All Saints Sunday – Worthy of God’s Call

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12

There is a banner frame in the Reeves’ front yard that we rotate banners through during the year. Some banners promote upcoming ministry offerings while others speak a word of truth that (we hope) resonates with certain persons in the neighborhood surrounding the church. 

For the past two months we have had a banner out front reading “Grieving? We can help.” And during the past two months I have shared incredibly powerful, incredibly painful, and incredibly passionate conversations with persons who have suffered immense loss. 

Loss of parent. Loss of spouse. Loss of child. Loss of job. Loss of health. Loss of identity. Loss of worth. 

In hearing their stories of loss I am reminded of my own losses as God’s spirit of empathy settles. I admit now as I do at the outset of each of these conversations: I have not always been through the same kind of loss you are experiencing. I won’t say that “I understand” but I will listen. I won’t always have an answer or a solution, but again, and most importantly, I will listen. 

By listening I believe we come alongside those who grieve and help them make meaning – a little or a lot – of their loss. By listening I know we dispel the shame that accompanies grief – that we shouldn’t talk about it, that we should be tough and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, that we should rent a uhaul and move on. No. It takes courage to say “I want to talk about this.” We affirm that courage by listening. Will it make us uncomfortable to listen? Probably – but not as much as we originally thought. 

It makes me uncomfortable to think of all the people that are discouraged in their grief sharing. If you have been discouraged, I ask you to extend forgiveness to those who shamed you to silence and I encourage you to continue seeking someone to listen. 

//

On All Saints Sunday the church collectively pauses to remember those saints – those brothers sisters fathers mothers friends – in the faith that have completed the journey of faith. At one and the same time we celebrate their new lives in Christ while also recognizing our human loss. 

In worship we will read the names of the saints that have passed this year. We will light a candle and ring a bell for each. We will sing, pray, and share in communion. And then the service will conclude. 

But that doesn’t mean our feelings of human loss will be resolved with the lighting of a candle, the ringing of a bell, song, prayer, and communion – although those in the midst of great loss and great grief would welcome the quick resolution. 

I use this time of remembering to draw near to my personal experience of loss. I also use this time of remembering to draw near to my personal experiences with the hope, growth, grace, and understanding that have come alongside and helped lessen the hurt of the loss. The hurt of the loss will never completely go away…but on some days the pain will hurt less. 

I experience the “hurting less” of the loss when I talk about it. Lord knows I talk to myself all the time; I will remember and then talk myself up one side and down the other about my loss. But the healing comes when I share with someone, when that spirit of empathy settles, when someone affirms “I might not have answers or solutions, but yes, I will listen.”

One of my favorite anecdotes about Mother Theresa is this – once she was asked, “Mother Theresa, when you pray what do you ask for?” “Nothing; I listen.” “Ok…if you listen, then what does God say?” “Nothing; God listens.”

I listen. God listens. Do you? Can you? Will you? And when will you begin?

Prayer: “For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed, thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.  Alleluia, Alleluia! 

O blest communion, fellowship divine! We feebly struggle, they in glory shine; yet all are one in thee, for all are thine. Alleluia, Alleluia! 

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long, steals on the ear the distant triumph song, and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong. Alleluia, Alleluia!”* Amen. 

*”For All The Saints,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 711.

Plot From The Plain: Unobstructed

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 6:37-42

While in seminary I was selected as a candidate for a special scholarship for one year of my studies that covered my full tuition AND gave me a stipend.

For books.

And when you’re in my vocation – you have great love for ANYONE who gives you money to purchase books or gifts you books.

Books books books – big love.

Books books books – also a big weight when it’s moving season (over 30 BOXES of books!) – but that’s not the point here.

I love when I turn to my bookshelf for a sermon resource and I can remember how it was gifted to me – much like when I come across most of the things in my house and I remember who gave them to Andrew and me as wedding presents.  The text I sought today came from my seminary book stipend – CS Lewis’ bestseller Mere Christianity.

In the text he offers this thought in his chapter on forgiveness:

For a long time I used to think this is a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life – namely myself.*

Is it true that we can love the sinner and hate the sin?

We are a people – we are individuals – constantly in conflict.  The Apostle Paul describes it this way, “I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Rom 7:15,19).

What causes us to do what we hate?  The sin that occupies our human condition. Sin breeds only brokenness and suffering.  The grace of God seeks to heal and make us whole.  I believe God’s grace manifests within our hearts as self-worth – that which enables us to love ourselves because God first loved us.  That self-worth, which is rooted in God’s love, alerts us to the problem of sin and sets us on the path of the redeemed.

Lewis continues:

However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself.  There had never been the slightest difficulty about it.  In fact, the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man.  Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things.  

Consequently, Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery.  We ought to hate them.  Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid.  But [Christianity] does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere he can be cured and made human again.**

He can – she can – we can be cured and made human again.

