Course Correction

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 21:15-19.

In our Scripture text for this week Jesus faces Peter – in the text called Simon son of John – head on and asks him the same question three times in a row.

“Simon son of John, do you love me?”

In the many times I have read this text, my immediate reaction has been towards Peter. Jesus puts him on the spot! Peter publicly denied Jesus, raising his voice so that there would be no question from the passersby of with whom Peter stood…or rather did not stand.

Jesus was in earshot of all of this. Peter was in the courtyard above him while Jesus was in a cellar underground.

I have stood in that tomb. Right in its center. And I looked up towards the windows. I could hear birds chirping outside and the wind blowing through the nearby trees. There is no doubt that Jesus heard Peter’s denial.

“Simon son of John, do you love me?”

What a vulnerable question – and not just for Peter – as it invites him into the heart-work of truth telling. But also for Jesus – as with asking this question our Jesus risks rejection once again.

“Simon son of John, do you love me?” could very easily be adapted to any of our names. To me this question is not only worthy of an answer, it demands an answer. The vast amazing incredible holy God of the universe – the Word incarnate – Love incarnate – calls Peter and you and me by name. God in Jesus faces us and sees us and asks us “Do you love me?”

Three times Simon son of John said yes. And three times Jesus directs Peter to incarnate his yes. To talk the talk and walk the walk. To say it and live it. New Testament and other Early Church writings confirm that Peter did. Peter’s actions restored both his credibility and his faith. Peter’s actions reconnected him to the commitment he made to Christ in becoming a fisher for people.

Peter made a huge mistake in denying Jesus. And that mistake could have been the last we ever heard about him. But Peter did not quit. He did not give up. He faced Jesus. He learned from his mistake. Jesus forgave him. Jesus redeemed him. And Peter lived out his days as a witness – as a martyr – declaring – before the world – our Jesus and his love.

Prayer: “As we worship, grant us vision, till your love’s redeeming light in its height and depth and greatness dawns upon our quickened sight, making known the needs and burdens your compassion bids us bear, stirring us to tireless striving your abundant life to share.”* Amen.

*”Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service,” The United Methodist Hymnal 581.

 

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PictureLent ~ Reject

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Proverbs 31:8-9

This week’s #PictureLent theme is Reject. When we marinate on the word reject during the season of Lent, our minds might move to several characters in Jesus’ passion narrative:

  • The chief priests rejected Jesus as they opposed his interpretation of the Scripture and stirred the masses to rebel against him.
  • Judas rejected Jesus as he betrayed Jesus to the chief priests and temple guards for 30 pieces of silver.
  • Peter rejected Jesus as he denied Jesus three times before the rooster crowed.

Why did they reject Jesus? I think because of fear. Jesus represented a new world – of interpretation, of leadership, of Lordship. Perhaps the chief priests, Judas, and Peter rejected Jesus because Jesus was leading to a place where they might not have wanted to go or might have been afraid to go. Perhaps they rejected Jesus so they could stay where they were and remain with what was familiar.

We all have moments in our lives where we can identify how we have aligned ourselves with the behavior of the chief priests, Judas, and Peter rather than with Jesus. When we read a teaching of Jesus and it grates against what we wish Jesus had said but did not actually say. When we succumb to our greed for personal gain. When we wilt to fear in hopes to secure temporary safety.

One of the churches I served during seminary had this beautiful rotunda prayer chapel commissioned while I was on staff. At the center of the room was an altar surrounded by a railing that gave a nod to the crown of thorns. On the floor encircling the altar and leading into and out of the chapel was a meandering path of stones. Families from the church were invited to write their names on the stones to contribute to the path surrounding the altar.

I believe these stones are incredibly symbolic. They represent God’s people being drawn towards Christ and being led to places where we might be uncomfortable but will definitely meet Christ – at the table under the shadow of the cross. The stones’ meandering path represent when God’s people are drawn close to Christ as well as when we are farther away from Christ. We are still on the path, just perhaps not on the most direct course to Jesus, until we adjust to the leadings of God’s Spirit and curve back toward the Savior. The stones lead followers across the threshold into the world and then draw followers back towards the altar, which resembles the rhythm of the faithful – into the world – into the sanctuary – and the beat rolls on.

Like the chief priests, Judas, and Peter, there are times that we reject Christ. I believe that even in moments of rejection we stay on the path with Christ. We might not be in the center or drawing to the side closest to Christ. We may be farther away from Christ, but we are still on the path with Christ. Psalm 118:21-24 sings, “I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Those who reject the stone, the stone came to save. Those who reject Christ, Christ came to save. When we wind our paths back towards Christ, Jesus redeems our rejecting and we are saved.

