A Vision of the Church: An Inward Presence Ephesians 3: 14-21

Think-Like-a-FishChad Hall was a pastor in Hickory, North Carolina wrote of quitting the church in a professional journal. He said his immersion in the church caused him to feel no longer connected to the people he was called to serve. He likened himself to Brad Pitt’s character in A River Runs Through It, citing the wilder-spirited son of a Montana minister who was lousy at life, but good at fly-fishing. The son said, “It won’t be long till I’ll think like a fish!Hall said he stepped aside because he came to believe the church forgot how to think like the fish. He felt the church was acting like the captain of a charter boat, preoccupied with keeping up the boat, and who’s in and out, thus losing its fishing instincts and what life is like in the open water. So, he gave up his position to reconnect to the world he felt called to serve.

Paul’s is concerned the church could forget what makes the church the church. He reminds them and us: We are a visible reminder of God’s love in the world. The church that burst forth from under the covers of history through Jesus Christ is to announce the message God desires all to be in union with God and live in peace as sisters and brothers.

Paul pauses and prays. It’s like when we’re in the middle of the email and say, “I’m praying for you.” His language changes from talking about a pot roast with a friend to talking with a lover in a gazebo. The words are poetic and passionate; moving up from the heart rather than down from the head. Praying by heaving his heart toward heaven while on bended knee.rogers_praying-hands-framed

He pleads with the Trinity to strengthen and stretch the inner presence of God in the church and us. Our identity (who we are) and mission (what we do) in life and in the church comes from within. Thus, he prays we may be filled with God’s fullness. The more we’re filled with God within us, the more we’re perfected in God’s love. This happens by faith in Christ who dwells in our hearts, enabling the Spirit to root and ground us in God’s love. The more we’re rooted and grounded in that love, the more our lives reflect the fullness of God. This takes strengthening and stretching so we make room for the inner presence of God within us. The inner presence of God enlivens our soul to be strengthened in knowing who we are and is stretches us to do what we are called to do.

We strengthen God’s inner presence so we know who we are. We must settle who we are in Christ. If not, we will fruitlessly try to make it true who we are not. We will try to find life by having enough money to live in right neighborhoods, send our kids to the right schools, be with only people like us, and engage in the politics of protecting our possessions; a life that leads to insecurity and anxiety, instead of well-being and peace. I am not sure if it leads to heaven, you’ll have to ask the rich young ruler?

Weights

We know we’ve been graced and loved by the God of the universe when our inner presence is strengthened. We take our family name from the Father from whom all families in heaven and on earth take their name. Our heavenly Father who gives us our name refuses to play the shame/honor game that permeates culture. God made us, created in Christ Jesus. God desires to strengthen our inner person so the unrelenting inner presence of God that resides within us can confirm who we are in the eyes of God.

I was playing golf with a older guy who was hitting the ball past me all day. I asked him where he gets his power. He pointed to his left forearm. He said he started working out with some dumbbells and discovered his right arm was much stronger. He concentrated on building up that left forearm. He worked until both arms were equally strong. He now hits the ball past the youngest because he exercised the right part of his body.prayeronmyknees

We strengthen our inner person by exercising the right part of our body, our knees. In the posture or prayer, we enter into intimate union with God’s inner presence, not just to ask what we want. We spend time with God so we may be strengthened by God’s Spirit so we may better we know who we are in Christ. The more we know who we are in Christ, the better we reflect the loving nature of God made possible by faith in Christ, whose Spirit, (the inner presence) is day by day strengthening our inner person.

We stretch God’s inner presence so we might know what God can do through us. We wrongly define ourselves by our knowledge. Play Trivial Pursuit and be reminded of the limits of our knowledge. We think we know something about something then a question comes and we discover we don’t know squat. The spin-off game Bible Trivial Pursuit humbles me. The team that usually secures the pastor feels they had pulled off a sure victory. Every time I play I say, “I will never I play this game again!” The game is like a mirror reflecting back to me what I don’t know.

yoga_stretchWe think we know the answers to life’s questions until we find ourselves in a situation that is off our map. We allow the issues before us to loom large; feeling we don’t have what it takes when we come to the end of what we know. Our usual answers and buzzwords don’t suffice. Thus, we conjure up fear-ridden conclusions, making up it on the fly. We take the low road; pretending we know what we need to know in the midst this crisis.

