Category Archives: Uncategorized

piled up grace. for such a time as this.

“From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” John 1:16

Thanks for the reminder, author of John. Sometimes it’s hard to see through all the muck and grime of our lives – from pandemics and racism, to violence, homelessness and hunger, to loss of livelihood, health, home and family, to political division, and immoral leadership. These are just some of the muck and grime of our world… and that’s just what I woke up to this morning. Where is the grace? Not to mention grace upon grace that is promised from HIS fullness.

I had a conversation with a friend this morning about being a voice in these difficult times. You know it’s easy to have that conversation when you and your friend believe in the same God or sport the same political color. But I’m talking about pushing through the muck and the grime so that the gospel, the good news, grace (!) can be seen and heard and lived.

I believe that it is not political when we answer the call to preach and live out the gospel: When we acknowledge and call for an end to white supremacy and lift the flag for an anti-racist world. When we walk with the discriminated and beg for forgiveness for creating and imposing systemic racism, that’s not political, it’s responding to my baptismal call to love God and love my neighbor for the sake of the world. It’s living out the gospel that is already gifted to me and rooted in my very soul.

I know that I’m called to pile grace upon grace from HIS fullness in this world that so desperately needs it. May the God who created me and indeed redeemed me already from the muck and the grime, keep piling on the grace, that I might have the courage to speak up and out. Because you know what? Even though the Gospel speaks for itself, we are all called to be it’s mouthpiece…. for such a time as this. May God’s grace abound in and through us!

Be well. Be safe. be hope. prL

love whispered.

“Anxiety weighs down the human heart, but a good word cheers it up.” Proverbs 12:25

I have had many moments of anxiousness – that feeling when your whole body reacts when something’s not right. When your gut twists up and your heart races and your feet and legs can’t stay still. When you find yourself biting the inside of your cheek or your nails are sawed off by your teeth. But eventually, or sometimes instantly, the moment can pass when whatever it is that caused the unrest is resolved.

But I have never suffered from seasons of anxiety. The kind of anxiety that stops you from functioning. You can’t sleep, but you can’t get out of bed. The light is too bright and the dark is too dark. Your stomach aches from emptiness but you can’t bear the thought of eating. You feel like you’re pinned down under the weight of the world and there’s no one or no thing that can help.

The proverb makes it sound like one word is all that’s needed and then all will be well in the world. Now I know that it’s not anywhere near that simple emotionally or physically. But perhaps in the midst of this visceral suffering, there is one word – LOVE – that can bring hope. LOVE that never gives up. LOVE that’s there even when you can’t feel it, sense it, or touch it. LOVE that sticks around when no one or nothing else does. LOVE that is quiet and listens. LOVE that exudes warmth. LOVE that calms. LOVE that doesn’t try to fix it, but LOVE that just knows. God is that LOVE.

For all those who suffer from anxiety, may LOVE whisper in your heart and fill you with hope and cheer for a new day dawning.

Be well. Be safe. Be hope. prL

classrooms and labs.

“Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars! For he commanded, and they were created.” Psalm 148:3,5

I’m reminded of my parents especially at this time of year. They were both Lutheran educators and there was always so much excitement at the start of school. And also stress…. but my mom would be eager to meet all her new kindergartners, and she made sure her room was in award winning shape so that her children would enjoy learning to their fullest. My dad was principal of the Elementary school and he loved when everyone was back in the classroom. Because this was a Christian school, the year began with a worship service. And of course, we always sang my dad’s favorite hymn, “Earth and All Stars!” Now you need to know something about my dad. He grew up nearly deaf in one ear from an accident. As a result, he often didn’t sing in tune! But boy did he sing especially on verse four: “Classrooms and labs, loud boiling test tubes! Sing to the Lord a new song!” He gave a whole new meaning to “make a joyful noise!”

I guess it doesn’t matter how it sounds, praise is praise. And my dad knew who his maker was, and worthy to be praised was this God of the sun, moon, and stars! Our children may or may not be in the classroom these days (and I know that both of my parents would be grieving over this time we are in and how it affects the least of these), but God is present. In the classroom and in the home, watching over them. May I never forget, that no matter what, whether I’m feeling joy-filled or empty, happy or sad, worried or carefree, this God is praiseworthy of my praise. Darrell and Aileen, thank you for teaching me that.

