New Creation: Removing The Veil

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Corinthians 3:7-18

On December 23, 2013 Andrew and I celebrated 7 years of marriage.  Our wedding day was incredible…and quite damp as I remember it.  Surrounded by family and friends…over 400 family and friends…we worshipped and we married.  Truly, it was and remains one of the happiest days of my life.

On our wedding day I wore a veil as most brides do.  My veil did not come from a store.  Andrew’s Aunt Vivian made my custom veil.  It was six head-to-knee length layers of tulle and bead and crystal detailing.  It had six combs to attach it to my head…which may in fact speak to the size of my head BUT ALSO the weight of this veil.  Oh my…it was heavy.  But it was worth it.  Everyone complimented me on it…including the guys in the local burger drive-thru I visited on my way to the church…and the kind customers at the supermarket that allowed me to go ahead of them in the checkout line to purchase hairspray that would replace all my friend’s hairspray that my locks consumed.

I had a lot going on that day.

My veil was just a veil.  There was no blusher in the front – it was all veil down my back.  Aunt Vivian asked me if I wanted a blusher and I declined.  I never really liked the idea of a blusher – a piece of fabric that would obscure a part of me from Andrew until some predetermined moment.  No.  He would see me and all of me.  We were entering into a solemn covenant together.  I could see without obscurity who I was committing to and I wanted Andrew to have the same opportunity.

Bonus for each of us – we liked what we saw.

Greater bonus for each of us – we still do.

In our Scripture passage for this week Paul writes to the Corinthian Christians and urges them to remove the veils in their lives that obscure them from wholly and completely being in the presence of Christ.  Veils have a dual function – they obscure vision as I have already mentioned but they are also a barrier.  They cause separation.  Why would we desire such a separation from our Savior who invites us into solemn covenant as well – the covenant of eternal life?

I think sometimes we want to separate ourselves from Christ.  We want to hoist up that veil because we don’t want Christ to see us for who we really are – flawed, self-absorbed, ashamed, broken.  If we remove the veil and step into the light of Christ’s glory we will be exposed.  We will be truly known.

I believe that God knows who we truly are without stepping into the light of Christ’s glory.  But I also believe that God wants us – each individual – each daughter or son of the Most High – to be the one to share who we are with God.  It’s okay if it takes time for us to share all of who we are with God.  God has the time.  God is not going to rip down our veils like a band-aid off chapped skin – in one fell swoop.  God will remove the veil, but it will be in good measure and response to where we are.  As faith grows and doubt recedes the veil will fall.  When that happens we will be in the place that Paul describes in his first correspondence with the Corinthians, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (I Corinthians 13:12).

I was so happy to remove my veil at the end of my wedding day.  Andrew had to help; it was anchored to my head by six dozen bobbypins.  I felt relief.  I literally felt a weight lifted.  I had freedom to move my head and walk where I wanted without having to be mindful of the veil being caught on someone or something.

A greater freedom is our gift when we remove the veils that separate us and obscure us from our God.

Let the veils fall down.

Prayer: “Finish, then thy new creation; pure and spotless let us be.  Let us see thy great salvation perfectly restored in thee; changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place, till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love and praise.”* Amen.

*”Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 384.

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New Creation: Letters of Recommendation

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Corinthians 3:1-6

A constant question that the church faces is the question of marketing – how do we get our name out there?  How do we get our name out there so people will come be with us here?

To answer that how question I would say – Go Out There!  Have a Little Mermaid Moment and “be where the people are!”

But what seems to be the case?  Churches appear reluctant to go out there…they would rather invest in the latest and greatest marketing technique to get people to come here.

Websites – Social Media – Live Streaming – 24hr Prayer Lines – Brochures – HUGE Electronic Signs and Billboards – 15 page full color 11”x17” inch weekly bulletins – TV advertisements – and more!

One of the most frustrating points in all of this…once you invest in one technique or update another…it’s all out of date!  Once all your information is current…it’s immediately past tense.

As churches we want people to know who we are.  So we seek, we strive, we struggle to capture who we are on paper, in a text box, and sometimes in under 140 characters.  “Who are you?  Who is this church?” someone asks and what do we do…we direct them away from us.  (and in that “.” please read “!?!?!”)  Visit this website.  Read this brochure.  Sign up for our text message reminders.

Why not just answer their question?  Paul says we are capable of doing that.  Paul says that is our purpose – to be the Christ’s recommendation letter – to be the church’s recommendation letter to the world.  Do you want to get to know the church – whether church as a specific congregation or church as the Body of Christ – get to know me.  All my successes and struggles, all my joys and fears.  I am the church.  Get to know me.

Martha Sterne shares incredibly profound thoughts in her commentary entry on this Scripture passage in Feasting On The Word.  Sterne writes, “What if all of us accepted the responsibility that Jesus gave us in our baptism, which is to be a letter of recommendation to the whole world of the good news of God in Christ?  We would have to stop looking for the next newest and greatest marketing ploy for church growth.  Instead we would know that we are invited to be, not just the marketing program for the church, but the healing and growth of Christ – in us, through us, and among us.”* (400).

To be the healing and growth of Christ – in us, through us, and among us – we have to get out from behind the social media, the signs, the bulletins.  We have to be where the people are.  We have to take the message of Christ into the places of pain, hurt, and need.  I believe as the church we would be better stewards and collect a greater return on the investment of teaching one another how to share our faith one-on-one rather than updating information to a third-party, non-personal marketing technique.

What’s the common denominator for all of these marketing techniques?  They are all bound to one place – a yard, a piece of paper on a credenza in the church foyer, and yes, even on the web.  People, however, we are everywhere.  We are dynamic.  We are capable of being an outstanding recommendation for Christ to the world.

Let’s go be where the people are.

