Saturday, January 12, 2019

Remember Your Baptism and Be Thankful

I love the Gospel story of Jesus’ baptism—that time when he came before John at the Jordan River. John lowered Jesus into the murky waters and when Jesus broke the water’s surface, the Holy Spirit came down and the voice of God was heard, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Through God’s love and affirmation, Jesus began his earthly ministry, teaching, healing, calling people to a life grounded in love. 

We, too, are met at the font with love, claimed as God’s beloved children. We spend our whole lives growing into who God sees us as. 

This is not always comfortable or comforting. While baptism reminds us that there is nothing, nothing we need to do to earn God’s love, it is offered to us freely and abundantly because we are God’s heirs, the tough part is living out this baptismal truth. 

It is hard remembering who, and whose we are.

You have been claimed as God’s beloved. You can choose to remember, remember who you are and live out this truth in every moment, in every breath, or you can forget, forget who and whose you are.

Remember your baptism--remember when God chose you;

Remember your baptism--remember when you chose God;

Remember your baptism--when the transforming, transfiguring power of God was manifest in your life;

Remember your baptism--when Christ claimed you and personally introduced you to God as if for the first time: "This is my sibling... I am well-pleased with them and am sending them out with a mission in the world."

Remember your baptism and be thankful,

Be thankful that you are now connected to one another through Christ, not friendships or community but through the life, death and resurrection of Christ.

Be thankful--even when you forget the promises you make to God, God remembers God's promise to you,

Be thankful--through baptism you have been given the greatest power of all--the power of the Holy Spirit.

Be thankful--there is nothing you can do to have God break relationship with you.

Remember your baptism and be thankful. 

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Hope of The World

Epiphany is the day we celebrate the Magi, bringing gifts to the baby Jesus, recognizing that God’s gift in Christ was meant for everyone.

It is a day of celebration and joy. I like that it always occurs in the very beginning of a new year. It helps me ground myself in hope as I face the unknown possibilities and challenges offered in the days, weeks and months to come.

Are you hopeful as we face the new year?

In his book Agents of Hope: A Pastoral Psychology, Donald Capps says that the primary task of the pastor is to offer hope. For Capps, the threats to hope are despair, apathy and shame. These burdens we carry dash hope and cause the lights within us to dim.

How will you help those around you face into their despair to see glimmers of possibilities? How will you help people shake off apathy and move to engagement? How can you help others heal from whatever shame they carry so they can claim their self-worth?

Hope is an essential element of a human being fully human. Through hope, we see that the past doesn’t have to dictate our future. Through hope, we know that another’s damaging judgement about our worthiness cannot dim the light of God that shines within us. Through hope, we can face whatever challenges us.

This is one reason why I love Epiphany. As John’s Gospel reminds us, the true light, which enlightens everyone, has come into the world. The Hope of the World is with us! May we, like the Magi, find this One who brings us Hope.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Goodbye, 2018. Hello, 2019!

Sunday is the last Sunday of 2018. I always love this pause between the old year and the new. It is a chance to reflect on the year that has been and give thanks for all those whose lives touched mine. It is also a time to reflect on the baggage I have been carrying and consider what I need to let go of in order to enter the new year unencumbered.

Because there are definitely things I need to leave in 2018. Ephesians 4 urges us:

Everything…connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces God’s character in you.” (Ephesians 4: 22-24, The Message)

Where bitterness has hardened my heart, may I let go of it so my heart may learn to feel again.

Where guilt has frozen me in my tracks, may I let go of it so I can move forward.

Where shame has caused me to cower in a corner, may I let go of it so I can walk with my head held high.

Where fear and doubts have eroded my self-worth, may I let go of them so I can trust not only myself again, but also others.

Where anger has burned bridges of relationships, may I let it go I can begin to rebuild them.

Where I have closed myself to the movement of the Holy Spirit in my life, may I be open, so that God may be at work within me, creating in me a “life renewed from the inside”.

This is the time of year to let go of all that has weighed us down in 2018, particularly those things that prevented us from living a life in love that God desires for us.

My favorite prayer this time of year is the Wesley Covenant prayer. The prayer is nearly 300 years old. Each time I pray it, I think of all those who came before me who uttered these same words, desiring only one thing, to live in right relationship with God:

“I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”

As you tuck away your 2018 calendar, and crack open your new 2019 one, may the empty blocks of days ignite your imagination with the creative and unexpected ways that you will encounter God and discern fuller ways to serve as a disciple of Christ, so that your life and this world may be infused with God’s grace and healing love.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Mary’s Song Is Our Song

As I write, the US government has been partially shut down. Hundreds of thousands of government workers have been impacted, as well those who utilize governmental agencies deemed “unessential”.  I find myself pondering all this in light of Sunday morning’s reading from Luke. Known as the Magnificat, it is the song Mary sings as she responds to God’s plans for her to bear God’s Son. She sings to her cousin Elizabeth: “I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God,” is how Eugene Peterson interprets it in The Message.  The words leap from the page just as Elizabeth’s child leapt in her womb when Mary sang. 

But it is not just the joy felt at the anticipation of a child. There is so much more that Mary will bring into the world. She describes the fullness of God’s mercy and righteousness that will be brought into the world through Jesus. 

“His mercy flows in wave after wave
    on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
    scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
    pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
    the callous rich were left out in the cold.”

Into a world of oppressive governments, poverty, and warring factions, God came. Through Christ, the Hope of World, God helps us imagine a world of justice, of equity, of healing, restorative love. 

