Woman in the Night: The Gospel in the Law

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 7:36-50.

Last week a member of the Worship Planning Team spied that Prayer of Confession and Words of Assurance was part of our order of worship for Sunday. He messaged me, “Are we using green grape juice for Communion on Sunday?”

No. But I laughed at his question.

During the season of Lent I like to incorporate Prayers of Confession and Words of Assurance in our weekly worship. These are portions of the liturgy that we tend to only engage on Communion Sundays as they are a path for us to prepare to come before the table Christ prepares for us – for everyone.

I find these words particularly powerful during Lent – this season of self-examination and Savior-invitation – to look to the new life Christ is creating in us that we will celebrate with his resurrection on Easter morn!

In the act of confession we acknowledge our sin. We acknowledge the hurt and harm that we cause. We acknowledge that we do not have this life – this world – figured out! We acknowledge that we deserve judgment, but because of the Love that will not let us go, judgment is not our fate.

It is my experience that some people experience adverse reactions to the thought of confession. Perhaps they hear confession and believe they are expected to make a public display – a public rending of their heart – like the woman in our Scripture passage for this week. Or perhaps they hear confession and are resistant because they do not want to participate in an act that will make them feel bad about themselves.

I feel bad when I make a confession. I experience guilt and remorse – that weight of my committed sin. But there is a difference between saying “I feel bad; I made a bad choice” and “I am bad because I made this choice.” I am not bad. We are not bad. I and we make bad choices. I and we can alter our behaviors so as to not make those bad choices recurrent. Guilt and remorse can be powerful motivators for behavior modification – and the hope for followers of Christ – is that guilt and remorse will motivate us to accountably changing our behavior to be more like Christ. Feeling bad does not absolve us of sin. Seeking forgiveness and accountably changing our behavior acknowledges before God and neighbor that we are applying the grace in forgiveness we receive.

When I am feeling lost or astray in my relationship with God, I often return to the Parable of the Lost Sheep in Luke 15. The shepherd leaves the 99 in search of the 1, and Jesus concludes saying, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Lk 15:7). For me, confession is one way to bring God joy. That homecoming is sweet and needful and holy. That homecoming is healing so that I may – every day – become more of the person and leader God desires.

Prayer: “Woman at the feast, let the righteous stare; come and go in peace; love him with your hair! Come and join the song, women, children, men; Jesus makes us free to live again!”* Amen.

*”Woman in the Night,” The United Methodist Hymnal 274.

 

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A Modern Resurrection Appearance

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Romans 12:1-8

When I was younger and having a bad day my mother would often offer me this advice…opportunity…directive…

“You need an attitude adjustment.”

Thanks Mom.

Something inside me needed to change – the way I approached situations, the way I reacted to situations, the way I processed situations. This change could not come from outside of me; it had to be my choice and taken under my initiative.

I find now that I am a bit older that some days I continue to need an attitude adjustment. Somedays I also need a mind adjustment. And I have learned that these two are related.

When I have endure a series of bad events – similar to the woes of Alexander and his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day – not only does my attitude fall into a slump but my mind does as well. I sour in my interactions and I sour in my outlooks. Not only do I approach, react to, and process situations poorly, but I also go looking for situations and circumstances that will keep me in and feed my poor attitude rather than move me out of it.

It is only when I go through a change in my mind that I truly experience a change in my attitude and outlook. This mind change is not so I seek and see all the “silver linings” so that I can obscure or ignore my difficult or less than desirable circumstances. This mind change enables me to grow in self-awareness, identify blessing in the midst of hardship, and chart a path forward that includes my mother’s peaceable prescription for a change in attitude.

Paul wrote in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” More often than not I believe our world encourages to see, act, approach, react, and process situations from sour places. We fixate on negatives, complaints, and problems…and when there are not enough negatives, complaints, and problems, some of us choose to create more.

We – humanity – have become too familiar and too comfortable with conformity. We – humanity – as a whole need attitude and mind adjustments.

Paul prescribes transformation and this sort of transformation will only come with God’s help. God’s transformation will bring God’s will into focus, set our feet firmly on God’s path, set our eyes squarely on God’s face, and set our hearts ablaze with passion for God’s people. Through God’s transformation I believe we will be counted among what is good, acceptable, and perfect.

These past few months have been a season where I have constantly asked myself, “Why is this happening to me?” I have felt like the world is out to get me. I have let my frustrations and doubts get the better of me. I have been in the need of serious attitude and mind adjustments. A practice that I find beneficial in launching my attitude and mind adjustments is taking the time to answer this question,

“What brings me joy?”