Judging circumstances based on limited knowledge makes a preemptive strike against faith. It’s a crisis of faith when we wrongly decide the lost job represents failure; or we assume bad communication ends it all, or haughtily believe a certain choice will lead to disaster. Faith isn’t faith when we have an investment in one particular outcome over another. Certainty about where an experience leads presumes we know more than God.Questions

What we know only tells part of the story. God gave us knowledge and grace to live by faith. God is bigger than our minds. The breadth, length, height, and depth of love is accessible by stretching ourselves to places we have yet to imagine. The inner presence within stretches us, making our world bigger than we can know within the limits of our own being.

St. Aquinas, one of the world’s great minds, produced a compendium of theology, Summa Theologica, which purported to gather all the knowledge of God and the world. He believed by expanding human intellect, we would journey toward union with God. In December 1273, he quit writing. He had a mystical experience while saying mass in Naples. He said: I can do no more. Such things have been revealed that all I have written seems as straw, I await the end of my life. Aquinas put God back in the driver’s seat.

God hasn’t misplaced our file and is still is in the business of creating and redeeming. God’s inner presence is stretching us, taking us to a new place so we might be even more filled with the fullness of God. In this new place, we’ll come to know an endless power, the fullness of God within. The inner presence of God within possesses the power to change what we perceive cant be changed; guiding us from the fearful conclusions we easily form.

stand-firmWhen we stand in faith, light pours forth from us. When we stand in faith, God who makes life-giving events occur. Let us set aside our urge to control outcomes. We don’t know where circumstances might lead. Place our trust in a God who knows the entire movie backwards and forwards.

The premise of the Matrix movies is: we’re caught in a matrix of slavery; ruled by rules, and so assimilated we don’t know the real world from the lie is movies. The film indicates the way to freedom is to progress from knowing the truth to love of others: from comprehending the nature of things to transcending them by a greater force. Knowledge leads us to the door, but only love takes us through it. Love isn’t anti-intellectual; it gathers up the intellect and perfects it. The heart knows things the mind can’t grasp. We don’t have the ability or awareness to understand the outcomes of life. Soon, the pieces will fit together when we trust God’s inner presence within us stretching to places to do things only God could imagine for us. Languageoflove

Stretching exercises deal with skeletal muscular issues. Tightness in the back is dealt with by stretching the hamstrings, relieving the strain because the legs are able to carry more the burden of our frame. When we are rightly stretched it’s like we have been made brand new. When our spiritual lives are rightly stretched we are made new, willing to enlarge our world so we can do what our loving God desires for us to do.

Finally, our inward presence must be strengthened and stretched by the language of love. It takes some pillow talk with God to be led into the fullness of God. Friends, we don’t have to quit the church; we just have to exercise our spiritual lives, strengthening and stretching our inner person so that the fullness of God’ love has room to reside in our hearts.

Bended Knee

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Let Go: Jochabed Style Exodus 2: 1-10

Profiles_in_CourageCourage shows up in health workers who put themselves in harm’s way to treat infectious disease. Courage shows up in persons who champion causes in the face of personal consequences. Courage shows up in a person who faces illness with more composure than I could imagine. Courage shows up in persons who honestly, but lovingly critique their own tradition. I could mention many you who are courageous in what you do. Thanks to God for the ways you are faithfully courageous in this Body.

We’re living in a day that requires persons of the church to move beyond letting our actions do the talking to becoming more courageously invested in what is needed for the living of these days. The day calls for “moral grandeur and spiritual audacity” says Rabbi Herschel. It requires willingness to courageously plunge headfirst into some unknowns.

The older we become the more conscious we are of missed opportunities. We think of how little it would have taken to move beyond business as usual. There were risks we weren’t willing to take for a variety of reasons. Please, don’t unfairly imagine how happiness was missed by seconds. Missed chances are simply chances to grow our courage for the next time.opportunity

Jochabed, the mother of Moses is thought of as a minor biblical character, yet she plays a major role in Hebrew history because of her courage. This profile of courage can be helpful as we think about implementing our HCI prescriptions. Great courage will be needed in the days ahead.

