

So go, knowing you are loved and have been forgiven and transformed. 
Through the power of Christ’s death and resurrection, we are transformed people…ready, whether we realize it or not, to live lives, speak words and actively proclaim God’s love and grace in a broken world. 

So go, be the church. 


Loved and forgiven…we are ready to go in peace and serve the Lord…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, July 10, 2017

Taking on and sharing the yoke.

5th Sunday after Pentecost
Zechariah 9:9-12
Psalm 145:8-14
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-20

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. 

Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. 

I love this passage from Matthew.  It is one of the scripture passages that we often shared during compline – the prayer service at the end of the day, when I was at seminary.  It was that pleasant reminder that whatever was still weighing heavy on us, whatever was stressing us out, whatever was still taking its toll on us at 10 o’clock at night was known and shared by God. 

This passage is a gentle reminder that we cannot handle everything on our own.  But how often do we think and try to handle it on our own?  How often do we not share what is in our hearts and on our minds because we are afraid of how people will respond?  How often do we not reach in to love and support others because we are uncertain of how to do so? 

In the book, There is no Good Card for This: What to say and do when life is scary, awful and unfair to people you love, the authors, Kelsey Crowe and Emily McDowell address how important it is that we open ourselves up to one another during tough times.  They write, “Believing that you’re incapable of connecting during painful times can isolate you from life’s most connected moments.” 

Let me say that again, “believing that you’re incapable of connecting during painful times can isolate you from life’s most connected moments.”  I know, it’s hard to love others and be completely present with them, especially when you don’t know what to say to them in response to a family tragedy, job loss, life threatening illness, or broken relationship….but the truth is, when we are able to be present, even if all we say is, I’m sorry, it opens up an opportunity to grow deeper in relationship with one another and with God.  It opens up the time and space to connect, love, and support more deeply. 

And that’s the yoke that Christ is bound to us with…the yoke of love.  That yoke, connects us to Christ and to one another as we journey through this life together, navigating ups and downs, highs and lows, struggles and celebrations. 

A good friend of mine once said that the problem with loving people is that you take into your heart, not only the joys, but the sorrows and sadness, too.  But again, that’s what happens when we are yoked together with Christ and with one another.  The load becomes lighter and we work together to love, support and sometimes carry one another. 

Serving as chaplain at Bear Creek Camp last week, I had many opportunities to see the yoke of Christ present in campers and staff alike.  It was most often seen with the campers when the counselors were leading them through specific team building activities.  Ilse, a counselor with one of the junior groups of campers reflected on this in the end of camp video.  She said on Monday, her group had tried an “Infirmary Hike” which means different campers have different ailments – broken bones, blindness, or other ailments that cause them to need help as they hike a trail. 

Ilse said that on Monday, the group struggled to work together, they were focused more on their individual needs than the needs of the group and it just didn’t go well.  On Friday, they tried the Infirmary Hike again, with much different results.  The group of campers who knew each other very well at this point, had more trust in one another, listened more carefully to one another and worked much better together for the benefit of the whole group. 

So yes, it does take time….to get to know one another and to build trust…but it makes a huge difference. 

Each morning at the pre-chapel staff meeting, you could see how the 2017 summer staff were continuing to build relationships as they are yoked together for the summer.  As part of each staff meeting there is a time for shout outs, a time for any staff person to give a word of thanks or praise to another staff member. 
Most times they were words of appreciation as one person saw another spending extra time with camper in need, or stepping in to help when no one else was around. 
It was great to hear their words of support and thanks for one another.  It gave the staff the opportunity to see how sharing the burden, sharing the workload makes it lighter for everyone. 

I spent most of my week at camp with the Seniors.  It’s the oldest group of campers and during session 2, they were all female.  It was amazing to see how the dynamic changed as the week went on, because here’s the thing…this group faced some tough challenges.  On Monday morning, they conquered the high ropes course with flying colors.  As I was catching people at the end of the zipline, I could hear cheers of support and when individuals got stuck or struggled through some of the elements. 

