Seven Questions of Faith: Am I Accepted?

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 8:1-11

In a couple of weeks I will graduate from my 13-month, 303-hour yoga teacher training program. This has been an incredible time of growth in my practice, not just in my physical abilities (because trust me, I still fall – a lot!), but in my understanding of yoga philosophy, anatomy, and in appreciation of yoga’s incredible ability to unite people with so many uniquenesses and abilities to breathe and move as one.

I have also grown in great love and respect for my yoga teacher trainee family. Before we started our training journey our common denominator was our teacher, Holly. We were all novices to one another, coming from different professional, vocational, and familial backgrounds. Our first few interactions were all experiences of testing the waters with one another. Holly never impressed upon us an expectation for relationship; she fostered what occurred organically between us. I am so happy and grateful to say that  Joy, Dom, Lauren, Jeri, Kristine, and Stephanie are some of my best and favorite people ever.

Early on in our training we participated in a workshop experience with a local yogi that encouraged us to begin writing the story or narrative that brought us to yoga. We all have our own path. The evidence of that path will appear from time to time on our mats and is also a part of the equation of what results from time spent on our mats.

We each began to journal. I returned to yoga in May 2013 as a way to address my chronic cranial pain and chronic migraine diagnoses. I tried to manage my pain through medications, but the side effects I experienced were not worth it. So I looked east to this ancient practice for strengthening and relief. I still struggle with chronic pain, but not nearly as severely. I am healthier and stronger than I have ever been.

What we did not know at the outset of our journaling was that our workshop leader wanted us to share our journal entries with one another. We were still a new group on this journey together…did we really want to share such personal information so immediately? Did we really want to reveal parts about ourselves that could potentially make us feel weak or less than or ashamed and potentially make ourselves visible as weak, less than, and shameful before people we were still getting to know?

Seated in a circle, looking one another in the eye, each taking our turn, we shared our stories. And we shared grace as we listened. Stories of recovery from medical events, of recovery from addictions, of seeking community, of seeking acceptance, of wanting to grow, of wanting to ground, of fear, of freedom, of friendship. Hearing one another’s stories – made up of confessions and dreams, worries and confidences – knit our little yoga family together in a big, big way. We did not judge one another’s journeys. We did not assign value or status, other than to recognize the worth of the neighbor to our right and to our left.

We thanked one another for our courage in sharing. And thank you, Candace, for leading us in this gift of narrative and birth of community.

In our Scripture passage for this week Jesus hears a narrative of a woman, not told in her own words, but by the words of the ruling religious and governing body. It is a narrative that in the ancient world and in Jesus’ world would bring shame and feelings of worthlessness not only upon her but on her family as well. But when Jesus looked up and spoke to those in range of hearing, he did not assign value or status, other than to recognize the worth of the daughter of Abraham standing before him. In recognizing her worth Jesus did not diminish the worth of the scribes and Pharisees; rather, he invited them to remember her worth by recalling the grace they had received as they journeyed down their paths in life.

Take some time this week to remember your personal journey. What has brought you  to this point? Recall your formative moments, both positive and negative. What grace did you receive in those moments? What grace resulted from those moments? How did your perception of yourself change as you received your worth as a beloved child of God? How has your perception of your neighbors changed as you recognized the worth in another of God’s children? How has God knit you into community in the past and present? How do you anticipate God knitting you into community in the future?

Be grateful for your journey. Be grateful for God’s grace in your life. And be grateful for where God is leading you right this moment.

Prayer: “Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended, that we to judge thee have in hate pretended? By foes derided, by thine own rejected, O most afflicted. For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation, thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation; thy death and anguish and thy bitter passion, for my salvation.”* Amen.

*”Ah, Holy Jesus,” The United Methodist Hymnal 289.

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Seven Questions of Faith: What Matters Most?

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 12:28-34

Have you ever watched a reunion between family members or close friends? The likes of a person or group being surprised by the return of a loved one at a football game or running across an airport terminal to embrace?

I experienced one of those moments this past week. A mother and dear friend from Andrew’s last church invited us to attend the Hillsong United concert with her, another parent from the youth program, and 25 or so of our former students. The students – they didn’t know we were coming. So as we gathered outside the CFE Arena at UCF one student after the next came out of the parking lot, identified the agreed upon meeting spot, and upon seeing us, ran as fast as they could to embrace each of us as hard as they could. One of the girls even ran towards us while wearing an air-cast on her foot! We love and admire your enthusiasm, Kelli, but we want your foot to heal!!

Each embrace restored my soul. Each embrace filled my cup. Each embrace reminded me what matters most.