Be well. Be safe. Be hope. prL

a signal of hope.

“On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.” Isaiah 11: 10

Here comes the promise fulfilled! And what is that promise?

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the spirit of counsel and might,
    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
(Isaiah 11: 1-3)

For those who have been cast out, left behind, dispersed and scattered, here is the signal of the promise fulfilled. The Messiah is coming.

I was reminded the other day, about something a good pastor friend of my husband’s family said when my father-in-law died nearly 40 years ago. He said, “and this too shall pass.” He didn’t say it lightly as if the grief we were experiencing wasn’t genuine or worthy of our pause. What I believe he meant is that the promise is still the promise. Nothing can take that away. A new day is coming when the one who is the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, and knowledge and the fear of the Lord will come and not only bring hope, but be hope as God restores the face of the earth.

Today I pray, Come Lord Jesus Come. Signal for us a new day dawning!

Be well. Be safe. Be hope. prL

God’s here. i know it.

“Indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’.” Acts 17:27-28

How easy it is to forget, sometimes, that God is right here, living inside of me. And it is particularly easy for me to forget that God lives in all of us.. For “In him we live and move and have our being.”

Then why does it seem that particularly in times like these with a pandemic yet to be controlled and a nation that is experiencing significant civil unrest, that God’s voice is nowhere to be heard?

Maybe, I’m not listening closely enough. Perhaps instead of only hearing the loud, dominating voices, if I but just listen to the still small voices of the crowd, I may just hear God’s voice. A voice of love and unity, of compassion and grace, of healing and an honest call for justice for all people. God’s here, I know it, and I can hear it when I listen for it deep inside of me: words of grace and renewal, calling me to add my voice to those voices of hope for a new day dawning. For there is no cause for fear, lest I forget that ‘in him I live and move and have my being.”

Be well. Be safe. Be hope. prL

sacrifices.

At Home Sermon. August 30th, 2020. Matthew 16: 21-28

I’ve heard it repeated over the course of the past few weeks and months, that until perhaps we’re made to feel uncomfortable, until things touch us personally and uproot our personal status quo, there will be no change.  It’s hard to imagine that we would experience a week worse than this past week.  But then again, it’s hard to imagine before this past week that last week would be worse than the weeks before. When is enough, enough? When will we begin to see a new day dawning?

Jesus’ words in today’s text are uncomfortable. Jesus challenges us to push through and embrace the cross as he gives us a glimpse – a hint – of the sacrifice we are called to make if we choose to be agents of God’s love and grace and compassion in this world – ultimately to be agents of change.  Yes, I said sacrifice.  But at the same time, in the uncomfortableness of these words, there is a promise that the sacrifice Jesus calls us to, brings life abundant if we but follow Jesus. Our challenge then, is to respond with hearts that are willing to follow Jesus and are willing to make sacrifices for the sake of the world.

Last week Peter was a Rock star when he acknowledged that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.  This week, Jesus begins to reveal the divine purpose of the Son of Man, but Peter pushes back in unbelief.  To that, Jesus shouts, “Get behind me, Satan!”  Harsh and cruel words to say the least!  But not for the reasons we may think.  Rather than a chastisement of Peter from Jesus that follows his very words of elation over Peter’s revelation a few verses prior, it is here that Jesus is rebuking the ways of the world while reminding Peter and all who desire to follow Jesus, that following comes from behind.  Jesus does not send Satan packing as in the wilderness when he commanded Satan to go away, but rather commands Satan to get behind him, for “you are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Jesus is calling out the waywardness of the world in all of us, Satan, to get behind Jesus and follow him so that we can watch Jesus, learn from Jesus, and do as Jesus does.  And for those who desire to follow? We are called to a sacrificial life like Jesus’, putting our needs last as we reach out to spread the love of Jesus in the world.

