Collent Moments With God: You

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Genesis 1:26-27, 2:7, 2:18-22

This week the Tuskawilla community begins a four-week series exploring the collect prayer form. The collect prayer form dates from medieval times.  The collect prayer has four components. Each week of the series we will explore one component of the prayer. This week we begin with you.

The you in the collect prayer refers to the entity to which we are praying.  As Trinitarian Christians the you we are praying to is the Triune God and our God has many names. Growing up the names I typically used for God were God, Lord, and Father. I was comfortable with these names because I was raised and my faith formed around these names for God.

And then I went to college…and I was exposed to a new way of thinking about names for God. Unfamiliar words, concepts, and descriptors of God seeped into my worldview. I was rocked by the teachings of women like Rosemary Radford Ruether, Mary Daly, and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza. Offerings from female and feminist theologians and philosophers began shaping me. God can be God the Father / He, but God is not limited to God the Father / He.  What about God the Mother? God the Bakerwoman? God giving birth through the act of creation?

What about conceptions of God beyond God the Father?

Why is this necessary?  Why do we need so many names for God?  Is there something wrong with God the Father/ He?  I do not think there is any wrong with these names, descriptors, or conceptions of God.  But I think the Father / He descriptors limit how we describe our God.  Father / He places God in a box…God created the box, but God does not exist in the box.

True, our fallible, imperfect human language can only glimpse in words all that our God is, but expanding our vocabulary and conceptions of God breathes incredible life and vitality into our understanding of God.  Additionally, there are persons present in our world that have terrible horrors in their past.  Referring to God as Father, King, Conqueror, Mother or others may stir up hurt feelings or painful memories that they do not want to relive in their personal communion with God; therefore, they find a name that is comfortable or approachable in their relationship.

I am privileged to serve as the leader of a faith community and in my leadership I am sensitive to inclusivity concerning names for God.  Whereas I grew up using Father / He now I refer to God as God, Lord, Savior, and balance my imagery for God with masculine and feminine descriptors.  This personal practice helps me remember that God is beyond gender stereotypes.  God created us in God’s image – the way that God wanted us to be – male and female God created us.  I believe God bears within God’s self all the possible expressions and descriptors; so, the treasure trove of descriptors and names for God that we have at our finger tips is as deep and as plentiful and as full of surprises as Mary Poppin’s carpet bag.

What name do you use for God?  What names or descriptors for God are comfortable for you to use and known to you?  Which names or descriptors for God challenge you or call you out of your comfort zone?  Consider these questions as you pray this week.  Explore if God is calling you to breathe into using a new name in your relationship.

Prayer: “God, like a bakerwoman, you bring the leaven which causes our hopes to rise.  With your strong and gentle hands, shape our lives.  Warm us with your love.  Take our common lives and touch them with your grace, that we may nourish hope among humanity. We pray trusting in your name, through Jesus our Christ. Amen.”*

*Prayer by Ruth Duck, The United Methodist Book of Worship, 469.

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Be Still: Be Still and Know

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 46

I am a worrier.  I worry about everything.

Worrying stems from a sense of inadequacy – a place of not being enough.  I have always felt that there is more that I could be doing no matter what I am doing – whether I am working or cleaning or resting or even having fun.  Occasionally Andrew and I have the opportunity to visit one of the local amusement parks in our area and – yes – I admit – that I will think to myself as we are strolling through Adventureland that I could be strolling more productively, or if we had made this turn or that turn we would have missed this whole hoard of folks that have now beat us in line for DoleWhip.

And if you haven’t ever had DoleWhip – you need to get on that.

I think because I am a worrier I always feel that I need to be doing something.  Andrew tells me all the time when we are home, “Sarah – sit down and relax” while I continue to flit around the house doing whatever it is that I am doing.

Why do I do all these things?  Because the opposite of doing these things is stillness.  And why do I not like stillness?

Honestly?  Because I like to be in control.

Today’s confessions – I am a worrier.  I always feel that I need to be doing something.  I like to be in control and I understand stillness as a relinquishing of control.

For some reason I do not take the same posture of finding the more efficient or productive way to be still that I employ in other areas of my life.  Stillness is not about me and what I am doing.  Stillness is a space to sit, hear, and be with what God is doing.

And that is uncomfortable…because if God is in control…then I.am.not.

Why is that so uncomfortable?  Well I am a creature of habit.  I like things the way I like them.  For example, I do not know why I take the time to browse menus at restaurants because I order the same meal without fail according to what that restaurant offers.  As a creature of habit, I have creature comforts.  I have comfort zones.  And what if being still and sitting with, hearing, and being with what God is doing invites me out of my comfort zone?  What if the revelation in the stillness takes me somewhere new?  What if the revelation in the stillness tells me to stop something I love and to start something that before I would not touch with a 27 and 3/8s foot pole??

What if…

But I guess I will not know if I do not become still.

My head knows that God does not want me to worry or find my worth in the tasks I accomplish (or put myself down for the tasks I leave undone) or be controlling.  My head knows.  Sometimes the pathway from my head knowing something and my heart incarnating that knowledge in my life is very fluid…and then other times…not so much.  What will help with that fluidity?  What will reinforce God’s truth in my life?