I am convinced that this cure we seek comes through a life of faith.  It begins with the grace of God that we receive before we are even aware of it.  It continues as we actively receive and are claimed by God’s forgiveness in the moment of our conversion and redemption.  And it continues throughout our lives as God’s grace makes us more holy, as we grow in Christian maturity, as we are perfected in the faith.  The cure is realized as we are beautifully restored to the image in which we were made – the creation that God called very good.

I believe when we “love the sinner and hate the sin” we claim the hope of this cure – this ultimate redemption and restoration.  This doesn’t mean we fail to hold our neighbors accountable – or be held accountable ourselves.  We can hold one another accountable without casting judgment and in doing so we become companions for one another as God sanctifies.

I claim this hope for my family, my friends, my neighbors.  I know – I feel – their claim of this hope for me.

I will love the sinner and hate the sin.  Because you and me – we are equal and walking together.

Prayer: “Where shall my wondering soul begin? How shall I all to heaven aspire? A slave redeemed from death and sin, a brand plucked from eternal fire, how shall I equal triumphs raise, or sing my great Deliverer’s praise?

O how shall I the goodness tell, Father, which Thou to me hast showed? That I, a child of wrath and hell, I should be called a child of God, should know, should feel my sins forgiven, blessed with this antepast of Heaven!

And shall I slight my Father’s love? Or basely fear His gifts to own? Unmindful of His favors prove? Shall I, the hallowed cross to shun, refuse His righteousness to impart, by hiding it within my heart?

Outcasts of men, to you I call, harlots, and publicans, and thieves! He spreads His arms to embrace you all; sinners alone His grace receives; no need of Him the righteous have; He came the lost to seek and save.

Come, O my guilty brethren, come, groaning beneath your load of sin, His bleeding heart shall make you room, His open side shall take you in; He calls you now, invites you home; come, O my guilty brethren, come!

For you the purple current flowed in pardons from His wounded side, languished for you the eternal God, for you the Prince of glory died. Believe, and all your sin’s forgiven; only believe, and yours is Heaven!”***

Amen.

*CS Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperOne, 1950) 117.

**Ibid.  

***”Where Shall My Wondering Soul Begin,” The United Methodist Hmynal, 342.

 

Plot From The Plain: Love – An Ethic of Generosity

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 6:27-36

This week I enjoyed the gift of extended Sabbath by taking a week of vacation.  I slept late, I exercised lightly, I ate way too much.  I spent quality time with Andrew and sweet friends.

For fun Andrew and I explored a few antique shops in our area and started a new woodworking project this week – we are building a pergola for the concrete pad in our backyard.  And thanks to a great friend and coworker – we spent a day in the House of Mouse.  Fun times indeed.

While it has been a relaxing week, it has been a mindful week as I have pondered this week’s Scripture passage.  “Love your enemies,” Jesus said.  What a difficult statement to swallow.

“Love the animal abuser”

“Love the child molester”

“Love the democrat”

“Love the republican”

“Love the thief”

“Love the traitor”

“Love the …”

Why would Jesus say this?  I believe to set apart himself and the Kingdom he initiated.  And…to expose us to the scandal, outrageousness, and courageousness of his message.

Who would follow this message?  Who would endorse this leader by first their presence and then their witness?  I believe only the committed, because I do not think you can faithfully attend to this Lord, his message, or his Kingdom with one foot in and one foot out.

This isn’t the hokey-pokey.  It’s the Kingdom.  That’s what it’s all about.

//

Love is such a crazy thing…because at one and the same time we know so much about it but struggle to put it into words.  It’s a feeling, it’s an emotion, it’s an expression.

It’s the subject of many incredible 80s songs…

I do not want to reduce Christ’s love to that which is proclaimed by 80s hair bands, but I would like to lift up this one lyric by Bon Jovi:

Shot through the heart and you’re to blame / Darlin’ you give love a bad name

This lyric explores love gone wrong – love that is manipulative, love that plays games, love that says one thing and then does another.

This behavior is not love at all.

When we express true love – Christ’s love – it should not lead our neighbors to question our motives or role.  It should not be confusing or appear manipulative.

We do not want to give love a bad name.

We are ambassador’s of Christ’s love in the world.  We carry forth a love that is so bold and that is powerful enough to continue the revolution that ensued on the night of the Incarnation.  When we carry Christ’s love into the world – we carry all of it including all the charges that come along with it – not to exclude or look over but have at the forefront of our minds and hearts – loving our “enemies.”

And by loving them I believe God heals and transforms that we all become neighbors and friends.

Prayer: “For us he prayed; for us he taught; for us his daily works he wrought; by words and signs and actions thus still seeking not himself, but us.”* Amen.

*from “O Love, How Deep,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 267.

Plot From The Plain: Woah and Woe

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 6:17-26

This week Reeves will begin a sermon series entitled Plot From The Plain based on lessons from Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain found in Luke 6.  Jesus’ first sermon in Luke begins similarly to Jesus’ first sermon in Matthew – with a sharing of beatitudes.

