Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Restless Peace

Last week I wrote a newsletter article about our need for peace. Many people I know are struggling with hard things in our families, in our health, in our jobs, and generally in our lives. It feels like we have very little peace. In that article I pledged to pray for peace for each household connected to my congregation during Advent.

Today, I was reading God is in the Manger  by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He talked about the restlessness that is required to celebrate Advent - the time of waiting. I hadn't thought about Advent in this way before. Perhaps we should take a cue from the children around us who anxiously await Christmas.

The question, "What are you waiting for?" is often spoken in aggravation to encourage someone to speed up their actions or decisions. But, for this season of Advent, perhaps we should ask ourselves, "What are we waiting for?" What do we restlessly anticipate and hope for this Advent Season? The coming of God into our lives through the celebration of the birth of a baby? The coming of God into our world amidst so  much anger, hatred, violence, and distress? What are you waiting for in this season?

As I considered this reading, I realized that while I will continue to pray for peace in the lives of my friends and parishoners, I must also pray for restless anticipation of the coming of the Christ child.

Pastor Liz

Monday, September 8, 2014

Well Rats!

Foiled by my own deeds!

I've been struggling with motivation to do some things I don't like to do. Things I don't want to do. As a friend's sister says, "I don't want to if I don't want to and I don't want to." However, they are tasks that need to be done.

Today is a day I have time to do them. Today is a day I have said I will do them. Today is NOT the day I want to do them!

So, instead of getting started, I turned in my journal to take time to write a few words. Because reflecting and writing in my journal are important - right? And there on what I expected to be a blank page are the notes I've written to myself in anticipation of today. They are not notes about a day gone by. They are notes for the next time I open my journal - as in now. So there before me on the page are these words:
Philippians 4:13
You have time for what you make time for.
Do what it takes.

Philippians 4:13 may be familiar to you. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
These words have served as encouragement for me and for many others over the last two thousand years or so. When I was a chaplain, I stood at the head of a gurney in the ER. The woman on the gurney had been in a serious car wreck. Her husband had perished in the wreck. Now the doctors were having to do a painful procedure to set her broken arm. At a loss for words, I placed my hands at the sides of her head and and began, "I can do all things..." The woman joined me as I finished "through Christ who strengthens me." Over and over again we repeated those words as a mantra for the pain she was experiencing and for the pain she would face in days and weeks to come.

This verse  is a reminder of something I read on Facebook a few weeks ago. "Whenever I am having a really bad day, I remember that so far my record for making it through bad days is 100%."  A better saying might be "Whenever I'm having a really bad day, I remember God's record for getting me through bad days is 100%." Philippians  13 helps me start the day prepared for whatever comes, knowing God can get me through.

The other two sayings are mantras I developed as part of a Health and Wellness class I took last fall and again in the spring. So alas, I must get started on those "don't want to tasks."

Come Holy Spirit. Breathe your breath of life and energy into me. Light your fire within me that I may serve you in all the ways you put before me with joy and vitality. Amen.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

So much need. So much pain.

 I shared this from Jamie the Very Worst Missionary on Facebook then took it down for fear someone in my congregation might decide I was too tired to care for them. Which is most definitely NOT the case.

As I began to contemplate Jamie's writing, this passage came to mind:
While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”  Mark 14: 3-9

This passage often poses difficulty for our understanding of who Jesus is. How do we reconcile Jesus' declaration that "the poor will always be with you" with his care for the poor, ill, outcast...? Does this passage excuse us from caring for the least of these? No, it does not. It does, however, speak to how we are called to care for God's people and God's world, and I think Jamie may have nailed it on the head.

Notice what Jesus says next, "She has performed a good service for me...She has done what she could."

We have of late and probably always been bombarded by so many causes, so many needs, so much hurt, so much violence, and so much pain that it is easy to become paralyzed. It is just too much to comprehend. We don't know where to begin, so we do nothing. And then we begin to isolate ourselves from all bad news and need (or at least that's what I'm tempted to do).

Jesus told the disciples that the woman did the ministry that she was called to do - the ministry for which she had the resources.  I believe that is all we are called to do. What we can. What God has equipped us to do.

Now before you heave a huge sigh of relief thinking that means you are not called to step out on a limb or into some place less than comfortable, that is not what happened in either of these stories - the one in Mark or the one in Jamie's blog. What I like about Jamie's story is that even though she felt too tired to care, she opened herself to new possibilities even as she protested that she wouldn't be able to take on another cause, another ministry.

It took great courage for the woman to enter that room full of men to bring her gift to Jesus. I'm pretty sure this wouldn't have been in her comfort zone. She certainly wasn't welcomed by the men at the table. It took great courage to break open the jar and share something so valuable - to give so much of herself.