I believe this text presents for each of us a “Cross -Moment.”  A Crossroads if you will, when we are asked to discover what it means to follow Jesus and then discern what being a Christian requires us to be and do in this world.  This Kairos moment – Cross moment – is a life changing moment.  Your baptism is a Kairos moment when you are marked with the Cross of Christ forever.  This moment set you on a faith journey to be who you are created to be as a child of God.  But I also think that Kairos moments show up in our lives all the time.  Cross moments when our Christian identity is called into question and we are challenged to ask ourselves how we will bear the Cross.  How we will live out our Christian identity as God’s agents in the world.

Now the very suggestion of sacrifice makes one uncomfortable.  After all, whatever it is that makes us comfortable is in some way connected to our ability to make it so.  So giving up of the things that provide our sense of security and self-worth can be daunting.  Yet we all know how quickly things can change in a world dependent on itself.  But here Jesus is telling us to lose that which we believe keeps us safe or comfortable in this world, and instead, follow Jesus and live a life of sacrifice because in so doing, we gain abundant life.

If we’re wondering what such a sacrifice looks like, turn to Jesus.  Jesus always chooses love over hate, compassion over hostility, unity over division, inclusion over exclusion, mercy over cruelty, peace over violence, courage over fear, and forgiveness over begrudging.

I believe now is a Kairos moment – a Cross moment where we are called to pick up our cross and make such defining sacrifices. But let’s not just use the cross as a symbol of our Christian identity in this world, as we attempt to show the world who we are.  But rather, I challenge us to use the cross as a reminder of who the world needs us to be. A world that needs love, compassion, unity, inclusion, mercy, peace, courage and forgiveness. By God’s grace, when we pick up the cross, may we be exactly what the world needs us to be right now. Amen.

who we say Jesus is, tells who we are.

At Home. Sermon. August 23rd, 2020. Matthew 16: 13-20

Jesus is establishing a new community in the text we just read.  He is moving his disciples to a deeper understanding of who he is, preparing them to be the torch bearers of his message of new life and salvation.  He announces that he will entrust them with the keys to the house – the authority to teach; to share his truths.  In order to appreciate and understand this, there are a few things going on here from a theological context worth noting.

First, location, location, location.  Jesus is on the way to Caesarea Philippi, known as the home of Pan, the Greek god of shepherds and flocks.  But Caesarea Philippi was more than that.  It was the hub or intersection of imperial power, including older nationalistic and religious associations, both Jewish and pagan.  It is here that Jesus self-reveals to be the Son of Man, and whom Peter, self-appointed spokesperson for all, interjects that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  Elsewhere in the Bible, we know Jesus as the Good Shepherd, in direct opposition to the Greek god, Pan.  It is in this place where Jewish and pagan cultures and beliefs converge that Jesus calls for a new community separated from the old, that follows the Son of Man.

Secondly, Jesus asks two questions.  The first inquires from the disciples’ perspective, who “the people” say that the Son of Man is.  Jesus isn’t asking this question to determine if he has the popular vote. Instead, Matthew is setting the stage, creating a literary contrast to the disciples’ response of faith in the second question.  The second question, then, is directed at the disciples.  The “you” used in this second question, “Who do you say I am?” is not to Peter specifically.  The Greek translation is plural, but it is Peter, the ever spokesperson for all of them, who answers.

Thirdly, is this theological debate between Roman Catholic and Protestant faiths as to whether or not this text is the precursor or justification for the birth of the Papacy, with Peter being the first Pope.  Later contemporary Christian understanding would abandon this polemic view, but instead focus together on the promise of Christ to build his church in the midst of or perhaps even in spite of the forces of death (Hades), evil and destruction.

Having that background, perhaps we might hear Jesus’ questions differently.  The disciples reply that the crowds identify Jesus with the return of some of the great patriarchs of the faith: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.  I find this very telling.  Perhaps they were not able to see beyond the mighty works that Jesus did, or his prophetic preaching.  Perhaps they were not able to look beyond their own reasoning to let their hearts imagine the Messiah they longed for here in real time, standing before them.  But Jesus doesn’t seem to be bothered much by that right now.  “Ok, that’s the buzz on my twitter feed, and Facebook. Let’s move on.”  Matthew’s Jesus seems more interested in affirming the faith of those who have come to believe in him, turning to them and saying that they will be to ones to spread the Good News.  To be the ones – the church – that holds truth against all evil.     

