Worried and distracted. . .

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But Jesus answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.”                                                            Luke 10:41

Every now and then I am alert enough to pick up on patterns happening in my world. A couple of weeks ago, I started noticing a recurring theme in things I have been reading and listening to. It started week before last when I read an article that said that more and more millennials are abandoning their social media platforms. Then, later in that same week I found myself watching an interview with Arianna Huffington. She had experienced a breakdown and was speaking about how she believes that we “take better care of our phones and other electronic devices than we do our bodies and minds.” She suggested that we do two simple things that could improve our emotional and mental health. The first is to gently walk our phones out of our bedrooms before we go to bed. The second is to rest for a moment when we awaken and silently give thanks for the new day ahead.

Then, as if that wasn’t enough, last week CBS This Morning aired a new series with John Dickerson exploring ways to disengage from our electronic devices and discover new ways of connecting with each other. Studies now show that taking breaks from our phones and other electronic devices, including watching television, improves our focus and creativity. As part of their opening episode of the series they interviewed Catherine Price, author of How to Break Up with Your Phone. She had some very important things to say about how to use our electronic connections in a responsible way that will enhance our lives rather than take away from meaningful living.

Of course, this is not new. In the Gospel of Luke, we hear the story of Jesus visiting the home of his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany. While Jesus was teaching, Mary sat at his feet, and Martha, a dutiful woman, was in the kitchen preparing a meal. When Martha complains to Jesus that Mary is not helping her, he replied, ““Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.” Now, I’m sure that Jesus knew that someone needed to prepare dinner for the evening, but perhaps Jesus’ words to Martha are important for us to hear.

 Are we worried and distracted by many things? Perhaps Jesus didn’t want Martha to stop doing her work, but to not be consumed by it. Perhaps Jesus would say to us today, “You don’t have to abandon those things that keep you connected to the world. Rather, don’t be worried and consumed by them.”

 Last week while on vacation in Colorado I was riding a gondola down from the mountain top. As the five of us, all strangers, rode down the mountain I noticed that every person on the gondola was glued to their phones while the majesty of creation was passing us by. When did that happen to us? What are we going to do to change it? Jesus would say, “you are worried and distracted by many things.”

 Holy One, help me to take small steps to reclaim my life. Help me to let go of my worries and distractions so that I may discover a deeper and more meaningful life with you and others. Amen.

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Oh to be a doorkeeper…

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For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness.  –Psalm 84.10

Years ago, in what seems like a different life, I was in Jacksonville, Texas at Lon Morris College to participate in a two-week program to become a licensed minister in the United Methodist Church. This program allows people who have not yet attended seminary, or who might not be able to go to seminary for one reason or the other, to be authorized to lead ministry in a particular setting with ordained ministerial supervision. That said, you can imagine that our class was made up of very diverse people. There was a person who was a professor of psychology and another who was a farm worker in south Texas. We were also very diverse ethnically. There were Hispanics, African Americans, and a whole slew of Euro-Americans, white folks.

 One evening, some of us were craving ice cream cones from Dairy Queen and so four of us jumped in Luís’ pick-up truck to drive into town, downtown Jacksonville, to get our treats. As we fed our cravings we began to talk about our various ministries. I was, at the time, volunteering in ministry with our local church across the street from Texas A&M University, a mere ten-minute drive from my home. Luís had a different story. He had been given the opportunity to serve two small churches in south Texas, churches that were 60 miles apart from each other. Each Sunday morning he would drive thirty minutes from his home to his first church, then an hour to his second church, then an hour and thirty minutes home. It was an all-day affair since the churches had Sunday school before worship and often held events after worship. Luís would get up early to arrive at his first church by 9:00am, and often times didn’t return home until after 9:00pm. Of course during the week, he held down a full-time job as a farm worker in order to provide for his family, as his churches couldn’t pay him very much.

As we talked I asked Luís how he could do that week after week. He responded by saying, “I feel so blessed to be able to be in God’s presence, in the midst of these sweet people, to worship God together and be with God’s people. I would drive even more for this chance. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than anything else.” I was deeply touched by Luís’ love for God and God’s people. Luís’ passion for God and his churches inspired me then and now, and made me realize how little I sacrifice in order to do the ministry to which I am called.

