Saturday, April 20, 2019

There's just no way...

This week has been a long, fun and very Holy Week.  
I've had the opportunity to love and be loved, to serve and be served, to laugh, to cry, to nurture and be nurtured.  New life is springing up from the earth as people around us die.  It is how this life works.  Life, relationships, death.  Except that death is NOT the end.  

On this Holy Saturday (after preparing the sanctuary for Easter services and preparing the feast for Easter breakfast) we wait.  We sit in the stillness, darkness and grief of death.  We remember that the earthly life of Jesus ended on the cross.  

For me this day brings me into reflection on the times in my life when I have wondered about the presence of God in my life.  As I went for a run today, I looked down at my wrist.  
What I saw today was this: 

I saw so many reminders that no matter what I'm going through, God is with me.  I could not get through this life without the presence of God in my life.  Looking at my wrist, I was reminded that God is with me through the presence of many people in my life.  

My RoadID (the purple band) contains my name and contact information of family members who can be reached in case of an emergency.  They know they are on my wrist and have promised to be there no matter what.  Thanks, family.  Unconditionally, you are there for me.  I don't think I thank you enough.  I love you! 

The purple cross bracelet is the third one of its kind, because apparently I wear these bracelets out.  I love looking down and seeing the cross no matter what.  That, in itself, is a reminder of God's presence with me, not to mention the friend who I know who wears one as well.  She's replaced a few of these for me.  Thanks, L!

The blue bracelet has been on my wrist since Ash Wednesday.  It is Trinity's Lenten bracelet for this year.  So many people I know (Trinity folks and beyond) have been wearing these every day this Lent.  I see them at the communion railing, handing out food at the food pantry, serving on the Parish Planning Committee and other boards at church.  These bracelets are showing God's love on the wrist of those who wear them as they prepare meals, give communion, fill Easter eggs and bags, shake hands, sweep floors, hand out bulletins, open doors and embrace others in hugs.  

The multi-colored blue bracelet is the latest addition.  An amazing, generous, smart, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit girl at church made it for me and gave it to me yesterday.  Each time I see it, it makes me smile.  I can't help it.  It just happens.  I love it!  Thanks, S!

And so I got to thinking and praying as I ran.  I thought to myself (and God) that there is no way I can do this thing called life on my own.  I need the presence of God with every single step that I take.  I need that grace and forgiveness and unconditional love from a God that loves me no matter what!  And knowing that this God conquers death, offers forgiveness, grace, love and peace, for me (the real me: the imperfect, bound to make mistakes once, (if not more than once), growing, learning, trying to be the woman God created me to be: Me) is amazing.  

And for me, I need this God in the presence of a community of faith.  That faith community for me is found at Trinity.  It's a place where I can lead, love, learn and grow.  It's a place where people love me for who I am, even when I mess up, which is bound to happen.  It's a place of people who are like me and not like me.  It's a place where we all learn and grow together.  It's a place where we help each other, keep each other in check and encourage one another.  We work hard together to proclaim the message of God's love through Jesus Christ as we live, love, serve and of course, eat.  Is this faith community perfect?  Heck, no!  But I'm not perfect, and it's good to have a place that accepts me for who I am.  

On this Holy Saturday if you are waiting by the tomb with hope and expectation, God waits with you.  
If you are waiting by the tomb in grief and sorrow, God waits with you.   
If you are waiting by the tomb questioning or knowing all the answers, God waits with you.  
We wait, and as we do, we do not wait alone.  
Thanks be to God.  

PS.  Looking for a community that is imperfect, growing in God's grace and serving God's people?  Come check out Trinity.  There's a place for you.  Not from around here?  Look for that community of faith near you.  Be surrounded by a loving God and God's loving people.  

And now...we wait...

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Palm Sunday Sermon

April 14, 2019
Palm Sunday

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

Please pray with me,
Gracious God, as you led the Israelites through the wilderness, as you were with Joseph and Mary as they journeyed to Bethlehem, and as you journeyed with Jesus to the cross….you are with us now.  Guide our hearts, minds and bodies on this Lenten journey.  Continue to turn us toward you, creating within us clean hearts, marking us with the cross, lighting our paths and guiding us every step of the way.  In Jesus’ name we pray amen. 

A friend of mine shared this story recently and I’m allowed to share the story, just not the name of the friend and in a moment, you’ll know why. 

So, my friend was at a coffee shop, a place where you can get coffee, baked goods and light lunch options.  She noticed a bowl of small wrapped ‘chocolates’ by the cashier. 
She figured perhaps a college student or local resident was starting a business and these were out to help that person out. 
So, she picked one up. 
After her bowl of soup, she unwrapped the chocolate, popped it in her mouth, and began to chew. 