Prayer: “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of his Spirit, washed in his blood. Perfect submission, all is at rest; I in my Savior am happy and blest, watching and waiting, looking above, filled with his goodness, lost in his love. This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long. This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.* Amen.

*”Blessed Assurance,” The United Methodist Hymnal 369.

Collect Moments With God: Who

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 139:1-6

I think name tags have super powers.  Yes, they reveal the names of the people who wear them – as long as every person is wearing their corresponding name tag – but they also have the power to make people forget their names.

And by people…I mean me.

Inevitably when I am wearing a name tag on a lanyard around my neck and I meet someone I do not know, I look down at my name tag to confirm what my name is before I say “Hi, I’m Sarah.”  Uhhhh…how is it that I have forgotten my name?!  Obviously, name tags have super powers.

After meeting someone new and exchanging salutations the conversation shortly turns in the direction of “Tell me about yourself.”  This is a who question…yet many of us – myself included – interpret this question as a do question.  “Tell me about yourself” = “Tell me what you do.”  And so we respond with a litany of tasks we complete or roles we fulfill.  At times throughout our litanies we will reveal who we are…but we need to be sure we do not collapse who we are into what we do.

Our Scripture text for this week affirms that God knows every bit of us – our comings and our goings, our thoughts and our feelings, our joys and our sorrows, our strengths and our growing edges, our trials and our triumphs.  God knows our faithfulness and our waywardness.  God even knows my utter disdain for water chestnuts.  God knows what we do and God knows that what we do has an impact on who we are…but what we do is not in totality who we are.

Who are we?  First and foremost we are God’s children.  We are beloved.  We are precious.  We are known individually.  We are treasures.

At times, though, we forget who we are because of what we do.  When we sin we cloud, mask, hide, and possibly even forget who we truly are.  God’s truth that we are God’s children, beloved, precious, known individually, and treasures becomes obscured.  We forget, but God does not forget.  Our God is so faithful.  Our God continues to provide witnesses in our lives to remind us who we are by recalling for us God’s faithfulness through the ages.

Scripture tells these stories.  We tell these stories.  Brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, friends, neighbors, and fellow pew sitters – we tell these stories.

Our God is faithful.  Our God knows who we are – blemished by sin and redeemed by grace.  We are not what we do.  We are who God created us and calls us to be.

Recently I was introduced to the song “Never Once” by Matt Redman.  This song sings to God’s faithfulness.  “Never once did we ever walk alone.  Never once did God leave us on our own.  You are faithful, God.  You are faithful.”

I am assured that when we forget who we are because of what we have done, that God is quickly drawing us back to God’s side, whispering into our hearts and confirming in our minds, “I know who you are.  You are mine.  And I am with you.”

Prayer: Lord, “refresh thy people on their toilsome way; lead us from night to never-ending day; fill all our lives with love and grace divine, and glory, laud, and praise be ever thine.”* Amen.

*”God of the Ages,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 698.

A Week In Transition

This week I am in between pastoral appointments having concluded my time of service at Reeves UMC and preparing to begin serving at Tuskawilla UMC.  My emotions are all over the place…and I am tired.  So tired.

The lyrics of Ten Avenue North’s “Worn” speak directly to me as I lean into this tiredness and prepare for newness.  Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heaven burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mt 11:28-30).

If you are feeling tired and worn this week, lean into it and prepare for newness.  Our God promises that redemption wins – and redemption is coming.

Blessings my friends.

“Worn”

(enjoy the link to the video)

I’m Tired I’m worn
My heart is heavy
From the work it takes
To keep on breathing
I’ve made mistakes
I’ve let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
By the weight of this world

And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause I’m worn

I know I need to lift my eyes up
But I’m too weak
Life just won’t let up
And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause I’m worn

My prayers are wearing thin
Yeah, I’m worn
Even before the day begins
Yeah, I’m worn
I’ve lost my will to fight
I’m worn
So, heaven come and flood my eyes

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause all that’s dead inside will be reborn

Though I’m worn
Yeah I’m worn

Atonement: Forgiven…Even If

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 23:32-43

We are more than halfway through Lent.  The days till Easter are numbered; yet, the forthcoming days are some of the most troublesome to walk.  Andrew and I gave up bread – wheat and flour – for Easter this year so that space would be created for us to reflect on what it means to ache for daily bread and not receive it.  As the days proceed we have become hyper aware of how bread-centric our society is.  We have become hyper aware of the increasing challenges facing our neighbors as they struggle to secure food – and nutritious food – for themselves and their families.  We have become hyper aware of our neighbor’s innocence in so many of these predicaments and how our society is so quick to say “pull yourself up,” “make better choices,” “you brought this upon yourself.”

