Be Still: Stand Still and See

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Exodus 14:10-22

When was the last time you took a moment to stand still and see – to stand still and marvel at God’s creation and what God is doing?

I have been blessed with the privilege to see some of God’s most amazing sites in creation – the Grand Canyon, the Grindelwald Glacier in Switzerland, sea turtles swimming along the North Shore in Hawaii, a rainforest-filled valley below a smoldering volcano in Costa Rica, the fog settling among the peaks of the Smokey Mountains – to name a few.  These creations are a wonder to behold…and there is so much about these creations that a picture can capture and so much that a picture can not begin to capture.

These are grand images.  They are truly wonderful.  And what amazes me about them most is that they did not appear overnight.  The Grand Canyon was carved through years and years of water slowly running through sedimentary rock.  The Grindelwald Glacier amassed as one singular ice crystal connected with another, and then another, and then another.  The mature sea turtles grew from eggs, the trees in the rainforest from seeds, the volcano and mountains through continuous pressure from colliding tectonic plates.  Each of these developments in our environment are the result of a change – from egg to animal, from seed to plant, from plain to peak, from shallow to deep.

Change requires time and commitment – and in that knowledge I receive grace – not only for others and for the systems that I participate in, but also for myself.  I have been on a personal journey for a little over a year for better health and wellness.  I am engaging in regular physical activity through walking and yoga.  I have altered my eating habits, eating more vegetables, fruits, and leaner meats.  I am eliminating foods and beverages that are “empty calories” – I love to eat…so when I eat I want every one of those calories to count!  There have been times along this journey that I have questioned whether or not what I am doing is making a difference…and when those negative worries creep in God always seems to place someone in my path that says something about my transformation without any prompting.

I have heard to said that it takes four weeks to see a change in your own body/life, eight weeks for your friends and family to see it, and twelve weeks for the rest of the world to see it.  In my own journey I feel that I have lived the reverse.  It took my eyes the longest to adjust and to see what everyone else sees – to see what God sees.  God is making me a new and beautiful creation.  God is making me a wonder to behold.  And God is inviting me to stand still and see what God is doing in my life that I will celebrate!  God has delivered and is delivering me to a place of whole-iness.

“Rome was not built in a day” as the saying goes.  Transformation takes time.  And God’s imprints are all over it.

Have you taken time to stand still and see the transformation God is doing in your life?  In your own body?  In your relationships?  In the systems in which you participate?  Receive God’s grace that accompanies change.  And take time to wonder.

Prayer: “I need thee every hour, most gracious Lord; no tender voice like thine can peace afford.  I need thee every hour; stay thou nearby; temptations lose their power when thou art nigh.  I need thee every hour, in joy or pain; come quickly and abide, or life is vain.  I need thee every hour; teach me thy will; and thy rich promises in me fulfill.  I need thee every hour, most Holy One; O make me thine indeed, thou blessed Son.  I need thee, O I need thee; every hour I need thee; O bless me now, my Savior, I come to thee.* Amen.

*”I Need Thee Every Hour,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 397.

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Be Still: Dealing With Noise

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Kings 19:8-15

What frustrates you? Those things that frustrate me are incredibly petty and small…yet in the heat of the moment they seem like giants. For instance…I am not known to stroll. I walk with a purpose. This is probably the product of my subconscious harboring the learning from a math course in college (marked especially for religion and philosophy majors!) where I spent half the semester studying the theory of the travelling salesman problem: You are a travelling salesman and you have five sales to make in a specific amount of time. What is the shortest distance between all of the sale-stops without retracing your steps? So when I walk – I walk! And my greatest frustration while walking – someone stopping directly in front of me – totally throws off my groove!

