Where You Go, I’ll Go

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ruth 1:1-18.

Following the events in Las Vegas late Sunday evening and early Monday morning, I saw a number of people quoting phrases from Warsan Shire’s poem entitled, What They Did Yesterday Afternoon. Shire is a British poet, activist, writer, and teacher, born to Somali parents, and originally from Kenya. Her poems stem from the tension between suffering and belonging – and in that place – she, from writing, and others, from reading – experience healing.

what they did yesterday afternoon

by warsan shire

they set my aunts house on fire
i cried the way women on tv do
folding at the middle
like a five pound note.
i called the boy who use to love me
tried to ‘okay’ my voice
i said hello
he said warsan, what’s wrong, what’s happened?

i’ve been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like;
dear god
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.

Once again – maddeningly, frustratingly, horrifically, crushingly – we as a society, as a species – find ourselves trying to make sense of life after a senseless tragedy. Innocent blood spilled. Questions unanswered. Joy stripped away. Peace voided.

We know too well the environments Shire describes in her poem. We see our places of origin or the places that we spend most of our time “thirsty” and “on fire” – meaning that we see them – we engage them experiencing – great need and crying for help. People are hurting. And unfortunately, hurt people hurt people.

Following a tragedy like the mass shooting in Las Vegas it seems the the hurt compounds further as everyone from family members to neighbors to religious leaders to law makers argue over Second Amendment Rights, gun control, responses to gun violence, and access to quality mental health care. Tempers flare and arguments rage to a boiling point…and then the conversations start to cool…but the hurt remains.

“Where does it hurt?” “Everywhere everywhere everywhere.”

In our Scripture passage this week Ruth covenants to journey on with Naomi, her mother-in-law, though it would make more sense for Ruth to return home to seek better future opportunities. Naomi feels so poorly treated by God that she wishes to change her name to Mara to capture the experience that the Almighty has “dealt bitterly [and] harshly” with her (Ruth 1:20-21). Naomi looks at her life and as her heart bleeds over the losses in her family, she feels abandoned and wants to give up. But she is not alone. Ruth is with her. And I believe Ruth’s presence is the very embodiment of God’s presence – a present gift and promise – of which Naomi needed to be reminded.

In a hurting world we have the opportunity to be the very embodiments of God’s presence – God’s present gift and promise – of which our family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers, acquaintances, and elected officials need to be reminded. We bear with us the message of the cross – that life has the final word, not death – and that our God’s preferred future for us is one shaped by peace rather than violence.

We bear this message in our bodies and it is also our responsibility to communicate this message – to share and advocate this message – through our words, actions, and deeds. A mentor of mine once told me that hope is a beautiful gift, but hope is not a strategy. We cannot “hope away” conflict, no matter the subject of the conflict. We must come to the table, as hard as it may be, to have conversations, to hear points of view different from our own, to accept that all parties – all sides – must give and take to reach a life-giving solution. I believe these are vital, necessary, and immediate steps that must be taken as we journey in life together.

God calls us to be our sisters’ and brothers’ keeper; God calls us to be Ruth for whoever is experiencing a period of Naomi.

Wherever Naomi went, Ruth was with her. In the joy and in the hurt. Everywhere everywhere everywhere.

In our journeying together – in compassion, empathy, and advocacy – I believe we can change the answer of Shire’s atlas.

“Where does it hurt?” “Nowhere, nowhere, nowhere.”

Prayer: “I can hear my Savior calling, I can hear my Savior calling, I can hear my Savior calling, ‘Take thy cross and follow, follow me.’ Where he leads me I will follow, where he leads me I will follow, where he leads me I will follow; I’ll go with him, with him all the way.”* Amen.

*”Where He Leads Me,” The United Methodist Hymnal 338.

 

 

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All Saints Sunday: Seeing The Glory of God

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 11:28-44

In third grade I received my first Bible – a red leather red letter NIV Bible. Shortly after receiving it I attended a Third Grade Bible Retreat to learn all about this library I had just been gifted by my home church. At that retreat I learned about the history, compiling, and composition of the Bible; biblical languages; how to look up Scripture addresses; and some very useful trivia. Did you know that King Solomon had a muster of peacocks delivered every three years!?

