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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Woman in the Night: Can’t Change The Beginning; Can Change The Ending

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 4:7-26 and 39.

Recently I gathered with a group of friends – and fellow yoga teachers – to organize behind a vision of a yoga collective in Orlando. Some in the room knew one another; others were new faces. Our leader, Holly, invited us to *briefly* introduce ourselves to the room – because yoga teachers tend to talk as much as pastors – y’all have a double whammy with me! – including our name, our yoga story, and something we wanted the others in the room to know.

I was struck by the third prompt – something we wanted the others in the room to know.

When it was my turn I shared: My name is Sarah Miller. I first practiced yoga when I was in college and truly came home to yoga in 2013 seeking medicine-free relief from two chronic pain conditions. And something you should know about me…I am an ordained clergyperson…and an introvert.

(I know…an introvert! Who would have thought!?)

I am not sure if eyebrows were raised higher because I am an ordained clergyperson or because I practice yoga. “Can you do yoga and be Christian” is quite a hot topic of debate these days. True – yoga is an Eastern meditative practice. True – yoga has deep roots in both Buddhism and Hinduism, drawing on these religions for the development of yogic philosophy as well as the names and stories behind certain poses. Some people say that yogis “chant to or worship Buddha” during their practice…from my study of Buddhism, I am confident that Buddha does not want chanting or to be worshipped. Buddha desired that each person be released from the struggles of life and a person pursues that intent through practicing non-attachment – from possessions, from agendas, from popularity, from addictions.

As I reflect on the life of Jesus, I believe that Jesus, too, wants us to be released from the struggles of life. I believe that non-attachment from possessions, agendas, popularity, and addictions is part of that release. However, as Buddha non-attached, he turned inward in the pursuit of total enlightenment. I believe that as followers of Jesus non-attach, we are to turn Christ-ward so that our personal lights will shine all the more bright because of and for the Light of the World.

At the surface that third prompt – something we want the others in the room to know – seemed docile. In reality – it was and is an incredibly vulnerable question. I am grateful for the opportunity to practice vulnerability because those are (rare) opportunities to truly know oneself and articulate that true self in front of someone(s) else.

The Woman at the Well said of Jesus, “He told me everything about me.” This statement reveals the omniscience – the all-knowingness – of God, which Jesus has because Jesus is God. Even so – even though God and Jesus already know! – I believe our God and our Jesus want us to take time to share what we want them to know. The act of sharing – of being vulnerable – is how we deepen our relationship with God and Jesus.

That sharing takes courage. That sharing can be scary.

That sharing is the practice of knowing self, knowing Savior, and being known by our Savior.

Prayer: “Woman at the well, question the Messiah; find your friends and tell: drink your hearts desire! 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.

 

We Shine!

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 60:1-6

A phrase often heard – and an action often encouraged – in my yoga studio is “Shine your heart.” To shine your heart means that you draw forward your heart cavity, which is your sternum and upper rib cage, through your shoulders as if a beam of light began shining from your heart onto the wall next to you, the ceiling above you, or the person in front of you. Shining your heart rotates your shoulders back and down, which brings them into proper alignment over your hips and creates space and broadness across your shoulders.

Why is this phrase often heard and action often encouraged? Because my yoga teachers see so many people walking with hunched shoulders…I see so many people walking with hunched shoulders. These persons, their hearts are not shining forward; their hearts are receding, their lights mere flickers. They are bracing for impact. They are in survival mode. They have only just endured the last moment. They are fearful of the next moment. Their shoulders reflect their burdens caused by life’s innumerable weights.

When we walk with hunched shoulders long enough, our bodies begin to accept that shape as our natural shape. When our bodies accept that hunched shape as natural, it cannot be reversed, and we live with its effects permanently.

When I first returned to yoga I walked as someone that rounded forward my shoulders. My body physically manifested the stress I carried. I thought that the way to protect my heart was to shield it rather than shine it. I experienced physical discomfort in drawing my heart forward, in rolling my shoulders into proper alignment.

After years of practice I am growing in comfort with shining my heart. It took time to cultivate this practice. It took courage to face what was causing me to shield rather than shine. It took several brave steps towards vulnerability.

I had to let things go physically and emotionally. I had to forgive. I had to be forgiven. I had to walk away from burdens. I had to open myself to shining and to light.

This week we will ring in a new year that is full of promises, possibilities and potentialities (as the song goes). With the close of one year and the beginning of another we are afforded the opportunity to let things go, to lessen and release burdens, to forgive and be forgiven, to commit or resolve ourselves to shining our hearts rather than continuing to shield them.

Folks that shield their hearts know well the “darkness [that] covers the earth and thick darkness the peoples” (Isa 40:2a). “Arise and shine!” Isaiah says (Isa 40:1a). Christ’s light and life has lightened our burden. Our Christ has revealed a new way forward. What way forward is that for you in 2016? What commitments or changes is God calling you to make so that you can shine your heart in offering to God and shine God’s heart in offering to others?

I find that when I begin with gratitude – for where I have come from, for where I am going, for the people and places and experiences I’ve had along the way – I am more able and wanting to shine my heart.