Perhaps Jesus' answer about the poor always being with us wasn't about ignoring the poor or failing to minister to and with them. Perhaps it was about seeking God's direction and provision for the ministry or ministries to which we are called and about trusting that God calls someone to meet every need. As to whether those calls are answered - I'll keep praying if you will.

Friday, March 28, 2014

What is Faith?

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.     Hebrews 11:1

What is faith? There are those who think faith means simply believing in God or in Jesus as our savior. But, James 2: 19 points out even demons believe that much. Others think faith means believing hard enough (can you see the child with fists tightened and eyes squeezed shut) that God will heal an illness or solve a problem of some kind. 

In the last few weeks, I have been given different words for understanding faith. I’ve been reading The Strategically Small Church by Brandon J. O’Brien. As I have read, the book has constantly asked me, “Do you believe that God is at work in and through your congregation?” Well, maybe not in exactly those words, but that’s the gist of it. 

At the same time, I have been exploring the role of anxiety in our lives. It seems to me that anxiety says “I don’t trust God to be at work in this. I don’t believe God’s got this and I had better start making things happen or I’m going to be in big trouble.”

So I began to wonder if a good working definition of faith at any given moment might be: “Do I trust God (through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit) is at work in this?”  Do I trust that God is at work in my life? In the lives of my son and husband? In the lives of my parishioners? In the life of my congregation?  I think I’m going to live with that for a while and see what comes of it.

What about you? Do you have a definition of faith? Do you trust that God is at work in your life? In your family’s lives? In you church?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Complaining and Forgiving

 And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

Many years ago with my son was a student at a Lutheran preschool, the teachers taught the children not only to say, "I'm sorry", but to also say, "I forgive you." One day after my son offered a litany of complaints about another boy in his class, I explained that forgiving someone means we don't complain about it any more. Boy did that come back to bite me the next time he did something that displeased me. I heard my own words come out of his mouth, "Mom, 'I forgive you' means we don't complain about it any more."

Lately, I've learned that the connection between complaining and forgiveness goes both directions. You see, I've been working to not complain in the last few weeks. I have discovered that in order to stop from complaining about someone (either out loud or in my internal monologue), I also must forgive them. This has truly been eye opening for me. As I have listened to myself and the things I say or think, I have become aware of hurts and anger I've been holding on to for quite a while. So my journey into less complaining has really become a journey into forgiveness.

What about you? Have you ever explored the link between our complaints and a lack of forgiveness?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Be Still

Last week, I was blessed to participate in the 5 Day Academy for Spiritual Formation. After each talk, we were asked to spend time in silent contemplation, usually with an assigned topic. But, one day, the assignment was to take some Sabbath time.; to "Be still and know I am God" (Ps. 46:10).

Know what I did? I took a nap.

Always before, I had understood those words to mean stop, take time to be in God's presence. But on this day, I had a new understanding. I heard God saying, "Be still and know that I am still God even when you are resting. I am still God and you are not God. I will be here when you wake up, and I've got this."

Knowing God is God is more than coming into God's presence. It is about trusting God to be God.

Guess what? When I woke up, neither the world nor my church had fallen apart. Go figure.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Jesus Has Still Got It

I didn't post last week's Prayer Service Message because I borrowed heavily (read directly) from Henri Nouwen. However, I am trying to maintain my commitment to weekly (or almost) blog posts. So instead of last week's Prayer Service, I'm posting a reflection from today's quiet time.

My daily devotional had me read this passage from Acts 3 (following the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate) today:

11 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s Portico, utterly astonished. 12 When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites,[b] why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant[c] Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. 14 But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus[d] has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.

In the past, I have read this as Peter's chastising the Jewish leaders  who served their role in bringing about Jesus' death. Today, I read it as a message of hope. Today, I hear Peter - who should know - saying that in spite of the rejection and denial of by those in his hearing, Jesus still has the power to bring healing, redemption, salvation to their lives.

Peter knows this because he's experienced it. I imagine that the story of Peter's denial (John 18) will be read in many churches and homes this week. The story of his redemption or restoration to relationship with Jesus (John 21) will be read in coming weeks. It is a story with which we can identify. We see ourselves in Peter's failure to claim connection to Jesus, just as we can see ourselves in those who rejected Jesus, who witnessed the healing of the lame man and to whom Peter spoke. "It's not too late," he tells them and across the centuries he also speaks to us. "Even though you have rejected God among us in the person of Jesus Christ, even if you have tried to rid yourself of Christ - Jesus still has the power to bring healing in your life. To redeem you from your past, to offer you salvation."

Even as we travel through Holy Week - remembering the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ, we view the journey through post-Easter glasses. We know how the story ends. We know that in spite of death, Jesus still has the power to save - to bring healing to my life, to your life, to our world. Like the man at the Beautiful Gate, we simply need to accept it.