On Monday evening, they said goodbye to one of the young women in their group, we’ll call her Tina.  Her grandmother was in the hospital and her health was failing.  Tina was picked up by her mom so she could spend time with family.  We didn’t know what the outcome would be.  We prayed for Tina and her family that night and even after knowing her for just one day, we felt her absence in our hearts and our tents.  On Tuesday morning, I did a double take as I saw Tina reunited with her group.  She joined us on the overnight and was present with us for the rest of the week. 

We were overjoyed with Tina’s return, but it was words spoken on Friday night that still tug at my heart. 
We spent time going around the group at Friday night devotions and each young woman heard positive words about their actions, personality and presence.  More than one camper commented on this Tina’s strength to come back to camp.  Tina shared with us that she knew she needed to be in a place surrounded by friends where she could have fun and not just sit at home and worry about her grandmother. 

But so many of the other girls said they are not sure if they could have made that decision.  They admired her strength, her ability to know what would be good for her, and her ability to talk to her parents about returning to camp for the week.  The depth of our conversation that night showed the yoke that encompassed us and connected us all.  We were able to hear about Tina’s worries and struggles, and we were able to share our own worries, as well as support and love with her. 

That’s the yoke, my friends….it binds us together…it doesn’t weigh us down, but rather connects, supports and helps us through the challenging times. 

Christ’s presence with us does not free us from life’s struggles and challenges, but it gives us hope and strength to work through those situations with others. 
Christ’s presence gives us the promise that we will not face tough times alone. 

This yoke is a call to action, to be present for others, as Christ is present with us. 

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. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Sunday's Sermon

June 8, 2017
The Holy Trinity
Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Psalm 8
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20

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. 

It’s Holy Trinity Sunday, a day when we think about and are challenged by the idea of Trinity….of God…three in one…Father, Son and Holy Spirit….and what role that plays in our faith journey and our day to day lives. 

There is a story about a gentleman who rarely went to church on Easter Sunday, but always went on Trinity Sunday.  Why, you may ask.  It was because he knew that most preachers could do a passable job of the Resurrection, but always wanted to see how the preacher could explain the totally un-explainable (or incomprehensible) doctrine of the Trinity. 

However explainable or un-explainable it is….there are ways that we can see God at work in the world as God the Father, as God the Son and as God the Holy Spirit….and that may be the best way for us, this day, to see the Holy Trinity in our midst. 

So what does this text say to us today? 
As soon as we hear this command, we think…time to get going!  Time to move!  There’s no time to sit still.  You see in most translations, the main verb in the Great Commission is GO!  But in the original Greek text, the verb is translated in the participle, which means going…The main active verb in the Greek is “make disciples” or literally translated “discipline.”  Yet that doesn’t make as much sense in the English to us. 

Perhaps the most literal translation of this text comes from a contemporary translation of the New Testament called God’s Word: Today’s Bible Translation that Says What it Means It reads, “So, wherever you go, make disciples of all nations: Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Teach them to do everything I have commanded you.” 

There is also an interesting translation in Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Bible, “As you travel, then, make students of all races and initiate them into the family of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Teach them to live by all that I outlined for you.”

In both of these translations, the action isn’t go or going, it’s baptizing and teaching. 

It’s fair to say that we are in the same boat as the eleven who heard this command directly from Jesus.  We, too, gather.  We, too, come some with belief and some with doubt.  And, whether we think we are prepared, knowledgeable, equipped and prepared….we are still sent. 

That’s the call.  That’s the great commission.  To be one of Jesus’ disciples and to continue to baptize, teach, invite, love and serve. 

Is this the best plan of action for the church?  I talked about what was the best plan last week, and sometimes makes you wonder, doesn’t it.  Yet after 2,000 years the church is still going, in spite of us. 