Pharaoh orders the killing of the male Hebrew infants. Jochabed, desperate to save her son, fashions a basket, daubs it with pitch, and puts the child in it. She takes him to the Nile and stands in the river with her feet in the mud and her face ravaged by grief. She gives the basket a bearing as her son is nudged into the current. Love gave her the courage to not love her child so much she couldn’t protect or save him. Pharaoh’s daughter finds the child and Jochabed is called to serve as his nurse. (go figure) In the moment we’ve freeze-framed, she doesn’t know that. In that moment, Jochabed is courageous, trusting what she loves most into a current she can’t control.

Leslie-Harris-JochebedOur desire to be in control comes naturally. Doing what Jochabed did doesn’t come natural. Those ancient Hebrew families who felt threatened at the prospect of male infants being slaughtered would have hunkered down. We hold to essentials, which are certain and jettison the extraneous in uncertain times. We say function over form; or change the structure, not the content. Jochabed exhibits a counter-intuitive wisdom: courageously letting go of the child she loved into the current of God’s hand in history.

Jesus looked for forms of faith that were counter-intuitive in his day. He admonished those who worshipped him, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father.” To those who projected too much onto him he said, “Why do you call me good? Only God is good.” Jesus said to Mary in the garden, who only wanted to feel his personal touch again, “Don’t hold on to me.” Saying this is not how you will know me. These are hints that suggest there are some faith practices according to Jesus that needs to be released.

Letting go of what we’ve loved most, trusting our future into God’s hands is a great image for this day. Jochabed can be our model, as we consider letting go of things we love and trusting something better is ahead.christos kurios

There’s no permutation of history in which Christ isn’t present. The eternal Word became flesh to tell us Christ is always present in each aspect of our human lives despite any degree of swirling circumstances. Christ is still Lord even if every Bible is lost. Christ is still Lord even if every church closes. Christ is still Lord even if last believer stops believing. God’s hand is still active both with and without the things we love most. We can trust Christ’s Spirit in this Body of Christ to show us the way into our future through his palpable and saving presence in our letting go.

We could all say amen to letting go those things that hold us back and say we look forward to our future and head to Sunday lunch. Business as usual gives a nod to nice thoughts heard in church on Sunday. I want to invite us to make personal this eternal truth to the circumstances of our lives and church. Today, let us be very specific: What do I need to let go so I can join God in reshaping First Church, Irving so the next generation and me will have a place that shines the light of the world into our world?hold lightly

This may mean holding lightly to some of our assumptions; so we can be set free from lesser matters we obsessively focus on each day. Let us not hold so tightly to faithless worry created by our need to protect something that may not need saving. Let us quit wearing ourselves out collecting resources to perpetuate activities we fear if they disappear we’ve failed.

All shall be well” Julian of Norwich could say, not because God “fixes” all things but because all things are God’s and God is alive and well. I invite my fellow Jochabeds with heavenly courage let go into the current what is precious but no longer needed. It will come back just as Moses ended up back in Jochabed’s arms. When it comes back, it may look differently, but this time we will hold it with new freedom that has less fear, which will produce a deeper joy. May God’s bless our letting go, so we may see our way into God’s appointed future for the sake of this church and community, which Christ loves as much, if not more than, we. Let go and Let Godlet-god

The Things Mom Said-Proverbs 3: 5, 6

Mom BDI don’t know what makes one woman a good mother and another one of similar circumstance named not so good. I know every mother feels the mix of being both a good mother on some days, and often never good enough. They are like every person who shares the air on the planet; we are all a mix of mostly good who have a tendency to get in our own way.

I never fully appreciated the silver haired lady whose hair color caused motorist to stop, a claim my mom made often. I do know my mother loved me through adolescent years that surely caused her to question everything, including herself. She was a widow of two small children, doing a job with little thanks. We thanked her in small deeds like hand painted jars, when we were young and in easy words like, “You’re the greatest!”, as we grew older. The gratitude we expressed wasn’t the reason she thanklessly did all the things a good mother does for her children.

There’s no other force like the sway the love of a child has over a mother. Sophia says to Tara or Gigi, “I wuv’ you,” they melt. Chloe cuddles and Torie or Terri they cry. Olivia’s entrance into the world caused her family to drop what they were doing and come from all parts to welcome her into the world. Her aunt Lauren talked her boyfriend to flying her to Georgetown in his Cessna to see Olivia and her parents on Friday evening.GIrls are Home cropped

The depth of love a mother feels is why she stays upright in the bittersweet days of parenting that are filled with joy mixed with anguish. She knows the crushing impotence of watching a child travel alone paths that lead to the thrills of victory and agony of defeat that inevitably come. Sometimes, all a mother can do is offer words that become wiser as the child grows older.