On days I am able I ask others, “What brings you joy?”

This question breaks my conformity cycle. This question interrupts what was and has the potential to hold and crescendo a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. This question gracefully adjusts me. Some days it is a difficult question to answer…but it is so worth answering.

What brings you joy? Think about it. Answer it. Ask a friend. Listen. Learn. Invite God to adjust not only your attitude, but also your mind.

Prayer: “I’d stay in the garden with him though the night around me be falling, but he bids me go; thru the voice of woe his voice to me is calling. And he walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own; and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”* Amen.

“In the Garden,” The United Methodist Hymnal 314.

Jobbbb: Bitter

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Job 23:1-9, 16-17

A question that I have become most fond of is, “What brings you joy?” And the great thing about this question is that after I listen to the answers of my friends and family, I have a chance to answer myself. Somedays my answer – and the answers from my conversation partner(s) – comes swiftly. Other days…not so much.

I would not say that I like to complain…but I find myself complaining more than I should. I have learned there is a difference between complaining and venting. When I vent I share my feelings, my concerns, my fears, and they are released. I state them and I move forward. When I complain I share my feelings, my concerns, my fears, and then I repeat them. Nothing changes. Nothing resolves. I do not move forward.

The consequence of the toxic cycle of complaining is bitterness. My outlook, my attitude, my interactions with others all sour and suffer. I become like Job. I want answers. I seek them. And at times the only answer I receive is deafening silence.

And yet…

Complaints pale in comparison to our joys. Complaints have a nasty way of obscuring joy and, through that obscuring of joy, they deprive us of joy. Now, I am not suggesting that we all start complaining about our complaining…that will not get us anywhere! But I am suggesting that we each take time to name what brings us joy.

I invite you into a time of reflection. What has been the topic(s) of your recent complaints? I encourage you to write them on a sheet of paper. For every complaint, I invite you to (1) write out something that brings you joy and then (2) begin to brainstorm ways that you can address your complaints. Perhaps after reviewing your list you may be able to easily identify steps that will lead those complaints to positive resolutions. Perhaps after reviewing your list all you are able to do is write PRAY in big bold letters. Once you identify ways to address your complaints, act on them. Take one at a time, but take action. Move forward.

My husband, my niece and nephew (first time saying that!), my family, my puppadoos, the growth in my yoga practice, the continued stewardship of our church, Tuskawilla’s faithful and faith-filled leadership, God’s call on my life, my mentors, my dear friends, and pumpkins – yes, even pumpkins, bring me joy.

What joys will you name today?

Release your complaints. Do not be overcome by bitterness. Unleash your joy.

Prayer: “Pass me not, O gentle Savior, hear my humble cry; while on others thou art calling, do not pass me by. Thou the spring of all my comfort, more than life to me, whom have I on earth beside thee? Whom in heaven but thee? Savior, Savior, hear my humble cry, while on others thou art calling, do not pass me by.”* Amen.

*”Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior,” The United Methodist Hymnal 351.

Stewardship Is More Than Money

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Corinthians 9:6-15

This Sunday the Tuskawilla community begins our Stewardship series in preparation for and anticipation of the 2015 ministry year. It will be a partnered series including (1) a collection of sermons on “Stewardship Is” that will explore the many facets of stewardship and (2) a collection of letters entitled “Known” that will connect what we know of our personal experiences with growing understandings and experiences of stewardship. I am very excited to begin this series because stewardship is so incredibly vital to our participation in the Body of Christ and helping build God’s kingdom on earth.

“God loves a cheerful giver” our Scripture text says this week. A person who gives is a person who has received.  I have vivid memories as a child and youth of my father saying, “You take care of what belongs (is given) to you more than what belongs to someone else.” I am sure this statement was made in reference to me tearing something up that was not mine. Regardless of the context, there is great truth in these words – I take care of what belongs to me because it is mine.

As I have engaged in this practice of care a greater truth has been revealed.  I take care of what belongs to me.  And now that degree of care influences the care I give to what has been entrusted to me for a season and influences the care I give in giving to others.

As a pastor I am entrusted with the spiritual nurturing and challenging of Christ’s body in a specific context. I am entrusted to care for a home in which the church invites my family to live. I am entrusted with the call to live faithfully and lead ethically.  All of this is for a season as I am in an itinerant appointive clergy system and my dedication of care will continue throughout all the years of my vocation. I believe that I have to lead by example. I cannot speak with integrity about others ascribing to this level and sensitivity of care if I do not live it in my own life.

