Saturday, July 21, 2018

Come Away


Perhaps I have spent too many years of my life in school, but summer is always the time for rest, renewal, and recalibration. There is muscle-memory in me from childhood that recalls the freedom felt at the end of June when school let out. I’d look at my report card, recall all that I had done during the school year, and then throw it aside and enjoy the “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.”

I think that this is something that Jesus was trying to teach the disciples. In Mark 6, Jesus sends out the apostles on a mission. In twos, they are told to go from village to village and share the Good News. “They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.” (Mark 6: 12-13)

When they returned, they were excited to share with Jesus all they had said and done. Jesus, knowing that the demands of ministry never go away, said to them “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” (Mark 6: 31)

Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.

How do you give yourself a place of solitude, so you can rest? We live in an era with such great technology that we can work anywhere, but that also means we can work all the time. When was the last time you offered yourself a deserted place, a quiet place, a place where you can be still and listen to the sound of your own breathing?

It is in the spaces of rest that we can reflect on our lives, our work, and our ministry. We can identify those things that we are doing that give us life, those things that invite death, and then make changes so that when we return to our scheduled lives, we can let go of those things that don’t bring us life.

Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Seeking and Finding Forgiveness



I was listening to the radio today and a segment came on about missed connections. A woman talked with great anguish about a time when she was in grade school. She had a favorite seat on the school bus and one day a girl was sitting in it. She was so upset that her seat was taken that she bit the girl on the finger. 


She talked about the guilt she has carried for many years because of her action. She has tried to find that young girl over the years but to no avail. Twenty five years later, she retold the story on the radio in the hopes that the person she bit might actually be listening. If so, could she possibly forgive her? 


We all carry guilt over something we’ve done—or not done. Sometimes this guilt weighs us down like a stone and makes us feel like we’re drowning. At other times it sneaks up on us when we least expect, making us feel inadequate and filled with self-doubts. What guilt do you carry? Whose forgiveness do you yearn for? Who might be waiting to be released from their own guilt through your offer of forgiveness?


Colossians 3:12-13 reads: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you”. 


Forgiveness is core to the Christian faith. It is what releases us from sin and brokenness. It frees us to live into the life God intends. 


Our churches ought to be the places where we get to practice compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. We should be so thoroughly steeped in these virtues that our living is changed. And part of this comes from our ability to give and receive forgiveness as we have received it from God. In this way, amazing grace spills in, through and among us in abundance. 


The woman on the radio has been seeking forgiveness for 25 years. May you experience forgiveness’s liberating power so that any brokenness may find release and healing. May you pass it on to those who are hungry to hear words of forgiveness. Then, may you all put into practice compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 


Saturday, July 7, 2018

Earthkeeping



For the past two weeks, I have been traveling to all the conference camps (eight, but we only visited seven because our rental RV had trouble negotiating the unpaved road to Camp on the Boulder in Montana!). We traveled 3200 miles—all within the Mountain Sky Conference. Our conference is
more than 400,000 square miles, so there’s a lot of land to cover!
Our camps are situated in gorgeous places, but then again, our entire area bears testimony to God’s artistry. Plains and prairie, soaring mountains, glacial streams, red rock formations…each mile caused us to delight in God’s handiwork as we oo-ed and ah-ed are way around our conference. Yet, we also saw the devastating power of nature: the remains of forest fires and floods were evidenced as we toured (and please keep in your prayers those who are being impacted by the fires across our area).
As much as the modern world has tried to distance us from the natural world, we are deeply connected to it. Our farmer and ranchers have much to teach the rest of us about this intimate connection. How we care for the earth and other living things is directly connected to our own well-being. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America calls this “Earthkeeping”. They write:
Earthkeeping is a term being used by many people of faith to describe the nature of our responsibility to care for creation. It springs from our wonder, awe, and gratitude for God’s wisdom, creativity, and blessings that fill the natural world. It also grows out of our dismay and concern for the degradations and “groaning” of God’s good creation. Faithful earthkeeping involves extending the justice, peace, reconciliation, hope, and love of Christ to all creation. In caring for the Earth, we also deepen our relationship with God and with one another, making our faith more alive and relevant, in and to a broken world.”