This brings me to wiser words shared by my mother. The words seated in her soul were not her own words, but words that come from the Proverbs. One of the last gifts I bought had these words on it to say to her again, “I hear you mom”. Let me connect her guiding verse to her go to phrases and catch words, praying they cause us to recall the things our mothers say. I thank her grandchildren for helping me recall the things mom said.

Mom teachingTrust in the Lord with all your heart-My mom was a smart woman. Her head was filled with stories of history that guided her. She possessed a nimble mathematic mind for calculus and trigonometry. She had advance degrees early in adulthood and held tight to her value that a broad education was the key to life. She practiced what she preached, by saving so she could pay for both my sister and I to attend Baylor University.

My head was floating as I entered the thin air of university life, jumping straight from adolescence to the world of academia. Expectations changed quickly as professors raised the bar and I encountered a student body that was singularly focused. It felt like I had grown up overnight, except I didn’t have bills to pay and no responsibility for anyone other than myself.

I would come home and spat off what I was learning, She patiently listened because she was genuinely interested.  While wrestling with the new ideas she inserted a favorite sayings, “Don’t let your mind get ahead of your heart.” Trust in the Lord with all your heart. It was her way of saying no matter how many degrees I obtain; I must not forget my faith.

It’s likely, a mother or a mother like figure told you to trust in the Lord with all your heart. She knew what was going on in the heart is more valuable than what is in your head. She loved you so much she would often express her hope that your heart is being shaped by a faith that goes beyond what you can know. My mom said, “Don’t let your head get ahead of your heart.”Peace Out

Don’t rely on your own insight– Mom had an even temperament; she was born with it. There were times when she was frustrated; yet, she rarely expressed those feelings with words. She was slow to speak. When she felt something was just wrong her words of discontent were either “phooey or fiddlesticks”. It befuddled me how she could remain so low key in big moments with such benign words.

Then, I would hear these words from the Proverb loudly in my heart, “Lean not on your own understanding” citing the King James Version of the proverb. Though she was a smart, she didn’t need to comprehend all matters. Instead, she would look at what she couldn’t understand and say phooey or fiddlesticks, which translates, “Don’t rely on your own insight.”

We’re not all born with an even temperament. We have the cognitive ability and the spiritual sense to acknowledge limitations. We’re set up for failure when we’re solely dependent on our own insights. At times, we have to say phooey or fiddlesticks, which translates, “Don’t rely on your own insight.”

grandkids kissing sillyIn all your ways acknowledge God-Mom wanted to know her students, neighbors, and stranger alike. She went beyond asking ‘How are you?’ to ‘Who are you?’ Her interest in other persons came from genuinely wanting to connect with the person before her. Persons often commented how much she cared after meeting her for a few moments or knowing her for many years. Her care for others was her way of acknowledging God.

She connected to students who were unwed teenage moms, incarcerated youths in a drug rehab, and adults completing their High School education. She knew more than their names and the needed assignments they were to complete. She celebrated their accomplishments and cried when life set them back. She acknowledged God by acknowledging the persons who she served with the same love and interest she felt God bestowed on her.

I learned a phrase I never heard mom speak. We, along with three of our four children, were enjoying the patio last Sunday with our granddaughters too. The oldest, Lauren, has a new interest. Her sister asked his middle name. Lauren hesitated and was reminded what grandma said, “You don’t kiss until you know their middle name.”

Mom acknowledged God by relating to others the way she related to God, personally and intimately. She expected her family to do the same. This meant you don’t kiss until you know them (at least their middle name). We invest in knowing who others are, so our lives are enriched by their presence among us. In all our ways acknowledge God is translated, “You don’t kiss until you know their middle name.”Mom and Dad Wedding day

God will direct your path–Mom grew up poor but privileged. That meant her father and mother did not have much material wealth; working as a seamstress and gas station manager. They privileged their kids by so that my mom and uncle were afforded a good education. Though I am there were days my grandparents weren’t sure how they would make ends meet, yet they were a people of deep faith, sure God was directing their paths, regardless of what challenges they faced.