This preparation for passing of the torch was so important to Jesus, that the text tells us that he “sternly ordered them not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.”  They were not ready yet.  In fact, the next verse says, “From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”  And our beloved Peter, just dubbed the ROCK, rebukes Jesus’ words saying, “This will never happen!”  To that, Jesus replies, “Get behind me Satan!  You’re a stumbling block to me!” They were not ready yet.  But they would be.

There’s one small detail in Matthew’s text that I have not mentioned yet, that helps me put myself into this text. Jesus was on his way to the district of Caesarea Philippi. It was a journey.  And on this journey of faith, Jesus asks us, the church, “Who do you say I am?”

In July, I invited some of you to join me on a 30-day prayer journey to read scripture and pray for God’s guidance for our church, Epiphany.  Ironically, or not, I used a meditation prayer method from the Moravian’s called T.R.I.P.  As you read the scripture for the day, you take a trip through the text asking what in the text causes me to the THANKFUL, what do I REGRET, whom or what do I need to INTERCEDE for, and what does this text cause me to do or be.  What is my PURPOSE.  However, each day I would pray for the purpose of the church more than my own purpose.  

            I believe who we say Jesus is, tells who we are.  And that gives us purpose.  For 30 days and beyond, on the journey, Jesus has been asking, “Who do you say I am?”  Through scripture, Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God shows up with compassion for the outcast, mercy for the wayward, encouragement for the broken, hope for the downtrodden, peace for the unrest, and a sanctuary for the bereaved and brokenhearted.  And we, the church, are called to be Jesus’ hands and feet, eyes, ears, and heart.  We are called to bring healing into this world, for the sake of this world that Jesus’ loves. We are entrusted with the keys to the house – the authority to teach; to share Jesus’ truths, to be Jesus in the kingdom on earth.  We, the church, my friends are the torch bearers of Jesus’ message of new life and salvation. May we be so bold to pick up the keys and open the doors of our hearts. Amen.

persistance.

At Home. Sermon. August 16, 2020

Today’s reading is one of those stories about an encounter with Jesus that takes us off guard. This is not the Jesus that we are accustomed to.  This is not the Jesus that we know to be full of grace and love for and especially to the weak and lowly; the outcast.  We have been taught that Jesus came to save all people and delights especially in the faith of those unsuspecting souls.  But as some noted on Wednesday evening, this Jesus appears to be rude and standoffish to put it nicely, and discriminatory and prejudiced to be real.

First, we hear of the stark difference between the clean and unclean, the haves and the have nots, the entitled and the undeserving.   And if that’s not enough, then we hear Jesus making comparisons of certain people to dogs who beg; specifically a woman of color who is the seemingly from the wrong heritage.

What has Matthew done with our Jesus?

As my yoga instructor says on Monday mornings on Zoom, “you can stay here in this stretch, or you can dig a little deeper.”  So I challenge us to go a little deeper.  But when I say go deeper, I am not suggesting that we excuse Jesus’ behavior or responses, at least not yet, but that we seek to understand what Matthew is trying to teach us about this Jesus and Jesus’ love.

So I’d like for you to imagine a gate with a gatekeeper. One side of the gate is for the in-crowd.  The other side, then, in for those who don’t belong.  On one side of the gate are the disciples, who in the past few weeks of our lectionary are having a hard time grasping the significance of this Jesus.  “We don’t have anything to feed these people, Jesus, so send them home to feed themselves.”  But, instead, Jesus shows them how to feed the crowd.  And then in a storm as Jesus invites Peter out on the water with him, Peter starts, then sinks.  As Jesus pulls him out of the water, he comments on Peter’s “little faith.”  Immediately before Jesus meets the Canaanite woman, the disciples are worried that Jesus is not following the law and the Pharisees are angry with him.  This prompts Jesus to say that it’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles, but what comes out of mouth that defiles because it comes from the heart.