This Sunday, March 11, is the 4th Sunday of Lent. It is also the Sunday after we have set our clocks forward by one hour to Daylight Savings Time. It is a hard Sunday to get out of bed in order to be at church, particularly if your church starts early, as ours does. As your alarm awakens you this Sunday, I hope you will take a moment and think of Luís, driving dark roads in south Texas in order to share in the worship of God, simply because he loves God so much and knows the importance of being in community, being in a place where people are welcomed and can experience a sense of belonging and know they are loved. Then, I hope you will rise and greet the day and drive however far, however long it takes in order to do the same. I know you will be glad you did.

Holy One, as this week comes to an end, as I face the weekend and the chance to come to a holy space to worship you. Awaken me, remind me how important the journey is to be able to enter into worship, remind me how precious my presence is and remind me that it will all be worth it. Amen.

P.S.   Oh, and please bless Luís, his family and his ministries. Amen.

Light Shines

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The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.     John 1. 5

The refrain of a light shining in the darkness, but the darkness not overcoming it is often heard in the darkness of Christmas Eve, but perhaps it is even better suited for this Season of Lent, especially in what seems for many a dark season of our country and the world. I don’t have to make for you the list of things adding to our darkness. You know all too well those things that waken you in the night, leaving your heart pounding, and your mind racing. You know those things that cause you to worry about the future for our children and the world.

What I can offer, however, are the insights of those who remind us about the great truths our lives. This year we gave our faith community a Lenten Devotional that uses quotes from the book, The Hungering Dark by Frederick Buechner, an ordained Presbyterian minister, writer and theologian. Reflecting on the passage from John 1 about darkness and light, Buechner wrote, “Praise God because the dark is never the end, the end is light and the light has already broken through into the world out of the very heart of the world’s darkness. . . .”

Do you hear that? Even though, as the Gospel of John tells us just a few verses later that, “people loved the darkness more than the light,” (John 1. 19), there remains that proclamation that the darkness does not overcome the light. Given that proclamation. I have a few challenges for us as we come to the end of this second week of Lent.

First, every time you hear bad news I invite you to say to yourself, “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” Notice the present tense in this sentence. The light is shining now, right now and right now the darkness has not overcome it.

Second, every time you get discouraged or disappointed with yourself or others, repeat that mantra of our faith again, “the light shines, the darkness has not overcome it.”

Third, whenever your heart is breaking and you cannot see the light, and you are convinced that darkness, evil, hate, judgment, violence, and death have won, repeat these words again, or call someone who can repeat them for you.

You see, I believe that the Paschal Mystery, the Reality revealed to us in Jesus, whom we call our Christ, is that life, death and resurrection are still the central story of our lives and our faith. Life. Death. Resurrection. This is the truth and for us to proclaim that the light continues to shine and that darkness has not overcome it is to infuse our lives, our living, our dying, our world with hope. That’s the Reality. That’s the Truth. Praise God.

Holy One, in the darkness of the night, remind me of the essential truth that is You, that the light shines always and forever. Amen.

 

 

Saving our lives . . .

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Jesus called the crowd with the disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?                                                                                       Mark 8. 34-36

I began this week gathering with a group of people for a Lenten Book Study. We are reading and discussing the book, Renegade Gospel: The Rebel Jesus by Michael Slaughter. As we shared and meal we discussed the primary point of the first chapter. Slaughter asked us to consider how it is that we are taking up our cross and following Jesus. He challenged us to consider if we are simply comfortable Christians, living comfortable lives, going to church occasionally, and then living our comfortable lives as we choose. In the wake of the Stoneman Douglass High School shootings in Florida, I can’t help but continue to think about Slaughter’s impassioned plea. What does it mean for you and me to follow in the way of Jesus. How is it that we can live out our baptismal promises to “hate what is evil and hold fast to what is good”? (Romans 12. 9)

Then, the next day I read a devotional by Tom Ehrich that took up the last sentence from the passage above, “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” He honestly and courageously pointed out that the Florida shooter gained the world by traumatizing an entire nation, but has lost his life as he knew it. Politicians can gain the world by speaking of their outrage and sympathy, calling for prayer, but by remaining in the pockets of contributors who keep them from doing anything to make change, they will lose their lives in the deterioration of our nation. And those who worship at the altar of greed have and will gain wealth and power and manipulate the system to their benefit, but will lose, as everyone loses. As Ehrich explains, “In God’s economy nothing stay hidden.” Of course the question is, “How have you and I participated in the things of the world that cause us to gain everything, but lose our lives?”