Take a moment to give thanks to God for creation. May you sing as the Psalmist in Psalm 104”

O my soul, bless God! God, my God, how great you are!
    beautifully, gloriously robed, Dressed up in sunshine, and all heaven stretched out for your tent.

You built your palace on the ocean deeps, made a chariot out of clouds and took off on wind-wings. You commandeered winds as messengers, appointed fire and flame as ambassadors. You set earth on a firm foundation so that nothing can shake it, ever. You blanketed earth with ocean, covered the mountains with deep waters;

Then you roared and the water ran away— your thunder crash put it to flight. Mountains pushed up, valleys spread out in the places you assigned them. You set boundaries between earth and sea; never again will earth be flooded.

You started the springs and rivers, sent them flowing among the hills. All the wild animals now drink their fill, wild donkeys quench their thirst. long the riverbanks the birds build nests, ravens make their voices heard.

You water the mountains from your heavenly cisterns; earth is supplied with plenty of water. You make grass grow for the livestock, hay for the animals that plow the ground.

Oh yes, God brings grain from the land, wine to make people happy,

Their faces glowing with health, a people well-fed and hearty. God’s trees are well-watered—the Lebanon cedars God planted. Birds build their nests in those trees; look—the stork at home in the treetop. Mountain goats climb about the cliffs; badgers burrow among the rocks.

The moon keeps track of the seasons, the sun is in charge of each day. When it’s dark and night takes over, all the forest creatures come out. The young lions roar for their prey, clamoring to God for their supper.

When the sun comes up, they vanish, lazily stretched out in their dens. Meanwhile, men and women go out to work, busy at their jobs until evening. What a wildly wonderful world, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at your side, made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.

Yes! What a wildly wonderful world!





























































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































For the past two weeks, I have been traveling to all the conference camps (eight, but we only visited seven because our rental RV had trouble negotiating the unpaved road to Camp on the Boulder in Montana!). We traveled 3200 miles—all within the Mountain Sky Conference. Our conference is more than 400,000 square miles, so there’s a lot of land to cover!

Our camps are situated in gorgeous places, but then again, our entire area bears testimony to God’s artistry. Plains and prairie, soaring mountains, glacial streams, red rock formations…each mile caused us to delight in God’s handiwork as we oo-ed and ah-ed are way around our conference. Yet, we also saw the devastating power of nature: the remains of forest fires and floods were evidenced as we toured (and please keep in your prayers those who are being impacted by the fires across our area).

As much as the modern world has tried to distance us from the natural world, we are deeply connected to it. Our farmer and ranchers have much to teach the rest of us about this intimate connection. How we care for the earth and other living things is directly connected to our own well-being. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America calls this “Earthkeeping”. They write:

Earthkeeping is a term being used by many people of faith to describe the nature of our responsibility to care for creation. It springs from our wonder, awe, and gratitude for God’s wisdom, creativity, and blessings that fill the natural world. It also grows out of our dismay and concern for the degradations and “groaning” of God’s good creation. Faithful earthkeeping involves extending the justice, peace, reconciliation, hope, and love of Christ to all creation. In caring for the Earth, we also deepen our relationship with God and with one another, making our faith more alive and relevant, in and to a broken world.”



Take a moment to give thanks to God for creation. May you sing as the Psalmist in Psalm 104”



O my soul, bless God! God, my God, how great you are!
    beautifully, gloriously robed, Dressed up in sunshine, and all heaven stretched out for your tent.



You built your palace on the ocean deeps, made a chariot out of clouds and took off on wind-wings. You commandeered winds as messengers, appointed fire and flame as ambassadors. You set earth on a firm foundation so that nothing can shake it, ever. You blanketed earth with ocean, covered the mountains with deep waters;



Then you roared and the water ran away— your thunder crash put it to flight. Mountains pushed up, valleys spread out in the places you assigned them. You set boundaries between earth and sea; never again will earth be flooded.



You started the springs and rivers, sent them flowing among the hills. All the wild animals now drink their fill, wild donkeys quench their thirst. long the riverbanks the birds build nests, ravens make their voices heard.



You water the mountains from your heavenly cisterns; earth is supplied with plenty of water. You make grass grow for the livestock, hay for the animals that plow the ground.