Steve Harper, a retired pastor and professor in the Florida Conference – and a continuing mentor to many! – shared this reflection as we move to the new year, “Thinking this final week of 2015 about influencers: the people who have influenced me most have not spent their lives identifying the darkness, but rather have devoted themselves to intensifying the light.”

“We shall see and be radiant”says the prophet (Isa 40:5a). We shall see and be radiant as we devote ourselves to intensifying Christ’s light.

With renewal and rejoicing we move on, we move forward, we move towards 2016.

In this New Year, may we open up, invite in, and grow. May we choose light. May we choose life. May we shine.

Prayer: “O God, you made of one blood all nations, and, by a star in the East, revealed to all peoples him whose name is Emmanuel. Enable us who know your presence with us so to proclaim his unsearchable riches that all may come to his light and bow before the brightness of his rising, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.”*

*”Epiphany,” The United Methodist Hymnal 255.

Rock of Ages: Hannah’s Song

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Samuel 2:1-10

In my vocation I read (and subsequently write) a lot. Folks who are avid readers are well acquainted with the two types of literature – fiction and non-fiction – which are then categorized further into the genres of literature – autobiographies, biographies, romance, suspense, mystery, thriller, fantasy, self-help and more. In my experience there are additional genres of literature – the good, the superb, the bad, the excruciating, the humorous, the you-gotta-be-kidding-me-did-you-really-write-this, and, my personal favorite, the i-will-reward-myself-with-reading-something-else-for-every-one-paragraph-I-read-of-this.

I had a wonderful professor at Florida Southern College who always reminded (and reminds!) me to be a generous reader to the authors…sometimes generosity flows more freely than at others.

One book that completely captured my attention a few years ago, and I continue to return to it, is Dr. Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. Dr. Brown is a licensed master social worker and is a professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. Her research is in the areas of studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. The title of her book, Daring Greatly, comes from a quote by Theodore Roosevelt that reads,

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

In this quote Roosevelt – and Dr. Brown – lift up the people that are present in living life. Their present living may be a moment of struggle or their present living may be a moment of triumph. Regardless, they are living. They are active. They are not on the sidelines or in the bleachers hollering out coulda woulda shouldas. They are at the plate. They are on the starting line. They are jumping for the tip ball. They are defending the end zone. They are in the arena. They are on the field. They are running on the court. And they are working cooperatively to alter their circumstance. Dr. Brown would say that folks on the sidelines or in the bleachers should be muted. Unless they are willing to enter the arena themselves, their comments should stay to themselves.

This week in Rock of Ages we turn our attention to a study of Hannah, the mother of Samuel. She, like many women in Scripture, was barren. Her inability to produce a child meant that she brought shame upon herself, her husband, and her family. There would be no heir to inherit their land, their goods, their history, or their faith. Bystanders and sideliners – Peninnah in particular – mocked and ridiculed Hannah, which compounded her grief and grated away even more of her self-worth.

Hannah had a choice. She could wallow in self-pity or she could enter the arena. Having grieved (and having accomplished nothing more than grieving) Hannah entered the arena, which in her context was the temple. Hannah was “deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. She made this vow: O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant…” (I Sam 1:10-11). Her prayer brought her up to the starting line, she grounded her stance next to the plate, she centered herself in front of the net, and she engaged. She dared greatly in asking for what she wanted – a child, specifically a son – knowing full well that she may not have received. In making this plea before the Lord she honored herself by naming what she wanted, she made a public display of faith, and made a public affirmation that she is worthy, and able, and capable of coming before the Lord with the deepest concerns of her heart.

I know that when I pray I am quick to pray for others, for our leaders at every level and kind of administration, for the church, for the world. I am not so quick to pray for myself or to reveal the deepest concerns of my heart before God – which is silly because God already knows. And yet, I think it is an act of daring greatly and entering the arena to bear my heart before my God and share my concerns with God personally rather than God observing them from afar. I believe doing so places me in agreement with Hannah – that I am worthy, able, and capable of coming before God and that God is worthy, able, and capable of receiving what I share.

This exchange strengthens our relationship. This exchange honors God as God and guards me from thinking (and acting like) I need to be in control at all times. Stepping into this arena with God does not mean we are opponents; we are on the same team. Stepping into the arena means I am willing to take the risks of vulnerability, to face my fears, to share my heart, and be led by the greatest coach of all time who is wherever I am – on the sideline, on the field, and definitely in my heart.

Prayer: “Lord, I want to be more holy in my heart. Here is the citadel of all my desiring, where my hopes are born and all the deep resolutions of my spirit take wings. In this center, my fears are nourished, and all my hates are nurtured. Here my loves are cherished, and all the deep hungers of my spirit are honored without quivering and without shock. In my heart, above all else, let love envelop me until my love is perfected and the last vestige of my desiring is no longer in conflict with thy Spirit. Lord, I want to be more holy in my heart. Amen.”*

*”For Holiness of Heart,” The United Methodist Hymnal 401.