Stillness.

God you have a funny way of working sometimes…

Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God!  I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”

God is exalted by all people all across the earth.  In the stillness I am invited to join their praise.  If I neglect the stillness, God will still be praised, but my voice will not be counted among them.  That hurts me…and I believe that hurts God, too.

I am going to find some time to be still today.  To sit.  To listen.  To be.  To praise.

Will you join me?

Prayer: “Eternal God, the refuge and help of all your children, we praise you for all you have given us, for all you have done for us, for all that you are to us.  In our weakness, you are strength, in our darkness, you are light, in our sorrow, you are comfort and peace.  We cannot number your blessings, we cannot declare your love: For all your blessings we bless you.  May we live as in your presence, and love the things that you love, and serve you in our daily lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”* Amen.

*Prayer of Saint Boniface, http://re-worship.blogspot.ca/2014/06/prayer-of-saint-boniface.html.

Atonement: Out With The Goat and In With The New

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Leviticus 16:5, 7-10, 15-22

Football season ended the first week of February. Then I watched the Olympics. And now it’s Award Season. Let’s face it folks…I’m counting down to mid-August…get me back to football season – and Go Packers!

Everyone has been talking about the Academy Awards – and I admit that the only movie I have seen that won an Academy Award – also the only movie I’ve seen that was nominated for an Academy Award (thanks to Andrew being a youth director…we need to get out more…) is Disney’s Frozen.

And thanks to the Academy Awards I now have a super long list of movies that I need to see! But, as Hagrid would say, “we’ll get to that later.”

If you haven’t seen Frozen yet, I highly recommend it. And I applaud Disney for the many beautiful expressions of family celebrated in this film. The primary protagonists are a pair of sisters – Anna and Elsa. Both are princesses. Both love one another deeply, but Elsa has a unique gift that if uncontrolled can be damaging. So she is raised to suppress it – “to conceal, not feel.” Well…what was to be concealed is revealed on just about the biggest stage imaginable and Elsa flees. As she flees she sings “Let It Go.”

These lyrics speak directly to me – and I believe to our Scripture passage for this week:

I’m never going back,
The past is in the past

Let it go, let it go
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone

Here I stand
In the light of day
Let the storm rage on,
The cold never bothered me anyway

I’m never going back, the past is in the past, let it go, let it go. In our Scripture passage for this week we learn about purification rituals enacted on the Day of Atonement – one of them being casting the sins of the community onto a goat and then releasing a goat into the wilderness. In this way the sins of the people literally ran away and were removed from their persons thereby making the people “at one” with God again. Once the sins were atoned for God’s people believed the act of sin, the blame of sin, and the shame of sin were all removed – were all forgiven. They “let it go” on the goat; they didn’t go back, the past is in the past. They looked forward. They moved on. They enjoyed the full measure of God’s forgiveness.

Sometimes I wish real life were as easy as a Disney movie – that every problem would be resolved in 90 minutes or less…and that there would be more singing…yeah…especially if I could sing like Idina Menzel! But then again, Disney movies aren’t always tied up in a nice little package. Elsa sings this song early on in the movie proclaiming that she has “let it go” – but she still has to work through her circumstances. She has to process what happened, integrate what she learned from the experience, strategize so it does not happen again, and apply the learnings and strategies in order to let it go, to let the past be in the past.

I believe the same holds for us. When we sin – when we abuse God’s good gift of free will and choose something other than God as the priority in our lives – we want to let it go. We want to experience God’s forgiveness. We want to be at one with God again…but if we fail to process the sin, integrate what we have learned from the experience, strategize so it does not happen again, and apply the learnings and strategies, then we may fall as a casualty to sin yet again. We cannot only hope to not fall into sin again because hope is not a strategy. We must work out our faith – work out our salvation – so that with God’s guidance we rise from sin, released from its blame and shame, and live in the peace of letting it go.

During the season of Lent we are invited to become more aware of our sins – to process, integrate, strategize, and apply as we seek to go and sin no more. During this season I believe God wants us to examine ourselves and let sins go.

What sins are you retaining? What sins, what pasts, are God calling you to let go?

Reflect. Confess. Let them go. Experience peace.

Prayer: “O God, just as we look into a mirror to see any soiled spots on our face, so let us look to you in order to understand the things that we have done amiss.  We are like a reed shaken in the wind; we are inexpressibly weak.  Leave us not to ourselves, but dwell in our hearts and guide our thoughts and actions.  Amen.”*

*”For Guidance,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 366.

New Creation: Letters of Recommendation

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Corinthians 3:1-6

A constant question that the church faces is the question of marketing – how do we get our name out there?  How do we get our name out there so people will come be with us here?

To answer that how question I would say – Go Out There!  Have a Little Mermaid Moment and “be where the people are!”

But what seems to be the case?  Churches appear reluctant to go out there…they would rather invest in the latest and greatest marketing technique to get people to come here.

Websites – Social Media – Live Streaming – 24hr Prayer Lines – Brochures – HUGE Electronic Signs and Billboards – 15 page full color 11”x17” inch weekly bulletins – TV advertisements – and more!