My mother was a widow at age 36. I was eight and my sister was four. In 1967, a widow faced hard choices. My father was a rising professional and the sole supporter of the family. Most widows her age remarried. Instead, Mom pushed forward, declaring to her children in word and deed God would direct our paths. Her understanding of these words was expressed in her own idiom to anyone facing uncertain days. She would say, “Life is a pendulum, it may swing one way, but it will swing back.”

We’re all poor but privileged. We know life brings its share of good and not so good days. We can let that which can makes us feel poor break us. Or, we can trust God is directing our paths, which can be translated, “Life is a pendulum, it may swing one way but it will swing back.”

Mom take up phones croppedThese are some of things my mom said. Let me tell you one thing she did any person can do on any day. The last time my mom was with her grandkids before the surgery, which she didn’t recover, she invited them to her apartment for game night. She greeted them with a basket; instructing them to place phones in it because she wanted their undivided attention that night. Mom knew the first rule of wisdom: Pay Attention. For eighty plus years she paid attention to the voice of God and to the lives of others. On this night she wanted the undivided attention of her grandchildren.

Mother’s Day is a chance to give others undivided attention in response to God’s undivided attention to our lives. A life of undivided attention better hears God say, “Trust in the Lord with all our heart, rely not on our own insight, but in all our ways acknowledge God and God will direct our paths.”

Happy Mother’s Day

Anchoring the Ship: Love 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

People are not born lovers; nor do they luck into love; for love is beyond our natural ability.  Love is something we learn to experience and express.  The risk of loving is our heart can be broken, and certainly it will be wrung.  If we want to keep our heart intact, we must not give it to anyone, not even an animal.  The safest way to keep our heart from being broken is to wrap it with hobbies and luxuries; locked it up in a coffin of self preservation.  None of us can be the GPS for others; directing them to love, each of us must learn the lessons of vulnerable love through encounters in loving others. The reason we board the mother ship is to learn the lessons of love.

As a pastor, I am humbled to walk with people, practicing the art of love in some very profound ways.  The privilege also allows me to see love go wrong in ways that makes me wish love wasn’t so vulnerable.  Yet, it’s rewarding to see persons pass through the crucible of loving another person, as I see them grasp new understandings about themselves and fresh insights about the nature of God’s love.  I try to remain unanxious, so I can be a good guide; for I know the costs can be severe and tragic if they do not learn well the lessons that only the tests of love can teach.

This story of David and Absalom is a love story of a father and son.  The tale allows us to see some of the consequences that occur when love lays us bare; mirroring some of the common pitfalls of loving.  It provide us an opportunity to learn how we might be more vulnerable in loving others.

We don’t know much about the relationship between father and son till we get to this story.  I’m sure, when Absalom was born; David was like every parent-the world should sing and smile because the world has taken a turn for the better because of the birth of his child.  At that point, no one could imagine the events that would set off the trouble.  The love a parent has toward a child is beautifully naïve, till they experience the vulnerability of love.

David has many wives and children, who jockeyed for the affections of their husband and father.  David was a better soldier and poet than a spouse and dad.  He loved his children, but didn’t connect by blessing them, so they could grow into their own.  That is not to say that children were not responsible too, for they make mistakes in expressing their love, as well.

We didn’t read the part of the story that tells how David’s son, Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar.  David is furious, but he doesn’t punish his son because of his love for him.  Both father and son rationalize their actions because of love.  We ask, “What does love got to do with it?

David’s irresponsible love understandably feels like an injustice to Tamar, when her father doesn’t to come to her aid.  The result of David’s refusal to discipline Amnon and demonstrate true love causes contempt from Absalom, who is Tamar’s full brother.  Trouble blows on the family ship when no one is holding the rudder.  Absalom takes it upon himself to avenge his sister’s honor.  If David would not act like a father, his son feels responsible to act in his stead; exposing one way loving or (not loving) makes us vulnerable.

Disciplining is responsible love.  Parents shape their children by discipline.  This doesn’t mean we spank them whether they need it or not.  Parents are to be the primary ones disciplining a child; for no one else will be so cautious to look out for their welfare.  Often times, parents say they don’t discipline their children because they love them too much.  This irresponsible rationale strips away the power of love.  Discipline doesn’t make love conditional; it makes love possible.  A refusal to discipline deprives a person of love.