In the next 5 seconds she had all of these thoughts pretty much at the same moment.
Wow, that’s a weird consistency for chocolate, that’s a bizarre taste too, almost floral, oh good gracious, I’m eating soap! 

Needless to say, she was in a crowded coffee shop, so she couldn’t make a scene. 
She headed to the bathroom. 
She tried to get soap out from between her teeth, I don’t know if you’ve ever bitten soap, but from her description, I don’t recommend it. 
I picture her frantically, yet not efficiently picking soap from between her teeth. 

She finally realized she needed to rinse her mouth out…
With warm water….
You guessed it, then she was foaming at the mouth….

I can only imagine that it took quite some time to completely rid her mouth of the soap. 
She may be shy of trying sample anything anytime soon.

But for her, it was not what she expected. 

Nothing is what we expect. 
Think about that as we look around the sanctuary with palms in our hands. 
A parade that leads to a cross…
Palms that become ashes…
Nothing is what we expect…

It sounds like an episode of the twilight zone. 

Because isn’t that the way the gospel works in our lives…
How we see and experience God’s love for us through Jesus is nothing like what we expect. 

Even though we shouted hosanna today, this parade that we reenact isn’t one that ends with a king on a throne.  It is a parade that ultimately leads to a cross.  Where God will show us the great love that God has for us in the death and resurrection of the only son.  This final journey of Jesus begins today. 

The folks gathered around Jesus that day were hopeful that he would flip the world upside down!  They were ready for change and hopeful that it would come through the presence and leadership of Jesus. 

And the change did come.  And the world would be flipped. 

Just not the way they expected. 

Their shouts of hosannas would change to shouts of crucify him before the story would end. 

Nothing is what we expect. 

The palm branches that we wave this day as we shout hosanna, will one day be transformed. 
Our Sunday School youth learned about it at the Lenten Fair as they took part in burning the palms to make the ashes for Ash Wednesday. 

They remembered shouting hosanna last year and that the palms were a reminder of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  Then we burned them. 

Then we talked about how those ashes would be on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday.  That is how we would be marked with the cross. 

These palms will become crosses, either on foreheads or in our own hands before the end of the service.  Some of you may be turning your palms into crosses as I speak. 

Nothing is what we expect. 

And so why Palm Sunday?  Why sing the Palms?  Just kidding….we have to sing the Palms!
But why this reenactment of this parade when the gospel of Luke doesn’t even mention palms!  Today’s gospel only mentioned cloaks. 

Cloak Sunday anyone? 
So why? 

Because just like the crowds we wonder, who is this, this Jesus? 

Who is this messiah coming into our world this day? 

We live and work among people who wonder who Jesus is.

Heck, we worship with people who wonder who Jesus is. 

Maybe you, definitely me, wonder how and when I will see Jesus this day…and what is Jesus’ call for my life?  Who is this Jesus? 

Better yet, if I’ve experienced Jesus, or should I say, since I’ve experienced Jesus, how to do I tell others about him and his love for the world and for me? 

So yes, we are roped into this procession, remembering his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, because we too, want to follow this King, this messiah because we too have hope for the future. 

We enter into this procession because we, too, are excited by the energy that surrounds Jesus and his teachings and healings and we want more. 

We enter into this procession because we still seek a savior, one who will bring justice and peace, healing and wholeness into our hearts and lives and world today…right now, preferably. 

So, we follow and we shout hosanna.  And do we realize this day that our shouts will change as the week goes on? 

On Maundy Thursday, our shouts of hosanna will quiet when we see Jesus kneeling at the feet of his friends and washing their feet. 

Our shouts of hosanna will quiet when he talks about his body being bread and his blood being wine. 

On Good Friday our voices will return as we shout not hosanna, but crucify him!  As the palm parade ends at the cross. 

And on Saturday, we wait. 
We wait in grief and longing and hope.

As we enter this most holiest of weeks, I encourage you to invite others into this place to hear this story. 

Who is this Jesus? 
Let us hear his story. 
Let us welcome others to share in a meal at this table.
Let us welcome others to see his death.
Let us welcome others so that the whole world knows that through this whole story, God shows God’s love for each and every one of us. 

We, who know the story, are empowered to share this story with others.  We help people see where Jesus is at work in the world by telling our friends, our family and our neighbors about God loves us. 

We know we are loved. 
We can tell people that we are loved and that they are loved just the same. 

You can do this; I know you can. 

Pick a service, invite a friend, heck, bring a friend. 