On the other side of the gate is the outsider.  She is a woman of color, a widow, poor, and in great need.  But there is a barrier that has kept her and all like her out; be it social status, economic, cultural, political, or religious.

And Jesus shows up.  Instantly, the woman, the outsider, cries for mercy.  “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David,” she cries. But not for her… “Heal my daughter from the demons that possess her.”  And she kneels before Jesus as if to acknowledge his very Kingship; His Lordship.

On the other side of the gate are the disciples, aggravated and agitated. “Send her away, Jesus! She’s bothering us!” they shout.

On the other side of the gate, the woman kneels and cries out over and over, “Lord, help me.”

“Get rid of her, Jesus!” the disciples shout repeatedly.  “She doesn’t belong here!  O rather, you Jesus, don’t belong here!  You’re supposed to be with us!  The chosen ones! Why are we here?”

“You must help me, Lord!” she continues. Perhaps from the hardships she has endured throughout her life, the woman is persistent.

Can you hear the holy chaos?!?!  The tug of war for Jesus?!?! Now just earlier in Jesus’ ministry we learn that Jesus is moved by great compassion to heal the sick and feed the hungry.  And he saves his disciples from perishing in the storm. But what we hear from Jesus’ mouth is chastising of the woman, repeating the disciples’ plea that he has only come to save the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  In other words, “You’re not my problem.”

Now let’s take a time out here before we gasp in unbelief of our hearing. While these words are cutting and seem to be urging the woman on to beg for mercy, maybe that’s exactly what is going on.  But not for the reasons that we might perceive.

You see, the disciples don’t get Jesus. They don’t get that Jesus has crossed the borders and barriers of all of life to encounter this outsider.  Jesus enters into her space.  So when He says he has come only for the lost sheep of Israel (and he has made it quite clear that there a lot of work to do for the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few), perhaps his words are not for her, but for the ears of his followers as they witness at the same time, that he has crossed boundaries.

You see, Jesus is standing between them looking into their hearts.  And what he sees is folks who have all the blessings of the Son of David, but don’t fully recognize Him or the blessings they receive. One the other side, Jesus sees a heart that is full of faith without witness.  Even she knows that she does not need the full feast at the table, but only a morsel, a crumb of Mercy is enough from the Son of David.  Now whether it’s her persistence that creates her faith, or her faith that makes her persistent, what seems to be evident, is that Jesus rewards her persistence.

Here is a story that takes us off guard.  Is this the Jesus we know?  Perhaps you know this Jesus better than we think.  When have you fallen on your knees and begged Jesus for mercy in your life?  When have you persistently cried out for help?  And when have you knowingly or unknowingly received blessings of abundance or even just morsels of love and grace and mercy that are just enough?

Here’s what I wonder.  Is this a God who delights in our persistence?  Not in a power-hungry way – but delights in the relationship that develops when we persistently come to Jesus and cry out in faith.  Faith – be it so great or small – is a faith that believes there is no one else or anything else that can hear our prayer and act, but this Jesus, this Son of David, this One who is the Lord of all.  My friends, may we all have such a faith. Amen.

Be well. Be safe. Be hope. prL

let’s see what you’ve got.

Message. August 2, 2020. Based on Matthew 14. Feeding of the Five Thousand.

Note: I will be on vacation for the next 8 days.  I will resume blogging after that! Peace to you. prL

We know this story of the feeding of the 5000 well.  If you have been a lifelong Christian you probably started hearing this story at about age 2.  If you’ve come to the faith at a maturing age, you probably first were introduced to this story as you prepared to receive your first communion.  You will notice that this story mirrors the Last Supper when Jesus spoke the words of institution and broke the bread for all to eat.

Food, we know, is necessary for the sustenance of the body.  One could also argue that it provides spiritual sustenance.  In Jesus’ day, physical hunger was a real thing.  You see, the Roman Empire controlled food access in favor of the elite.  Food scarcity was one common experience of the injustice of the disparity of power.  It also explains why so many people who were sick with disease from the lack of proper nutrition fled after Jesus for healing. But there was also another kind of hunger that they sought for Jesus to satisfy.  A spiritual hunger.  The helpless void that the people experienced from oppression of all sorts dug a hole deep into their hearts causing hopelessness.