Oh yes, God brings grain from the land, wine to make people happy,



Their faces glowing with health, a people well-fed and hearty. God’s trees are well-watered—the Lebanon cedars God planted. Birds build their nests in those trees; look—the stork at home in the treetop. Mountain goats climb about the cliffs; badgers burrow among the rocks.



The moon keeps track of the seasons, the sun is in charge of each day. When it’s dark and night takes over, all the forest creatures come out. The young lions roar for their prey, clamoring to God for their supper.



When the sun comes up, they vanish, lazily stretched out in their dens. Meanwhile, men and women go out to work, busy at their jobs until evening. What a wildly wonderful world, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at your side, made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.



Yes! What a wildly wonderful world!

Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Christ Is One of You

July 1 is an important time in the lives of United Methodists: it is the start of a new appointment year. As I pray during this time of new beginnings as well as what is going on in our nation and world, these words of Jesus keep rising up in my prayer:

"I was a stranger, and you welcomed me..."

What a radical statement by Jesus. Can we order our common life together from this perspective of incarnation and generous hospitality?

I’m reminded of the story of a monastery which was no longer drawing visitors or new members. Those who remained had hearts that had turned inward and cold. Everyone got on everyone else’s nerves. With such a cantankerous community, it was little wonder why no one wanted to visit or join.

The abbot realized the community would eventually die off unless something changed. But what? He had a colleague he often turned to for insight and wisdom, so he went to his friend and explained the situation at the monastery. For a long while, the two sat in silence as the friend pondered the abbot’s words. Finally he said, “I don’t have an answer to help you change things. But there is one thing I know, the Christ is one of you.”

This astounded the abbot, and when he returned to the monastery, the monks were anxious to hear what the friend recommended. “Tell us, tell us!” they clamored.

“He really didn’t have anything much to suggest. But he did say this peculiar thing: the Christ is one of us!”

The monks sat in amazement. What?! Well, they said, Brother Peter is so caring…maybe he is the Christ! But then they thought some more: Could cranky Brother William be the Christ? Or was it Brother Thomas, who barely said a word?  Or was it hyper Brother Charles, who always got on everyone’s nerves?

Wondering but not knowing who could be the Christ, they began to treat one another differently. The monastery took on a different tone: there was more love, more joy, more focused work. People in the village could tell something had changed, and made their way often to the monastery to drink in the rich spiritual life of the brothers. Young people began to make inquiries about how they could belong to such a vital and vibrant community.

All this, from someone recognizing, “The Christ is one of you.”
Tomorrow, look around at the congregation. Christ is there, waiting to be found. It could be any one of the people in your pew, or the choir loft, or behind the organ, or stepping into the pulpit. It could be one of the crying children, the elderly one who needs help getting to a pew, or the harried single parent with a string of children in tow.

"I was a stranger, and you welcomed me..."

What would happen in our churches and country if we really believed this?

Saturday, June 23, 2018

For Everything There Is A Season




The last Sunday in June is a bittersweet one in United Methodism. It is the last Sunday of the appointment year. For some churches and clergy, there is a sigh of relief that pastor and parishioners were reunited for another year. For others, there is consternation that there is no change. For still others, it is a time to say goodbye and put closure on the life and ministry that was shared.

This reflects the cycle of life. Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.



Take time to reflect on the ministry you shared together in the past year. Remember when your breath was taken away by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Tell of how you were surprised by the power of God to transform your life, the life of other, and even entire communities. Celebrate the new life that has emerged from your shared ministries.



Don’t be afraid to admit the mistakes and missteps that were made. Confession really is good for the soul. Let go of the disappointments and unmet expectations and offer one another the fullness of grace that is extended through forgiveness.



In the tenderness of the day, remind one another of how each one is made in the image of God, beloved and equipped by God for the task of ministry in the world. Ministry will go on as you all claim this power. Perhaps you can’t even get a hint of it yet, in all the emotions of this time. But trust in the knowledge that God is not done with us yet!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Welcoming the Stranger


In the news, we have seen disturbing reports and pictures of children being taken from their parents and placed in detention centers by our government. Their crime was fleeing their homeland due to violence and threats of death, to make a perilous journey over harsh geography to seek safety within our borders.