Show them this place and the love of God that flows through worship, fellowship, service and time together. 

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. 

Thursday, April 11, 2019

5th Sunday in Lent Sermon

April 7, 2019

Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm 126
Philippians 3:4b-14

Please pray with me,
Gracious God, as you led the Israelites through the wilderness, as you were with Joseph and Mary as they journeyed to Bethlehem, and as you journeyed with Jesus to the cross….you are with us now.  Guide our hearts, minds and bodies on this Lenten journey.  Continue to turn us toward you, creating within us clean hearts, marking us with the cross, lighting our paths and guiding us every step of the way.  In Jesus’ name we pray amen.

There is a commercial on TV right now where an older woman walks by a younger woman at the grocery store in a workout outfit, and says, you smell just like my Walter.  Apparently, the younger woman has used some type of sports rub or some other potent ointment that fondly reminds this woman of her Walter. 

Our sense of smell can sometimes be the one that is connected to the most memories.  I don’t know about you, but catching a certain smell can take me to a specific time and place.  For me, there is a smell to camp.  Something about the mix of the woods and lake that just smells like camp. 
There is the smell of the first summer rain as it hits the hot pavement.
There is the smell of sticky buns when you are in the 8am service on a sticky bun Sunday. 
I’m going with the good smells today…
You may have a favorite meal that when smell it, it takes you back to a special or favorite time or place and for a moment, just a moment, you are there. 

Because here’s the thing with the things we smell…a scent can permeate just about anything.  Just try walking downstairs after we have a lock-in…the axe body spray scent coming out of the boys’ room can sometimes knock you out. 

But seriously, I want you to think about a time when you were surrounded by a smell…because that is what happens in our gospel reading today.  And the smell, permeates the room and the bodies of everyone present. 

In the context of a dinner at the home of Lazarus, Mary kneels at the feet of Jesus, anoints them with costly perfume and dries them with her hair.  As soon as the perfume hit the air, the scent was unstoppable.  If the actions of Mary didn’t catch the attention of others in the room, the scent of the perfume most definitely did. 

It caused Judas to question her actions and how the money could have been better spent on the poor. 

The scent of this perfume draws us in to this intimate moment between Mary and Jesus a moment that brings to us the amazing relationship that Jesus wishes to have with each and every one of us. 

And that relationship is an intimate one and a reciprocal one.  Just as Jesus loves Mary, she visually shows that love in the presence of others.  This, my friends, is the depth and love that Jesus has for each and every one of us, and calls us to respond in love just the same. 

Any relationship that involves love is an intimate one. 
It means allowing time for trust to build, it means being able to truly be yourself in the presence of the other one and it means willingness to be vulnerable.  To truly build relationships with one another in love means that we need to be open and honest with one another, willing to admit faults and imperfections and willingness to love the other, just as they extend love to us. 

That’s the love that Jesus has for you and for me. 
That’s the love that Mary shows Jesus in this act of love and grace. 

That’s the love that Jesus wants for all of his followers, even if we can’t see it. 

Alongside Mary’s intimate relationship with Jesus, we have Judas.  He is labeled as the one who will betray Jesus.  He calls Mary out for wasting money that could’ve been used on the poor.  He misses this extraordinary gift that Mary gives Jesus because he thinks the money could’ve been better spent. 

Not that any of us could relate to that, right? 

We’ve never missed an amazing moment of God’s grace because we didn’t think it was done the right way….or because we were mad at someone who had a part in it. 

We’ve never been the older son standing outside the party as the younger son returned to his father’s abundant love and grace….

Oh wait. 

It happens, it happens more often than we’d like to admit.  Or maybe as a pastor, I’d rather not admit that it happens to me at all. 

But there are times and places where I have missed a moment of grace, the abundant extravagance of God’s love because I’ve been mad/self-centered/stubborn/focused on my own end game…you fill in the blank.  Maybe you can relate, too. 

I was at some sort of fundraising outing when the 50/50 raffle ticket winner was drawn.  The winner gave their winnings back to the organization to support the fundraiser.  Someone I didn’t know at a table nearby said something like, yeah they should do that, they have enough money already. 

And I thought to myself, this person missed the point.  This person was only focused on the presumed wealth that the raffle winner had and not the action of giving out of that abundance. 

It happens to us all the time, and sometimes it even happens in this sanctuary.  A place where we gather week after week, confess our sins and we all receive this gift of forgiveness and if that isn’t enough, we come up to this altar, this table and receive a gift that we could never earn, one that we don’t even deserve.  But it is freely given to us because God loves us. 