So Jesus shows up. And not only does he begin to heal the sick, but he feeds them.  All of them. No matter where they’ve come from, what they look like, who they show love to, or who they neglect, or what they’ve done or not done.  He feeds all of them.  Not just the women and children, but the men too. Not just the ones who were clean, but the ones strung out as well. Not just the ones who ate three days ago, but those who ate 3 hours ago. He fed all of them.

And why?  Because, as the text tells us, He had GREAT compassion on them.  Now this kind of compassion is not just the kind that makes you feel sorry for someone who’s had a rough time.  The Greek word for this is used in the New Testament scripture numerous times to describe the deep, wrenching, twisting of the gut kind of compassion.  It’s the kind of compassion that moved Jesus into raising a mother’s dead son. It’s the kind of compassion used to describe a Samaritan who was moved to care for an assaulted and left-for-dead human.  It’s the kind of compassion a parent feels for a child who has squandered the family heritage but comes back seeking forgiveness. It’s the kind of compassion that moved Jesus to cure the sick, and ultimately to save the world.

I am struck by this deeply compassionate Jesus.  This Jesus that makes every encounter with each of us an encounter where we are the only one that matters to him.  Whether it’s only me, 5 of us, or 5000 or more of us.  Jesus feeds each of us.

That’s why I think that at times in our lives when we come before Jesus and say, “I’ve got nothing,” it’s ok.  When Jesus asks us to not send our siblings away, but rather that we should feed them, and we say, “I’ve got nothin, Jesus,” it’s okay.  Because Jesus has enough for both of us.  And he proves it by picking up the pieces of our lives and multiplying them to overflowing bushels where WE are more than enough and there is MORE than enough for everyone.

I must admit that there are many days when I’m not sure I’ve got enough of what it takes to feed you with Jesus’ love.  I can be overcome with inward thoughts of inadequacy that I’m not doing enough to keep us together in these pandemic days.  Do you ever feel like you’ve not enough?  I think that if I/we listen, it’s those moments when we will hear in our hearts Jesus saying, “Come sit over here in the grass and let’s see what you’ve got.”  And just like parent who looks into a child’s lunch sack to make sure everything is there, Jesus looks into our hearts and says, “Ah… I see.  Well, let’s just take what you’ve got – let’s take all these broken pieces, bless them, and make a basket overflowing with of love to share.  That’s all we need!” And to that I say, “Bless you Jesus, for feeding me… again.” And all God’s people say, Amen!

Be well. Be safe. Be hope. prL

an inner sanctuary.

Day 30 – Prayer Walk 30

“Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is at hand.” Zephaniah 1:7

T – On this 30th day of intentional prayer with you, O Lord, I give thanks for the journey.  I give thanks that you have listened as I have searched my soul and shared my thoughts concerns, joys, and laments with you. Thank you for being patient with me as I have strived to be silent so that I can hear your voice and follow you.

R –  Forgive me for the days when my body was weak and tired and I did not turn to you for the sustenance I needed to carry on.  But you provided it anyway!

I – Show me that everyday is the day of the Lord! Create in me an inner silence.  And in that silence Lord, teach me to see taste touch and hear your presence in my life.  Let there be this place of quiet serenity, a sanctuary within that resonates deep within me that knows beyond a doubt that you are here, guiding my thoughts and my actions and creating in me a compassionate and loving heart that is worthy of your love. 

P –  May we, the church, be that place of sanctuary for a world in need of silence and rest.

Amen.

Be well be safe. Be hope. prL

NOTE: For these 30 days, I am using the T.R.I.P. meditation method to pray through the Moravian Daily Texts .  I invite you into prayer with me.  As you read and pray through the scripture above, consider in this text how or what or who:

T –  …causes me to be THANKFUL?
R –  …do I REGRET?
I –   …do I INTERCEDE for?
P –  …do I hear God calling me/ the body of faith to do? To what PURPOSE?