This is the Season of Lent, a time for looking deeply into our souls. Perhaps asking ourselves penetrating questions about our comfortable lives and our participation in the things that gain us the world but lose our souls are an important practice in this holy season. One can only hope and pray that a sincere self-examination would draw us closer to God and to others and “save our lives.”

Fortunately we are not on this journey alone. The One who chose discomfort, who chose to live in his perfect essence, and who lost his life so that we might gain ours and gain eternity, goes before us showing us the way. We have five more week of Lent before the great and glorious celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday morning. Won’t you join me on the journey?

         Holy One, as imperfect as I am, I trust that you will show the way to a life lived fully in your presence. Help me, I pray to follow faithfully in the way of Jesus, our Christ. Amen.

A “Brite” Future

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Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.                                                                                  1 Timothy 4:12

All this week, I have been co-teaching a seminary class at Brite Divinity School as part of the January term. It is not your usual class. This class is called “Transitions in Life and Ministry” and is for students who are completing their last semester in seminary. The goal of the class is to help students make a smooth transition from their seminary experience into their first ministry job. Dr. Tim Robinson and I have had the opportunity to meet with 14 students and explore their hopes, dreams and excitement for the ministry to which they are called, as they also face the ending their time at Brite and the losses, grief and challenges that accompany this major shift in their lives. It has been an amazing week.

Included in the discussion of their changing lives we have also discussed the shifting waters of religious life in America. I’m sure you are aware, as our students are, that the population of people who regularly attend worship and are part of a faith community is dramatically shrinking, and has been shrinking for the last few decades. This means that opportunities for church positions are shrinking as well. Now, you might think that given those realities that these students would be discouraged and worried about their future. I think it is safe to say that all of them have some trepidation about the future and some of them are not at all sure where they are headed and what they will be doing. Yet their hope for their ministries and for the future is contagious.

I know that there are many people, including religious scholars, preachers, theologians and the average person on the street who are deeply concerned about the future of the church. You may be among them. But I want you to know that you don’t have to worry. I have spent this week with 14 incredible people who are passionate about their faith, committed to making the world a better place for all people and I believe that the church of the future is in good hands. In one exercise, we asked them to tell us what their “Why” is. In other words, what is the deep, passionate reason that they want to be in ministry. Here is what one student said, and is reflective of what they all said, “I am passionate about my faith and ministry because I believe that people live fuller and more abundant lives by encountering the Divine that calls them beloved.”

In another exercise, we asked them to share, in a TED Talk format, their Big Idea for ministry. One young man told us about his desire to help churches learn about Asset Based Community Development and how it can change neighborhoods into productive, healthy communities. Then a young woman told us about her passion for creating Women’s Health Initiatives in churches because Texas has a rising infant mortality rate, and if we can impact the health of women we can reduce that rate. Another student told us about how to change the lives of millennials by creating small communities, as he and his wife do in their home on a weekly basis, with what they call “Dinner Parties.” These students may be young in age or in ministry, but the words of the Apostle Paul writing to Timothy ring true in them as they will certainly, “set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”

So, I invite you to set aside your worries about the future of the church. The generation that is emerging from our seminaries has enough vision and hope for all of us. Oh, and if you are hungering to encounter the Divine that calls you beloved, then I hope you will worship in a faith community this Sunday and perhaps encounter this kind of vision and hope. It will change your life or maybe you will be the change that church most needs.

Holy One, remind me once again that you are ever present and ready to meet me in life and in community and call me your beloved. Amen.