David is caught in the snare of loving irresponsibly.  Amnon’s death at the hand of Absalom’s servants sends David into a rage.  He has lost a son, but he focuses his sense of loss on Absalom, instead of himself.  Absalom must escape his father, so he stays away for three years.  David finally lets him come home; but won’t see him for another two years.  During this time the contempt Absalom feels for his father builds; driving them further apart.

Absalom turns on his father, deciding to usurp his authority; thus demonstrating his own version of irresponsible love by pursuing his father.  Children can expect things from parents they have no right to expect; thus punishing everyone with unreasonable expectations that no love can meet.  Love is too vulnerable, and cannot carry the weight of unfair expectations.

David shows us how crazy love can be; as Absalom jabs dagger after dagger in his father’s heart.  Despite his son’s behavior, David cannot do anything, but love his son.  Maybe, David realizes he brought this on himself because of his own irresponsible love, so he instructs his troops to deal gently with the boy for his sake.

When David’s soldiers catch the rebel son hanging in the tree by his hair they forget their instructions.   Joab runs spears through his heart.  In doing so, he might as well have sent the spear through the heart of David.  When David heard of Absalom’s death he cried, “Absalom, Absalom, my son, my son! Would I had died instead of you!  O Absalom, my son!

We can keep the story at arm’s length; focusing on others not loving rightly; making it the other person’s problem; thus hindering an opportunity to learn to love.  To spend time blaming David for Absalom’s behavior, or excusing Absalom’s irresponsible love would be a grave error that misses the point of this account.  We learn to love by making ourselves vulnerable, taking up the adventure of love on this mother ship as we make love one of our anchors by loving freely; trusting the ones we love will join us now or later.

So we don’t misunderstand, the anchor of love cannot protect or guarantee happiness.  Simply because we cast the anchor of love we should not expect it to compel others to love us in return.  People make choices and some choices can reduce us to tears.  We don’t have to hold onto the anchor of love very long before we realize it’s tenuous and fragile nature.

We discover how vulnerable love is when we realize a person’s love is not as perfect as we thought.  We discover how vulnerable love is when we realize love cannot soothe every hurt and right every wrong.  We discover how vulnerable love is when we realize that though we love another, it is still possible to know pain at very deep levels.  Love is tested when the chain holding the anchor of love is under great tension.

Love is tested greatly when we experience loss, such as in this story.  The thought of losing a child makes us feel like a spear piercing our heart.  That haunting cry of David, gives us the feeling he wanted to tell his regrets and express his love.  But, because of the incident with Amnon, he couldn’t bring himself to share his feelings until it was too late!  Love unspoken is unknown and no good to the one loved.  This is an irresponsible love.

Love in the Present Tense

It is never to late say I love you

It doesn’t ever have to be too late.  The need to express love is always in the present tense.  The way we love at FUMC, Irving is to take the risk by loving vulnerably, even though it leaves us vulnerable.  We are a people of faith who trust in the grace of God that goes ahead of us when we freely offer our love.  We believe we’re making known the endless and consistent love of God by offering self in vulnerable love.  We can navigate the trials of displaying vulnerable love, if we are able to affirm God is able to redeem in any offering of our love.  Love shows the way FUMC, it greater than any other force.

When we experience the vulnerabilities of love, consider the great love God has expressed toward all of God’s children through the Son.  For God’s was vulnerable to the whims of human love.  That example models for us how to throw ourselves into the sea, despite the turbulence.  In those seas, we hold to the anchor of love, trusting in the God who makes sure the anchor holds firm and who will replenish our souls with the same love we give away.  Congregation, let’s throw out the anchor of love; making ourselves vulnerable; give love away liberally and lavishly.  AMEN!

The Other Christmas-A Christmas Eve Message

There are two Christmases.  There is the Christmas driven by frantic spending and frenzied days.  This is the part of the season that makes Christmas shopping feel like we have fallen into a pool of piranhas that are picking our pockets.  This is also the time of year that can make preparing for Christmas meals feel like we are readying for military maneuvers.  I have something for those who soul and body is still caught up in the rush because you’re in charge of making everyone happy with their favorite foods and perfect gifts in the right sizes and with batteries.  We have a quiet room with soft lights, music, candles, and a therapist to help with your post-traumatic stress syndrome.  I will meet you there after the service.