I remember another time a family crossed a border for similar reasons. When Jesus was born, Herod, who was in power, became threatened by the news of his birth since some were already calling Jesus “King of the Jews”. He sent wise men to see the boy. Herod told them it was so that he could honor him, but he really wanted to know his whereabouts so he could kill him. The wise men, after laying their gifts before Jesus, were warned in a dream not to return to Herod and Jesus’ father Joseph was also warned in a dream to flee with his family. They became refugees in Egypt, where they stayed until it was safe to return home. When Herod learned that he had been outwitted, he ordered the murder of every boy in Bethlehem under the age of two.

This event is known as the “Slaughter of the Innocents.” Matthew describes the scene with a quote from the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2: 18)

Can you hear Rachel weeping for her children?

The horror that is happening to children in our country was multiplied when government officials used scripture to justify these actions. We who follow Jesus know that God keeps widening the borders of who is in and who is out through the Jesus’ life, teachings and ministry, Paul’s Damascus road experience, and Peter’s vision. If the law is not rooted in the Love Ethic of Jesus, who keeps expanding our understanding of who is our brother and sister, it harms and invites death rather than reconciles and brings life.

Can you hear Rachel weeping for her children?

Scripture reminds us over and over again to welcome the stranger:

Exodus 23: 9: “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.

Leviticus 19:34:  You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

Deuteronomy 1:16:  “Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien.”

Deuteronomy 10:18-19:  “For the Lord your God...loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Deuteronomy 24:17-18: “You shall not deprive a resident alien...of justice.”

Matthew 25:31-46:  “For I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

Hebrews13: 2: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

Some of us learned a lesson about how to encounter the Bible when we traveled to Cuernavaca last fall. For the members of the base Christian community we visited, bible study is more than just reading and reflecting on God’s word. It requires action that is transformational. The Word of God should intersect with the lives of God’s people, so as they read the Bible, they look around at what is happening in their community, then think about what scripture is compelling them to do. This is followed by action. The community then evaluates what they did so they could learn more. And then they celebrate.

May the cries of Rachel be heard in your sanctuary. As scripture is read and prayers offered, may you listen for what God is asking of you and your community. May you respond as faithful followers of Jesus, who calls us to create Beloved Community, that place of love, compassion, connection, and justice for all of God’s children.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

O Love That Will Not Let You Go!


As a pastor, my heart grows heavy when I see God’s beloved children unaware of God’s great love for them. As a result, they have doubted their self-worth. They have isolated themselves from others, feeling unworthy of love. Their souls have been scarred by the world’s hatred instead of healed by God’s bountiful grace.



Do you know how much God loves you?



The psalmist was overwhelmed by God’s love: “O God, you have searched me and known me…you are acquainted with all my ways…such knowledge is too wonderful for me. I can’t take it all in. You know me very well. Nothing, nothing at all is is hidden from me. Even when in the midst of basking in that love my shadow self emerges and I reveal to you my hatred and pettiness, you stick with me, helping me turn from hurtful ways of being and thinking and leading me to what is life indeed.” (Psalm 139)



There is nothing about us that can make God turn away from us: nothing in who we are, nothing in the people God created us to be; nothing in what we have done; nothing in what has been done to us, that can loosen the grasp of God’s love on our life.



When the power of this truth breaks into our life, we become changed. This is what it means to be born again. When we accept the power of God’s love in our lives, we are can’t help but be changed, from the inside out.



God knows everything about us, and yet for many of us God remains a stranger. For some, it’s God’s magnificence that is too great to comprehend that keeps God a stranger. For others it is fear of experiencing intimacy with One who knows so much about us that causes us to keep God remote.



But still God envelopes us with a love that will not let us go. This love promises us a much greater life if we will only open ourselves up to its healing and power.



As you gather in worship, bow your head and let God’s love pour over you. Find yourself showered with it! Feel the power, embrace the presence of this love. Feel the wounded and hurting parts of your life be restored to wholeness by God’s love.



And then, allow this love to flow through you and into the lives of those around you. No one should doubt God’s unconditional love for them. Sometimes, the only way they will know this truth, the only way they will be able to experience this amazing grace, is through your loving actions.



I pray that no soul will doubt that they are loved for simply being who God created them to be (including YOU!).