Needless to say – I am tons of fun to take to a theme park…

One interpretation of our Scripture lesson this week is that Elijah is quite frustrated with our God. Perhaps he is frustrated because he feels completely alone, believing that he is the only faithful person to the one true God left on the planet’s surface. Or perhaps he is frustrated because God has changed how God communicates with the prophet and with the world. Elijah is accustomed to the God of Moses who communicates with creation in fantastic ways – earthquakes, fire of the mountain, and mastery over the elements to part the waters of the sea to name a few. And now God selects a new way to communicate – by saying nothing at all. That is a game changer. That is akin to God and Elijah walking along and then God pulls up short in front of Elijah, completely throwing off his groove.

When God finally speaks to Elijah the words are not what Elijah expects. God asks Elijah, “What are you doing here?” implying that Elijah’s current environment is not the environment Elijah should be occupying (v.13). After the question God gives Elijah a directive, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus” (v.15). Haywood B. Spangler says that God tells Elijah “to go back to work” and in going back to work “Elijah does not have to give up his frustration, but God will not let him give into it.”*

Our God will not and cannot be contained. We do not set the terms of our relationship with God – when we encounter our God or how God encounters us. That can be incredibly frustrating…but we cannot give into our frustration. God is eager to send us on our way, to be God’s hands and feet in the world. How we hang onto or release our frustrations will determine how fruitful our service is as God’s hands and feet.

This week I am changing my pace. I am changing my serving environment – from the local church to the connection. I have the privilege to serve with my dear friend Melissa and her fabulous staff at one of the Florida Conference Camp and Retreat Centers as the pastor in residence for Grandparents and Me Camp. The tempo at camp is always different. Schedules are not set in granite and flexibility is key. Walking with a purpose is replaced by strolling. The agenda items are these – just be and be with one another. I may be frustrated with that at first…but I wait and walk in great anticipation for how God will speak to me in the change of pace this week.

Try this on, friends. Change your pace. Lean into a frustration. See what God reveals and commit it to your life.

Prayer: “Dear Lord and Father of humankind, forgive our foolish ways; reclothe us in our rightful mind, in purer lives thy service find, in deeper reverence, praise. Drop thy still dews of quietness, till all our strivings cease; take from our souls the strain and stress, and let our ordered lives confess the beauty of thy peace. Breathe through the heats of our desire thy coolness and thy balm; let sense be dumb, let flesh retire; speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire, O still, small voice of calm.”** Amen.

*David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting On the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008- 2010), 151.

**”Dear Lord and Father of Humankind,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 358.

Be Still: Knowing and No-Ing

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 1:29-39

This time last summer I was diligently preparing for a week long mission experience in the beautiful town of Wahiawa, Hawaii.  Wahiawa is a suburb of Honolulu.  Now, you may say to yourself – “Hawaii is NO PLACE for a mission trip.”  Well actually, Hawaii is one of the most impoverished states in the United States.  In Honolulu alone close to 28% of the population live at or below the poverty line.  We travelled to Wahiawa to serve with Surfing The Nations.  We partnered with their feeding program and recreation ministry using eight wooden surfboards that Andrew’s youth had spent the previous year building from the boards up.  We gifted Surfing The Nations the surfboards at the conclusion of our trip.

While in Wahiawa I fell in love with Hawaii and it’s people.  It is not the beautiful vistas or the smell of pineapple in the breeze that makes my heart ache to return.  It’s the people.  People who are kind.  People who are generous even in their wanting.  People who even in their wanting hold their heads high and strive for a better future.  People who take the time to stop, to listen, to embrace, to encourage.  For these people I want to return.

There is a different rhythm of life in Hawaii – or at the very least where we stayed and served in and around Wahiawa and the North Shore.  People are single-taskers, which is very different from the culture of multi-taskers on the mainland.  Several times I was told by the staff to slow down!  I did not need to rush.  I did not need to be doing five things at once…because in doing so I was not giving any of those tasks my all – my best self.

One thing at a time was the prevailing modus operandi.  First this – and bring it to completion.  And then second this – but only if the first task is completed and you have enjoyed the completion.  And so on.