One of the most frustrating points in all of this…once you invest in one technique or update another…it’s all out of date!  Once all your information is current…it’s immediately past tense.

As churches we want people to know who we are.  So we seek, we strive, we struggle to capture who we are on paper, in a text box, and sometimes in under 140 characters.  “Who are you?  Who is this church?” someone asks and what do we do…we direct them away from us.  (and in that “.” please read “!?!?!”)  Visit this website.  Read this brochure.  Sign up for our text message reminders.

Why not just answer their question?  Paul says we are capable of doing that.  Paul says that is our purpose – to be the Christ’s recommendation letter – to be the church’s recommendation letter to the world.  Do you want to get to know the church – whether church as a specific congregation or church as the Body of Christ – get to know me.  All my successes and struggles, all my joys and fears.  I am the church.  Get to know me.

Martha Sterne shares incredibly profound thoughts in her commentary entry on this Scripture passage in Feasting On The Word.  Sterne writes, “What if all of us accepted the responsibility that Jesus gave us in our baptism, which is to be a letter of recommendation to the whole world of the good news of God in Christ?  We would have to stop looking for the next newest and greatest marketing ploy for church growth.  Instead we would know that we are invited to be, not just the marketing program for the church, but the healing and growth of Christ – in us, through us, and among us.”* (400).

To be the healing and growth of Christ – in us, through us, and among us – we have to get out from behind the social media, the signs, the bulletins.  We have to be where the people are.  We have to take the message of Christ into the places of pain, hurt, and need.  I believe as the church we would be better stewards and collect a greater return on the investment of teaching one another how to share our faith one-on-one rather than updating information to a third-party, non-personal marketing technique.

What’s the common denominator for all of these marketing techniques?  They are all bound to one place – a yard, a piece of paper on a credenza in the church foyer, and yes, even on the web.  People, however, we are everywhere.  We are dynamic.  We are capable of being an outstanding recommendation for Christ to the world.

Let’s go be where the people are.

Prayer: “‘Go, make of all disciples.’  We hear the call, O Lord, that comes from thee, our Father, in thy eternal Word.  Inspire our ways of learning through earnest, fervent prayer, and let our daily living reveal thee everywhere.  ‘Go, make of all disciples.’  We at thy feet would stay until each life’s vocation accents thy holy way.  We cultivate the nature God plants in every heart, revealing in our witness the master teacher’s art.”** Amen.

*David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting On the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B Volume 1 – Advent through Transfiguration (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 400.

**”We Are the Church,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 558.

New Creation: Pleasing Fragrance

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Corinthians 2:14-17

This Sunday in the Christian Year the Church celebrates and remembers the Baptism Of Our Lord – when Jesus presented himself to John the Baptist alongside the River Jordan for baptism.

The Gospel of Matthew’s baptism account reads, “And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased’” (Mt 3:16-17).

That day in the Jordan River Jesus is publicly claimed by God as the child of God.  When we anticipate, celebrate, witness, and remember baptisms, we recall how we, too, are claimed as children of God.

Holy.  Worthy.  Beloved.  With whom God is well pleased.

//

I live and serve in an area saturated with Disney paraphernalia – not a bad thing at all! – and as I dwell with this image of Jesus meeting John along the banks of the Jordan River a coy smile creeps across my face as I remember wise ole’ Rafiki leading a weary and lost Simba to the banks of a watering hole.  Simba peers over the side hoping to see his father – who died many years earlier – and instead sees his own reflection.  Disgusted Simba recoils and Rafiki encourages him to look again.  “Look harder…” Rafiki says, “You see…he lives in you” and Simba’s reflection morphs into that of his father’s.

Simba then hears his name rolling across the clouds like thunder and an effigy of his father appears.  “Simba, you have forgotten me,” Mufasa says.  “You have forgotten who you are and so have forgotten me.  Look inside yourself.  You are more than what you  have become.  You must take your place in the circle of life.  Remember who you are.  You are my son.  Remember.”

Simba protests, “How can I go back?  I’m not who I used to be…”  And Mufasa implores, “Remember.  Remember.”

//

When we return to the waters of baptism – not for rebaptism for God’s grace is sufficient in the single ritual – it is to remember who we are.  Regardless of what we have done or left undone, regardless of where we have said too much or kept silent too long, regardless of who we used to be and who we are now, God calls us to remember.  To remember who we are.  To remember who God is.  To remember what God’s grace has done and is doing.  To refresh our memory of God’s claim on our lives.

We are holy.  We are worthy.  We are beloved.  We are with whom God is well pleased.

I am.  You are.

Remember.

Prayer: “Baptized in water, sealed by the Spirit, cleansed by the blood of Christ, our King; heirs of salvation, trusting his promise, faithfully now God’s praises we sing.  Baptized in water, sealed by the Spirit, dead in the tomb with Christ, our King; one with his rising, freed and forgiven, thankfully now God’s praises we sing.  Baptized in water, sealed by the Spirit, marked with the sign of Christ, our King; born of one Father, we are his children, joyfully now God’s praises we sing.”* Amen.

*“Baptized in Water,” The Faith We Sing, 2248.