Alan Brehm  writes "In Advent we sing because we look forward to something better than the violence and suffering and injustice all around us. We look forward to the kindness and generosity and compassion of our God being fulfilled for all the peoples of the world."

We are called to continue to birth into our world God’s love in such tangible ways that the world is changed as it is infused with God’s grace and justice. In these days we are living, may you look for signs of Christ’s coming, may you allow God’s love to be born in you, and may you respond as Mary responded, offering your whole self in joy.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Bear Fruits Worthy of Repentance

Considering that this is a time of year that’s filled with much celebration and joy, John the Baptist’s words in this week’s gospel is a bit heavy. First, he does a quick reality check:
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3: 8-10)
I have been pondering the line, “bear fruits worthy of repentance.” What does that look like in your life?
When the people who came to be baptized asked John for further clarification about this, he replied to them:
“Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” (Luke 3: 11-14)
John is telling people to live lives of generosity, justice and fairness. If we would ask John what we must do in our day and age, what would he tell us?
• Offer a place of refuge to those fleeing places of violence and oppression.
• Share your food with those who are hungry.
• Speak truthfully in love at all times.
• Stand up for those who are bullied.
• Help heal those who have been violated.
• Make sure every child knows how loved and precious they are.
• Ensure that every aged person has their dignity protected and their wisdom honored.
• Give health care to the sick.
• Fight back against attitudes, policies and practices that diminish and demean people because of their skin color, language, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability, or class.
• See every person around you as a beloved child of God.
• Love. Love some more. And love even more.
When we do these things, our lives bear fruits worthy of repentance as we live out our faith in Christ. Our living changes. Our relationships are changed. Our world is changed.
Christ came into the world bearing the Good News to help us live into this Life in God as fully as we can. This is why we prepare our lives each Christmas for his coming. This is why we make room for Him in our world and in our hearts. This is why we join the angels in singing, “Joy to the world!”
As we come before God tomorrow, may we hear John calling to us to live lives of generosity, justice and fairness as we bear fruits worthy of repentance.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Waitng For God

Tomorrow we will light the second candle in the Advent wreath. Advent is the season in which we await the inbreaking of God in our world. All that we do this time of year--our decorations and card writings, our gift wrapping and cooking--are ways for us to prepare ourselves and our world for the Christmas miracle. As the December darkness grows deeper, we wait for the Light.
Much of our lives are spent waiting: we wait for the water to boil, the mail to arrive, the page to print, the phone to ring, the baby to arrive, the loved one to return, the heart to heal, the rains to come, the storms to cease…but throughout human history, there has been a waiting of epic proportions: a waiting for God.
The Hebrew people knew a great deal about waiting. They were a people too familiar with exile, and the wait of returning to a homeland. Along with this yearning there was a deeper hunger as they waited for God.
Advent is a season for exiles, rooted in the experience of exile described by the Hebrew people. The people were far from their homeland. The people cried out for a savior to deliver them. The Messiah would light their way home. Advent expresses this yearning to return home to a secure place of peace. Every Advent we are invited to get close to these  ancient people, to hear their cries. Their longing for home reminds us of our own inner places of exile, which also cries for a place of inner peace, which yearn for a Messiah.
Each of us has our own place of exile. It may be a spiritual or psychological separation, which keeps us from being at home with our true selves. We might be in exile because of who we are, the color of our skin, or who we love. We may be in exile because of our fears, our addictions, or our past wounds.
Where are you experiencing exile? Where are you yearning for home?
To us, like the people of Israel, John the Baptist calls: “Prepare the way of the Lord!” The Messiah is coming to those who are exiled and estranged! God will come to loose the bonds of the captives, to restore sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed. The One the world hungered for is coming!
But as history showed us, this Messiah came in the most unremarkable way—people for the most part overlooked him. Instead of swooping down from heaven swinging a sword, Emmanuel, God with us, very God of very God, entered the world in the usual way for a human, the most unusual way for a deity: God became one of us.
God entered our everyday existence. God became acquainted with our sorrows and our griefs. God didn’t keep an arms length distance from our deepest hurts and hates and fears. Through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God came as close to us as humanly possible, to share in our exile, and to lead us home.
As you sink into the waiting of Advent, as you become aware of your own places of exile and your own hunger for a home and for God, hold the love of God close to the exiled places of your heart. God offers us light, consolation and comfort for our homelessness. May this Advent be a time of homecoming, a time of joy and enthusiasm as we hear again God’s promises to be with us and to move close to us in love. For God will break into our world once again, and make our exiled state--our homelessness--God’s home.

Happy New Year!


That’s right—happy new year! The first Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of the new year, liturgically speaking. During these weeks leading up to Christmas, we are invited to prepare our lives for the arrival of Jesus, the One called Emmanuel: God-With-Us. 

I like having this annual reminder to start again, to dig a little deeper, as I seek to grow closer to God and neighbor. What have I done this past year that’s hindered my spiritual development? Where has my love been in short supply? What habits have I acquired that have pushed Jesus out from the center of my life? 

“Prepare the way of the Lord!” cries Isaiah. What have I done that has made obstacles for God’s in-breaking in my life and our world?

Thank God for Advent. Tomorrow, we will light a single candle. In spite of winter’s long nights, this candle will burn bright, helping us focus on the things we can and need to do to prepare a place in our lives and world for the Christ Child. Each week, an additional candle will be lit, their light inviting us to this journey of preparation. 

May the days and weeks to come be a soulful new beginning  for you. May you discover more room in your heart for Christ and more love for others than you thought possible. Then, living more fully into God’s presence, may your life be a song to others, inviting them to experience “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, goodwill to all.”