Relationships. Caring relationships.

Some of my most formative relationships growing up and continuing to today are are with my youth group leaders. These folks are some of the first people outside of my family that saw me for me. They identified my gifts. They nurtured my call. They encouraged my curiosity and wondering about the mystery of God.

I am so grateful for these relationships. Because of them I looked forward – and look forward! – to sharing these kind of relationships with young adults. God made an impression on me through the hands of my counsellors and I am humbled by the opportunities to make God’s impressions on the young men and women I serve.

In our Scripture passage this week Jesus identifies how we are to act in the – in our – ultimate caring relationship – by loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. And then Jesus instructs us in how we are to make impressions on one another – by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.

We are so loved by God. God’s love shapes us. God’s hands by way of God’s love are literally all over us. God is constantly running towards us, reuniting with us, and welcoming us home. Whether we have moved away from God or God has moved and asks us to follow, whole and holy relationship with God remains our goal. And we grow in whole and holy relationship with God by leaning into and modeling whole and holy relationships with our neighbors.

I believe that each time we participate in a reunion with a loved one – whether we have been apart for a day, a decade, or what feels like a decade – when we feel that embrace, when we fill our cups, we feel God’s loving impression upon us through the hands of our neighbors. Sharing God’s loving impression with others draws us deeper into relationship with one another and with God, which truly centers us on what matters most.

Prayer: “I love to tell the story; ’tis pleasant to repeat what seems, each time I tell it, more wonderfully sweet. I love to tell the story, for some have never heard the message of salvation from God’s own holy Word. I love to tell the story, ’twill be my theme in glory, to tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love.”* Amen.

*”I Love to Tell the Story,” The United Methodist Hymnal 156.

Seven Questions of Faith: Who Is Jesus?

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 16:13-16

Over the past several years I have had the privilege to serve as a curriculum writer for our Annual Conference’s Camp and Retreats Ministries. It is a very humbling experience to be a member of these writing teams. I am always in awe of what the Holy Spirit brings about through opportunities for learning, fun, and fellowship for the campers as a result of these teams working together. And I am always in awe of the impact our God makes through the contributions of these writing teams.

Sometimes I can feel so small. Usually in those moments I dash to find a stellar pair of stilettos, but when that does not help, I think back on the experiences in my life when I have opened myself up to be used by God. I am one person, but where two or more are gathered, our God is present and our God is able to do infinitely more than we can ever imagine. Opening ourselves up to be part of our God’s imagining, that is the true stuff of miracles.

Last year one of the curriculum writer’s ideas was to open up space for campers to write down questions of faith that would be answered by their age-level worship leader before the end of the week. I had the sweet opportunity to be both a curriculum writer and a worship leader last summer so I knew what I was in for…but I was in no way prepared for the depth of the faith questions asked by my Week 8 rising 6th-8th graders.

Some of their questions were…

  • Where are the dinosaurs!? (One of my personal favorites.)
  • Do I have to believe everything in the Bible?
  • Do I have to read and understand the Bible the same way as my parents, youth leader, or pastor?
  • I’m not sure if I’m saved. I accepted Jesus, but then I sinned. Am I still saved? Does God still love me?
  • I’m not sure about God; I’m not sure I believe. Does that make me a bad person?
  • When Jesus says “Love your neighbor” does he really mean every neighbor?

These are only a few of their questions…and I had around 20 minutes to answer as many as I could, not to mention the follow-up questions that came up during our short time together!

These campers asked deep questions of faith that revealed deep longing for greater understanding of God and, I believe, greater belonging with God.

During the Season of Lent, which begins with our Service of Ashes on Wednesday evening at 7pm, we will ponder Seven Questions of Faith. I am hopeful that through this season we will grow in greater understanding of who our Lord is, who we are, and who and how we are in relationship together.

We begin this week with the question, “Who is Jesus?” This was a popular question in the First Century after Jesus started his public ministry. People could not believe that the miracles and ministry coming from Jesus could be the same person born of Mary in humble Bethlehem and run out of Nazareth by his neighbors. Others did not want to give Jesus credit for how he was declaring the glory of the Lord through his ministry; surely he had to be Moses, or Elijah, or another of the prophets. For so long God’s people waited and hoped for their Messiah, their anointed one, their Savior…and yet here (there) he was…and they could not believe.

Rather than defending himself or offering an apologetic for who he is, Jesus turns to his disciples to answer “Who am I?” Peter answers this deep question of faith boldly and, in so doing, reveals his greater understanding about who Jesus is and his greater belonging in relationship with Jesus.