From the cross one criminal rebuked the other saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man had done nothing wrong” (Lk 23:40).  And then later from the voice of the centurion, “Certainly this man was innocent” (Lk 23:47).

The mocking soldiers and scoffing leaders – in a modern translation – could have said to Jesus, “Pull yourself up,” “make better choices,” “you brought this upon yourself” as he struggled on the cross.  Lone were the women who wept at the base of the cross.  They knew who Jesus was, they experienced his compassion and his justice, they knew the scandal of his death.  The women’s teary protest was taken up verbally by two other “outsiders” – a criminal and a Gentile centurion.  People, neighbors, children of God who were always in the direct scope of Jesus’ ministry throughout his ministry witnessed to his innocence as he hung dying.  But their witness did not stop his death.

We can know who Jesus is, experience his compassion and his justice, and know the scandal of his death.  We can also resist his love and his truth.  We can push him away.  We can deny.  We can crucify.

And we do.

As I draw towards Easter I become more unsettled because innocents continue to suffer.  Christ suffered and my neighbors suffer.  It is not right.  It cannot continue.  And if I am going to testify to the beauty of the resurrection, then I must have the courage to stand up to injustice and be a voice alongside the innocent.

I cannot live in a world where the innocent unjustly suffer.  Christ left this world because of it and rose that we would be his helpmates in redeeming it.

Prayer: “O Lord, open my eyes that I may see the needs of others; open my ears that I may hear their cries; open my heart so that they need not be without succor; let me not be afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of the strong, nor afraid to defend the poor because of the anger of the rich.  Show me where love and hope and faith are needed, and use me to bring them to those places.  And so open my eyes and my ears that I may this coming day be able to do some work of peace for thee.  Amen.”*

*”For Courage to Do Justice,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 456.

New Creation: Christ’s Ambassadors

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Corinthians 5:11-21

Our Scripture passage for this week contains (what I think) is one of the most well known Scripture verses across Christendom – So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: see everything old has passed; see, everything has become new! (II Cor 5:17)

In this verse I am most captivated by the implied relationship between that which is old and that which is new – the implication being that one cannot be wholly new if one is still firmly grasping that which is old.

In my first appointment there were many ladies in the church that kept monthly “ditch” bags.  For each day in any particular month these women would go through their homes and place an item in the “ditch” bag.  If during the course of the month they did not have a reason to retrieve a particular item, then they ditched it!

When I asked how they felt about all their “ditching” many were overwhelmed and relieved.  Overwhelmed – because they had so much stuff to “ditch” they continued the process for years at a time.  Relieved – because their firm grasp on old things loosened to the relief of release, which enabled them to receive something new.

What newness were these ladies receiving?

  • The newness of simplicity.
  • The newness of doing all they could to order the affairs of (and clean out!) their temporal lives in preparation for their eternal lives.  These ladies believed this would be a great and lasting gift for their loved ones.
  • The newness of availability – with less stuff to tend to the ladies gained both a healthy perspective on how much time they spent tending to their former items and a greater availability to pursue new interests, strengthen relationships, and apply themselves in the service of the Kingdom.

These ladies focused on releasing the materially old to create space for the new that God would reveal.  Following my introduction to the “ditch” bag idea I have adopted my own practice of regular ditching.  I’m not quite to the level of an item per day every month, but I am always on the look out for those things that can be given new life beyond my grasp, which in turn gifts me the kind of newness akin to what those sweet church ladies received.

But is ditching only for the physical and material?  What about mental ditching?  What about purging those ideas, feelings, and memories of hurt, failure, and sin?  I have no doubt that Christ can make us new even if we choose to hold a firm grasp on misgivings and shortcomings of old, but why would we want to hold onto them?  Why do we hold onto them?

One of my favorite bands is Jars of Clay and they sing a beautiful almost haunting song entitled “Worlds Apart.”  The bridge of that song sings,

I look beyond the empty cross forgetting what my life has cost

So wipe away the crimson stains and dull the nails that still remain

So steal my heart and take the pain, take the selfish, take the weak

And all the things I cannot hide.  Take the beauty, take my tears.