Frankly, I have something better to offer.  The first Christmas is over, and it is the time for the other Christmas to begin.  I invite you to take these few holy moments we have together in the beauty of this sanctuary and let go of the other Christmas.  Take a breath; relax your neck and shoulders, everything is O.K.  Let your mind switch gears, or take it out of gear altogether.  These are sacred moments, and the Spirit of Christmas would like to charm the beast of the other Christmas that still lingers within us.  

Let me tell the story again.  “In those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that a census be taken; that everyone should register in his hometown.”  A political agenda is afoot, for when an emperor orders a census, taxes are going up.  Caesar could not have known he was setting the course for something cosmic when his order dispatched a peasant couple to Bethlehem.  There they would give birth to their first-born son, wrap him in swaddling clothes and lay him in a feedbox.  We know the story and it appears nothing is afoot at all in this event.  Some mysterious princely Persian astrologers adorned with frankincense along with ragtag goat herders from the hills who had a certain air about their togas would kneel at this manger.  There is no hint God was up to something that would reverberate for the next two thousand years.

This child would continue to draw together every kind of person from every stage and station of life.  Look at us tonight.  Some of us drove here in luxury cars while others of us simply hope our “hoopdie” would make it home.  Some of us are decked out in designer wear bought off the rack, while others of us are wearing worn out ensembles from the back of the closet.  Some of us left homes brightly decorated and others came from modest homes decorated only with a small tree.  Some have a small child in the nursery; others have grandchildren older than parents who have children in the nursery.  Some will return home to a large family gathering, while others will return home to people trying to figure out how to be family.

We are all drawn here tonight for different reasons.  Some came to extend homage, others offer gifts, and some of us just felt we ought to at least pay attention to this newborn king.  We, hyperactive consumers who seek our security by insulating our lives with constant noise and floating bank accounts are no different than those who first gathered in Bethlehem.  We are all drawn to this manger for the same reason-We want to be loved.  We have heard this child offers us a real and lasting love that comes from the God who creates, redeems and sustains us in all our life.

The need to be loved is the most basic human need, which many are starved.  Even on this sacred occasion, every person present is aware of places in their lives where they feel unloved and are unable to offer love.  We want to be loved and learn to love again.  Thus, we are attracted to one who is billed to love without condition.  We are drawn to this child who offers himself so God’s love may be born in us.  We want to go beyond visiting the manger, to experiencing Christmas by allowing this this child to be born in that part of our life that needs loved.   

Perhaps you’re a parent or a child who can’t stand to be in the same room.  You’re starving for love.  Perhaps you’re a spouse whose marriage is hanging by a thread.  You’re starving for love.  Perhaps you’re carrying prejudice that isolates you in a self-made prison.  You’re starving for love.  Perhaps you’re unable to forgive a hurt so deep you’re not sure you can trust again.  You’re starving for love.  Perhaps your need to control prevents you from appreciating those who love you.  You’re starving for love.  Perhaps you’re a pastor who you became obsessed over being ready this weekend you ignored family and friend.  We are all starving for love.

This year I want to go beyond a nice visit to the manger.  It is right to enjoy the beauty and sentiment of the service, sing carols, say a prayer, and think nice thoughts as you receive communion and light a candle.  It is a good to give generous gifts to those we love and exert effort to lighten the load of the underserved.  The truth is, that will never be enough if the next day is business as usual.  Christmas is more than a nostalgic visit to a manger, where Joseph and Mary once laid their newborn.

Christmas is God entering human flesh to accomplish a divine objective of conveying the love of God to you and me.  The story has always been a bit messy and dangerous.  We should expect nothing less if this child to be born in us.  Imagine Christ born in you anew and you’re the parent of the newborn child of God. We are going to have to make some adjustments in our lives to make room for this new born to live among us in new ways.

We do so, by taking a leap of faith to hear this child speak words of love, so we leave here more forgiving, loving, understanding, and protective of the fragile gift of life, that is ours and for those with whom we share it.  We do so, by opening our eyes of faith and let this child shine the light of God’s love on our path, so we might have clearer vision about the struggles of the poor and the suffering of the innocent; committed to do what we can to make this place better fit for God’s presence.  The god news of Christmas isn’t God came to earth, but God is here; ready to be born in us so we might know real love for real people in real ways.