So here’s the call….the commission…the challenge….to share this belief…this faith…this seeing God at work in our own lives and seeing God at work in the world.

We understand this from our own experience. We too are called to "go" to where Jesus will meet us. We too are called to worship. We are directed to the place where we will meet the living Christ, yet one wonders why anyone would listen.

Because here’s the thing….if we don't believe what we believe strong enough to invite others into it, then I wonder how strongly we really believe it. While certainly belief in Christ is part of that, but also belief in our congregations and in our congregational ministries and activities.

Do we really believe all that we say and do? 

Think about what we believe…about what you believe.  When we say the creed, it begins with I believe…

Even Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman, would agree, she says, “It's about what you believe.  And I believe in love.  Only love will truly save the world.”

Without any spoilers for those who have not seen Wonder Woman, there is this force, this drive that pushes Diana to live her life in care for others.  That drive for her is love.

That’s what she believes will save the world.  Her actions, both the words she speaks and the way she lives her life shows that love is at the root of her calling. 

That, too, is at the root of our calling.  The calling we received when we were baptized.  The calling we will celebrate with Eli as he is welcomed into the Body of Christ through the celebration of Holy Baptism this weekend. 

We are called to love…to care for and serve others.  To make disciples of all nations…because of what we believe.  That love will save the world. 

The great love that God has for this world, shown to us as God sent Jesus to live among us, to teach us, lead us and to die for us so that we may love others, serve others, speak out for others and share this love of God with others. 

So what does that mean, then, for us to make disciples of all nations?  To baptize, yes, but also to live our lives and show others the love God has for the whole world. 

Seeing the people that gather in this place week after week, I believe that we feel God’s transforming love in our lives.  Here we are, a group of people who under other circumstances wouldn’t probably be spending time together each week.  Yet, through the power of the Spirit, we are drawn together into one family of God. 

We gather in this place to be fed, nourished, encouraged, loved, hugged, cried with, supported …all for the sole purpose of going back into the world to tell others about how amazing this is. 

We leave this place, to live lives that show and tell others about God at work in the world. 

We leave this place to see the amazing things that god is up to in the world right now.  And we leave this place to tell others that while God is at work in the world, this is a place we can gather to talk about these experiences and support one another. 

We have been gathered in this place solely to be sent.  Back into the world to see God at work, to point out to others that God IS busy at work in the world and to tell others about it. 

As you go about your life this week, look for the answer to this question:
Where have you seen God at work in your life? 

Take time to answer this question, and to share your answer with someone, maybe with family around the dinner table, maybe with friends as you meet to grab a cup of coffee or go for a walk, maybe it’s shared with your neighbor across the street. 

See God at work.  Tell others about it. 


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.  

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

153.2

There have been ups and downs over the past few weeks.
I have not been blogging my weight on a weekly basis, but I have stuck to the weekly weigh-ins.

The day after Easter, Billy and I started the South Beach diet.  It is one that has worked well for both of us in the past.  We both saw a drop in weight the first two weeks, which is the strictest phase of the diet.  As we have transitioned into phase 2, we have been a little more lenient.  Hence both ups and downs with the weight.

Here are a few things we have tried to hold true:
1) Fewer carbs - in general.  Instead of carbing up three times a day, we try to have whole grain carbs once a day, if that.  I did notice that during the carb-free phase, my running felt different.  I was definitely eating enough to sustain my running and other cardio, but it just felt different.
Usually my carbs come at breakfast with oatmeal.  That carries me through a run or a bike ride with no tummy troubles.

2) Fewer sweet treats....well, except for the pie and shortcake last week thanks to in season and freshly picked strawberries.  If we are craving a snack in the afternoon or evening, we go for nuts or a piece of fruit instead of cookies, chips or pretzels.

3) Daily exercise.  Billy walks on his lunch break at work.  I am riding, running or cross-training 5-6 times a week.  And, come next week, triathlon training begins. That will kick up my fitness level a bit, in a good way.