I encourage you to take time this week to answer for yourself, “Who Is Jesus?” Write down your answer in a journal. Talk about your answer around the dinner table with your family or when you are out enjoying time with friends. Consider how your understanding of who Jesus is has changed over time and perhaps is still changing. What have you learned about who Jesus is? What have you learned about yourself in learning about who Jesus is?

Prayer: “His name is wonderful, his name is wonderful, his name is wonderful, Jesus, my Lord. He is the mighty King, Master of everything; his name is wonderful, Jesus, my Lord. He’s the great Shepherd, the Rock of all ages, almighty God is he; bow down before him, love and adore him, his name is wonderful, Jesus, my Lord!”* Amen.

*”His Name Is Wonderful,” The United Methodist Hymnal 174.

We Don’t Have To Go Home, But We Can’t Stay Here

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 9:28-36

I returned from an eight day pilgrimage across Israel on Wednesday and a word that resonated with me and my fellow sojourners throughout our travels in the Holy Land was home.

We visited Bethlehem where the Holy Family had their home during Jesus’ infancy. We visited Nazareth where Jesus lived as a boy and youth and would eventually be expelled from because “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town” (Lk 4:24). We visited Capernaum and journeyed throughout the Galilee where Jesus accomplished most of his ministry before he set his eyes on Jerusalem. And in Jerusalem we visited places where Jesus taught, prayed, worshipped, and wept.

Throughout the course of our trip our group took turns teaching, praying, worshipping, and weeping together. We followed in the steps of our Lord in the land of his home, which each of us came to see as our home as well.

Our guide for our trip was a fella named Mike. He quickly became one of my favorite people…mostly because within 10 minutes or so of knowing me he understood that Sarah is Hebrew for “trouble maker…”

I smiled. Mike smiled. The Bishop smiled. And our journey continued.

Towards the end of our journey across the Holy Land Mike posed this question and challenge to our group: What would it take, what would I need to consider, how would I need for God to transform me so that I could become home for someone else? To be a home for someone else means becoming a safe place, a place of support, a place of comfort, a place of care, a place of sanctuary. Serving as a home for someone does not mean that together we escape reality; rather, it is a means that where two or more are gathered Jesus is there with us, lightening our burdens, easing our hurts, providing for our needs, and walking with us as we commit to walking together whatever the path is before us.

In a sense Peter wanted to create homes for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah atop Mt. Tabor at the time of Jesus’ transfiguration. Peter’s intended to construct permanent residences that would take him, Jesus, and the other disciples with them away from the world. Why would Peter want to do this? Because days before Jesus foretold his coming passion. Luke 9:21-22 writes, “[Jesus] sternly ordered and commanded [the disciples] not to tell anyone, saying, ‘The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” If Peter was successful in keeping Jesus on the mountain, then Peter could keep Jesus from this fate. Jesus could go on teaching and healing and bringing good news without enduring great suffering.

But Jesus was not seeking a savior or protector. Jesus was seeking – and seeks – partners, friends, and homes to serve others. Jesus sought in his disciples – and seeks in us – the commitment he introduces in his continued conversation with the disciples before his transfiguration, “Then [Jesus] said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves'” (Lk 9:23-25)?

The Good News of Jesus was and is that he became and becomes home for all. He put himself to suffering, bleeding, and dying so that we – his followers, his sisters and brothers – would know that while on life’s paths we do not walk alone. Not even death could separate us from Jesus for in three days time he was raised in glory.

So if nothing can separate us from Jesus – our eternal Savior and home – then why would we who are faithful separate ourselves from opportunities to be like Jesus and continue his ministry by becoming home for others? We can only be these homes if we open ourselves to be used by Jesus in this way and if we draw near to the portions of Christ’s Body that are in pain. Being a home cannot be accomplished at a distance. Jesus did not complete his servant ministry from on high; he was so close to humanity he could literally and did literally rub his nose in all of our hurt. And he redeemed it.

We can enjoy our times on the mountains, those high points in life. My trip to Israel is certainly one of them! And equally I believe Jesus wants us to enjoy our times in the valleys because that is where he served and calls us to serve by becoming home for others – for all.

Prayer: “You satisfy the hungry heart, with gift of finest wheat. Come, give to us, O saving Lord, the bread of life to eat. As when the shepherd calls his sheep, they know and heed his voice, so when you call your family, Lord, we follow and rejoice. You give yourself to us, O Lord; then selfless let us be, to serve each other in your name in truth and charity. You satisfy the hungry heart, with gift of finest wheat. Come, give to us, O saving Lord, the bread of life to eat.”* Amen.

*”You Satisfy the Hungry Heart,” The United Methodist Hymnal 629.