This babe of Bethlehem says I love you?  God leaned over the messed up playpen of our world to speak to us through an infant child in the simplest terms.  It is a message of God’s infinite and unconditional love spoken in baby talk.  “Cootchie, cootchie, coo” can’t be ignored or misunderstood.

Embrace the child, feel the love the child has for you.  Let your defenses fall and those barriers come down as you hold in your arms the love God has for you.  Thank God for the “other” of should I say THE CHRISTMAS.

Merry Christmas!

Lingering a Little Longer in Holy Week

Some words needs no improvement.  Instead, the rest of us should just shine the light of Christ on them so they may live.

Richard Rohr is such person whom few could improve on his inspiring words.  His writings speak of the Christian way in the midst of suffering; reminding us of the dark side of passion week.  I need to hear words which remind me of the shadows of Good Friday; so I may more resiliently sing the bright sounds of Easter on Resurrection Day.

I feel deeply that much of our expressions of Christ’s way are watered down because of our proclivity to move quickly past the reality of darkness experienced on that Good Friday afternoon.  Rohr’s words, like Rembrandt’s painting, help me stay long enough to ponder what makes our redemption possible; love offered in the midst of awful hate, and light shone into the real darkness.

I share them with those who need them, like I.  They can be read in their entirety in his book Hope Against Darkness, p. 38.

You alone, Lord Jesus, refused to be crucifier, even at the cost of being crucified.  You never play the victim, you never ask for vengeance, but you only breathe forgiveness.  While we, on this fearful earth, murder, mistrust, attack and hate.  Now I see that it is not you that humanity hates; we hate ourselves, but mistakenly kill you.

I must stop crucifying your blessed flesh on this earth and in my brothers and sisters, and in every form of life, whether innocent or guilty, worthy or unworthy.  We are all your blessed Body, and you have always loved me precisely in my unworthiness.  How can I not do the same to others?

Give me courage to practice these Jesus ways to all I encounter on this holy week.

Open Love Letter

Terri and I will celebrate one of our four children’s first wedding.  Tara and David will be wed this weekend.  We welcome into our family a new member- a son-in-law; but better yet a “good man” who loves our daughter very much.  We think they are lucky to have each other.

This high occasion in our lives has caused me to pause and think reflectively about the essence and energy of love.  I share these thoughts thinking of Tara and David; but they are words that speak to my love of Terri and perhaps they speak to you.

Getting married is like mailing a letter with irrevocable commitments.  That kind of passionate action causes us to lose ourselves in something bigger than ourselves.  Loved promised at that altar is marked by a kind of passion offered that moves beyond the point of no return.  The beauty of real passionate love will escape us if we are preoccupied in preserving self interests.  People who experience passion, are passionately self-forgetful.  They’re absorbed in the other, and not in themselves.  Love grows in giving ourselves to what is beyond us rather than fixate on what is near us.

To David and Tara: You will always be children to us no matter how old you grow.  I pray you will always remain child-like; for children have no problem with passion.  Children don’t worry about what others think of their passionate childish ways.  So, resist propping your feet up as the years go by; allowing the blood flow to slow in your relationship.  Always dance throughout your life like children twirling passionately in the wind.

IT WEDDING WEEKEND: LET THE DANCE BEGIN!

Published in: on April 14, 2011 at 9:11 am  Comments (1)  
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RIVER OF LOVE

Faith trusts the flow of the river of life.  It is always best to stay in the stream.  I believe in the natural current of process, which I don’t have to change, coerce, or improve.

This requires me to exhibit incalculable confidence in God, especially when troubled.  Usually, I am certain I have the ability to make things work.  So, I rush right up into my head trying to change or create the flow of the river.  This is a loss of nerve in God who loves me more than I can know.  Worse, it robs me of any ability to be present with a God who is already at work; flowing the river of life through me.

So, I remind myself on this day God is not an authoritarian who seeks selfish good.  My God is a lover who desires to shape the divine image within me.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, From Everything Belongs

Published in: on March 28, 2011 at 7:20 am  Leave a Comment  
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