Like I said – a different rhythm of life.

As you are reading this, how many things are you also doing at the same time?  As I am writing this I am aware of emails being delivered, of texts coming in, of carrying on conversations in the office, of reviewing in my mind what I just wrote in my sermon, of responding to comments on my social media, of listening to music, and a whole host of other things that my subconscious is shushing at the moment.  I am a multi-tasking fiend!  But is it to my detriment or to my betterment?

We live in a culture where we feel we always need to be engaged…but is it engaged or entertained or distracted?  Do we want to have so many things going on around us because it unsettles us if we take the time to focus on one thing at a time?  Are we at odds with single-tasking and giving one thing at a time our best selves?

In our Scripture lesson for this week Jesus retreats from the multitasking of preaching, teaching, healing, and exorcising so that he could focus on one task – praying.  In the silence, alone, and attuned, Jesus prayed and Jesus listened.  And in doing so he knew what he needed to do.  He knew how his time of service would continue.  Yes, he eventually returned to multitasking, but in the quiet of that single-tasking moment, he gave his best self to God so God in turn would give Christ’s best self to the world.

In 1976 Billy Joel released “New York State of Mind” – and even though it was not released in the 80s I have great love for this music – it’s Billy Joel people!  Thinking “New York” makes me think about energy and movement and everything needed to be done yesterday.  But if you listen to Joel’s tune – it’s a ballad.  It’s meandering melody takes it’s time.  The song speaks of the joy of enjoying what the city has to offer – and enjoying it all in due course.

To me…that sounds like a single-taskers state of mind.  It sounds like a Wahiawa state of mind.  It sounds like giving the world – giving God – our best selves state of mind so that in turn God will give our best selves to the world.

Prayer: “Let us slow down; let us be in step with the One who walks with us in the journey. [Silence] Gracious Lord, you walk with us in this life and yet at times we are distracted and do not know that you are with us.  We confess our inability to see you; our unwillingness to hear you; our hesitation in following you.  And yet we believe that you are indeed present among us, mysteriously, in this very time and place.  Open our eyes, our ears, our hearts and our hands.  Help us stop, rest, listen and learn.  Make us receptive to your presence, through Jesus Christ our risen Lord. [Silence] Lord Jesus, you are God with us – Emmanuel.  You call us not only disciples, but also friends.  Draw near to us, abide with us, and remus us in your image.  Amen.”*

*Kenneth H. Carter, Prayers and Liturgies of Confession and Assurance, Just in Time! (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009), 36.

Be Still: Be Still and Know

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 46

I am a worrier.  I worry about everything.

Worrying stems from a sense of inadequacy – a place of not being enough.  I have always felt that there is more that I could be doing no matter what I am doing – whether I am working or cleaning or resting or even having fun.  Occasionally Andrew and I have the opportunity to visit one of the local amusement parks in our area and – yes – I admit – that I will think to myself as we are strolling through Adventureland that I could be strolling more productively, or if we had made this turn or that turn we would have missed this whole hoard of folks that have now beat us in line for DoleWhip.

And if you haven’t ever had DoleWhip – you need to get on that.

I think because I am a worrier I always feel that I need to be doing something.  Andrew tells me all the time when we are home, “Sarah – sit down and relax” while I continue to flit around the house doing whatever it is that I am doing.

Why do I do all these things?  Because the opposite of doing these things is stillness.  And why do I not like stillness?

Honestly?  Because I like to be in control.

Today’s confessions – I am a worrier.  I always feel that I need to be doing something.  I like to be in control and I understand stillness as a relinquishing of control.

For some reason I do not take the same posture of finding the more efficient or productive way to be still that I employ in other areas of my life.  Stillness is not about me and what I am doing.  Stillness is a space to sit, hear, and be with what God is doing.

And that is uncomfortable…because if God is in control…then I.am.not.