Take my world apart, take my world apart.  

I pray, I pray, I pray take my world apart.  

In other words – mental ditching.

In hearing these words sung I am reminded of the incredible power of Christ – that he indeed can take worlds apart – that he indeed can take my world apart and redeem and give me the strength to ditch that physical and mental stuff that holds me hostage in the old thereby withholding me from the joy of the new.

I am in Christ.  I am a new creation.  I know this knowledge in my head.  I celebrate the days when this knowledge sinks immediately into my heart.  I confess I still have the days where it takes longer for my heart to feel the assurance my head knows so well.  The presence of those “longer” days is evidence that further faith development is needed and in that faith development Christ will take my old world apart and invite me to be a more complete resident of his new and reigning Kingdom.

Prayer: “Hasten the joyful day which shall my sins consume, when old things shall be done away, and all things new become.  I want the witness, Lord, that all I do is right, according to thy mind and word, well pleasing in thy sight.”*  Amen.

*”O Come and Dwell in Me,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 388.

New Creation: New Bodies

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Corinthians 5:1-10

My friend Hugh Hollowell is the pastor of Love Wins Ministries in Raleigh, North Carolina.  You may have heard of Hugh as he and his church received national media coverage towards the end of last year due to what was affectionately (?) called “Biscuit-Gate 2013”.  You see, Love Wins’ is a ministry of presence and pastoral care for the homeless and at-risk population in Raleigh.  During Biscuit-Gate the city of Raleigh tried to arrest the staff and volunteers and Love Wins Ministries for distributing food to their homeless and at-risk brothers and sisters.  The city of Raleigh is now working with Love Wins in providing space for and fostering dignity among the persons that are fed – physically, spiritually, and relationally.  It’s truly beautiful and an example of the Kingdom of God coming on earth as it is in heaven.

Thank you, Hugh, for all the ways you and your staff serve these our neighbors.  And thank you, friends and members of Love Wins, for your patience with the rest of us as we slowly and continually learn what it means to actually be church.

As I read the Scripture passage for this week my mind quickly moved to Hugh and the friends he serves.  I wondered how someone who experiences homelessness on a daily basis would read and interpret a text that talks about leaving an earthly home for a heavenly home…when they are without an earthly home all together.  No physical structure exists for them and if one does it is on a temporary basis until another roof can be secured.  Is this passage even relevant?

So I asked Hugh.  And his answer is powerful.

He said initially this community would interpret this passage as “other-worldly” – as in “things will be better when I die.”  Hugh’s challenge – and I would wager his delight – is to transform this interpretation.  I would call the initial interpretation as “escapist theology” – I have to get away from here to get to there because there is better than here and I will be happier there.  Hugh wants to craft this interpretation into something new.  Hugh wants to expose the community he serves to a liberation theology – that God has a preferential and special compassion for the poor (which clashes harshly with the message his folks consistently hear)  and that liberation is essential to salvation as salvation applies to the whole person, not just his or her spiritual needs.

From what are the folk that Love Wins Ministries serves being liberated?  The idea that they are less than.  The idea that they have to accomplish X Y Z ad infinitum to have worth.  The idea that they have to endure only hardships in this life and once they get to the resurrection, life will be better.

No, my friends, no.  You are more.  You are worthy.  You can experience the goodness of the resurrection, of the house built with eternal hands and not human ones, right now.

How many times will Hugh – will I – will you – have to say these words?  Affirm this reality for those in our lives who continue to doubt?  Continue to question?  Perhaps until the time that we all enter into that heavenly dwelling place.  But that is our task.  To teach one another, to be present with one another until these lessons are written entirely, wholly, completely on all of our hearts.  Then the time of teaching will have ended because we all will know.

We do not have to flee this place or wait an undetermined about of time for things to get better.  What we have to do is tune our eyes, tune our behaviors, tune our hands in rhythm with the movement of our God to reveal the construction of our heavenly home within our midst.

It is hard to do.  It is necessary to do.

And it is our joy to do.

Prayer: “O God of every nation, of every race and land, redeem your whole creation with your almighty hand; where hate and fear divide us, and bitter threats are hurled, in love and mercy guide us, and heal our strife worn world.  Keep bright in us the vision of days when war shall cease, when hatred and division give way to love and peace, till dawns the morning glorious when truth and justice reign, and Christ shall rule victorious o’er all the world’s domain.”*  Amen.

*”O God of Every Nation,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 435.