As I live it in my own life I experience great joy. Yes, I am joyful every week when I clean my parsonage because it is a gift from the congregation to me. Yes, I am joyful to steward the church I serve – from baptizing babies to plunging toilets. Both involve water in different ways and both are important in their own ways!  Yes, I am joyful to be held accountable to how I lead and how I learn. And yes, I am joyful – and so incredibly thankful – how the lesson from my father continues to teach me and influence my care for entities that belong to others and my care for others.

“God loves a cheerful giver.”  I have cheerfully received – from God, from others, from God through others.  It is my pleasure to give and care in response and extension of how I have cared for what I have received. In giving as I have received I believe I incarnate the obedience our God desires to see. I do not always succeed in this obedience, which serves as another opportunity for growth in spiritual maturity in my relationship with God and greater accountability with my peers as we walk the journey of faith together.

That we travel together – that is one of the greatest gifts God has given and continues to give.

How do you care for what you have received?  What connection exists between how you care for your belongings and how you care for others?  If there is not a connection, how could you begin establishing a connection?

I invite you to prayerfully consider these questions and, as God leads you, live out your response.

Prayer: “But we never can prove the delights of his love until all on the altar we lay; for the favor he shows, for the joy he bestows, are for them who will trust and obey. Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at his feet or we’ll walk by his side in the way; what he says we will do, where he sends we will go; never fear, only trust and obey. Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”* Amen.

*”Trust and Obey,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 467.

New Creation: Treasure In Clay Jars

[My apologies, The Sunday Stiletto Readers!  It has been a crazy busy week so I am very much delayed in posting this blog.  I hope you enjoy and look forward to the next posting in a few days!  Blessings!]

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Corinthians 4:5-12

Some of my fondest memories growing up are from the time I spent in United Methodist Youth Fellowship.  While I was in high school I had the privilege of serving in the Youth Praise Band – I strummed the bass, sang, and dabbled a little in guitar.  One of the first songs I learned to play was Trading My Sorrows by Darrell Evans.

The bridge of Trading My Sorrows sings and elaborates upon a very important part of this week’s Scripture passage from II Corinthians 4 – “I’m pressed, but not crushed; persecuted, not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  I’m blessed beyond the curse for His promise will endure and his joy is gonna be my strength.  Though the sorrow may last for the night His joy comes in the morning!”  The tempo and drum beat would drive through the first two sentences, drop out around “though the sorrow may last for the night,” and then build again to ring in God’s joy that arrives at dawn.  This section was always my favorite.  I couldn’t help but smile when I sang it.  I couldn’t help but revel in the assurance of God’s promise.

The rest of Evans’ song is profound as well.  The verse sings, “I’m trading my sorrows.  I’m trading my pain.  I’m laying them down for the joy of The Lord.  I’m trading my sickness.  I’m trading my shame.  I’m laying them down for the joy of The Lord.”  The chorus affirms “Yes Lord!” I will do these things – I will lay them down and claim your joy.

In studying this week’s passage and reflecting on this song, I am aware that this passage speaks about and song sings about sufferings.  Sorrows, pain, sickness, and shame are sufferings and cause sufferings in this life.  Both admit that life is not a bed of roses.  Both recognize that there are thorns (if you will allow the metaphor) and, at times, those thorns cut deep.  Suffering is part of the human condition.  For people of faith, suffering is also part of our faith experience.  Having faith does not make us immune from suffering.  If anything having faith probably leads us to more questions about suffering – leads us to ask why.

Asking why is not a fissure in our faith.  Asking why does not challenge or weaken our faith.  I think asking why is a sign of faith – a sign of faith seeking understanding within our relationship with God.

As Christians we can ask why sufferings occur.  The answer is because there is evil in the world.  God did not create the evil.  God is not the cause of the evil.  I believe much of the evil that causes the suffering we experience is the result of individuals or systems of individuals abusing God’s good gift of free will.  So what do we do about our suffering?  Or more to the root, what do we do about the evil?  We respond to it with compassion and charity.  We transform it with justice and accountability.  We imbue it with empathy, love, and hope.

My biggest challenge is to lay down sufferings.  When I am asked about my day, more often than not, I quickly jump to my sorrows.  I carry sorrows for such a long time.  Doing so deprives me of joy and shields me from the beauty of God’s mercies that rise each morning with the sun.

I need to lay down my sufferings.  I need to claim God’s joy.

Yes, Lord.

Prayer: “Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide; strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine with ten thousand beside.  Great is thy faithfulness!  Great is thy faithfulness!  Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”* Amen.

*”Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 140.