4) More protein, veggies and whole grains (when we grain it up!) We are happy it's summer and local produce is abundantly available.  It makes varying up the egg scrambles in the morning simple and fun.  I try to have a salad with both lunch and dinner (thanks for teaching me that, mom.)

5) We log our food.  Yes, this takes time.  Yes, sometimes it can be tedious.  For me, though, it helps me stay accountable.  It helps me see the difference between actually being hungry and just wanting to eat something.  There is a difference.  If I see I have completed my caloric intake for the day, then I have a cup of herbal tea.  If I have some wiggle room, then it's nuts or popcorn or  a piece of dark chocolate.

6)...I almost forgot...we've been eating out far less.  Cooking meals at home means we know exactly what is in it.  No additives or extra preservatives.  In that way, we've been trying to not have processed foods as a go to.  It's not always the case, but I'd much prefer something I made with 5 ingredients rather than the pre-packaged item with 20+ ingredients.

We haven't mastered this yet.  But having a partner going through it, too, makes it easier.

I'll keep you posted on the next weigh-in.  My goal is to get below 150.  I've been there before and I know it's a healthy weight for me to maintain.

Thanks for reading.

Until the next post...

Monday, June 5, 2017

Pentecost Sermon - from Angels to Blitz!

June 4, 2017
Day of Pentecost
Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
John 20:19-23

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

Kelly Fryer, has written many books and Bible Studies about what it means to be church in the world around us today.  She is a little shorter than me, and a little rounder than I am…but we have the same spunky personality.  She and I both like to tell stories when we share our faith journeys. 

One of my favorite stories that Kelly shares is an experience she had back in November 2001, when she was flying to Washington, D.C.  As you can imagine, things in the airport in the months following 9-11 were a bit stressful due to heightened security.
While Kelly arrives at the airport three hours early, she is still the last one on the plane, shuffled to the back by the bathroom as she carried her little suitcase, a guitar and a briefcase….

After squishing into her tiny back row seat, one of the flight attendants starts chatting her up, asking about the guitar, why she’s traveling to Washington, you know the normal flight attendant chit-chat.  Then he goes off to do something else…

As the plane is backing up, preparing for take-off, Kelly is in her seat, eyes closed, and trying to relax for the flight. When she hears, “Kelly.” She slowly opens up her eyes and sees the attendant crouched down next to her.

He says to her, in a soft voice, “You see that man two rows in front of you? If he does anything suspicious, let us know.” And he stands up and walks away. 

Kelly’s mind starts spinning….woah, this attendant is hyper-alert…and then woah…what if this guy actually does something suspicious!?!?!

Well, she pulls out her laptop, because it’s the heaviest thing she’s got with her, (and I guess easier to wield than a guitar) and settles in for the flight, keeping a solid eye on the guy, two rows up. 

The plane lands and she is the last one off, following this guy, where as they enter the terminal is surrounded by a huddle of D.C. police officers and FBI and hauled off in handcuffs. 

And Kelly thought to herself, “Are you kidding me? You must be kidding….I’m the best plan you’ve got??” 

And yet in that moment, she was called…and chosen to be the best plan in that situation. 

How often do we wonder if we are the best ones for the job?  We, like those apostles who were nearly knocked over the by the wind, breath and fire of the Holy Spirit are flawed, smug and confused…yet we are the very people to whom God sends the Spirit.  Because see, God just like that Pentecost, God still breaks in to do the work God is prepared to do.  And we will accomplish that work, powered by the Holy Spirit. 

And why does God do all this? 
Well, because God is not kidding. 
We are the best that God has to work with…

Sometimes I think we let ourselves get in the way of the movement of the spirit.  When the spirit blows we can have a sense of doubt or concern or uneasiness when thinking about letting go and letting God.  It’s almost as if when the Spirit blows, we hold our breath.  We hold our breath, hoping the Spirit will blow right by and we can continue on our own path. 