Prayer: “‘Go, make of all disciples.’  We hear the call, O Lord, that comes from thee, our Father, in thy eternal Word.  Inspire our ways of learning through earnest, fervent prayer, and let our daily living reveal thee everywhere.  ‘Go, make of all disciples.’  We at thy feet would stay until each life’s vocation accents thy holy way.  We cultivate the nature God plants in every heart, revealing in our witness the master teacher’s art.”** Amen.

*David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting On the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B Volume 1 – Advent through Transfiguration (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 400.

**”We Are the Church,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 558.

New Creation: Pleasing Fragrance

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Corinthians 2:14-17

This Sunday in the Christian Year the Church celebrates and remembers the Baptism Of Our Lord – when Jesus presented himself to John the Baptist alongside the River Jordan for baptism.

The Gospel of Matthew’s baptism account reads, “And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased’” (Mt 3:16-17).

That day in the Jordan River Jesus is publicly claimed by God as the child of God.  When we anticipate, celebrate, witness, and remember baptisms, we recall how we, too, are claimed as children of God.

Holy.  Worthy.  Beloved.  With whom God is well pleased.

//

I live and serve in an area saturated with Disney paraphernalia – not a bad thing at all! – and as I dwell with this image of Jesus meeting John along the banks of the Jordan River a coy smile creeps across my face as I remember wise ole’ Rafiki leading a weary and lost Simba to the banks of a watering hole.  Simba peers over the side hoping to see his father – who died many years earlier – and instead sees his own reflection.  Disgusted Simba recoils and Rafiki encourages him to look again.  “Look harder…” Rafiki says, “You see…he lives in you” and Simba’s reflection morphs into that of his father’s.

Simba then hears his name rolling across the clouds like thunder and an effigy of his father appears.  “Simba, you have forgotten me,” Mufasa says.  “You have forgotten who you are and so have forgotten me.  Look inside yourself.  You are more than what you  have become.  You must take your place in the circle of life.  Remember who you are.  You are my son.  Remember.”

Simba protests, “How can I go back?  I’m not who I used to be…”  And Mufasa implores, “Remember.  Remember.”

//

When we return to the waters of baptism – not for rebaptism for God’s grace is sufficient in the single ritual – it is to remember who we are.  Regardless of what we have done or left undone, regardless of where we have said too much or kept silent too long, regardless of who we used to be and who we are now, God calls us to remember.  To remember who we are.  To remember who God is.  To remember what God’s grace has done and is doing.  To refresh our memory of God’s claim on our lives.

We are holy.  We are worthy.  We are beloved.  We are with whom God is well pleased.

I am.  You are.

Remember.

Prayer: “Baptized in water, sealed by the Spirit, cleansed by the blood of Christ, our King; heirs of salvation, trusting his promise, faithfully now God’s praises we sing.  Baptized in water, sealed by the Spirit, dead in the tomb with Christ, our King; one with his rising, freed and forgiven, thankfully now God’s praises we sing.  Baptized in water, sealed by the Spirit, marked with the sign of Christ, our King; born of one Father, we are his children, joyfully now God’s praises we sing.”* Amen.

*“Baptized in Water,” The Faith We Sing, 2248.

For Such A Time As This

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Esther 4:1-17

Happy New Year Friends!  I pray your celebration of Christ’s birth was meaningful and included the company of loved ones.  Mine was.  I am truly blessed and thankful for my blessings each and every day.

Not only have we celebrated Christmas but we have welcomed the New Year.  And with the New Year comes thoughts about resolutions.

Have you made any?  Will you make any?

In 2013 I took up weekly practices of hot power yoga.  Now, this is not the 110 degree yoga – I do not have time for that! – this is the 85 degree yoga.  Trust me…that’s hot enough…especially in the classes with 55 of your closest friends in about 300 square feet of space.

I am continuing my weekly practices in this new year.  This past Thursday we began class with a few moments of meditation and our teacher – Taylor – asked the class if we had made any resolutions.  She then said that she does not make resolutions anymore because when she resolved something it hardly ever came into fruition.  Now she dedicates herself to a practice, an ideology, a service.  She invited us to make a dedication during our practice – to what would we dedicate ourselves?  A more patient practice?  To trust our strength?  To breathe into the discomfort rather than shy away from it?  To what would we dedicate ourselves?

For some reason the idea of dedicating seems more active to me than the idea of resolving – even though they are both verbs.  As I consider the act of dedicating versus the act of resolving in conversation with our Scripture text for this week, I feel that Esther  first resolved and then dedicated herself.  She resolved to make a decision – she would be the advocate for her people, for God’s people – and then she dedicated herself to the danger of defending her people, God’s people, before the Persian King by entering his presence without prior request.

The character of Esther takes the idea of a resolution to the next level; she moves it to the realm of dedication “for such a time as this.”

Have you made any resolutions?  Will you make any resolutions?  And how can you take those resolutions to the next level and move them into the realm of dedications?

Perhaps consider these statements as you marinate on potential resolutions and dedications (from a buzzfeed.com article):

1. What you will accomplish this year?

2. What you will let go of or release?

3. What or who you will embrace?

4. What or who you will honor?

5. What or who you will love?

6. What or who you will use your gifts to advocate on behalf of?

7. What you will share with the world?

Write them.  Share them.  Incarnate the dedications for such a time as this.

Prayer: “‘Are ye able,’ said the Master, ‘to be crucified with me?’ ‘Yea,’ the sturdy dreamers answered, ‘to the death we follow thee.’  Are ye able? Still the Master whispers down eternity, and heroic spirits answer, now as then in Galilee.  Lord we are bale.  Our spirits are thine.  Remold them, make us, like thee, divine.  Thy guiding radiance above us shall be a beacon to God, to love, and loyalty.”*  Amen.

*”Are Ye Able,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 530.