At the end of the retreat each student was given some additional sheets of Bible Trivia we could look up on our own. Well, little third grade Sarah, being the assignment completer she was (is) completed the packet in a week.

Not much has changed…except my hair is a little longer, my heels are definitely higher, and my mother does not have to beg me to wear a dress.

I remember that one of the trivia challenges was to identify the shortest verse in the Bible. I found it in John’s Gospel, “Jesus wept.” The knowledge that Jesus cried affected me deeply. I knew that Jesus was born of a woman like me. I knew that Jesus walked the earth like me. I knew that Jesus ate with his family and friends like me. But to know that Jesus cried…like me? Jesus became all the more real, all the more human in that moment.

Jesus wept because he missed his friend Lazarus who he loved dearly; he wept over the loss of his friend and disciple. Throughout my years in ministry I have joined Jesus in weeping at the bedside and graveside of ones that are nearing the end or have completed their journey in faith. I have held hands, received teachings, and made commitments to look after the family and friends left at this time.

Once I was even made to promise I would have my prostate examined yearly! I hope my congregant forgives me for not following through with that…

I have cried the precious tears that say, “I love you today; I love you always.” I have cried the precious tears that say, “I miss you today, I will miss you tomorrow, I will see you again.” And it is because of the precious tears that Jesus cried and his authority to call Lazarus forth from the grave that I am assured I will see – that we will see – our loved ones again. Jesus cried as a response to present pain and suffering, but in his completed Kingdom, every tear will be wiped away. There will be no mourning, no crying, no suffering, no pain. All will be whole. All will be well. And death will be no more.

There is definitely more time passing between my weeping and being reunited with loved ones than in Jesus’ weeping and calling Lazarus to life. But the power and gift of the resurrection is already at work. We will be reunited in the fulfillment of the resurrection, all that was loss will be gain, and the glory of God that we have seen just a glimpse of will be on full display.

Prayer: “Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord. Grant us grace so to follow your holy saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys, which you have prepared for those who sincerely love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”*

*”All Saints,” The United Methodist Hymnal 713.

Remember to Fall Back one hour this Saturday Night/Early Sunday Morning!! 

The Coming King: Equitable Lord

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 11:1-10

Sometimes…you just need to stop and read a storybook.

Seriously.

Today’s storybook is You are Special by Max Lucado.  It tells the tale of Punchinello, who is  on a journey to discover the source of his self-worth.  Punchinello is a Wemmick – a small wooden person – and lives in a township full of Wemmicks who were all created by Eli the woodcarver.  The Wemmicks have an unfortunate treasured past time – they spend their days mulling around town valuing or devaluing their neighbors through gifting gold star stickers or imposing gray dot stickers.

If you happen to be a Wemmick that is made of smooth wood and fine paint, then you are adorned with gold star stickers.  However, if you happen to be a Wemmick that is rough around your edges, with dull paint and perhaps a few chips, then gray dot stickers are not just your fate but your reality.

Can you guess where Punchinello finds himself?  That’s right.  You can hardly see him for all his gray dots.  Shame overcomes poor Punchinello.  His identity is lost or perhaps it is eclipsed by the gray dots.  He leaves the town feeling utterly worthless.

And then one day he meet Lucia – a Wemmick unlike any other he had met because she had neither gold star stickers nor gray dot stickers.  The Wemmicks attempted to gift or impose the stickers, but they did not stick to her!  “What a curious Wemmick,” Punchinello must have thought.  “How could this be so?”  Lucia told Punchinello that the stickers did not stick to her because she decided that she did not care what the other Wemmicks thought.  She cared what Eli, the woodcarver, thought because he made her.  Lucia invited Punchinello to visit Eli so he could experience the freedom fromjudgment and fount of self-worth she had found.

Cautiously, Punchinello visited Eli.  And Eli said,

Who are they to give stars or dots?  They are Wemmicks just like you.  What they think doesn’t matter, Punchinello. All that matters is what I think.  And I think you are pretty special.  

The stickers only stick if they matter to you.  The more you trust my love, the less you care about their stickers.  

You are special because I made you. *

“You are special because I made you,” Eli said.

“You are special because I made you,” God says.