But sometimes when we sit in our pews, we’re angry about something or someone. 
We are distracted by our own days and lives and are inside our own heads. 
We are worried about what the next day will bring, let alone what is in store for us in the next year. 
And we miss it. 
We miss the love that God has for us.
We miss the depth of this gift that God has given to us. 

Yet this grace upon grace, this amazing gift that God has for you and for me….
It still abounds. 

"In our gospel reading, this grace upon grace smells like an absurd amount of the most expensive and lovely perfume, the fragrance of which when released form the bottle soaks into every possible crevice."  (Karoline Lewis)

This grace upon grace soaks into every possible crevice of this space.  It’s impossible to avoid it, but sometimes we may not notice it. 

Yet, we’ll leave this place somehow changed and transformed to continue in our loving relationship with God through Jesus Christ. 

As that grace envelopes you this day, think about how you live out that grace and love with others. 

Think about how much God loves you and desires to be in an intimate relationship with you. 

You are loved.
You are God’s chosen.

Live into that love, and the abundance of grace that is part of the relationship that God has with you. 

Live into that relationship with God.

Show that love in your words, actions and deeds of generosity. 

Baffle others around you as you surround yourself with the love of God and live through it. 

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

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Race recap: Garden Spot Village 1/2 Marathon

Alright, it's been a few days and I'm ready to reflect on Saturday's race.  It was a tough one.  It tested me mentally and physically.  If I were reflecting on it in my Sunday School class, we would use the language of highs and lows, which I think is a good was to think about the experience as a whole.  
We're going with lows first, so we end on a high note :)

At the beginning of the race, I was geared up and ready to go!

Lows: Oh, those hills.  I started off in the right pace range (set by my coach) but then it was time to speed up a bit which happened going up the first of many hills.  At that point, I couldn't catch the pace I needed.  I was so frustrated.  The tricky part is that I couldn't get outside of my head.  I wasn't hitting the right pace, and instead of being thankful for the pace I was able to run, I was frustrated that I wasn't doing what I had hoped to be doing. 
That being said, this being the first 'coached' race that I've run maybe my own expectations were too high.  (A good friend helped me realize that.)  I could've or should've had multiple plans in my head so I could have changed or helped my mental state in the middle of the run.  I held a good pace for the middle miles of the race, but the last two miles kicked my butt.  I don't think I took in nutrients as well as I could have, which showed up in those last few miles.  When I wasn't hitting my paces I thought of all the people who knew I was running...and how hard it would be to face people after I didn't run what I hoped to run.  But, it is what it is.  

This is my: 'there's the finish line and I'm sooooo done face.'

**I ran a half marathon on Saturday.  I don't know why I thought I would PR after not racing this distance in 3 years.  So, really to train and race this distance with a time faster than I did it three years ago is a great thing.  

**I didn't walk the hills.  They were tough and they may have slowed me down, but I ran up each hill.  There was some walking in the last few miles, but not up hills.  I feel good about that.  

**I didn't disappoint anyone but myself.  As people at church asked about the race and I said it was hard, they overwhelmingly came back with a "YOU DID IT!!"  I ran a half marathon, which is nothing to scoff at.  Some friends saw that I ran that race and said, woah, that is a tough course.  I completed it. 

**My parents saw my finish.  Thanks to the live feed on the event's facebook page, they cheered from CT.  I was thankful they were part of my race day experience.  

**My husband got some great photos that truly show my excitement, worry, physical exhaustion and pure joy of completing the race.  (Thanks, babe!) 

**My husband and I had a great outing for good beer, pizza and ice cream after the race.  It felt good to be moving around that afternoon.  

Lessons learned/growing edges:

*Double check race elevation in advance.
*Mentally, the best case scenario (getting a PR) should not be my primary goal.  I don't mean to be negative, but once I slipped away from that pace, I got super frustrated.  I should mentally prepare for an outcome that is good, but that gives room for growth mid race.  
*Better fueling/hydration and clothing plan.  It was warm on Saturday so not only did I not hydrate as well as I could have mid race, my layers were frustrating.  Training outside is great, but I've been training in the 30s and this race hit the 50s.  
*Enhance overall nutrition/fitness.  It's time to work on nutrition and building in some strength training.  
*Not every race will be the best race of my life.  (There's a lesson that I'm still learning.)

All in all a good experience.  Now that I'm a few days out, it's easier to reflect on the challenges and joys from that day.  Racing is a whole different experience than just going out for a run.  

I'm thankful for a few weeks of easy runs, getting caught up on sleep and the business and joy of Holy Week and Easter.   

Thanks for reading, for your support and continued encouragement.  

Until the next post...