#PrayForPeace

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May the Lord give strength to the people! May the Lord bless the people with peace!                                                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 29:11

If you have ever attended a lunch or dinner at New Church or at our home you may have heard me end my blessing for the food with the words, “And may there be, . . . peace on earth.” In my family, we call that the “Kay Lin,” clause. My sister, Kay, will always add the words, “And may there be . . . peace on earth” to the end of every prayer, whether she is praying or someone else is. And in recent years she has been adding emoji’s to her texts that include a peace symbol and an earth symbol. She, along with many people in the world is serious about praying for peace, speaking peace and living in ways that promote peace.

As we begin this New Year, the Year of our Lord, 2018, I am more concerned about peace for our earth than I have been since I was in elementary school. I was in elementary school during the Cuban Missile Crisis. My school regularly held fire drills, but we also had bombing drills. We would go out into the hallway of the school, sit cross-legged with our backs against the wall and bend over at the waist covering our heads with our arms. Now that I look back at it, and now that I know what the destruction of nuclear bombs can do it seems silly that we did those bomb drills. No doubt you have watched as tensions have escalated between the United States and North Korea with threats of nuclear war and nuclear weapons hitting the United States. I’m pretty clear that if our world comes to that no country will win, all will lose.

So, I’ve been thinking about my sister and her prayer of “And may there be, . . . peace on earth.” I’ve also been thinking about how we make New Year’s resolutions. I wonder if you would add one to your list. Would you make a resolution to pray for peace every day in 2018? I believe if you and I do that, then we will become people of peace, we will become peacemakers and peacekeepers, something I believe the world desperately needs right now.

Throughout our holy scriptures we hear the prophets, Jesus of Nazareth, and the apostles telling us to pray because prayers can change things. Our prayers can bring healing and hope. Our prayers can change others and ourselves. In fact, scripture tell us that our prayers can change the fate of nations. So, pray with me, won’t you? In all our resolutions designed to make us better people this year, perhaps we can add a resolution that could change our world, praying earnestly and faithfully for peace. Then the words of the Psalmist might be just the words we will hear that God would strengthen us and bless us and all nations, our children and all children of the world with peace.

         Holy One, turn your face to us and grant us your peace. Amen.

Join the Resistance.

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Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.           Philippians 4. 4-6

Perhaps you know that in some traditions of the Christian church this Sunday is Gaudete Sunday. The third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete, in the liturgical calendar of the Western church is most often celebrated in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and other mainline Protestant churches. The day takes its name from the Latin word Gaudete, meaning, “Rejoice.” The passage of scripture above, is the first word spoken in the third Sunday of Advent Mass, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice.”

The historic theme of Advent focuses on the coming of Jesus in three ways: Jesus’ birth, Jesus’ presence with us now, and Jesus’ final Advent, and was originally conceived as a penitential season, a time of prayer, fasting and giving of gifts to the poor. However, the readings for Gaudete Sunday deal with rejoicing in the Lord. On Gaudete Sunday, the fast is broken, rose-colored vestments are often worn and rose-colored paraments decorate the altar and chancel of the church, instead of violet or blue that are the traditional colors of Advent. In churches that have an Advent wreath, the rose-colored candle is lit in addition to two of the violet or blue colored candles, that represent the first two Sundays of Advent.

As I think about a Sunday called “Joy,” it seems to me that to proclaim “joy” in the face of struggle, heartache, hatred, judgment, sorrow and so much in our world that would make us believe that there is no reason for hope or peace, is to do two things. First, it is to proclaim faith, faith in something greater than ourselves. When we say that we have profound joy even in the midst of fear and doubt, is to say that we trust the promise of Christmas, that Christ is Emmanuel, God with us. Secondly, I believe that to speak joy, sing joy, proclaim joy in the darkening days of winter, the darkness of our broken world is to participate in courageous resistance, resistance against hate, resistance against hopelessness, resistance against war and violence.

Theologian Henri Nouwen described the difference between joy and happiness writing that while happiness is dependent on external conditions, joy is “the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing, sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death, can take that love away.” Consequently, we have reason to rejoice.

So, this Sunday, whoever you are, wherever you are on life’s journey, I invite you to join with others who believe that there is more hope, peace and joy yet to break forth into our world. Trust the promise. Join the resistance.

Holy One, in you I will be thankful. In you, I will rejoice. Help me to look to you and not be afraid. Help me to lift my voice, rejoicing because you are near and are always with me. Amen.