The Beatitudes are Christ’s promise of coming blessings.  The blessings will arrive when the Kingdom of Heaven is in it’s fullness and completion on earth.

The Beatitudes are not the first blessings we encounter when we read Scripture.  Old Testament and New Testament texts are punctuated with blessing.  Each blessing is an authoritative pronouncement of God’s favor.  In some of our Bibles handy-dandy editors have come through and organized the Scripture with headers that somehow indicate “find a blessing here!” and then you read that blessing.  Other blessings in Scripture are not as easily noticed at first glance, but they are no less powerful and gracious in their gifting.

One of my favorite blessings that I return to again and again is Isaiah 46:4b.  God says, “I have made and I will bear; I will carry and I will save.”  I believe this blessing from God is pure gift.  And it is this blessing that beckons me, draws me, and inspires me into service for my God who has made the commitment through my creation to bear, carry, and save me.

No. Matter.  What.

//

As I ponder blessings this week I can’t help but think about how we have limited blessings in our lives.  Yes, we can read them in Scripture, but where else do we encounter blessings?  Sadly, I feel that we have limited blessings to words before we eat, sneezes, offertory prayers, and worship service dismissals.  You may participate in a faith community where clergy regularly steward the sacraments – there you will also encounter blessings.

But where else do we encounter blessings?

I am drawing a blank…and I think that shows the graveness of this predicament.

Which leads me to my next question – how can we develop a culture of blessing?

The Beatitudes are Christ’s promise of coming blessings – but I believe that we are presently in the world of Christ’s blessings and anticipating their completion.  We don’t anticipate idly.  We anticipate actively knowing that we do not bring about the completion of Christ’s blessings ourselves, but that we are helpmates in the completion and pronouncement of those blessings.

Through blessings we affirm people.  Through blessings we affirm the worthiness of others; we affirm our appreciation for their gifts, their presence, their dedication.  Through blessings we also encourage.

When we practice giving blessings – blessings from our own experience of others or speaking blessings of Scripture into the lives of our neighbors – I believe we develop a culture of blessing.  This culture of blessing could start with one – with me – with you – and grow exponentially.  I believe this is the task that Christ calls us to as helpmates in the Kingdom.

God bless you my friends.  Now go and do likewise.

Reflection: Who has blessed you in this life?  What was communicated in that blessing?  Was it spoken, written, expressed physically through a hug or some sort of service?  Who have you blessed?  How did you communicate it?  Who is someone that God is calling you to bless?  When will you communicate that blessing?

Prayer: “Blessed assurance; Jesus is mine!  O what a feeling of glory divine!  Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.  This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long; this is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.”*  Amen.

*From “Blessed Assurance,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 369.

 

Be The Change

I apologize for the late post of The Sunday Stiletto this week.  It has been a week leading up to one of the biggest servant-leadership ministry opportunities in my life.  Surrounded by accountability partners, great friends, new friends, partner churches, 350 runners, and nearly 100 volunteers, Be The Change 5K ran and walked in the name of our God – for solidarity, for inclusion, for one another, for all – in Downtown Orlando on October 5, 2013.

I was privileged to share opening words with those gathered in the start line.  I shared that the church I serve as well as our partner churches understand the wideness of God’s mercy – that all means all – and we desire to be in true relationship and community with all our brothers and sisters.  With a humble heart and boldness of speech, I asked for forgiveness on behalf of the institutional church for the harm that has been cast towards our LGBTQ neighbors and allies; I asked for forgiveness from God and from those present.

I made my confession and sought reconciliation.

And then I received gifts of reconciliation from some gathered that morning.  One man approached me and extended his arms for a hug.  I returned the hug and when I started to release him, he clung to me longer.  When he was ready, he stepped back, looked me in the eye and shared these words, “I want you to know I love you.  I want you to know that I appreciate what you are doing.  I want you to know that you are teaching me what it means to be a true Christian.”  And then he walked away.

My friend, that you and others would hear my confession and grant me forgiveness, you are teaching me what it means to be a true Christian.  Christians are people of forgiveness and grace and I believe we learn more clearly how to share forgiveness and grace when we receive it.

I know I do.

Yesterday over 400 people – participants and volunteers – took huge steps towards reconciliation and unity in our community.  In fact – we took 3.1 miles worth of steps and it is my prayer that those steps will continue.

To those who served – thank you.

To those who participated – thank you.

To those who experienced this vision and helped bring it to reality – thank you.

To those who never gave up – thank you.

Together, we are the change we want to see in the world.  Together – exactly the way that God created us to be.

Prayer: O Lord, open my eyes that I may see the needs of others; open my ears that I may hear their cries; open my heart so that they need not be without succor; let me not be afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of the strong, nor afraid to defend the poor because of the anger of the rich.  Show me where love and hope and faith are needed, and use me to bring them to those places.  And so open my eyes and my ears that I may this coming day be able to do some work of peace for thee.  Amen.*

*”For Courage to Do Justice,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 456.