Yet this celebration of Pentecost calls us to keep breathing.  It challenges us to keep ourselves open to the Spirit who seeks us. 

The Spirit that, in the beginning, brooded over the chaos and brought forth creation; the Spirit that drenched the community with fire and breath on the day of Pentecost: this same Spirit desires to dwell within us and among us.
Amidst the brokenness and chaos and pain that sometimes come with being in community, the Spirit searches for places to breathe in us, to transform us, to knit us together more deeply and wholly as the body of Christ, and to send us forth into the world.

The Spirit moved through the Pocono retreat last weekend.  Laughter and stories were shared, relationships were build and strengthened, songs were sung, prayers were prayed, scripture was lived out and food was eaten…lots of food was eaten.  And while there were so many moments when the Spirit was at work…here are two that I want to share. 

In the rec hall, we gathered for games and ice breakers.  The volume in that hall was overwhelming with laughter, shouting, running, laughing and singing.  But after finishing the games and the goofiness, with a verse or two of the song Sanctuary, we moved as a group of 60 people from chaos to quiet study and prayer.  We dove into a passage from Romans and shared what it meant to each of us that we cannot ever be separated from the love of God.  Those responses are on this cross.  The Spirit blew in our midst, in our living space and in our hearts to share the love God has for us. 

On Sunday morning, the spirit moved in a completely different direction…with a little music, our breakfast was rockin’.  Yes, we started of slowly…with a favorite tune…(Angel of the Morning)  and ended with this…. Ballroom Blitz 
The whole dining hall was chanting, tossing a stuffed teddy bear around the room and laughing.  The energy in that place…was amazing.  

And that was our prelude to worship.  Good times, right?

But here’s the thing…again, through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, we were united in silliness and shenanigans and enjoying the moment.  We were united as a community who was ready to laugh and have fun together.  We were also united as a community ready to worship, ready to praise God and ready to pray.   

The Ballroom Blitz moment was the presence of the Holy Spirit. 

The Holy Spirit is not to be confused with a gentle spring breeze, it’s a full force gale! 

The Spirit will blow as God wishes and we are to go along for the ride, out of these pews and into the community, to serve the poor and needy, to share the good news of Jesus Christ, to proclaim the good news about a God that loves us unconditionally. 

The Spirit will move us and shake us.  It will comfort us when we are scared or frightened, as it did when Jesus breathed on his disciples in that locked room. 

When we are situated and comfortable, the Spirit will move and shake us into areas outside our comfort zone. 

The Spirit will comfort the terrified, and terrify the comforted. 

As the Spirit moves and shakes us, we give thanks to God that we are always being moved in ways for our faith to grow and for Jesus’ good news to be shared with all. 

So with the wind of the Spirit at our backs, may we be strengthened at this meal, and blown out of here to serve God within our community. 


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. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Focus...

Two posts in a day?  Sure, why not.  I feel like sometimes I forget this blog is here.  Then I remember to post a sermon, or my weight, or the focus for this month or next.  

For the month of May I focused on a project.  Sadly, that project has not yet reached completion, but there's still time.  I will not post pictures of this project until it has been completed, wrapped and opened by its intended recipient.  But eventually pictures will go up and in the meantime, I will work on it a bit each day until it's done.  

An additional focus I picket up in April and continued through May was to write a note a day for the season of Easter.  I often take on a practice in Lent or Advent...but Easter morning at the sunrise service, I was inspired by the light of a candle and the gospel message proclaimed by women that I have written a note a day this season to an amazing woman in my life.  As the women at the empty tomb first proclaimed the good news of the resurrection, I too have been inspired, led, taught and nurtured by women who have proclaimed the good news of Christ through word and deed.  