This is the fount of our self-worth.  And I find this message particularly meaningful in light of the text from Isaiah this week.  The Coming King – our Equitable Lord – will unite unlikely people in his kingdom.

Are we worthy of such a gift?  I know I don’t feel worthy some days.

I’m too proud.  I’m too stubborn.  I’m lacking in faith.  I’m lacking in care and concern for others.  I participate in gifting gold star stickers and imposing gray dot stickers – and in like measure I have received those stars and dots.

The stars have forged relationships.  The dots have forged chasms.

Even in the face of this behavior God sends our Equitable Lord.  To bring us under his wing as a mother hen protects her young.  To provide for us.  To make peace within our individual selves and across our communities.  Why?  Simply because God made us.

There are no thresholds to cross.  There are no benchmarks to meet.  There are no prerequisites to fulfill.

God sees us.  God hears us.  God knows us.  God comes alongside us.

God crosses these chasms our gray dots have created.

God comes to us.

This is the gift each of us has received because we belong to God.  Receiving this gift necessarily transports us to the edge of the chasm our dots have created so we, after the example of God, can begin to cross the chasms and reconcile with our neighbors.  Reconciliation does not take the form of sowing star stickers in our neighbors.  Reconciliation takes the form of valuing our neighbors as beautiful children of God because that is what they are.

We are.   All of us.  Together.

We are standing on the edge and God is ready to walk with us as we cross.

Prayer: “Out of the depths I cry to you; O Lord, now hear my calling.  Incline your ear to my distress in spite of my rebelling.  Do not regard my sinful deeds.  Send me the grace my spirit needs; without it I am nothing.  It is in God that we shall hope, and not in our own merit; we rest our fears in God’s good Word and trust the Holy Spirit, whose promise keeps us strong and sure; we trust the holy signature inscribed upon our temples.”** Amen.

*Max Lucado, You Are Special (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1997), 25, 27, 29.

** “Out of the Depths I Cry to You,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 515.

Marinate: Harvest Time

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:8-9, 23

Reeves’ concludes our Marinate sermon series this week.  I think it’s been a great exercise – and somewhat of a challenge – to work with the same text over a four-week period.  A couple times when I started my sermonizing process I felt like there was not much “sermonizing water” left for me to wring out of this text…and then as God always does…God works in amazing ways by breathing life into texts that truly speak to me and the congregation I serve.  That breath – I believe it’s the same breath of creativity that has been inspiring since creation.  The true work then – the hard work – is being attentive to that breath, to allow it to lead, to sit with it.  In essence, to allow God’s creative breath to marinate over me and the text.

It’s harvest time!  For three weeks we have been anticipating sustainable growth from the seeds that were sown, but each week the seeds encountered some obstacle:

  • Birds gobbling them up
  • Shallow rooting because of the rocks and scorching heat from the sun
  • Deprived of nutrients because of the thorns

But finally…the seeds have grown.  They have produced a bountiful harvest.  A harvest that is uncommon – perhaps unheard of!- by 1st Century Galilean standards.  This is no ordinary harvest or a harvest that a human could bring about.  This is a harvest inspired by God’s breath, a harvest cultivated by Jesus Christ, and a harvest that evidences the goodness and in-breaking of God’s Kingdom on earth.

I am reminded that it takes time for seeds to grow.  From seed to sprout to harvest – it does not usually happen overnight – although I’m sure that God could make it so.  I know there are days where I pine (see what I did there?!) that it were so.  That God would go ahead and bring everything to completion, everything to harvest.  But there is gift in the time that it takes seeds to come to harvest.  There is comfort in that space to grow, explore, question, discern, doubt, and decide.  It takes time and I feel that God has built that into the system.  If God wanted us to assent to everything immediately, then God would have made it so.  If God wanted immediate harvest, God could have it.  There wouldn’t be choice or free will.  But there is and God graces us with time to come to harvest.

So enjoy the time.  Embrace the gift.  God will lead you to harvest.

And you will be bountiful.

Prayer: “Even so, Lord, quickly come, bring thy final harvest home; gather thou thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin, there forever purified, in thy presence to abide; come with all thine angels, come, raise the glorious harvest home.”*

* from “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” from The United Methodist Hymnal, 694.