Why is that so uncomfortable?  Well I am a creature of habit.  I like things the way I like them.  For example, I do not know why I take the time to browse menus at restaurants because I order the same meal without fail according to what that restaurant offers.  As a creature of habit, I have creature comforts.  I have comfort zones.  And what if being still and sitting with, hearing, and being with what God is doing invites me out of my comfort zone?  What if the revelation in the stillness takes me somewhere new?  What if the revelation in the stillness tells me to stop something I love and to start something that before I would not touch with a 27 and 3/8s foot pole??

What if…

But I guess I will not know if I do not become still.

My head knows that God does not want me to worry or find my worth in the tasks I accomplish (or put myself down for the tasks I leave undone) or be controlling.  My head knows.  Sometimes the pathway from my head knowing something and my heart incarnating that knowledge in my life is very fluid…and then other times…not so much.  What will help with that fluidity?  What will reinforce God’s truth in my life?

Stillness.

God you have a funny way of working sometimes…

Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God!  I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”

God is exalted by all people all across the earth.  In the stillness I am invited to join their praise.  If I neglect the stillness, God will still be praised, but my voice will not be counted among them.  That hurts me…and I believe that hurts God, too.

I am going to find some time to be still today.  To sit.  To listen.  To be.  To praise.

Will you join me?

Prayer: “Eternal God, the refuge and help of all your children, we praise you for all you have given us, for all you have done for us, for all that you are to us.  In our weakness, you are strength, in our darkness, you are light, in our sorrow, you are comfort and peace.  We cannot number your blessings, we cannot declare your love: For all your blessings we bless you.  May we live as in your presence, and love the things that you love, and serve you in our daily lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”* Amen.

*Prayer of Saint Boniface, http://re-worship.blogspot.ca/2014/06/prayer-of-saint-boniface.html.

Be Our Guest

(Last) Sunday’s Scripture ~ Genesis 18:1-8

This week is your lucky week.  In all of the hustle and bustle of last week I neglected to make my post – so this week you will receive two!  Thank you for your graciousness in receiving this belated post.

I am overwhelmed by the graciousness and hospitality I have received from the Tuskawilla congregation.  Yesterday was my first Sunday at TUMC and the Spirit was tangible.  The energy was high.  The smiles were warm.  We sang.  We prayed.  We studied Scripture.  We gathered around Christ’s table and shared in the meal that he prepared for us.  I shook numerous hands, felt the embrace of a few hugs, and heard a number of rebuttals about my choice in football team (Go Packers!) and in the best decade of music ever (The 80s!).

As I serve at TUMC I will continue to come back to this sermon – this Sunday – as it is a reminder of my role in the congregation.  As the pastor of this flock, I am not the host.  I am the guest.  The congregation – the people with the history of this church, that have laughed with her, cried with her, bandaged her, and defended her – they are the host.  I have been invited in and entrusted with the stewardship of the church – to care for her, to challenge her, to connect people to her.  That is my privilege.  That is my joy.  And that is my task alongside the people at TUMC.

Sometimes in “ecclesial-culture” a posture is taken between the congregation and that pastor that “we [the congregation] are ready for you [the pastor] to do X Y Z …”  In my short time at TUMC I have come to know that this is not their posture.  They are ready to partner.  They are excited to partner.  They have ownership of the church and its ministries and are excited for someone to lead them to another level – to lead them onward.

Through the discernment of the appointive authorities over me I have been selected to be that shepherd.  I am ready to work alongside my hosts.  I am ready for us to get some dirt under our fingernails as we work in God’s vineyard.  I am ready to continue conversations that were started last Sunday, to learn names – lots of names, …and to perhaps hear a few more rebuttals about my choice in music and sports teams.

I am ready – and I trust that God equips.

Prayer: “As Christ breaks bread and bids us share, each proud division ends.  The love that made us makes us one, and strangers now are friends, and strangers now are friends.”*  Amen.

*”I Come with Joy,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 617.