It has been a joy to write a not to a different woman each day.  No doubt, there are more than 50 amazing women in my life, but this is a start.  As I have written these notes, I have held these women in prayer and given thanks to God for their presence in my life. I have to say, it will be strange to not write a note on Sunday.  It's been a holy experience to reach out to different women, to thank them for their friendship and to let them know how they impact my life.  As the season of Easter winds down, I am thankful I stumbled upon this practice.  I should probably thank the Spirit for the inspiration of this practice.  

As June begins tomorrow, it's time to shift my focus.  Yes, I will still be working on May's focus, but I will also turn my attention to finding joy each day.  As much as I wish I could fit more of all sorts of things into each of my days I know I cannot do all things all days, but I know I can do different things  every day that bring me joy.  I may not have time in one day to read, work on a project, play my ukulele, garden, cook, run, bike, have impromptu dance parties, and spend time with friends.  But I do have time each day to do at least one of those things.  At the end of my days, I find myself scrolling Facebook or starting at the TV.  While those are okay things for me, especially as a way to wind down after a full day, I also really enjoy reading and playing my ukulele (and those calluses don't built themselves).  

I will intentionally take time each day to find time and space to do something that brings me joy. Borrowing from my friend, Ing, if pictures are part of this month they will be accompanied with #joywins.  

Because for me, going through things we cannot comprehend, facing situations we cannot understand, and experiencing tragedies are not the only experiences we encounter.  Yes, in the midst of the tough times, we lean on the cross of Christ, because there is no other place to go.  We look for God with us in the muck and mire and we reach out our hands to help others through to the other side. Yet, when you wake up and feel good and know that the day will be a good day, then I chose to seek out joy, to fill my time and space with bouncy music, and activities that feed my heart and soul.  I get that each day will bring something new.  
I get that a day that starts out good may not end that way a day that starts poorly may not stay that way, but I will just see where each day takes me.  I will seek out joy.  I will do things that I know bring joy to me or joy to others.  I will build relationships, I will share light and love.  I will care for others.  I will hold hands.  I will be a place for people to lean.  I will be open to the Spirit in my body and life and reach outward to others to show and share the joy that I find.  

Here's to a joyful June.  

Until the next post...

Prayer and Healing Homily

Psalm 103

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. 

When we are surrounded by joy, when we have passed through the trials and tribulations and are on the other side, when we feel the loving presence of God and joy found in a community of faith, we are able to express gratitude and thanksgiving. 

Surrounded by 45 youth and 17 adults in the Poconos this past weekend, it was hard not to give thanks to God.  You knew God was there.  In the laughter, in the new relationships being developed, in the abundance of food and fellowship, in the crazy, chaotic moments of meals and games and in the still, quiet moments of prayer and worship.  In all of that, you felt God’s presence, you knew God was in our midst, and we thanked God for all of it. 

Fueled by an energetic and exhausting weekend, it is hard not to come home filled with God’s love, grace, passion and care for those around us.  It’s one of those mountain top experiences…where youth and adults were able to unplug, connect to God and to one another, to build trust, deepen relationships, have fun, be true to themselves and others and be fed with food and faith and love. 

Sometimes it’s easy to come home from an experience like this, because all we want to do (in addition to shower and nap) is praise God!  We want to shout out to the Lord and give thanks to God for all that God has done for us.

That is what happens in Psalm 103.  You can hear it from the very beginning...Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name…
This is a psalm of thanksgiving.  It’s a psalm that gives thanks to God for all God has done. 

Hermann Gunkel, a theologian with a focus on studying the psalms, writes this about psalms of thanksgiving, “A person is saved out of great distress … and now with grateful heart he [sic] brings a thank offering to Yahweh; it was customary that at a certain point in the sacred ceremony he would offer a song in which he expresses his thanks.” 

Throughout this Psalm, we see and hear examples of how God has been with God’s people and in what ways God’s presence was seen, felt and experienced. 

From the specifics of healing diseases and redeeming our lives from the Pit, to crowning us with steadfast love and mercy, to making his ways known to Moses and the people of Israel, we know that the Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 

The words mercy and merciful have a specific meaning in the Hebrew, the root of the word, raham means womb. 

