Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Others and their impact.

As this month winds down, I'm taking a moment to reflect upon how 'focusing on others' made an impact on me.  

I purposely listened to other voices.  Sure, that sounds weird, but hear me out.  I listened to music that I don't normally listen to and I listened to musicians whose voices speak a message I need to hear.  I listened to hip hop and rap....voices of men and women who sing/speak/chant/rap who share messages of injustice and proclaim messages of hope.  

Books that entered my reading time included Race Matters by Cornell West, Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult, First Ladies of Running by Amby Burfoot, and A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachael Held Evans.  Okay...truth is, I would like to spend more time reading....so I finished First Ladies of Running and will read the last chapter of A Year of Biblical Womanhood before I go to bed tonight.  I will continue to work on the others in March.  

I also have rekindled my interested in running by listening to The Runner's World podcast and the Marathon Training Academy podcast.  The stories and interviews have been filled with runners of all ages and walks of life which have both encouraged and humbled me.  

I blogged earlier in the month about my visit to the local Islamic Center.  That experience was holy and beautiful.  Praying with my Muslim and Lutheran sisters was sacred and soul feeding.  

I have been taking more time than I have in the past to read and prepare for the weekly bible study I attend with colleagues.  While I had spent time preparing in the past, I have been digging into Feasting on the Word finding helpful insights, quotes and ideas to share with my colleagues.  I have been absorbing more from our weekly get togethers as I have spent more time preparing.  

As I thought about others, I was more apt to donate to causes this past month than I normally would.  I mean, I don't know what my monthly donations to charities look like, but I took time to support local and far away friends in with different organizations for which they were raising money.  

It's been interesting to think about others and listen to how others influence, inspire and encourage me.  

As I look ahead to March.... I had a few ideas.  I'd really like to focus on getting the most out of each day. I would love to workout, read, work, get stuff done around the house and relax each day.  I will probably work on some of that in March, but more importantly, I will focus on diet and exercise.  I have slipped away from healthy eating and getting workouts in first thing in the morning.  I will incorporate cross-training into my days of running and work on getting enough sleep so morning workouts are doable.  
Starting tomorrow I will begin logging my food regularly and reducing the sweets and snacks.  

I'll keep you posted on the impact.  

Until then....be well and be kind.  

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.