God’s compassion, God’s mercy, has the connection to womb love, the love a mother has for her yet to be born child, while the child is still in the womb….the child is not yet born, but a mother already knows and loves that child. 

That is at the heart of God’s love and compassion and mercy for each one of us.  It’s a love built on being connected to one another in a deep relationship. It’s a love that cannot be stopped or interrupted.  It’s a life-long love, which for God is a love that lasts an eternity. 

This is the love, to which we cling when tragedy strikes. 
This is the mercy on which we lean, when we cannot grasp why things happen in our world. 

When dealing with broken relationships, sickness, hate, illness, unemployment, sin that infiltrates our world, and death it is not always easy to praise God for all that God has done.  In the midst of things we cannot understand, our vision can become clouded, our path can seem uncertain, our decisions become more difficult to make. 

Yet, it is most important to remember that in the middle of these tragic and heartbreaking moments, this relationship that God has with us….is never ending. 

The steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting…it does not end. 

When we cannot see to the other side of the struggle, pain or illness…we must look for God right next to us.  It may be the friend who lets us cry on their shoulder, it may be the warm pot of soup delivered to our home, it may be the phone call, note or email we receive from a distant friend, it may be the simple gift of receiving this bread and wine…knowing that we are not alone. 

Each of us has been reminded of God’s unending love and mercy in our lives in this place, through this community of faith, through God’s word in action and through the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  Strengthened through this experience, by feeling, seeing, and tasting God’s love, we continue to lead and love others through the challenging times. 

God’s healing may not come in the way we hope it will, like the results of a cancer-free scan or a reconciled marriage….but God’s healing does come and does happen and it can be seen in the compassion and care we share with others as they face situations they did not expect. 

God’s love, grace and mercy flows through all that we say and do for others. 

I pray that as we come to this place for healing, we are made whole in God’s eyes to reach out with a healing, comforting and caring touch to others. 

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. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Palm Sunday Sermon

Matthew 21:1-11
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11

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.  

There are moments that the words don’t reach,
There is suffering too terrible to name.
You hold your child as tight as you can
And push away the unimaginable.
The moments when you’re in so deep
It feels easier to just swim down
The Hamiltons move uptown
And learn to live with the unimaginable…

These are the opening lyrics to the song It's Quiet Uptown from the musical Hamilton. 

In this song, we hear the voices of Alexander Hamilton and his wife Eliza as they recoil in grief at the death of their son who has just died in a duel.  While they struggle to move forward, they are also repairing a broken marriage after Alexander’s affair became public. 

The entire life situation for the Hamilton family is unimaginable. 

A situation no family would want to find themselves in….and so they push away the unimaginable. 

Throughout this Lenten season, we have been guided by the theme: Unimaginable: I am a beloved child of God.  We have leaned on the word unimaginable.  We have heard this word as a good thing.  That what is unimaginable is the amazing love and grace of God.  Yet, the unimaginable things we face each day, are maybe not so good.  And those things we tend to push away.  Pastor Bill touched upon this on Wednesday night. 

Because the unimaginable is too often bad news like death, illness, broken relationships, lost jobs, and violence in our world, and we would rather just push it away…we struggle to live with the unimaginable.

Our gut reaction is to not want to hear bad news, or think about how broken the world is around us.  We push away the unimaginable. 

Yet the unimaginable we need to cling to…comes into our sanctuary week after week.   And this week, this unimaginable love comes in with pomp and palms and shouts of Hosanna!  We are crying out for a savior, just as the people of Jesus’ time did. 

Save us!  Hosanna! 

Yet this savior knows what will happen next and enters in pomp to shouts of acclamation…but still walks a road that is unimaginable. 

There is nothing about Jesus -- his entry into the city, his confrontation with authority, his brutal and lonely death -- that would inspire anyone to devotion.  Think even about his mode of transportation, he’s not riding a stallion…or a camel for that matter…but a donkey.  He comes not in power but in weakness, not in might but vulnerability, not in judgment but in mercy, not in vengeance but in love. Nothing about him conforms to the expectations of a world that has come to believe above all things that might makes right or, at the very least, that might wins.

Yet he rides in…like a king…just not the kind of king they were expecting.
Those of us who shout hosanna today know the end of the story.  We know Jesus is not the king the people were expecting.  We know the passion story that unfolds from this day, one that had been hinted about throughout Jesus’ life and ministry.  We know about the last supper, the death on the cross and being placed in the tomb and how that is not the end of the story. 

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that we, too, lift our palms and shout as they did for Jesus’ entry?

Perhaps one of the reasons we do, is because we, too, still seek a king.  As sinful beings, we still cry out for help, healing, wholeness, for justice and peace in our community, nation and world today.  We want someone here and now to flip this world upside down and change it for us….to meet our needs and desires here and now. 

We want our lives to be all resurrection and no cross.  (Jung)

Because that would push away the unimaginable. 

We want that superhero savior…to swoop in and take away the hurting, the pain, the suffering, the unjust and scary violence in our communities, the struggles we have in our relationships, life threatening illnesses….take it all away.  Please, save us! 

And we have a God who does save us…but in a way that is unimaginable

God doesn’t swoop in and pull us out of the trials and tribulations of this life, but joins right alongside of us for the journey.  Sitting next to us as we mourn, sitting with us as we cry, being present for the hugs of joy and the laughter that we share. 

Let's not miss God’s presence in these unexpected places….

As we shout Hosanna, wave our palm branches in the air and join with the crowd as they gathered around Jesus as he entered Jerusalem, let us see God in all of this.

Let us see that this is just the beginning, that by joining in today, we are a part of a larger passion play. 

We know that next comes remembering the last supper that Jesus celebrated with his disciples.

We know that that night will be followed by Jesus’ death on a cross…

And we know, ultimately, that this week…this Holy Week, will end in the joy and wonder at an empty tomb.  And while it’s so tempting to jump from the hosannas of today to the alleluias next week, today is an invitation to journey through this week together: to remember the events of Jesus’ last week. 

It may sound like I’m trying to get you to come to church more this week, or should I say inviting you to come to church more this week. 

No matter how you say it, that is what I’m doing, inviting you to come back to church this week again, and again. 

Because within this community of faith, we are all facing struggles and hardships, joys and celebrations….and how the heck could we get through all of that without God’s love and grace in our lives seen in this place and embodied through the people of this faith community?   

Are you with me?  We live in a world where we fear the diagnosis of cancer, where violence in our world seems to be in the news every week, where we are more and more busy every day that face to face communication is less and less….the list could (and does) go on and on. 

So, I’m dead serious….how could we get through all of that *stuff* without God’s love and grace in our lives that we see in this place and embodied through the people of this faith community?

What happens in this place, week after week is an expression of hope for change….just like Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem: an expression of hope for change. 

There are moments that the words don’t reach
There is a grace too powerful to name
We push away what we can never understand
We push away the unimaginable….

Forgiveness.  Can you imagine?
Forgiveness.  Can you imagine? 

The unimaginable that comes into the Hamilton family is the grace and forgiveness that Eliza extends to Alexander, as she reaches out to hold his hand as they walk through the unimaginable together. 

There are moments that the words don’t reach
There is a grace too powerful to name. 

That grace is unimaginable. 
It embraces us, transforms our hearts and our souls to see beyond ourselves, to see how God is at work in our lives and in the life of this community and world. 

Let that grace and love and forgiveness into your hearts and lives and homes. 
Let that grace and love and forgiveness be shared with those around you through words of forgiveness, and signs of love and grace with those in need. 


And may the peace, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say, amen.